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V. LIFE IN A HOSTILE WORLD 12:14-13:25
This final major section of the book perhaps grew out of the writer’s reflection on the Greek text of Proverbs 4:26-27. He specified how his readers could "make straight paths for your feet" (Hebrews 12:13).
"In the final division of the homily the writer provides the members of the house church with a fresh orientation for life as Christians in a hostile society. The new people of God are engaged in pilgrimage to the city of God. This world is not their home; their goal is ’a kingdom that cannot be shaken’ (Hebrews 12:28) or ’the city that is to come’ (Hebrews 13:14). The metaphor of the journey to the city of God characterizes men and women of committed faith as pilgrims and implies an understanding of Christian life as commitment to pilgrimage. It also implies fidelity to the covenant." [Note: Ibid., pp. 433-34.]
The sections of this final division all contain these themes of pilgrimage and covenant privilege and obligation. As in the first division (Hebrews 1:1 to Hebrews 2:18), there is much emphasis on God speaking and the importance of listening to His voice.
"The writer offers his readers advice on how to live as a community of faith, between well-founded hope and the dangers which surround them." [Note: Ellingworth, p. 661.]
B. Life within the Church ch. 13
The writer concluded his written sermon with specific exhortations, requests, and greetings to enable his readers to continue to worship God acceptably under the New Covenant (cf. Hebrews 12:28).
"The emphasis in this last section of the book is on living by faith. The writer presented the great examples of faith in Hebrews 11, and the encouragements to faith in Hebrews 12. In Hebrews 13, he presented the evidences of faith that should appear in our lives if we are really walking by faith and not by sight." [Note: Ibid., 2:326.]
The four evidences he identified are enjoying spiritual fellowship (Hebrews 13:1-6), submitting to spiritual leadership (Hebrews 13:7-9; Hebrews 13:17; Hebrews 13:24), sharing in spiritual wisdom (Hebrews 13:10-16; Hebrews 13:18-19), and experiencing spiritual Lordship (Hebrews 13:20-21).
The last chapter has two parts. Hebrews 13:1-21 develop the idea of thankfulness expressed in service motivated by the fear of God, which the writer introduced in Hebrews 12:28. Hebrews 13:22-25 constitute a personal note to the readers that lies quite outside the argument of the homily proper.
When love for Jesus Christ falters, love for the brethren normally fades as well (cf. Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:7; 1 John 2:9).
Instructions regarding morality 13:1-6
1. Pastoral reminders 13:1-21
This section consists of parenesis: reminders of what the readers already knew or were doing or of what they knew they should avoid. As in the Mosaic Law, moral directions (Hebrews 13:1-6) precede religious instructions (Hebrews 13:7-19).
Abraham entertained angels when he showed them hospitality (Genesis 18). Hospitality (Gr. philoxenia, lit. love to strangers) is a concrete expression of Christian love today, as it was in the first century (cf. 3 John 1:5-8). [Note: For an overview of hospitality in the early church, see J. H. Elliott, Home for the Homeless: A Sociological Exegesis of 1 Peter, pp. 145-50, 165-200; and G. Bornkamm, Early Christian Experience, pp. 123-93.] Abraham received a special blessing because he showed hospitality, and we may, too (cf. Matthew 25:35). All Christians should practice hospitality (Romans 12:13), especially Christian leaders (Titus 1:8).
Have you ever entertained an angel? Since the word "angel" means "messenger," in one sense any time we entertain someone who brings a message from God (e.g., a visiting preacher or missionary) we entertain an angel. In the sense of entertaining a spirit being who comes to us in human form with a message from God, perhaps some have that privilege even today.
The prisoners in view were evidently Christians who were suffering for their testimonies (cf. Hebrews 10:34; Matthew 25:36; Matthew 25:40). Often prisoners in the Roman world had to depend on friends outside the prison to provide them with food and other necessities. The existence of a significant number of prisoners supports a date for writing after A.D. 64, when an empire-wide persecution of Christians began. In July of that year, Emperor Nero set fire to Rome and blamed the Christians, resulting in much persecution of Christians. The readers might suffer the same fate as these prisoners themselves one day since they were still leading a mortal existence. Paul urged Timothy not to be ashamed of him when he was a prisoner (2 Timothy 1:8). All the Christians in the province of Asia had abandoned Paul then except for those in Onesiphorus’ household (2 Timothy 1:15-18).
