(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
Christ's present ministry is functioning as the High Priest on behalf of the believer, everyday in the Father's presence. Therefore, it is essential for us as believers to understand the author's message in this book. As we shall see, for those who do not understand, the author has a word of condemnation.
There are several questions about the book of Hebrews that need to be addressed before we can begin our study. The first question is 'who wrote Hebrews? ' In most of the New Testament letters the author identifies himself in the opening paragraph. For example, Paul begins his letters saying, 'Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ', writing to the church at a certain city. This identification is obviously lacking in the book of Hebrews. Well, the question of the authorship of Hebrews is easy to answer: we don't know! To be quite candid, none of us really have the foggiest idea who wrote the book of Hebrews. Many suggestions have been made, but the best any of us can do is speculate.
Several people think that Paul wrote the book. This is a good probability, simply because of the fact that Paul wrote so much of the New Testament. Others have suggested Barnabas, Luke, and Priscilla. But the issue of ownership is not that crucial. The point is that Hebrews is a revelation from God and it's character demonstrates this fact clearly.
The second question concerning Hebrews is 'when was it written?' This question is relatively easy to answer based on the information we have. It has been established that the book of Hebrews was written between 60 and 69 A.D. It is obvious from the book, that Temple worship by the Jews was still being practiced. Because the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D., the book was obviously authored before that time. Secondly, the readers of the letter are identified as having been believers for some time, which would move the date of authorship to a later time than the earlier epistles. Third, Timothy is still alive, and is referred to at the end of the book. Based on this information, most commentators have no problem dating Hebrews during the 60's A.D.
The third question is 'how do we know the book was written to the Hebrews?' This seems rather obvious to us, but remember, the original manuscripts didn't have the title 'The Epistle To The Hebrews' typed on top of the letter. But the content, as we will see, supports the title.
The Hebrews, to whom this letter was written, were 'professing Christians.' And it is important for us to understand this term. These Hebrews Professed to be believers in Christ. It is obvious from the letter that some of them were not actually true believers, because they gave the Lord Jesus Christ praise with their mouths, but not with their hearts.
The purpose of the book of Hebrews is three-fold. First, it affirms the finality of Christianity. The author states that Christianity is the ultimate, final revelation from God. All revelation up to this point comes together in the book of Hebrews. This is the reason that the book relies so much on Old Testament passages to communicated it's message. God builds to the revelation of Jesus Christ from the book of Genesis until the book of Malachi. Hebrews demonstrates this fact.
Secondly, the book of Hebrews was written to show the typical character of the Mosaic Law and its regulations. By typical, we mean 'type.' The Old Testament sacrificial, and priestly system was a 'type' of Jesus Christ. Hebrews drives home the point that the Old Testament system was only a shadow of the things that were to come through the work and person of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament sacrifices never provided eternal salvation. The blood of animals could never abolish sin. However, these sacrifices pointed to the time in the future that the God-man, Jesus Christ, would be sacrificed and experience a death that could eternally save all those who believe.
Third, Hebrews warns against apostasy. The Jews at this time faced two realms of apostasy that needed to be addressed. First, there were those Jews who came to believe in Christ, but because of the pressures put on them, they returned to Judaism. We can understand this type of apostasy today. Many of us who have come to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior may feel pressured to return to the church where we were raised. If we do not return, we are told that we are breaking family tradition and deserting the family faith. The author's message to the Hebrews is 'you can not go back to Judaism. If you do, you have not fully understood the revelation of God given through Jesus Christ. Your choices do not include returning to the Old Testament system so mom and dad won't be upset with you.'
The second realm of apostasy that existed was the turning back of those who never fully came to trust Christ as Lord and Savior. They had progressed along, evaluating the person of Christ, and the revelation given in Him, but then they turned back to Judaism before they experienced salvation. As we will discover, those who have heard the message and refuse to believe it are given a word of strong condemnation by the author.
The theme of the book of Hebrews can be stated in three words: 'Christ Is Superior.' Hebrews demonstrates that Christ is superior in His work, in His person, and in everything connected with Judaism. The point of the author is to prove this fact to the Hebrews by demonstrating Christ's superiority in the context of Old Testament revelation. Therefore, it is paramount that we understand this point. If the book of Hebrews is correct, the revelation of Jesus Christ supersedes everything and everyone else. It resolves all the questions regarding the other world religions, other worship practices, and the lost people who do not respond to the truth of the Gospel. Everything is measured in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Hebrews is divided into two sections. The first part of the book ( 1:1-10:18) is 'doctrinal' and deals with the: principles that are true in Jesus Christ. The last part of the book (10:19-13:25) addresses the application of these principles.
