This letter was written to Jewish believers who were certain that God had spoken through the OT, but were shaken as the radical nature of Christianity became apparent. Legalistic Jews infiltrated all the churches, and Christian leaders, like the writer of this letter, ministered to the Jewish Christians whose faith was wavering. Christian teaching showed the superiority of Jesus, and how relationship with him promises a full experience of realities of OT institutions could only foreshadow. A study of this fascinating book helps us to understand the OT. But more important, it helps us to realize how completely Jesus meets our every need.
Author: An unknown male
Date: Uncertain. Hebrews is referred to by Clement of Rome after A.D. 96, so it was written earlier than this. Many believe the references to temple worship indicate it was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Background: The author speaks to Jewish believers who had a firm trust in the OT, and a deep affection for the faith and worship of Judaism. The writer constantly compares the old covenant and the new covenant, carefully pointing out the superity of the new. The writer’s arguments help us sense the deep yearning to return to the familiar which troubled Christian Jews who felt cut off from their roots as the church became more and more Gentile.
This yearning is understandable. The first excitement associated with recognizing Jesus as the Messiah had passed. The early return of Jesus, which all expected (Acts 3:19-21), had not yet taken place. There was no mass conversion of the Jewish peopl: many friends and relatives continued in the old ways, enjoying the pattern of worship and the fellowship of the synagogue from which Christians were now cut off. In many cities, the flood of Gentile believers imposed a great strain on Jewish believers who, even though they were spread across the Roman world, had always lived in pious separation from Hellenistic culture.
Perhaps more serious, the authorities were beginning to view Christianity as something other than a sect of Judaism. The Jews practiced a licit (legally recognized and protected) religion, but antagonism to Christians and persecution of believers was increasingly common. All these pressures caused some Jewish Christians to waver, pondering whether they should turn again to their roots.
It is against this background that the Book of Hebrews was written, with the intent of making clear what abandonment of Jesus for Judaism would involve. For Jesus is the fulfillment of all the OT promises. Only relationship with a living Jesus, who ministers today to his people, promises us an experience of God and of all the benefits to be found in knowing him.
Values: Helps us to realize what it means for us to be linked with a living Savior!