There was an inclination for Jewish Christians to go back under the OT Law. Just as it is today, there was a danger that others would fall away into worldliness. In either case, they would be lost. They needed encouragement to remain faithful to Christ. They had been persecuted. They had been made a "spectacle" or a "gazingstock." They had suffered the spoiling of their possessions (Heb 10:33, 34).[ 1 ] Hands were hanging down; knees were feeble (Heb 12:12). They were in grave danger of drifting back into the ease of Judaism (see Heb 2:1), or perhaps, buying into the beginnings of Gnosticism.
Chart PERILS OF EARLY CHRISTIANS
1. Neglect of the Scriptures (Heb 2:1-3).
2. Unbelief (Heb 3:12).
3. Not developing as teachers (Heb 5:12).
4. A spiritual diet of milk (Heb 5:13, 14).
5. Danger of falling away (Heb 6:4-6).
6. Forsaking the assembly (Heb 10:25).
7. Feebleness in prayer (Heb 12:12).
8. Following strange teachings (Heb 13:9).
The book of Hebrews is an exhortation to faithfulness. The Holy Spirit inspired
every kind of godly motivation to keep Christians from falling away and to bring
them back to Christ Jesus. The whole letter is encouraging, optimistic and positive
(see especially the final chapter).
Timothy had travelled with the writer of Hebrews (Heb 13:23). From Acts 16:3
onward, for the most part, he worked with Paul. Whoever wrote the epistle may
have been in Italy at the time of writing (Heb 13:24). Those who think Paul wrote
it cite Hebrews 1:4; 2:2; 7:18; 12:22 as examples of his typical language. The
NKJV has an interesting bit of information. "For you had compassion on me in
my chains" (Heb 10:34). Most modern versions omit this, but it has the support
of the fourth century Sinaitic manuscript. Also cited is a multitude of references
to early Christians who state that Paul was the writer.[ 2 ] However, Paul's name
does not appear in Hebrews, as it does in all his other letters. This may be
explainable because of strong prejudice against him in Judea. For that matter, the
book written by John do not contain the name of John, except for Revelation.
The Greek in the book of Hebrews is said to be more refined and formal than
Paul's style.[ 3 ] However, there are sections in his epistles where his style is superb
(see notes on Ro 8:31-39; 1Co 15:50-58).
In 2 Timothy 4:13, Paul, in his last(?) letter made an earnest plea for Timothy
to bring a cloak left at Troas with Carpus, plus books and "especially the
parchments." Why would a man sentenced to death want books? To read of
course and/or to copy or give to others to read and for safe-keeping. What about
the parchments? Were they blank? Did Paul want to write another letter before
he died? If so, which one? Consider that he knew from the prophecies of Christ
and from direct revelation that Jerusalem was very, very soon to be destroyed.
He knew and loved the many Jewish brethren who still resided in that condemned
city. Could he save them from destruction? He could do so only if he could
persuade them to be faithful and loyal to Christ.[ 4 ] Is it possible that, after writing
2 Timothy, he wrote the book of Hebrews for the very purpose of encouraging the
weak ones to become stronger and to prevent the apostasy of other Jewish
Christians? As mentioned elsewhere, his autograph may have been left off in
order to avoid the prejudice among the Jews that attached to his name as the
apostle to the Gentiles. What other writer would have had a motivation for
omitting his name, except, perhaps a Gentile such as Luke?
Since Hebrews is written against a backdrop of OT practices,[ 5 ] it is generally
thought that it was written to Jewish Christians.[ 6 ] The title, "To the Hebrews"[ 7 ]
is not thought to have been assigned by the original, inspired writer. It was
apparently added soon after it was penned. "Many myriads" of Jews believed and
were zealous for the Law (Ac 21:20).[ 8 ] With no certain knowledge of the original
destination of the letter, Jerusalem has been nominated as probable.[ 9 ] That city is
suggested by the statement "outside the gate" (Heb 13:12). Italy is mentioned.
Rome is thought by some to have been the destination or, more probably, the
location of the writer (Heb 13:24). Some have suggested the recipients were in
Alexandria, Egypt or some other large city where there were many Jewish
converts. Recent studies suggest the recipients of the letter may have been
thoroughly Hellenized.[ 10 ]
Hebrews was written after Timothy was released (Heb 13:23; I realize there is
some manuscript variance here). Since the book does not mention the destruction
of Jerusalem, some infer it was written prior to AD 70.[ 11 ] Clement of Rome (AD
95) knew of the epistle. Sufficient time had elapsed that they "ought to be
teachers" (Heb 5:12). They were told to recall the "former days" when they
suffered a great trial of affliction (Heb 10:32-34). Since Paul probably died in late
AD 66 or early 67 (see chart HISTORICAL AMBIENCE), those who think he
wrote the book usually assign a date of about AD 65. After his arrest at Jerusalem
(Ac 21:33), he was sent as a prisoner to Caesarea where he had sufficient time to
write a letter (Ac 23:33-35; 27:1, but consider the mention of Italy, Heb 13:24).
Early writers, especially Clement of Rome regarded the book of Hebrews as
Scripture. In AD 96 his letter to the church at Corinth quoted many passages and
paraphrased others from the book of Hebrews. Milligan[ 12 ] cites eleven instances.
There is no doubt that the churches at Rome and Corinth accepted Hebrews as part
of the NT. Hermas of Rome, perhaps with Hebrews 3:12 in mind, warned against
"apostasy from the living God."[ 13 ]
Judaizing teachers went about disturbing the churches of Christ soon after they
were established. These false teachers attempted to bind some or all of the OT
Law upon Christians. In the book of Hebrews, the old Law is shown to be
inferior to the new. A key word is "better" (see chart BETTER THINGS at Heb
1:4). The Hebrew letter clearly shows that Christ is better than the angels, better
than Moses and that the law of Christ is superior to that of the OT Some key
verses are Hebrews 1:3; 4:14-18; 12:1, 2. Phrases of significance are "sat down"
(Heb 1:3; 10:12; 12:2) and "Let us" (see charts LET US A and B).
Just what is the book of Hebrews about? About one-fifteenth is about Melchezedek and how he foreshadowed Christ. It is about faith, a pure conscience and eternal salvation. It deals with angels, Moses, Joshua and others, but Jesus Christ, as our high priest and Savior, is presented as superior to them all. The book points out that the Israelites were not allowed to enter Canaan because of unbelief. It deals with the blood of bulls and goats but, unlike them, the sacrifice of Christ once for all forever takes away sins. It deals with obedience and worship, not obedience to nor worship according to the OT law, but in the spirit and form of the new. The book is a letter of hope, reassurance and encouragement. It looks at the old in order to point to the new. It looks to the shadows in order to point to the reality. In short, it looks to Jesus "the author and perfecter of our faith." There is no reason in the world to follow any other religious system. Jesus is "the way, the truth and the life." Let us maintain our faith in Him and in all things our obedience to Him.