While examining the doctrinal aspect of Hebrews, we will discover that Christ is superior in four areas:
Obviously, it is important that we understand all areas of Christ's superiority today. But it is particularly important that we understand the Melchidizedekian priesthood. The writer to the Hebrews gives a sharp rebuke to those who don't understand because if this aspect of Christ's superiority is misunderstood, so also is the present ministry of Jesus Christ. Christ is fulfilling His role as a High Priest at this very moment. It is His present ministry to us as believers. If we don't understand this truth, we don't truly understand what He is doing on our behalf.
Five times in the book of Hebrews (2:1-4, 3:7-4:13, 5:11-16, 10:26-31, 12:18-29), the author breaks into his argument to give a solemn warning to those who read the letter. These warnings are given to those who are merely 'professing' to be believers in Christ. The writer warns these people of the danger of stopping short of true faith in Christ. If Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation from God, those who don't believe in Him face the greatest condemnation possible. This is my greatest concern as a Pastor. I constantly pray for those who may come to church week after week, yet never truly place their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, because the truths of the Scripture are not revealed to them. As a result, they don't realize the condemnation they will face as a result of their disbelief. We will examine all of these passages in detail as we progress in our study.
Remember, there is no introduction at the beginning of the book of Hebrews. Rather, the author jumps right away to the first area of Christ's superiority over angels. There is no attempt to convey the fact that God has already revealed Himself. That is known by the Hebrews. They have seen God's revelation from Genesis to Malachi. The fact that God is a superior being who communicates to man through prophets is already assumed.
The writer says, 'God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and many ways....' We are told that God 'spoke' to the prophets. Isn't that incredible? Imagine God actually speaking to the prophets in ancient times. But what would we expect? The fact that God, who created us to communicate verbally, would speak verbally to a prophet should not surprise anyone. This is how the writer of Hebrews approaches the revelation of God.
The emphasis is on the manner of God's speaking. He wants to contrast two kinds of revelation: inferior and superior. The inferior manner of revelation as seen in verse1 - the Old Testament manner of revelation is compared to the superior manner of revelation - the revelation of Jesus Christ.
In verse 1,the emphasis in the Greek stresses the manner in which God spoke. The Greek translation of this verse reads, 'In many portions and in many ways God spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets.'
Let us take a look at how this verse is developed. The writer says, 'God spoke... .' In the book of Hebrews, the reader is continually exposed to the contrast of the old covenant and the new covenant, or the Old Testament and the New Testament. Verse 1 is the manner of revelation that was understood in the Old Testament, which had been closed for 400 years.
Secondly, the writer says that God gave this revelation '...long ago.' The Jews would not argue this point. They realized that the Old Testament had been revealed to their forefathers in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They understood that their ancestors had been sensitive to, and heeded the revelation. The problem now was that God had spoken again in the God-man Jesus Christ, but the Jews did not believe that Christ, Himself was a revelation.
The stress of verse 1 is on the manner in which God spoke to the Jewish people. The writer says He spoke '...in the prophets in many portions... .' God did not just sit down and say, 'Okay, here's the Old Testament.' His revelation was given over approximately a thousand year period of time, from Genesis to Malachi, piece by piece. Moses wrote 1450 years before Christ, while Malachi wrote 400 years before Christ. In between, we have the writings of David, Jeremiah, Isaiah...etc. It is a testimony to the truth of God inspired Scripture that the Old Testament, written through different authors over such a long period of time, does not contradict itself, and remains a completely unified message. Who else but the allknowing, all powerful God could accomplish something so monumental?
The Old Testament was also revealed '...in many ways....' This refers to the fact that God used many different methods to speak to His prophets. He used dreams, visions, the burning bush, the Angel Gabriel, direct verbal communication.. .etc.
The instruments God used to preserve and expand His revelation were His prophets. Hebrews says that God spoke 'in' His prophets. The prophets were not simply mouths that God spoke through, like a puppet/ventriloquist act. God used each prophet's personality and the activity of that particular prophet, to communicate His message. Consider Jeremiah: his very life was a means by which God revealed Himself to man. Jeremiah was instructed to do certain things and not to do other things. This is what is meant by being 'in' the prophets.
In 2 Peter 1:21 Peter writes, 'for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.' This fact answers the question, 'Does the Bible contain error?' It is true that the Bible was written by the hand of fallible men. For instance, David was a man guilty of gross sin, yet he wrote most of the book of Psalms. How do we know that his message isn't full of error? Because, as Peter said, the Holy Spirit controlled the author concerning the content of the message God communicated. The point is that God is fully in control of everything, including the content of the words and actions of His prophets. God does not make historical errors, God does not make scientific errors, and God does not make social errors. His message is communicated in exactly the way He plans it to be communicated.
