Sept. 7 Explore the Bible: Who is Jesus?
Sep 1, 2014
By MARK A. RATHEL
Other than the short letters of 2 Peter and 2-3 John, Hebrews likely is the most neglected New Testament book. The 21st century American church desperately needs to hear and obey the message of Hebrews. As one commentator wrote, “It is a tonic for the spiritually debilitated. … We neglect such a book to our own impoverishment.”
Before embarking into a study of the sermon of Hebrews, we need some background information about the book. The human author is unknown; Christian interpreters throughout history have proposed Paul, Apollos and Luke as possible authors. Hebrews, however, reveals key characteristics of the author. First, he experienced separation from the readers, perhaps because of persecution (13:9). Second, he possessed great familiarity with the Old Testament; Hebrews contains more than 35 quotations from the Old Testament, plus numerous allusions. Third, he was highly educated. His writing style, grammar and language is the finest in the New Testament.
The author addressed a house church of Jewish Christians possibly located in Rome. The biblical text reveals important information about the readers. First, the readers experienced persecution in the past (10:32-34, 12:4). The persecution possibly occurred during the reign of Emperor Claudius in 49 A.D. when he expelled the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:1). Roman historians describe the rationale of the emperor expulsion as disputes within the Jewish community regarding the person of Christ. Second, the believers were spiritually immature (5:13). Third, the church experienced several problems. Some resisted the present leadership (13:7, 17). The author commanded the readers, “Stop being led astray by strange teachings.” Fourth, the house church neglected to “meet together” with the larger body of believers (Hebrews 10:25).
What did the author propose as the solution to the readers’ spiritual immaturity? He exalted Christ as superior over all things! Christian growth depends on our understanding the person and work of Christ. What did the author communicate about Christ in this passage?
First, Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament as well as the climatic, complete and final revelation of God (Hebrews 1:1-2a). Hebrews 1:1-4 is one majestic sentence in the Greek New Testament. The affirmation “God spoke” is the key doctrine of the Christian faith. By God alone may God be known. Humans cannot understand God apart from His personal revelation. He progressively revealed Himself through different human agents (prophets), in different historical periods, through various means (dreams, visions, angelic messengers, miracles, etc.) in the Old Testament. God’s revelation through various prophets, in various times and through different means pointed to the final revelation in the Son. Hebrews describes God’s revelation in the Son as the personal, climatic, final and complete revelation of God. God’s revelation through the Son is superior to the revelation through angels (Hebrews 1:4, 5, 14; 2:2-3), Moses (3:1-6), Joshua (3:7-4:10) and the Jewish priests (5:4). A Son-like revelation is superior because He shines out the radiant glory of God and possesses the same nature as God. No ongoing revelation is necessary; God’s revelation through His son is sufficient.
Second, Christ’s revelation of God focused on the messianic roles of prophet, priest and king (Hebrews 1:2b-4). Hebrews 1:1-2 highlight Jesus as the Prophet. As King, Jesus inherits all things and serves as the creative agent of the universe and ages. King Jesus sustains all things, thus creation is a universe (one). More importantly, the Son sustains by bearing all creation toward its goal. The exalted resurrected Son sits on an authoritative throne. As High Priest, Jesus made purification for sins. The cleansing agent is the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:22). The defiled, guilty human conscience or heart is that which the blood of Jesus purified. The Greek term for purify is the foundation for our English word “catharsis.” The blood of Jesus provides a heart/conscience catharsis or purging
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