Hebrews 5

Overview

  • The author says:
  • Every high priest is picked from among the people to represent everyone else in front of God so that he can offer up what is needed to rebuild the bridge between mankind and the Almighty.
  • The high priest isn’t haughty because he’s just like the people he was picked out of. He can empathize with people making bad decisions and doing stupid stuff, because he too has weaknesses.
  • That’s why, when the high priest makes sacrifices for the people’s sins, he makes a personal sacrifice for his own sins first.
  • He knows he’s not in the position of high priest because he’s better than everyone else, he’s just there because he was picked to represent.
  • Similarly, Jesus, too, was chosen from among the people.  Remember how God said, “You’re my boy, and today I’m your pop.”
  • It was also written that the ultimate chosen one wouldn’t be from the typical line of priests, but from a unique “order” of priests, one that has only one other person in it—that ancient dude, Melchizedek who was both a priest and a king.
  • When Jesus was here on earth, he too cried out passionately to God, in tears, and begged God for things like escape from death—which he didn’t get initially (as proved by his death on the cross), but he did get eventually (as proved by the resurrection), because he truly submitted himself to God.
  • Even though Jesus was the closest possible relation to God (his son!), he too had to become fully capable of representing our weaknesses by suffering himself.
  • When Jesus had had the full human experience, he could then perfectly represent us before God as a high priest—the kind who is both a king and a priest, like Mel.
  • I’ve got lots of material on this subject of Jesus as high priest, but seriously people, I feel like you’re not getting it because you’re not even trying to understand.
  • You’re Jews, so you know the Old Testament, and you’re Christians, so you know Jesus. By now you should know all of this stuff and how it all connects together. You should be teaching this topic, not being taught about it.
  • Yet we keep going over these basic beliefs. You keep needing to be spoon-fed “baby food” theology. You should be consuming “Big Mac” theology by now.
  • This baby food teaching is for those who just need to know the basics about what it takes to be right with God.
  • Big Mac teaching is what you should be woofing down now, because by now you should be skilled at determining what’s right and wrong for yourselves. You should be mature enough to see what’s good and bad and make the right decisions yourselves.

Historical Context

High Priest

By the original regulation, the Jewish high priest was to be of the family of Aaron (Exodus 29:9), though in later times the office was frequently conferred on others. In the time of the Romans it had become venal, and the Mosaic regulation was disregarded (2 Macc. 4:7; Josephus, Ant. xv. 3. 1). The office was no longer held for life, so that there were several persons at one time given the title of high priest.2

The high priest was at the head of religious affairs, and was the ordinary judge of all that pertained to religion, and even of the general justice of the Hebrew commonwealth. Only the high priest had the privilege of entering the most holy place once a year, on the great day of atonement, to make expiation for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16). He was to be the son of one who had married a virgin, and was to be free from any corporeal defect (Leviticus 21:13).2

The “dress” of the high priest was much more costly and magnificent than that of the regular order of priests (Exodus 39:1-7). He wore a robe of blue, with the borders embroidered with pomegranates in purple and scarlet; an “ephod” made of cotton, with crimson, purple, and blue, and ornamented with gold worn over the robe, without sleeves, and divided below the arm-pits into two parts or halves, of which one was in front covering the breast, and the other behind covering the back. In the ephod was a breastplate. The breastplate was ten inches square, and was made double, so as to answer the purpose of a pouch or bag. It was adorned with twelve precious stones, each one having the name of one of the tribes of Israel.2

Observations

  • “He is able to deal gently with…” is an idea that comes from the Greek word, metriopathein, which means “to show moderate emotions.” The Stoic philosophers held that emotions should be absolutely crushed and that “apathy” was the only fit condition for a philosopher. The Peripatetics on the other hand—the school of Aristotle—held that the philosopher should not aim at apathy, because no man can be absolutely passionless without doing extreme violence to nature; but that he should acquire metriopathy, that is a spirit of “moderated emotion” and self-control. The word metriopathein is found both in Philo’s and Josephus’ First Century writings. In common usage it meant “moderate compassion;” since the Stoics held “pity” to be not only a weakness but a vice. The Stoic notion of apathy would have utterly disqualified any one for true priesthood. Jesus showed emotions such as pity, sorrow, and anger; and he did so and could do so, “without sin.”5
  • There was no succession of priests from Melchizedek and thus no ‘order.’ Jesus, however, was a priest of this kind—not like Aaron and his successors.1
  • We learn from the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Essenes were expecting two Messiahs, one royal and one priestly. Jesus fulfilled both offices. In fact, the author of Hebrews shows that he fulfills all three Old Testament anointed offices: prophet, priest and king.4
  • Melchizedek is alluded to because he is the only person in the Old Testament who is called both priest and king, and who adequately fulfills the theological requirements of this rabbinical argument.4
  • “Prayers and petitions” in Greek are words often used to denote the same thing. The former means petitions which arise from a sense of need, from the Greek word “deomai” which means, “to want, to need;” the latter refers usually to supplication for protection, and is applicable to one who under a sense of guilt flees to an altar with the symbols of supplication in his hand. Suppliants in such cases often carried an olive-branch as an emblem of the peace which they sought.The particular idea in the Greek word used here, hiketēria, is petition for “protection, help,” or “shelter,” and this idea accords well with the design of the passage. The Lord Jesus prayed as one who had “need,” and as one who desired “protection, shelter,” or “help.”2
  • It is notable that God didn’t save Jesus from the cross (death) when he prayed for help, though God did eventually save him from death, after the fact, through the resurrection. Here is seen God’s method of answering prayers in some instances, in which he sends not a lighter load but a stronger heart to bear it.3
  • “Made perfect” here means being made “complete.” This means through suffering Jesus is suited in all respects to redeem people. Sufferings were necessary to the “completeness” or the “finish” of his character.The word “perfect” means “mature” or “fully equipped for the assigned task.” The perfection or maturity of both Jesus and His followers is a central concept in Hebrews.4
  • This section gives four marks of spiritual immaturity: 1) laziness (dullness) toward the Word (v. 11), 2) inability to teach the Word to others (v. 12), 3) a diet of only elementary truths in the Word (vv. 12-13), and 4) lack of skill in applying the Word (v. 14).1
  • It is plain that spiritual maturity is not simply a matter of time. Many who have been Christians many years may be in the condition of these Hebrew Christians. True spiritual growth is the result of prayer, study, meditation, faithfulness, diligence, exercise, and the successful struggle against temptations.3
  • The phrase “to know good and evil” is borrowed from Hebrew (Genesis 2:17, &c), and is used to describe the first dawn of intelligence (Isaiah 7:15-16).5

Discussion

  •  Why was it so difficult for Jewish people to accept the truth that Jesus was the high priest? Do we, today, have any of those same issues? What prevents us, or our culture, from seeing Jesus as the ultimate representative, uniquely qualified to make atonement for our sins?
  • Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions, even dreading, and wishing fervently, not to have to deal with his own death. We often think of our emotions as bad things, or distractions, or being able to mislead us somehow. What does Jesus’ experience with emotions teach us about our own? How should we properly view our emotions?
  • How is suffering related to maturity, both of Jesus and believers?
  • The author of Hebrews thought his audience should be more mature in their faith because of their history with the Old Testament and their tenure in Christianity. He expressly states that he shouldn’t be teaching them, but that they should be teaching others by now. What stage of maturity do you think you are (milk or meat)? What advantages of information do you have that should enable you to teach others? Are you teaching others?  Do you feel capable? What, if anything, are you missing?