As we have already examined, this is the way God communicated through the Old Covenant. There is nothing wrong with this way of communication. The contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is not meant to show that one is superior and one is inferior. Rather, the point is that the New Covenant supersedes the Old Covenant. This is true throughout the whole Bible. For example, the revelation given to Isaiah did not mean that the revelation given to Moses 600 years earlier was wrong. It is simply progresses according to God's plan.
Now, the superseding revelation encompasses all other revelation given to that point. This is the point in verse 2a. The writer says (regarding God), '...In these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things... .' Notice the contrast between verse 1 and verse 2. In verse 1 God spoke 'long ago' In verse 2 He speaks 'in these last days.' In verse 1 God spoke 'to the fathers.' In verse 2 He speaks 'to us.' In verse 1 God spoke 'in the prophets.' In verse 2 He speaks 'in His Son.' The author is stressing the fact that the revelation referred to in verse 2 is the superseding revelation.
The term 'in these last days' would have had tremendous impact on the Jews. This is the precise Old Testament statement that referred to the coming of the Messiah. We currently live in 'these last days', the gap between Christ's coming and His return. The Jews would have understood that the message given by the writer of Hebrews was of utmost importance concerning the Messiah. This doesn't mean that the revelation given 'long ago' was no longer important. However, the new revelation given to them would replace the old revelation in current importance.
In addressing this situation Luke writes, 'As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old' (Luke 1:70). Luke says that the prophets of the Old Testament were continually looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. What a tragedy that the Jews were living their lives in the past, heeding the words of prophets from 'long ago', instead of heeding the revelation that has been given 'in these days.' The point of the Old Testament was looking forward to Christ. Remember, the blood of bulls and goats cannot save anyone. If Christ is taken out of the picture, the Old Testament is useless. There is no purpose in the sacrificial system if it is not bringing us to the point where Christ Himself becomes our sacrifice.
God speaks to us the same way today - through His Son. Hebrews was written to teach us what God has to say about His Son. But the problem is that many people today will act just like the Jews concerning the revelation of God. Just as the Jews refused to recognize new revelation, so too, many people today are missing the revelation that God has given us in His Word. What a tragedy.
The last statement the author makes in the first part of verse 2 is that God has spoken to us '...in His Son.' This statement is the climax of this section of Hebrews. Why is this part of the revelation so important? One will notice that in verse 1 God spoke in 'the prophets.' Now in verse 2, the definite article 'the' is lacking. The emphasis instead is on the relationship between Christ and God, Christ's 'Sonness' if you will. He is not 'the prophets,' rather He is 'Son' of God. A prophet is a messenger, while Christ actually partakes of the essence of God, whose revelation is perfect.
Thus, we have one (Jesus Christ) whose revelation will never be superseded. When we, as believers get to glory, the fullness of revelation will be the revelation of the Son, Jesus Christ. He is the incarnation, and He fully reveals the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The term 'Son' denotes Christ as the superior vehicle of revelation.
As we have seen, the Jews wanted to ignore the revelation of the 'Son' and rely on past revelation from the prophets. Does this make any sense? Does it make sense that people are still doing the same thing today? No, it is simply a demonstration of (l) a lack of understanding regarding Scripture, and (2) a rejection of all previous revelation. Remember, all revelation prior to Christ was paving the way for His revelation. So, if one rejects Christ, he is also rejecting those who came before Him.
Today, we are the recipients of the fullest revelation ever to be given by God. The book of John, like Hebrews, refers to the perfect revelation of God in Christ. John 1:1 says, 'ln the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.' The Word is used as a title for Christ because He is the very expression of God. The final way God makes Himself known is through Jesus Christ. He is complete. All the Words of the Bible, Old and New Testament, point to the one who is THE WORD - Jesus Christ.
Therefore, it is crucial to understand the importance of Jesus Christ, in His person and work. Are you becoming more like Him? We must understand that we cannot ignore the revelation of Christ, and return to the Old Testament system. Instead, we must commit ourselves to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), and to become more like Him.
So, as a personal challenge, you might be a professing believer, you might attend a Bible teaching church, you might have been baptized, but that is not the issue. The issue is, have you come to understand that Jesus Christ, the revelation of God, died a horrible death on the cross, and will provide eternal salvation for you, the moment you place your faith in Him alone as your personal Savior? If you do not do this, you are like the Jews who ignored and rejected His revelation, and are deserving of eternal punishment from God. The time of Salvation is today. Do not wait a second longer.
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