Hebrews

 

Author

·         Unknown, but Paul taught whoever wrote it.  We know this because it is full of Paul’s ideas.

·         Fun fact:  Hebrews was one of the last books to be accepted into the NT.  Remember that one of the main criteria for inclusion into the NT was a link to an Apostle.  Since no one knew who wrote the letter, very few wanted to include it.  But it was finally included after the early church leaders realized that it had a link with Paul.  Also, that is why it comes right after Paul’s letters.

 

Place and Time of Writing

 

Unique Characteristics

 

Audience

 

Theme

 

Opening Hebrews Up

 

Why did someone write this letter?

Apparently some Jews who had become Christian decided to leave Christianity and go back to the Jewish faith.  The author of this letter decides to write an essay to show the superiority of Jesus to Judaism, and so convince those Jewish Christians to stay with Christianity.  The author does this in two stages:

1.       Describes different aspects of Judaism, and shows how Jesus is superior to each of them (we will discuss 5 of these aspects)

2.       Lists different people from the OT, and shows how God was pleased with each apart from the Law or the Covenant.

The author then ends the letter by describing how a Christian should live.  As a reminder, we saw that aspect of letters before in many of Paul’s letters to house churches.

    Throughout the essay the author frequently uses OT verses and assumes the reader has knowledge of different aspects of Judaism.  Because of this we will have to discuss various OT ideas in greater detail. 

 

One further note:  Personal opinion:  I think these are arguments used by some of the Jewish Christians in deciding to leave Christianity, or as proof why they left Christianity.  Therefore, these are probably not ideas the author developed but are ones the author heard and decided to respond to. 

 

I will present each of the five cases below as one of the Jewish Christians who was thinking about leaving Christianity, and will respond with the proof of the author as to why Jesus was greater than that concern.

 

1.  Jesus is greater than the angels:  1:4-2:18

--Idea:  Jesus was really an angel.  In the OT God sent angels to perform different tasks, and perhaps Jesus was just an angel.  In that case, I have made a mistake and need to reject Christianity.

--Author of Hebrews:  Jesus was not an angel, but instead he was greater than the angels.

·         1:5 = “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have become your Father’?  Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’?”

·         2:17:  “For this reason he [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers [or humans] in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”

The author mentioned the Trinity in 1:5 by referring to the Father and the Son.  In 2:17 the author showed that it was necessary for God to become human—“like his brothers in every way”—in order to be able to make atonement [to bring people to God].  Therefore Jesus was not an angel but God-in-the-flesh.

 

2.  Jesus is greater than Moses:  chapter 3

--Idea:  Jesus was great, but he was not greater than Moses.  After all, out of all the people in the world, God gave the Law to Moses so that he could share it with the Jewish people.  Therefore Moses was greater than Jesus.

  --Author of Hebrews:  It is true that Moses received the Law from God, and that Moses gave the Law to the Jews.  Moses did play an important role in Jewish history. 

    But how did Moses receive the Law?  God created the Law and gave it to Moses.  Did Jesus play a part in the Law?  Yes, as part of God, Jesus was part of creating the Law.

·         3:3-5:  “Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.  For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.  Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future.”

So Moses received the Law as a servant receives something from his master.  But Jesus, as part of God, was a part of building the Law.  Therefore Jesus is greater than Moses.

 

3.  Jesus’ priesthood is greater:  4-7

--Idea:  These four chapters discuss different parts of the priesthood, but one concern was with the High Priest verses Jesus.  The High Priest went into the Holy of Holies once a year on behalf of all the people.  When did Jesus ever go into the Holy of Holies?  He did not.  Therefore, some of the Jewish Christians thought, the High Priest is greater than Jesus.

--Explanation:  I have mentioned the Tabernacle and the Temple, both of whom were worship locations for Jews.  I have mentioned sacrifices from the OT period.  OT Judaism also had another aspect to the sacrifices:  once a year the High Priest entered into the middle room of the Tabernacle (and later the Temple after it was built), which was known as the Holy of Holies. To the Jews of the OT, and even up to the year 70 when the Temple was destroyed, the Holy of Holies was the most sacred spot on earth.  Therefore, the idea is that the High Priest went into the most sacred spot on earth once a year, but Jesus never did.