References

  1. Constable’s commentary
  2. Barnes’ commentary
  3. Coffman’s commentary
  4. Utley’s commentary
  5. Cambridge commentary
  6. Gill’s commentary

Hebrews 4

Overview

  • The author says:
  • Now that you know there is a rest, a Promised Land, still out there, don’t stop short of getting there.
  • We, just like out ancestors of the exodus, have heard the good news that God is delivering us.
  • But they didn’t get any value from hearing that message because they didn’t combine faith and obedience (follow-through).
  • Yet, we have! And we get to enter God’s rest!
  • Remember the scripture where God said, “I swear I won’t let them get to the end of the journey and enter the Promise Land. No restful reward for you!’”
  • But also remember that God has rested (i.e. reigned as king), and has had a restful reward (i.e. a kingdom of his own) available to his people since the last act of creation.
  • In the beginning of the Bible, it says that, “On the seventh day, God rested from all his work.”
  • Yet in the passage above it says, “No restful reward for you!”
  • It turns out God’s rest, his full reign, has been available since the beginning of time and the people back then were unable to get into it because they just couldn’t keep trusting in God.
  • So God picked a day when people could enter his reign, and he called that day “today.”
  • God established that “day” 500 years after the exodus, when King David wrote that poem that said, “If you can hear God’s voice today, don’t ignore it.”
  • Think about it: If Joshua, who lead the Israelites into the Promise Land, had managed to bring the people fully into God’s rest (i.e. under his reign), then why would God still have to establish a “day” when people can enter it?
  • Well, all this means that God’s perpetual-seventh-day-reign-like rest is still available for his people to enter.
  • And anyone who enters God’s rest can quit working to try and be saved. They can chill under God’s care alongside God.
  • So let’s try really hard to join God in his reign, and make sure that none of us miss out because we stop trusting and following God like our ancestors did.
  • God’s promises to his people (to make them his own and bring them into his reign) are still alive and active.
  • His promises are sharp, like a duel-edge knife that can be used to cut even the smallest, most integrated bits of you in two. He can see through your deepest thoughts and attitudes right into your heart.
  • Nothing can be hidden from God, not one thing in all creation. Like a sacrificial animal cut open, we are all laid bare, vulnerable to be inspected by God, the one who will judge if we have a blemish on our hearts.
  • But we have a high priest, a person who makes atonement for us, who didn’t just pass through the curtain of the temple into the Holy of Holies, but actually passed through the curtain of heaven to the real throne of God–and his name is Jesus, the Son of God, the one in whom we have faith.
  • Our high priest, Jesus, can totally empathize with us and our weaknesses because he, too, was tempted in every way, but yet he managed not to go astray.
  • That should give us the confidence to enter into God’s presence any time we want to receive mercy and grace in our time of need.

Historical Context

Sabbath Rest

The term “Sabbath” (Hebrew Shabbath) means “day of rest”. It derives from the Hebrew verb shavath defined as “repose, or to desist from exertion” (often “cease”). Another noun form of this root, shebeth (“cessation”), is identical to the common word “to sit.”4

Sabbath was the seventh day in the Jewish calendar, and it was differentiated and set apart (sanctified) from the other six days based on the seven day creation account in Genesis 1. The seventh day is assigned a special significance (blessing) by God, based on the fact that it was the day on which God rested. All subsequent commands to keep the Sabbath assume that this sanctity of the seventh day has already been established (here, at creation) by God. Thus, the Israelites are not commanded to sanctify the Sabbath, but to conduct themselves in such a way as not to profane it (Exodus 31:14; Isaiah 56:2).3

The Torah portrays the Sabbath concept both in terms of resting on the seventh day and allowing land to lie fallow during each seventh year. The motivation is described as going beyond a sign and remembrance of Yahweh’s original rest during the creation week and extends to a concern that one’s servants, family, and livestock be able to rest and be refreshed from their work.4

The Torah describes disobedience to the command to keep the Sabbath day holy as punishable by death and failing to observe Sabbath years would be made up for during the captivity that would result from breaking covenant.4

The Old Testament describes the Sabbath as having three purposes: 1) To commemorate God’s creation of the universe, on the seventh day of which God rested from (or ceased) his work; 2) To commemorate the Israelites’ redemption from slavery in ancient Egypt; and 3) As a “taste” the Messianic Age.4

The Day of Atonement was regarded as a “Sabbath of Sabbaths.” It was on this day alone that the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies inside the Tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant contained the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were engraved. The presence of YHWH in Holy of Holies required that the High Priest be first purified by the sacrifice of a bull in a prescribed manner. Entering the Most Holy Place on other days or without fulfilling the ritual requirements would subject the priest to death.4

The rabbis often asserted that God’s Sabbath (i.e., “the Day of Rest”) never ceased because the regular formula of Genesis 1, “there was evening and there was morning, day. . .,” is never mentioned in connection with this seventh day of creation in Gen. 2:2,3.1

In Matthew 11:25-30 Jesus offered all “rest” in him, an obvious “Sabbath” illusion, with the added claim that he is the source of the rest. These verses immediately precede the “Sabbath controversy” of chapter 12. In chapter 12 Jesus boldly identified himself with God, and indeed, as God, by claiming to be greater than David, greater than the priests, and greater than the temple. He claimed to be the Lord of the Sabbath, thus having the authority not only to interpret the Sabbath Law, but even to set it aside altogether. Jesus set himself up as the true rest, the true Sabbath, the true peace of God.3

