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1 Bible 2Hebrews 12:2, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God”

Colossians 1:18, “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence”

Theme – “To keep your faith strong, you must keep your focus on Christ”

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INTRODUCTION

The Book of Hebrews is a fascinating book. Its author is unknown, its date is unknown, and its audience is unknown. There are various theories on each one of these unknowns, but the message of the book is very clear: Jesus Christ is better than the angels; He is better than Moses; and His sacrifice on the cross was a once for all atonement for sins. He is the great high priest who atones for the sins of the world.

He is better than the Jewish high priest who went into the Holy of Holies once a year to offer a sacrifice for the people of Israel. Though that high priest also had to make atonement for his own sins Christ did not. He was holy, blameless, sinless, and is the only perfect sacrifice, thus making Him greater than the Jewish high priest. He is Lord of all, and He is worthy of praise, honor and glory. Christ is better.

The Book of Hebrews is one of the most essential books in the Bible for Christians who face the challenges of today. The writer of Hebrews was addressing a group of Jewish Christians in the first century who were struggling with persecution. They were becoming weary as they faced criticism and hostility and some of them were in danger of turning back to Judaism rather than being persistent in their professed faith in Jesus Christ.

In this important book the writer demonstrated how Christianity is the climax of God’s program of salvation. Jesus Christ is better than the most honored figures of the Old Testament. He is also the reality Who was prefigured in the Old Testament shadows. As these Christians faced the prospect of even greater suffering for Christ, they needed to remember that He understood their pain, and that He was committed to them as their priest, and He would help them to endure.

For many people today the book of Hebrews is hard to understand because it refers so frequently to the Old Testament. However, the first recipients of the book were Jewish, so they would have been very familiar with the Old Testament laws, customs, and texts that the author used. Christians in the present time as a rule do not have a thorough background in the Old Testament, so for many of them, the book of Hebrews seem like it was written in a strange language.

Rather than getting confused with the difficult details of Hebrews, what we need to keep clearly in our mind is the overall purpose of this great book, which is the preeminence and priesthood of Jesus Christ. The writer was challenging his readers then and also now, to stay committed to Christ instead of drifting way from faith in Him. Though most Christians in the western world today do not face the same kinds of persecution that threatened the first-century Christians, we do find ourselves confronted with increasing opposition from the modern day culture.

However, if we keep looking unto Jesus Christ, Who is the author and finisher of our faith, then we will be able to run with endurance the race that is set before us. The book of Hebrews urges its reader’s  to recognize that Jesus Christ is supreme and to live our lives with that truth clearly in view.

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THE AUTHOR

The Epistle to the Hebrews is an anonymous book whose authorship has been debated for a long time.  Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Apollos, Luke, Philip, Priscilla, Aquila, and Clement of Rome have been suggested by different scholars, but the epistle’s vocabulary, style, and various literary characteristics do not clearly support any particular claim. It is significant that the writer includes himself among those people who had received confirmation of Christ’s message from others (Hebrews 2:3). That would seem to rule out someone like Paul who claimed that he had received such confirmation directly from God and not from men (Galatians 1:12).

Whoever the author was, he preferred citing Old Testament references from the Greek Old Testament rather than from the Hebrew text. Even the early church expressed various opinions on authorship, and current scholarship admits the puzzle still has no solution. Therefore, it seems best to accept the epistle’s anonymity. Ultimately, of course, the author was the Holy Spirit; 2 Peter 1:21, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”.

In certain places its language is like Paul’s and, on account of the personal reference to Timothy in 13:23, some scholars have attributed the letter to Paul. Although there is no conclusive proof of his authorship, Hebrews, as a part of Scripture, speaks with divine authority. The letter was composed prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, since it is evident that the Temple was still standing when Hebrews was written

The letter was probably written before a.d. 70. Early manuscripts bear the title “To the Hebrews,” which reflects the ancient assumption that it was written to Jewish Christians as well as Gentile Christians who previously had been drawn to the Jewish religion. The author knew his readers and wanted to see them again as stated in Hebrews 13:19, “I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.”

A more direct objection to Paul’s authorship of Hebrews comes from Hebrews 2:3. In this verse the writer stated that he received the message of salvation through those who were eyewitnesses of Christ’s ministry. By contract, Paul said in Galatians 1:12 that he received the gospel not from men, but through the direct revelation of Jesus Christ. These objections to Paul’s authorship of Hebrews have led to many speculations about who could have written the book.