--Author of Hebrews:  It is true that the High Priest did go into the Holy of Holies once a year and Jesus did not go into the Holy of Holies.  But what happens when the High Priest goes into the Holy of Holies?  Once the High Priest was in there, the Jews considered that the High Priest was as close to God as one can get on the earth.  No other Jew was allowed this honor, only the High Priest.  

    But Jesus is God.  He was in heaven before he came to earth as a human, and he went back to heaven after his ascension.  Therefore, Jesus lives in heaven.  So a “system” which follows one who lives in heaven is better than a “system” in which the High Priest visits the Holy of Holies once a year.

·         4:14 = “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”

The author of Hebrews calls Jesus the “great high priest” and therefore greater than the Jewish High Priest.

 

4.  Jesus has the greater Covenant:  chapter 8

--Idea:  Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not greater than the Covenant with Abraham.  After all, out of all the people in the world, God chose the Jews to be his people, and he established them with his Covenant.

--Author of Hebrews:  God did establish his Covenant with the Jewish people, but a new covenant came with Jesus that is superior to the Covenant with Abraham.  After all, the Covenant with Abraham was tied to circumcision, a physical act of belonging.  But circumcision is only a physical act and does not necessarily change one’s attitude or loyalty.  With circumcision a man joins the people of God, but that man (or woman) can still retain their old ideas.  If you examine the OT story you will see that it is filled with people who were part of the Covenant but who repeatedly rebelled against God.

    But God wants a people who will not rebel but who will love and follow him without reservation.  Therefore God has established a new covenant that is not based on a physical action such as circumcision, but is based on a change of heart and mind.

·         8:10:  “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time [after Jesus], declares the Lord.  I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.  [He is speaking about the Holy Spirit.]  I will be their God and they will be my people.”

·         8:13:  “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one [with Abraham] obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.”

 

5.  The sacrifice of Jesus is greater:  9-10:18

--Idea:  Jesus did many wonderful things, but he did not create a system that is better than sacrifices.  After all, when I sin, I can go to the Temple with a sacrifice, watch the priest make the sacrifice, and know that God has forgiven my sin.  Jesus did not replace the sacrifices:  I can watch as a sacrifice forgives my sin, but I cannot see how Jesus can forgive sins.

--Author of Hebrews:  It is true that sacrifices were commanded in the Law of Moses.  It is also true that the Law commanded that a sacrifice be made for each sin.  But which “system” is greater:  a system in which you have to make sacrifices repeatedly for your entire life for all your individual sins, or a system in which you trust in God and he provides a method [Jesus] which forgives all your sins?  Therefore, Jesus’ sacrifice is superior because it negates all sins in one act, his crucifixion. 

·         9:27, 28 = “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, (28) so 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.”

 

The second major part of Hebrews:  Showing examples of faith in the OT:  chapter 11

After answering the different points of concern about Jesus, the author of Hebrews then gives a definition of faith, and follows that by listing people in the OT who had faith that was pleasing to God.

·         Definition of faith:  11:1:  “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

·         List of people who had faith, and descriptions of how they acted on that faith:  This chapter lists many examples, and I will only include three:

o    11:7:  “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.  By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”

o    11:8:  “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” 

o    11:23:  “By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was not ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.”

By listing these people, the author of Hebrews tried to show the same thing that Paul tried to explain in his letters:  that God no longer has a list of do’s and don’ts like in the Law of Moses, but now God desires people to approach him through faith in Jesus.  Therefore God is pleased with faith, and the proper actions will follow as a person lives out that faith in love to God and is guided by the Holy Spirit.

 

How to live as a Christian:  chapters 12 and 13

·         12:1:  “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [the OT people listed in chapter 11], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

·         12:14:  “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” 

·         13:16:  “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

·         Final prayer:  13:20, 21:  “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, thorough Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.  Amen.”

