Hebrews is a letter most likely addressed to Jewish Christians during a time of hardship and persecution, in the late 60s A.D.
The author of Hebrews is unknown. Many suspect Paul. Others think it is one of Paul’s coworkers such as Apollos (see Acts 28:24-28), Barnabas (see Acts 13:1-3) or even Priscilla (see Acts 18:1-17).
Hebrews is unique because it reads more like a series of sermons than a letter. It is made up of four sections that compare and contrast Jesus to different key people and events in the Old Testament. Each of these sections makes the same point: Jesus is greater than anything, so we should worship Him.
The letter opens with an introduction to Jesus. The first three verses tell the reader that in the past, God communicated with His people through prophets. But now, God has communicated with all people through His Son, Jesus, who God used to create the universe, who rules over all creation, who purifies sins and who “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3).
Each section of Hebrews begins with a long theological discourse followed by a short yet powerful warning: If Jesus is greater, how much more should we remain faithful to Him? The author is trying to show just how much Jesus is worth following, no matter what it may cost.
In Chapters 1 and 2, Jesus is described as greater than the angels. When Moses was given the Law at Mount Sinai (see Deuteronomy 33), it was delivered to him by angels. So, to say that Jesus is greater than the angels is to say that He is greater than a messenger of God—He’s the very Word of God made flesh—and His Gospel message is greater than the messages delivered in the Torah.
In Chapters 3 and 4, we see that Jesus is greater than Moses, and the rest He offers is better than the rest offered in the Promised Land. While Moses built the Tabernacle, Jesus built all of creation and is ushering in a new creation.
In Chapters 5 to 7, we see that Jesus is greater than any high priest. While the high priests were responsible for being a representative to God on behalf of the people, the priests were themselves flawed and sinful because they were human. Because Jesus is fully God and without flaw, He is the perfect and greatest mediator between God and His people.
Finally, in Chapters 8 to 10, we see that Jesus is greater than any sacrifice. His death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice, which was made to cover the sins of all people, once and for all. Therefore, people no longer have to offer sacrifices to God, but only accept the free gift of atonement Jesus has given us.
After these four sections of teaching, the author provides more practical application. Chapter 11, often nicknamed the “Hall of Faith,” looks at all of the most faithful people in the Old Testament, from Genesis to Malachi. People like Moses and Abraham were faithful to God, though they had not yet known Jesus, because they knew God, of whom Jesus is “the exact representation.”
In Chapter 12, the author makes the final plea to remain faithful to the end, to remember that discipline proves God’s Fatherly love for us, to remain holy and to never give up on Jesus.
Hebrews concludes with some practical reminders about marriage, leadership, hospitality, contentment, sacrifices and faithfulness.
Faith: The overarching message of this letter is to encourage believers to remain faithful despite hardship, persecution and the pressure of the world because Jesus is greater.
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
Because Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, the author of the new creation, the eternal and perfect High Priest and the ultimate sacrifice, there is nothing on earth that He cannot overcome.
Though life is hard and we must suffer, we have the opportunity to come to the One who offers a life-giving message of hope, a rest that endures and forgiveness that surpasses all.
“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).