Handbook of Hebrews
God's Final Message to Judaism
Christ the Author of a New Covenant
The Glorious Destiny of Man
To Whom Addressed
This Epistle does not name the Persons to whom it is addressed. Its unmistakable tenor is to Jews, inasmuch as it is a discussion of the Relation of Christ to the Levitical Priesthood and the Temple Sacrifices. It continually quotes the Old Testament to confirm its affirmations. The traditional, and commonly accepted, view is that it was addressed to the Jewish Christians of Palestine, specially those in Jerusalem.
In the King James Version it is called, in the title, The Epistle of Paul. In the American Revised Version it is anonymous, because in the oldest manuscripts, found since the King James Translation was made, its Author is not named.
The Eastern Church accepted its Pauline Authorship from the beginning. Not until the 4th century did the Western Church accept it as the work of Paul. Eusebius considered Paul the author.
Tertullian called it the Epistle of Barnabas. Clement of Alexandria thought that Paul wrote it in Hebrew, and that Luke translated it into Greek (it is written in most excellent Greek). Origen considered Paul as the probable author. Luther guessed Apollos, for which opinion there is no ancient evidence. Ramsey suggests Phillip. Harnack and Rendel Harris suggest Prisca. Ferrar Fenton thinks nobody but Paul could have written it, and that he wrote it originally in Hebrew, and had it translated by one of his helpers into Greek.
On the whole, the traditional view, held through the centuries, and still widely held, is that Paul was the Author.
Unmistakably it was written before the Destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred A.D. 70. If Paul wrote it, it seems likely that it must have been written from Rome, A.D. 6l-63.
The natural, though not necessary, meaning of "They of Italy salute you" (13:24), is that it was written from Italy.
Timothy was with the writer (13:23), He had gone with Paul to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4), from whence he had accompanied Paul to Rome (Colossians 1:1). He had just been released, and Paul was sending him back east (Philippians 2:19, 24); and hoping soon to come himself. And it looks as if he and Timothy were planning to return to Jerusalem (13:23, 19).
It happens that that was just about the time that James the Overseer
of the Jerusalem Church wes killed, A.D. 62. Paul and James were beloved friends. Paul, some three years before, had been in Jerusalem. It is thought, possibly, that, on hearing of the Death of James, Paul wrote this Epistle to the Leaders of the now pastorless Judean Church, to help them steady their flock for the terrible times ahead.
If this is correct, then there was reason for the Epistle being sent without Paul's name; for Paul was not very popular in Jerusalem. While the Leaders knew who wrote it, the Epistle would have more weight if it were read in the Churches without Paul's Name. New Testament Epistles were written to be READ IN THE CHURCHES, a practice now generally overlooked.
One of the objects of this Epistle was, we think, to Prepare Jewish Christians for the approaching Fall of Jerusalem. After accepting Jesus as their Messiah, they continued to be zealous for the Temple Rites end Sacrifices, thinking, we suppose, that their
Beloved City, under their Messiah's Reign, was about to become Capital of the World, Instead, they were to receive the shock of their lives. By one stroke of the Roman Army the Holy City was to be wiped out, and the Temple Rites cease.
This Epistle was written to explain to them that Animal Sacrifices, to which they were so zealously attached, were no longer of any use, that the killing of a bullock or a lamb could never take away sin; that those Sacrifices had never been intended to be Perpetual; that they had been planned to be a sort of Age-Long Picture of the Coming Sacrifice of Christ; and now that Christ had come, they had served their purpose.
A Counterpart to the Epistle to Romans
Romans was addressed to the Capital of the Gentile World; Hebrews, to the Capital of the Jewish Nation. God had founded, and nourished the Jewish Nation through long centuries, for the purpose of through the One Nation Blessing All Nations, through
a Great King who would arise in the One Nation, and Rule over All Nations. But now the King had come. ROMANS has to do with the relation of the King to His Universal Kingdom, the Basis of their Allegiance to Him. HEBREWS has to do with the relation
of the King-to the One Nation out of which He came.