 

Outline

See above.

 

Timeline so far      Additions are boldfaced     All dates are approximate

 

63BC

Rome Empire conquered Israel without fighting

44BC

Julius Caesar assassinated by Brutus, Cassius, and others.  Mark Antony tries to seize power, and he and Octavian (Caesar’s nephew) fight for power.

40BC

The Roman Empire made Herod the Great king of Israel

37BC

Antony married Cleopatra in Egypt

31BC

Octavian’s forces defeated Antony and Cleopatra’s forces; they committed suicide the next year.

27BC

Octavian is given name of Augustus, becomes Augustus Caesar.  This is the beginning of Pax Romana

4 BC

Jesus born

4 BC

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt because Herod the Great wanted to kill Jesus

4 BC

Herod the Great died

4 BC

After Herod the Great died, the kingdom of the Jews was divided and given to Herod’s three sons:

The northern part, north of Nazareth, went to Philip.

The middle part called Galilee, north of Jerusalem but where Nazareth was located, went to Herod Antipas.  (He is referred to as “Herod” in the Gospels and so this can be confusing.)

The southern part called Judea, where Jerusalem and Bethlehem was located, went to Herod Archelaus. 

AD

All years after this point are AD

Before

6

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Nazareth instead of moving to Bethlehem

6

Archelaus was removed from power because he was so brutal

6 and after

The Romans did not choose another of Herod’s descendants to control Judea (southern Israel) but instead appointed Roman governors

8

Jesus lost in Jerusalem at age 12; Joseph and Mary found him in the Temple; possible Bar Mitzvah

8-27

Jesus probably worked as a carpenter

26-36

The Roman governor in charge of southern Israel was Pilate

27

Jesus baptized by John the Baptist

27-30

Jesus traveled in Israel and preached, taught, and performed miracles

30

1.  Jesus was crucified under the Roman governor Pilate, raises from the dead three days later and ascends out of sight about a month-and-a-half later

2.  The Apostles return to Jerusalem and pick a replacement for Judas

3.  Day of Pentecost

4.  Over 3000 people become Christian

5.  Christianity spreads outside of Israel

30-50

Peter was the leader of the Christian movement

33

Paul became a Christian

48-50

Paul went on his First Missionary Trip

50

Council of Jerusalem

51-90

We do not know what John did during this time period

50-55

Paul went on his Second Missionary Trip

·         Paul wrote Galatians, I Thessalonians, and II Thessalonians

54-68

Nero was Roman emperor

55-60

Paul went on his Third Missionary Trip

·         Paul wrote Romans, and I & II Corinthians

60-62

Paul arrested in Jerusalem, taken to Rome, and lived under house arrest

·         Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon

63

Paul released from prison and travelled; he may have gone to Spain

  • Paul wrote I Timothy and Titus

64

Fire in Rome.  The emperor Nero blamed, persecuted, and killed many Christians.  This was the first Roman persecution of Christians. 

65

1.  Paul back in Rome

2.  Paul wrote II Timothy

3.  Peter and Paul martyred around this year in Rome

66

Some of the Jews got tired of the Roman rule and killed many Roman soldiers.  They thus took back the land of Israel for the Jews.

66-70

The Romans counter-attacked.  The Romans lost one battle, but won the war.

68

  • Mark written around this year

  • Hebrews written around this year

70

The Romans captured Jerusalem and burned the Temple. 

80

Matthew and Luke written around this year

81-96

Domitian is Roman emperor

90

John and Acts written around this year

95

1.  Persecution of Christians

2.  John was placed on the island of Patmos as a prisoner of Domitian

96

1.  Domitian died

2.  John was probably released from Patmos; he probably traveled to Ephesus where he stayed for the rest of his life

100

John died

367

First listing of the 27 books in a letter written by an Egyptian bishop

390s

Two councils “closed” the NT canon to those 27 books

1200s

NT divided into chapters

1500s

NT divided into verses

 

 

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 Questions/comments, contact Mark at marknickens@gmail.com