Complete Study Of The Book Of Hebrews


Our first question. How are we to describe this document? Is it a letter, a sermon or a thesis?

It begins like no other letter in the New Testament begins, (which is a reason for suspecting that Paul was not the author!), it continues like a sermon and it concludes like a letter.

Hebrews 1:1 opens in the style of a thesis or essay. “God spoke.”

Hebrews 2:1 reveals the sermon style. “We ought to give the more earnest attention to the things which we have heard.”

Hebrews 13:23 concludes like a letter. “You should understand that our brother Timothy has been set at liberty.”

What is the correct title?

The oldest known title for the document is, simply, “To Hebrews” (About the middle of the 2nd century). Therefore it was written for Hebrew Christians.

Why was it written?

Since it is generally agreed that it was written about 65 A.D., we can answer this question in a fairly satisfactory manner.

Remember these facts.

1. Thirty years or more after Pentecost, the novelty of The Faith had worn off.

Things have settled down into some sort of pattern, and any hope of a mass conversion of Israel had faded. If the Jewish Christians had believed that their fellow Jews would embrace the Gospel as readily as they had themselves, they were disappointed.

2. Some of them may possibly have expected an early return of the Lord, in which case they were again disappointed.

3. The end of the old religion is nowhere in sight, the temple was still standing.

The priests were still offering their sacrifices, Hebrews 10:1 / Hebrews 10:11.

Notice the use of the present tense, proving that this was written pre-A.D.70. In fact, some Hebrew Christians had begun to feel that they were a little island of Christianity in a sea of Judaism.

They felt isolated, cut off!

a. Excommunicated from the temple.

b. Unwelcome in the synagogues.

c. Ostracized from Jewish society.

d. Estranged from their families, in some instances, no doubt, divorced from their husbands and wives.

In a word, they have become a people within a people.

Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that some of them had begun to wonder if they had not been over-hasty, perhaps even made a terrible mistake, in becoming Christians. Maybe they had lost more than they had gained.

And, apart from the domestic, social and religious ex-communication they were experiencing, there was something more, which weighed very heavily on their consciences.

They had the feeling that they had abandoned their historic heritage as Jews. They were cut off from their nation’s past, their theocratic history.

They felt they could no longer speak of being related to the Covenants which God had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and all the other Old Testament worthies. And that was terrible!

Therefore the danger existed that they might slip away from The Faith and revert back to Judaism.

Incidentally, if this letter had been written after A.D.70, it would have been very different in tone! Indeed, after A.D. 70 this letter may not have been written at all.

These considerations reveal the purpose behind the writing of ‘Hebrews’. It was written to discourage such negative thinking and to reveal that the old religion is decayed and lifeless because its purpose has been fulfilled.

The main theme of the letter, therefore, is, ‘the supremacy of Christ and the superiority of the new over the old.’

The keyword is ‘better’, ‘kreisson’ which occurs 13 times and is rendered ‘better’ in K.J.V. and ‘superior’ in R.S.V.

As we proceed through the study we shall see that Christ is superior:

a. To all previous messengers, the prophets, because they brought partial and incomplete revelations of the will of God. Jesus brought the full and final revelation. Hebrews 1:1-3.

b. To the angels, because they are worshipping spirits sent forth to serve the redeemed, whilst Jesus is the Son, whom God purposed to reign. Hebrews 1:4 / Hebrews 2:1-16.

c. To Moses, because whilst he was a ‘servant’ ‘therapon’, ‘one who rendered voluntary service’ in the house of God, (here, meaning the people of God, see Hebrews 3:6) Christ is the Son over all God’s House.

d. To Joshua, because whilst he successfully led the people into Canaan, the Canaanites were not completely conquered and the Israelites failed under Joshua, to experience the ‘rest,’ ‘katapausis’ which God had intended for them.

This ‘sabbatismos’, (Sabbath rest = God’s own rest) has been made possible for us by our ‘Jehoshua’, Jesus. Hebrews 4:1-10.

e. To Aaron, the first High Priest, because though not of the Aaronic line, Jesus is a High Priest after the style of Melchizedek. Hebrews 4:14-10:21.

Note that this long section commences and ends with virtually identical words, and stresses that the Christian faith is superior to the old covenant religion because it is based upon a better covenant.

Approved by a better sacrifice. Offering better promises. Producing a better hope. Etc. All of these sections are combined with warnings against apostasy.

f. Finally, however, one major problem remains, which the writer introduces in Hebrews 11.

The great roll-call of faith

The one remaining difficulty is that the Hebrew Christians nevertheless feel that, in abandoning the old faith of Judaism, they have severed their connection with their great forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

They have lost their great history and we know how proud the Jews were and still are today of their history!

We must envisage them saying to the writer of the letter, “But surely, the Fathers, the patriarchs, at least, belong to the old religion! And we can no longer claim a relationship with them!”

The writer replies in Hebrews 11, by pointing out that although these men lived under the earlier covenants (the Patriarchs before the Law, and such men as Moses, David, the great prophets after the Law had been given). They did not belong to the law, because they lived according to the principle of faith!

He is saying, in effect, “Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and all these others, lived by faith, and therefore they belong to you; and as you continue to hold on to the faith, you are their true successors! You are being true to them!”

Notice that the names in Hebrews 11 are not listed haphazardly, but reveal a systematic progression through the ages.

Before the flood

Abel, Enoch. Noah. After the flood. Abraham During the Egyptian bondage. The parents of Moses.

After the deliverance from Egypt

The people crossing the Red Sea. The conquest of Canaan. How Jericho fell.

During the judges period

Gideon, etc.

During the kingdom period

Samuel and all the prophets.

Even into the intertestamental period

The period of the Maccabees. Hebrews 11:36ff.

The truth which emerges in Hebrews 11 is that in every age, it has been faith that has honoured God and which has been honoured by Him.

In Hebrews 11:39-40 the writer again stresses the solidarity of the Christian with those who have gone before by pointing out that God intended that they and we together should ‘be made perfect’.

Earlier, in Hebrews 11:13 he uses a nautical illustration when he describes these men and women of faith from former ages. He says that they did not experience the promise in their own lifetime, but they saw it from afar!

The original text suggests sailors who see a coastline, (a country) on which they may not land. But they are waving to it, as they sail by!

Finally, in Hebrews 12 we find:

1. Encouragement to faithfulness. Hebrews 12:1-14.

The writer urges them to bear persecution and hardship because it is only temporary and serves the purposes of discipline, making them stronger. The exhortation is followed by:

2. A warning, the high cost of apostasy. Hebrews 12:15-28.

Hebrews 13 is a chapter containing a variety of exhortations to personal and congregational holiness, and an appeal for their prayers, from the writer himself.

To Continue To Read This Study In Its entirety, Or To Download It To Your PC, Please Click On The  Icon Below

Complete Study Of The Book Of Hebrews