Author: Unknown (Multiple Authors)
Audience: Christians (Hebrew Believers)
Subjects: Jesus Christ is eternally High Priest, Obedience is necessary for salvation, Jesus Christ is the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, Jesus is mediator of a New Covenant and New Law, Persisting in sin outrages the Spirit of Grace, Faith is revealed by actions, etc.
The book of Hebrews (which is really a letter written to believers in Jesus Christ) has an unknown author. No name is mentioned in regards to who wrote or authored this letter.
Some believe that Paul wrote this letter, but this perception has long since been viewed as unsubstantial. Others have mentioned Apollos, Barnabas, Priscilla, and many other names; however, if we investigate the pronouns used in the letter, it reveals some information about the author.
When establishing authorship, it is important to make the distinction between author and writer. Paul is the author of most of the letters of the New Testament; however, he had someone else write many of them (if not all of them).
For example, in Romans 16:22, it says, "I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord." It was not uncommon for the actual writer to interject his own comments or greetings at the end of his letter.
At the end of Hebrews, the speaker uses the singular first-person pronoun ("I"), which may indicate that the writer of the letter is speaking.
However, everywhere else in the letter the plural first-person pronoun ("we") is used to refer to the authors, making it appear that numerous people participated in the authorship of this letter.
For example in Hebrews 5:11 it says, "About this we have much to say..." and in Hebrews 8:1 it says, "Now the main point in what we are saying is this..." Additional examples include Hebrews 6:3, 6:9, 6:11, 9:5, 13:18, etc.
These verses indicate that the writer is speaking for multiple people who are influencing, and in agreement, on what is being written.
Due to this evidence, for the purpose of this summary of Hebrews, the plural of the word "authors" will be used when speaking of both the unnamed writer and those who influenced this letter.
The authors of the book of Hebrews begin by explaining the divinity of Jesus Christ, comparing him in contrast to God's angels. "He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word." (Hebrews 1:3)
As stated, Jesus Christ is "the exact imprint of God's very being."
Continuing, they say that Jesus Christ is just as superior to the angels as the Father is, saying that it is written about Jesus Christ, "But of the Son he says...In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands..." (Hebrews 1:8-10)
This statement is another comment on Jesus' divinity, since in Genesis 1 it is clear that God is the creator of the earth and heavens.
The authors of Hebrews continue to explain that because of who Jesus Christ is, we should pay even greater attention to his message. It is explained that just as the Old Covenant was established with a punishment for disobedience, likewise even greater is the punishment for those who ignore the message (that Jesus Christ proclaims) of salvation through faith and repentance.
The authors say that the miracles performed by Jesus Christ and his disciples are additional evidence to pay attention to His message of salvation.
They then discuss the role of humans, saying that just as we are made lower than the angels for a short time, likewise it was necessary for the God's Messiah to be made lower than the angels for awhile.
It is just as Paul says in Philippians 2:6-8, that Jesus, "who, though he was in the form of God...emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness."
The authors explain that the reason why Jesus "living as a human" was necessary is so that he could destroy death through death, now being able to free us from the slavery of death.
It is also explained that by being
human and becoming the sacrifice, he is the high priest who atones
for our sins. Also, "Because he himself was tested by what he
suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested."
(Hebrews 2:18) In context, the authors are speaking of suffering persecutions like what Jesus suffered, including his death on the cross: since Jesus too was tested by these trials, he is able to help us when our faith is tested by persecution.
Having said all this about Jesus Christ's role, the authors say, "Therefore" explaining that we are God's building (his temple) which Jesus Christ has built in those who God's Spirit dwells within.
They then make this comparison to Moses.
Encouragement is given to the audience to avoid being evil or unbelieving, saying, "so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." (Hebrews 3:13) The authors warn that believers are only saved if we keep believing and obeying until the end: "For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end." (Hebrews 3:14)
Jesus also says this in Luke 12:45-47, "But if that slave says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' ...the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating."
The authors continue to make their point by giving the example of the Israelites, explaining that those who God was angry with and who did not enter His rest where those who "were rebellious," "sinned," and "were disobedient." (Hebrews 3:16-28)
The authors then link this evil and disobedience to unbelief, saying, "So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief." (Hebrews 3:19)
The authors continue giving encouragement to "take care that none of you...have failed to reach it" explaining that since "the promise of entering his rest is still open." (Hebrews 4:1) They further elaborate on God's Sabbath rest, explaining that it was "because of disobedience" that "those who formerly received the good news failed to enter." (Hebrews 4:6)
Referring to the Israelites who disobeyed God, worshiping idols and sinning, the authors also say, "Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs." (Hebrews 4:11)
They then speak again of Jesus,
saying that he is the high priest who is able to "sympathize
with our weaknesses." (Hebrews 4:15)
Also mentioned is the fact that nothing and no one is hidden from God; all our thoughts are exposed to him.