Its Literary Excellence
Whoever the Author, as a Literary Gem, it is superb; orderly and logical; "in balanced and resonant sentences of remarkable precision, rising to wonderful heights of eloquence."
This opening sentence is one of the most magnificent passages in the Bible, for grandeur taking its place alongside the opening sentences of Genesis and John's Gospel. Jesus, His Deity, His Ineffable Glory, Creator, Preserver and Heir of the Universe. By
an Eternal Act of God, ONCE FOR ALL, Jesus made Purification of Man's Sin, and brought him Eternal Salvation.
The main argument of the Epistle is that Christ is the Fulfillment, rather than the Administrator, of the Mosaic System. Christ is compared to Angels, through whom the Law was given (Acts 7:53); and to Moses, the Law-Giver; and to the Levitical Priesthood, through whom the Law was Administered.
The language seems to indicate that Human Beings are a Higher order of Creation than Angels. Human Spirits and Angels are not the same. We do not become Angels when we die. Angels are now, and in Heaven will be, our Servants (14). Angels Worship Christ, as we do (6).
In verse 7 Man is spoken of as a little Lower than Angels, although in 1:14 Angels are called Servants of Heirs of Salvation. In II Peter 2:11 Angels are spoken of as Greater in Might and Power. In verse 9 Jesus was made a Little Lower than Angels. The marginal rendering in RV, in verse 7 and verse 9, is, For a Little While Lower than Angels. Whatever the nature of Angels, by way of comparison with Man, the passage is a side-light on the Ultimate Grandeur of God's Redeemed human Creation.
Note the Fearful Warning, in verses 2, 3, that if Disobedience to the Word of Angels was Dangerous, How Much More Dangerous to be Neglectful of Words Spoken by Jesus.
God Created Man to have Lordship Over All Things (6-8). But Not Yet. Meantime Christ has become One with Man, sharing with Man his Temptations, and Sufferings, even Death itself, that He might Enable Man to Become One With Him, to Share With Him His Nature and His Dominion. And because of this, Christ has now been Crowned with Glory and Honor.
And now Man, in his effort to become One With Christ, and thus Qualify for his Glorious Inheritance, yet to be, has Assurance that Christ is Gracious, and Kindly, and Understanding, and will be Helpful to those who Love Him (17, 18).
Many Jewish Christians, in their infantile state (5:11-13), had not yet fully learned the Relation of Christ to Moses. It seems that they still thought of Moses as the Law-Giver, end of Christ as an Executive to Enforce the Lew of Moses on All Other Nations: Moses First, Christ under him. But they had it just backward. Christ is as far Above Moses, as the Heir and Owner of a house is Above the Servants in the house.
We become Partakers of Christ IF we Hold Fast unto the End; Be on Guard against Falling into Unbelief and Disobedience. This Warning is one of the keynotes of the Epistle, repeated with increasing earnestness in 6:4-6 and 10:26-29.
The example is cited of the Israelites, who, after being delivered out of Egypt with Mighty Signs and Wonders, yet, because of Unbelief and Disobedience, Perished in the Wilderness, and Never Reached the Promised Land (16-19). If they Failed because they were Disobedient to the Word of Moses, what hope can there be for those who are Disobedient to Christ?
The danger of Apostasy among the Jewish Christians must have been Imminent and Serious. The writer may have had in mind the approaching .Fall of Jerusalem, most awful calamity in Jewish history, which would tempt Jews to Lose Faith in Jesus.
Those that entered the Promised Land under Joshua found an Earthly Haven, a land of Liberty and Plenty. An Earthly picture of the Heavenly Homeland in the Eternal Beyond.
God's Word, Living and Active, has Power to Penetrate the Inmost Depths of the Human Heart, to Separate and View Every Motive and Desire and Purpose and Will, and Evaluate them at their Intrinsic Value, when we ourselves scarcely know our own
motives. Israelites of the Wilderness missed the promised Land through Disregard of Gods Word (3:17; 4:11). Our Best Hope of Reaching Our Promised Land is in Obedience to God,s Word. If only our Churches could realize what Power they would gain by giving Cod's Word its proper place in the services! But Alas! Alas! Everything else but God's Word!