As far as the identity of the writer, it is probably best to accept the conclusion of Origen, who said around AD 225, “But who wrote the Epistle, God only knows certainly.” While we do not know the writer’s name, we can, however, discern a few things about him. He was a second-generation Christian who had mastered both the Old Testament Scriptures and Greek rhetoric. His combination of careful explanation and fervent exhortation shows that he was a pastor-theologian, whose keen mind was matched by his compassionate heart. In this he is an excellent model for godly leaders of every age.

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THE DATE WRITTEN

Because the writer and the recipients of Hebrews are unspecified, its date is also a matter of debate. However, several pieces of evidence in the text can help to suggest a reasonable date for the book. In Hebrews 2:3 the recipients are described as second generation Christians who heard the gospel from the apostles or others, who themselves were eyewitnesses of Christ.

The original leaders of the church apparently had died, for the readers were exhorted to remember their words and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7). Additionally, there had been a significant period of time since the recipients were saved, certainly long enough that they should have grown to spiritual maturity (Hebrews 5:12). There references would tend to indicate that perhaps twenty or thirty years had elapsed since the beginning of Christianity. That would set a probable earliest date for Hebrews at around AD 60.

The latest date of compositi9n that is possible is in the early 90s. Around AD 96 Hebrews is quoted by an early Christian leader named Clement. For Clement to refer to Hebrews, the book must have been both written and circulated prior to that time. Statements as stated in Hebrews 10:11 indicate that Levitical sacrifices were still being offered in the temple at Jerusalem.

If that is true, the latest date of composition would be a time prior to 70 AD when the temple was destroyed and the Jews were dispersed by the Roman armies. The readers had recently experienced suffering and that worse persecution was on the way is clear. It may well be, then, that Hebrews was written between the fire of Rome AD 64, which Nero blamed on the Christians, and his death in 68. Around that same time, in 67, the Jewish rebellion against Rome began in Jerusalem. It is quite likely, then, that Hebrews as written between 64 and 67.

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THE RECIPIENTS

Just as the writer of Hebrews is unnamed, so the book does not identify its intended, original recipients. From at least AD 175 onward, the title “To the Hebrews” has been attached to this book. Therefore, from an early date many Christians have believed that the first recipients of Hebrews were Jewish Christians.

The content of Hebrews certainly supports that conclusion. The book is full of quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. The many mentions of the Old Testament sacrificial system would have been difficult for a Gentile audience to understand, but people reared in Judaism would comprehend the argument immediately.

The recipients were likely a house church who had a good record of Christian commitment and service (Hebrews 6:10) even in the heat of suffering (Hebrews 10:32-34). Nevertheless, some had become discouraged and weary in their spiritual struggles, because they were focusing on the present trouble rather than on their future glory in Christ.

The book of Hebrews challenged the recipients to renew their wholehearted commitment to Christ. They had been Christians long enough to be teachers (Hebrews 5:12), but in spiritual terms they were underachievers. Like the believers in Corinth and many Christians today, the original recipients of Hebrews were living well below their capacity. This regrettable condition needed to be changed.

While the writer was convinced that most of his readers were genuine believers (Hebrews 6:9), he feared some might not have truly trusted Christ. Therefore, he gave strong warnings about turning away from the Lord.

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HEBREWS THEMES

Several key themes in the book of Hebrews are:

(1)        Jesus Christ is superior to angels, priests, Old Testament leaders, or any religion.

(2)        Jesus serves as our mediator or advocate to the Father.

(3)        Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sins was perfect and complete.

(4)        Our Christian journey isn’t an easy one.

(5)        Faith is pleasing to God. We express our faith through obedience to God. His greatest promise to us is salvation, and that promise was fulfilled through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ.

(6)        We are called to persevere in our walk and faith in Christ. Despite many temptations, trials, and occasional backsliding, we can endure. God is faithful and He has prepared a heavenly home for us.

Ultimately, the author’s words of encouragement and exhortation are rooted in his teaching of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became the heavenly high priest, and who offered himself as a sacrifice once for all. Christ obtained salvation for all who approach him in faith (Hebrews 6:1; 11:6) and such faith must perseveres until it receives the promised eternal reward (Hebrews 6:12; 10:22, 38–39).

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Because the recipients were Jewish Christians who had grown fearful and hesitant to stand for Christ, and perhaps included some who were not yet truly saved, the book of Hebrews emphasizes the need to listen and live by God’s truth in Christ Jesus. Throughout the book of Hebrews the readers were reminded that God had spoken through Christ and that His Word must be obeyed. The first seven chapters of Hebrews and the epistle to the Colossians (1:14-23) emphasis the preeminence of Christ:

In His Creation – the Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation (Colossians 1:15).

As Redeemer – the apostle Paul identified Jesus Christ as the One “in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins”.

