The Seventh in a Series of Sermons on the Book of Hebrews
The author of Hebrews has been relentless in building his case for the superiority of Jesus Christ. Jesus is superior to the angels–he is their creator and they worship and serve him. Jesus is superior to Moses–Jesus is without sin, and the mediator of a better covenant with much greater promises. The Christian Sabbath (the Lord’s Day) has much better promises than those of the Jewish Sabbath–on the Lord’s Day (Sunday) we are given a foretaste of our eternal rest, in addition to being given an opportunity to rest our weary bodies. Beginning in verse 14 of chapter four, the author of Hebrews returns to a theme he introduced earlier in the epistle, the superiority of the priesthood of Jesus Christ to the priesthood of Israel. The author will now spend several chapters demonstrating to his readers/hearers a number of the specific ways in which Jesus’ priesthood is superior to that of the priests of Israel.
As we continue with our series on the Book of Hebrews, this we take up what amounts to the central theme of this epistle–the superiority of Jesus Christ to all those elements in the Old Testament which pointed ahead to the coming of our Lord, yet which served as the heart of first century Judaism. While we don’t know the name of the author of the epistle (he is likely someone well-known in the Pauline circle), and we don’t know which congregation was receiving this letter (likely a struggling house church in Rome or even Alexandria), we do know that this letter was written to church composed largely of Hellenistic Jews who were recent converts to Christianity. Hellenistic Jews (Greek in culture, Jewish in theology) accepted the authority of the LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), and many Hellenistic Jews converted to Christianity during the apostolic age.
The issue which the author of Hebrews is addressing is that many of the members of this church had made professions of faith in Christ and were baptized, but began to wilt under the pressure from their Jewish friends and family, or from the civil authorities. Sadly, many in this church renounced Christ, and returned to the synagogue. Others, apparently, were seriously considering doing the same thing. Therefore, the unnamed author writes this epistle to warn the members of this church about the serious nature of the sin of apostasy. It is no small thing to make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, be baptized in his name, and then renounce him by returning to a religion founded upon the types and shadows which had pointed ahead to the coming of Jesus in the first place.
To make his case, the author repeatedly appeals to the Old Testament (specifically, the LXX, seen as authoritative by his audience), demonstrating how the Old Testament writers spoke of the coming of Jesus Christ and his superiority to those things which Hellenistic Jews found central in the Old Testament. Throughout this epistle we not only see how Jesus was hidden in the types and shadows of the Old Testament, but we, as Gentile readers two millennia removed, are given a lesson in how to read the Old Testament through the lens of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
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