Here begins the Main Theme of. the Epistle, Comparison of Christ with the Levitical Priesthood, continuing into chapter 10.
They were of the Tribe of Levi: Christ was of the Tribe of Judah. They were Many: He was One. They offered Animal Sacrifices: He offered Himself. They Died: He Lives.
Here is a personal message to the original recipients of this Epistle. In former time they had been notably zealous in Ministering to the Saints (6:10). But now they had Forgotten even the First Principles of the Gospel (5:12).
If the traditional view that this Epistle was addressed to the Judean Church is correct, then this passage evidently refers to the Decline from the Spiritual and Brotherly quality of the Jerusalem Church described in Acts 4:32-35. The Epistle of James, written shortly before, implies a Worldly, Selfish Church.
As time passed, many thousands of Jews had accepted Jesus as their Messiah (Acts 21:20), still holding to the old Materialistic idea of the Messianic Kingdom, that it would be a Political Kingdom in which the Jewish Nation, under their Messiah, would Rule the World. So that their Christian Faith was largely of the nature of a Political Slogan.
After the death of James this Idea seems to have so largely Dominated the Jerusalem Church, that the writer tells them that, instead of being. Teachers of the Christian World, as the Mother Church should have been, they, like little children, needed to be instructed over again in the First Principles of the Gospel of Christ (12).
The language seems to imply that the Jerusalem Church quite largely had Fallen from the High Standards of Christian Living that had once been theirs, and were Headed away from the Goals toward which they should be Earnestly Struggling.
The Fall of a Christian, spoken of in verse 6, may be Partial or total; as a person may fall from the top of a building to a projecting ledge, or all the way to the bottom. As long as the Apostasy is Partial, there may be Hope. When it becomes Total, Recovery may be Impossible.
The Sin here spoken of may be similar to the Unpardonable Sin mentioned by Jesus (Matthew 12 31, 32, and Mark 3:28-30), where the implication is that that Sin consisted in attributing the Miracles of Jesus to Satan, and which, in Luke 12:9-10, is connected with Denial of Jesus. It could be committed by a person Outside the Church. The Sin here referred to is the Fall of a Christian. The Essence of the Fatal Sin, whether by a Christian or by One Outside, is the Deliberate and Final Rejection of Christ. It is as if a person in the bottom of a well, to whom a rope is let down, slashes the rope above his reach, thus cutting off his only hope of escape. For those who Reject Christ, there will Never Be Another Sacrifice for Sin (10:26-31). They will have to suffer for their own sin.
Over against this Fearful Warning against Falling Away from Christ, the writer is very positive that, for those who remain Faithful and True to Christ, the Hope of Eternal Salvation is Absolutely Sure and Stedfast, based on the Immutability of God's Promises to those who Trust Him (9-20).
Christ a Priest after the Order of Melchizedek. That is, Jesus was not a Levitical Priest, but His Priesthood rather was similar to that of Melchizedek, a Personage of the Dim Past, ante-dating the Levitical Priesthood by some 600 years: a Priest far Greater than the Levitical Priests, Greater even than Abraham: to whom Abraham, and the as yet unborn Levitical Priests, still in the loins of Abraham, paid tithes.
The account of Melchizedek is in Genesis 14:18-20. He was King of Salem, and Priest of God Most High. A King and a Priest.
Previous to the time of Moses Sacrifices were offered by the Heads of Families, Thus the Priest of each Family was the Father, or Grandfather or Great- Grandfather, Oldest living man in the paternal line. As the Family grew to be a Tribe, the Head came to be. King of the Tribe, as well as Priest; and thus he was a King-Priest, or Priest-King.
