Unknown but commonly assumed to be Paul. The letter was written from Italy by a contemporary and associate of Timothy.
The first century, during the life of Timothy.
The book is a letter addressed to the early Jewish church. It was accepted by the Jewish church but was not accepted into the Canon of the New Testament until the 4th Century.
To instruct Jewish Christians who are familiar with the Law and the Prophets and the requirements of Jewish worship how to live under the new covenant. To place Jesus, the Son of God, in his proper place in the history of redemption.
- The divinity and humanity of Jesus.
- The rest provided by God to his people
- Jesus’ role as high priest.
- The old covenant and its sacrifices and equipment as shadows of the real ones in heaven.
- The superiority of the new covenant to the old.
- The end of sacrifices.
- The righteous live by faith.
- The nature of faith.
- God speaks to us through Jesus 1.1 – 2.18
- A Sabbath rest for the people of God. 3.1 – 4.16
- The high priesthood of Jesus 5.1 – 5.10
- Immaturity, backsliding, and the promise of God 5.11 – 6.20
- Melchizedek and Jesus 7.1 – 8.7
- The new covenant, the end of sacrifice, and the opening of the Sanctuary 8.8 – 10.25
- Condemnation vs perseverance 10.26 – 10.34
- The Heroes of Faith 11.1 – 11.40
- The Great Race and hardships as discipline 12.1 – 12.17
- The two mountains 12.18 – 12.28
- Instruction in Godliness 13.1 – 13.25
In whatever way God spoke to the Jews in the past, whether through creation or by angels or prophets, at the end of history he has spoken to us through Jesus Christ his son. Jesus made and sustains the universe that was formed for his glory. Now he has purified his creation from its sins and he rests at the right hand of God’s throne, representing God the Father to us, and we to him. As reconciled people, we look to Jesus to see God’s radiance and his glory and supremacy.
Jesus is made superior to the angels by:
- His name – he is acknowledged to be God’s son while angels are not.
- The angels all owe him their worship and their service.
Jesus is the anointed king over a righteous and everlasting kingdom in which wickedness is hated and Christ is supreme. Though his creatures wear out, he never changes and rules for ever. The elect serve him, but angels exist to serve the elect.
We heard messages from the angels in the Old Testament and now hear from God’s Son to whom we should pay careful attention because the authority with which angels speak does not compare with that of Jesus’ message of salvation that God confirms. The law of Moses had its punishments and rewards but they are only a shadow of those prescribed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In becoming a man, Jesus fulfilled Psalm 8, being made lower than the angels and then crowned with glory and honour and given dominion over all things. As a man he was made perfect through suffering so that he could bring many sons to glory by making them holy like him and calling them brothers. Being human, by dying for men he destroyed their fear of death. To be God’s faithful servant and high priest, he had to be made like men for his death to atone for them, and so he could help them when they suffered the same temptations he had suffered.
We have a heavenly calling – to be free of the fear of death and to be made holy and glorious – and should fix our thoughts on Jesus our high priest.
Jesus designed and built the house that Moses governed, and has more honour than Moses. In that house, Moses was a faithful servant but Jesus is a faithful son over God’s house.
Psalm 95 speaks of those who were tested in the desert and who earned God’s anger by their hard hearts and rebellious heads and whom God excluded from entering his rest.
They saw what God did and still rebelled so he made them wander in the desert for 40 years. We must learn from their mistakes, to avoid unbelief and disobedience and to encourage one another to do likewise.
We should take careful note of what happened to the Israelites in the desert who were excluded from God’s rest. This is the rest God enjoyed when he completed his Creation. They were disqualified by their disobedience to, and unbelief of, the Gospel. So today when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts like they did, for a Sabbath rest still remains for God’s people when we will rest from our work just as God does from his. Until then we must make every effort to enter that rest. We will enter it by faith or lose it because of disobedience and unbelief.
