The Book of Hebrews is the believer’s version of Consumer Reports. But instead of comparing which figs are the tastiest, which road is the best to take when traveling to Jerusalem, or where to buy the best olives, Hebrews takes a look at Jesus Christ and compares Him to angels, the Mosaic Covenant, the Aaronic priesthood and the sacrificial system. The author of the book is unknown but the dating is a bit easier to estimate since much of the book refers to on-going practices taking place at the Temple (and formerly the Tabernacle) which wasn’t destroyed until 70 A. D. The persecution which is mentioned in Heb. 10:32-34 indicates that it did not end in death. Nero’s persecution in 64 A. D. made martyrs out of many believers, but the persecution under Claudius in 49 A. D. was not as severe although it displaced many from their homes and dispersed them throughout the empire. This puts the writing somewhere in the early 60’s, just before Nero’s onslaught against Christians.
The style of writing in Hebrews is what causes most readers some confusion. That is due to the fact that most of us are unfamiliar with “midrash”. Midrash is a literary form which uses a quotation from a passage of Scripture and follows it with an interpretation that deliberately incorporates the words of the passage to explain it. This method can easily be seen in passages such as Heb. 3:12-4:10, Heb. 7:11-28, and Heb. 10:8-18. The definition of midrash, to seek, investigate, interpret, is exactly what the author of Hebrews is doing in his writing. He seeks to see how Jesus Christ fits into the overall scope of God’s interaction with humanity. Through his investigation and interpretation he demonstrates as Donald Hagner wrote, “the incomparable superiority, and hence finality, of God’s work in Jesus Christ”. While the priesthood, sacrificial system, and Mosaic Covenant all had great value, they were merely shadows of what would be accomplished by Christ.
The author structures his argument in this way: 1) Jesus, as God’s final Word is superior to the angels (Heb. 1-2), superior to Moses (3), and Joshua (4:1-13); 2) Jesus is a superior high priest (4:14-7:28); and 3) as part of a new and better covenant, Jesus is a superior sacrifice (8:1-10:18). Thus Jesus is to be the object of our faith, not the rituals and covenant formerly associated with the Temple (10:19-13:17). In this section the author affirms that perseverance must be a characteristic of our faith (10:19-39), hope and discipline are characteristics of faith (10:11; 12:1-11), and faith comes with a series of challenges (12:12-13:17). Rounding out his treatise are several “parathensies” as noted by Lawrence Richards (4:12-13; 5:11-6:8; 12:25-29) and an epilogue (13:18-25) that cover and assortment of topics (the power of God’s Word, Christian maturity, responding to God’s correction, and personal requests, updates and exhortations).
Some of the most beautiful and eloquent passages concerning Christ can be found in Hebrews. They speak of His deity (1:3), His sacrifice (9:11-13), His humanity (2:14-18; 5:1-8; 12:3), and His role as Mediator of a New Covenant (8:7-13). The book of Hebrews also contains the definitive passage on the essence of faith (11:1) and a lengthy list of those who demonstrated it in the way the responded to the work of God in their lives (11:2-39). Along with these lofty statements and recitations come many warning passages (2:1-4; 4:12-13; 5:11-6:8; 10:26-29; 12:25-20). These are not inserted to bring us down, nor make us feel as if we will never attain success in our Christian walk. Rather they are there to remind us that we must be prepared for “the road ahead”. It is a journey that Christ walked, and we will walk it too. Will we have the same commitment as He did? Lord willing, we will!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 11/29/2015