Studies in Hebrews Series – Part 1: Purpose of the Epistle

I.  There are similarities between Paul’s epistle to the Galatians and this epistle to the Hebrews. Both were addressed to folks who were intimately familiar with the traditions and customs of the old covenant. Both were also addressed to folks who were struggling with doubt over whether that covenant really had come to an end. However, there are also differences.

1. The Judaizers in Galatian insisted that you needed to be circumcised in order for Christ’s death to be counted to you. They said you needed Christ, but unless you were circumcised, then His death couldn’t be imputed to you for righteousness, because you had to first be identified with the covenant people of God, before God’s work could be counted to you.

2. The folks addressed in the epistle to the Hebrews were a little different. They were people who kept wavering on the question of whether this new administration under Christ could even be trusted, or was it just best to remain under the administration of the old covenant with all its rituals and traditions just in case it turned out Christ couldn’t be trusted?

B. Who wrote this epistle?

1. We don’t know. I have heard different scholars cite just about every reason under the sun as proof that the guy they favor wrote it, but they can never give any concrete evidence. Some are certain Paul wrote it, but Paul was always careful to identify himself in everyone of his epistles. He even sometimes pointed this very fact out. (Galatians 6:11). See what large letters I write with my own hand?

He was also known for greeting people by name and for identifying the people who were traveling with him. Not a single one of these traits exist in this epistle.

Other scholars favor Apollos and still others Barnabas. The fact is we don’t know because either the author didn’t let us know, or the Spirit didn’t count it important to preserve that fact. We can each have our opinion, but at the end of the day that’s all it is; an opinion. For all we know Matthew wrote it, or even one of the other apostles.

C. Regardless, whoever the author was we can be certain that it was someone who was just as intimately familiar with old covenant traditions as the readers were. We can also be certain he was intimately familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures too.

D. As for who the first readers were, we don’t know this either. We can assume that it was addressed to a particular church, and perhaps one located somewhere in Israel although we can’t be certain of that.
There is no mention of the Jewish dispersion anywhere in the epistle or any reference or mention to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. We can be certain though, that the epistle was addressed to a people who were steeped in the Old Testament and in the Mosaic customs. Hence the title, the epistle to the Hebrews.

E. That said, the author’s main purpose of the epistle is to show to his readers from the Hebrew Scriptures that not only can Christ be trusted, but that He is even more trustworthy than Moses himself, and that therefore the covenant Christ instituted is an even better covenant than the one Moses ratified.

With all this in mind, let’s turn now to chapter 1 and begin studying the word of God.

II. Chapter 1

Hebrews 1:1-4
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 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. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

A. The author begins his argument by reminding his readers that Christ is greater than any of the angels who administered the Mosaic Covenant.

Under the old administration of the Mosaic Covenant, God spoke to His people through dreams, and visions, and certain prescribed items like the urim and the thummim. Under the new administration however, God has spoken to His people through His Son. We’ll see what kind of difference that makes in a moment.

In verse 3 it says He is the radiance of the glory of God and the “exact imprint of his nature.” The word imprint often times signified a footprint. As a foot leaves an imprint of itself in the dust, so Christ is God’s imprint on earth. And as a footprint can reveal certain things about the person who left the print (their approximate weight, height, speed of their pace, and direction headed), so Christ reveals certain things about God; except that His imprint is not an approximation, but instead exact, for He is Himself God in the flesh. He is God leaving His footprint in flesh and blood to show us what He is like.

B. Paul uses a similar expression in his second epistle to the Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 4:6 “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

“In the face” is an expression that means who a person is. If you want to know who I am, you look at my face. You don’t look at my knees.

What Paul is saying is that in the same way God spoke light into darkness in Genesis 1, He also speaks light into the darkness of His people’s hearts. And the way He does that is by showing them the face of Jesus Christ. That is, by revealing to them the good news of who Christ is and what He has done for His people.

Now, no angel can do this. No angel is the exact imprint of God’s nature. No angel is a son. No angel can call God, Father. No angel ever created the world or ever spoke light into darkness. Angels are mere ministers sent to serve the elect, but Christ is a king whose throne will never end.

Therefore, if the testimony of angels can be trusted, and they are no more than beings who are sent to minister to the elect, then how much more can the testimony of the very Son of God Himself be trusted?

