THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS.
The apostle Paul is generally believed to be the writer of this epistle to the Hebrews. Bible students agree that the point of view is Pauline and Ch.13:23 sounds very familiar, and reads as though it is from the pen of the great apostle.
The date of book was undoubtedly before 70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed, for Ch. 10:11 refers to, at that time, an existing priesthood.
The purpose for which the epistle was written was two-fold:
a. To confirm Jewish believers by showing that Judaism had come to an end through the fulfillment by Christ of the whole purpose of the law, see Gal. 3:19, 23-24.
b. To exhort Jewish believers against lapsing back into Judaism, or regarding Christianity as a mere phase of Judaism. From the Acts of the Apostles we gather that there was such a tendency in the early church, Ch.21:18-24.
They key-word is “better”. The epistle is a series of contrasts between the good things of Judaism and the better things of Christ. Church truth as found in some others epistles does not appear, except that in Ch. 13:12-14, we are exhorted to bear the reproach of the cross and look for the city which is to come.
In Ch. 1:1-2 we are told that God Who spoke at one time through prophets, has in these last days spoken through His own Son. While to ordinary eyes He was only a man among men, the Scriptures say He is the heir of all things, the One Who was instrumental in the bringing forth of creation, and the express image of the person of God. This One purged our sins by the sacrifice of Himself and is now seated at the right hand of God, vs.2-3. The first of the series of contrasts is then mentioned.
Christ is in five ways BETTER than the angels;
1. v. 5. In His relationship to God.
2. v.6. In His superiority as the Son, Whom all the angels are commanded to worship.
3. v.8. In His right to divinity.
4. v.13. In His exaltation to the right hand of God.
5. Ch. 2:5-9a. In His ruler ship over the earth, or the world to come.
Because of the superiority of the Son over the prophets and over the angels, we are exhorted to give earnest heed to the message which came first through Him, and then through them that heard Him, backed up with signs and wonders, divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost. God Himself is back of the message and to turn it down means to treat Him with indifference, which is the beginning of the unpardonable sin, Ch.2:1-4. Man’s frailty has been given full consideration. In fact, to thoroughly weigh our need the Son was mad man, fore temptation as duck defeated the tempter, and now is fully qualified to succor them that are tempted, vs.14-18.
The next point of contrast is made between Christ and Moses. The latter was a faithful servant in the house of God, but the Son as One with God is head over the house, Ch. 3:1-6. Therefore, Christ is BETTER than Moses. We are the house of God if we remain true to Him. Israel in the wilderness was called into a faith walk but failed to apprehend it, and therefore, did not experience the Canaan-rest, vs.8-11.
We are exhorted not to fail through unbelief, v.12, but to rest from our own works and build upon the work of God in Christ, Ch.4:9-10. Such a call seems easy of accomplishment but every one soon finds it is a conflict, and that we must labor to rest, v.11. God’s Word is sufficient and digs deeper into our natures than our puny efforts at self-righteousness, meeting the need of spirit, soul and body, vs.12-13. It shows us our great need, but also leads us to a throne of grave where our every need will be met, v.16.
As a high priest Christ stands out in great contrast to the priesthood of Aaron. While Aaron was called of God, Ch.5:4, he nevertheless “must needs” offer a sin offering for himself as well as for the people, v.3. Christ, however, likewise called of God to be a priest, is BETTER in that as the Son He was a perfect priest, and became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him, vs.6-9. This salvation brings an enlarging revelation of God to those who go on, but if we neglect our privilege, and fail to apply the truth we shall not be able to receive the strong meat of the Word, vs.12-14.
The exhortation is given that we should advance beyond the first principles of the faith, Ch.6;1-3, lest some go on and we be left behind, v.6. We must not be slothful, but followers of those who have made good and inherited the promises, v.12. God has made a similar covenant with us as He did with Abraham. In v.17, we are reminded that God confirmed the Abrahamic covenant with an oath, or the margin says, interposed Himself, and by Christ dying for us of interposing Himself we likewise are assured that God will keep His Word. All He asks is that we be faithful as was Abraham and go on, the God may be glorified by our faith.
The priesthood of Jesus Christ is also BETTER than the Aaronic priesthood in that it has not terminating point. Like Melchizedek, who did not obtain his priesthood by natural descent, Ch.7:3, nor end it by age limit, vs.23-23, as did these of the Aaronic order, Christ is a priest forever. He also as Melchizedek is a King-priest whereas Aaron was just a priest. The fact that god has ordained another priesthood proves that the Aaronic priesthood was imperfect, therefore, the priesthood of Christ is BETTER also in that respect, vs.11,18. Because of His superiority and unchanging priesthood Christ is able “to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him, having offered up Himself for our sins”, vs.25-27.