The keys to the rest God promises us are his word which is living and active, and confident prayer as we approach the throne of grace where Jesus our high priest has passed, who has empathy for us after suffering all the temptations we now suffer.
High priests do not choose their office but are appointed by God to mediate between God and man and to offer gifts and sacrifices to God. The high priest is as weak as the men he represents so must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as theirs, and he can deal gently with those who go astray. God appointed Jesus to that office, in the order of Melchizedek.
Like an earthly high priest, Jesus the man prayed to his Father who could deliver him, with loud cries and tears. He submitted reverently and learned obedience through suffering and so became perfect. He became the source of eternal salvation to those who obeyed him. His high priesthood belongs to an older order – that of Melchizedek.
The Jews, though they should be teachers, still need to be taught and in particular they need to understand the elementary truths of Scripture, and by constant use and effort to distinguish between good and evil.
The Jewish church which should lead the way is unsure about the fundamentals of the faith but need to move on to maturity.
Maturity protects us from gaining knowledge to then fall away and abandon Christ and bring him to public disgrace, crucifying him again, for which there is no remedy or repentance. Land that produces good crops is blessed but worthless land is burned. We can have confidence that a better fate awaits us because of our works of love to his people and that we continue to the very end, inheriting the promise through faith and patience.
There are two things that never change, God himself, and the unchangeable nature of his purpose. Men always swear by someone in greater authority than themselves but God swore by these two unchangeable things, firstly to Abraham who through patience received what was promised, and then to us through Jesus Christ giving us hope which is firm and secure like an anchor to our soul. Jesus passed through the sanctuary before us and is now for ever a high priest like Melchizedek.
Melchizedek was a pagan king whom God chose to be his priest before even he chose Israel, and he reigned in Zion. His name means ‘king of righteousness’ and ‘king of peace’, and Abraham was so awed by him that when he returned from defeating the kings he gave him a tithe of the plunder. Jesus too is a priest who reigns in righteousness and peace.
If Levi was great, collecting the tithe from his brothers, then Melchizedek was greater still. He wasn’t descended from Abraham, Levi’s ancestor, but was blessed by Abraham because he was greater. Even Levi paid Melchizedek the tithe through Abraham.
The Mosaic law was instituted through a priesthood appointed from Levi’s descendants. When the priesthood changed, so did the law, because like Melchizedek, Jesus comes from a different tribe. His priesthood no longer relies on genealogic inheritance or regulation, but like that of Melchizedek, on an indestructible life.
Unlike other priests, Jesus took office with an oath, that he should be a priest forever. The oath makes Jesus a guarantor of a better hope through a better covenant because the Levitical covenant that it replaced was weak and ineffective.
The original law appointed weak high priests who needed to sacrifice for their own sins as well as those of others and because they died there were many of them and their stay in office was brief. Jesus, though is not weak but perfect and stays in office for ever, always intercedes for us, and saves us for ever.
Jesus’ priesthood occurs in the true tabernacle, at the right hand of the Father, and not in a tabernacle made by man.
Jesus’ sacrifice and priestly office at his Father’s right hand supersedes and replaces the gifts and offerings made by the other priests in their sanctuary on earth which is only a copy of His. His ministry – the covenant he mediates – is way superior to theirs and replaces the insufficient covenant of which they are mediators.
Because God found fault with the people under the Old Covenant, he also found fault with that covenant. He made a new Covenant to be their God and to write His laws in their minds and on their hearts. Because they would all know God they will be his people and he will forgive all their sins.
The old covenant set up a tabernacle for worship that was a copy of the true one in heaven. There was a Holy Place that was frequently visited by the priests, separated from the Most Holy Place by a curtain. In this Most Holy Place were the incense altar; and the ark which contained the tablets of the covenant, the jar of manna and Aaron’s budding staff under the atonement cover and the two cherubim of the Glory. Only the high priest could enter, and only once a year, to offer blood to atone for his own sins and the sins of others. Thus, before Jesus the way into the Sanctuary was closed to us and sacrifices were made that could never clear the conscience of the worshippers. Those old regulations do not apply now.
