This is the first in a study that I am beginning on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Before going straight into the study, I want to bring you into my understanding of the place and the context of this epistle. It has long been a controversial epistle in regards to authorship, audience, and intent.
It is no secret that the twelve apostles were all Jews, or better yet, men of Israel, Hebrews. In their ministry before the cross, they were sent to preach to the Jews. In Matthew 10:5 & 6, the Lord told them explicitly not to go to the Gentiles or to the Samaritans, but to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The Lord Himself said explicitly in Matthew 15:24 that He was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. In Romans 15:8, the apostle Paul reminds his readers that “Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promises made unto the fathers”, and any reader of the four Gospels would have to conclude that His ministry was indeed to Israel. He did not come to take away that which God had promised, but to confirm it.
When the Lord commissioned His apostles prior to His ascension, they were to begin at Jerusalem. See Luke 24:47 and Acts 1:8. Yet, even in resurrection and ascension, the Nation that God called “My people” rejected the message of the Lord’s apostles just as they had rejected Him. The plan of the prophetic Scriptures was that all nations of the earth would be blessed through Israel, the holy nation of priests (Exodus 19:5 & 6, Genesis 12:1 – 3), but what would become of the prophetic promises with the nation in unbelief?
God, in His wisdom and grace, did something unprophesied. He raised up the apostle Paul, another minister from out of unbelieving Israel, and sent him as His minister of reconciliation to all nations, i.e., Gentiles, to proclaim the message of grace and peace made possible through the rejected, crucified, risen, ascended, and glorified Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. This was grace and peace offered apart from any covenants or promises, but purely by grace.
What does this have to do with the epistle to the Hebrews? Very much indeed. The relatively few Jews that did believe, the little flock, as the Lord called them, whether in Jerusalem or dispersed abroad were still every whit Jews and still had a hope in God’s faithful word to the fathers. These believing Hebrews were those that could truly be considered those that are Jews inwardly (Romans 2:28), and could truly be known as the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). As late as Acts 21, the Jews in Jerusalem that believed were still zealous for the Law of Moses; and why would they not be? It is silly to believe that as they embraced their promised Messiah and Redeemer that they would cease to be Jews, for these were “Israelites indeed”. These would have seen that the promises made to the fathers were closer than ever. The realities pictured in the types and shadows of their “divine religion” were within grasp. When the Lord said that the kingdom of God is “within you” to the Pharisees, (Luke 17:21), He did not mean that it was “in their heart”, but that He, the King, was right in front of them. When they demanded when it should come, His answer was essentially, “I’m here”.
But now that God was dealing with Gentiles apart from the privileged nation, and the entire nation fallen away, what was left for them but God’s wrath? The revelation of the mystery is an answer for that too, for Jews can be saved in the same manner as Gentiles now (Acts 15:11, Romans 10:12). These Jews, however, saved and brought to belief through the ministry of John the Baptist, the Lord Himself, and His apostles, were seeing the hope of the promises seem to fade as the nation wallowed in active and rebellious unbelief, as we saw in Acts. Think about the Nation in the wilderness as in Numbers, at Kadesh-Barnea, on the verge of entering into the promised land, being not allowed to enter because of unbelief. Joshua and Caleb, who did believe, and spoke on behalf of the Lord’s faithfulness also did not get to enter — until the years of wandering ended. Joshua and Caleb, faithfully waited and received the fulfillment of the promise that they would enter, and both indeed did. The promise was delayed, but nevertheless fulfilled. These Hebrew believers who are the recipient of this epistle were in the same situation. The promise was delayed to them because of the unbelief of the nation.
The “little flock” needed a new message to confirm that the Lord indeed did not leave them as comfortless, or orphans (John 14:18). While most think of this epistle as warning Hebrew believers to not go back to the things of Judaism, it is my conviction that this epistle is the call of the little flock to move “outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:13), and on to perfection (Hebrews 6:1), from the elementary things of the old covenant to the better things of Christ and the everlasting covenant .
Without any further delay, let us move into the beginning of this epistle, and the grand glory that the apostle introduces to these believers about the glory of the Son, Who is heir of all things. Truly God has spoken!
Hebrews 1:1 – 4 — “God, Who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds...”
God hath spoken! What an elegant statement of the overall theme of “Old Testament” history we find in the opening of the Epistle to the Hebrews! This, if it were an oration, it would be one worthy of the most excellent of speakers. This, however, is a written opening, and is worthy of the most excellent of writers. This writer, writing to the Hebrews, opens reminding his readers of how God spoke to the fathers in the past. The “fathers”, undoubtedly, refers to the fathers of the Hebrew nation. This letter is to the Hebrews, and it of them that the apostle Paul says the following:
Romans 9:4 – 5 — “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.”
It is only fitting then, that he reminds them of the greatness of the manners by which God spoke to their fathers in time past to bring them on to the greater things of how God has most lately spoken: He “hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son”! Now in this epistle to the Hebrews, the “us” must be properly understood as “us Hebrews”. Many of the difficulties that folks experience when reading this epistle is to neglect this fact. This verse is stating in the most elegant of fashion that the God who spoke gloriously to the fathers in time past by the prophets has now spoken to the people who are the children of the fathers, i.e., the Hebrews, by His Son. They are the recipients of a far greater revelation, for has spoken to the Hebrews by His Son.
This is not to take away from what God has spoken to the rest of mankind, it is simply that this letter is not written to mankind in general, it is written to the Hebrews, and when understood in this way, it becomes an even greater blessing. The apostle opens very much the same as his speech in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia:
Acts 13:16 – 17, 23, 38 – 39 — “…Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people … God according to His promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus … Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
Notice the similarities, and notice that he begins speaking of God’s great kindness to the people of Israel in the past to bring them to this place of appreciating the even greater kindness to the audience, if they are willing to believe.
The speech above from Acts 13 would make little sense if addressed to any other group of people than the people of the synagogue. It is the same with the epistle to the Hebrews. God spoke to the Hebrew nation in time past by the prophets. He has now spoken to the Hebrew people by His Son, and the very person of His Son is His final Word. This is not to say that God did not have any further revelation to anyone, even to the Hebrew people, after our Lord ascended to heaven, but it is to say that greatness of the prophetic utterances in the past fade in glory, compared with the glory of His revelation in these last days which God spoke by His Son.
His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, is “heir of all things”. He is the one that made the worlds, the worlds being the sphere that encompasses all of space and time. He is the One that the Scripture states:
John 6:37 – 40 — “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of Him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 16:15 — “All things that the Father hath are mine…”
This is the Son, Whom the Psalmist speaks of:
Psalm 2:7 – 8 — “I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto Me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.”
The Son will receive all that is coming to Him. As He told His disciples on the mountain in Galilee, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth”, we can be sure that He will receive it. It is His inheritance, because of who He is. As the Son, He speaks a greater revelation than the prophets. This begins the place of blessing that His hearers are in, for the Son is God’s Word! A message that the God of the universe is speaking by His Son should truly get our attention. Are we listening to Him that speaks from Heaven?