The Global Message of Hebrews
The message of Hebrews for the global church is that Jesus is better than every other thing believers are tempted to fall back into, such as their formers ways of sin, culturally comfortable patterns of thinking or living, or non-Christian ethical codes. In the midst of adversity, believers are to fix their eyes on Jesus, live by faith, and run the race that is marked out for them.
Hebrews and Redemptive History
The book of Hebrews displays a clear and profound awareness of redemptive history. Through its quotations from the Old Testament, interpretation of past events, and reflection upon saints of old such as Moses or Melchizedek, Hebrews presents rich teaching on the story of salvation that has culminated in Jesus Christ.
While Hebrews makes many individual points relating to redemptive history, all this serves to make one basic point: Jesus is superior. Jesus is better than the prophets (Heb. 1:1–2), better than the angels (1:5–14), better than Moses (3:1–19), better than the priests (4:14–5:10; 7:23–28), better than Melchizedek (6:19–7:19), and better than all previous sacrifices (9:11–14; 10:19). Through Jesus, God has brought about the longed-for new covenant (8:1–13; 9:15).
Hebrews therefore views all of history as falling into two broad eras. The first is the old age, which has been abolished with the coming of Christ. The second is the new age, which has dawned with the coming of Christ. Jesus Christ is the hinge, the turning point of all of human history. Those who have been ushered into the new age would therefore be foolish to turn back the clock and try to enter once more into the old age.
Universal Themes in Hebrews
Jesus and suffering. Throughout Hebrews the author encourages his readers to stand fast in the midst of their troubles (e.g., Heb. 10:32–33). He does so by connecting the suffering of his readers to the suffering of Christ. “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (12:3). Jesus himself has experienced whatever suffering believers experience. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). The result of Jesus’ enduring all our weakness is that he is uniquely qualified to represent his people before God. Jesus “had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest” (2:17).
There is deep comfort for the church in what Hebrews says about Jesus and his suffering. We learn that our suffering, especially when it is due to our loyalty to Jesus, is not experienced alone. He himself has gone through it. Jesus draws near to his people who are in the darkness of adversity. He is the friend of sufferers. He knows what it is to be rejected (Heb. 13:11–13). Suffering is not inherently good; it is a result of the fall and will one day be completely eradicated. But in the meantime, believers around the world take heart, knowing that whatever pain is upon them is a pain for which Jesus, our great high priest, cares deeply and which he himself has experienced. And it is a pain that can only work to produce greater glory for those who are united to Christ (Rom. 8:17–18; 2 Cor. 4:17–18).
The danger of apostasy. “Apostasy” means to fall away from faith in Christ. More than any other New Testament book, Hebrews addresses the danger of Christians failing to persevere by faith to the end (Heb. 2:1–4; 3:7–4:13; 5:11–6:12; 10:19–39; 12:1–29). The writer describes faithful discipleship as a race that requires endurance (12:1). On the one hand, perseverance is not a self-generated effort that is wholly up to us, as a way of earning our final acceptance. Indeed, as much as Hebrews calls on believers to persevere, it comforts believers with the glorious truth that Jesus has offered the sacrifice that fully pays for our sins and guarantees our eternal acceptance (9:1–10:18). On the other hand, this book calls on Christians to live in a way that honors our Lord and Savior. We must endure (10:36). We must look to Jesus (12:1–2). This will require strenuous earnestness as we labor on toward the end of this race, imitating “those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (6:11–12).
There is deep strengthening for the church today in this call to perseverance. The temptation to quit the Christian life is universal and must be resisted. Our call in the gospel is to fix our eyes on Christ, weathering the storms that threaten to sink us as we journey on through this fallen world. The specific forms of what will threaten our faith will vary culturally around the world. But the call to faith and the Christ whom we trust remain the same.
The Global Message of Hebrews for Today
Endless distractions bombard believers around the world today. The news media and volatile economies provide an endless stream of temptations to worry. The Internet and the array of devices through which to connect to it are more widely available than ever before. Potential wars and actual wars rage within nations and between nations. Natural disasters continue to remind us how fragile life is, despite the massive technological and medical advances of recent decades. And in the midst of this, we are dealing with the more immediate challenges of simply keeping our marriages and families together.
As twenty-first-century Christians, it can be difficult to “look to Jesus” (see Heb. 12:2). And yet beneath every reason for discouragement or distraction, our great High Priest lives and stands, interceding for his brothers and sisters from every tribe and people and nation. He has experienced all our suffering and more. He knows our weakness. Let us run the race of faith. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (10:23).