Hebrews – Lesson Five

Fix Your Thoughts on Jesus

Lesson Aim:       To continue to develop our list of “suggestive problems” of those Christians who received the Hebrew epistle in order to understand the level of their spiritual degradation


We will want to keep in mind where we are, or where we are not, in our study of Hebrews.  We are not reading on the level of what this document “means” to us.  In fact, we are not even reading on the level of what it “meant” to the recipients.  We are still seeking to develop our hypothesis about “what was going on” where this letter was received.

In our previous studies we have understood the author to say they had at least two specific problems.  One, by reading Hebrews 5:11 – 6:12, we understood they were “slow to learn” to the point they needed someone to teach them “elementary teachings.”  They, “like a farmer’s field” had received many blessings; however, their growth at the time of this writing was not complimentary to the care they had received from Jesus.  Compare Luke 13:6-9.  They were still functioning as a church in the area of helping one another.  They were not maturing in the area of training to “distinguish good from evil;” consequently, they could not think about mature subjects such as “righteousness.”

We found a second specific problem stated by the author in Hebrews 10:32-39.  They had lost, or were losing, their confidence in God’s program for themselves “in Christ” to be His children eternally; consequently, they had become impatient with “discipline by tribulations.”  In 12:5, we learned they had forgotten they were sons of God.  This may be saying their faith in sonship as their true identity was fading; therefore, they were no longer willing to undergo the rigorous tribulations necessary for developing character like Jesus.  To understand God’s present discipline for developing Christians as His eternal children see chapter twelve, verses four through thirteen.  To understand the program in which the Hebrew Christians were once willing to be disciplined read chapter ten, verses thirty two through thirty four.

In our last lesson we began to make a list of suggested problems.  We will continue to develop our list in this and in the forthcoming lessons.  Upon completion we will compare and merge this list with our specific list of problems in order to obtain a provisional picture of what the situation was where this document was received.  Remember specific statements over-ride suggestive statements.  After we have a provisional view of what was going on where this letter was received, we can make our literary analysis.  That is, we can analyze what was being said to that situation.

In Lesson Four we heard the author say, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”  2:1.  The author did not say the Hebrew Christians were guilty of these things.  This remark is an example of a suggestive statement.  Consequently, as we consider these suggestive statements along with our specific information, we can begin to gain a better view of the spiritual level of their specifically stated problems.  Remember, he also warned that no one could expect to escape God’s punishment if they ignored His message.  This may indicate their attention to spiritual things were at the “warning level.”


Let us now follow the author’s style by moving with him to his next choice of a well known character from the Old Testament.  Moses is the man.  Please read Hebrews 3:1-6.  The three elements we noted in our last lesson are present.  In the first element of the writer’s style he acknowledged they knew Moses was a great servant of God.  In the second element Jesus is eulogized by showing the powerful dissimilarity in His and Moses’ association to God’s house.  Jesus is God’s son over His house.  Moses was a servant in God’s house.  The third element contained the author’s exhortation for the recipients.  Christians are God’s house.  Suppose the author had stopped there, we might think the recipients were doing well, but note his warning.  “If we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.”  3:6.  Remember, we have heard the writer say to the Hebrew Christians that they specifically had a confidence and perseverance problem.  They may have been shrinking back and being destroyed (10:35-39).

These Christians may have been boasting about their hope in what Christianity offers to the faithful; however, they may have been functioning on a low level of courage caused by weak faith in their hope.  They may have been proclaiming themselves to be God’s house; however, their “hold” may have been slipping.  Thus the author has used the terms “drift away” and “if we hold on” in his exhortations (2:1; 3:6).  These terms may help us understand the recipient’s level of degradation more intimately.

We should take note that we have “passed over” a great amount of content in chapters one and two.  Let it be stressed that we are not reading the letter at this time.  We are doing historical and literary analysis.  After we form our hypothesis about what was going on where the letter was received, we can then read the letter as it was written to the recipients.  Of course, our hypothesis must be correct, or at least, in the “ball park.”

However, since we are following the style of the writer, be aware that much of the content in chapter two is still being presented in relation to angels.  Also, the priesthood of Jesus, with Himself as the sacrifice for sin was introduced in chapter two.  The author “gets to” this content by saying that Jesus did not come to help angels – it was for Abraham’s descendants (2:16).  These descendants are members of the church of the firstborn; therefore, the household of God, and the “heavenly Jerusalem.”  12:22, 23.  In chapter 5:1 – 10:18, the author will promote Jesus’ priesthood and all it can accomplish for Christians because of its superiority in power and quality over the Levitical priesthood.

Now, let us return to our task of trying to get a better understanding of the problem to which this document is dedicated to solving.  The author continues to make use of his “three element” approach.  Please read Hebrews 3:7 through 4:16.  These Hebrew Christians were well aware of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness and their hope of entering God’s rest.  The “drawn out” discussion here is about the rest God promised His people.  Where is this rest to be enjoyed?  Is it in the land of Canaan?  No!  The author asserts that a rest does remain for His people.  The way to God’s rest is through Jesus.

The third element, his exhortation in the form of a warning is interspersed throughout our text, 3:7 – 4:16.  In chapter three verse twelve and following the author warns them about harboring an unbelieving heart. They needed the encouragement of one another, as a church, or household, to avoid being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  A hard heart is the main cause for a Christian turning away from God.  Finally he exhorted, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, ….”  4:16.

