The Key to Hebrews

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Most of my friends know I love coffee. So, it only goes without saying that, naturally, I’m drawn to the one book in the Bible where God teaches men to brew coffee, “He-brews.” (Lol, yes, I really am the funniest guy I know). 🙂

4027007xIn all seriousness in my second year in Seminary, I took an exegesis of Hebrews class. My life has never been the same. Why study Hebrews?

The student of Hebrews learns christology, ecclesiology, anthropology, sanctification, substitutionary atonement, eschatology, suffering, and perseverance all intertwined into a beautiful tapestry drawing and teaching us to love Christ all the more. God marries the theological and the practical. God shows why theology matters to daily life.

When someone thinks, “Christ doesn’t understand my temptation.” I think, “Don’t you know your High Priest was tempted in all things yet without sin” (Heb 2:14-18; 4:14-16)?

When I hear, “Why do I need to attend church?” “For your perseverance and sanctification (Heb 3:12-13; 6:9-12; and 10:25).

Hebrews challenges us to understand the significance of Christ’s nature (both being fully man and fully God) and His role as High Priest. It brings balance to our theology helping us understand both sides to the same doctrine: perseverance and God’s preservation. It examines perspectives to the atonement unlike any other NT book. Are you suffering? If not now, you will (Phil 1:29). Hebrews prepares you to suffer well. It teaches us regarding the great hope we have in Christ and why He is supreme! This book has encouraged me for six years and I have so much more to learn. I need its message daily in my life.

I habitually hear,lord-of-the-rings-free-middle-earth-map-with-color-cccc-page-254377 “Hebrews is hard to understand. How do I make sense of it?” [1] The key to understanding Hebrews is knowing the big picture. Knowing the big picture gives us a map of the argument. It is like reading Lord of the Rings with a map of Middle Earth in hand. Here are three tools to help readers better understand Hebrews.

First, Hebrews is a formal, logical argument progressing and building precept upon precept. This means you have to know the big picture and see how chapters relate to each other. Sometimes the author introduces a subject and elaborates on it three chapters later. I suggest when you read Hebrews, outline the argument. [2] Treat it like a law brief. Spend more time reading and rereading the book on a macro-level, always aiming to know the big picture. Scan, re-scan, read, and re-read the book in one sitting before diving into the details. In my experience, people err by digging into the details before knowing the forrest. They get lost in the minutiae feeling trapped in a blizzard with no cell reception.

imagesSecond, know the main point. What is the main point? Hebrews 10:19-25. The author provides a clear thesis sentence to the entire book. It is the main point of the book.

10:19-21 summarize the first ten chapters of the book while verses 22-25 introduce key concepts in the second half of the book. In other words, the argument flows into and out of this sentence. If you understand this one sentence, you will understand the main argument. Look at the thesis sentence in two parts. [3]

A: “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,”

B: “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

Breaking down part A into four subsections reveals the author’s summary of his discourse.

  1. We have confidence to enter the holy place.” In 9:24, God tells us the “holy place” is his presence. This is God’s perspective of the cross. We typically remember Christ hanging on a tree before the crowds, but Hebrews emphasizes Christ on the altar before His Father.
  2. The blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, His flesh” summarizes Chapter 9-10:18 — the superiority of Christ’s body as a sacrifice. (9:11-14). The blood of bulls and goats can never take away sin (10:4). But Christ’s does (10:10, 14).
  3. a great priest” Hebrews explains Jesus role as High Priest in more detail than any other book in the Bible. Why did Jesus have to come in the flesh? To be our High Priest (2:5-18; 4:14-16). What is significant about the High Priest? (5:1-10). How can Jesus be both High Priest, King, and not a Levite? Answer: the prophecy of Melchizedek (7 – 8).
  4. Hebrews 3:1-6 explains Jesus relationship to “the house of God“. It is a house Jesus built, not just maintained.

The first half of the book teaches us that through Christ we have direct access to God. His perfect, blameless sacrifice on our behalf brings us into His presence. He currently serves as our High Priest ministering to us daily. Therefore, the natural response of believers requires us to pursue Christ and cling to the reality of this truth (10:22-25). Your homework: read and find where the author unfolds part B of the thesis in 11-13.

If you are tracking with this article, great! You will understand Hebrews. The third lesson to help you understand Hebrews, know the author stops his argument to exhort the audience five times. Commonly referred to as “warning passages,” each warning becomes more severe. If we removed the warning passages from the book, the argument would still makes sense. Mark these five paragraphs:

  1. 2:1-4
  2. 3:7-4:13
  3. 5:11-6:20
  4. 10:26-31
  5. 12:18-29.

Each warning passage uses the first generation of Israel as an example of how not to persevere (see Numbers 11-14). Also try reading chapter one then skipping 2:1-4 straight to 2:5, the content and context is similar. “Are they (angels) not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation . . . For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking” (1:14; 2:5). Observe the similar content surrounding the third warning, “. . . according to the order of Melchizedek (5:10) . . . For this Melchizedek, king of salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham . . .” (7:1).

Hebrews took me a while to grasp. I have much more to learn about this book. I am continually amazed by what the Lord teaches me through it, and how He uses it to orient my life. If you have questions, comments, or better solutions, please let me know. Ultimately I pray the Lord finds us running the race with endurance honoring Him.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1-2)

[1]  There are two other questions I am commonly asked. First, can you explain Melchizedek? Yes, the prophetic role of Psalm 110 explains Melchizedek and Christ.  Second, do you really think Paul wrote it? Yes, Paul wrote it, but I will not die on this hill.

[2] Hebrews breaks down into two parts. Part 1 covers 1-10:18. Part 2 covers 10:26-13. Part 1 primarily focuses on theology. Part 2 advocates practical, living it out exhortations. This is extremely similar to Pauline thought reflected in Ephesians 1-3; 4-6; Colossians 1-2; 3-4; Galatians 1-5:12; 5:13-6; and Romans 1-11; 12-16.

One key to outlining Hebrews is following the “therefore” sentences. The author often summarizes and advances the argument around these statements. 3:1 is a great example summarizing Christ as messenger (ch 1) and High Priest (ch 2).

[3] FF Bruce, William Lane, Homer Kent, and the ESV Study Bible all agree this passage serves, in some capacity, as a thesis statement.

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Jason Vaughn

About Jason Vaughn

Jason is a graduate of the Master’s Seminary and the pastor of Cornerstone Las Vegas, a Grace Advance church plant. He loves Christ, his wife Kyla, sometimes his kids :), the church, missions, people, and coffee. You can also follow him on his personal blog at shepherdthesheep.com.