The authors of the book of Hebrews describe the role of high priests, saying that they are chosen by God. Then, making the comparison to Jesus Christ, it is explained that he did not glorify himself, but was glorified by his Heavenly Father.
They also present a teaching here unique to the book of Hebrews, saying Jesus Christ is "a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek." (Hebrews 5:6) The authors then explain that Jesus Christ was made perfect through his suffering, making him the sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Obedience to God is a major theme in Hebrews, which can be seen in Hebrews 5:9, "...he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him..."
The audience is then chastised for being "dull in understanding" and for needing "milk, not solid food." (Hebrews 5:11-12) Essentially, they are being called infant Christians, and they are being encouraged to Become Mature Christians.
The authors say, "Therefore let us go on toward perfection..." giving a list of the basic teachings of Jesus Christ, which include repentance from sin. (Hebrews 6:1)
They also say, "For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt." (Hebrews 6:4-6)
Repentance and Salvation
While the authors of the book of Hebrews teach that those who have fallen away cannot be saved, saying, "For it is impossible to restore again to repentance..." (which is also taught later in Hebrews 10:26-29), it is also true that Jesus says, "No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day." (John 6:44)
Therefore, if anyone repents of their sins and returns to obeying God (which can only happen if God has allowed it), then they can be saved.
In reality, if someone has fallen away from the faith, it is more likely that they were never really saved. John says, "They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us." (1 John 2:19)
Nevertheless, the authors of the book of Hebrews are making a strong argument
for the importance to repent, stop sinning, and obey God's
commandments. See the Meaning of Repentance and Salvation for more information on this subject.
The authors give the example of rain falling on a field, saying that if it produces good crop then it is blessed by God, but if the field produces thorns then it is worthless.
They are plainly making the point that our actions
reveal whether or not we truly believe and are saved.
They then clarify that they are not accusing the audience of not being saved, but they are giving a warning for the reason they said earlier, "Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it." (Hebrews 4:1)
The authors explain that we should avoid becoming lazy and we should be diligent to do good works until the end.
They then speak of the faith and diligence of Abraham, as well as God's promises that gives us hope. This hope in God's promises is what stabilizes us when we suffer hardship and persecution.
Having just mentioned again that Jesus is "a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:20), the authors now explain the meaning of this statement.
Rather than King Melchizedek being the actual mortal king of a city, the authors explain that this "king of righteousness" was the "king of peace" and that it was actually Jesus Christ who appeared before Abraham.
The authors say, "Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever." (Hebrews 7:3)
Abraham Meets Jesus Christ
To understand how this is possible that Jesus Christ would have appeared before Abraham prior to Jesus' birth, we must understand that Jesus Christ has always existed as an immortal (Jesus Christ is God after all), but that he existed in a mortal body for a short period of time.
As Jesus himself says, "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58)
The fact that Abraham gave tithes and was blessed by this king is further evidence given by the authors that this king was superior to Abraham. They also further explain why perfection (through sacrifices for sins) could never be obtained through the levitical priesthood, and that God's people were transferred to a new priesthood with Jesus Christ.
This transfer of priesthood results in a change of law, as Paul calls the law of Christ in 1 Corinthians 9:21, which is essentially a stricter understanding of God's commandments without the physical requirements and regulations, such as physical circumcision (Romans 2:26-29) and food regulations (Romans 14:1-3).
As Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment." (Matthew 5:21-22; see also 1 John 3:15) And "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28)
As Jesus tells the pharisees, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith." (Matthew 23:23)
The authors explain that Jesus Christ "has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life." (Hebrews 7:16)
Continuing to explain Jesus Christ's priesthood, the authors say, "but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:24-25)
Due to the fact that Jesus is "holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted" the authors say that "he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day" because his sacrifice was absolute.
In Hebrews 8, the authors summarize all that they have said to conclude their point that, "Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises." (Hebrews 8:6)
They then quote from Jeremiah 31:31-34 where God speaks of the future covenant he will establish, saying, "This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (Hebrews 8:10; Jeremiah 31:33)
The authors of the book of Hebrews bluntly state that the old mosaic covenant is obsolete because of the New Covenant through the sacrifice and priesthood of Jesus Christ.
