Today I’d like to start a series on the book of Hebrews. Hebrews is a special book because it feels like it is the answer key to many questions in the History of Redemption.
Writer of Hebrews
The book of Hebrews was written in epistolic exaltation form, a letter-styled sermon. This book of Hebrews does not begin like a letter, as there is no addressing the recipients, such as in the book of Ephesians or Romans, where Paul is addressing the church of Ephesus or Rome and apostle Paul addresses himself as the writer.
This book of Hebrews ends with a letter-style ending. It was meant to be read before the congregation. It begins with a sermon and ends like a letter, however, the author is unknown.
Hebrews uses much of the Old Testament, the author has a very authoritative view of the Old Testament, he was very familiar with all the prophecies, all the offerings, and ceremonial laws. Hebrews is like Leviticus in the New Testament, because it speaks so much about the offerings, tabernacle, high priest, etc. All these Old Testament terms and concepts are explained about how they are fulfilled through the Messiah Jesus Christ. He climaxes the book of Hebrews through Jesus Christ and applies it to the people in the New Testament. This sounds like the History of Redemption.
1. Recipients of the letter of Hebrews
It was written to the Hebrews. Who are the Hebrews who received this letter and sermon? We can see the receivers of this letter and sermon were very familiar with the writer.
Hebrews 2:1 (NKJ) Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.
It tells us the writer is concerned about people ready to drift away from faith.
Hebrews 13:22 (NKJ) And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.
Hebrews 6:9-10 (NKJ) But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. 10 For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
Hebrews 10:34 (NKJ) for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.
Hebrews 13:7 (NKJ) Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.
Hebrews 13:9 (NKJ) Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.
Although the writer of the book is anonymous, the author is apparently well-known to the recipients. The writer and recipients are in a pastoral relationship.
Hebrews 13:18-19 (NKJ) Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably. 19 But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.
The writer is worried that the recipient might drift away.
Which kind of Hebrews is he writing to? There are 3 types of Hebrews:
• The orthodox Jews in Israel
• The diaspora Jews spread out all over other countries
• The convert Jews
There was great oppression upon the Jews at that time, during the time of Nero in Rome who was persecuting the Jews. They always accused and persecuted the Christians, there were mass executions, persecutions, and terrorized by the Jews. Christians were considered Jews who betrayed their faith.
Jews under Judaism were trying to convince Jews who converted to Christianity, to convert back to Judaism.
So this book of Hebrews was addressed to the Hebrew Jews, it was difficult for them because they were persecuted, and being influenced and affected by society, and now tempted to go back to their old religion Judaism because it is a little more comfortable.
What is scary about persecution is that it will bring confusion, mislead, and make you give up your faith. That is what is happening today. Persecutions and confusion in the life of faith take place in the end times. Jesus speaks of the signs that happen in the end times before judgment in Matthew 24. One of the things he said is there will be misleading of the Christians, even believers will give up their faith.
The idea of giving one’s life for the church, or to keep faith. How real is that today? I ask these questions for you to think about this. This idea of giving your life for the Lord or the church has almost become obsolete today. In the days when there were persecutions and hardships, people died to protect the church. But now people don’t really understand what that really means and why that is necessary.
Would we die to keep our faith? Some people ask why we ask that question. There are countries where people give their lives to keep their faith. It is Satan’s work to make Christians only have the form of a believer, without really believing. With different names and ideas like pluralism, Satan sows the seed of disbelief and doubt that Jesus Christ is not the only way to salvation. Such faith is mixed up with other influences of the world and other beliefs. This is an empty Christian life. Such Christians eventually get burnt out spiritually.
During the time of the Hebrews, they had sexual temptations of the sinful way of living. Rome was a sexually corrupt place at that time. It was very easy to sin and get involved in their ways of life. There is pressure and there are difficulties in understanding the Word of God, there is also temptation at the same time.
The problem and symptoms then and now:
(i) Faith stopped growing.
Faith was never real. A dead seed can never sprout and grow. When our faith is dead, it will not grow. We need to ask ourselves today: Is my faith growing?
Hebrews 5:11-13 (NKJ) of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.
When someone who is ready to be a teacher and adult to feed others, degrades to a level that needs liquid food and cannot eat solid food anymore, this is a health crisis. This is a spiritual infant.
(ii) Wavering faith, people became lazy and started to skip coming to church
Hebrews 10:23-25 (NKJ) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Is there any legitimate excuse for not worshipping God? In the Old Testament times, you get stoned to death for violating Sabbath Day.
The Roman economy and market system has a guild system, a labour union, where you need to join the system to get into the network. To join a guild, they needed to confess “The Caesar is the Lord”. So Christians who refuse to confess that, could not join the guild. So these store owners and businessmen could not succeed in that Roman society. If you are a Christian, that means you are an outcast from society, you cannot earn any money to feed your family.
It was hard for the apostles to instruct the Christians to attend church because they could not survive in the economy. How about today? What are the reasons we skip church today?
We need to think about this. Satan’s strategy is to give hardships to individuals so they can fall away one by one. Satan’s strategy is to make churches close down.
There are 5 warnings in Hebrews about losing faith:
• Against disobedience to the gospel of salvation and neglecting salvation. (Hebrew 2:1-4)
• Warning of being like the Israelites in the wilderness. (Hebrew 3:7-4:13)
• The seriousness of not growing in faith and the peril of falling away. (Hebrew 5:11-6:12)
• Warning about the judgment upon those who stand against God. (Hebrew 10:26-31)
• Warning against falling away from the gospel of the new covenant. (Hebrew 12:18-29)
In dealing with such issues, the writer of Hebrews starts off with God the Son, Jesus Christ the Messiah, he emphasises the right understanding of Jesus Christ because of our worldview and our ability to cope with our tests and trials and whether we continue in faith or fall away, all depend on our understanding of Jesus Christ.