As we first approach the book of Hebrews we have the right tendency to think that this is not a letter. There is no author listed. There are no recipients named. There is not a salutation. Nothing about the beginning of this writing suggests that it is a letter. We must jump to the end of this writing to realize that this is actually a letter. At the end of chapter 13 we see what we would expect at the end of a letter. Hebrews has a closing and a greeting. In fact, the greeting and closing help narrow down the possibilities of who the author may be. Verse 24 suggests that the author of the letter spends much time or lives in Italy. Also, verse 23 suggests that the writer was not imprisoned with Timothy.
But, to me, the greater question why did the author not write this letter in a standard manner? It does not matter who wrote the letter? The greater question is why remain anonymous. Why not list the recipients? Why not open the letter in typical format so people would know who the letter is written to and who the letter is from? We do not have the answers to these questions. But it is important to see that this letter is very different than normal first century letters. The author remains anonymous for a reason. Perhaps he was endangered for writing and could not reveal himself. The recipients are not revealed, perhaps for their safety as well. Since this letter seems to have been written just before the fall of Jerusalem, it may be that the silence is due to the Jewish persecution escalated against the Christians during that time. This would also be the same time frame when Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome, igniting a persecution of Christians in Rome. Whatever the case may be, it seems that there was a purpose for departing from the nature form of first century letters.
The first two verses declare the thesis of the letter. Since the author chose to omit the declaration of who the author is, who the recipients are, and the salutation, we must assume that the writing dives into the body of the letter. The first two verses speak about superiority and superiority is the theme of the letter. The writer begins with a comparison between the way things were and the way things are now.
Long ago > Many times & many ways > God spoke through prophets > God spoke to fathers
Now > One time (implied) > God spoke through His Son > God spoke to us
In the first sentence the writer shows four ways there is superiority. God spoke to the fathers, but God speaks to us. God spoke in many different ways and different times, but now God speaks only one way. God spoke through the mouth of the prophets, but now through His Son. The things that happened long ago are not as good as what is being experienced now. The first sentence tells us that the writer will spend the letter describing the superiority of Christ.
Superiority of Christ’s Position (1:3-4:13)
Christ has inherited a superior name than angels (1:3-4). Probably the best attempt in the scriptures of explaining the nature of Christ. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (1:3). Christ is superior because he is the imprint of God himself.
Christ has a superior position (1:5-14). The angels worship Christ. Christ is the Son of God who sits on the throne. None of the angels have been given the offer to sit at the right hand of God while all of creation is subjected to him. But Christ does sit at the right hand of God and all of the world is being placed in subjection to him.
WARNING #1: Do not neglect the salvation offered through Christ (2:1-4).
Christ has superior authority (2:5-9). The writer comes back to his topic of superiority in verse 5 of chapter 2. The world was not been subjected to angels. Christ carries the authority. Jesus received this authority and was crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death (2:9).
Christ offers a superior relationship (2:10-18). The writer continues by describing the superior relationship the people of God experience through Christ. In verse 11 we are called brethren with Christ. In verse 14 we are called children who share in flesh and blood through Christ. In verse 16 we are called the descendants of Abraham through Christ. This superior relationship is possible through the work of Christ offering himself for the sins of the people.
Christ is superior to Moses (3:1-6). Christ has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses (3:3). Moses was faithful in the house of God as a servant, but Christ is faithful OVER the house of God as the son.
WARNING #2: Do not harden your hearts (3:7-19). Remember what happened to the people of God who hardened their hearts in the past. They were killed in the wilderness and did not enter into God’s promised rest. Therefore, we need to exhort each other to not harden our hearts so that we do not experience the wrath of God. “And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief?” (3:18-19). Disobedience shows a lack of belief in the power and superiority of God.
Christ offers a superior rest (4:1-10). Moses led the people to the land of Canaan for rest. However, Christ offers a superior rest that they did not receive. “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (4:10).
WARNING #3: Strive to enter the rest so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. Use the word of God to avoid failing to enter the rest (4:11-13).