Observations

  • The theological issue involves the faith (salvation) or lack of faith of the Israelite adults (20 years and up) who participated in the exodus. Did their lack of faith in the spies’ report mean that (1) they were not allowed to enter Canaan or (2) they were not allowed to enter heaven?1
  • Psalm 95:7-11 has been quoted several times in the context of chapters 3 and 4. Each time a different part of the OT passage is emphasized (like a sermon). 1) 3:7-11 emphasizes “do not harden your hearts” of Ps. 95:8; 2) 3:15 emphasizes “when they provoked Me” of Ps. 95:9; 3)  4:3,5 emphasizes “they shall not enter My rest” of Ps. 95:11; 4)  4:7 emphasizes “today” of Ps. 95:7.1
  • Israel who, though entering Canaan, did not in fact enter fully into God’s rest, in the higher and better sense of becoming a holy nation of righteous and devoted worshipers of God, as God had commanded them (Exodus 19:3-6). Instead they continued to rebel against God time and again; they rejected the theocracy, demanded a king like the nations around them, worshiped idols, oppressed the poor, and even sacrificed their children to Molech. Thus, while entering a type of God’s rest, they failed to attain any reality of it.2
  • The author wants to assure his readers that the Jews failure to enter God’s rest was not due to the fact that the rest had not been prepared, because it existed since the day that God finished his work of creation. This is proved by the words, “And God rested” in one place, and the words “my rest” in another. God’s rest is therefore a fact, and it is clearly his purpose that some shall enter into it.2
  • The argument is that a rest remains because it was not entered by the Jews. Therefore, it was not entering Canaan nor keeping the sabbath day, for they did that. Thus, the true rest referred to here can be neither of those things but must be understood as a reference back to the rest of God himself which is still in progress, a rest the Jews could have entered but did not, and likewise a rest that many now have the right to enter but may come short of it.2
  • The original audience may have conclude that they had missed entering into their rest (i.e., their spiritual inheritance) because the Lord had not yet returned. They expected Jesus to return soon after he ascended into heaven (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 2 Thess. 2:1-12). The writer urged his readers to wait patiently for the Lord to return (10: 36-37). None of the original readers had failed to enter their rest (inheritance) because they had missed the Lord’s return.5
  • The author implies to his audience that there is a rest from the burden of the law of Moses available to them. In Christ they now able to be kept in perfect peace, an ease that was not available to their ancestors.7
  • Some theologians think that the “word of God” used in Hebrews is based on the Egyptian usage of “word” (logos) meaning “reckoning” or “calling into account.” They assert this fits the original author’s overall argument, that there will be a divine reckoning through examination, using the metaphor of a surgeon (p. 227). Therefore, this text is not a description of the revealed word of God, but the discerning judgment of God.1
  • The word “sword” used by the author (Greek, machairan) was originally a small one like a boning knife that was used to cut up meat. In its double-edged form it was a symbol of judges and magistrates in the Roman world. It illustrated the power of those officials to turn both ways to get to the bottom of a case. However it is possible that by the time Hebrews was written machaira (sword) had come to mean a sword of any size, long or short.5
  • The author implies that the word of God can express and distinguish what is “soulish” (natural) and what is spiritual in our motivation and actions. It can do so even when those elements are as close to each other as our joints and marrow. It is even able to expose our thoughts and attitudes (cf. 1 Cor. 4:5). God’s Word can reach to the innermost recesses of our being. We must not think that we can bluff our way out of anything, for there are no secrets hidden from God.5
  • Many Christians think this verse shows that God will judge unbelievers with his piercing word, but in the context it refers to God judging believers to determine their rewards.5
  • In Hebrew thought the “heart” represents the entire person and their inner motivation.1
  • “Everything is uncovered” in the text is a metaphor that literally means “to expose the neck by lifting the chin.” This OT metaphor was a warning to judges; here it refers to meeting God face-to-face on judgment day, who has full knowledge of our motives.1
  • The author, in telling the readers they will be cut by the word of God, may have been making an allusion to to the state in which the sacrifices called burnt offerings were laid on the altar. The animals were stripped of their skins, their breasts were ripped open, their bowels were taken out, and their backbone was cleft. Then they were divided into quarters; so that outwardly and inwardly they were fully exposed to the eye of the priest, in order to a thorough examination (Leviticus 1:5,6); and, being found without blemish, they were laid in their natural order upon the altar and burnt.2
  • The “word of God” is most plainly “what God speaks.” The idea here is, that what “God had said” is suited to detect hypocrisy and to lay open the true nature of the feelings of the soul, so that there can be no escape for the guilty.6
  • Isaiah 49 uses the sharp sword analogy as well. Here Isaiah uses it to describe himself as the tool/weapon God will use to reconcile Israel (his people) back to himself. In Hebrews, the author argues that Jesus is the ideal representative of God (greater than the greatest prophet, Moses), whose words can reconcile all his people.
  • To separate the soul from spirit implies the taking of a life. The idea here is that the word of God is like a sharp sword that inflicts deadly wounds. The sinner “dies” as if an actual sword had pierced his heart.6
  • Jesus’ “ascending into heaven,” or literally passing “through the heavens” contrasts with the first High Priest, Aaron’s merely passing beyond certain enclosures in the tabernacle.2
  • “Let us approach God’s throne” is a phrase that emphasizes the subject’s continual involvement with this activity (such as, “let us continually be approaching”). This is a technical term in the Septuagint (LXX) for a priest approaching God. In Hebrews this term is used of fallen mankind’s ability to approach God as if they too were priests because of Jesus’ sacrifice (cf. 4:16; 7:25; 10:1,22; 11:6). Jesus has truly made his followers a “kingdom of priests” (cf. Exod. 19:5,6; I Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6).1
  • The high priests of Judaism could only approach God at his earthly throne (the ark of the covenant), in the holy of holies in the temple, once a year. God’s throne of judgment has now become a throne of grace (undeserved help) for us to approach at any time.5

Discussion

  • Do you think Jesus could have sinned? Why or why not?
  • How does the word of God divide the soul and spirit? What does that mean to you? Why would the author say “soul” and “spirit”? What are the differences? Why would they need to be divided? How have you experienced this in your own life?
  • What does the author mean that the word of God is alive and active? What word is he talking about? What implications does that have? How should that effect the way we live?
  • What “rest” do you think is promised to you? What does it look like? Feel like? When is it reached?
  • We often try to please God by trying to do the right thing, or feel guilty that we are not living up to his standards when we inevitably fail. How does the concept of “rest” play into this thinking? How does it make you think differently about your relationship with God and what he expects of you?
  • The author says we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence… in our time of need.” Do you feel you can do this freely? What hesitations do you have? How does Jesus give us confidence?

References

  1. Utley’s commentary
  2. Coffman’s commentary
  3. Deffinbaugh’s commentary
  4. Biblical Sabbath
  5. Constables’ commentary
  6. Barnes’ commentary
  7. Gill’s commentary

Hebrews 3

Overview

  • The author says:
  • So, my family members – brothers and sisters – we who are heaven-bound, keep 100% focused on Jesus who is God’s #1 ambassador and the best spiritual leader ever, for all time.
  • Jesus is committed to doing God’s will among his family – his tribe, just like Moses was committed to doing God’s will with all the tribes of Israel back in the day.
  •  In fact Jesus is greater than Moses, because as the founder of God’s house (i.e. his people) he is greater than any one of its members (i.e. Moses).
  • God is the one who builds everything, right? So he’s in charge.
  • You should remember that one time when Moses’ leadership was questioned by his own family (Aaron and Miriam – Moses’ brother and sister) and God responded by saying, “My (God’s) family is Israel and I put Moses in charge because he is a faithful servant. “
  • Well, Jesus is even more faithful and he’s in charge over Moses because he’s the Son of God, not just a servant. Jesus is directly related to God, not just working for him.
  • So we should take courage and display confidence and faith because we are part of God’s family through Jesus. We can have hope because we’re in the right place under the right leader.
  • Remember what the Holy Spirit says: “If you can hear God’s voice today, don’t ignore it, like your ancestors did during their rebellious years in the dessert after the exodus.
  • “That generation literally took up residence in a place called “Testing” and “Trying” because even after 40 years of helping them, saving them, caring for them, all they did was complain and doubt.
  • “That’s why God was so angry with them he said, ‘They don’t get it. They love their complaining more than me. I swear I won’t let them get to the end of the journey and enter the Promise Land. No restful reward for you!'”
  • So, my family, my brothers and sisters, don’t be like your forefathers (and mothers). Make sure your heart is always pointed towards God–the one who gives life–not away from him.
  • Encourage each other everyday, because everyday is the “today” the Holy Spirit spoke of.
  • Don’t be deceived into thinking God isn’t caring for you.
  • We’re a part of Jesus’ family, and all the awesome things that entails, so long as we can keep believing along this rough journey.
  • Remember what I just quoted: “If you can hear God’s voice today, don’t ignore it, like your ancestors did during their rebellious years in the dessert after the exodus.”
  • Who rebelled? All the people who were miraculously rescued from Egypt via Moses.
  • And who was God angry with? Those same people who doubted God every step of their journey in the wilderness and ended up dying there.
  • And who didn’t get to go into the Promise Land? Yep. Them. They didn’t make it for one reason: unbelief.