We have understood from the author’s specific statements, these Christians did not have the “stuff” they once had.  He may be suggesting how their hearts had become hardened.  They had been deceived by their own sin.  Deception leads to a lowering of confidence.  What is sin?  Sin is disobedience to God’s word and disobedience has its root in unbelief (3:18, 19).  Most of the Israelites could not enter the land of milk and honey because of unbelief.  These Christians may have been in a similar condition.

In chapter four, verses one and two, we have some more exhortations that may give us insight into their problems and even more, the cause of their problems.  The word preached must be mixed with the faith of the hearer.  Perhaps these brothers for some time had been “faking” their Christian lives. They were hearing the word but not really believing it, yet, outwardly they held to a form of religion.  Perhaps they had begun to disobey God in what they thought were “gray areas.”  As time passed their hearts began to harden, that is, they didn’t feel guilty any more about what they may have thought of as “little” sins.  In Heb. 4:12, 13, the author said, “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.”   Did the author say this to them because some may have been “faking it” and hoping to “make it” after they enjoyed sin for a season?  All of this belongs on our “suggestive list” of problems.

Let us pause our exegetical work for a moment and make a couple of “here and now” assumptions (hermeneutics).  When a Christian understands the word of God, believes the word of God and has faith in it, our own mind and conscience will give us understanding of our spiritual condition.  That is true if we are willing to examine our self to see if our heart is motivated by our faith.  See I Cor. 4:4; 8:12; II Cor.13:5.  We can understand from the Corinthian Scriptures the proper function of our “scanning devises” God implanted in each of us.  The proper function of our conscience depends on how well we understand what is good and what is evil.  We need to get this information about what is good and what is evil from the word of God (Heb. 5:14).  We have learned the Hebrew Christians’ Bible education program was not on this level.

Our lives are transparent to God.  The better we understand and have faith in the word of God the more active His word will function with our mind and conscience to help us understand the changes we will need to make in our personal “attitude of the heart.”  4:12.  Jesus Christ, our high priest, will help us examine ourselves.  We will need to confess our sins we may find.   We will need Jesus’ help to fix what we find wrong (4:14-16).

      Let us return to the “then and there” in chapter four, verse nine, where we hear the author telling them, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.”  However, the present program is – finish the work and then rest.  Now is not “rest time.”  In the following verses he warned them that any disobedience on their part is clearly seen by God, whether they see it or not.  Since they will give an account before this same Person when they finished their work on earth, they should live transparent lives.  Hiding their true “self” was not the answer.  Talking about it was one answer; that is, if they would talk to the right person.  He offered them Jesus Christ who was “able to sympathize with our (their) weaknesses.”  4:15.  Jesus had been through it all and came out a winner.  Jesus was ready to help them, but they needed to “muster up” confidence to approach His “throne of grace.”

If, indeed, the Hebrew Christians’ root problem was an unbelieving hardened heart, then we can understand why the author is using the style he is using in this letter.  In the first element of his approach the author presents the Hebrew Christians with a well known person, or situation, from the Old Testament.  Then he makes a beautiful and powerful comparison between that situation or person and the glory and power of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  In the second element of his style, the author appeals to their former “enlightenment” about Jesus when they had first become Christians.  He tries to rebuild their faith.  In the third element, “or leg” of his style, the author appeals to their power to reason.

Unless his letter is successful in its appeal to bring about reasoning from within their hearts and minds, the author may feel they will continue to drift away from the salvation of their souls.  They must become aware of the spiritual difference between where they were in the former days and where they are at the time of this writing.  The author could have used another style, the style of just telling them they were “off track.”  Parents often use this method of exhortation with our children.  We tell them, and then we tell them over and over again but sometimes we resort to another style in our approach to their problem.  We do what the writer of Hebrews did, we try to get them to reason the situation out.  This is the method that must be adopted when those in trouble become dull of hearing, when they lose faith in the message they have heard so often.  When the situation becomes critical!

Very little evidence can be gleaned from within this letter to show that these Hebrew Christians were, “falling back to Judaism,” as we are often told.  There is a statement made in the author’s general exhortation in 13:11-14 that could go on our suggestive list of doctrinal problems.  In this Scripture the author states that physical Jerusalem no longer has any significance.  He says, “Let us go to Him outside the camp…For here we do not have an enduring city.”  13:13, 14.  Some may have been “holding onto” the old city’s past glory; however, we must weigh this in relation to the specific and other suggestive statements the author made to these Christians.

In fact, we can see how the author is using Old Testament subjects and persons in the true since that God used them.  Judaism, which is never mentioned in this document, is a false doctrine.  It was the doctrine of the Pharisees.  Jesus abhorred it but He had great respect for the Law and the Levitical Priesthood.  See Matthew 23:1-4.  Of course, we understand angels, Abraham and the Melchizedek Priesthood do not fall into the same dispensation, or age, with Moses; however, the author freely made use of the recipients’ knowledge of those in both dispensations in his exhortations.

If these people had a doctrinal problem, it was not nearly as serious as their spiritual growth problem.  If we should attempt to read this document from the “point of view” that it was written because they were falling back to Judaism, we might jeopardize our opportunity to receive divine instructions concerning spiritual problems.  Remember our “point of view” must be developed by our historical and literary analysis.  Most, if not all, of this information can be found in the document we are analyzing.  We are not dependent on commentaries.

In our next lesson we will continue to follow the style of the author and watch him attempt to build up their confidence in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ as He functions on the order of the Melchizedek Priesthood.

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