Hebrews Lesson 1 February 3, 2005
NKJ Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever."
This is a book that many people love to study. It is also a book that many people don't understand. This is one of the most difficult books in the New Testament to interpret. One of the reasons is because it is so heavily based on Old Testament theology. If you do not have an adequate understanding of Old Testament theology, then it becomes very difficult to interpret the book of Hebrews. It was written to an audience that obviously was well versed in Old Testament ritual. They understood the Levitical offerings, the Levitical priesthood, the operations of the tabernacle, and the doctrinal import of those things from an Old Testament vantage point. So the writer in an extremely skillful and logical way builds an intricate web of arguments to support the doctrines of the deity and the humanity of Christ which in turn lead to the doctrine of His high priesthood, His unique Melchizedekian priesthood. And of course as soon as you mention Melchizedek, people come out of the woodwork with their various views and ideas and theories of who Melchizekek was. We will have to travel down that road a little bit. And then you come to those final concluding chapters that focus so heavily on Jesus Christ, keeping the author and perfecter of our faith before our eyes.
This is a book that will thrill us and challenge us in many ways because of its intricate logic. To understand the thought flow of the author challenges many people to read. We have to take time to look at the context of the passage not only of Hebrews but also the context of these Old Testament citations that we are going find. One of the challenging things about Hebrews is that it is basically an enigma. This challenges so many people. Some people love a puzzle and they love a mystery. They are looking for new solutions to the enigmas in Hebrews. One of the reasons there are so many enigmas is that it isn't really an epistle. We do not know who wrote it or to whom he wrote or the reason or the occasion for his writing. We don't know where he was when he wrote or where they were when he wrote to them. There is a lot of mystery. There is a lot of guesswork. There is a lot of speculation in terms of answering these questions. But these are not simply questions that are designed to stimulate our thinking. They are important questions. In the answering of these questions, we are forced to get into the text and analyze the author's thought flow. What do these things and the way he says them say about him? What does it say about the people to whom he is writing? Even though we can't say with certainty that he was writing to a particular group at this or that location, we can come up with some parameters. As we start our study of Hebrews, we need to answer some basic questions. If we can't answer them, we can at least discuss the issues. Who wrote the book? When did he write? Why did he write? What is the occasion? All of this helps us to analyze the over all thought flow of this epistle.
We have to understand the overall book before we can understand the parts. We can't see what he is trying to communicate before we can understand some of the things that are said within this unique work of the New Testament. Sometimes it is a back and forth issue. You have to do an overall summation of the book to see what it is all about. Then you go through do a detail analysis and then go back to the big picture to see if it changes our thinking. Our understanding a part is always related to the understanding of the whole. If you have one piece of a 5,000-piece puzzle you can't say a lot about that piece. If you have 10 pieces of a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle you can't say a whole lot about those pieces, even if they all fit together. How do we know what is there? How do you know what it means? The part only has meaning in relationship to the whole. The whole in turn gives meaning to the individual part. This analogy is very important as we work our way through the enigma of Hebrews.
This book has a message to believers in our generation just as much as it did in that generation. Essentially what the author has to deal with is a group of believers who are tempted because of pressure and adversity in their lives to chuck their Christianity. Why do we need to continue being faithful to what we have learned about Christianity when if we get rid of it, life would apparently go a lot easier? And so they are being tempted to walk away from their Christian faith. Now of course this generates a number of questions and problems within the book of Hebrews. You always have one group of people who think that these people were in danger of losing their salvation. Others think that they might not have been saved to begin with. That they are tempted to walk away means they weren't ever saved in the first place. Then a third group says that they were genuinely saved and this points out that believers can screw up just as much as any unbeliever. In their backsliding they are in danger of losing reward, losing the position and privileges that God has reserved for them in the millennial kingdom and in the future. If you have been around very long, you know that the third view is the one we will hone in on.
The first view is called the Arminian view. It is named for late 16th century theologian named Jacobus Arminius. He was originally a staunched Calvinist and then decided he had a lot of problems with Calvinistic theology so he moved away from that. One of his students Derek Van Hornberg took it further. They ended up with a system of theology that put the ultimate reality of the universe in the hands pure human volition even to the degree that man is not born totally depraved and ultimately could lose his salvation once he had it. It was a threat to the sovereignty of God and the power of God and salvation. The Arminian viewpoint is that they thought people were in danger of losing their salvation and so you can lose your salvation. That preaches well for a lot of preachers who love to threaten those in the pews.