The authors describe the old covenant, explaining that everything was a shadow of what is in heaven and of the perfect New Covenant. The authors then say, "But when Christ came as a high priest...he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption." (Hebrews 9:11-12)
They then continue to explain the role that Jesus' sacrifice has for believers, explaining that Jesus entered heaven itself to offer himself as a sacrifice, "he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself." (Hebrews 9:26)
Then the authors explain our hope, saying, "so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him." (Hebrews 9:28)
The authors continue to explain why the old mosaic covenant is obsolete and imperfect, making the point that only the new covenant established through Jesus Christ now exists because of His perfect sacrifice.
They further explain the absolute nature of Jesus' sacrifice and urge the audience to be earnest in their repentance (Hebrews 10:22) and to remain faithful to our confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (Hebrews 10:23).
The authors give additional instructions, and then make a sobering statement about the relationship of sin and the new covenant, saying, "For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries." (Hebrews 10:26-27)
Continuing, they say, "How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:29)
The authors give these strong warnings to the audience, and then remind them of the persecutions they suffered for Jesus' sake, saying, "Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward." (Hebrews 10:35)
The authors are giving two main instructions: do not abandon the faith and do not return to sinning.
Having spoken about the importance of remaining faithful to Jesus Christ and the importance of obeying God's law, the authors now explain that faith is essentially believing that what God says is true and acting according to that belief.
For example, as Paul explains in Romans 4 and as is explained in Hebrews 11:8-19, Abraham believed that God told him the truth and all of Abraham's actions where based on this belief, which "was reckoned to him as righteousness." (Romans 4:3)
If Abraham had failed to obey God, it would have revealed that he did not truly believe what God had promised.
The authors then give the examples of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, etc. as examples of the connection between belief and actions.
If Noah had not truly believed God, that a flood was coming, then he would not have built the ark that saved his family. Likewise, if believers do not truly believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that salvation is offered to those who believe and repent of sin, then they will not obey God's commandments and will find Jesus saying to them, "I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers." (Matthew 7:23)
Jesus also says that those who are disobedient by sinning will be "put with the unfaithful." (Luke 12:45-47) There actions prove them to be unfaithful and unbelieving, even if they say or think they are faithful and believing. As Paul says, "They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions." (Titus 1:16)
Having explained the connection between faith and actions, as well as speaking of all those who believed but had not received the promises of God, the authors say, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2)
This statement plainly instructs believers to not sin, persevere in righteousness and faith, focus on Jesus, and endure persecution and sufferings.
The authors continue to give encouragement to endure trials, sufferings, and persecutions, even "to the point of death" as Jesus did (Philippians 2:8; also see 1 John 2:6).
They also say, "If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children." (Hebrews 12:8) In context, the authors are speaking of being disciplined by trials; however, this statement is similar to the statements Jesus makes in Matthew 10:38, saying, "and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me."
Also, in Matthew 16:24, Jesus says, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." Those who do not deny self, and do not follow Jesus in his obedience, are not worthy of salvation and are "not his children."
The authors then say, "he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:10-11)
Then, regarding this holiness, the authors say, "Pursue...the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." (Hebrews 12:14)
Having made the point that God disciplines us so we stop sinning and instead become righteous (essentially so that we become a mature Christian), the authors then encourage the audience to "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God." (Hebrews 12:15)
They also warn that there will eventually be a time when repentance is no longer possible, because it will be too late to repent, just as it was for Esau and the Israelites "for if they (the Israelites) did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven!" (Hebrews 12:25)
For those who are saved, the authors say, "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:28-29)
Having spent this entire letter explaining "let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach [salvation]" (Hebrews 4:1) the authors now give specific instructions on how to behave.
They give instructions on brotherly love, hospitality to strangers, remembering those who are in prison for Christ, to honor marriage and keep it undefiled "for God will judge fornicators and adulterers" (Hebrews 13:4), to avoid loving money, to avoid false teachings (such as salvation based on food regulations), and to do good.
At the end of Hebrews 13, the voice switches to first-person singular (as opposed to the plural first-person "we" used in most of the letter when referring to the authors), possibly indicating that the writer of the letter is speaking.
As seen by the plural first-person "we" used throughout Hebrews, this letter appears to be have been authored by several Christians, rather than having only one author.
Generally, only letters that were written by the disciples or foundational apostles like Paul were included in the New Testament canon. Since the author(s) of Hebrews is unknown, the main reason why the book of Hebrews was included in the New Testament, despite the unknown authors, is because of its polished writing and scripturally correct theology.
The main subjects that the authors teach in Hebrews are: Jesus Christ is eternally High Priest, Obedience is necessary for salvation, Jesus Christ is the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, Jesus is mediator of a new and better Covenant and new Law, Persisting in sin outrages the Spirit of Grace, Faith is revealed by actions, etc.
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