This is one reason why it is so important that we recognize that Jesus is the Son of God. This is also why He so stressed His authority over sickness, sin, death and demons while on this earth. It was to prove that His testimony could be trusted. This is why He told people to consider the works He performed. It was because those works proved that His testimony could be trusted

II. For this reason, because the testimony of Christ can be trusted, it is crucial then that we pay close attention to His testimony, because if the testimony of angels proved to be reliable, then how much more reliable is the Son’s testimony.

And the testimony of angels did prove to be reliable. Just consider, for example, God’s warning to Israel what would happen if they disobeyed the covenant under Moses.

Deuteronomy 28:49 The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand

Deuteronomy 28:36 “The LORD will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone.37 And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the LORD will lead you away.”

Has anyone here ever seen what is painted on the walls of the city of Babylon? They are still standing to this day. You can Google them online and see for yourself. Pictures of giant griffons cover the walls. Griffons with the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle.

griffinDoes anyone here know what animal the Roman army painted on their roman shield eagleshields? An eagle. Has anyone here seen a picture of the Nazi Germany coat of arms? A giant eagle carrying a swastika in its claws.

Time and time and time again the testimony of angels proved to be reliable.

However, be that as it may, consider that it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come. Rather, God subjected the world to come to His Son. Why then are you Hebrews so keen on submitting to the testimony of angels? It won’t be angels you answer to in the world to come. It will be the Son you answer to.

B. This should remind us of that passage in Colossians where Paul talks about letting no one disqualify you by insisting on asceticism and the worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason and insisting you submit to useless regulations like do not taste, do not touch, do not handle? Right here we find the echo of that passage. The Judaizers thought they were worshipping God, but they were actually worshipping angels! This is what Judaism is today. By refusing to believe the testimony of Jesus the Messiah, and by submitting instead to the testimony of angels, they are in every real sense worshipping angels. They are worshipping the created, rather than the Creator.

There is no such thing as a Judeo-Christian. There is no such thing as an angel Christ. People who insist religious Jews (people who practice Judaism) are brothers and sisters in Christ are insisting angel worshippers are brothers and sisters.

C. If God has subjected the world to come to Christ, then why did God for a time make Christ a little lower than the angels?

Good question. And the answer is, how else was He supposed to save His people? He had to be made a little lower than the angels for a time in order to taste death for His people. It was fitting that He taste death for them, because they had been subjected to death by the just requirement of the law. This is why He had to be made a little lower for a time in order to suffer like they suffer and be tempted like they are tempted, so that by coming out of the other side of that suffering and that temptation without having ever sinned, He could sanctify them. He could present them perfect before God.

If He had sinned, then He wouldn’t have obtained the righteousness that saves His people from the grave. Had He sinned, then He would have had to have died for His sins and remain dead. He could never have been resurrected.

This is the reason why He had to be made a little lower than the angels for a time. But He is not a little lower than the angels anymore. Rather, all things, including angels, are subject to Him.

III. Therefore, since we have this rock solid reason to trust His testimony, and since we see that He has proved to be as faithful over His house as Moses was over his, then let us take care that there be in none of us an evil heart, leading us to fall away from the Son’s testimony.

Instead, if we have come to Christ, then let us hold fast to our confidence. Let us not become like those who followed Moses out of Egypt, who witnessed the miracles God performed to prove that the testimony of angels was true, and yet who still rebelled and then perished after forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

A. This is a reference to Numbers 13

Numbers 13:25-33
At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land.26 And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there.29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.”  30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”31 Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.”32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height.33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

Notice the last verse. “. . . and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

That is, we thought about what we look like in our eyes and we realized any fool could see we are like teensy, tiny, helpless little grasshoppers, so obviously we assumed that is what they saw too.

We’re sinners. We sin. And the worst thing we can do when we sin is start thinking long and hard about how we look in our own eyes now that we have sinned. Because when we start thinking long and hard about how we look in our own eyes, we start assuming that God sees us the way we have started seeing ourselves.

Obviously, I am unrighteous. Any fool can see that. I mean, just look at all this sin in my life. Obviously I am unrighteous. Obviously, I’m really not one of God’s own, after all. Maybe that preacher over there was right all along. I can hear him even now tell me that if I were really saved then I would be getting better. And I hear that Lordship snob over there telling me that if I were really converted, then I would be more devoted to doing the works he does. I guess I’m not saved, after all.

This is not something we are to pity. This is something we are to abhor, because it is rank unbelief. This is the reason why those people perished in the wilderness. This is how they provoked God to anger and He destroyed them.

