Hebrews 1:1-3; 12:1-3
Happy New Year!
Welcome to 2024 and welcome to our study on the book of Hebrews. You will come to love and appreciate this book.
In his commentary, Raymond Brown opens with this grave introduction:
“The letter to the Hebrews was written to a group of first-century Christians who were in danger of giving up. The times were hard for Jewish Christians. Many had been exposed to fierce persecution. They had been physically assaulted, their homes had been plundered; some had been cast into prison on account of their faith, others had been ridiculed in public because of their trust in Jesus (10:32-34). Many of these Jewish Christians had accepted their adversity joyfully. But others had ‘shrunk back’ from their earlier allegiance to Jesus Christ and became apostates. Without going that far, others were in danger of compromise.”
Moreover, we know that others were being pressured to give in to particularly strong Judaizer groups, such as we see in the book of Galatians. Yet, there is another group of Judaizers that we don’t see mentioned in the New Testament but only learn about later with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran. And in this letter, we see elements of this group’s teaching sprinkled throughout the warnings. But whether it was persecution from the Romans or false teaching from Judaizing groups, the book of Hebrews provides strong warnings and encouraging consolations to God’s people. This letter appeals to all these severely tested believers to keep their faith firmly anchored to the moorings of truth, to maintain their steady confidence in Christ and to press on to mature Christian stability (2:1; 3:6; 6:1).
So, how does one encourage such people in critical and adverse times? The author knows they must be urged to ‘hold fast’, to ‘strive to enter’, to ‘go on to maturity’, to ‘seize the hope’ set before them. Yet he can make such necessary pastoral exhortations because he has already done a far more basic thing. As Brown notes, “He has turned their eyes, not to themselves, hoping for sufficient inward strength, nor to their agonizing troubles, nor even to their persecuting contemporaries, but to Christ. No believer can cope with adversity unless Christ fills his horizons, sharpens his priorities and dominates his experience.”
This letter’s primary exhortation is an appeal to endurance, a call to perseverance. Familiar with the great personalities of Old Testament times, the writer reminds these struggling Christians that Abraham endured because God made a promise to him, and Moses endured because he turned his face away from the cruel face of Pharoah. He deliberately looked to the invisible God. Most significant of all, Jesus endured. ‘The joy set before him’ sustained him when sinners opposed him and reviled him. How could these Christians endure? They must look to Christ.
For this reason, although deeply aware of the problems these believers are facing, the author of this letter does not turn to his pastoral exhortation until he has first reminded them of the uniqueness of Christ. Thus, Brown points out, he first presents them with an exposition of Christ as prophet (1:1-2), priest (1:3b), and King (1:8-14). Some of their Christian friends had slipped back into Judaism. They had placed their trust not in the work of Christ, but in the works of the law. They had abandoned their faith not only because it was too costly for them to continue, but because they had an inadequate understanding of Christ in the first place. Many of our friends are fascinated by Jesus. But is their portraiture adequate? Nothing is of greater importance in our own time than a reminder of the immense dimensions of the biblical doctrine of Christ. Welcome to the book of Hebrews which time and again reminds us of the supremacy of Christ, and then calls us to look to Jesus.
For Christ’s Glory,