In the days of Moses, when the aggregate of Families of God's Chosen People had grown to be a Nation, the Nation was Organized, a Place set apart for Sacrifice, a Ritual prescribed, and a Special Hereditary Order of Men was created to act as priests, of the Family of Levi.
Later another Family was set apart to supply the Kings, the Family of David. A King ruled the people. A Priest, as mediator between God and Man, offered Sacrifices. One Family supplied the Kings; another, the Priest. But Christ was Both, combining office of King and Priest, like Melchizedek.
What is the meaning of "without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life"? Not that it was actually so, but that it appeared so in the Old Testament Records. Levitical Priests were Priest Because of their Genealogy. But Melchizedek, Without Genealogy, was the Recognized Priest of the Human Race at that time. Hebrew tradition is that Shem, who was still alive in the days of Abraham, and, as far as is known, Oldest Living Man at the time, was Melchizedek. A mysterious, solitary picture and type, in the dim past, of the Coming Eternal Priest-King.
It was Imperfect, those Sacrifices being insufficient to take away Sin (10:4). It was carnal (16), that is, they were Priests sorely because they were of a certain Family, without regard to spiritual qualifications. And the Covenant under which they operated has been superceded by Another Covenant (8:8).
Levitical Priests offered Sacrifices Every year. Christ Died Once for All. Theirs were Unavailing. His Removed Sin Forever. Christ Lives on, Mediator of an Eternal Covenant and an Endless Life.
Eternal is one of the favorite words of the Epistle. Eternal Salvation (5:9). Eternal Judgment (6:2). Eternal Redemption (9:12). Eternal Spirit (9:14). Eternal Inheritance (9:15). Eternal Covenant (13:20) It is also a favorite word in John's Gospel.
Christ brought to mankind a New Covenant. The First Covenant, centered around the Tabernacle Services and the Ten Commandments, had served its purpose (9: 1-5). Its Laws were written on tables of stone (9:4). Christ's Laws would be written on our Hearts (8:10). The First Covenant was Temporal. Christ's Covenant would be Everlasting (13:20). The First Covenant was sealed with the blood of Animals. Christ's Covenant was sealed with His Own Blood (1o:29). It was a Better Covenant, with Better Promises, based on the Immutability of God's Word (6:18).
"Better" is one of this Epistle's favorite words. Better Covenant ( 8:6) . Better Promises (8:6). Better Hope ( 7:19). Better Possession in Heaven (10:34). Blood that Speaks Better than Abel (12 24). Better Country, Heaven, not Canaan ( 11:16). Better Resurrection, Never to Die again (11:35).
The Tabernacle was a Sanctuary of This World: the True Tabernacle, not made with hands, is Heaven (9:1,11, 24). The High Priest entered Once a Year; Christ entered Once for All (7, 12). High Priest obtained Annual Redemption; Christ obtained Eternal Redemption (10:3; 9:12). The High Priest offered the Blood of Animals; Christ offered His Own Blood (9:12). The High Priest's sacrifices cleansed the Flesh; Christ's sacrifice cleanses the Conscience (9:13, 14).
The New Covenant is here called "The New Testament." A Testament is a Will, a bequeathment to heirs, effective only after the Death of the maker. The New Covenant is the Will which Christ made for His Heirs, which could not become effective till, by His Death, He had Atoned for their Sins.
This is where we get the Names of the Two Divisions of the Bible: Old Testament and New Testament. The Old Testament is the story of the Covenant of the Law. The New Testament is the story of the Covenant of Christ. The abundant use of Blood in the rites of the Old Covenant prefigured the urgent necessity of some Great Sacrifice for Human Sin (19-22).
Once for All (26-28). Christ Offered Himself Once for All (7:27). Once for All He Entered the Holy Place (9:12). Once for All put away Sin at the end of the ages (9:26). Men appointed Once to Die (9:27). Christians Sanctified Once for All by the Offering of
Christ (10:10). Christ Once Offered shall Appear a Second Time for His Waiting Heirs (9:28). Here the Lord's Coming Again is called His Second Coming.
