Survey of the Book of Hebrews

The book of Hebrews is in the section of the New Testament that is instructive.  It gives instruction to those who are already Christians and members of the Lord's church.  It teaches us what to believe and how to behave.

When you study the book of Hebrews, it begins by saying, "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son"  (Heb. 1.1,2).  

The book begins by saying that God sent Jesus to speak to man on behalf of God.  When you leave chapter one and start studying chapter 2, the whole thing changes.  From chapter 2 though the end of the book, you read about Jesus at the right hand of God speaking to God on behalf of man.  In chapter 1, Jesus speaks to man for God.  In chapter 2 and following, Jesus speaks to God for man.  In chapter 1, Jesus is in the form of God and speaks to man.  In chapters two to the end of the book, Jesus becomes man, and as a man is able to speak to God on behalf of man.  That’s why chapter 2 encourages us to think about Jesus in a very special way.   

The Book of Hebrews:  
Three Questions that Demand Answers

When you study any book of the Bible, there are three questions that must always be asked.  These three questions help us understand the background and give us a sense of what the writer is saying. 

1.  Who Wrote the Book of Hebrews?

It is possible that the apostle Paul wrote the book of Hebrews.  However, it is also very possible that Paul was not the author.  In 2 Thessalonians 3.17, Paul wrote something that would indicate that perhaps he is not behind the book of Hebrews.  

2 Thessalonians 3.17:  The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write. 

In this verse, Paul says that he signs every letter that he writes.  We do things opposite that the way they did things in the first century.  If you receive a letter or an email, you can scroll down to the bottom where you would find the name of the person who wrote it, because they put their name at the end of the letter.

In the first century, they would always begin their letter with their name.  That’s why the book of Romans begins, "Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1.1).  In fact, if you look at every epistle that Paul wrote, the very first word in every single epistle is “Paul.”   However, you do not find that in the book of Hebrews.  It is true that the terminology and style is very similar to the apostle Paul.  Yet Paul never put his name to the book of Hebrews.  That suggests to me that it makes it likely that Paul did not write this letter.

To answer our question, we have to be content to say that we just don't know.  We accept that whoever wrote it, it came by the inspiration of God  (2 Tim. 3.16).

2.  To Whom was the Book of Hebrews Written?

As you begin to study this book of the Bible, you can see that just as the author is not named, we also do not find it addressed to any specific individuals.  However, when you read through the thirteen chapters of the book of Hebrews, there are some things that suggest an answer to this question.

The book was written to a Jewish audience.

You can know this because every chapter quotes from the Old Testament.  The only people who were intimately familiar with the Old Testament were the Jews.

Also, many times in this book, Jewish heroes are mentioned to help motivate certain actions.  You can read about Moses, Joshua, Abraham, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and many others.  The fact that the book of Hebrews frequently quotes the Old Testament and makes mention of Old Testament figures tells me that it was written to a Jewish audience.

The book was written to Jews who were converted to Christ.

Throughout the entire book, you will constantly find words such as "hold fast," "hold on," and "be steadfast."  These were Jewish Christians who were being pressured by those around them to abandon their relationship with Christ and revert back to Judaism.  These converted Jewish Christians were struggling to remain faithful.  The writer encourages them repeatedly to hold on to this hope.  Hold on to this confidence.  Don’t give up.  Hang in there.

  • Hebrews 3.6:  "but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end."
  • Hebrews 3.14:  "For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end."
  • Hebrews 4.14:  "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession."
  • Hebrews 10.23:  "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful."

What kinds of things were they struggling with that caused the writer to encourage them to hold on and not give up?

  • Some were slowly drifting away.  (Heb. 2.1)
  • Some were departing.  (Heb. 3.12)
  • Some were rebelling.  (Heb. 3.16-19)
  • Some had lost interest.  (Heb. 5.11-14)  
  • Some were disrespectful.  (Heb. 10.29)
  • Some were discouraged.  (Heb. 12.3)

The writer who is unnamed is writing to Jews who had converted to Christ, but were facing intense pressure to go abandon Christ and go back to Judaism, and it was manifesting itself in all of these ways.  

3.  Why was the Book of Hebrews Written?

The book of Hebrews was written to motivate the people of God to stay focused on Jesus.  

If you struggle with your faith or you are struggling with difficulties in your life, nothing will get you through better than your special relationship with God through Jesus.  It will not be Jehovah God who will get you through it alone, because you cannot get to Jehovah God without going through Jesus.  (John 14.6).  That’s why the book of Hebrews was written.  To help these struggling Christians to give their attention to Jesus.

The writer then places special emphasis on why Jesus is needed in the lives of these struggling Jewish Christians.  Consider for example, what we find in Hebrews 12.1,2:

Hebrews 12:1,2:  Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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 has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

Verse 1 says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  Those witnesses are the Old Testament characters listed in Hebrews 11.  It is as if we are running track in a stadium, and in the stands, surrounding us are these Old Testament characters cheering us on and encouraging us.  

Verse 1 then continues to say that we are to run the race with endurance.  The word "endurance" is from a Greek word that means to remain under the pressure.  In other words, the writer is encouraging us to run the race of faith without giving into the pressure to give up.  You decided to become a Christian and live the life of a Christian.  Even when things get hard, you need to keep running the race and not give up.  

How do keep living faithfully to God without giving up?  Verse 2 says, "looking unto Jesus."  The word "looking" translates a Greek word that carries the idea of turning your attention away from one thing so that you can focus on something else.  Here are these Jewish Christians who were struggling with their faith, and the writer is telling them to hold on, don’t give up.  How?  You turn your attention away from those things that trouble you, and you give your undivided attention to Jesus.

