Studies In Hebrews #1
Hebrews 1:1 - 2:18
With this issue we begin a series of studies through the New Testament book of Hebrews. A study of Hebrews is rich and rewarding. The book is unlike other New Testament books, especially in the unique picture which is presented of Jesus.
One of the perplexing things about the book of Hebrews is that the author nowhere identifies himself. Several have been suggested as the author such as Paul, Barnabas, Luke, Priscilla & Aquila and Apollos. Since the author does not identify himself in the book, all such conclusions are guesswork. We must conclude as Origen did, "God alone knows." It is best for us to call him "the writer of Hebrews" or "the Hebrew writer".
Even though we do not know by name the writer of Hebrews we do know a few things about him. He was well acquainted with his readers' spiritual condition (5:11-14). He was well aware of their past (6:10; 10:32-34). He was certain they could do better spiritually than they were doing (6:9). When you read the book it is clear he had a thorough understanding of the Old Testament, thus showing he had Jewish influences upon him.
Another question we need to answer about the book is, "Who were the recipients of the book?" Most of our bibles have "The Epistle to the Hebrews" at the beginning of the book. This title would indicate the book was written to Hebrews, or Jews. But this title to the book was added later. For us to learn who the book was written to we need to look inside the book itself.
Some "scholars" have put forth the idea that the book was written to Gentiles [Moffatt & Windisch]. Their position is based on Hebrews 3:12. They feel that if Jewish Christians are being addressed, their relapse into Judaism would not involve "falling away from the living God" because they would still be worshipping the God of Israel. Therefore, at least in their mind, the book had to be written to Gentiles.
There is plenty of proof from the book itself to show the book was written to Jews who had become Christians. (1) Hebrews 6:1 says, "not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works." The "dead works" would seem to refer to the Jewish rites and ceremonies that were mere works void of any spiritual cleansing for the soul (see 9:9-14).
(2) The continual appeal to the Old Testament scriptures by the author shows the author was confident his readers were well acquainted with those scriptures. Jews, not Gentiles, were taught the scriptures daily.
(3) The recipients seem to accept the Levitical priesthood. In 7:11 the writer says, "Now if there was perfection through the Levitical priesthood..." If it were written to Gentiles, they would naturally answer the author, "we never thought there was!" The Jews, not the Gentiles, would relate to the things said by the writer in the book about the priesthood.
(4) Hebrews 10:32-34 speaks of the recipients as having been persecuted by others. When the Jews obeyed the gospel they were persecuted by unconverted Jews (Acts 8:1). Generally speaking, Gentiles who obeyed the gospel were NOT persecuted as the Jews were. Therefore, the recipients of the book would have been Jews. From these and other pieces of evidence we can conclude the book was written to Jewish Christians -- people who were born to Jewish parents and perhaps raised as Jews but who had obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ.
From where was the book written? This question seems to be answered in 13:24 when the writer says, "They of Italy salute you." The book seems to have been written from Italy. From which city in Italy is not stated but it may have been Rome, since Rome played such an important role in early church history.
What was the destination of the book? Some have suggested places such as Alexandria in Egypt, Syrian Antioch, Colossae, Ephesus, Cyprus or even Rome itself. It seems apparent to me, however, that it was sent to Jewish Christians living in the region of Palestine. If the persecutions of 10:32-34 are those referred to in Acts 8:1, which seems to be an acceptable conclusion, then it is clear the book was sent to Jewish Christians living in Palestine. We would conclude this because those living outside of Palestine suffered relatively little from the Jews for their conversion to Christ. From 8:4 it seems there were those who still offered sacrifices according to the Law. At the time the book was written this was done very little outside of Palestine. Whether or not our conclusions are correct about the books destination, always remember they were Jewish Christians.
It is clear from the book that it was written prior to 70 A.D. This is seen from the fact the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing (see 8:4; 9:8; 10:1ff). An exact date
is really not important. Just remember it was BEFORE 70 A.D.
