One of the most significant books of the New Covenant is the letter to the Hebrews. It touches the Old Covenant and particularly Leviticus more than any other book in the New Testament. This book was written to the Jewish people of the Diaspora or Dispersion, who were wrestling with the importance of the Temple and its importance in their relationship with the Lord and the Person and work of the Messiah, and how they fit together.
This letter was probably written in the 60’s of the first century. Many of the Jewish people who had come to believe in Jesus as Messiah were made homeless because of the stand that they had taken. Though they were Jews, they lived as strangers and exiles in their own people. They were mocked tormented, and imprisoned. They were Jewish and didn’t fit into the anti‑semitic, Gentile life‑style of the Roman Empire. Having become believers, they were cut off from their Jewish families and friends.
This letter was probably written by a Jewish believer who could identify and sympathize with their problems. The writer understood the difficulty in transition from reconciliation with God through the majestic Temple and the Biblical pattern laid down for approaching God and the new way that God had provided for the Messiah. Gentile Christians didn=t have this problem, but it was a serious one for Jewish Believers who had a God appointed way to approach God. If this weren’t bad enough, the Roman emperor Nero had come to power. Nero was known for his hatred of Christians.
In 64 A.D., a devastating fire swept through Rome destroying a great part of the city. The emperor was the chief suspect. He had a desire to build a “golden house”, and wanted to rid himself of his older less magnificent palace so it was believed that he torched it himself and the fire raged out of control. In order to divert attention from him, Nero accused Christians of causing the disaster. He then pursued them by subjecting them to the worst of tortures. It was bad enough being Jewish and believing in Jesus and suffering for your faith at the hands of your own brethren, now they were feeling the persecution of Rome with all its fury and rage.
The author of this letter is unknown but a number of key individuals are attributed to this letter:
Paul, who it is believed wrote it anonymously in Hebrew and was translated by Luke later.
Some suggest Apollos, a Jewish believer who was well known for his speaking ability as well as knowledgeable in O.T. theology and Jewish tradition.
Others suggest that it was Aquila the Jewish believer who led Apollos to a correct understanding of the New Covenant. Or even Priscilla who wrote anonymously so that it would be read, her being a woman.
The letter was written primarily because a number of the Jewish believers were drifting away from the things that they had heard and had come to believe. They were neglecting “so great a salvation” and were falling away from the living God.
Bear in mind that these people knew about Jesus only from word of mouth testimonies and the indwelling Spirit of God upon their faith. In contrast we gain our knowledge by the written New Covenant which explains the promise of the Fathers. The theme of this book is that the Messiah is the Way. The word eternal appears repeatedly through this book and is contrasted with the temporary nature of the Temple and the priesthood. Another key word is Abetter@. That Messiah has brought a better way. Better than the Law and the Temple sacrifices. This reinforced with the truth that Messiah Jesus is the only way to the Father.
While the four Gospels deal with Jesus= earthly ministry, some have considered this to be the fifth Gospel teaching us about the Messiah=s heavenly ministry on our behalf.
Chapters 1‑4 disclose that Jesus is greater in His person than the prophets, angels, Moses, Joshua, the Sabbath, and priests.
Chapters 5‑10 discuss Messiah as our Priest, greater than the Levitical priesthood, the old covenant, and the daily sacrifices.
Chapters 11‑13 B emphasize that Messiah is greater to give Life.
Through Him and the Life that He imparts we have faith to believe God, hope to endure trials, and the love of God in our hearts to encourage others.
As we study this book we need to realize that though this letter was addressed to 1st C. Jewish believers it applies to us today, both Jewish and Non‑Jewish. All the law and the prophets were written for the days of Messiah. Jewish scholars and sages all held to the conviction that the world was created for the leadership and rule of the Messiah. The writer of Hebrews understands this truth and expresses this shared reality to his readers.