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Lectures in Biblical Theology
of The New Testament
by C. D. Cole
Lecture 14 of 23
The Book of Hebrews by Dr. C. D. Cole
The book of Hebrews has been called God’s final message in Judaism. The identification of both writer and readers has led to much debate. All are agreed that it was addressed to Jews—to Jew who had embraced Christianity—but where? Some think it was addressed to Jews in Palestine; some say to Jews in Asia Minor and Greece; still others think it went to Jews in Rome. Lenski has a very good argument that it was sent to the seven synagogues in Rome and to the Jews won by Paul while a Roman prisoner who made up largely of Gentiles. These Jewish Christians according to Lenski had not been persecuted as severely as the members of the original church because they were not as distinctly Christian. Rome burned in the year 64, and in October of the year, Nero blamed the Christians for the fire, and many of them suffered martyrdom. But there is no evidence in this book that those to whom it was addressed had suffered severely. The author says, “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.”
Who is the author of this book? It appears nobody knows for certain. The title in the King James attributes it to Paul. In the ARV it is anonymous. Eusebius considered Paul as the writer. Tertullian called it the epistle of Barnabas. Clement of Alexandria thought that Paul wrote it and that Luke translated it into Greek. Origen says that the thoughts were Paul’s, but added, that who wrote if God only knows. Luther guessed that Apollos wrote it, and Dr Robertson concurs. Ramsay suggests Phillip. Dr. B. H. Carroll was sure that Paul wrote the book, while Dr. Conner, of the same school, was just as sure Paul did not write it. As one reads all the different views, he is tempted to agree with the contention, that all books might ought to be burned, since no two of them agree.
I. The Structure of the Book
It seems to be a carefully written treatise with a short letter appended. It does not begin like a letter, but ends like a letter. And the author calls it a letter, for he says “I have written a letter to you in a few words,” (Heb. 13:32). And this cannot apply to the whole book, for it is rather lengthy.
The book is made up of instruction and arguments, interspersed with exhortations and warnings. There is instruction concerning salvation and there are arguments to prove that Jesus Christ is the only Savior, followed by warnings against turning away from Him to any other savior. Consider some of these warnings. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him?” (Heb. 2:3). “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence unto the end,” (Heb. 3:14). Persevering faith in Christ is proof of being a partaker of Him. “Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest any of you should seem to come short of it, (Heb. 4:1). There is a promise of rest—the rest provided by Christ—and we should make sure that we enter into that rest. “But we are not of them who drew back into perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul,” (Heb. 10:39). To reject Christ as Savior is to draw back unto perdition: to believe on Him is salvation. Let everyone be sure that he is in Christ.
II. The Theme and Purpose of Hebrews
Every book of the Bible has a prominent and dominant theme, and correct interpretation depends upon one’s knowledge of the theme and purpose of the book. The theme of Hebrews is the superiority of Christianity to Judaism. To prove his thesis the writer compares everybody and everything connected with the law covenant to Jesus Christ, who is a better covenant. The writer proves that Jesus Christ is better than angels that were used in giving the law. Jesus Christ is the unique Son of God, while angels are only servants to God and His children. He proves that Jesus Christ is better than Moses the lawgiver. Moses is said to be faithful in all his house as a servant in the house, while Jesus Christ is the builder of His house and he Son who is over it. He proves that Christ is superior to the priests of the Aaronic order. The Aaronic priests were sinful men and had to offer first for themselves before they could make offerings for the people: Jesus Christ was sinless and needed no offering for sin. The Old Testament priests offered the blood of bulls and goats, which could not take away sins; Jesus Christ offered Himself with spot to God. The Old Testament priests had to repeat their offerings, while Christ offered Himself once for all: “For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified,” (Heb. 10:14). The Old Testament priests never got to sit down, for their work was never finished, and there was no chair in the most holy place of the temple where they sprinkled the blood on the mercy-seat; while Christ after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God, (Heb. 10:11-12). HALLELUJAH WHAT A SAVIOR!
The purpose of the book was to check the movement back to Judaism. Those Jews who had embraced the Children religion at once became the targets of persecution, and were under great pressure to return to the old covenant as a way of life and salvation. And so the writer warns that that refusal to trust the sacrifice made by Christ is to be without any real sacrifice for sins, thus leaving them to face a certain fearful looking for judgment and fiery indignation, which would devour the adversaries (Heb. 10:26-27). The whole burden of the writer’s arguments and appeals is this: Keep you fain in Christ Jesus.