Historical Context

Moses

To the Jews, there was no man greater than Moses. He set his people free from slavery, he delivered the Law, he built the tabernacle, and he lead God’s people to the promise land. To say  the man Jesus was greater than Moses was a substantial claim.

Rabbis said that “the soul of Moses was equivalent to the souls of all Israel.” The Cabbalistic process called Gematria (the numerical value of the letters) has the value of the words “Moses our Rabbi” is the same value of the letters of “Lord God of Israel.” They said that “the face of Moses. was like the Sun;” that he alone “saw through a clear glass” not as other prophets “through a dim glass,” and that there were fifty gates of understanding in the world, and “all but one were opened to Moses.”5

Israelites in the Wilderness

Throughout the wilderness journey of 40 years the Israelites both praised and despised God.

Starting after the Israelites had passed through the Red Sea on dry ground, they sang songs of deliverance, praising God for their miraculous deliverance and anticipating their possession of the Promised Land by the defeat of their enemies (Exodus 15:1-18). But soon after this, the people come to Marah, where the water is too bitter to drink. The people grumble at Moses, demanding to know what they are going to drink. God instructs Moses to throw a tree into the waters to sweeten them, and thus the Israelites are able to drink the water (15:22-26).3

When the Israelites arrive at the wilderness of Sin (virtually a month after the exodus), the people begin to grumble because they are concerned about what they are going to eat. Already they have forgotten the horrors of Egypt, and they now speak of it longingly, especially in terms of the food it seemed to offer them. They accuse Moses and Aaron of bringing them into the wilderness to kill them. God provides them with manna and quail.3

Soon after they camp at Rephidim, where there is no water. The people once again quarrel with Moses and accuse him of bringing them to this place to kill them. In obedience to God’s instruction, Moses strikes the rock with his staff, and water pours forth. And thus God again provides for His grumbling people. Appropriately, the place was renamed “Massah”(“test”) and “Meribah” (“quarrel”).3

Soon they come to Kadesh, the gateway to the Promised Land. Twelve spies are sent to assess the suitability of the land and the military strength of the Canaanites. When the spies returned, they all agreed as to the fruitfulness and desirability of the land. They also agreed on the magnitude of the task of taking possession of the land. There were giants in the land, and the place was well fortified. The spies differed in their faith in God’s promises and in His ability to remove the Canaanites. Caleb and Joshua were confident that God would give them the victory; the other ten did not deem it possible. The people initially wept, but this quickly turned to grumbling and rebellion. They were ready to be rid of Moses and to appoint another leader who would take them back to Egypt.3

Soon there is the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, which ended in the rebels being swallowed up by the ground, followed by fire from the Lord which consumed those offering the incense (Numbers 16:1-35). As a result the people grumbled again against Moses and Aaron, blaming them for the deaths of those who were disobedient and died at the hand of God.3

Later, as on other occasions, the people run out of water, and the whole congregation begins to complain against Moses and Aaron. Somehow, Moses and Aaron were blamed for making the Israelites leave Egypt (as though it were against the will of the people). The people said that they wished they had died in the wilderness earlier, along with their (rebellious) brethren (20:2-5). So the Lord commanded Moses to speak to (not to strike) the rock in the sight of the people so that it would bring forth water for them to drink. Moses struck the rock, in disobedience to God’s instructions. Nevertheless, the rock brought forth water, and the people drank.3

As a result of this pattern of complaints, doubts and disobedience over the course of forty years in the wilderness, God declared he would not let anyone from that generation enter the Holy Land.

Numbers 12:7

When Moses’ sister, Miriam, and brother, Aaron, expressed their jealously of Moses’ leadership and direct interactions with God, the Lord appeared in a “column of cloud” and told them that while he speaks to prophets in visions and dreams, to Moses he speaks face to face because he is “faithful in all my house.” They were thus chastised for having doubted Moses’ leadership.

House of God

The people of God being the house of God is an oft repeated biblical metaphor (“household,” Gal. 6:10; I Tim. 3:15; “spiritual house,” I Pet. 2:5; “household of God,” 4:17). “House” is used six times in this chapter, sometimes with the connotation of a building and sometimes of a family.4

Apostle

An apostle (Greek: apóstolos) means literally, “one who is sent away” as in a messenger or ambassador. The purpose of such “sending away” is to convey messages, and thus “messenger” is a common alternative translation. The same Greek word translated in Latin is missio, from which we get the word “missionary.”2

Moses was a kind of apostle as well. Moses was clearly “sent” by God to Egypt, where he would speak to men for God. Jesus was also an apostle in the sense that he was sent to earth by the Father to lead men from captivity to freedom. As Moses was the one through whom the Law was given, Jesus was the one through whom God finally and fully spoke.3

Psalms 95

Note the attribution of this Psalm of the Holy Spirit.1

The message of the entire Psalm is that people should worship God, but that mere worship, unaccompanied by obedience, will not avail.1

The failure referred to by the psalmist was the failure of an entire generation, punctuated by sins that persisted for forty years. This was not the failure of a few, nor was it a momentary lapse of piety. It was the persistent, life-long, rebellion of an entire nation.3

Meribah and Massah

In Hebrews 3:9 the Hebrew proper names of two locations in the Exodus are translated as common nouns, The proper names, Meribah and Massah, are rendered “tested and tried.”1

In Exodus 17, we are told that the Israelites camped at Rephidim where there was no water to drink. The people complained to Moses, and Moses turned in desperation to God for help. God had Moses strike a rock and water came forth. The Israelites complaining lead Moses to rename the location Meribah and Massah.

