Reflections on the Book of Hebrews

Theology of Hebrews

I came to this assignment a little apprehensive. I have read the book of Hebrews many times, but I have never slowed down and let the words on the page sink into my heart and mind. I was challenged by this assignment to not read the text quickly, but to read the text, and asking questions of the text. I came away from this
reading of the book of Hebrews refreshed, encouraged, and still pondering the meaning of a few passages.

I would argue that the book of Hebrews is a wonderful epistle that deserves to be heard today. First century voices have a lot to say to twenty first century ears. It would do us well today in the Church to re-examine an ancient text and allow ourselves to be spoken to through the pages of Holy Scripture. The author of Hebrews leaves no doubt who his Lord is, and details the sacrificial atoning of Christ’s work. It would seem obvious that the author of the letter, though undisclosed, displays a thorough understanding of Jewish religious worship customs and practices. I think one of the benefits of this letter is that the author explains some of the Jewish sacrificial system, and the divisions of the priesthood, and divisions in the temple. He then goes one step further by revealing that the old way of atoning for sins, once a year is futile and he points his readers to the final and complete atonement for sins, Jesus Christ. The author uses better than, or superior often.

The assignment asks us to identify theological themes we encountered throughout this letter. Jesus Christ is clearly portrayed as the theme of this book. I think the author of Hebrews argues maybe more forcefully than anywhere else in the New Testament for Jesus’ sinless humanity and his divine nature, which sets him apart from our forefathers, and Moses, and the system of sacrifice regulated through the Old Testament which Jesus and his ministry make obsolete. The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that through Jesus Christ one can have a nearness to God that people have longed for and weren’t able to attain.

I love how the writer of Hebrews begins his letter, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven “ (Heb. 1:1-3)

I see here the importance of the enduring message of Jesus Christ. Later on in the letter, chapter 13:8, the writer emphasizes again the enduringness of Jesus Christ, is sameness from yesterday, to today, and into tomorrow. I think for ministry it is important to help those we minister too feel a connection to Jesus, and help them see his legacy throughout the ages. The author of Hebrews also lets us in on a startling revelation in chapter one and verse 2, that Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. What a statement! Jesus is God and man, divine and yet human. As we encounter this truth in our lives as well as throughout this epistle we see that if Jesus were not divine and human his sacrifice for our sins would have been ineffectual for salvation.

In chapter two the author of Hebrews continues with the idea that Jesus a man, made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone? (Heb. 2:9). Jesus is being presented as the emphasis of grace. It is because of his death on the cross that we are able to receive God’s grace. The author begins to launch his case that Jesus was the supreme sacrifice.

As if just meditating on Christ’s sacrifice isn’t enough, he dares us to ponder the notion that the author of our salvation is of the same family of those whom he died to make holy. “So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers? (Heb. 2:11). For any of the readers who have ever felt out of place in their family or maybe have never had any family, what a reassuring word from God that if we are Christ’s than we are apart of His family, and that he is not ashamed to call us brothers.

As if sacrifice wasn’t enough already, he turned our attention to our new family identity and now in 2:14-18, he shares this next great truth. Jesus shared in our humanity, and he goes on to write in 2:18, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.? God has not abandoned us in this world to face the trials, temptations, and sin by ourselves. By becoming on of us, and sharing in our humanity he is able to sympathize with our weaknesses…tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin? (Heb 4:15).

It is very early on in the letter of Hebrews that the author unveils Jesus as “a faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people? (Heb. 2:17). The author builds on this ideal of Christ as high priest throughout the letter and then culminates with revealing that Jesus was a high priest not by birth into the tribe of Levi, but “it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life…the former regulation was set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God? (Heb 7:14-16, 18-19).I think another major theme that develops in this letter in response to the high priest hood of Christ is the certainty of God’s promises. Our faith is futile unless what God promises is true. The author of the epistle cites the example of Abraham, and God swearing by himself that was promised by God (that Abraham would be given many descendents) would be fulfilled, and it was. If a promise is an oath, and if God is the one who makes the oath or the promise than we can be sure that what God promises he will do. The oath in question is seen in chapter seven as we previously considered the ancestry of Jesus and saw that under the law of Moses he was not from the tribe of Levi, but he “has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For is declared:

‘You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek (citing Psalm 110:4).’

The former regulation was set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:

‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind:
‘You are a priest forever.’

Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant…but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood? (Heb. 7:16-22,24). Because of all this, Jesus “is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because always live to intercede for them? (Heb. 7:25).

Continuing with the idea that Jesus is a better guarantee, the author continues to contrast the old religious system with the new. The author portrays the old covenant as obsolete, and then reminds his readers under the old law there was no nearness to God, but Jesus as the high priest entered the Most Holy place not with the blood of sacrificial animals, “but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption? (Heb. 9:12).

The author ends his contrast between the old and the new with the culmination in chapter ten with reminder that the high priests work was to make atonement for the people year after year, whereas Jesus, the new and faithful high priest “had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the throne of God? (Heb. 10:12). Our response to all of this is to “draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water? (Heb. 10:22).

I want to spend some time briefly mentioning the importance of chapter eleven. Ever since I started going to church, this chapter has been referred to as the hall of faith. And rightly so for the names that are mentioned are those men and women who are great examples of faithfulness. I see in this chapter a reminder not the discard what the Old Testament has to offer. It would be easy to generalize, after seeing Jesus Christ as the new high priest, that the Old Testament is useless, but this is not what the author of the epistle had in mind. The story of the Old Testament is important for historical purposes as well as building our faith. It is the story of the Old Testament that gives meaning to the New Testament. The story of Jesus is inextricably linked with the story of the Old Testament. Here in chapter eleven we are surrounded by a great cloud of witness (Heb. 12:1) and it do us well to read the Old Testament and see the similarities of our faith heroes situations in life to our own.

Then finally I think the epistle is best summed up by Hebrews 12:1-3, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us thrown off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.?

About Jason Retherford

The random musings of a youth minister.
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