Then the other extreme is the Calvinist lordship view. That is the second view is the idea that they are being threatened with hell, fire, and damnation. They think that it means that if they were really saved they would not go through that kind of punishment. Therefore they must not have been saved in the first place. A Calvinist believes in eternal security. If you are going to go through this kind of punishment or loss, then you must not be saved. That also preaches. Fear preaches. If you don't straighten up and fly right you were never saved. How do you know you are saved? Not by grace, but you know by your moral good deeds. That is the problem with lordship salvation.
The three crux books in the New Testament that are the debated severely are the books of James, I John and Hebrews. Those are the battleground books. How you interpret them as a whole affects how you interpret individual passages inside of those books. Hebrews is perhaps the most difficult of the three books to deal with and to interpret. They have one other thing in common. That is that they are not what I would call true epistles in the same sense as Colossians or Romans or Galatians or even II and III John. They have certain characteristics that I believe mark them as having been sermons. I John doesn't have a salutation which is typical of an epistle. It was probably given at some point as a sermon. Sermons back then were not given like they are today. If someone got up in the pulpit today and read I John most people would walk out the back door. Then you read Hebrews in the evening service and you now have a congregation of one. This is tough stuff. James has three basic divisions in the book, a perfect introduction, and a perfect conclusion. I believe it was also a message. These books challenge believers in their spiritual lives. You may be saved, but how you live your spiritual life today is going to affect what you do in eternity. What you decide today affects your eternal destiny. And so these are books that deal with the issues of rewards and blessings and preparation for our roles and responsibilities as priests and kings to God in the millennial kingdom and in eternity future. Last summer we started but did not finish a series on rewards and crowns. It will be developed in our studies in Hebrews and Revelation. We get into some advanced understanding of rewards and blessing and where the Lord is taking us in all of these contingent blessings. It will be a challenge for all of us.
Hebrews is a book that challenges us to hold onto certain truths. If I were to poll everyone here tonight we would all say that we all believe in the deity of Christ. We believe in the humanity of Christ. We believe in the hypostatic union. We believe that Christ is our great high priest. But what do they mean to us? What are the implications of that? So what if you believe that Jesus is God? You merge that in the hypostatic union that He is truly human and fully God united together in one person inseparably united without mixture of attributes without shading of His character from one side to the other yet it is one person united. What is the significance of that? What is the significance of Jesus Christ being at the right hand of God the Father? We believe in the session of Christ. We usually reduce that to an intercessory ministry. Why is His priestly role important? What we will see is that as the author builds a point, he ends it with an exhortation that warns us that if we do not pay attention to what he is saying that you will be a failure spiritually and forfeit these rewards and privileges forever.
There are five warnings in this book and each one gets progressively dire. By the time we get down to chapter 10 it is downright sobering to read what the writer of Hebrews says about what may happen if we do not continue to advance in the spiritual life. Today there are too many Christians who think that only salvation matters. They think that grace means they can do whatever they want to. They do not think they have to take the study of the Bible very seriously. As long as they are saved, that is all that matters. They sing a few songs that they like to sing and get some warm fuzzies as they walk around and hug each other. There is nothing wrong with warmth in a congregation, but so often that is all that there is. It supplants the teaching of the Word so that there is no understanding of what this spiritual life is about.
The book is an enigma. Why is it such an enigma? It is because the structure of the book itself is unusual. It doesn't really fit the pattern of an epistle. It has no opening salutation. You don't know who the writer is. It has some elements similar an epistle at the end, but its structure doesn't really fit an epistle. It doesn't identify the author. It doesn't identify the recipients. What happened on the part of the recipients that caused the writer to write this epistle? We do not know. So we have to answer some of these questions.
What is this book? Is it an epistle or what? One of the first things you should do when you tackle a piece of Scripture to interpret it is to find what kind of literature you are dealing with. Are you dealing with law? Or are you dealing with a proverb? You don't interpret a passage in the law that is a contractual agreement in the same way you would interpret something in the Song of Solomon which is highly poetic literature. They are not interpreted in quite the same way you would a parable. These are different kinds of literature. You still utilize a literal, historical, and grammatical methodology; but because you are dealing with different literature, you handle the statement differently. When you pick up a credit card statement, you read it differently than they way you would read a Shakespearean sonnet. Why? Because you intuitively know from your background in reading that these are different kinds of literature. When you go to a movie if you know it is a science fiction you interact with it differently than if it was a romantic comedy or a historical documentary. Literature has different forms. You have to analyze the form when you begin to study. Is this a letter like Romans? Or is it a sermon like Deuteronomy? Is it a gospel like Luke or a parable like we find in Matthew 13? If we compare Hebrews 1:1 with the Pauline epistles we will see a difference.
