The book of Hebrews is another New Testament writing that reminds us that following Christ is worth the effort. It reminds the Jewish people that the superiority of Jesus Christ, rather than their steadfast traditions, is sufficient for their salvation. Read on to better understand the dilemna for the Jews who read this letter.
Judaism’s Beliefs about Jesus
Judaism is the world’s oldest monotheistic and ethnic religion, dating back nearly 4,000 years. The Jewish people believe there’s only one God who established a covenant—or special agreement—with them. Their God communicates through prophets and rewards good deeds while also punishing evil.
Judaism was not easy. It required complete devotion to God, the 613 religious commandments referred to in the Torah, the rituals, and understanding the promises of the prophets. It requires strict adherence to Jewish law and customs such as circumcision. Judaism also does not accept Jesus as God, a Divine Being as an intermediary between humans and God. Jews believe Jesus did not fulfill prophecies as the coming Messiah, nor do they believe in the Trinity of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The main difference between Judaism and Christianity centers on whether Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah foretold in Jewish Scripture. Most Jews (with the exception of a few groups) believe that their Messiah hasn’t yet come—but will come someday and rescue their people.
About the Book of Hebrews
The author of this letter is unknown, though some suggest Paul, Luke, Barnabas, Apollos, Silas, Philip, or Priscilla since they refer to Timothy as “brother” (Hebrews 13:23).
The letter came before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 when the early Christians were growing weary of being persecuted by both Romans and Jews. As a result, the Hebrews (possibly second-generation Christians) considered a return to Judaism, perhaps due to spiritual immaturity and their lack of understanding biblical truths. They had slipped back into familiar routines, trying to live a hybrid life of Jewish customs and faith in Jesus. Christ had not yet returned to establish His kingdom so the people needed assuring that Christianity was true and that He was indeed the Messiah, who would fulfill the messages of the prophets and conquer all sin.
This was a hard message for the Hebrews to accept. Entrenched in their traditions, following Jesus seemed like abandoning their Jewish heritage and holy Scriptures. But Jesus would shatter all the barriers to God. He would also provide them freedom for eternal life without their legalism.
The Lessons in Hebrews
The thirteen chapters in Hebrews begin by emphasizing that the old covenant (Judaism) and the new covenant (Christianity) are both religions revealed by God (1:1-3). A lengthy doctrinal section follows to show how Jesus, the Man is the exact representation of God and superior to angels (1:4-2:18).
God is Approachable
Jews believed God could only be reached through the priests of the Temple. Some false teachers in the early churches also taught that God could only be approached by the angels. But Jesus was God’s Son, Who is higher than any angel. He is now our direct intermediary to God.
Having lived on earth for more than three decades, Jesus fully understands our human struggle. He longs to pull us closer. He is approachable, tender, compassionate, and understanding.
As you become more Christ-like, others will see someone who is “safe” since you listen and love them no matter what. All you have to do is be quiet and listen.
- Do your family and friends see you as a safe person?
- Can your wife or girlfriend open their heart to you?
- Do your kids run to you when they feel scared or guilty?
The writer says Christ is superior to the heroes of their past like Moses (3:1-4:13) and superior to priests (4:14-7:28).
Your Spiritual Growth
Hebrews 5:11-6:6 is a warning about falling away from the faith. The comparison of living as an infant on milk to a mature adult on solid food is obvious. Physical growth and spiritual growth both need nourishment.
Think about the time you have been a Christian and the opportunities for ministry and Bible study you’ve had. Then rate yourself on the maturity scale.
- Have you moved from milk to solid food, when it comes to understanding God’s Word?
- Are you as spiritually mature as you could be at this point in your life?
- What immediate steps can you take to facilitate your spiritual growth?
The author then writes that Christianity is better than Judaism because it has a better covenant (8:1-13) with Christ as our High Priest. The writer says the old rules about worship are replaced with a better sanctuary (9:1-10) since Christ is the perfect sacrifice for all of their sins (9:11-10:18).
Having established the superiority of Christianity, the writer then provides some practical implications of following Christ. We are encouraged to not give up on meeting with each other while we look forward to Christ’s return (10:25). We are warned about the consequences of rejecting Christ’s sacrifice (10:26-31) but also reminded of the rewards of our faithfulness (10:32-39).
The author of Hebrews then explains how to live by faith, giving illustrations of the faithful men and women in Israel’s history (11:1-40) and encouragement for daily living (12:1-17).
Avoid Too Much Involvement at Church
Barna Group research shows that women are more likely to participate in a small group than men (22% to 17%). Perhaps it’s because we work too much or feel guilty taking time away from our families. But small groups and ministry teams are the lifeblood of a church community. Serving on a team helps keep your faith strong and fills your soul. It also helps you build relationships that may benefit you or someone else later on.
- Are you reluctant to get involved in a group or ministry at your church? If so, why?
- Are you fearful of committing to something that might be less rewarding than you hoped?
- If you answered “Yes” to either, talk to someone involved in small groups or a ministry team at your church about what they enjoy most about serving.
This book ends by comparing the old covenant with the new covenant (12:28-29). The writer includes some moral exhortations (13:1-17), especially that marriage should be honored and the marriage bed kept pure since God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral.
The writer finishes with a reminder that God will never leave or forsake us so do not be carried away by any false teachings. They end with a request for prayer (13:18.19), and a benediction and final greeting (13:20-25).
God Buddy Focus
Like Judaism, Christianity is not easy. The book of Hebrews helps us see history and life from God’s perspective. It reveals that Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation of God. It revelas He is the final and complete sacrifice for our sins; the compassionate and understanding mediator to God, the Father. The Holy Spirit empowers us to become more Christ-like.
Most importantly, Hebrews reminds us we are no longer bound up in the strict rules and regulations of religion but must simply learn to follow Christ, Who is the only way to spiritual maturity, freedom, and eternal life.
- Ask God to help you become more approachable for others.
- In what ways can you grow spiritually to become more mature in your faith?
- Who can you reach out to to learn how serving in your church can lead to more joy and Christ-likeness?
The next post is about the book of James, Jesus’ half-brother.