We can only assume who the writer of Hebrews might be. In view of the antagonism against Paul throughout the Roman Empire by the persecuting Jews (At 13:43), we would assume that he would keep his name off this document if he were the author. He would want his readers to fully understand the awesomeness of the Son of God in His present ministry, that it is not according to His ministry in the flesh (2 Co 5:16). Therefore, in the words of the Holy Spirit through the writer, this is a brilliant piece of apologetical literature that instructs us concerning Jesus’ present ministry.
One of the first points in the letter is that the author did not want his message to be obscured by his own personality as the writer. So there is no specific identity of the writer, and thus, no distraction from the One about whom the writer identifies in the heavens. We can only make deductions as by whom the letter was written, and thus, we would only assume that it was written by the apostle Paul.
The purpose of the Hebrew letter is stated in the final chapter: “And I urge you, brethren, bear this word of exhortation ….”13:22 This was a letter of encouragement, reassurance, and finally a warning to those who were on the verge of forsaking all that they had received in Christ.
This was a letter of exhortation. This is Jewish language in reference to the exhortation that comes from the word of God. When Paul and Barnabas were in the synagogue of Pisidia, the Jews of the Jewish synagogue asked of them, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it” (At 13:15). The recipients of the Hebrew letter were indeed in need of a word of exhortation, for some were contemplating a return to the Sinai law and Levitical priesthood. It seems that a general lethargy in study of the word of God had set in among them, and thus, they were finding that their life in Christ had now grown stale after many years as Christians.12:3 And thus, the Hebrew writer lays the foundation for exhortation in Christ: “Therefore, we must give more earnest attention to the things that we have heard so that we do not drift away.”2:1 And drifting they were.
Their spiritual drift was the result of their lack of growth in the knowledge of Jesus. By the time the writer inscribed these words of exhortation, they should have spiritually grown to be teachers.5:12 In order to spur them on to growth, therefore, the letter was written to rehearse those teachings that should have continually inspired their spiritual growth. In order to generate enthusiasm in their hearts, the writer reminds them that God is living and active through the present heavenly ministry of the Son of God.4:12 In order to spur them on to learning, the writer reminds them of a day approaching wherein God will openly manifest again that He is actively working in the affairs of men.10:25
Jesus did not ascend to idleness. He is active as our high priest. However, the day was coming in the lives of the immediatele readers when He would be active in terminating national Israel. It is our conclusion that the writer inscribed the words of this letter in view of the physical finality of national Israel in the destruction of the Jewish state in A.D. 70. The Hebrew writer thus wrote with urgency in order to dissuade any thought of returning to a dead covenant and law under which most Jews of the day hopelessly sought to please God
Because they had not spiritually grown, it seems that the recipients had fallen victim to a faith in which they concluded that Jesus was no longer active. When our Christianity digresses to a faith in One whom we feel is passive on our behalf, then our Christianity becomes cold formalism wherein we legally perform the ceremonies of our faith in order to “maintain the faith.” Such Christianity is dead and brings no satisfaction to the spiritual soul of its adherents. In the cold formalism of their knowledge of elementary principles, the Hebrew writer considers it fundamental that we know Jesus according to how He now functions. We must move on from a knowledge of the fleshly ministry of Jesus to His heavenly ministry as He functions as priest and king in heaven.
Because of their lack of growth, the adherents had grown spiritually lethargic in their maintenance of the elementary principles of the faith. It was beyond the time that they should grow beyond the elementary knowledge of Jesus Christ.6:1,2 For this reason, the writer placed little emphasis on the earthly ministry of Jesus in the flesh. Except for his note on the resurrection of Jesus in 13:20, emphasis is on the eternal sacrifice, and the subsequent active result of that sacrifice through the eternal priesthood of the sacrificial Lamb of God. The resurrection and ascension are assumed in reference to Jesus’ ministry from the time of the cross to His ministry at the right hand of God. So in the following statement of the writer in 7:25, the active ministry of Jesus on our behalf is highlighted: “… seeing He always lives to make intercession for them.”
Christ does not now live for Himself. He lives for us. He entered into the holy place “to appear in the presence of God for us.”9:24 He is our priest and king who is enthroned in heavenly places. He is not there with outstretched arms in pleading to the Father. He is there with the authority of the Godhead, exercising all authority for God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The old Catholic picture we often have in our minds is that Jesus is pacing about before the Father in priestly liturgy to plead the case of the righteous on earth. But this mental picture is simply not the picture that the Hebrew writer paints.
The writer seeks to picture Jesus as among His “family.” Quoting from the psalmist, he reminded his readers of the declaration of Jesus: “I will declare Your name to My brothers, in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.”2:12 (See Ps 22:22). Depending on whether we as interpreters would consider the word “firstborn” in 12:23 as a reference to Jesus, and not to those of His family, does not deny the truth that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, never to die again (Cl 1:18; Rv 1:5). In the 12:23 text, the word “ones” is italics, and thus added by the translators. Reference could be to the firstborn “One,” or the firstborn “ones.” In either case, Jesus is the firstborn of all those who will be resurrected never to die again. Paul reminded his readers of this fact: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead and has become the firstfruits of those who are asleep” (1 Co 15:20).
As the firstborn of His family, the ekklesia (the church), Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brethren (See Mk 3:34). Isaiah led the faithful remnant of God in order to preserve those who would survive the apostasy of Israel (See Is 8:18). In the same way, Jesus led the faithful out of the apostate Israel of His day in order that they enjoy the final rest that God would give to those who obey the gospel. Jesus is thus pictured by the writer as leading the faithful under the protection of His blood and His ministry as our high priesthood.
The writer’s quotation of Isaiah in reference to this ministry of Jesus was appropriate: “Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me.”2:13 God had given a faithful remnant to Isaiah. In the same way He had given a faithful remnant into the protective hands of the Son of God. It was to these that the Hebrew writer was writing a word of exhortation in order that they remain faithful to their calling through the gospel.
[Lectures begin December 1.]