Observations

  • The whole typical structure of Israel corresponds to many facts and events in Christianity. 1) The death of Christ is called “an exodus” (Luke 9:31); 2) Christ is the true Passover sacrifice for his people (1 Corinthians 5:7); 3) he is the lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:19); 4) Christians during their probation are said to be, like Israel of old, “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38); 5) baptism is the antitype of Israel’s passage through the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1); 6) Christ, the living Rock, is their guide through the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4); 7) the heavenly rest that lies before them is the counterpart to the earthly Canaan which was the goal of the Israelites.1
  • Why did the Israelite generation fail in the wilderness? 1) They feared death by starvation. 2) They saw themselves as weak, such as when observing the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, they said, “We were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:33). 3) They didn’t maintain belief that God was on their side, which ultimately lead to a state of rebellion against God.1
  • The grand and terrible lesson of Israel’s history is that it is possible to begin well and end poorly. In fact, this tragic human tendency dominates much human spiritual experience.7
  • Unbelief is not a lack of faith or trust. It is the refusal to believe God. It leads inevitably to a turning away from God in a deliberate act of rejection.7
  • “Confidence” contains the same thought as “glory.” Ancient Greek writers used this term for firmness under torture; and generally for courageous firmness of character.”1
  • “Confidence” is a translation of the Greek word hypostasis. Elsewhere it is rendered “substance,” to which it etymologically corresponds, and implies a solid reality. The substance of a material object is the material from which the object is made.
  • “Apostle and High Priest” are two titles that signal Jesus’ superiority over Moses as official messenger and Aaron as the Levitical high pries.4
  • Hebrews is the only book of the Bible to call Jesus high priest. It takes an extensive rabbinical argumentation to convince first century Jews that Jesus, from the tribe of Judah, really was a priest. The Dead Sea Scrolls community expected two Messiahs, one royal (tribe of Judah) and one priestly (tribe of Levi, cf. Psalm 110; Zechariah 3-4).4
  • The phrase “the living God” is a play on God’s covenant name YHWH, which is from the Hebrew verb “to be” (Exod.3:14).4
  • The author reminds his audience that the spiritual health and well being of every member of the church is the responsibility of every member of the church, and not just one of its staff who is paid to do so.3
  • “Encourage one another” is a present active imperative. Believers are to emulate the Spirit and the Son in encouraging faith and faithfulness. This is the same root as the Greek word paraclete, which means “one called alongside to help” and is used of the Spirit (cf. John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7) and of Jesus (cf. I John 2:1).4

Discussion

  • The author of Hebrews encourages the hearing of God’s voice. How do we hear it? Have you heard it?
  • Can you lose your salvation? Are you only as saved as your last sinless moment?
  • How do we rationalize our decisions?

References

  1. Coffman’s commentary
  2. Apostle – Wikipedia
  3. Deffinbaugh’s commentary
  4. Utley’s commentary
  5. Cambridge commentary
  6. Barnes’ commentary
  7. Constable’s commentary

Hebrews 1

Overview

  • The author tells his audience:
  • Back in the day, God revealed himself and his true nature in bits and pieces through many people over a long period of time. But now, via Jesus, God has shown us who he fully is and what he truly wants all at once, definitively. Done. #dropthemic
  • All that belongs to God now belongs to Jesus (just like everything a father has goes to his son) because Jesus was the reason, means and method by which the universe was made to begin with.
  • Just like light is how we see the sun, so the Son (Jesus) enables us to see the light of God. He is the brightness of God’s splendor.
  • Furthermore, Jesus is the exact representation of everything God is. Just like the marks on a coin tell you it’s monetary value, so Jesus demonstrates God’s worthiness.
  • And you know how God spoke everything into existence? And how God’s words equal life? Yeah, well, Jesus is that word.
  • After Jesus’ death and resurrection (i.e. the events that removed sin from all our lives, forever), Jesus went to heaven, exalted as God is exalted, because his work was done. He did what he came to do. #dropthemic #again
  • So, don’t mistake Jesus for being an angel just because he delivered a message from God and then went back up to heaven (you know, like angels are known to do). Oh no, no, no. He’s way superior to them. He’s God himself.
  • Jesus is called the Son of God, and I know angels are called “sons of God”, but to which angel did God ever say, “You are my son?” (singular tense, yo). Umm, no one. He only said that about the Messiah, back in the Psalms, remember?
  • Or how about that time, way back when, when King David wanted to build God a temple, and God’s all, “No, I’ll be the builder here, and I’m gonna build you a dynasty, a kingdom that will last forever and rule the whole world. And that final, ultimate king, I will call him son, because he’ll inherit everything in creation.” Remember that? Yeah, that was predicting Jesus.
  • Then there’s those passages in the Old Testament where it says God wins in the end and everyone (including the angels) will worship him. That was about Jesus, too.
  • Remember, angels are God’s servants. They’re like the wind and lightning–swift, strong and temporary.
  • But in Psalms it says, “God set his chosen one (his son, his Messiah) on a throne that will last forever.” For. Ev. Er.
  • Another Psalm (that one where the writer is all desperate and depressed until he remembers how awesome God is) says, “All of the universe is temporary, compared to God. God alone is eternal.”
  • No angel heard God say, “I’ll make you my heir until all the forces that oppose you are defeated.” He only said that to the Messiah.
  • Angels just help people along the path to salvation. Jesus is salvation.

Historical Context

Glory

Glory carries the idea of light. It is used to describe the splendor surrounding God and is thought to be eternally shining “above the heavens” (cf. Exodus 24:15; Kings 8:11; Ezekiel 8:4; Psalm 24:7, 8, etc.). The full blaze of this glory, i.e. ” the face” of God, no one is allowed to see; for no man could see him and live. Moses was hidden in a cleft of the rock while the God’s glory passed by, and saw only its outskirts, i.e. the radiance left behind after it (Exodus 33:18).6

The glory of God is occasionally manifested as an unearthly radiance; as in the vision of the shepherds (Luke 2:9), the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28, etc.), the ecstasy of Stephen (Acts 7:55). “God is Light;” 1 Timothy 6:16, “Dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen nor can see.”6

In Hebrews, Jesus is described as being the “brightness” of the light that is God’s glory. He is the light which emanates from a luminous body. The rays or beams of the sun are its “brightness,” or that by which the sun is seen and known. The sun itself we do not see; the beams which flow from it we do see. The meaning here is, that if God be represented under the image of a luminous body, as he is in the Scriptures (see Psalm 84:11; Malachi 4:2), then Christ is the radiance of that light, the brightness of that luminary.8

In the OT the most common Hebrew word for “glory” (kabod) was originally a commercial term (which referred to a pair of scales) which meant “to be heavy.” That which was heavy was valuable or had intrinsic worth. Often the concept of brightness was added to the word to express God’s majesty during the Exodus.2

Angels

The Hebrew word, Malʾakh (מַלְאַךְ), is the word used most often to describe angels and means “messenger” (from the Ugaritic lak “to send”). It is applied frequently to human agents (e.g., Gen. 32:4) in addition to heavenly agents. Elsewhere in the Bible angels are called ʾelohim (usually translated “god” or “gods”; Gen. 6:2; Job 1:6), more often bene ʾelohim or bene ʾelim (lit. “sons of gods”) – in the general sense of “divine beings.” They are also known as kedoshim (“holy beings”; Ps. 89:8; Job 5:1). Often in Scripture, an angel is called simply a “man.” For example, the mysterious being who wrestled with Jacob is first called a man, then ʾelohim (Gen. 32:24). The Bible also speaks of winged creatures of angelic character called cherubim and seraphim, who serve a variety of functions.10

Angels are thought to be immortal, though created beings (tradition holds they were created on the first or second day of creation), and though they seem to know more than mankind, they are not omniscient.10

In the Scriptures, angels: (1) Bear away the souls of the righteous in death (Luke 16:22), as in the case of Lazarus. (2) Oppose purposes and designs of Satan, not in their own names, but in the name of the Lord (Jude 1:6). (3) Execute the punitive judgments of God upon the incorrigibly wicked, as in the case of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35) and that of Herod (Acts 12:23). (4) Exert influence over the rulers and governments of nations, as in the case of Persia (Daniel 10:20). (5) Aid providentially in bringing the unsaved to hear the redeeming words of the gospel, as in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:3). (6) Exercise solicitous care over little children, as shown by Jesus’ words (Matthew 18:10).1 (7) Deliver critical messages from God. (8) Helped Moses deliver the Law to Israel (Deuteronomy 33:2).