III. The Person of Christ
Hebrews presents the Lord Jesus both in His essential Deity and also in His mediatorial perfections. And these must be distinguished. In His essential Deity He is Creator and Sustainer of the whole universe. He is the effulgence of God’s glory and the express image of His person. As Son He is of the same essence as the Father. He could truly say, “I and the father are one.”
To mediate between a holy God and sinful men, the eternal Son became a man. “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people,” (Heb. 2:16-17). As a successful Mediator, the Lord Jesus has been appointed heir of all things. As Mediator He by Himself purged us from our sins. As Mediator He did the work of High Priest and was made perfect through sufferings, (Heb. 2:10). Personally, the Lord had to be made perfect through sufferings. He could not be a perfect Savior without going to the cross. It would not be becoming to a thrice holy God to save sinners without the suffering of His Son, (Heb. 2:10).
IV. The Priesthood of Christ
The greater part of Hebrews deals with the doctrine of the priesthood of Christ. His saving work was done as a priest. It was as a priest that He put away our sins. Let us now consider His qualifications for the priesthood.
First of all, He had to become a man. A priest represents men before God, and must have something to offer that will appeases the offended justice of God. And since the children He represents are partakers of flesh and blood, “he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death that is, the devil,” (Heb. 2:14).
The priest who saves must himself be sinless. Jesus Christ had to make no offering for Himself as others did. “For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, and made higher that the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once when he offered up himself,” (Heb. 2:26-27).
As our High Priest, Christ is an abiding Priest. He could not have been a priest after the order of Aaron for He was not of the tribe of Levi, but of the kingly tribe of Judah. The Old Testament priests died, and were succeeded in office, but Christ is a Priest Who ever liveth. Christ is a Priest after the order of Melchisedec, who appears in history without genealogy. As A man Melchisedec had parents and was born and died as other men, but there is no recorded genealogy, and no account of his birth and death; and this was because he was to be a type of Christ in His priesthood. Melchisedec was both a king and a priest—king of Salem and priest of the most-high God (Gen. 14:18). And so Christ is both King and Priest—He is a priest on a throne. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower that the angels for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor,” (Heb. 2:9). And Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of priests in which every believer is a priest and Christ is the High Priest. John breaks out in beautiful doxology: “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever,” (Rev. 2:5b-6).
The priest who saves must have an offering that will make the believers perfect. He is both the offerer and the offering. “For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified,” (Heb. 10:14). This is legal or judicial perfection—the perfection of justification and not the perfection of glorification—the perfection of standing and not perfection of state or of a sinless character.
V. The Doctrine of Apostasy
There is a doctrine of apostasy taught in the Bible and particularly in Hebrews. And this doctrine does not militate against the doctrine of the preservation of the saints. And we need to emphasize that it is saints—born again believers—who are preserved and who persevere in faith. However, professing Christians may and do apostatize. History is filled with stories of apostates. The Roman Emperor Julian is known in history as Julian the apostate. This man was taught the Christian religion as a child, but when he became emperor of Rome, he renounced Christianity and opposed it. The apostle John has much to say about apostates. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out from us, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us,” (1 John 2:19). An apostate is one who embraces Christianity and poses as a Christian for awhile, and then turns back to his old way of life in unbelief. John says that there were some in his day who had united with the Christian group, and then manifested that they did not really belong with them by going out from them. And he says that if they had really been of them, they would have continued in fellowship with them.
The book of Hebrews emphasizes that the evidence of saving faith is persevering faith. The writer says that we are members of Christ’s house, “if we hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end,” (Heb. 3:6). And again, “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end,” (Heb. 3:14). “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for he is faithful that promised,” (Heb. 10:28). And again the writer exhorts, “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward,” (Heb. 8:35). And recognizing that some have apostatized, he says, “But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul, (Heb. 10:39).
The warning against apostasy in the Hebrew letter are addressed to men as professing Christians, and not to man as certainly born again believers. And God’s ministers today need to sound the same warnings. All is not gold the glitters; all is not silver that shines; every cow that moos does not fill the pail; and every church member does not persevere in faith. Paul said to the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (2 Cor. 13:15). And Peter calls upon his readers to make their calling and election sure, which means, to make sure they were really saved (2 Pet. 1:10). The writer is fearful that, as Baptists, we have too often left the impression that everybody who has had some sort of religious emotion is sure to go to heaven. Those who are really born again will never turn from Christ to any other Savior.
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