In writing to the Hebrew Christians, the author holds forth the new covenant as “better” than that of the old. He uses the word better some thirteen times. To illustrate the comparative superiority of the new covenant in Christ, he speaks of a better revelation (Heb. 1:1-4); a better hope (Heb. 7:19); a better priesthood (Heb. 7:20-28); a better covenant (Heb. 8:6); a better promise (Heb. 8:6); a better sacrifice (Heb. 9:23); better possessions (Heb. 10:34); a better country (Heb. 11:16); and a better resurrection (Heb. 11:35).
All of this is centralized in Jesus Christ Who is the author of this better covenant. Hence, he writes of Christ: “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, Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high; being made so much better than the angels, as He bath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name, than they” (Heb. 1:1-4).
2. Christ is exalted over the angels (Heb. 1:4-2:18). He has a better name (Heb. 1:4). The Heavenly Father acknowledged Him as His only begotten Son (Heb. 1:5). The angels are to worship Him (Heb. 1:6). Angels are ministering spirits. But Christ is exalted at God’s right hand to reign over all things forever (Heb. 1:7-14). Compared to the messages of angels, which were true and had to be obeyed, how much more Christ’s message must be obeyed, for it is attested to by the Holy Spirit and miracles (Heb. 2:1-4). Christ was made a little lower than the angels to become God’s servant in order that He might become crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:5-13). The nature He assumed was not of angels, but of fallen man, for only in that way could Christ become a merciful high priest to make reconciliation for the sinner (Heb. 2:14-18).
3. Christ is superior to Moses and Aaron (Heb. 3:1-4:13). We are exhorted to consider Christ Jesus as our faithful high priest (Heb. 3:1, 2). He is exalted over Moses in that Moses was a servant in God’s house (Heb. 3:3-5), but Christ is a Son over His own house, the church (Heb. 3:6). A word of warning is given that we should not harden our hearts as Israel did and died in the wilderness over a period of 40 years, but rather we are to hearken to and believe in Christ and be partakers of His glory (Heb. 3:7-19). The rest in Christ is compared to the rest of the Old Testament Israel (Jesus of Hebrews 4:8is Joshua). God had promised it to them, but they failed to obtain it because of unbelief. Christ’s rest is sure, for the gospel declares it and we enter into this rest by faith. The surety of our rest lies in the power of the gospel (Heb. 4:1-13).
4. Christ is the better high priest (Heb. 4:14-7:28). We may come boldly to Him in time of need, for He understands (Heb. 4:14-16). The Old Testament priest (Aaron) was taken from among men and had human infirmities common to man (Heb. 5:1, 2); he had to offer sacrifices for himself as well as for the people (Heb. 5:13); he could function only because he was called of God (Heb. 5:4). Christ was also called by God, but was of a higher order. He was after that of Melchisedec. He was appointed of God (Heb. 5:5, 6). He is the author of salvation (Heb. 5:8-10). At this point the author of Hebrews interjects a warning against spiritual immaturity and emphasizes the need to grow spiritually, from drinking spiritual milk to digesting spiritual meat. He also warns those who are in the church, who behold the works of the Holy Spirit and come in the sphere of His power, that if they should fall away from the church, that it is impossible to bring them to repentance. He encourages us to continue in our labor of love and to be diligent to attain the full assurance of faith and hope (Heb. 5:11-6:12). He once again returns to the theme of Christ’s priesthood and refers to Abraham as an example of God’s faithfulness to His promise. He emphasizes that Christ is the forerunner Who has entered into heaven for us (Heb. 6:13-20). Melchisedec is identified and it is explained how Christ is priest after his order: he had great riches and honor and was without known origin (eternal order)—(Heb. 7:1-10). Christ, like Melchisedec, belongs to an eternal order and was confirmed by God’s oath (Heb. 7:11-22). Christ makes continual intercession as God’s high priest (Heb. 7:23-25). He was also personally sinless, hence He was able to offer Himself for others, once for all, as a sacrifice for sin (Heb. 7:26-28).
5. Christ’s priesthood is exercised under a new covenant (Heb. 8:1-13). He is at the right hand of God in the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 8:1-5). In contrast to the old covenant which was enforced by the demands of the law, the new covenant is realized by the law being written in the heart, which accomplishes victory over sin (Heb. 8:6-13).