Christ came to be the high priest of the good changes in the law instituted by the Father, through a tabernacle more perfect than the one made by men. Rather than animal blood he brought his own and entered the Most Holy Place once for all to secure a redemption for us that will last for ever. The blood of sacrificed animals and the ashes of a heifer take away the defilement of sin and death and makes the person who offers them outwardly clean. So Jesus’ blood offered to the Father by the Spirit as an unblemished sacrifice cleanses our consciences from the wages of sin, saves us from death, and makes us fit to serve the living God.
Jesus became mediator of a new covenant when he died to ransom people from the sins they committed under the old covenant. He died so that his chosen people could inherit from him the benefits of that new covenant. Even the first covenant required a death before Israel could inherit it and Moses had to sprinkle the book of God’s commands, as well as everything involved with the tabernacle, with blood mixed with water. This was the blood of the covenant that God commanded the people to keep, and there is no forgiveness where no blood is shed.
In the same way that sprinkled blood purified the earthly copies, Jesus’ sacrifice purifies the perfect heavenly originals. Christ entered heaven itself on our behalf and appears for us before the Father. Unlike the high priest who took animal’s blood and did so every year, time after time, he took his own blood and did so only once, at the end of time, to rid us of sin. Men die once and then face judgment but Jesus died once and freed men from the penalty for their sins. When he comes again, he will not bear our sins but will save those who wait for him.
The law is only a shadow of the real things that are coming and its sacrifices were endlessly repeated because they didn’t work but were just an annual reminder of sins. They made no-one perfect because animal blood is not sufficient to remove sin.
So when Christ came into the world he said that God was not pleased with animal sacrifices as prescribed in the law, but Jesus came rather to do God’s will by setting the old law aside and making us holy through the sacrifice of his body once for all.
Though the old priests stood every day to perform their duties over and over again, they never removed sins and they never got to rest. Jesus the new priest offered one sacrifice and then sat to rest at God’s right hand and his feet will rest on his enemies. His sacrifice made perfect for ever those who are being made holy and Jeremiah also testifies that the new covenant would write God’s laws on the hearts and minds of the people and that God would no longer remember their sins and their lawless acts. When sins are for ever forgiven, there is then no need for any further sacrifice for sins.
Now, Jesus has become our great high priest who rules over our house, and we can confidently enter the Most Holy Place through a new opening made by his body and our consciences and bodies are cleansed from guilt by his sprinkled blood. Therefore we can draw near to God in full assurance, grasping the hope he reliably promises us, and spur one another on to love and good works, and because we all need urgent encouragement as the Day approaches and we should meet together regularly.
If God gives us a knowledge of the truth but we reject it or turn away from it, we are like those killed for rejecting Moses’ law. Our penalty is greater if we treat the sacrifice of Jesus lightly, and keep on sinning, for we are left with absolutely no hope. God judges such people harshly and they suffer a dreadful fate. They will expect to be judged and destroyed in the raging fire that consumes God’s enemies. They trample Jesus underfoot and treat his shed blood as unholy, and insult the Spirit of grace.
In the beginning they endured suffering, insults and persecution and stood firmly with others who were treated that way. They sympathised with those in prison and rejoiced when their goods were seized because they had better and lasting possessions elsewhere. So we, like them, should not let our zeal wane, but rather persevere because God will reward us and fulfil his promise when we have done his will. He will come with haste and will be displeased at those who draw back, but the righteous will live by faith and we who believe and are saved are not among those who shrink back and are destroyed.
God provides us with hope and gives us the gift of faith, which is to be sure of that hope and certainty of what we can’t see. For this faith, our forefathers were commended.
The old covenant produced a gallery of heroes of faith, all of whom obeyed God and looked to the future – to distant rather than current events and to future rewards rather than immediate gratification. Faith:
- Extends hope to us and assures us that we don’t hope in vain, that what we can’t see is sure.