No need for further Sacrifice. Christ's Death is entirely sufficient to take care of all previous Sins, and those that in weakness we may in daily life commit. God can now Forgive, and will Forgive, those who place their Trust in Christ.
Let us therefore Hold Fast to Christ (23). He, and He alone, is our Hope and our Saviour.
Another Fearful Warning against Falling Away from Christ, similar to that in 6:1-8. Addressed to Christians who had once been a gazingstock in their Sufferings for the Name of Christ, and who had given their all in their compassion for their fellow sufferers (32-34); some of whom were now losing interest in the things of Christ (25).
The point is that there has been ONE SACRIFICE for Sin. There will Never be another. Whoever will not avail himself of what Christ has done for him on the Cross may as well make up his mind to say Goodby to God Forever, and go his own way, and suffer for his own sin (27-31).
Surrounded by a vast crowd of those who, in former ages, had run their race for God victoriously, and who were now gazing with breathless interest at the initial struggle of the New-Born Church, the runners are urged to Keep their-Eyes on the Goal, and Strain Every Nerve and Muscle to Win (1, 2).
And be Not Discouraged by their Sufferings; for Chastening is one of the means by which God's Saints are Perfected (3-13).
And be Very Careful to Guard against Defiling themselves in any way, lest they Sell their Birthright (14-17).
Sinai and Zion (18-29). The terrifying demonstrations of the inauguration of the Old Covenant are contrasted with the Heavenly Fellowships of the Church: One Vast Brotherhood, in which Saints on Earth, and Spirits of the Redeemed, and Infinite Hosts of Angles, are in Sweet and Mystic Communion around the Throne of God, Forever and Ever and Ever (22-24).
This Epistle, though argumentative in nature, closes with tender appeals to its readers- to be Loyal to Christ. and to Follow Him in all the Ways of Life, especially in Brotherly Love and Kindness and Purity and Goodness, ind with Unceasing Prayer and Unwavering Faith in God.
As Malachi was the Old Testament's final message to the Nation founded to bring the Messiah into the world, so the Epistle to the Hebrews is the New Testament's final message to the Nation after the Messiah had come. Written shortly before the Jewish State was swept away by the Fall of Jerusalem, "One of the most appalling events in all history."
Destruction of Jerusalem
Jewish Wars, in revolt against Rome, began A.D. 66. Titus with his Roman Army arrived before the walls of Jerusalem on the day of Passover, A.D. 70. Banks of earthwork were built, battering rams were placed, and the siege began.
The Roman Army numbered 30,000; the Jewish Army, 24,000. The city was crowded with 600,000 visitors, according to Tacitus. After 5 months the walls were battered down, the Temple burned, and the city left ruined and desolate, except Herod's three great towers at the northwest corner, which were left standing as a
memorial of the massive strength of the fortifications which Titus had demolished.
The Roman Army moved down to Caesarea. Over 1,000,000 Jews were killed. 95,00O captives were taken, among them Josephus.
Eusebius says that Christians, on the appearance of the Roman Army, through Prophetic warning, fled to Pella.
Later History of Jerusalem
For the 50 years, following, Jerusalem disappeared from history. In A.D. 135, Barcocheba, a pretended Messiah, led a revolt, sot possession of the city, and attempted to rebuild the Temple. The revolt was suppressed by the Roman Army. 580,000 Jews were killed, and Judah desolated. Jews were forbidden to reenter Jerusalem, on pain of death. A temple to Jupiter was erected where the Temple of God had stood.
Under Constantine, A.D. 326, the temple of Astarte was torn away from the site of the present Holy Sepulcher; and the city again became a leading Christian center.
In the 5th century it became the seat of one of the Five Patriarchs who quite largely dominated Christendom, the other cities being Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria.
IN the year A.D. 637 Jerusalem fell to Mohammedas, and remained a Mohammedan city, except for about 100 years in the Crusade Period, till 1917 it returned to control of Christendom.