The purpose of the book is stated in 13:22 when the writer describes his work as a "word of exhortation". These Jewish Christians had been faithful and zealous at one point (10:32-34), but at the time the book was written they were immature (5:11-14), weak (12:12,13) and perhaps at the very point of falling away (2:1; 3:12). Because of the possibility of their returning back to the Jewish religion and turning their back on the Lord, the Hebrew writer sent this letter in hopes it will cause them to realize the superiority of the Law of Christ to the Law of Moses and thus be sufficiently encouraged to remain in faithful service to the Lord.
The Old Avenue Of Revelation (1:1)
The book of Hebrews begins by showing how God revealed Himself to men "in time
past"--to the fathers in the prophets. God dealt directly with the fathers of
each household during the Patriarchal period [see Abraham Gen.12; Isaac Gen.26;
Jacob Gen.28]. However, during the Mosaical period God expressed His will to men
through prophets such as Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, etc.. But these revelations were
in differing proportions and made in different ways. As the prophet Isaiah said,
"here a little, there a little" (Isaiah 28:10-13). To say the least the
revelations of God "in time past" were far from perfect.
The New Avenue Of Revelation (1:2-14)
In contrast to the revelations "in time past" which were not complete the Hebrew
writer now shows how God, "in these last days", speaks unto us by His Son, Jesus
In the transfiguration of Matt. 17 God said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him" (v.5). Jesus Himself affirmed He was God's spokesman in John 5:19 and 12:49. Since Jesus is now God's spokesman, we should listen and heed the message which He speaks.
Seven facts about Jesus are presented to show He and His message are superior to the old spokesmen and the old message (v.2,3). (1) "whom he hath appointed heir of all things". As an heir inherits things from the father, so has Christ inherited all things from the heavenly Father (Psa.2:7,8; Jn.17:15). (2) "by whom also he made the worlds". The Son was present with the Father in the creation and the Son had an active part in that creation (Jn.1:1-3,10,14; 1 Cor.8:6; Col.1:16,17). (3) "who being the brightness of his glory". We see God the Father through the Son (Jn.1:18; 14:9). (4) "the express image of his person". Christ is the exact representation of the nature of God (Col.1:15; 1 Tim.3:16). (5) "upholding all things by the word of his power". The very word of the Son is powerful (Matt.8:26,27; 24:35; Rom.1:16; Col.1:17). (6) "when he had by himself purged our sins". Christ made purification from sins possible by the sacrifice of Himself. (7) "sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high". Jesus is at the right hand of God reigning as King over God's kingdom (Eph.1:20-22).
Jesus is next shown to be superior to angels (v.4-14).
Why does the Hebrew writer go to the trouble here to show superiority over angels? The word 'angel' means messenger. Genesis 19:15; 22:11 and Exodus 3:2 show angels worked as messengers of God. In fact, according to Deut.33:2; Acts 7:53; and Gal.3:19, angels had some part in revealing the Mosaical Law. Hebrews 2:2 refers to this law as "the word spoken through angels." So the function of angels is in the area of revelation. The Hebrew writer wants to show that Jesus, as God's messenger "in these last days", is superior to the angels, who were His messengers with the Old Law. (1) Jesus has a more excellent name than the angels (v.4,5). They are mere servants while Jesus is God's SON. [See also v.7; Eph.1:21 and Phil.2:9-11.] (2) The angels were instructed to worship Christ, not the other way around (v.6). (3) Jesus is addressed as God and His kingdom is to be for ever and ever (v.8,9). Jesus is God and King, not the angels. (4) Jesus is eternal (v.10-12). He laid the foundations of the earth and although the earth will perish, He will continue the same. (5) No angel has ever been invited to sit at the right hand of God (v.13). But Jesus as God's Son is now seated there (Eph.1:20-23). (6) Angels are ministering spirits doing service for those that shall receive eternal salvation (v.14). Jesus, however, is the one that has made such salvation possible.
If Jesus is so superior to the fathers, prophets and angels, then surely His message is also superior to the message revealed "in time past".
