Author: Hebrews, contrary to popular opinion, was probably NOT written by Paul. It lacks his signature introduction and salutation. Plus, Heb. 2:4 seems to be written by a subsequent generation.
Audience: It sounds like Jews who had become Christians but were now wavering and thinking about returning to Judaism. The author explains deep into the Old Testament why Jesus is superior to Moses, Abraham, the Sabbath rest, the priesthood and the tabernacle. He exhorts his audience to NOT turn back from following the Jewish Messiah.
Main Idea: Jesus is superior.
Central Verses: Heb. 8:6-12
- Jesus is superior to angels (Heb. 1:1)
- Jesus is superior to Moses (Heb. 3:3)
- Jesus is the superior Sabbath rest (Heb. 3:18)
- Jesus is superior to the high priests (Heb. 4:14)
- Jesus is superior to Abraham (Heb. 6:13)
- Jesus offers a superior covenant, the New Testament (Heb. 8:7)
- Jesus’s temple is superior to Old Testament temple (Heb. 9:1)
- A celebration of the heroes of faith (Heb. 11:1)
- Practical applications (Heb. 12:1)
Please note these demarcations are not absolute separations of subject matter, as the author weaves concepts and people in his closely-reasoned argument.
Cyclical style: The author explains doctrine and then exhorts to behavior. This pattern basically repeats over and over again through the major divisions. Some of these exhortations are the hardest hitting of the New Testament. The strong warnings are NOT intended to make you feel like there’s no hope for you. They ARE intended to strongly urge you to stay faithful to the things of God. If, however, you are fallen, by all means, stand back up and start serving God again.
- Heb. 4:12
- Heb. 6:10
- All of Heb. 11
- Heb 12:1-3
- Heb. 13:8
Melchizedek was the high priest who came out to Abraham, when Abraham had rescued Lot from attackers. Abraham gave him a tithe (first mention of the tithe in the Bible), and Melchizedek blessed Abraham. The extraordinary thing is the lack of genealogy. The Old Testament is full of genealogies, and all the heroes can be found in them — minus Melchizedek. The point for the author of Hebrews is that Jesus has the right to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. He is countering arguments that Jesus, not being from the line of Levi, would have no right to the claim. The author cites Old Testament prophecy about the line of Melchizedek to claim that right.
The rest is specified as the Promised Land, the place flowing milk and honey. By contrast, the land of work, or being worked, is the desert. Christianity is not miserable, like the desert. It is a place of blessing, abundant provision and well-being. Once you rest from religious strivings, you can sit at the feet of Jesus like Mary and live by the Spirit, not by a set of rules.
Priest vs. prophet While both try to get man into relationship with God, their function is basically opposite. The prophet represents God to man. The priest represents man to God. The prophet warns man on behalf of God. The priest pleads to God for mercy on behalf of man. It is incredibly encouraging to note that Jesus is our “high priest,” not our “high prophet.” In other words, He’s got our back. And He is pleading on our behalf. The author of Hebrews expressly says He knows our weakness, our failings, our humanity because He took human form.
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