Overview of Hebrews
and Study of Hebrews 1-4
December 16th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Overview of the Letter to the Hebrews

The purpose of the Letter to the Hebrews is to prove the sufficiency and superiority of Christ. The message is more important than the author, but it is useful to know the author in order to have a better understanding of the context. The letter is assumed to have been written around AD 70. For centuries the book was referred to as "The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews," but scholars generally agree that it probably was not Paul who wrote this epistle. The themes are consistent with Paul's writings but the style is different. The author of Hebrews had a style that was more deliberate and planned then Paul, who tended to branch off into tangents. Moreover, Paul identifies himself in all the letters he wrote, but this author never identified himself.

Regardless of his identity, the author intended to get the attention of Christian Jews who were thinking of leaving The Way and returning to their old ways. Given the background of the audience, the author uses a lot of references to the Old Testament. Hence the grounding in our study from earlier in the year will pay more dividends as we read this book. The author may also have been targeting people of a Greek background. The world-renowned New Testament interpreter, William Barclay (1907-1978) explained that the author of Hebrews apparently had background in both Greek and Jewish culture and drew from those experiences to address both audiences (1):

    To the Greeks, the writer of Hebrews said: 'You are looking for the way from the shadows to the reality, you will find it in Jesus Christ.' To the Jews, the writer of Hebrews said: 'You are looking for that perfect sacrifice which will open the way to God which your sins have closed; you will find it in Jesus Christ.' Jesus is the one person who gave access to reality and access to God. That is the key thought of the letter.

We have access to this letter and access to Jesus. Let us take advantage of the opportunities. The book can be divided into two main sections, which we will study over a four-day period, as shown below:

    (1:1-10:18) The Superiority of Christ

      Hebrews 1-4 (God’s Revelation through Jesus) - December 16th
      Hebrews 5-8 (A Superior High Priest) - December 17th
      Hebrews 9-10 (The Mediator) - December 18th

    (10:19-13:25) The Superiority of Faith

      Hebrews 11-13 (Superiority of Faith - and the Hall of Fame) - December 19th

References used for the analysis of this book include the following:

  • Barclay, William, The Letter to the Hebrews, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville Kentucky, 2002
  • Guthrie, Dr. Donald, The Letter to the Hebrews, An Introduction and Commentary, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester England, 1986
  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version , Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993
  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)
  • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)
  • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970
  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005
  • “Sermon Library,” Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT www.norotonchurch.org/sermons/min_sermons.html

Hebrews 1-4 (God’s Revelation through Jesus)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.

- Hebrews 4:15 (NRSV)

Summary of Chapters

In these first four chapters, the author describes God’s revelation through his son, Jesus, who is superior to Moses, the high priests, and the angels. The first chapter begins by noting that God had previously spoken through the prophets, but subsequently spoke through Jesus. He makes clear that Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory” and the “exact representation of his being (Heb 1:3 -NIV).” The author uses references to Deuteronomy and a number of Psalms to explain in a methodical fashion why Jesus is superior to angels. For example, in Hebrews 1:6, the author writes, "Let all God’s angels worship him (NIV)," which is a reference to Deuteronomy 32:43.

In chapter 2, the author warns his readers to pay attention and listen to God’s word:

    It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off. If the old message delivered by the angels was valid and nobody got away with anything, do you think we can risk neglecting this latest message, this magnificent salvation? First of all, it was delivered in person by the Master, then accurately passed on to us by those who heard it from him. All the while God was validating it with gifts through the Holy Spirit, all sorts of signs and miracles, as he saw fit.

    - Hebrews 2:1-4 (MSG)

Chapters 3 and 4 explain why Jesus is superior to Moses and begin the explanation of why he is superior to the high priests:

    Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

    - Hebrews 4:14-16 (NIV)

Reflection and Application

In the Old Testament, we learned that Aaron was the first high priest, appointed by God. The high priest was responsible for atoning for the people’s sins at specified times during the year (See Leviticus 16).

In the New Testament, we learned that Jesus is the great high priest who became our mediator, but he is available 24/7/365 (and 366 days in a leap year). He took on human form, allowing him to experience the same pain and temptations that we do. He existed before the creation of the world, so he has seen it all. He will exist for eternity, so he knows what will come. We should be able to pray to him with confidence that he understands our needs and seeks to reconcile us with his father.

The author described Jesus’ superiority to angels because his audience respected the role of these messengers of God, such as the ones that announced the birth of Jesus. Do people believe in angels in the same way that the early Christians did? What would a modern angel look like? Would he appear with large giant wings like the images of Gabriel depicted in paintings and other artwork or would he like an ordinary man or woman?

Follow the link below to see and hear one image of a modern angel as written and sung by Rob Mathes: William the Angel

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. Do you put an angel or a star on top of your Christmas Tree?
    2. How would that message of Angels resonate in today’s church?
    3. Do you believe in angels?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know you send angels with messages for us - perhaps to tell us not to be afraid. Help us to hear your messages, trust you, and not be afraid.

    Prayer Concern
    State Troopers


    (1) Barclay, William, The Letter to the Hebrews, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville Kentucky, 2002, p5.

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Hebrews 5-8 (A Superior High Priest)

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