NKJ Philemon 1:1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, 2 to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
These are words that for the most part are familiar to us. This is how Paul begins his epistle. It identifies who the writer is and who the recipients are. There is some form of salutation.
NKJ Hebrews 1:1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 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 at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
This is all one sentence in the original. Notice the difference? There is no salutation. There is no identification of authorship. There is no identification of readers. So there is something different going on here. It is not an epistle in the same sense as some of the others are epistles. Some people say that in the course of time the salutation got dropped off or got lost somehow. That brings up a number of questions what about the sovereignty of God in the preservation of the Scripture. It doesn't look like something got dropped off. That is an inadequate solution.
The book gives us clues to what it is. For that we go to Hebrews 13:22.
NKJ Hebrews 13:22 And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.
What has always impressed me about the book of Hebrews is that the writer thinks that what he is saying is elementary.
NKJ Hebrews 6:1 Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
Wait a minute. 99% of the seminary-trained pastors in this country don't understand the Book of Hebrews. He thinks it is basic stuff. He raises the bar doesn't he? We think we are getting into advanced stuff, but he calls this pabulum. He encourages us to get out of nursery school. Most of us have difficulty understanding this book. It is not just a few words. This is a profound discourse on the significance of the person of Christ.
The verb parakaleo means to call alongside, to come along side, to encourage, or to exhort. The noun form parakletos is the word for the Holy Spirit as our comforter and encourager. He encourages us in terms of application. The writer challenges us. The word "brethren" indicates that he is writing to fellow believers. For now we understand that he is not using it here in an ethnic sense. Here it is not necessarily to fellow Jews. It is used that way in some passages but not in Hebrews. It is clear that he is writing to believers.
Tou logou tes paraklesios The word logos should be translated message. It is used for a title of Jesus in John 1. It can mean a number of different things. Here it has the idea of a message of related to exhortation. To bear is the present active imperative of aneko and means that this should be a characteristic of your life. It is an ongoing standard operating procedure for the Christian life to put up with, to endure and to apply this message of exhortation. When we look at this particular phrase we need to ask exactly what it means. Does it have a particular meaning that his readers would understand? We can't just say it means preaching. We have to go to the Scripture to understand what a message of exhortation is. In our modern culture there is an artificial distinction made between preaching and teaching. So often what you discover is that preaching has to do with a certain oratorical style. If you get up and teach then that is not preaching. Actually the Bible does not recognize such a distinction. The word of exhortation does have the idea of a sermon or teaching, but not in the sense that we find it in modern churches.
In Acts 13 we find the apostle Paul speaking to a synagogue in Antioch. You can just imagine that this was probably pretty much what the apostle Paul did every time he came to a synagogue. This was sort of a standard message. You can compare what he says in Acts 14 and Acts 17. They have the same basic elements. A distinction is that in Acts 14 and 17 he addresses a Gentile audience. Now a Gentile audience does not have the same frame of reference that a Jewish audience would have. Here he addresses the Jews in the synagogue. This is the same thing that is happening in Hebrews. The writer of Hebrews starts off by saying that God spoke. Who is he addressing? He addresses Jews who already have some sort of content to this word "God". He doesn't just jump in and start talking about Jesus right away. He starts with the creator God. When he talks to Gentiles he has to back up and start talking about the creator God and makes sure they understand who God is. If you are witnessing to a Buddhist down the street and you jump into the gospel right away and say that God loves you, you have not defined the word God. What does the Buddhist hear when you say the word God? He thinks of some impersonal force that functions out in the universe. When you say, "You have sinned," it has no cognitive meaning for the Buddhist. He thinks you have violated some social mores. So why do we need to be saved? Who is this Jesus? People are always coming from some perspective and you have to make sure that when you talk about God they understand who you are talking about. You are not talking about an Islamic Allah or a Buddhist conception of ultimate reality. You are not talking about a Mormon god who is not a Christian god. You have a distinct view. So Paul is addressing Jews. They already have a common view of who God is.
NKJ Acts 13:15 And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, "Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on."
They are invited to give a message of exhortation. So if this is a message of exhortation, let's analyze what its characteristics are.
NKJ Acts 13:16 Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, "Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: 17 "The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it.
They understand that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Creator of heavens and earth and all that is in them.
