Devo Song: "He Is My Everything"
Times were hard. The Romans ruled over the Hebrews, bringing them suffering and persecution. If a Hebrew was also a Christian, then he would also suffer from the rejection of his own family and friends. Having never met Jesus personally (2:3), the Hebrew Christian may have found himself looking back to Judaism and the comfort of the temple rituals and the acceptance of his countrymen. The author's missive reminds the immature Hebrew Christians of the reasons to remain faithful to Jesus Christ who reigns supreme at the right hand of God (8:1). As God's Son, Jesus is greater than any of the beloved prophets of old, greater than any earthly priest and is the greatest king that ever reigned.
The key word of Hebrews is "better." It is used 13 times in comparing Jesus to Judaism -- 1:4; 6:9; 7:7,19,22; 8:6 (twice); 9:23; 10:34; 11:16,35,40; 12:24. "Perfect" is used 15 times. Another interesting list included in this book is the 13 "Let us ..." exhortations given to encourage the recipients how to live their faith. You may want to highlight these words in Hebrews as we apply this book to our lives today.
The author of the book is not identified. Although late manuscripts and the King James Version identify the author as Paul, earlier manuscripts do not support that theory. Paul identifies himself as the author in his 13 letters, but not in this one. Others suggested as candidates for the authorship include Barnabas, Luke, Apollos, Silas, Aquila & Priscilla, and others.
A date of 67-69 A.D. seems to fit the internal evidence for when the book was written. Since the present tense was used repeatedly when referring to the temple and the sacrifices, the letter appears to have been penned before the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.
Good News - There is not a written test to enter Heaven
Don't sweat the study questions. Some questions can be read and answered in different ways. You may want to add to your answer after you get to class. Answer what you can. Then come fill in what you hear in class.
Chill out as the writer gives us his TOP TEN list of how Jesus is better:
10. Better than the prophets
9. Better than angels
8. Better than Moses
7. Better than Joshua
6. a Better high priest - Aaron
5. has a Better message
4. a Better maturity
3. a Better covenant
2. a Better sacrifice
1. a Better rest
Why was this book written? Wavering faith in the Immature Jewish Christian.
What caused the wavering?
The period of 67 - 69 AD was an interesting time in Jewish history. Not only were the Jews begrudgingly under Roman rule and political threat, they themselves were divided. Some Jews had accepted this Jesus Christ as their Savior, yet were still Jewish.
- The Jewish nation had no separation between church and state - Instead of a democracy or emperor rule, they had a theocracy. These new Jewish Christians didn't know how to be Jewish nationally, yet religiously a Christian. Many of them were still going to the synagogue, keeping the feasts, associating with pure Jews - family members - who had not accepted Jesus. Now they were really confused. Which leads to the next problem. They were always looked down upon by the Romans, now as Christians, they were also
- looked down upon by the pure Jews who had not accepted Christ. Rejection by loved ones is painful. To make matters worse, they had been told by Christian leaders that they must now
- accept and love those lowly uncircumcised, pork-eating Gentiles! As a Jew, they had been God's children exclusively. Now as Christians they were told to be inclusive. Bigotry is very hard to overcome. It is not just a decision to stop being a bigot, but it is often a slow change of heart. If they slipped back into Judaism, every problem but the Roman problem would go away. They would be accepted by their loved ones and fellow countrymen again, be a whole Jew again and wouldn't have to accept the Gentiles.
- Imperial threat - Christian persecution had begun, but was not widespread yet, and not officially sanctioned by the Romans, but the physical threat was real and looming.
- Another problem was legalism - having your own personal checklist to determine your own value. The Jewish religion was entrenched in legalism even though God's prophets told them again and again that God wanted their hearts, more than the sacrifices. If you look at any religion that relies on legalism, it is hollow. A legalistic mind concentrates on the outside appearances--
and you can maintain a structure of a religion that looks sound, but it doesn't take away the hollowness. It is still empty inside if the heart isn't given to God. When the trials come -- the testing that comes to everyone's life, the structure collapses. You cannot get it built back before more trials come. These immature Jewish Christians were tempted to fall back into this legalistic mind set because it came so naturally to them, but they didn't recognize the hollowness of it.
- put a prayer in here,
- do a sacrifice because of this misdeed,
- attend this event,
- faithfully give your tithe,
- do a good deed,
The Jewish Christian was also tempted to look at Christianity as the Romans and practically everyone else did - as just another off-shoot religion or another sect of Judaism. The whole book of Hebrews negates that idea and supports what Paul says in Galatians 3:24-27 Therefore the law was our tutor (custodian, school bus driver) to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
The New International Version says the Law was put in charge to lead us to Christ. The Law of Moses served to bring man to Christ. In other words Christianity isn't because the Law of Moses was, but the Law of Moses was because Christ is needed by all. Christ is the foundation of a right relationship with God.
The Hebrew writer shores up the reader's faith in Jesus as their Savior, reminding them of His superiority. Christianity is not a hollow religion based on legalism. God is so sincere in wanting man's heart that He sent His own Son, greater than anyone who has ever been on this earth, to be the ultimate sacrifice. He is the one capable of providing sinful man with acceptance and a loving relationship with God.
Why should we study a book written to Hebrew Christians about their old religion?
Romans 15:4 "whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope." Hebrews provides us with Faith building, practical lessons in Christian defense. As the author defends Christianity against Judaism, we can learn how to favorably compare Christianity with whatever may tend to lead us away from Christ. I personally don't have any desire to worship or glorify angels, but by studying how others did, I can apply that to myself. If I listen to anything other than the Word of God, am I not putting that above Christ and His sacrifice. If I hear myself saying things like, "I see that what you are saying is what the Bible says, but I think ..." or "yes, the Bible says that, but times are different now. My minister says ..." Phrases like that are elevating one's self or someone else to superiority over Jesus. Hebrews is our message to stay grounded with Jesus. As Peter said before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:12, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is NO OTHER NAME under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." You either let Jesus do the saving His way, or you will not be saved.
Catch the main message - Salvation is only in Christ - nothing exceeds His Greatness. Look for that message in every lesson and look to apply it to your life with the Bible as your guide.
Salvation is by faith in the sacrifice of Christ. That expression of love changes man's heart and makes one pliable to His will as expressed in God's word.
Enjoy your classes.