This week, we are embarking on a series of pulpit messages on the Epistle to the Hebrews. The following introduction gives us some background information pertinent to our study of this epistle.
The author’s name is not mentioned in the epistle. As a result, there is much debate concerning its authorship. Martin Luther believed it was written by the eloquent preacher, Apollos; however Tertullian, a Church Father, believed that Barnabas, Paul’s co-labourer, was the author. Another Church Father, Eusebius, held the view that the apostle Paul wrote the epistle.
According to Rev (Dr) Jeffrey Khoo, “there are more reasons to believe that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews … There is nothing in the epistle that is contradictory to Paul” (The Epistle to the Hebrews). In fact, there are many passages that bear the “signature” of the apostle. For example, Paul used the same analogy of “milk” in 5: 14 and I Corinthians 3: 1-2. Other passages that bear his distinctive style are:
o 6:1-3 (cf. Philp. 2: 12-13) – idea of striving for perfection;
o 6: 12 (cf. I Cor. 11: 1) – “followers of me, even as I also am of Christ”;
o 10: 13 (cf. Philp. 2: 5-11) – idea of the cross first, followed by the crown;
o 12: 11 (cf. Gal. 5: 22; Eph. 5: 9) – idea of “fruit of righteousness”/“fruit of the Spirit”;
o 13: 5 (cf. I Tim. 6: 6-10) – warning against “covetousness”;
o 13: 20 (cf. Philp. 4: 9; I Thess. 5: 23) – parting remarks: “God of peace”.
Another significant note that favours Paul’s authorship is the mention of his spiritual son, Timothy (13: 23).
Date of Writing
Internal evidence indicates that the Jerusalem Temple was still in existence at the time of writing (10: 11; 13: 10-11). “Proof of this is found in the present tenses used by the author to indicate that the temple system and the levitical priesthood were still operative” (The Epistle to the Hebrews). Based on this, we can conclude that the book was written between A.D. 64 and A.D.70 when Jerusalem with its Temple was destroyed.
The epistle was addressed to Jewish believers who were wavering in their faith because of bitter persecutions. Tested and tried for their faith, they focused on their sufferings and were tempted to forsake Christianity for the safer haven of Judaism. Unlike Christianity, Judaism was a legal religion that came under the protection of Roman law. The suffering believers “were beginning to think they had lost everything – altar, priests, sacrifices – by accepting Christianity. The apostle proves that they had only lost the ‘shadow’ to be given the ‘substance’ (Jesus Christ)” (Jensen’s Panorama of Colossians to Revelation).
The key verse is found in 1: 3 which refers to the Lord Jesus Christ as the supreme Revelation – “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high”.
The epistle focuses on the glory of the Person and work of Jesus Christ, our Saviour. It is significant that the word “better” is used 13 times in this book. Our Lord is the Prophet of prophets, the Priest of priests, the King of kings, the Angel of angels. There is none like unto Him. All others – the angels, Moses, Joshua and Aaron – though they were all servants of God – paled in comparison to Christ. He is the Son of God, and He is God.
The author “fills their minds with the glory of the Person, and the grandeur of the work of the Lord Jesus … he shows that, instead of losing all, they had gained all. They had good things in the old system, but they now have everything ‘better’” (The Outline Bible).
Outline (Adapted from The Bible in Outline)
o The Son: Superior to Angels (1: 1 - 2: 18)
o The Son: Superior to Moses (3: 1-19)
o The Son: Superior to Joshua (4: 1-13)
o The Son: A Superior High Priest (4: 14 - 10: 39)
o The Life of Faith (11: 1 - 13: 17)
o Conclusion (13: 18-25)
Let us prayerfully look forward to a time of fruitful learning from the Epistle to the Hebrews. May the Lord challenge our hearts with the truths from His precious Word.