Now who is the subject of this verse? It is God. He did these three things. He chose our fathers and He exalted the people and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of Egypt. The ultimate hero in the all the Old Testament is always God. It is narrative literature from Genesis on. Who is the hero of every story? The hero is not the human individual. It is not Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Samuel or David. The hero is always God because He is always working behind the scenes as the Deliverer.
NKJ Acts 13:18"Now for a time of about forty years He put up with their ways in the wilderness. 19 "And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment.
In verse 17 he started with Abraham. Then in four verses Paul summarizes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth and I Samuel. Isn't that great? He is not just jumping into the Gospel. He gives it a context. He synthesizes the Old Testament to give the gospel meaning and context.
NKJ Acts 13:20"After that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. 21 "And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 "And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, 'I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.' 23 "From this man's seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior -- Jesus –
In six verses he has gone from the Abrahamic Covenant to the Davidic Covenant
NKJ Acts 13:24"after John had first preached, before His coming, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 "And as John was finishing his course, he said, 'Who do you think I am? I am not He. But behold, there comes One after me, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to loose.
Look at that leap. He jumps from the Davidic Covenant to John the Baptist in one phrase. He is synthesizing the Old Testament to give the gospel message meaning and content.
Did you notice that there are two verses on John the Baptist? He takes off with the Abrahamic Covenant. In about 5 verses he takes you through 7 or 8 books in the Old Testament and ends with the Davidic Covenant. He jumps over the rest of the Old Testament and lands on the river Jordan with John the Baptist. Then he slows down and focuses on John and what he is doing. He talks about the one who was not worthy to loose His sandals.
NKJ Acts 13:26 "Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent.
Now he addresses the congregation. This is a word of encouragement. What is his message? Number one, he emphasizes the gospel. But he emphasizes the practical application on the part of the reader, the message from the Scripture. He challenges them to apply what is written.
NKJ Acts 13:26 "For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him. 28 "And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death..
He slows down to the gospel but he didn't go there first. It is not emotional. There is no appeal to come forward. There is no singing of emotional songs to set the context. It is just content filled rehearsal of what God had done in history. If God has not done these things in history then when it gets down to the gospel, it doesn't really matter. What is unique about Biblical Christianity is that it is grounded in history. And we have to understand that. We can't debate whether or not these things happened the way the Bible says that they happened. They happened the way they happened for a theological purpose that God had in history. If you don't have the Exodus, if you don't have the Davidic covenant, if you don't have John the Baptist, then it doesn't matter what happened at the cross. The cross is grounded in a series of historical interventions by God in history. If they didn't happen then the cross is irrelevant. The meaning of the cross in salvation is grounded in history. This is where liberalism always attacks the Bible. Television shows always challenge the historicity and canonicity of the Bible. That is why The DaVinci Code is so hot. It challenges the historicity and canonicity of the Scripture. If they aren't true, then people have a rationale to justify dumping their Christianity. Right now we are fighting a major battle out there. It has to do with canonicity and understanding who Christ is and what He did. That is what Hebrews is about.
NKJ Acts 13:38"Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that athrough 1Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and through Him aeveryone who believes is 12freed from all things, from which you could not be 1freed through the Law of Moses.
He establishes the credentials of Jesus Christ. It is a doctrinal exposition of the person and work of Christ with quotes from Ps 2:7, Is 55:3, and Ps 16:6. He weaves together Old Testament principles and then brings home a message. If you want a clear statement of the gospel from the Scripture, this is it. He does not say he who repents or he who walks the aisle or he who changes his life. He says the ones who believe are justified. This is a message of exhortation.
Definition: An exhortation is the development of a doctrinal principle with an exposition of its application and a challenge to the life of the believer. It is a challenge from God to each individual to live your life consistently with the things you say you believe.
You say you believe in the humanity of Christ. You say you believe in the deity of Christ. You say you believe in the hypostatic union. Therefore do this. It is a challenge to go forward. That is the challenge of the Book of Hebrews.
NKJ 1 Timothy 4:3 forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
Itching ears always find scratching teachers. And they will always pay for scratching teachers. Look at the enormous churches that are all around the country. They all teach some form of tithing and many are into the health and wealth gospel. These preachers are preaching heresy. They tell people that if you give so much God will return it a 100 fold. Some have put their life savings into these churches. So many of these churches have incredible wealth and pay their pastors an incredible amount of money to tell them what they want to hear. The sad thing is that when we get into doctrinal churches where people want the truth and are grace oriented, we find pastors scratching along to make a living. That is the irony of the whole situation.
