The most magnificent passage of proofs from Bible history that faith in Christ and a loyal, prayerful life brings from our lives a ‘good report’, i.e.- the witness of God that we are His. Here are the faithful, what they did, and the corresponding deeds today.
The Epistle to the Hebrews is a truly astonishing document, written while the temple still stood before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 (it was not till then that the temple was destroyed, so the Levitical rites were still being practised even as this inspired letter was issued).
Hebrews has a number of purposes. It establishes almost more than any other New Testament book the glory and the offices and the work of our Saviour Jesus Christ. It shows the fulfilment of the Old Testament in the New and the change of church order between the Testaments. It explains so fully the privileges of Christians. It has a great deal about covenants: the covenant of the old order, and the covenant of grace (which of course is operative at all times), and how it is to be distinguished from the covenants in the Old Testament, its character and its blessings. There are so many pastorally uplifting passages.
Then perhaps the most remarkable feature of Hebrews is the way it walks a tightrope.
It is written to Jews, though even that is not absolutely certain. This book is burdened with the kind of things that converted Jews would be concerned about, or unconverted Jews might need to know about before their hearts could be opened to the gospel. And while that is true – and this is what I mean by a tightrope – they are clearly described for Gentiles.
The writer of this epistle had to be very, very careful. If he went too far in explaining to Gentiles how the Jewish ceremonial worked, and in what way it was predictive of Christ and was fulfilled in Christ, he would appear to be talking down to Jews and patronising them. He could not explain these things to Gentiles in such a manner that this epistle would be offensive to Jewish people, because it is written to them too. ‘I am trying’, the inspired author seems to say to himself, ‘to show the Jews these things: that their ceremonial is at an end and it is fulfilled and met by Christ entirely. I am also concerned’, he seems to reflect, ‘about the influence of the Judaisers, who want to convince the converted Gentiles that they should take up to Jewish law, and I have got to show them why the law is irrelevant. But they do not know about the Jewish ceremonial so I have got to explain it in sufficient detail to make these things plain to the Gentiles, while at the same time helping the Jews and yet without offending them.’
And the magnificent literary success of the letter to the Hebrews is that it accomplishes both tasks. It explains to the Jews, the transition from Judaism to Christianity and the fulfilling of their ritual without talking down to them. And yet it somehow manages to explain their ritual in such plain terms that Gentiles will understand. When you think about this, the ongoing power of the book to both parties is evident and clear.
There is a great debate as to who the author really was. Some think Paul. But Calvin was convinced it was not by the apostle Paul and so was Luther, who suggested that it was by Apollos, and other ideas have been put forward; there are arguments on either side. There are one or two verses in the letter to the Hebrews which suggest it could not have been by Paul, and there are others that suggest it well could have been. But there is one feature of the book that heavily suggests that Hebrews was by Paul and it is the aforementioned way it walks this tightrope.
You think to yourself: who could have written this book under the inspiration of God other than the apostle Paul, a highly educated Jew and yet the experienced apostle to the Gentiles, somebody who thought for both? So when you look at the book as a whole, the old superscription, ‘The epistle of Paul the apostle to the Hebrews’ could make a lot of sense.
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