Themes of The Book of Hebrews
1. Superiority of Christ
But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.
2. Change of Priesthood
Hebrews 7:11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
3. The Quick Coming of the Lord
For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.
4. The New Covenant
Hebrews 12:24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
5. Warning against Apostasy
If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
6. Call to Faithfulness
Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.
7. Overcoming Suffering (Endurence)
Hebrews 10:32 But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;
8. The Vanishing of the Old Covenant
In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.
9. The Last Days
Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
Hebrews needs to be read and understood in it’s first century context. The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish believers to encourage them to remain stedfast and faithful to the New Covenant. The suffering of these believers was caused some to revert back to the Old Covenant, and they were being warned of the danger of apostasy. The superiority of Christ and the New Covenant and the passing away of the Old Covenant is emphasis. they were encourage to live by faith and endure until the coming of the Lord, and promised that he would not tarry.
The Old Covenant world was waxing old and was about to be changed like a garment.
And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:
They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;
And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.
This was prophesied by Isaiah against the system that persecuted his church. This system would be eaten as a garment by a moth.
Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their
For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.
Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?
The Hebrew believers no longer were connected to earthly Jerusalem, but had come to the heavenly Jerusalem.
For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
This was all spoken in light of the impending judgement (fire) that was coming upon Jerusalem and the Old Covenant system. The Hebrews instead were receiving a kingdom.
But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
For our God is a consuming fire.
In light of internal evidence, historical accounts, and other witnesses from scripture, I would argue that, as the Jewish age was drawing to a close, the Book of Hebrews was written as a final warning to professing Jewish Christians not to reject entrance into the kingdom of God by apostataizing from Christianity just before God’s covenental wrath was to be violently poured out on the unregenerate, rebellious nation of Israel during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
A clear, early reference to the nature of the coming of the kingdom which also provides backgound information regarding the era in which the Book of Hebrews was to be written can be found in the Book of Malachi. The prophecy presented by Malachi brought a number of charges against the nation of Israel concerning their relationship to God and a warning that the coming of their long-awaited Messiah will bring fiery judgement upon them.
“Behold, I send My messenger. And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when he appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s soap. (Malachi 3:1,2 NKJV).
Malachi’s prophecy warns the Jews that even though they delighted in the soon coming of the Lord, many would not be able to stand when he appears. His appearance would be “sudden” and he would come to “His temple” as a judge. J. Stuart Russell writes, “The temple was the center of the nation’s life, the visible symbol of the covenant between God and His people; it was the spot where ‘judgement must begin,’ and which was to be overtaken with sudden destruction.” 1
Malachi closes his short book with another prophecy of the coming of the Messiah and His forerunner which he ends with the words, “lest I come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:6b NKJV). The Jews would be given a period of time in which to repent of their rebellion against God, but their land would be stricken with a curse if they did not. Russell states, “The full import of this ominous declaration is not at once apparent. To the Hebrew mind it suggested the most terrible fate that could befall a city or a people. The ‘curse’ was the anathema, or cherim, which denoted that the person or thing on which the malediction was laid was given over to utter destruction.”2 These passages from Malachi are a foretelling of the fall of Jersalem and the destruction of the temple, events which occurred shortly after the writing of the book of Hebrews.
John the baptist, Christ, and the apostle Paul also warned of impending wrath. John preached regarding the coming of the Messiah, “His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:1 NKJV). Such a separation of “wheat” and “chaff” occurred with the destruction of Jerusalem. Those who were followers of Christ heeded His warnings to them (see Matthew 24:15,16) and fled just before the Roman army invaded, but the unbelievers were left to face the invasion without the covenental protection of the God they had rejected. The epistles of Paul contain illustrations of this distinction between the true spiritual Jew (ie the Christians) and false Jews. Examples of this distinction in Paul’s writings can be found in the Book of Galatians.
The synoptic gospels are filled with Christ’s warnings of the wrath to come. Probably the most well known of which is the olivet discourse of Matthew 24 and parallels which we cannot look at in detail here. However, Christ was very clear in His descriptions of how the present, unregenerate generation would end. This generation would hear and reject the teachings and miracles produced in the ministries of John the baptist, Christ Himself and also the apostles. Of the generation present at that time, Jesus advised, “on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Able to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:35,36 NKJV).
Internal evidence suggests the Book of Hebrews was written in part as a warning to its original audience just a short time before the fullfilment of these prophecies of judgement would occur. The Book of Hebrews contains some of the strongest worded warnings found in the New Testament outside of the synoptic gospels. These warnings contain an application to all readers throughout all ages but had a very real, pending application to its original audience. Hebrews 2:3 states, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which was at the first began to be spoken by the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him” (NKJV). Clearly this passage applies to everyone who has ever lived, yet notice the author’s use of terms such as “we” and “us”. He also pinpoints his own generation by stating that they had heard the gospel through those who had heard Christ themselves. His warning here can certainly apply to the eternal torment awaiting in the hereafter for those who reject Christ in all ages, but history has provided us with a foretaste, a concrete example, of the wrath to come through an event that occurred during the lives of those the apostle was addressing. This event exemplified the reality of the wrath of God against those who stand in opposition to his kingdom. (Timothy Miller)