Hebrews 1 – 4
His audience was predominantly the Jews because there was no mention of any Gentile sect or group throughout this well put together Epistle. Considering the language spoken throughout the letter, one need not be convinced that this letter was strictly written to the Jews particularly because of the new thing God has done or is doing; they needed to be enlightened as there was a very high probability that they might want to continue to remain in the Old when the New had already been initiated.
Undoubtedly some of them had responded positively to the message of the New Covenant or the message of the Gospel but they were one leg-in and one leg-out all because of the persecution they faced: they were being ostracized by majority of their brothers. Of course they had moved from their old Judaism belief to the New Covenant, which didn’t go down well with majority of those who refused to respond to the message of the Gospel.
Based on these pressures from certain quarters, the believing Jews were forced to hold on to some of their practices in Judaism. The fact that they couldn’t break off completely made them lose their confidence in the gospel, and subsequently in their Lord. They were in danger of going back into the standards and patterns of Judaism – not of losing their salvation but of befuddling the gospel with Jewish ceremony and legalism. They were in total confusion not because the message was not clear but because of the pressure mounted on them.
Therefore the inspired writer will not fail to address their trials, persecutions and the hatred they faced from their fellow Jews.
One can also make conclusions on the fact that the persecution faced by the Jewish Christians, gave rise to another sect within the Jewish community: they heard the message of the Gospel but never acquiesced to it – they stood on the fence. To the writer, these second set of people could not be regarded as Christians. The fact that you heard the message and didn’t do anything about it does not mean that you have become a Christian. They were more like those who never heard the message of the New Covenant; they were classed as part of the unbelieving group, which makes up the third group of people in this audience.
The writer therefore was faced with a task of addressing three sects and one would do well to understand the message of this Epistle or be in danger of misconstruing or misrepresenting the message spelt out in this book. I was listening to an interview conducted with Bishop Noel Jones and he made a statement. He said, “If FAITH comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God, what happens when the content of what is been said isn’t God?” A misrepresentation of the contents of the Word of God means we have lost the message the Word portrays.
The writer begins the Epistle by helping his listeners to understand that there are different dispensations and administration. No one in the Old Testament had it all; the message was revealed to them in parts. One part led to the other, for example Noah came on the scene and all he did and achieved lead to the spring up of Abraham. One couldn’t live in Abraham’s time as though one were in Noah’s generation or time.
God spoke and dealt with men in divers ways and manner through the vehicle of the PROPHETS – who didn’t have the full picture of what God was doing but were allowed to see and understand some parts of the whole picture until the final Prophet came (Jesus) because He is perfect and the ones in parts were done away with. They had to understand this fundamental information if they must understand the person of Jesus who is also God according to this writer.
This means that God is not going to speak to us again through any prophet because the perfect (Jesus) has come and all God is going to say has been said through His Son. Looking for a PROPHET means that we are trying to pull back the hands of the clock. To know the mind of God is to have a relationship with His Son and His Word (The Bible).
More importantly in the mind of the writer is the presentation of the Gospel in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ and the message of Salvation. He went back in history so that his Jewish brothers could understand what God had done, is doing and what God was about at that present time.
Of all the avenues (angels and persons) that God used in the transmission of His message, never did He (God) refer to anyone as His Son but Jesus. The writer took his audience back in history, making a clear-cut distinction between Him (Jesus) and the Angels (which were so revered amongst the Jews but were mere servants in the eyes of God). He also mentioned Moses, who went down in history as the great man who led them out from the bondage and slavery under the leadership and emperor of the Egyptians, Pharaoh. He will make so vivid that Jesus is indeed greater than Moses who He appointed not as the savior but as a servant in His house.
He warned his listeners (especially those who have heard the message of the Gospel and have yet responded) not to allow an opportunity slip by them because their fathers fell in the wilderness by the same act of disobedience or unbelief. God knew that the generation that died in the wilderness had no plans of looking for the ways of God but were overwhelmed with many perks that the same God offered to them.
The same will happen to them because God has not changed (John 3:16; Hebrews 4:12). Some of the believing Jews will hear that many who have believed in Him have indeed entered into His rest.
He explained that to BELIEVE in the Lord Jesus as our Savior is to enter into His REST and it’s the same as to have FAITH in Him. To refuse to respond as some of the people in his audience have done is to be in UNBELIEF and a refusal to enter into His REST, which is also the same as DISOBEDIENCE. Therefore, the opposite of FAITH is UNBELIEF.
The writer also brought back to their memories the next revered person after angels and Moses – the office of the High Priest who offered sacrifices for the atonement of the sins of the people once a year. He made mention of the best High Priest ever who became not just our High Priest but also became the sacrifice at the same time. At this moment even when the Temple was destroyed (which marked an end to the duties of the High Priest and sacrifices because the final sacrifice was offered), no one offers sacrifices again, more so the office of the High Priest was scraped.
Till this day, the Jews celebrate Yom Kippur as one of their greatest HOLY days but ever since the temple was destroyed, no one offers sacrifice in the office of the High Priest because of the new dispensation and administration. To this, the group who heard the message was warned because the message of Salvation could slip off their fingers.
The message of the first four chapters was to encourage the believers to be confident in the fact that they had entered into God’s rest. He had to remind them that they had a new and better covenant with a new and better priesthood, a new and better sanctuary and a new and better sacrifice.
More importantly, to re-present and explain why sitting on the fence cannot be allowed to the ones who heard and were convinced by the message but had not made a commitment; they were either in or out. The writer was careful enough to present the message of the Gospel from the different perspectives his hearers could relate with even in history.
To the suffering believers, the writer will address but SALVATION was of paramount importance; the idea is GET IN FIRST BEFORE WE DEAL WITH THE OTHER ISSUES.
“If I do not have a guide that is infallible, I will soon guide myself, for I will have to do so after all; I will have to be correcting the blunders of my guide perpetually, but I am not qualified to do that, and so I am worse off than if I didn’t have any guide at all. Sit down, reason, sit down, thoughts, and let FAITH rise up” – C.H Spurgeon
Keep it right here as we continue from where we stopped in our next edition (Chapter 5)