Epistle to the Hebrews

Boyd’s Bible Dictionary:

Written probably by Paul, from Rome, A
D. 62 or 63, to overcome Hebrew favoritism for the old law.

Concise Bible Dictionary:

This is the only Epistle attributed to Paul that does not bear his name. In all the oldest MSS his name does not occur, either at the beginning or at the end. Most of the early writers attribute it to Paul, though with some there were doubts respecting it. 2 Peter 3:15-1615And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15‑16) seems to confirm the authorship of Paul, besides the internal evidences of it. The question as to who the writer was does not touch its inspiration: of this there can be no legitimate doubt. It may be that Paul’s name is withheld because he was so maligned by the Jews, many of whom were related to the very ones to whom he was writing, that they might not be prejudiced against the Epistle. Doubtless many to whom he was writing had heard the discourses of the Lord, and the Epistle was, as it were, a further discourse from God through Christ as His Apostle: “Hath spoken unto us in [His] Son.” Here Paul classes himself with the listeners.
It was written to Jews as persons already in relationship with God, but evinces that only those who received the Lord Jesus as Mediator were really in that relationship, and were “partakers of the heavenly calling.” It shows that they no longer needed the shadows of heavenly things, for in Christ Jesus the heavenly things themselves were to be possessed. Eternal things are spoken of to the displacement of those that were temporal. It is not properly speaking an Epistle addressed to an assembly, but a treatise, in which the heavenly glory of Christ is contrasted with earthly hopes.
The tender way in which the apostle deals with the consciences of the Jews still clinging to Judaism, stands in marked contrast to the severe manner in which he writes to the Galatians, who as Gentiles never should have placed themselves under law. The believing Hebrews needed to be detached from the earth and attached to Christ in heaven; but though association with Christ is touched on, union with Him is not taught in the epistle, nor is the believer’s relationship to God as Father brought out. The saints are viewed as in the wilderness on their way to the rest of God. In accordance with this the tabernacle is referred to, and not the temple, which belongs to the kingdom. As might be expected, the epistle contains many quotations from the Old Testament, but they are often cited by way of contrast rather than of comparison.
The great subject of the Epistle to the Hebrews is approach to God, the basis of which is found in the blessed Person and work of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is viewed as the Apostle and High Priest, while His work is set forth, of such a nature as to give boldness to the believer to enter into the holiest by a new and living way inaugurated by Christ, who has died and risen, and entered as the great priest over God’s house. This entrance is the climax to which the epistle leads the believing Hebrews, in complete contrast to the system, which, though given of God, left the worshippers at a distance and the holiest inaccessible to man. They were to learn the incomparable superiority of that which had been brought in by God Himself through Christ, over all that had been given by Him through Moses, and that, though all was on the ground of faith, with present suffering, they were brought into better things: they had better promises, better hopes, and had privileges to which those who served the tabernacle had no right. But all turns on the glory of the person of the Lord Jesus.
In Hebrews 1. God has spoken in [the] Son. He is the Apostle in whom God speaks, one of the Persons of the Godhead—the exact expression of His substance. Again, when viewed as born on earth, begotten in time, He is still the Son; His Person is identified with His manhood. In this respect He inherits a more excellent name than the angels. He is worshipped by them. He is addressed as God. If, being man, He has companions, He is above them. He is the Creator. He is set at the right hand of God where no angel is ever placed.
Hebrews 2. Having thus presented the glorious Person as the One in whom God had spoken in these last days to His people, the inspired writer in Hebrews 2 parenthetically warns those who had believed, of the danger of slipping away from such a message, and of the impossibility of escape for those who neglected so great salvation, which had first been presented by the Lord Himself, and had been confirmed by those who had heard Him, to whom God also had borne testimony by various acts of power. The subject of the Person is then resumed. If God had been revealed in the Son become man, Man is also presented before God in this same blessed One, and this in answer to the quotation from Psalm 8, “What is man, that thou rememberest him? “ Jesus is the “Son of Man,” made indeed a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, but now crowned with glory and honor. Everything is to be placed in suitability to the mind and will of God through His death. But He is not alone in the purposes of God as to glory, He is the leader of many sons, destined to this fullness of blessing, and as leader He has reached the goal through suffering. Then is stated what is of the deepest interest, namely, that those who are sanctified—believers in Him—are all of one with the sanctifier Himself: they are His brethren, and form the company identified with Him, “Behold I and the children which God has given me.” He had partaken of flesh and blood and had died, that this might be brought about, having in his death annulled the devil, and broken the power of death for His own, who were now in liberty. He has taken up, not the cause of angels, but the seed of Abraham. It became Him in all things to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things relating to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. As such He is able to succor the tempted, having Himself suffered being tempted.