God had told these people that He would go before them to fight for them. He had already done this and had proved this a number of times already. But now when it comes time to take possession of the land He has promised them, what do they do? They doubt He has told them the truth. It’s what Hebrew’s first readers were doing. They were doubting that Christ’s testimony was trustworthy.

Already what has Christ told us? Already He has told us that He justifies His people by faith alone in Christ alone. Already He has told us that He paid the full penalty for all of our sins by dying on a cross. Already He has told us that everyone He has imputed righteous by grace alone is perfectly and forever righteous, and He will not lose a single one of them. What do we do then when we sin? We take a good, long hard look at how God sees us, and we agree with Him that what He says He sees is truly what we are.

Notice in the Numbers 13 text that Caleb said nothing about not seeing giants. No, he saw giants, but he also saw a bigger giant. He saw the Lord God. And when he considered the giants in the land, you know what he said? It’s easy pickings. That’s what he said. “Let us go up and occupy it for we are well able to overcome it.” It’s easy pickings.

What do we do when we sin? We take a good long, hard look at what God says about us. And when we do, you know what that sin becomes? Easy pickings. Oh, that sin? You think that sin’s going to keep me out of heaven? You’ve got to be out of your mind. The Son of God Himself paid for that sin on my behalf. What is that sin compared to the blood of the Son of God? You think God’s going to look at that sin one day and go, “Well gee wiz, I know My Son died for you, but gosh that sin is awfully big”? No. There is nothing the elect can do that is worth more than the blood of the Son of God.

Know who God says you are in Christ. Believe it.

God had told the serpent in Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman “will crush your head, and you will strike His heel.”  Jesus was crucified on a hill referred to as Golgotha. Remember what Luke tells us Golgotha means? The place of the skull. God had promised His people that Christ would one day crush the head of the serpent, and that is exactly what He did at the cross.

The head. What is in a serpent’s head? Its fangs, and more notably its venom. Its head is how it delivers death to its victims. Well, Christ has crushed that head. He has crushed the serpent’s ability to kill his victims. How did He do that? He did that by removing the serpent’s ability to threaten us with the law’s demand for our death.

You see, I cannot die for my sins. I cannot die for my sins, because Christ has already died that death for me. Therefore, I cannot die for my sins. Cannot be done. Well, what is the serpent going to threaten me with now? He can’t threaten me with death anymore. He can’t threaten me with eternal condemnation, so what has he got left to threaten me with? He has nothing. The only thing he can do now is lie to me. This is his only power. He can no longer point to the law and remind me that it demands my death, because I now know Christ satisfied that death for me.

Christ has delivered me who through fear of death was once subject to lifelong slavery. Slavery to what? Slavery to do not taste, do not touch, do not handle. I am free now. I am free to love and therefore to not taste, and to not handle, and to not touch because I love, and not instead because I am afraid of being condemned to an eternal death. I am free to fail and not worry and tie myself in knots because I failed.

Malachi 4:2 (NASB) “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.

Skipping calves skip about because they are free to do so.

John 8:36  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

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About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church http://www.gospeldefense.com/about.html
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2 Responses to Studies in Hebrews Series – Part 1: Purpose of the Epistle

  1. markmcculley says:

    no need to call ghost-busters! what you going to do now that you don’t have to do anything?

    we are not in bondage to our emancipation, we don’t need to change, we don’t need not to change ( I cor 7), grace can’t increase, grace can’t decrease (Romans 6)

    John 14: 23 My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.

    John 17: 22 I have given them the glory You have given Me.
    Make them one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me.

  2. markmcculley says:

    John Owen–“Such was the poverty of the types that no one of them could so much as shadow out or represent all that advantage which we really enjoy.. This made the types a yoke, and that grievous and burdensome. The way of teaching in types was hard and obscure, and difficult.
    John Owen–It was a hard thing for them to learn the love, grace, and mind of God by types. God revealed himself in many parts and pieces, according as they were capable to receive impression from and make representation of divine wisdom, goodness, and grace. The had some scattered shades, which the great painter had laid the foundation of symmetry in, but so as to be discernible only unto His own infinite wisdom.
    Hebrews 10 –Since the law has only a SHADOW of the good things to come, and NOT the actual form of those REALITIES, the law can never perfect the worshipers by the same sacrifices they continually offer year after year
    Let no one pass judgment on you … with regard to …a Sabbath…a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17

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