would you like a better understanding of God’s scheme of redemption? Do you want to know how the Old Testament prepared the way for the New? Do you need your faith strengthened? Then read the letter to the Hebrews.
You’ll readily see why it was written. Some Jewish Christians, once fervent followers of Jesus, were being tempted to return to Old Testament Judaism. The Hebrew writer seeks to prevent this by convincing his brethren of the superiority of the Christian system over Judaism.
How does he prove that the New Testament is better? By pointing out what the Old Testament Scriptures said about the superiority of the New Covenant. Virtually every argument he makes, he proves from the Old Testament. Now, think for a moment what a wise approach this is. What would be the best way to convince people not to return to the Old Testament system? Show them that the Old Testament itself affirmed the preeminence of the New and was, in effect, saying: “Don’t put your hope in this. Look for the better covenant. Hold on to it!”
God inspired the book of Hebrews, but which human penman God used is an oft debated question. The author’s name is not included in the epistle, though he obviously was known to the original recipients (13:18–24). Writers from as early as the second and third centuries credit Paul with authorship. But just as many from the same period deny he wrote it. Some textual features are reminiscent of Paul’s epistles (eg. 13:23). Yet other features are not (compare 2:3 with Galatians 1:12). Study for yourself the arguments pro and con available in the introductions of most commentaries. (Whatever conclusion you draw, my guess is you’ll be absolutely positive that you might perhaps be right.)
But don’t despair. Because of the approach he takes, who the writer is is really immaterial. In other New Testament books, the trustworthiness of the doctrines presented often depends solely on who the author is. But in Hebrews the writer does not base his arguments for the superiority of the New Covenant on who he is or what he says, but on what the Old Testament said. He appeals, not to his own inspiration, but to the inspiration of the Old Testament prophets. Remember, these Jewish Christians were wanting to go back to Judaism and to minimize the message of Christ given through His apostles. It was much more forceful and persuasive to point out to these people that the Old Testament itself forbade their doing this.
There are three major sections in Hebrews. In these sections, the author establishes three fundamental truths about the Son: He is a greater messenger than angels, a greater lawgiver than Moses, and a greater high priest than Aaron.
Greater Than Angels (Chapters 1–2)
The term angel means “messenger.” They were the ones through whom God relayed the Old Covenant to Moses (Acts 7:53). In this section the writer cites seven Old Testament passages which indicated that the Messiah would be greater than angels, for He would be deity. Thus the Son’s message was even more important than the Old Testament. Why did the Son lower Himself below angels to become a man? The writer explains that it was so the Son might elevate man to the place of honor God always intended for man to possess.
Greater Than Moses (Chapters 3–4)
The One who was greater than angels was also greater than Israel’s revered lawgiver. Christ was the builder of God’s household and the Son over it, not just a servant like Moses. So Christians must heed the Son’s law, and not make the mistake of those Jews of old who rejected their law. As Psalm 95 said, they were not allowed to enter God’s promised rest. The ultimate rest of which the psalmist spoke was the final rest with God in heaven. Christians must continue faithful service or else they, too, will fail to enter this rest.
Greater Than Aaron (Chapters 5–13)
The writer begins this section by scripturally proving that the Son was qualified to be a priest. After a parenthetical appeal for his readers’ spiritual growth (5:11–Chapter 6), he shows that Christ’s priesthood must be greater than the Aaronic priesthood because Psalm 110 called Him a priest after the order of Melchizedek—the patriarchal priest-king whom Genesis 14 indicated was greater than Abraham, the father of the Jews. Thus the Son’s priestly service in the heavenly sanctuary is more significant than service rendered in the earthly sanctuary of the Old Covenant (chapter 7–8:6). Jeremiah 31 foretold the establishment of the covenant Christ’s priesthood would initiate, and said it would be better than the Old because it would provide forgiveness of sins (8:7–13). The lack of real forgiveness and fellowship with God under the Old Covenant was indicated in its tabernacle setup, which permitted virtually no priestly access to God. But Christ entered into God’s own heavenly sanctuary to perform His priestly function (9:1–14). Since the death of animals was inadequate to truly atone for sins, the Son freely offered Himself as a sacrifice and made atonement a reality (9:15–10:18). In the remainder of this section the writer encourages his brethren to persevere, to emulate their ancestors who walked in faith, and to appreciate the glorious kingdom age in which they were living (10:19–chapter 13).
In your own study of Hebrews, the commentaries of James McKnight (McKnight on the Epistles) and Neil Lightfoot (Jesus Christ Today) should prove helpful. But I recommend that you frequently read the epistle straight through, keeping in mind the main points in each section. So powerful is the writer’s argumentation, so moving is his exhortation, I believe that after studying Hebrews you’ll want to stand up and shout, “Yes, I will be a Christian!”
Pickup, M. (1986). Hebrews: A Solidifier of Faith. In E. Harrell (Ed.), Christianity Magazine: December 1986, Volume 3, Number 12 (E. Harrell, Ed.) (19). Jacksonville, FL: Christianity Magazine.