The Epistle to the Hebrews
God's Final Call to Israel of the First Century
A glance at the second chapter of Acts shows that the early believers in Jerusalem met at the Temple for worship daily. When the epistle of James was written, the believers were still connected with the synagogue, even though they were Christians (James 2:2). When the Gentiles were admitted to gospel privileges, they were formed into separate and distinct bodies; but the Hebrew Christians still maintained their connection with the synagogue — more or less loosely. This situation seems to be reflected in the discussion and the decision of the first church council (see Acts 15). The Apostle Peter in his epistles, written about 66 or 67 A.D., seems to recognize a very close connection between the Hebrew Christians and their unbelieving Jewish brethren. Obviously, the break had not come between the believers and the non-believers among the Hebrews when this epistle was written.
A careful study of the Hebrew epistle, which, as I believe, was written by the Apostle Paul, seems to bear out the conclusion that there was still a very close connection between the Hebrew Christians and their unbelieving brethren. This letter was in all probability written about 68 A.D. — only two years before the collapse of the Jewish nation under the Roman sledge-hammer blows.
There are certain statements found in this epistle which lead me to believe that the Apostle was addressing all the Hebrews — both the believers and the unbelievers. Certain sections of it are applicable only to the unbelieving part of the nation, whereas other portions undoubtedly were written to the believers. This situation becomes immediately apparent when one understands the facts which I have stated above relative to the believing Hebrews and their remaining in the fellowship of the synagogue.
After showing that Jesus of Nazareth was God (chapter 1), the writer urges his readers saying, “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them” (2:1). Note the language, “heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them.” Those addressed had heard but had not heeded. In terms of the figure, we would say that they had come into port but had not lowered the anchor by accepting the message heard. Once again we note the language of 3:1, “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus.” The readers are urged to consider the Apostle who had come from heaven with the message — the Lord Jesus Christ — and their High Priest who had returned to heaven to intercede for those who accept Him. The fact that he urges his readers to consider Jesus in these two capacities shows that the evidence had been given to them but that they had not accepted it; therefore they had not considered Him. This language could certainly not be applied to believers, who had considered and who had accepted Christ as the Saviour and Messiah.
The writer draws a parallel in chapters 3 and 4 between the Hebrews of Moses' day and the nation of his own time. The generation that came out of Egypt with Moses heard the message, followed his leadership, and finally arrived at Kadesh-barnea, the southern gateway to Palestine. They had been evangelized (4:2), but the message did not profit them since they did not accept it by faith. In the same manner the Hebrew nation in Paul's day had already heard the message of the gospel, which was to the Jew first. Beginning at Jerusalem, the glad tidings had been sounded forth by 58 A.D. to the ends of the earth (Romans 10:18). Since the generation of Paul's day had been evangelized as the people of Moses' generation had been, the Apostle urged his readers to profit by their mistake. His exhortation was, “Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, that no man fall after the same example of disobedience” (4:11). A glance at the latter part of Hebrews 3 shows that those who had heard the message from Moses disbelieved and refused to enter into the Land. They are therefore held up as a warning to the Hebrews of Paul's day. With them as an object-lesson, Paul urged his brethren to accept Christ while it was still being called, “Today.” For these and many other reasons, I am convinced that the letter to the Hebrews was to the whole Jewish nation and constituted God's last call to Israel of that generation to accept the Lord Jesus Christ. Since they did not, the stroke of judgment fell upon the nation as a whole; and it collapsed under the blows of Rome. The Jews were then scattered among the nations.
Certain other portions were addressed to the believing Hebrews. For instance, the section, 5:11-6:20, unmistakably was directed to them. Another portion, which undoubtedly was addressed to these same believers, is 10:19-12:13.
A glance at the chart above shows that the book falls into three major divisions. The first consists of chapters 1 and 2, which present Christ as the God-man. In chapter 1 the deity of Jesus is proved by quotations from the Old Testament Scriptures. This is followed by an exhortation in 2:1-4 for the Hebrews to accept Him without any hesitation. In 2:5-18 the human nature of the Lord Jesus is set forth and proved from the Old Testament Scriptures. He was therefore perfect God and perfect man — the God-man.
The second division consists of chapters 3 to 7. In the section 3:1-4:13 Paul presents Jesus as the Apostle (one sent) who left heaven and came to the earth as the world's first missionary. He who was rich became poor for our sakes that we through His poverty might become rich (II Corinthians 8:9). The Hebrew nation was therefore urged to consider Jesus and to accept Him as such.
As suggested above, the portion, 5:11-6:20, is a parenthesis in this section of the book and was directed especially to the Hebrew believers who had made little progress in their spiritual life. They were devoting all their time and energy to the discussion of doctrinal issues.
But in 4:14-7:28, Jesus is presented as the High Priest of the Jewish nation. This is one of the most marvelous sections of the book and should be mastered if possible.
Chapters 8 to 12 inclusive constitute the third section of the book. In 8:1-7 the Apostle sums up the advantages which come to us who accept Jesus Christ as Apostle and High Priest of the Jewish nation. Following this summary statement, the Apostle discusses each of the points extensively in the five separate divisions, which are indicated on the chart. Since the God-man came as the Apostle and High Priest, we have a better covenant (8:8-13); a better sanctuary (9:1-10); a better sacrifice (9:11-10:18); a better ministry (10:19-12:13); and better promises (12:14-29).
In chapter 13 the Apostle makes a passionate appeal for all who will accept Jesus as Apostle and High Priest to come out of the camp of Judaism and to suffer with the Lord Jesus who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and who will never forsake any who put their trust in Him.
The Hebrew epistle is one of the most important and profound in the entire Book of God. Never can one enjoy to the fullest extent the liberty and the peace of mind which he should have in Christ until he comprehends this message. May these short, brief remarks be used of God to stimulate an interest in this section of Holy Writ.