- Brought approval to our forefathers.
- Made us understand God’s creation of the universe.
- Makes our sacrifices acceptable and makes us pleasing to God.
You cannot please God without faith – you must believe that he exists and rewards those who earnestly seek him. With it you:
- Act in holy fear.
- Obey without question.
- Endure hardship with an eye to a brighter future.
- Give up treasured possessions while trusting God to give us much more.
These Old Testament people died in faith, despite never receiving what was promised to them; despite having left their own country to dwell as strangers in alien lands, resisting the temptation to return, while looking to the distant promise of a better country. God has no shame to name them citizens of the better city he has prepared for them. Among other things, these people:
- Accurately predicted the fates of their children.
- Defied Godless authorities at great risk.
- Turned their backs on luxury and power.
- Passed through dangers.
- Defied God’s enemies to side with God’s people.
- Achieved great triumphs and endured great setbacks.
Faith made them aliens in the world which was not worthy of them and God commended them, yet none received what was promised and all had to wait until they could be made perfect with us at the end of time.
The Old Testament heroes of faith are only made perfect along with us and are witnesses both of the life of faith and how to live it, and encourage us to live that life. It is as though we run an endurance race, and the medal winners of the past games crowd in to see us compete. To be worthy runners we should get rid of unnecessary weight and interests and should throw off all sin. We should keep our eyes on Jesus who has run his race. For the joy he expected, he endured pain and shame and the dreadful opposition of sinful men, and sat in triumph at God’s right hand.
Jesus’ struggle against sin led to his death but ours does not. Our struggle is easier and our hardships indicate God’s loving, effective, and beneficial discipline as he treats us like true sons. His discipline of Jesus brought him death but his discipline of us brings us life, righteousness and peace. Therefore we should strengthen ourselves, look to our ways, and submit.
It is essential to have peace with all men and to be holy. This means vigilance for the welfare of my brothers, to avoid bitterness, and to shun sexual immorality and godlessness. In particular, unlike Esau, we should place great value on the hope and inheritance that God has given us.
Mt. Sinai, the mountain of the old covenant, was a place of sound, touch, smell and sight with rock, smoke, fire and terrible noise from which God’s people hid themselves in fear. Mt. Zion of the new covenant is pleasant and a place unseen that is perceived by faith. There we meet the living God who judges all men, with his multitudes of angels, the church of his son, and Jesus who mediates the new covenant and whose sprinkled blood cries to God differently to the blood of Abel. Sinai is sensual, but Zion is sensitive.
Those who ignored God’s message delivered by angels at Mt Sinai suffered. So don’t refuse the warning that comes from heaven for God will shake the earth again so forcefully that only those things which are substantial will survive. The kingdom we receive cannot be shaken so we should worship God with gratitude, reverence and awe in a way acceptable to God, because he is a consuming fire.
We should love our brothers, sharing their afflictions as though we suffered them ourselves, and to be hospitable to strangers as though to angels, which some of them might be. God will judge adulterers and the sexually immoral so everyone should honour marriage and keep the marriage bed pure. And because God is with us we should fear neither our enemies nor poverty, being content with what we have. We should consider our leaders and imitate their lives. Jesus Christ is constant and never changes.
Do not be lured to strange teachings or dietary rules for your hearts are best strengthened by grace. Though the high priest brings the blood into the sanctuary and the bodies are burned outside the camp, Jesus suffered outside the city in shame and we should go to him there and gladly bear his disgrace. For our enduring city is yet to come. The sacrifices we now make to please God are:
- Praise from lips that confess Jesus’ name
- To do good and to please others.
Your leaders are accountable to God for you as they keep watch over you. Submit to them or you will bring harm to yourself and misery to them. The author begs for prayer for him to be restored to them, and commits them to the God of peace. Through the blood of the eternal covenant he brought back Jesus our great shepherd and will equip us to do his will and work in us in a way that pleases him.