Sunday, January 07, 2007

Hebrews - An Overview

I am admonished by great sermons from great preachers who use great passages from the Bible of generally no more than a chapter. I hear great expositions from great expositors expounding on key words from a single verse. I hear great lessons from great teachers that will take similar verses or passages from all over the Bible and tie them together. I've sat in classes in a Bible College and have received great summary sentences to describe entire books and have had single passages relate back to that context. What I have never heard is an analysis of the flow of thought through a book.

Hebrews was written to Jewish believers to encourage them in their faith. but the reasoning that Paul uses to encourage them is often left unexamined. I notice through a casual scan of the letter that Paul spent much time expounding on the way that Christ fulfilled the law. This fulfillment is the same stuff as faith. What does that mean? Let's scan the book and see how Paul reasons:

Chapter 1:
Paul starts by comparing how God once spoke through the prophets to how he now has spoken to us through His Son. He uses a healthy dose of scripture reference to bring to light the divine nature of God's revelation through Jesus Christ. Paul reminds me of the great Bible teachers I mentioned above in his use of scripture.

Chapter 2:
Paul continues to exhort the Messianic Jews to heed what God has revealed in Christ. Again, more scripture reference. At the end of the chapter, Paul starts a comparison between Christ as God made flesh and Christ as the High Priest.

Chapters 3 & 4:
This comparison is something more than simply appealing to what the Jews would understand from their background in the Mosaic law with Levitical priests. It follows the earlier comparison between the prophets of old and Christ that establishes a dichotomy that Paul builds on for the purposes of encouraging the faith of the Messianic Jews. As Paul discusses Christ as High Priest, he also indicates that assent to the activities of this priesthood is something that happens immediately. In other words, action is an immediate activity of faith. Where the activies of priests of old were of a faith in that which would be effective in time yet to come, Christ's activity is not a mere picture. It is effective immediately.

Chapter 5:
While now we have Christ, at the end of chapter 4, Paul talks about how the Levitical activities prior to Christ were under the law merely according to obedience. As such, now in chapter 5, the Levitical priests were of men, but Christ is of God. Men glorify themselves, but Christ is glorified by God.

Chapter 6:
Therefore, the Levitical law is about doing good works to glorify oneself before God, which is infantile. But maturity is about reliance on He who is greater.

Chapter 7:
Although Melchizedek has been mentioned, his role becomes clear here as Paul gives us another comparison as an example of the dichotomy he is establishing.
Paul compares Christ to Melchisedek, where Melchizedek was outside of the Levitical priesthood, no one knowing from whence he came.

Chapter 8:
Paul gives us the main point in that where what Christ has done would be otherwise incomprehensible to us, God has given us the example of the priesthood to understand what important thing Christ is doing although we cannot now see Him. We can know that the old covenant, althought imperfect, serves to show us the new covenant since we do not have a High Priest who is visible to all.

Chapters 9 & 10:
Paul continues to compare the old covenant to the new as yet another example of his dichotomy. He adds the observation that while the old is a picture of the new, the principle of righteousness that makes the old a picture of the new is still a factor in our faith.

Chapter 11:
The classic "definition of faith" given in the first verse is actually one aspect of faith inasmuch as it applies to Paul's Hebrew dichotomy for the purposes of explaining faith through the comparison of the Mosaic law to the new covenant. Just as the law gives us a picture of Christ, our faith is a faith of certainty. We have a picture given to us that we can see so that we can understand what we cannot see: the covenant of Christ that has been written on our hearts. As examples of this faith, Paul offers us the historical accounts of individuals in the Bible who have demonstrated this faith. There is no other reason for these demonstrations except that what Paul tells us is true.

Chapters 12 & 13:
Paul concludes with a smattering of what our response to Christ should be. He writes, "Therefore..." and summarizes the more basic applications of a righteous life of faith.


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