Superiority of Christ’s Priesthood (4:14-7:19)
Christ is the superior high priest (4:14-5:10). Christ is superior because he can sympathize with our weakness because he was tempted in every way we are. Christ was chosen by God to be high priest just as Aaron was chosen. Although the son, he suffered so that he could become the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.
WARNING #4: Do not be dull of hearing (5:11-6:20). The recipients should have been teachers of God by now, but are still in need of being taught the basic principles. Move on to maturity or else you will fall away from the grace of God. Further, the recipients are exhorted to not be sluggish but know that we have an anchor for the soul that is sure and steadfast.
Christ comes from a superior order (7:1-19). The first 10 verses of chapter 7 are a discussion about how Melchizedek is a superior order of priests to Aaron. Christ is in the order of Melchizedek.
Superiority of Christ’s Service As Priest (7:20-10:18)
Superior oath (7:20-22). Christ was made high priest through an oath from the Lord. The high priests of Aaron did not have this oath.
Superior length of service (7:23-26). There were many high priests under Aaron because each one died. Christ holds the priesthood permanently because he does not die, but lives forever. Therefore, Christ offers intercession on behalf of his people continually.
Superior in character (7:26-28). Unlike the other high priests who had to offer sacrifices for their own sins first and then offer sacrifices for the people, Christ has no need to make sacrifices for himself. He is holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.
Superior covenant (8:1-13). “But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree He is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been legally enacted on better promises” (8:6; HCSB). This new covenant is the fulfillment of the promise of God made through the prophets. The new covenant would bring the forgiveness of sins. Now that the new covenant has been enacted, the first covenant is obsolete.
Superior sanctuary and sacrifice (9:1-10:18). The first five verses of chapter 9 describe the sanctuary in the tabernacle as a copy of the things in heaven. Christ did not enter the shadow of the things to come. Christ entered heaven itself in offering the sacrifice for atonement for sins. Christ entered the sanctuary in heaven, not with the blood of animals, but with his own blood which takes away our sins. The high priests had to make repeated offerings for sin. But Christ sacrifice was once for all time to deal with the sins of the people.
Superior Privileges Found In Christ (10:19-12:29)
Superior circumstances with superior responsibility (10:19-39). We can enter through the veil into the house of God with full assurance of faith. We can enter into the sanctuary of God and be in His presence. However, we cannot sin willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth. Our sacrifice is removed if we choose to turn away from the Lord.
Necessity for true faith (11:1-40). The heroes of faith are to be an encouragement to us. We see all that they endured, the leaps of faith they took, and the rewards they received, we should also be built up to have strong faith.
WARNING #5: Do not grow weary in the fight in against sin (12:1-17). A great cloud of witnesses is watching us and cheering us on to the goal. Even though we may suffer, we need to endure until the end of the race. “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (12:12-15).
Superior mountain (12:18-24). We have come to Mount Zion, not to Mount Sinai. We have come to the city of the living God and to innumerable angels. We have come to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.
WARNING #6: Do not refuse him who is speaking (12:25-29). No one escaped when the people refused God through the mouth of the prophets. We will not escape if we refuse Christ who speaks to us from heaven. Therefore, we must offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe because our God is a consuming fire.
Final Exhortations (13:1-25)
Let brotherly love continue (13:1-4). Notice that brotherly love includes caring for those who are mistreated. Brotherly love also includes acting properly in our marriages.
Keep your life free from the love of money and be content (13:5-6).
Remember your leaders (13:7-19). Submit to those who rule over you.
Verses 20-25 of chapter 13 conclude the letter with the encouragement that they be equipped with every good work so as to do the will of God. The final words are greetings, which is typical for a first century letter. Finally, “grace be with you all.”
Remember the warnings. (1) Do not neglect the salvation offered through Christ. (2) Do not harden your hearts through disobedience. (3) Strive to enter God’s rest. (4) Do not be dull of hearing but grow to maturity. (5) Do not grow weary in the fight against sin. (6) Do not refuse the words of the Lord.
Christ is better than everything in life. He offers superior blessings, fulfills superior promises, and mediates over a superior covenant. Only through Christ can sins be forgiven. Only through Christ can we be near to God in the sanctuary. Let us draw near to God in full assurance of faith with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water (10:22). (ESV)