Christians also need to maintain a high regard for marriage and to remain sexually pure. God’s judgment will follow the sexually impure (cf. Hebrews 12:29). Under the Old Covenant the Israelites were to punish fornicators and adulterers, but under the New Covenant God does it.
"How does God judge fornicators and adulterers? Sometimes they are judged in their own bodies (Romans 1:24-27). Certainly they will be judged at the final judgment (Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:15). Believers who commit these sins certainly may be forgiven, but they will lose rewards in heaven (Ephesians 5:5 ff). David was forgiven, but he suffered the consequences of his adultery for years to come; and he suffered in the hardest way: through his own children." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:327.]
Greed has lured many believers away from a life of faithful discipleship, as has sexual temptation. We need to cultivate a spirit of contentment so we do not apostatize. Contentment really has nothing to do with how much money we have, though the world generally thinks it does. We have the Lord, and with Him we have all we need (cf. Luke 12:15; Philippians 4:11; 1 Timothy 6:6-10). Furthermore, He has promised never to abandon us (Matthew 28:20).
"One of the results of persecution has been the loss of property (Hebrews 10:34). In these circumstances, the Christian response is not to grasp all the more eagerly at material wealth, but to rely quietly on God’s provision, even in the face of human opposition." [Note: Ellingworth, p. 698.]
The example of our spiritual leaders is one we should follow (cf. Hebrews 12:1; Hebrews 13:17; Hebrews 13:24). They, like the heroes of faith in chapter 11, set a good pattern. The outcome of their life, if they had died, was that they were now with the Lord and already beginning to enjoy some of their eternal inheritance. They may have been the founders of the church to which this letter went. [Note: Guthrie, p. 270. Cf. Hebrews 13:17.] People tend to forget or to idolize their former leaders, but we should remember them and their godly teachings and examples (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
Instructions regarding religious duties 13:7-19
"Within the structure of Hebrews 13:7-19, Hebrews 13:7-9 and Hebrews 13:17-19 constitute the literary frame for the central unit of explanatory parenesis in Hebrews 13:10-16." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 526.]
Jesus Christ is the content of the message that the leaders had preached to these hearers (cf. Hebrews 13:7). [Note: Philip E. Hughes, A Commentary . . ., pp. 570-71.] That message and its hero is what this writer had urged his readers not to abandon. The leaders had preached the Word of God to these readers, and that preaching culminated in Jesus Christ.
"Jesus is not the object of faith [in this verse or in Hebrews, according to this writer], but the supreme model of it." [Note: G. W. MacRae, "Heavenly Temple and Eschatology in the Letter to the Hebrews," Semeia 12 (1978):194.]
"’Yesterday’ the original leaders preached Jesus Christ, even as the writer does now; the present time can tolerate no other approach to the grace of God (Hebrews 2:9). ’Forever’ recalls the quality of the redemption secured by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 5:9; Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:14-15; Hebrews 13:20) and of the priesthood of Christ (Hebrews 7:24-25): it is ’eternal.’" [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 530.]
Another less probable interpretation of this verse sees Jesus as the leader who is perpetually available in contrast to the leaders who had preached to these readers but who were now dead. [Note: Bruce, The Epistle . . ., p. 395.] Jesus had also died and gone to heaven (cf. Hebrews 12:2). His example of faithfulness, as expounded in this epistle, should be a continuing encouragement to all believers. He is as faithful to His promises now as He ever was, and He always will be faithful to them.