NKJ Hebrews 9:5 and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
The writer thinks that he isn't giving much doctrine. He wants to say more but he knows that the readers can't handle it right now because they are on the verge of carnality and reversionism. There is a lot more. He thought that what he was teaching was very fundamental theology. This was probably originally preached and later written down by someone. That is one of many theories.
When was it written? It has a sermonic style even though there are greetings at the end. Timothy is mentioned. So the author knew who this group was. Timothy is still alive. It gives us some parameters for the date. It is after Timothy has been put in prison.
In AD 95, about the same time John was on the Isle of Patmos getting The Revelation, there was a pastor in Rome by the name of Clement of Rome. (There was also a Clement of Alexandria. They lived about 150 years apart.) Clement of Rome wrote an epistle to the Corinthians that is the earliest non-canonical Christian literature. It is loaded with quotes from Hebrews. He is obviously familiar with Hebrews and treats Hebrews as authoritative. He also quoted other New Testament works as well. He quotes from Mathew, Mark and Luke. He quotes from two or three Pauline epistles. So it is obvious that they are already circulating as authoritative works. The churches were recognizing the internal authority of the Holy Spirit in these works.
It also had to be written by 70 AD when the temple was destroyed. One of the major arguments that the writer presents is that the Levitical system of sacrifices is now outmoded. If the temple had been destroyed that would be a great argument to use. He treats the sacrifices as if they were still going on. He never mentions the temple or the sacrifices at the temple. So it is before 70 AD.
I think it is before 66 AD also because I think that the community to which he writes is Christian Jews living in Israel. There does not seem to be a threat to the temple in Jerusalem at this point. They are tempted to go back to Judaism. Paul dies somewhere around 59 to 60 AD. So the best we can come up with is 61-65 AD. It seems to have been written before there was any threat to the destruction of the temple and before Rome's invasion of Judea.
Who is the author? He is not mentioned. We don't know. He is unknown to us but he is clearly known to his audience. They knew who this was from and that he had the authority to teach them the Word. There are a number of views on who the author was. Some people have spent a lifetime studying to figure out who wrote it. Nobody knows. There are various guesses.
The first guess is that Paul was the author. Many assume his authorship. However there are fundamental problems with Pauline authorship. First of all, the style and the vocabulary are very different from Paul's style. He wrote in a more common form of Greek. In some cases he gets emotional. He is very fast in his writing. He uses ellipsis and figures of speech. In Romans, you feel his passion and excitement as he writes the doctrine. You don't have any of that within Hebrews. The author of Hebrews has very tight structure to his thinking. He marches you down as he goes through his argument and presents his five great challenges to his audience. Clement of Alexandria taught that Paul was the writer. He got that view from his teacher Pantaenus who died in AD 190. That is the earliest attestation to Pauline authorship. Another church father Origen lived from 185-254. He didn't think that Paul wrote it, but he didn't argue with the tradition that he did write it. That was on the eastern side of the Mediterranean. It was Jerome and Augustin who popularized that view in the west that Paul was the author. Very few if any in modern scholarship accept Pauline authorship.
Another view that has a lot of ancient status is the view that Barnabas wrote it. That may be legitimate. He was from Cyprus and may have learned a higher form of Greek. Paul wrote in a very common form of the Koine. Hebrews is written in the most eloquent Greek in the New Testament. It was written by someone well trained in rhetoric. Barnabas was a Levite. That means he would be intimately acquainted with all of the ritual of the Levitical priesthood.
Later on Luther put forth the idea that it was Apollos. Apollos was from Alexandria and was an orator. It is a valid suggestion. Others suggested Clement of Rome because he was so familiar with it. Silas who was Paul's traveling companion is mentioned. Some say Luke. Some say Luke translated Paul or Barnabas. Priscilla is mentioned. All kinds of people have all kinds of ideas about who wrote the book of Hebrews.
We do know that the writer had a mind that was intensely logical and had a tremendous grasp of the Old Testament and the Christology in the Levitical sacrifices. He is able to take various sources and weave together very intricate arguments for the deity, humanity and superiority of Jesus Christ. He builds a fascinating challenge to the Church Age believer.
We need to look at the whole so that we do not lose the punch of the book. There are 88 quotes or allusions to the Old Testament in the book. We can't assume that people know their Old Testaments so we will have to review many passages. When this was first given, it was given all in one morning. We will find that Hebrews is loaded with content.