As Sustainer – “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).

In His Position – “And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (Colossians 1:18).

In His Resurrection – Christ proved that Hell and the grave couldn’t hold Him

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THE PURPOSE OF HEBREWS

The purpose of the book of Hebrews, then, was (1) to confirm Jewish Christians by showing that Old Testament Judaism had come to an end through the fulfillment of Christ, (2) to warn some who had identified themselves as Christians against (a) falling back into Judaism or (b) pausing short of true faith in Christ; and (3) to bring to the attention of Christians every where the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ.

The key word is “better” and the book contains a series of contrasts between the good things of Judaism and the better things of Jesus Christ. It is also a book full of challenges to be steadfast in our endurance in faith (Hebrews 12:3). The writer wanted to counteract their tendency toward apostasy (Hebrews 10:29).  He warned them against the dreadful consequences of slipping away from Christ. Instead of forsaking their distinctive Christian position, they needed to maintain their faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

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FURTHER REFLECTION

We are always looking for better ways to do things.  We have faster computers, better cars, and better-sounding compact disc players. Hebrews 8:6 tell us, “Christ is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises”.  God is the originator of the better way.  The author of Hebrews said that animal sacrifices were only a “shadow of the heavenly things” of which Christ and His death on the cross are the reality (Hebrews 8:5; 9:11-15).  Before Jesus came, people waited for the annual Day of Atonement, when the high priest entered the Most Holy Place.  In that awe-inspiring place where the Ark of the Covenant was located, the High Priest offered the blood of animals on behalf of himself and the Israelites.

When Jesus Christ came to earth, something better was revealed.  He Himself became our High Priest by sacrificing His life and shedding His blood to atone for our sins.  Now, when we accept His gift of forgiveness, we can rejoice that the penalty of our sins has been paid and our guilt removed.  Salvation through Messiah Jesus is the only way we can be forgiven and have fellowship with God.  We are servants of the Most High God who has given us the privilege to share in His eternity.  Jesus Christ is our friend, our Priest, our King, our Lord, our Savior.

He is our God and we are ever on His heart and He is with us today in whatever situation we may find ourselves.  He knows each of us and He cares.  May we follow our High Priest and King; the One who has perfected forever our place with Him in eternity?  Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.  Our High Priest Jesus Christ will not let that happen.  What a glorious representation we have in Heaven! In the courtroom of divine justice, the Lord Jesus Christ stands before God as our advocate, making intercession on our behalf.

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

Who is Jesus Christ? Observing from the way He is portrayed these days, it’s almost impossible to recognize Him as the Jesus of the Bible, whose name is above all names. Some groups add to what the Bible says about Him, while others diminish Him to simple humanity, claiming that He was merely a wise teacher and some would like to make Him disappear altogether. A brief summary of who Christ is to us and why He is the Preeminent One, is stated, in God’s breathed Word, with simple clarity and states that:

Christ is the second person of the Trinity; He is our Lord, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Savior, our Advocate and Mediator, our High Priest, our King, our Shepherd, our Head, our Resurrection, our Security, He is Truth, He is our Example and Jesus Christ is our all!

When we witnessed the World Trade Center towers coming down to the ground in a very deafening roar, citizens of New York experienced what many people in other parts of the world had already known, the fear of terrorism. Since then and especially of recent events and all the unrest in our world may make us think our future is very hopeless. We might even conclude that this isn’t the kind of world in which to have and raise children.

However, there is one shining hope that remains, which can brighten our view of the future. Bill Gaither captured it in his song titled, “Because He Lives.” The idea for the song came to him in the late 1960s, a time of social unrest in the United States and conflict in Southeast Asia. His wife Gloria was expecting a child, and they felt that it was a poor time to bring a child into the world. When their son was born, Bill thought of the living Savior and these words came to his mind, “This child can face uncertain days because He lives.”

A proud and ungodly professor said to a young child who believed in the Lord Jesus, “My dear little girl, you don’t know whom you believe in. There have been many Christ’s. In which of them do you believe?” “I know which one I believe in,” replied the child. “I believe in the Christ who rose from the dead!” Jesus is alive (Luke 24:1-12), and because He lives within us, we can face tomorrow, with the hope, joy and eternal assurance, that only He (Christ) can give.

How wonderful that we have an ascended Savior and our Advocate who knows your address. He has counted every hair on your head. He knows your every thought, feels your every pain, and hears your every cry. So, take heart, because our High Priest Jesus is praying and interceding for you at this very moment!

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Christ braved the shadow of eternal death to bring us the sunshine of eternal life.

 

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