Hebrews 3-4. It will be noted that in Hebrews 1- 2 God is speaking to man, and man is presented to God in the same blessed Person. Accordingly in Hebrews 3-4 the Hebrews, as partakers of the heavenly calling, are invited to “consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus.” Compared with Moses, who had indeed been faithful as a servant in the house of God, Christ had been faithful.
But He was the builder of the house, and Son over it. “Whose house are we, if indeed we hold fast the boldness and the boast of hope firm to the end.” This “if” introduces a reference to the forty years wandering in the wilderness, the argument being that the Hebrews at that time were not able to enter the rest of God because of not hearkening to the word—because of unbelief. This is warning for the present time. The rest of God is what He has in view for His people. Let none seem to come short of it. The rest now is neither that of creation nor that of Canaan, but one still future, into which those enter who believe. Let all use diligence to enter into that rest, hearkening to the word, which is sharper than a two-edged sword and discovers the very motives of the heart. Returning from this digression on the “if,” the writer takes up again the thread from Hebrews 3:66But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. (Hebrews 3:6): “Having therefore a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast the confession.” He is a High Priest able to sympathize in believers’ infirmities, having been tempted in all things as they are, apart from sin. They should approach the throne of grace therefore with boldness so as to receive mercy, and find grace for seasonable help. This aspect of the priesthood of Christ is for their relief from what would otherwise turn them out of the way.
In Hebrews 5-8 the subject of the priesthood of Christ is continued, with another digression in chapters 5 and 6 on the condition of the Hebrew saints, and warnings arising therefrom. High Priests among men, as Aaron, had their functions, but were called of God to the dignity. So Christ, addressed by God as His Son, is selected also by Him as High Priest after the order of Melchisedec. Witness is then borne to His perfect dependence and obedience in the days of His flesh, and that perfected as High Priest beyond death, He became, to all who obey Him, Author of eternal salvation. Of Him much had to be said, but the state of the Hebrews called for serious remark. They had made no progress in spiritual growth, but had become babes.
Hebrews 6. They are urged to leave the word of the beginning of the Christ, and to go on to what belonged to full growth. The hopelessness of apostasy is most solemnly set forth, but of those he is addressing, the writer is persuaded better things, and he presses them to follow those who through faith and long patience have inherited the promises. These promises were all on the ground of grace, and were secured to the heirs of promise by the word and the oath of God. They then have strong encouragement, and the hope set before them as an anchor of the soul entering within the veil—into the very presence of God, where Jesus has entered as the forerunner—a High Priest after the order of Melchisedec.
In Hebrews 7 some detail is given of Melchisedec. His titles are interpreted—king of righteousness and king of peace. The fact is noted that nothing is said of his father, mother, or genealogy; nothing of his birth or death; he is said to be assimilated to the Son of God, and abides a priest continually. The greatness of this personage is then dwelt on, as evidenced by Abraham’s conduct toward him, and he is shown to be superior to Levi. Further, if perfection had come in with Levi, why speak of another Priest of another order? Melchisedec is in fact the type of the priesthood of Christ, constituted after the power of an endless life. There was a setting aside of the Aaronic priesthood, because connected with the law which perfected nothing, and the bringing in of a better hope by which we draw nigh to God. The superiority of Christ’s priesthood is further evidenced by its being introduced by the swearing of an oath, and by its continuing forever. He then is able to save completely those who come to God by Him, always living to intercede for them.
The High Priest of Christians is the Son, holy, harmless, undefiled, and as man made higher than the heavens. He had no need as other priests to offer up sacrifices for His own sins; He has offered Himself once for all for the sins of the people.
In Hebrews 8, a summary is given, setting forth again the glory of our High Priest, where He is set, and what He is minister of; all is contrast to what, as Jews, they had in the old order. The ministry is more excellent: the covenant, of which He is Mediator, a better one, established on the footing of better promises. A new covenant had been spoken of in the prophets, not like the first, for it was on the principle of sovereign grace. The old covenant was ready to vanish away.
If Christ be such a Priest, He must have “somewhat to offer,” and in the following chapters the value of His offering is shown forth. This He did once when He offered up Himself.
In Hebrews 9-10:18, the contrast between the two covenants is further enlarged on. Certain features of the tabernacle arrangement are given with regard to the holy and most holy places. Into the first the priests went at all times, but into the second the high priest only once a year. The way into the holiest had not been manifest while the first tabernacle was standing, wherein gifts and sacrifices were offered, which could not give to those who brought them a perfect conscience. But Christ, in contrast to this, had, in connection with a heavenly tabernacle, entered in once into the holy of holies by His own blood, having found an eternal redemption. The blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, was efficacious in complete contrast to the blood or ashes of the victim of old. The “called” ones now received the promise of eternal inheritance. All was established on the basis of death. The tabernacle was but a pattern of things in the heavens, which latter had to be purified with better sacrifices than those of bulls and goats. Christ had entered into heaven itself, to appear in the presence of God for us. His work had never to be repeated, like the yearly sacrifices of the high priests. He had once been manifested in the consummation of the ages for the putting away of sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it was the lot of man to die and then to be judged, Christ had borne the sins of many, having borne the judgment due to them, and will appear to those who look for Him to salvation, having broken the power of death.
