The Letter to the Hebrews for me is one of the most exciting in the whole Bible. Why? Because it shows and develops how the Old Testament/First Covenant looks ahead to the New Testament/New Covenant, and that God is not going back to what was, but is moving on now that the Messiah has come. To the Jew first, then to the Gentiles.
As a Jewish believer, to whom this letter is particularly written, it says clearly that a new and better way has come with Yeshua/Jesus, and that our lives as Jewish believers is not to go back and start over again with those things that are so “Jewish”, but to go on in real and living faith now that the promised King and Savior has come, and that the former things are passing away: not cancelled, but becoming obsolete; not passed away, but passing away. (Similarly, the State of Israel today is not the fulfillment of prophecy, but God is fulfilling prophecy towards its determined end and fullness.) Yeshua is our life and our hope, and we have a new and living way in our relationship with God our Father.
It is not certain who wrote this letter, despite many scholars suggesting their best opinions. But that it is part of the canon, we can be sure that it is written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit: it is the Word of God. It is addressed “to the Hebrews”, which would be understood to mean to Jewish believers, just as were the epistles of James and of Peter, the apostle to the Jews. Using the term “Hebrews” takes us back to Abraham, who is the first person to be called a Hebrew. (Gen 14:13) [also Joseph; Jacob’s family in Egypt; the people of Israel in King Saul’s day; Jonah] Abram, whom YHVH called to leave his family and country, and to go to a land that He would show him, was not a Jew. Abraham crossed over from Mesopotamia across the river (Euphrates) to go to the promised land. But he is not only the father through whom the Jewish people would come through his grandson, Jacob/Israel, but Abraham has become the father of all who believe in their heart in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whether they are Jewish or Gentile.
The Hebrew word for Hebrew connotes crossing over, passing through. Eber’s name (Gen 10:21; 1Chr 1:17-28), an ancestor of Abraham, carries the root of the word, and Abraham – with all others called to believe in and follow the call of the Everlasting God, the God of the Hebrews – waited with faith for the city built by God. We are passing through this world, strangers and sojourners – pilgrims – on our way to the heavenly city and inheritance: to Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem. So this letter is written for all whom God has called to follow Yeshua/Jesus on the way home to our Father’s house, where our citizenship is.
It is possible that this letter was written by Paul. Jesus commissioned Paul to speak to Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. (Acts 9:15) Peter possibly refers to it. (2Pt 3:15-16) The letter was written some time before 70AD, because the letter refers to the Temple and its sacrifices as still active. The Holy Spirit through the writer was weaning the new believers among the children of Jacob/Israel from their “mother’s milk” to enter into full maturity as children of God – not only children of Abraham or of Adam — as they walked by faith as free men and women in the largely pagan world.
Persecution was strengthening against the followers of Yeshua/Jesus, and the letter strongly exhorts and encourages them to be inspired by the “heroes of the faith” who had gone before them: do not seek to avoid persecution by going back to the religion that rejects and denies that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of God, even YHVH God in the flesh. Do not practice whatever “old religion” that you have been called out from which rejects the truth of who Jesus Christ/Yeshua the Messiah actually is. Do not go back, but go on! Do not sit neutral, but go on in faith, identifying with Jesus! Do not become an enemy of the cross and of the new and living way that God has given us in Messiah.
This epistle, which was first written as an exhortation to Jewish believers, needs to be ‘heard’ and applied by all believers who have been born-again by the Holy Spirit from Above. The writer identifies with his fellow believers, and includes himself in the exhortation. (Heb 12:1-2) The writer also assumes that the readers are familiar with the Old Testament/Tenach Scriptures, which we ought to be, too. Otherwise, we can not really connect with all of the examples and explanations of the lessons in the Bible which God gave through Israel to the Church/Body of Messiah.
The New Covenant in the blood of Yeshua is superior to the former covenant and the blood of animals. It is not a renewed covenant, but new! Yet there is much continuity in that God is going to bring to complete fulfillment (of every jot and tittle, as Jesus said) all that is written in the Torah and the Prophets – both literally and spiritually.
The Letter to the Hebrews speaks much on the high priesthood of Jesus, after the order of Melchizedek (Ps 110), which is superior to the Levitical priesthood under the Torah through Aaron. Jesus intercedes for us now (Jn 17:15, 20) as He is alive forevermore, and because He knows and understands our suffering and needs, having become as one of us in His humanity, sympathizing with us. This epistle presents the believers as a family of priests who worship God, and serve one another. Believers have open access to God our Father, Yeshua having come to open the way through His death and resurrection and return to His glory that was His before the world was. (Jn 17:3-5)
This letter to the Jewish, and to the non-Jewish, believers in the truth of God’s Word presents Yeshua/Jesus as far above, far superior to, the angels and holy men of God and every created thing: angels and men worship Him, for He is indeed Deity/YHVH God, not merely divine.
This letter is to Jewish believers who might be hoping to avoid persecution by staying in, or by going back, too much in their Judaism. It is also for Gentile believers who might hope to avoid persecution by remaining in or going back too much to whatever religion (including any particular Christian denomination), or national or tribal culture, or secularism that Jesus has called you out from. This is often in the hope of not being rejected by our family or friends, or career paths. We do not want to offend them, or our culture, or our own nation. But maybe we are offending the Yeshua/Jesus? Jesus is outside every camp, and calls us to identify with Him and other disciples of His there, bearing His reproach.
God is moving on in His plan of redemption. We want to move on in faith with Yeshua/Jesus, who has gone before us, not going back to what is passing away. We are Hebrews passing through this temporary world in our temporary bodies. The Holy Spirit and our love for Jesus above all will enable us to attain all of the promises which our Father has given us. Amen!
This article originally appeared on Streams in the Negev, December 10, 2022, and reposted with permission.