When you open your bible to Hebrews your first question might be, why is this called Hebrews? Everything in this letter could have easily been written to and applied to any believer. It could have been a letter to a group of folks on the next block in your home town and you wouldn't have to change anything in the book. In fact, by the work of the Holy Spirit, this letter is for us. Initially, the author wrote to a group of Hebrew Christians.
Some believe this group of Hebrews was a community in which some were Christian, some were considering it and others still holding onto Judaism. Others believe there was a group of these Hebrew Christians who were considering abandoning their Christianity and returning to Judaism. They may have been considering this because of the persecution that Christians were experiencing. Pressure on Christians was tremendous to step back into the old ways would ease the threat of suffering. The world was being shaken. When the shaking began, everyone found out what they really held dear.
This is what is going to make this book such a powerful study for us. We live in a world in which mankind has embraced many different things. And our world is beginning to shake. The more shaken we are, the more you will see all these other faiths and beliefs and idols begin to collapse and fold. People will begin to search for something worthy of anchoring their life to. Every other religion of the world says do......do........do. Work to make yourself acceptable, earn your way back to God. Only Christianity says, you can't earn it, you can't buy and you certainly can't be good enough. You don't have to do, it's already been done and it's given by grace. It was done once and for all by God he Son. This alone shows his superiority. And that's what this book is about, the superiority of Jesus Christ.
This group of Hebrews had not grasped that. In their persecution, they were afraid to lean on their faith. Instead they were considering abandoning it. A faith that is anchored in Christ is purified through affliction and suffering; a life anchored to Christ will stand fast. Everything else will crumble. While the church and genuine Christians persevered, the false teachers and their followers began to jettison anything that looked like Christianity. Instead of growing stronger, the false converts ran for cover. And unbelievers continued their search for something that pleased them; a belief and faith that led to persecution was no longer a choice.
Amidst the turmoil some sects had demoted Jesus to being equal with the angels. This had already happened in Qumraan community near the Dead Sea. This was a group of messianic Jews that had dropped out of society and established a religious commune. They were known to have worshiped angels. They even claimed the angel Michael was of higher status than Jesus. These same type of beliefs exist today. Some say they believe in Jesus, yet they say he is something less than God.
These other beliefs are not just small little variations in our faith. Satan would love to be put on the same level as Christ. He would love for people to deny the resurrection. He works hard at getting mankind to lower their view of God. This letter to the Hebrews will calibrate our viewpoint of Jesus. It will grow in us a high and holy view of Jesus to counteract the affects the world has had on our viewpoint. Hebrews will elevate Him to His proper place; the highest of high.
This is meat and potatoes doctrine and theology. But don't let that intimidate or frighten you. This is for every one of us. We live in a world that working constantly to lower our view and dismiss Jesus as a myth, as an angel, as a prophet or as a mere man. Hebrews will help us reaffirm Jesus is superior over the angels, over all men and over all creation.
As we dig into this book, we'll see our Jewish roots and understand our ties to the Old Testament Hebrew God. As we begin to understand our roots and the superiority and sufficiency of Christ, we'll then be encouraged to grow. We'll see the implications of following Christ. We'll be encouraged to hold on to the faith no matter what. We'll see how we encourage one another and the power of Koinonia. We'll look forward to the return of Christ. Then, along the way we'll see warnings regarding rejecting Jesus. And in contrast, we'll be reminded of the rewards for faithfulness.
The author of Hebrews is unknown. Many commentaries speculate about the author. Some believe Paul. The "grace be with you all" at the end of this letter was a common tag line from Paul. Yet the writer says he received the message he preached from those who knew Christ. Paul indicated in other books that he received the gospel straight from the Lord Jesus. Other guesses about the author include Luke, Barnabas, Apollo, Silas, or Philip. Some put forth the name Priscilla, although the writer of Hebrews refers to them self in the masculine. Those that believe Priscilla is the author say she did that so the readers would receive the message and not disregard it because it was coming from a woman.
Whether it was Paul covering his tracks or Priscilla hiding behind anonymity or one of the others who didn't want to be known, it doesn't really matter. The writer clearly had a passion and a heart for sound teaching. And the ultimate writer was the Holy Spirit working through the hands of a person.
This book is a letter but it doesn't open like a letter. It opens like an essay. Then when it gets going, it begins to sound like a sermon. At the end it closes like a letter.
The year is around 69 A.D. Christians were being persecuted and killed. Many were expecting Christ's return at any moment and didn't understand why he hadn't come back yet. Believers were trying to stand fast and not fear. Others were running away, some hiding their faith, some denying it. False teachers were having a heyday; angel worship, legalism, gnosticism and the list goes on and on as it still does today. That's the setting as we begin this study of the book of Hebrews.