THE EPISTLE TO THE
O U T L I N E
The Book of Hebrews was written to professing Jews that had embraced Jesus as their Messiah. But there was a danger that some of them might “fall back”, and come to the wrong conclusion, that Jesus was not the true Messiah, if they were not able to break free from the clutches of Judaism. They had been exposed to the highest truth (the Person of Christ), and they were in danger of apostasy! In this epistle God is striving with these professing Hebrews to see that Jesus was not only David’s son, but David’s lord (Matt. 22). God insists that we recognize not only Christ’s messianic title (humanity, Son of David), but His intrinsic deity (Godhood, Son of God). “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). The epistle is written to detach the believer’s heart from earthly religion and attach it to Christ in heaven.1 What made this separation particularly difficult for the Hebrews was that the religion was instituted by God, revealed by prophets, through the administration of angels. It was a religion that had every stamp of Divine approval. The Hebrews already had a revelation from God, although on an earthly ground, but they were in need of “some better thing”.
The Writer. Based on the greetings at the end of this epistle, and Peter’s reference to an epistle of Paul to the Hebrews (2 Pet. 3:15), it would seem most likely that Paul is the writer of Hebrews. It is no more surprising than that John does not attach his name to his first epistle. Why doesn’t Paul bring out his apostleship in the opening verses of Hebrews as he does in many other epistles? First, in this epistle, Christ’s apostleship is brought forward (Heb. 3:1), and that eclipses all other apostles. We see this in the beginning of ch.2 where the twelve are called “them that heard Him”, rather than apostles or “sent ones”. Second, Paul was the apostle to the uncircumcision (Gal. 2:7), and therefore he does not write to the Jews in an apostolic character, although he certainly carried all the authority of an apostle even to the Jews. For instance, we see Paul addressing Jews in several chapters in the book of Romans, etc. In Hebrews, Paul writes as a teacher to his Jewish brethren, appealing to the Old Testament scriptures rather than his apostolic authority. But the better reason for the author being unnamed is that Christ Himself is the Apostle.
Overview. The book of Hebrews is one of contrasts and of parallelism, although the contrasts outweigh the parallels! By way of contrast, the Spirit of God compares Christ to the Prophets, to the Angels, to Moses, to Joshua, to Aaron, then to the whole Jewish system, and shows how Christ is far superior to all of them. At the same time, the Spirit illuminates the glories of Christ by drawing parallel features from the Old Testament typology. The point of this book is to detach believing Jews from Judaism by attaching their hearts to Christ! We have twelve chapters in which the glories of Christ are unfolded, and finally we get the call to “go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Heb. 13:13-14). The Jew, with all his earthly hopes would not be easily convinced to give up earth in exchange for heaven. The Spirit of God does this by giving the reader a view into the opened heavens; a view of Jesus “crowned with glory and honor”. Then, with hearts attached to that glorified, heavenly One, we can separate from all the trappings of an earthly religion. He first puts us within the veil (“let us draw near”), then calls us outside the camp. Another way to break down the book is like this: the first eight chapters present the greatness of the Person of Christ, chapters 9 and 10 present the greatness of the work of Christ, followed by the instruction to draw near. The remaining chapters are encouragement and exhortations. The subject of the priesthood of Christ in the first part of the epistle leads into the subject of faith and endurance, of which Christ is the author and finisher. Throughout the epistle there are numerous warnings of coming judgment on Judaism, which would take place quite literally with the destruction of Jerusalem.
Compared with Other Epistles. Hebrews is unique in that it is not based on the doctrine of the Church in her union with Christ. In fact, the Church is hardly mentioned in Hebrews at all! Rather, Hebrews is based on the doctrine of the Person and Work of Christ, presenting Jesus to the Jewish remnant as their Messiah, no longer on earth but now glorified in heaven. Hebrews does not even go as far as to unfold the believer’s relationship with God as Father.
- “It is an epistle in which one… looks nevertheless at the Lord from here below; and presents His Person and His offices as between us and God in heaven, while we are in feebleness on earth, for the purpose of detaching us … from all that would attach us in a religious way to the earth; even when — as was the case among the Jews — the bond had been ordained by God Himself. This epistle shows us Christ in heaven, and consequently that our religious bonds with God are heavenly, although we are not yet personally in heaven ourselves nor viewed as united to Christ there. Every bond with the earth is broken, even while we are walking on the earth. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.