The Epistle to the Hebrews is one of the greatest and most important in the New Testament. Its opening chapter is one of the most fascinating and satisfying that one could read; its dignified presentation of the Person and offices of Christ is almost unrivalled.
As a literary gem it is superb; its use of language establishes it as the Isaiah of the New Testament. It is an orderly and logical treatise on the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ. Here the writer takes the best of the old economy and shows that the Lord Jesus is better than the best, higher than the highest, nobler than the noblest, and greater than the greatest.
Author5. We do not know by whom the Epistle was written. Many names have been put forward including Paul, Barnabas, Apollos and Luke with the majority of arguments in favour of Paul or Luke. Some suggest that it was written by Paul in the Hebrew language for Hebrews, but that Luke translated it and published it for Greeks. Origen remarked, “who wrote the letter to the Hebrews only God knows for certain’. Godet says, “It is entirely fitting that this book should remain anonymous".
Authority. The authority of this book is unquestioned. No one can read it without being convinced that it is a document come from God. It also rests upon the authority of the Old Testament. The writer assumes the Old Testament to be authoritative, and all the institutions of sacrifice and priesthood as ordained of God to be types and shadows, of which Christ is the fulfilment. The key verse could be “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second”, 10. 9. The key phrases are “Thou art my Son” and “Thou art a priest".
Date. Internal evidence is our only guide in this matter. The readers were the second generation of Christians, 2. 3, not new to the faith, 5. 12, persecuted, 10. 32-34; 12. 4, and some of their leaders had died, 13. 7. It must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in a.d. 70. If written by Paul then probably between a.d. 60-64. Some suggest between a.d. 63-66.
Destination. Internal evidence points to Hebrew Chris-tians who were members of some definite community, 13. 7, 17-19, 22-24. Their state and needs were known to the writer, for there is a personal note throughout, 5. 11,12; 6. 9, 10; 10. 32-34; 12. 4. They had not fully perceived the finality of Christianity and were still clinging to Judaism. Whether these saints lived in Jerusalem, Rome or Alexandria is quite uncertain.
Design and Purpose. It was intended to lead these Jewish believers from a rudimentary to a mature knowledge of Christian truth, 5. 11-12; 6. 1-3, 11. They had not made progress and there was profession and professors among them, so they are encouraged not to go back to the things of the past, 6.1-3. One of its key words is perfection, which refers to a mature Christian experience in contrast with a rudimentary one, see 7. 11,19; 10. 14; 12. 1-2.
Message. Its central theme is the exalted Person and Priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is superior to all Old Testament personalities and institutions. He is shown to be supreme:
Higher than angels, 1-2;
Eminently greater than Moses, 3;
Better than Joshua, 4;
Reliable Priest and Hope, 5-6;
Effective Priesthood, 7-8;
Wonderful Sacrifice, 9-10;
Satisfying Object and Perfecter of Faith, 11-12; and the Great Shepherd of the sheep, ch. 13.
A Suggested Analysis. Here is one way of presenting the ministry of this Christ-exalting book:
1. The Supremacy of the Person of Christ, i. 1 to 4. 12.
i.Greater than the prophets in His Revelation, 1. 1-3. The past was multiform, fragmentary, partial. The present is uniform, full, perfect,
ii. Greater than angels in His Recognition, 1. 4-13. They are His servants, creatures, subjects. He is the Son, Creator, Sovereign.
iii. Greater than Adam in His Rule, 2. 5-18. Dominion forfeited by Adam. Dominion fulfilled in Christ, by incarnation, 14; by redemption, 15.
iv. Greater than Joshua in His Rest, 4. 1-13. The rest of Creation, 4; The rest of Canaan, 8; The rest of the Christian, 3; The rest of Christ, 9; The rest of Consecration, 10. Note parentheticalExhortationsandWarnings. About Drifting, 2. 1-3; about Departing, 3. 7; 4. 7; about Diligence, 4. 11.
2. The Superiority of the Priesthood of Christ, 4. 13
to 8. 13.
i.The God-Appointed Man, 4. 13 to 7. 28. Christ Suited for Priesthood, 4. 11 to 5. 10. Christ Successful in Priesthood, 6. 13-17. Christ Superior in Priesthood, 7. 1-28; the comparison, 1-10; the change, 11-18; the constitution, 19-25; the character of Christ, 26-28.
ii. The God-Given Ministry, ch. 8. The Beauty of the New Sanctuary, 1-6; a better ministry, covenant, promises. The Blessings of the New Covenant, 7-13; required, promised, assured. NoteParentheticalExhortationsandWarnings. About Dulness, 5. 11-14; about Declension, 6. 1-8; about Diligence, 6. 9-12.
3. The Satisfaction of the Propitiation of Christ,
9. 1 to 10. 37.
i. The Passing of the Old, ch. 9. The Foreshadowing of His Work, 1-9; its Fulness, 10-22; the Fact of His Coming, 23-26; Fruitfulness of His Work; 27-28.
ii. The Perfection of the New, ch. 10. Failure of Past Offerings, 1-2; Frequency of Sacrifices, 3-6; Fulfil-ment of God’s will, 7-10; Finality of His Work, 11-14; Forgiveness of Sins, 15-18; Freedom of Access, 19-20; Fitness for Worship, 21-23; Fellowship of Saints, 24-25; Folly of Wilful Sin, 26-31.
Note Exhortations and Warnings. About Despising, 26-31; about Devotion, 32-37.
4. The Sufficiency of the Pattern and Power of Christ,
10. 38 to 13. 21.
i.The Example of Faith, ch. 11. The Value of Faith, 1-7; Its Visions, 8-22; Its Vigilance, 23-29; The Victories of Faith, 30-40. Faith and Invisibilities, 8-16; Faith and Improbabilities, 17-22; Faith and Impossibilities, 23-29; Faith’s Exploits, 30-34; Faith’s Endurance, 35-40.
ii. The Education of Faith, 12. 1-17. Diligence in the Race, 1-3; Discipline in the School, 4-17.
iii. The Experiences of Faith, 12.18-29. Exhortations, 12-17; Encouragement, 18-24; Enjoyment, 25-29.
iv. The Expression of Faith, 13. 1-21. Love for Christians, 1-7; Loyalty to Christ, 8-16; Lowliness of Mind, 17-21.
v. Conclusion, 13. 22-25. Information, 23; Salutation, 24; Benediction, 25.
Weigh prayerfully the expressions used of Christ: “Thou art my Son”; “Thou art the Same”; “Thou art a Priest".
Suggestions for Study. Find nine references to Christ as the Son. The Holy Spirit is referred to seven times. Ponder the thirty references to “priest” and the seventeen occurrences of “sacrifices”. The contrasts suggested by the twenty-seven “buts” provide a profitable meditation. Collect all the “where fore’s” and “therefore’s” here. How many times do the follow-ing words occur?: “better”, “eternal” and “forever”, “heaven” and “heavenly”, “salvation” and “save”, “par-takers”, “lest”, “let us”, “without”. Trace all the quotations from the Old Testament in the Epistle. The necessities in this letter are wonderful indeed, and the riches of our possessions suggested by “we have” present something of the inexhaust-ible grace of our God.