The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews starts his letter by talking of the way that GOD spoke to the prophets in the past, but that now he spoke through his son, "appointed heir of all things...as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs." And he makes the point by identifying many scriptural references which identify and speak of Jesus in a way that no one would speak of the angels.
In chapter two, he notes that this places an obligation on us to "pay more careful attention...so that we do not drift away...How shall we escape if we ignore sucha great salvation?" The quotations continue, including the lovely passage from the 8th psalm, "what is man that you are mindful of him?" And he emphasizes the sovereignty of Jesus, as "GOD left nothing that is not subject to him." And he makes clear the understanding of Jesus as savior - "he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone." But he also emphasizes the humanity of Jesus. He was not only fully GOD, he was fully man, and shared humanity to "destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil..."
Chapter three begins with a mention of Jesus being greater than Moses. And again, he quotes the psalms (95) in warning against unbelief. "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God." He encourages his readers to encourage one another every day, and not to let them be "hardened by sin's deceitfullness." And he reminds them of the way that those led out of Egypt still rebelled in the desert and incurred the LORD's wrath for forty years, and were not able to enter the promised land "because of their unbelief."
Thoughts, questions, issues
Chapter four continues the discussion from chapter three of those unfaithful Israelites who failed to follow GOD's laws after being brought out of captivity in Egypt and therefore failed to enter the promised land. Now the author is referring to GOD's rest, and says that much as those were unable to enter the promised land, those having now heard the gospel and not combining it with faith will face GOD's anger and not be able to enter GOD's rest. He exhorts his readers to "make every effort to enter that rest," and not to "fall by following their example of disobedience." And he compares the word of GOD to a double-edged sword.
He continues to talk about obedience by claiming Jesus as the great high priest for Christians, Jesus "the son of GOD." And how Jesus is not unable to sympathize with their weaknesses, but was tempted "in every way." And that through him, they could approach the "throne of grace with confidence."
Chapter five continues the metaphor of Jesus as the high priest. He makes the point that no one can claim that honor, but that it must be given by GOD, as he gave it to Aaron. He speaks of Jesus' days on earth, and the "prayers and petitions" which he offered to GOD, "and he was heard because of his reverent submission." And the author makes the point that he has to be simple with his teaching, because they are like infants in the faith, not yet ready for solid food.
Nevertheless, he begins in chapter six, it is time to leave the elementary taching "and go on to maturity." He warns them of the danger of turning away, now that they've heard the gospel, and says that those falling away, "to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." He follow chastisement with word of encouragement, expressing faith in their ability to "imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised." Finally, he expresses confidence in the certainty of GOD's promise to Abraham, and confidence that Jesus has gone into GOD's holy sanctuary, where only the high priest goes, and "has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever."
Thoughts, questions, issues
In Hebrews 7, the author continues the comparison of Jesus with Melchizedek, the high priest of GOD and king of Salem who was mentioned in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110. He uses Melchizedek as a prototype for a high priest who is eternally just that, "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life...he remains a priest forever." And even Abraham "gave him a tenth of the plunder." He suggests that if perfection was possible through the Levitical law and priesthood, there would have been no need for a greater priest, but it was not, so Jesus came from the tribe of Judah. And he says that the law made nothing perfect but "Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant...he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them...the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever."
In chapter eight, he makes clear that the entire point of the high priest discussion is to emphasis that there is a high priest, and he is a high priest not of the line of Aaron, but of Melchizedek, a priest who sat "at the right hand of the the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man." Because of the sin of man, he goes on, GOD had to make a new covenant, because man did not keep the old covenant. Jesus serves as a new high priest in the "true tabernacle."
Chapter nine starts with discussion of the worship regulations of the first covenant, how they had specific places in the tabernacle. The high priest went into the Most Holy place "only once a year, and never without blood." But "the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper." "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" All of the things in the tabernacle, all of the regulations and rituals, are imitations of heavenly things. But "Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence...Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." In chapter 10, the writer emphasizes that Christ's sacrifice was made once for all. If the temple sacrifices had been able to truly cleanse the people and make them perfect, he suggest, they would not have needed to be made year after year. "But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins."
Thoughts, questions, issues
In chapter 11, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews again makes it clear that he is speaking from the Hebrew tradition by listing, and extolling the virtues of, many of the Hebrew heroes of faith. He describes faith as "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" and notes that "this is what the ancients were commended for." He then lists many of those "ancients" and the faith that they displayed, from Abel, to Noah, to Abraham, down to Rahab and David and Samuel "and the prophets." "These were all commended for their faith...only together with us would they be made perfect."
Hebrews 12 starts by talking about discipline. It can be hard to endure discipline, the author says, but it means that "GOD is treating you as sons." Fathers discipline sons for their own good, and GOD disciplines us "that we may share in his holiness." It isn't pleasant while it happens, but it pays dividends in the long run. He exhorts the readers to "make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy," cautioning them against sexual immorality and against godlessness "like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights." And he compares Mount Sinai ("a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire") to Mount Zion ("the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God"). And tells again how Jesus is "the mediator of a new covenant."
Chapter 13 contains several more exhortations, including, but not limited to, calls for the readers to love one another, not to forget "to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it," to remember those in prison and being mistreated, to honor marriage, eschew adultery and not to be "carried away by all kinds of strange teachings." There are request to pray for "us," the author and others. There's a benediction, news that "our brother Timothy has been released" and greetings from "those from Italy."
Thoughts, questions, issues