Ultimately Jews believed there were millions and millions of angels and that they presided over many things including the sea, the frost, the dew, the rain, the snow, the hail, the thunder and the lightning. Angels were also the wardens of hell and torturers of the damned.1

Firstborn Sons

In Israel, the firstborn son was to inherit the mantle of leading the family in his father’s place. The firstborn also received a double portion of the father’s inheritance. This is why, when twins were born, great care was taken to identify the first to come from the womb.4

The author of Hebrews is speaking of Jesus as God’s Son not in terms of his natural birth, but as it relates to his preeminence, and rights to inheritance in creation as the “firstborn Son.” Note that Jesus is not only the “firstborn,” He is also the “only begotten” Son, so that he alone is the heir of all things.Indeed, the mere use of the title in the singular, “my Son,” carries with it a different idea from its use in the plural used to describe angels (“sons of God”).6

To modern minds, “firstborn” sounds like a chronological concept, that someone was born first in time in a family. But for the Hebrews, firstborn signified position, not time. The oldest son was usually, but not always, the heir to the father’s estate. As such, he was in a position of privilege and preeminence over his brothers. Note that King David was not the firstborn son of Jesse. In fact, he was the youngest son. But he was the most prestigious and preeminent son, because God had chosen him above his brothers.3

Psalms 2:7

  • “You are my son; this day I have begotten you.”
  • This Psalm (thought to be written by David) sets the context that there is a rebellious confederation of subject kings opposing the king of Israel (called “the Anointed” of the Lord). In view of their hostile preparations, the Lord in heaven is laughing. Then the king of Israel speaks, “I will tell you what the Lord said unto me, ‘Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.’ Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and for thy possession the ends of the earth.” Then follows an admonition to the rebels to do homage to this “son,” submission to whom is submission to the Lord, and whose anger is as the Lord’s anger.6
  • In this Psalm, David essentially calls the day of his coronation as king the day of his birth as God’s son.6
  • This Psalm is considered a coronation Psalm and was used to confirm God’s chosen leader of Israel.
  • What time period do the words,  “This day have I begotten thee” apply? The author of Hebrews makes is clear that Jesus has always existed (as God had), so he was not implying that Jesus was created, as man was. At the very least he is implying that Jesus’ incarnation is a “begetting.” However, Paul said, “God hath raised up Jesus; as also it is written in the second Psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee” (Acts 13:33). Thus, the begetting mentioned is the resurrection of Christ, for it was the resurrection that established all that Christ said and did.1
  • The main argument of the author here does not turn on the time when the “begetting” happened, but on the fact that this was said to Jesus and not to any one of the angels.8

2 Samuel 7:14

  • I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me.” A sentiment similar to this is found in Psalm 89:20-27.
  • In 2 Samuel, David wanted to build a temple, a “house” for God. God made it clear that He did not really need a “house.” Instead, God promised to build a “house” – a dynasty – for David. God assured David that there would always be someone of his descendants who will sit on the throne of Israel. After David dies, God will raise up one of his descendants to take his place. God then tells David that when his son sins, He will correct him (verse 14). Thus, we have a double prophecy. David will always have a descendant to sit on the throne. But beyond this, David’s descendant, the Messiah, will reign forever because He is eternal. God will not need to correct Him for committing iniquity.4
  • The “son” in this passage originally referred to Solomon, as David’s heir, and reinforces that the father-son relationship between God and a man is not about one’s birth; it is about being installed on the throne.4

Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalms 97:7

  • “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
  • These passages reflect how God will triumph over all his enemies and as a result all the “gods” or “angels” will bow before him.

Psalms 104:4

  • “He makes his angels spirits and his servants flames of fire.”
  • The context of the psalm is that God has arrayed himself in the glories of the universe and operates through the powers of nature.6
  • The Rabbis often refer to the fact that God makes his angels assume any form he pleases, whether men (Genesis 18:2) or women (Zechariah 5:9) or wind or flame (Exodus 3:2; 2 Kings 6:17).7
  • “Flame of fire” probably refers to lightning – which is often the meaning of the phrase. The word “ministers” here, means the same as angels, and the sense of the whole is, that the attending retinue of God, when he manifests himself with great power and glory, is like the winds and the lightning. His angels are like them. They are prompt to do his will – rapid, quick, obedient in his service; they are in all respects subordinate to him, and occupy, as the winds and the lightnings do, the place of servants.8
  • As flames of fire they are God’s agents of judgment and illumination. Wind and fire were also symbols of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.9

Psalms 45:6-8

  • “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
  • This psalm celebrated a royal wedding, perhaps of King Solomon or one of David’s other descendants, addressing the king as God.3
  • This psalm is addressed to “the precentor” (“the chief musician”), which shows that the psalm was used in the temple services, and thus, whatever might be the occasion of its composition, was understood by the Jews of old as having an ulterior meaning.6
  • The Hebrew term “anointed” (msh) is the OT word for Messiah (masiah).In the OT prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with olive oil as a symbol of God’s choice and provision for an assigned task. In this context it also refers to the cultural usage of olive oil at a time of joy and feasting (cf. Isa. 53:11).2

Psalms 102:25-27

  • “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”
  • This Psalm is labeled, “a prayer of the afflicted when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.” The psalmist has gone through some difficult trials, which he describes in strong poetic language in the first part of the psalm. He feels as if he is about to be taken away in the midst of his days. But in his weakness and desperation, he considers the eternality, power, and unchangeableness of the Lord as Creator. He says that even though heaven and earth will perish, God remains. Like a man throws away old clothes, God will throw away the universe, but He remains the same, and His years will never come to an end.2
  •  This Psalm was originally addressed to Jehovah, but the author of Hebrews unhesitatingly applies them to Jesus.1

Psalms 110:1

  • “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”
  •  At the beginning of the psalm, two forms of “lord” are used; the first is YHWH, the second is Adoni (Lord). David’s Lord (the Messiah) sits on YHWH’s (lord) throne, in the place of authority and power.2
  • The phrase “to make an enemy a footstool,” is borrowed from the custom of ancient warriors who stood on the necks of vanquished kings on the occasion of celebrating a triumph over them as a token of their complete prostration and subjection (Isaiah 10:6). The enemies referred to are the foes of God, and the meaning is, that the Messiah is to be exalted until all those foes are subdued.8
  • This psalm is quoted or alluded to more frequently than any other psalm in the New Testament (Acts 2:34; Acts 7:55, 56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20-22; 1 Peter 3:22; Hebrews 1:3, 13, 14; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12, 13; Matthew 22:41; Mark 12:35; Luke 20:41).6

