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                      "THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS"

                              Introduction

The epistle to the Hebrews is a unique book in the New Testament.  It
begins as an essay (He 1:1-2), progresses as a sermon (He 2:1-4), and
ends as a letter (He 13:23-25).  Its contents are deep and challenging.
Many Christians find it difficult; some equate its difficulty with the
book of Revelation.

But for Christians willing to take the time to read and reflect upon it,
they will be:

   *  Reminded of how blessed they are to have trusted in Christ

   *  Impressed with the superiority of Christ and His New Covenant over
      Moses and the Old Covenant

   *  Warned of the danger of apostasy and the need for steadfastness in
      their faith

AUTHOR

The author does not identify himself.  Many believe it to be the apostle
Paul (e.g., Clement of Alexandria) and have offered arguments in his
favor (cf. Commentary on Hebrews, Robert Milligan, p. 5-19).  Yet it
seems unlikely when you  consider the authorís statement, "...was
confirmed to us by those who heard Him" (He 2:3).  This suggests the
author received the gospel message second-hand, while Paul declared that
he had not received the gospel from or through men (Ga 1:11-12).

Other names have been proposed over the years:  Barnabas (suggested by
Tertullian), Apollos (suggested by Luther), even Priscilla (suggested by
Harnack).  Perhaps Origen says it best, "But who wrote the epistle, to
be sure, only God knows."

RECIPIENTS

The general consensus is that this letter was written to Jewish
Christians.  There is uncertainty as to where they and the author were
at the time of composition.  Many believe the recipients were in
Palestine, and the author in Rome.  Others suggest the readers were in
Rome and the author elsewhere, based upon a possible implication in He
13:24.  In any case, they were Jewish Christians whom the author knew
personally (He 10:34; 13:19).

DATE

We know the epistle was written prior to 96 A.D., because Clement of
Rome quotes from Hebrews in his letter that was written at that time.
There are certainly strong indications that it was written prior to 70
A.D....

   *  There is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple

   *  The author writes as though priests were still offering sacrifices
      - He 8:4; 10:11

If the Jewish Christians were in Palestine, it was likely before or at
the beginning of the Jewish Wars (ca. 66-70 A.D.; cf. He 12:4).

The time frame of 63-65 A.D. is often suggested.

PURPOSE AND THEME

The author wrote this epistle to prevent his readers from abandoning
their faith in Christ (He 2:1-4).  To encourage his Jewish brethren not
to go back to the Old Law, he endeavored to show the superiority of
Christ and His Covenant (He 8:1-2,6).  A key word found throughout the
epistle is "better":

   *  Christ is "better than the angels" - He 1:4

   *  We enjoy "the bringing in of a better hope" - He 7:19

   *  Jesus has become "the surety of a better covenant" - He 7:22

   *  He is also "the Mediator of a better covenant, which was
      established on better promises" - He 8:6

   *  The heavenly things benefit from "better sacrifices" - He 9:23

Indeed, the purpose of this epistle was to exhort his readers to remain
faithful to the much better things they have in Christ (He 13:22).  As
for its theme, I suggest the following:

               The Superiority Of Christ and The New Covenant

OUTLINE

Here is a simple outline of the book, with its main divisions...

1. The superiority of Christ - He 1:1-8:6
   a. Better than the prophets, as a much better Spokesman - He 1:1-3
   b. Better than the angels, by virtue of His Deity and humanity - He
      1:4-2:18
   c. Better than Moses, for He is the Son who provides a heavenly rest
      - He 3:1-4:13
   d. Better than Aaron, as His priesthood is a superior one - He
      4:16-8:6

2. The superiority of the New Covenant - He 8:7-10:18
   a. For it is based upon better promises - He 8:7-13
   b. For it is based upon a better sanctuary - He 9:1-28
   c. For it is based upon a better sacrifice - He 10:1-18

3. Exhortations drawn from this superiority - He 10:19-13:25
   a. Draw near to God and hold fast - He 10:19-39
   b. Run the race of faith with endurance - He 11:1-12:29
   c. Miscellaneous exhortations - He 13:1-25

KEY WARNINGS

A unique feature of the epistle to the Hebrews are the warnings
throughout the book.  As we conclude this introduction, perhaps it may
be profitable to summarize them.

1. The warning against drifting - He 2:1-4
   a. Through neglect we can easily drift away
   b. The solution is to give the more earnest heed to the things we
      have heard

2. The warning against departing - He 3:12-15
   a. Through sinís deceitfulness we can become hardened and develop a
      lack of faith by which we can depart from the living God
   b. The solution is exhort one another daily and remain steadfast

3. The warning against disobedience - He 4:11-13
   a. Like Israel in the wilderness, we can fail to enter our rest
      through disobedience
   b. The solution is diligence and heeding the Word of God

4. The warning against dullness - He 5:11-6:6
   a. Dullness of hearing can make it difficult for us to appreciate the
      extent of our blessings in Christ, and even falling away to the
      point of crucifying the Son of God afresh!
   b. The solution is grasping the first principles of the oracles of
      God, and then pressing on to spiritual maturity and perfection

5. The warning against despising - He 10:26-39
   a. It is possible to so despise Godís grace as to no longer have a
      sacrifice for sins, but only a certain fearful expectation of
      judgment
   b. The solution is to hold unto our confidence in Christ, and believe
      with endurance

6. The warning against defying - He 12:25-29
   a. It is possible to refuse to listen to the One who now speaks from
      heaven!
   b. The solution is to look diligently to the grace of God, receiving
      it in such a way so we may serve Him acceptably with reverence and
      godly fear

With such warnings, this book is indeed a "word of exhortation" (He
13:22)!

REVIEW QUESTIONS

1) Who is author of the book of Hebrews?
   - Only God knows

2) Who were the original recipients of this epistle?
   - Jewish Christians, possibly in Palestine or Italy

3) When was it written?
   - Likely between 63-65 A.D.

4) What has been suggested as its purpose?  Its theme?
   - An exhortation to remain faithful to Christ
   - The superiority of Christ and the New Covenant

5) What are the three main divisions of this epistle?
   - The superiority of Christ - He 1:1-8:6
   - The superiority of the New Covenant - He 8:7-10:18
   - Exhortations drawn from this superiority - He 10:19-13:25

6) List the six warnings found in this epistle.
   - The warning against drifting - He 2:1-4
   - The warning against departing - He 3:12-15
   - The warning against disobedience - He 4:11-13
   - The warning against dullness - He 5:11-6:6
   - The warning against despising - He 10:26-39
	- The warning against defying - He 12:25-29
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