The book of Hebrews was written to encourage Christians who are struggling to remain faithful to you look to Jesus.  Jesus knows what it’s like to struggle like you.  

The Book of Hebrews is a Book about Jesus

To Christians who are struggling to remain faithful, and thinking about turning away from Christianity to go back to Judaism, the writer takes great pains in the book of Hebrews to show how the way of Christ is superior to Judaism, and to encourage them to focus their attention on Jesus.  When you study the book of Hebrews, you will find that Jesus is constantly set before us and described in a variety of ways.

Jesus is the Captain of our Salvation

Hebrews 2.10:  "For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings."

The idea of “captain” as is defined by the Greek word is the one in a leader in the highest position.  The captain is the one who leads by example.  The captain is the one who sees danger, and then puts himself in harm’s way to secure the safety of those he leads.

He is more than just the captain of a ship who stands at the helm deciding where the boat will go.   He is more than just the captain of a team who makes decisions in reference to his team.  He is the caption of our salvation.  

Jesus made it through temptation.  Jesus conquered sin.  Jesus willingly went to the cross, and He did so, so that you can be taken out of harm’s way and be saved.  

Jesus Became a Human Being

Hebrews 2.17:  "Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people."

Remember that in chapter 1, Jesus spoke to man on behalf of God.  In chapter 2, Jesus became man and spoke to God on behalf of man.  If you back up to verse 14, you are am told that "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same" (Heb. 2.14).  You are reading about His humanity.

Jesus became a human being, just like you and me.  He lived as a man.  He related to man.  Then He went back up to the Father where He can speak to the Father on our behalf as our High Priest.  We can look to Jesus when we struggle because Jesus lived as a human being and knows what it is like to struggle.  We can look to His example to see how He handled difficulties.  We can look to Him for sympathy because He understand.

Jesus is the Author of Eternal Salvation

Hebrews 5.9:  "And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him" 

The book of Hebrews does not describe Jesus as the author of a great novel.  He is described as the author of eternal salvation.  He is the author of eternal salvation to an exclusive group of people -- to those who obey Him.

The word that is translated as “author” is a word that means “cause.”  He is the cause of our salvation.  Are you saved?  Why are you saved?  Salvation is because of Jesus.  He is the cause.

Faith, by itself,  will not save you.  Baptism, by itself, will not save you.  You take Jesus out of the picture and there is no salvation.  You take away Jesus and the blood of Jesus, and baptism will do nothing but get you wet.  You take away Jesus, and you have nothing to believe.  You take away Jesus and there is no salvation no matter what we do  (Acts 4.12).

You must believe and be baptized to be saved.  But what makes all of that possible?  What is it that makes these things effective in saving our souls?  It is Jesus!  He is the cause of our salvation.  You will not go to heaven because you obeyed every command, and you did everything right.  You will go to heaven because you are right.  The reason you are right is because of Jesus.  

Jesus is our Forerunner

Hebrews 6:19,20:  "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."

To the Jewish Christian who is struggling to remain faithful under the constant persecution the writer presents a word picture.

A tabernacle is set before them.  He refers to the veil dividing the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.  In the Most Holy Place you will find the ark of the covenant, and that is where you will also find the presence of God.

In this verse, We are told that we have hope.  This hope serves as an anchor of the soul and has entered into the very presence of God.  Why do we have this hope that is in the presence of God?  Because that is where Jesus can be found.  Jesus has gone before us into the presence of God.  Notice that the verse says that He did this for us.  

Jesus left heaven and came in the form of man.  After He was crucified, was buried, and then resurrected, He ascended back into heaven and is sitting at the right hand of God, in the very presence of God.  As He is there, He is now speaking to God on our behalf.  That is why we have this hope.  

Jesus is a Surety

Hebrews 7.22:  "by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant."

The word “surety” means to make a pledge.  A pledge is a promise that guarantees that you will do as you say.  When you study the New Testament, you will find reference made to a contract between God and man.  It is a contract in which God promises something to us.  He promises eternal life if we keep our end of the contract.  It is a new covenant built on better promises.  

How can we know that God will follow through with what He promised?  God has given us a pledge, and that pledge is Jesus.  God cannot lie.  Yet God gave us Jesus as a surety, a guarantee, so that we know that He will follow through with what He promised.

Jesus is our High Priest

Hebrews 8.1:  "Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens"

A high priest is one who served the spiritual needs of the people of God.  Jesus is our High Priest serving our spiritual needs.  What makes Him qualified?

  • Jesus came and lived as a man just like you and me.  He can relate to me because He knows what it’s like to be me.  In Hebrews 2.18, we are told that Jesus "has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted."    When we are tempted, and we feel the pull of the world, He feels the pains of temptation right along with us, because He’s been there.  
  • Jesus has compassion as our High Priest.  When you are on your knees, and you are all broken up emotionally, and you are trying to pray to God, but the raw emotions are such that you don’t know how to put your feelings into words, Jesus can relate.  Jesus has compassion.  He knows what it is like because He suffered as we do.  
  • Jesus came to bring salvation to mankind.  Just as the high priests of the Old Testament would offer sacrifices, Jesus also offered a sacrifice.  The sacrifice that He offered was not bulls and goats.  He offered Himself as a sacrifice, and it was His shed blood that secured my salvation.  
  • Jesus was appointed by God as High Priest.  In Hebrews 5.10, you will find that Jesus was "called by God as High Priest ‘according to the order of Melchizedek.’”  

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