6. In this new covenant, Christ as high priest accomplishes His work effectually (Heb. 9:1-19). The ancient sacrifices and ceremonies of the Old Testament were types (Heb. 9:1-10). Christ came as the fulfillment of these types and His blood actually cleanses from sin, and He accomplishes redemption (Heb. 9:11-15). In the old covenant all purging of the earthly temple was done by the shedding of blood, now Christ purged the heavenly tabernacle with His own blood (Heb. 9:16-28). All the sacrifices of the law could not make a sinner perfect. They pointed to the coming of Christ. Hence, the act of sacrifice itself did not remove sin, it required repentance and faith in Christ (Heb. 10:1-18).
7. The remaining part of the letter deals with practical matters of the Christian life which results from faith in Christ as high priest (Heb. 10:19-13:25). Through Christ we enter into the holy of holies where God dwells (Heb. 10:19-21). This requires holiness on our part. We need sprinkled hearts and washed bodies (Heb. 10:22). It requires diligence in worship and mutual love for each other as God’s people (Heb. 10:23-25). We are warned against willful sin, or counting the blood of Christ unholy. For such sin there is only judgment (Heb. 10:26-31). We must be steadfast and willing to suffer for Christ (Heb. 10:32-39). He now describes the nature of faith. Our belief in creation is an example (Heb. 11:1-3). The lives of the Old Testament saints testify to the power of faith. Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice (Heb. 11:4); Enoch was translated so he didn’t see death (Heb. 11:5, 6); Noah built the ark (Heb. 11:7); Abraham went to a strange country and sojourned there (Heb. 11:8, 9) and also offered Isaac (Heb. 11:17-19). Sarah brought forth Isaac in her old age as an act of faith (Heb. 11:11, 12). These all were pilgrims looking for heaven (Heb. 11:13-16). Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau (Heb. 11:20); Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph (Heb. 11:21); Joseph gave commandment concerning his bones (Heb. 11:22); the parents of Moses hid him (Heb. 11:23); Moses chose to be identified with Israel; he forsook Egypt and kept the Passover (Heb. 11:24-28); Israel passed through the Red Sea (Heb. 11:29); the walls of Jericho fell down (Heb. 11:30); Rahab hid the spies (Heb. 11:31). He lists many other examples and refers to the great deeds which display a good report and great victory (Heb. 11:32-40). As children of God, we are like a runner in a race, we are surrounded by witnesses, we are to look to Jesus as our captain. Even hardships must not deter us, for chastisement is profitable (Heb. 12:1-13). We are to be at peace with God and avoid bitterness and evil influence, which destroyed Esau (Heb. 12:14-17). A contrast is drawn between Mt. Sinai with its judgment and Mt. Sion where God, the consuming fire, brings peace to us (Heb. 12:26-29). He deals with brotherly love and hospitality, slavery, marriage, contentment (Heb. 13:1-6), and requests that they remember those who preach (Heb. 13:7) and those who rule over them (Heb. 13:17). He exhorts them to be doctrinally sound in the Lord Jesus (Heb, 13:8, 9), to live as Christians in purity as they follow Christ (Heb. 13:10-16), and to pray for all God’s servants in their work (Heb. 13:18, 19).
8. Concluding benediction (Heb. 13:20-25). He prays that the God of peace Who brought Christ from the dead make them perfect (Heb. 13:20, 21). He asks them to pay attention to this letter (Heb. 13:20). He expresses hope to see them, with Timothy (Heb. 13:23). And he asks them to bring his greetings to the other saints as those of Italy extend greetings (Heb. 13:24, 25).
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
1. Why is this letter called the Hebrews? For whom was this letter written?
2. Give briefly the arguments for and against Pauline authorship.
3. Why was it necessary for this letter to be written?
4. Show why Hebrews 1:1-4 sets forth the grand theme of the entire letter.
5. Look up the texts that describe the nine ways in which the new covenant is better than the old, and explain how that is true in each instance.
6. What was the relationship between the old covenant and the new one regarding the offering of blood? SeeHebrews 9.
9. Who was Melchisedec, and how is it that Christ was priest after his order and not that of Aaron? See Hebrews 7.
10. Why is chastisement the proof of sonship, Hebrews 12:7?