We Must Not Neglect The Salvation Through Jesus (2:1-4)
Having established in chapter one that Jesus is superior to the fathers, prophets and angels, the Hebrew writer stops to issue the first of many warnings. He exhorts them to "pay all the more attention to what we have heard" (Moffatt translation). The recipients of the book, Jewish Christians, were apparently on the brink of turning from Christ to go back to Judaism. The writer argues since Jesus is so superior to the fathers, prophets and angels then we should pay much closer attention to the message revealed through Jesus.
To further clarify and press the point the author compares "the word spoken through angels", the Law of Moses (cf.Acts 7:38,53; Gal.3:19), and "so great a salvation", the message of Christ which they had heard (v.1,3). "The word spoken through angels" proved steadfast by virtue of the fact that those who transgressed or disobeyed that law received their just reward, or punishment. Such people died "without compassion" (10:28) since they were deserving of such punishment. The recipients of the book were well aware of the steadfastness of the Law and the just punishment for those who would disobey it. The author then asks, "how shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation?" In other words, since Jesus is so superior to the messenger of the Old Law, there can be no doubt His message will also prove steadfast and render punishments greater than those for the Old Law. If there was no escape from punishment under the Old Law then surely there will be no escape under the Law of Christ. Indeed, "how shall we escape"? There is great danger in neglecting the Law of Christ.
Jesus Is The Perfect Representative Of Man (2:5-18)
The subject left off in chapter one verse 14, showing the superiority of Jesus, is now resumed. The author first shows the lowliness and dignity of man in general (v.5-8) by referring to Psalms 8:4-6. In comparison with all God created man is quite small. Yet God is mindful of us and supplies us with those things we have need of. As far as rank is concerned, man is "a little lower than the angels." God crowned man with glory and honor and put him in a position of authority over all that He had created (cf.Gen.1:26). "But now we see not yet all things subjected to him." When man sinned in the Garden of Eden (cf.Gen.3) he lost the glory and honor God had crowned him with and he lost authority over some things previously subjected to him. Death, for example, was no longer subject to man (cf.1 Cor.15:21,22).
Even though Jesus was above angels in rank (1:4-14), He humbled Himself and became a man (Phil.2:5-8), one "a little lower than the angels" (2:7,9). Why would Jesus for a time become lower than angels? First, to restore man to his former glory (v.9-13). He suffered a death crowned with glory and honor for every man (v.9). By such He is able to bring "many sons unto glory" (v.10). He was also made perfect, wholly fitted, to be our author, or leader, in salvation (v.10; cf.5:7-9). Since He became a man like you and me, He is one of us and therefore calls us brethren (v.11-13). As His brethren we shall be glorified with Him (cf.Rom.8:16,17). Jesus became a man so he could restore man with the glory and honor he lost in the Garden of Eden (see also Rom.8:29,30). Second, to destroy the power of Satan, redeeming man from the bondage of death (v.14-16). When man sinned in the Garden of Eden he lost power over death. Jesus became flesh and blood like you and me so He could, through the death on the cross, "bring to nought him that had the power of death...the devil" (v.14). When Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected from the dead on the third day, He conquered over death and Satan (see Gen.3:15; Matt.16:18; 1 Cor.15:21,22). By this triumph over death He was able to deliver us from the bondage of death (v.15; cf.Jn.8:31-36). What man lost in the Garden of Eden Jesus regained at Calvary. Jesus lowered Himself to become a man to help men. He did not lower Himself to help angels (v.16). Third, to become qualified to be man's High Priest before God (v.17,18). When Jesus lowered Himself to become a man He became "in all things...like unto his brethren" (v.17). This was necessary so He could become a "merciful and faithful High Priest." To be merciful is to be compassionate or sympathetic. By experiencing the infirmities and trials of life He was able to feel the
necessity of being faithful in the office of High Priest which involves two responsibilities: offering sacrifices and making intercession. Jesus had to become a man so He might sympathize with us and so He might be faithful to the great trust committed to Him to be our High Priest. Indeed He has been faithful in offering THE atoning sacrifice for all men.
By Alex Ogden
From Expository Files 1.4; April, 1994