STUDIES IN THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS
“…Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (9:27-28)
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 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; 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, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. (Hebrews 1:1-4)
BRIEF OUTLINE OF HEBREWS
Introduction: the doxology of praise of Christ’s eternal glory (1:1-4).
1. Christ’s majestic betterness (superiority) over God’s creation (1:4-2:18).
2. Christ’s glorious betterness (superiority) over Moses and the law (3:1-4:13).
3. Christ’s sacrificial betterness (superiority) over the priesthood (4:14-10:18).
4. Christ’s faithful betterness (superiority) because He is the Author and Perfecter of our faith (10:19-13:19).
Conclusion: The benediction (13:20-25).
Our on-going studies in the New Testament epistles bring us now to the letter to the Hebrews.
It has been said that epistles like Hebrews, Romans, and Revelation are best left to Bible Classes, for they get so deeply into Christian doctrine. We understand. The books mentioned take us more into the “meat” of God’s Word than into its “milk” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). That said, we will surely also discover that the rich doctrinal menu of a letter like Hebrews will be invaluable for building up the spiritual muscle (strength!) of our holy faith.
So, let’s go for it—understanding that we can hardly cover every detail that might come up in a Bible Class with your pastor.
We say with complete confidence that the Author of the letter to the Hebrews is God the Holy Spirit.
Who wrote the book is uncertain. Many attribute it to St. Paul, though there are arguments both for and against his authorship. What is not in dispute within the Church is the book’s divine inspiration. We say with complete confidence that the Author of the letter to the Hebrews is God the Holy Spirit.
The date of the book is assumed to be around the year of our Lord 65. That is so because the book’s contents show it was written to encourage Christian Jews who were in danger of backsliding in the face of increasing persecution for their newfound faith (the destruction of Jerusalem and Roman Emperor Nero’s persecution happened in A.D. 64-70).
“Today man-centered, luxurious, materialistic living, together with the rapid advancements of science, all make the Christ of this epistle almost passé.”
Among many rewards resulting from a study of this holy book will be renewed appreciation for the “betterness”—in the sense of superiority—of Christ, and all that Christian believers have in Him in contrast to the Old Testament rites, rituals, and worship. One Bible study guide says: “Today man-centered, luxurious, materialistic living, together with the rapid advancements of science, all make the Christ of this epistle almost passé. The fact is, however, that underneath our highly advanced and specialized life, there is a sense of emptiness. In the midst of all the remedies and opiates offered, Christ still stands as the only sure anchor of hope.” (emphasis ours)
An accompanying list [see page 17] gives the many “better”—again, in the sense of “superior”—passages found throughout the book. It soon becomes clear that the Holy Spirit wants God’s believing children to know and believe that in Christ they have a better hope, better promises, a better sacrifice, better possessions, a better resurrection, a better country, and so forth, and all this because undergirding everything is a better covenant than what Old Testament believers had. All this “betterness” is sure to be seen as our faith is fed on the rich spiritual diet which the epistle serves up.
John’s Gospel in the New Testament opens with Jesus as “the Word” participating in creation and then becoming flesh.
How significant is the epistle’s opening verse! Consider how the Old Testament begins with God speaking and thus creating; John’s Gospel in the New Testament opens with Jesus as “the Word” participating in creation and then becoming flesh; and now here in the first verse of Hebrews we hear again of God speaking. And how? “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…”
Throughout the first chapter—as well as through the entire book—the emphasis is that Christ was and is God’s supreme Revelation! We are reminded of what the Father said from the cloud at Jesus’ transfiguration: “This is My beloved Son, hear Him!” (Luke 9:35)
As the opening doxology of praise to Christ continues, we come quickly to the first “better than” passage. What’s the exact setting? Well, since the Jews generally believed that angels had done much for their forefathers and could also do many things for them, some of them in time of persecution and affliction probably wondered whether angels might be more effective for them than Christ—who Himself had been persecuted and put to death. So the holy writer meets this misunderstanding head on, showing that Christ was “much better than” the angels.
In fact, in verses 2-4 he piles up phrases proclaiming Christ as “the heir of all things,” as the Creator, as “very God of very God” (Nicene Creed), as the providential Sustainer of the universe, as the Redeemer who purged us from our sins, and as the One who is now the exalted Ruler of the universe. No angel compares!
Summarizing, when the going gets rough, fellow beleaguered Christians, why yearn again for the fleshpots of Egypt (Exodus 16:3)? Why would you ever want to return to the Old Testament laws and ways? No need whatever, for you have “Better Living Through Christ” who as Prophet, Priest, and King is “something [way] better” (11:40), yea, far superior to the angels.
What a spiritual menu in this opening doxology! – Stay tuned for more spiritually rich fare.
Better — a key word in the Epistle to the Hebrews (NKJV)
- “Having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” (1:4)
- “But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you…” (6:9)
- “Now, beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.” (7:7)
- “For the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” (7:19)
- “By so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.” (7:22)
- “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.” (8:6)
- “Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.” (9:23)
- “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.” (10:34)
- “But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (11:16)
- “Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” (11:35)
- “God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” (11:40)
- “To Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” (12:24)