Observations

  • The personality of God, and the ability to know God as a distinct person (vs. a force of nature), is a concept underlying the whole fabric of the Christian faith.1
  • The author of Hebrews indicates that the same God who gave the Old Testament through mediators has likewise given the New Testament and its system, but this time in person.1
  • The contrast in the manner of God’s speaking to the prophets in piecemeal, here a little and there a little, is set against the revelation for the new covenant through the Son alone.1
  • The Jews believed that prophets wrote Scripture. This is why Moses was considered a prophet (cf. Deut. 18:15) and why the Jews labeled the historical books of Joshua through Kings as the “former prophets.” Therefore, this phrase does not refer to the OT prophets only, but to all the OT writers.2
  • The Jews saw history divided into two ages: the current evil age of rebellion and sin and the coming age of righteousness inaugurated by the coming of the Messiah. The OT emphasizes the coming of the Messiah in judgment and power to establish the new age.  The coming of this new age is designated by the phrase “last days.”2
  • “Exact representation” is a phrase found only here in the NT but is found often in the writings of Philo. This Greek term was originally used of an engraving tool, but it came to represent the mark it made. Jesus not only reflects deity, He bears the unique stamp of deity.2
  • The representation that Christ has “sat down” is a testimony to the completed nature of his work. In the Jewish economy, the high priest did not sit down when he went into the Holy of Holies, there being no provision of a chair, testifying to the preparatory and temporal nature of the atonement that he made; but not so with Christ who having accomplished all things is seated at God’s right hand.1
  • The metaphor of sitting at “God’s right hand” is based upon the custom of ancient kings to elevate their favorite minister to a seat on the king’s right hand.1
  • Notice that the author confirms Jesus’ standing through a series of seven OT texts from the Septuagint (mostly from the Psalms): Psalm 2:7; II Sam. 7:14; Ps. 97:7; Ps. 104:4; Ps. 45:6-7; Ps. 102:25-27 and Ps. 110:1. Seven is the number of perfection in Jewish numerology.2
  • The “name” of an individual in Scripture often indeed implied the inmost essence of that person.7

Discussion

  • The key issue the author of Hebrews is addressing in chapter one is one of “demoting” Jesus to the rank of an angel. His audience reasoned that Jesus was an important messenger, but certainly not God, himself. In what ways do we, or our society, still demote Jesus to a position lower than God? Are we more comfortable with him being a good man, or a prophet, or a demigod, or just a sub-set/aspect of God? Would we rather just think of him as something less than the creator of the universe? What contradictions does Jesus present for us in accepting him fully as God? After all, God is supposed to be eternal, all powerful, omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (everywhere) and immutable (unchanging), how could Jesus have been any of these things as a First Century Jewish carpenter from an obscure village who ended up dying? Do we really believe that Jesus was fully God?
  • Who do you think God’s enemies are that are subdued and made into his “footstool”?
  • The author of Hebrews doesn’t argue for Jesus’ divinity from Jesus’ personal history–his miracles, his birth stories, his teachings, etc. Instead he argues from the cultural context of his audience, i.e. the Old Testament. He takes their understanding of God and shows how it points to Jesus as God. What cultural context could be used today in a similar way to show that Jesus is God?

References

  1. Coffman’s commentary
  2. Utley’s commentary
  3. Cole’s commentary
  4. Deffinbaugh’s commentary
  5. Gill’s commentary
  6. Pulpit commentary
  7. Cambridge commentary
  8. Barnes’ commentary
  9. Constable’s commentary
  10. Jewish virtual library – angels

Hebrews: Overview

Author

The author of Hebrews is unknown. No author’s name is mentioned in the letter, nor is any author mentioned by the earliest sources that cite the book. The first person to cite this epistle was Clement (c. 96 AD), though he does not say who wrote the book. It is omitted from both the Marcionite Canon and the Muratorian Canon (early collections of the New Testament). From the earliest times in church history, there has been great dispute as to authorship.2

The authorship may be unknown because the letter was published on a scroll. Ancient papyrus scrolls frequently listed author and addressee on the reverse side of the text. If this letter was written in such a manner, it is easy to see how the author/addressee would not have been copied; in fact, such a “label” could easily have been lost, smudged, etc., shortly after reaching its destination.2

Some scholars have suggested that the authorship was kept secret intentionally, perhaps because the letter was authored by a woman, or another controversial figure in early church history. Thus, there was a sort of “intentional collective forgetfulness” regarding the letter’s origins.

A few candidates have been put forward:

Paul: The well known apostle was cited most often as the letter’s author in the first few centuries of the church, but this was largely in an effort to legitimize it’s place in the New Testament. However, the arguments against Pauline authorship are conclusive: (1) this letter is anonymous, which goes contrary to the practice in all of Paul’s canonical letters; (2) the style of writing is dramatically better than that of Paul; (3) the logical development is much more tightly woven than is Paul’s; (4) the spiritual eyewitnesses are appealed to, while Paul insisted on no intermediaries for his gospel (cf. Gal. 1:12); and (5) Timothy’s imprisonment (Hebrews 13:23) simply does not seem able to fit within Paul’s lifetime, since he is mentioned repeatedly both in Acts and in Paul’s letters and always as a free man.2

Barnabas: Tertullian (155 – 240 AD) was the first to suggest Barnabas as the author. The arguments for Barnabas are as follows: (1) he was a Levite and would therefore have an interest in the Jewish sacrificial system; (2) there might perhaps be a play on his “word of consolation” (13:22) and the fact that he was called “the son of consolation” (Acts 4:36); (3) since Barnabas was from Cyprus, he would most likely have had strong interaction with Alexandrian and hellenistic thought which is found throughout this letter; (4) again, his possible contacts with Alexandria might well explain why his Greek is so polished; (5) Barnabas was converted shortly after Pentecost and could, therefore, have been impacted by Stephen’s instruction (and it should be noted, for what it is worth, that there are parallels with Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 seen throughout the epistle).2

Apollos: Martin Luther (1483 – 1546 AD) was the first to suggest Apollos. The arguments for Apollos are as follows: (1) Apollos’ close acquaintance with Paul, thus accounting for Pauline influences; (2) His connection with Alexandria, which would account for the Alexandrian coloring in the language; (3) His knowledge of the Scriptures, which would explain the biblical content of the argument and the use of the LXX (Septuagint, or Greek version of the Old Testament); (4) His renown eloquence, which well suits the oratorical form of the epistle; (5) His contacts with Timothy. (6) His considerable influence in various churches.2

Priscilla: Adolf Von Harnack (1900’s AD) considered Priscilla to have been the author of the epistle and supported it in view of (1) its anonymity, since a woman would not have been regarded will as an authority source, (2) her association with Paul, (3) her instruction of Apollos, (4) and the inclusion of women in Hebrews 11.One argument against Priscilla is that the author uses a masculine participle to refer to himself in the text in Heb. 11:32 (“And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I speak…).2

Other Authors: Other scholars and church historians have suggested: (1) Clement (who quotes from Hebrews); (2) Luke (based on the similarities in the polished Greek style of Luke-Acts and Hebrews); (3) Silas (because he was an associate of Paul’s and perhaps functioned as the scribe of 1 Peter which bears some literary affinities with this work); (4) Philip.2

Although the author is anonymous to us, he seems to have been well known to the readers (13:19, 23).

Date

The letter is generally thought to have been written around 64 to 68 AD. Sometime after the death of Paul (c. 64 AD) and before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (70 AD).

