Devotional Reading – Hebrews, introduction

Time to start a new book of the Bible in the weekly devotional on the blog.  I do these as part of our blog because I hope that it will lead people back to the Scriptures for themselves.  We are going to start the New Testament book of Hebrews.  With each devotion, my hope is that you will take a moment to read the chapter and then read the devotion.  God willing, the outcome will be a greater understanding of the Scriptures, and a closer connection to Jesus.

We live in a world that is so pluralistic in religious beliefs.  As a Christian, you probablycome into contact with people from various different religious beliefs and ideas on a daily basis.  Some may be involved in other world religions such as Judaism, Hinduism or Islam, while others might be involved in cults such as Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witness.  And others you know may claim to be atheist

All of these groups will come to you as a Christian with one question, “Why is Christianity better than my religious beliefs?”  They may not come out and say it, but if you get into a discussion with other people, you may find that they are uncomfortable with a stand that says “Jesus is the only way.”  People don’t mind if we will say that our belief in Jesus is no better than their belief in Allah, or Jehovah or some other form of God.  But to claim that Jesus is the only answer and the only way will create trouble.  Often, for you as a believer, the question of the superiority of Jesus may even raise questions for you.

The book of Hebrews in the Bible was written to help with this issue.  The writer is challenging you to realize that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to God and heaven, and that Jesus is superior to all others.  Other religions create rules and regulations that seek to provide a way for man to build a bridge to God.  But Jesus is God who became a man, and he came to us to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves.  He built the bridge, and because of His death and resurrection, Christianity is superior because Christ is the only way.  The book of Hebrews was primarily written to Jewish people who had a professed faith in Jesus, but were being persecuted and tempted to go back to their old religion.  The author is warning them not to return to Judaism, because the Jewish religion cannot save a person, apart from Jesus Christ.
Reading Hebrews after completing Exodus is appropriate, because this book is the New Testament answer to the Old Testament sacrificial law.  In Exodus and Leviticus, God gave His people the law about the Tabernacle, and priests, and the sacrifices that would need to be made for the sins of the people.  Often during the devotions written on Exodus, I reminded you that everything about these laws was a picture of Jesus Christ, and his mission on earth.  The sacrifices pointed to the ultimate perfect sacrifice that would forgive our sin forever.  Hebrews will connect the dots from the Old Testament law to their fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ.

There are many possibilities that have been presented as the possible author, including people such as Paul, Luke, Barnabus, and Phillip.  While it is possible that one of these people wrote this book, we do not know for sure.  No where in the book does the author state his name, although there is evidence that the readers knew him (ch. 13:18-24).  We do know that the person was probably of Jewish descent, but had been trained in Roman and Greek literature and culture.  Ultimately, only God knows for sure who wrote this wonderful book of the Bible, but we can be assured that the Holy Spirit inspired Hebrews and that every word can be trusted.

The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish people who had been confronted with the claims of Christ. These are people who had grown up learning and keeping the laws of the Old Testament.  They knew the Old Testament Scriptures.  They had participated in Jewish festivals such as the Passover (remember Exodus), and were sure to honor all ceremonial laws.  They had also been looking forward to the coming of the Messiah.  Their families had been doing these things for centuries, but in their lifetime a major even took place.  Jesus Christ came and lived among them.  Claiming to be the Messiah, He taught and performed miracles, and ultimately died on the cross.  Some Jews received Jesus while others rejected Him.  Was this man truly the Messiah the Old Testament had promised?  The writer of Hebrews is addressing three groups of Jews with this book:

∙    Jewish believers – These are people who have truly trusted Christ by repenting of their sin and trusting Christ alone for salvation.  To these people, Hebrews is a book of encouragement and hope in the midst of persecution.  For some, accepting Christ meant being thrown out of families, or losing a job and position in society.  Hebrews shows them that they made the right choice, because Jesus is the answer.
∙    Professed believers – These are people who acknowledge Jesus with their lips but have never really come to a place where they truly turned their lives over to Him.  Hebrews is a book of warning.  Mental belief is not enough to save a person.  You must come to the point where your faith transforms your life, and you leave the old life behind.
∙    Jewish Seekers – The third group are people who are still wondering if Jesus was really the Messiah that God had promised.  They are not sure that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament requirements, and are struggling with what to do with Christ.  Hebrews is a book of answers for these people.  Hebrews will show them how Jesus Christ was God’s plan for their sin, and will even show that the Old Testament heroes of the faith were looking forward to His coming.

The book of Hebrews was quoted by a man named Clement of Rome in 95 AD (about 60 years after the death of Christ), which shows it was being used as Scripture by the church at this time.  Other evidence points to a date that is before AD 70.   Specifically, the book deals with the sacrificial system used in the Temple by Judaism.  This is the killing of the bulls and rams for the sins of the people on the altar (discussed in Exodus).  In AD 70, the Roman armies destroyed the Temple, ending the sacrifices.  There is no mention of this event, which indicates that the book was written before it took place.  Most likely, Hebrews was written somewhere between AD 64-68.

Hebrews has a couple of themes, but they all point to the superiority of Christ.  Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament law and prophets, and He is the answer to man’s problem.  All other religions depend on men and women to live up to certain expectations to get to God.  But in Christ, God came to man, and became everything we need.  Because of Jesus life and death, He has provided a better covenant, future, hope, and power.

Not only is Christ superior, but Hebrews shows us that Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.  He is the lense by which the Old Testament should be read.  All of the sacrifice and religious festivals pointed to Christ.  They were small images of what Christ would ultimately come to do.  Sacrifices and festivals were not designed to save us, but to point us to our need for a Savior.  Jesus is that Savior.

Because of the superiority of Jesus, faith is the key.  Hebrews is a book about faith.   Our access to God is by faith.  We do not have access to God by our works or efforts to follow a religion.  But by faith, we can have a relationship with God.  Hebrews 11 is considered the Faith Hall of Fame.  In this chapter, Hebrews shows us that even the Old Testament saints of old were saved and lived by faith.  Their faith looked forward to the coming of Christ, while ours looks back to Him.

Hebrews is also a book of challenge and warning.  The danger that the readers faced was to leave their faith, or to fail to embrace Christ wholeheartedly.  The easiest choice was to drift back to Judaism, or to have a partial commitment to Christianity.  Hebrews is a challenge to leave old belief systems and religious efforts to get to God behind, and to press on to maturity in Christ.

One Response to “Devotional Reading – Hebrews, introduction”

  1. Scott H says:

    I love the book of Hebrews. It is one of my favorites. In fact, I’m listening to Art Azurdia ( preach through the book now. Man, what powerful stuff!