The Aaronic priesthood served God in the shadow of heavenly things, but Christ is a Minister of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man, Ch.8:1-2, whereby He is the Mediator of a BETTER covenant, v.6. The first covenant did not fully meet the need, vs.7-9. God foretold of a new one which would be written upon fleshly tables of the heart and not upon tables of stone, v.10. It will give a revelation of God so that one will not have to say to his neighbor, “know the Lord, for all shall know Him from the least to the greatest”, v.11. This is the Gospel of the New Testament in which we are assured of the forgiveness of sins, v.12, and that our past will be remembered against us no more forever.
The contrast between the earthly and heavenly sanctuary also proves that the priesthood of Christ is BETTER. The Aaronic priesthood entered only into the first tabernacle to perform the service of God, but into the second went only the high priest and that just once a year with blood for himself and for the people, Ch.9:1-7. This was to signify that the way into the holiest was not opened while the earthly tabernacle was in use. Christ, however, has become an High Priest of a greater and more perfect tabernacle into which He took His own blood, as contrasted with the blood of bulls and goats, by which He has obtained eternal redemption for us, vs.11-12. The New Testament is in reality a will made out in favor of repentant sinners, never to be changed because the Testator died, vs.16-17. The blood of Jesus is no much BETTER than that of calves and of goats, in that it has cleaned the heavenly tabernacle, v.23, and its cleansing power is everlasting for He has “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and will appear the second time with an accomplished full salvation for them that look for Him”, vs.25-28.
From Ch. 10 we learn that Christ as our sacrifice is BETTER than those sacrifices which were offered in the temple. Such is declared in a three-fold way:
1. Vs. 1,5. The Old Testament sacrifices were shadows or types but Christ is the fulfillment of the types.
2. Vs. 3, 17. Those sacrifices were offered every year reminding the people of their sins, but Christ by one offering put away sins and God reminds us about them no more.
3. Vs.4, 14. The blood of bulls and goats never took away sins, but Christ by His blood perfects forever those who are sanctified or separated unto Him.
Because of such glorious provision we are invited to enter boldly into the holiest, v.19, and are exhorted to hold fast our profession without wavering, v.23, and to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, v.25. Those who despised the law of Moses were summarily dealt with, and we are warned not to do despite to the Spirit of Grace lest we also be punished, for it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, vs.28-31. We are warned not to be of them that draw back to perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul, v.39.
Ch. 11 gives us the record of some well known Bible characters, and of many unnamed who obtained a good report through faith. To understand faith we need to accept the literal wording of v.1. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for”. Able, v.4, Noah, v.7, Abraham, v.8, Joseph, v22, Moses, v.24, Joshua, v.30, Rahab, v.31, and others, who stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, vs.33-34, and some who chose martyrdom rather than recant, in the hope of a better resurrection, v.35, all proved their faith by their works in accord with their faith. God declares He is not ashamed of them, v.16, and He is now watching us who live in a better day because of the BETTER way, since Jesus died and rose again.
In view of this all, we are exhorted in Ch.12 to run the race, looking not around but unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, vs.1-2. He was much tried, even as we are chastened for our good, but in the end we reap the peaceable fruit of righteousness, vs.3,11. Beware of despising our birthright as did Esau, for a day is coming when it will be too lake to make good, vs.16-17. We belong to a select company, vs.22-24, and must not fail, but submit ourselves to our God Who is a consuming fire, v.29.
In Ch. 13:1-9, we have six simple but helpful injunctions which greatly enhance the testimony of the believer. They are: to preserve brotherly love; to be compassionate toward the afflicted; to be an example of contentment, trusting the Lord; to be thoughtful of obligations to those in authority over us, see v.17; and to develop a wholesome spirituality rather than a tendency to embrace unhealthy and strange doctrines. Our fellowship is not with things but with Christ, for Whom we must separate from the world and bear His reproach, which at times is very real. He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever, so that the world despises Him, but to those who follow Him He is the same mighty Jesus. In closing his epistle the apostle emphasizes the fact that God wishes to perfect us in every good work to do His will, vs.20-21, and that it is through Jesus Christ our Lord, that He might have the glory forever and ever, Amen.