Of the great work of Christ, and of the good things to come which depended on that work, the law had only shadows, not the very image. The yearly sacrifices never perfected those who brought them; else they would have ceased to be offered by worshippers having no more conscience of sins; sins were in fact brought to mind every year, not put away forever. But there was One who, coming into the world, could speak of a body prepared for Him, in which He would accomplish the will of God. Sacrifice and offering and offering for sin were taken away, that the will of God might be accomplished by His Son in the prepared body. By this will believers in Christ were sanctified by His one offering. In contrast to the priests, who always stood, offering often the same sacrifices, with barren results as to the taking away of sins, He, having offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down on the right hand of God, His rejection from earth being indicated by the words of the psalm, “from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.” The sanctified ones were now perfected in perpetuity. Their sins would never be remembered, the Holy Ghost being witness. There remaineth therefore no longer a sacrifice for sin.
Hebrews 10:1919Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, (Hebrews 10:19) gives immediate application of all this. We have boldness to enter into the holy of holies—the presence of God—by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, through the veil, that is, through His flesh. And we have a great Priest over the House of God. Let us then “approach with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, sprinkled as to our hearts from a wicked conscience, and washed as to our bodies with pure water.” This is the climax of the epistle. Other results follow. “Let us hold fast the confession of the hope,” and “let us consider one another to provoke to love and good works.” A second solemn warning is given as to the danger of apostasy. The Hebrews should remember how they had suffered for the truth’s sake, and should not now cast away their confidence which would have great recompense.
In Hebrews 11-12, on the question of faith “to soul salvation,” a most remarkable cloud of witnesses is marshalled, to give their testimony as it were to this great principle. Beginning with Abel and closing with Rahab, various individual characteristics of faith and its consequences are presented, while in Hebrews 11:3232And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: (Hebrews 11:32) is given a group of worthies, many not mentioned by name, who by faith triumphed in different ways through suffering, with regard to whom it is added “And these all, having obtained witness through faith, received not the promise, God having foreseen some better thing for us, that they should not be made perfect without us.” The application of this to the Hebrew believers is at once given, “Let us.... laying aside every weight and sin which so easily entangles us, run with endurance the race that lies before us, looking steadfastly on Jesus the leader and completer of faith.” He had reached the goal, the right hand of the throne of God, through suffering. Believers must resist to blood, if need be, wrestling against sin. Chastening after all is necessary, and a proof of God’s interest in them as sons. To those exercised by it, it would yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness. The Hebrews were to encourage those who were feeble; but to watch lest any lacked the grace of God, and lest evil should come in amongst them.
A very striking contrast between the terror of law and the fullness of grace is now given, to which latter with all its blessings Christians were now come. Let them beware of refusing Him who now speaks from heaven. Everything would be shaken by Him, save the kingdom which He sets up, and which believers receive. Let them serve Him with reverence and godly fear.
Hebrews 13. A few exhortations follow as to love, hospitality, and the marriage bond. Believers should consider those in affliction, should beware of covetousness, and be content with their present circumstances, if only He is there with them. Leaders who had been faithful and had passed away were to be remembered and their faith followed. But Jesus Christ is the same in the past, present, and future. The Hebrews are warned against “divers and strange doctrines,” a systematic mixture of Judaism and Christianity. Referring to the great day of atonement, it is shown that the Christian’s altar was one of which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. The sacrifice on that day was wholly burnt outside the camp, Jesus had suffered outside the gate—outside the Jewish system which had rejected Him. Believers in Him must now go forth to Him, bearing His reproach. It is the final breach between Christianity and Judaism. Sacrifices of praise and of doing good should be rendered to God. Their guides were to be obeyed, for they watched over their souls. The writer commends the saints to the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, in the power of the blood of the everlasting covenant, that they might be perfect in every good work to do His will.
A word as to Timothy’s liberation, and mutual salutations bring this deeply important epistle to a close.

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