Some historical markers help date this book:

  1. Hebrews is known and cited by Clement of Rome in 1 Clement (AD 95).3
  2. Hebrews bares no mention of the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem by Titus, which would’ve greatly aided his discourse on the superiority of Christ and the obsolesce of animal sacrifice.3
  3. The writer of Hebrews speaks of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament in the present tense. 3
  4. Hebrews was written during the lifetime of Timothy, whom the author knew personally.3

Audience

The audience is Jewish Christians who are struggling with maintaining their belief and are in danger of going back to Judaism. They may have endured some persecution for their faith, and were considered “immature” by the author in their understanding of the Scriptures.4

The scholarly debate tends to center around the location of the congregation that this letter was addressed to. Several locations have been suggested:

Palestine: The testimony of the ancient church was uniform on this location. Also, since early times it has been called the “Letter to the Hebrews”, a term that generally denoted  “Jews in Palestine,” in contradistinction from foreign Jews, who were called “Hellenists.” The author also presupposes a familiar acquaintance with the Jewish rituals, which may not have been as well known to those outside of Palestine. Lastly, the letter doesn’t focus on the obligation of circumcision, and the distinction of meats and drinks, which occupied so much of the attention of the apostles and early Christians in other letters to other, more Hellenistic places.8

Corinth. Not only was Timothy known there, but so was Apollos. In fact, there is the possibility that Apollos (perhaps in conjunction with Barnabas) was writing to a faction within the Corinthian congregation, perhaps even “the party of Apollos.” Furthermore, there was a strong ascetic-Jewish element which had infiltrated the Corinthian church. This group could easily be weaker brothers who had withdrawn from the main congregation because of increasing scruples over keeping the Law.2

Other Locations: Some think that the letter was written to the Hebrew part of the churches in Galatia; and that the Epistle to the Galatians was addressed to the Gentile part of those churches. Others say the churches in Macedonia, and particularly to the church of Thessalonica. Some have even suggested churches in Spain or Rome.8

Historical Context

An Ancient Sermon

The author speaks of the epistle as a “message of exhortation” (13:22) which is what First Century Jews would’ve called a sermon that would likely have been preached in a synagogue.4 It is most likely that the book summarized a speech that the author typically gave in synagogues, and was subsequently turned into a letter for circulation.

Old Testament Scripture

The author also uses thirty-five quotations from a Greek translation of the Old Testament and thirty-four allusions work to support the development of Hebrews’ argument. In addition, the writer offers nineteen summaries of Old Testament material, and thirteen times he mentions an Old Testament name or topic, often without reference to a specific context.4

A Paradigm Shift from First Century Messianic Expectations

Three decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection there were many who had begun to doubt whether Jesus could really be the Messiah for whom they were waiting, because they believed the Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures was to come as a militant king and destroy the enemies of his people. Jesus, however, came as a mere man who was arrested by the Jewish leaders and who suffered and even died under Roman crucifixion. And although he was seen resurrected, he still left the earth and his people, who now face persecution rather than victory.6

Also, the temple was still standing. The morning and evening sacrifice was still offered. The splendid rites of that imposing religion were still observed. The authority of the law was undisputed. Moses was a lawgiver, sent from God, and no one doubted that the Jewish form of religion had been instituted by their fathers in conformity with the direction of God. Their religion had been founded amidst remarkable manifestations of the Deity – in flames, and smoke, and thunder; it had been communicated by the ministration of angels; it had on its side and in its favor all the venerableness and sanction of a remote antiquity; and it commended itself by the pomp of its ritual, and by the splendor of its ceremonies.8

On the other hand, the new form of religion had little or nothing of this to commend it. It was of recent origin. It was founded by a man of Nazareth, who had been trained up in their own land, and who had been a carpenter, and who had had no extraordinary advantages of education. Its rites were few and simple. It had no splendid temple service; none of the pomp and pageantry, the music and the magnificence of the ancient religion. It had no splendid array of priests in magnificent vestments, and it had not been imparted by the ministry of angels. Fishermen were its ministers; and by the body of the nation it was regarded as a schism, or heresy, that enlisted in its favor only the most humble and lowly of the people.8

How could Jesus possibly be greater than all of the history of Judaism? How could a simple man with simple followers possibly inaugurate the Kingdom of God?

Major Themes

Superiority of Jesus

The author of Hebrews argues that belief in Christ should eclipse the readers’ understanding of the old covenant, and that his authority has no challenger. He shows this in several ways:

  • Christ is superior to the OT prophets (1:1-4) in that they were mere servants or spokesmen (1:1), while the quality of the mediator of God’s revelation has now stepped up to the level of sonship (1:2-4).2
  • Christ is superior to the angels (1:5–2:18). The author transitions into the section on angels by showing that, as God’s Son (in contrast to the prophets), Christ “has obtained a more excellent name than [the angels]” (1:4).2
  • Christ is superior to Moses (3:1–4:13). The author points out that Moses, like Christ, was faithful to God (3:1-2). But unlike Christ, Moses was merely part of the house which Christ built (3:3-4), and a mere servant in the house while Christ was the Son over the house (3:5-6a).2
  • Christ is superior to Aaron (4:14–7:28). The author shows that Jesus is the true high priest. Christ, our high priest, is sympathetic with the weaknesses of our flesh (4:14-16).2
  • Christ is superior to the old covenant (law), the temple and the sacrificial system (8:1–10:18). The author states that, “When there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the Law as well.” Christ thus fulfills the law, becomes a new temple and is the ultimate sacrifice.2

The Dangers of Apostasy

The author saw the addressees in danger of apostasy from their Christian faith. This danger was due to persecution from outsiders, a weariness with the demands of Christian life and a growing indifference to their calling (Heb 2:1; 4:14; 6:1–12; 10:23–32). He exhorts them to remain faithful on their seemingly long pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem (11:10; 12:1–3, 18–29; 13:14).5

Living As A Community of Believers

The  readers are exhorted in very pragmatic areas with respect to the community of believers (13:1-17). They are instructed to:

  • Show love for one another (13:1-6).2
  • Respect and obey the leadership of the church (13:7-17).2
  • Get back into the fold  (13:15-16).2

Overall Thoughts

  • The author of Hebrews pits Jesus against the established religion of his readers. In what ways should we still see Jesus in opposition to our own religion? Where has our belief in Jesus been blended with nationalism vs. an “everyone is included” kingdom theology? Where has his nature as a humble and suffering servant been replaced with a victory-seeking, power hungry leadership mindset? How have we restricted access to God by confining him to a building on Sundays? How have we defined cleanliness before God by means of our own efforts (or “works”) vs. the grace of Jesus’ sacrifice? Where have we created religion vs. having a relationship?
  • Many people struggle with the “angry” God of the Old Testament and the “nice” Jesus in the New Testament. The author of Hebrews says they are one in the same. In fact, he claims that Jesus is the complete picture of God, not just a partial picture, or just the “good side.” How does this fit your understanding? How have you reconciled the two?
  • Hebrews constantly reminds us that Jesus is “greater than” this or that. What things in your life do you need to be reminded that Jesus is greater than?

References

  1. Colburn’s commentary
  2. Wallace’s commentary
  3. Malick’s commentary
  4. Deffinbaugh’s commentary
  5. NABRE introduction
  6. Epistle to the Hebrews overview
  7. Gill’s commentary
  8. Barnes’ commentary