We should reject teaching that deviates from apostolic doctrine. This, too, is a strong safeguard against apostasy. The terms "varied and strange" describe a variety of heretical positions. Rather than accepting these ideas we should receive strength by taking in God’s grace that comes through His Word (Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 Peter 2:2). This strength comes from spiritual rather than material food. Evidently one of the strange teachings prevalent when this letter originated was that certain foods or abstinence from certain foods resulted in greater godliness (cf. Colossians 2:16; 1 Timothy 4:1-5). This was, of course, what Judaism taught too. Judaism taught that eating food strengthened the heart in the sense that when the Jews ate they gave thanks to God and thus brought Him into their experience (cf. Psalms 104:14-15). [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13, pp. 533-36.] However, Jesus’ death on the cross is the source of both the saving and sustaining grace of God by which we experience strengthening.
"This, I think, is the key message of Hebrews: ’You can be secure while everything around you is falling apart!’" [Note: Wiersbe, 2:278.]
Believers under the Old Covenant ate part of what they offered to God as a peace offering (Leviticus 7:15-18). However believers under the New Covenant feed spiritually on Jesus Christ who is our peace offering. Those still under the Old Covenant had no right to partake of Him for spiritual sustenance and fellowship with God since their confidence was still in the Old Covenant.
"Christians had none of the visible apparatus which in those days was habitually associated with religion and worship-no sacred buildings, no altars, no sacrificing priests. Their pagan neighbors thought they had no God, and called them atheists; their Jewish neighbors too might criticize them for having no visible means of spiritual support." [Note: Bruce, The Epistle . . ., p. 400.]
Roman Catholics have tended to see in this "altar" a reference to the mass, whereas Protestants have viewed it as a reference either to Christ Himself or His cross or a heavenly altar. I prefer Christ Himself since it is through Him that we are to offer a sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15; cf. 1 Peter 2:5).
Far from defiling those who associated with Jesus Christ, our sin (purification) offering, associating with Him leads to holiness. Here the writer compared Jesus to the sin offering that the Jewish high priest offered on the Day of Atonement (cf. Leviticus 16:27).
". . . in Hebrews the expression ’high priest’ customarily signals that the field of reference is the annual atonement ritual (cf. Hebrews 5:3; Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 8:1-3; Hebrews 9:7; Hebrews 9:11-12; Hebrews 9:24-26)." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 540.]
Jesus’ death outside Jerusalem fulfilled the Day of Atonement ritual in that the high priest burned the remains of the two sacrificial animals outside the precincts of the wilderness camp. It also fulfilled the ritual of that day in that Jesus’ execution outside the city involved the shame of exclusion from the sacred precincts. It symbolized His rejection by the Jewish authorities. [Note: Morris, p. 151.]
"This verse may be regarded as the crux of the conclusion, a final direct appeal to the readers to identify themselves wholly with Christ." [Note: Guthrie, p. 274.]
Christians bear Jesus’ reproach when we identify with Him. He suffered reproach, and so do we, when we identify with Him. This was especially true of the original Jewish recipients of this epistle. They needed to cut their emotional and religious ties to Judaism. [Note: Bruce, The Epistle . . ., p. 403; Philip E. Hughes, A Commentary . . ., pp. 580-82.] Jerusalem was no longer their special city (cf. Hebrews 13:14). There is nothing wrong with Jewish Christians maintaining Jewish customs provided they do not rely on them for favor with God.
"The exhortation to leave the camp [i.e., official Judaism] and to identify fully with Jesus introduces a distinctive understanding of discipleship. Jesus’ action in going ’outside the camp’ (Hebrews 13:12) set a precedent for others to follow. The task of the community is to emulate Jesus, leaving behind the security, congeniality, and respectability of the sacred enclosure [cf. the Israelites’ camp in the wilderness wanderings], risking the reproach that fell upon him. Christian identity is a matter of ’going out’ now to him. It entails the costly commitment to follow him resolutely, despite suffering.
"In the context of the allusion to Golgotha in Hebrews 13:12, this summons to discipleship implies following Jesus on the way to the cross . . ." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 543. Cf. Guthrie, pp. 274-75.]
The city we seek is the heavenly Jerusalem. Our present habitation on earth is only temporary (cf. Hebrews 11:26).
Even though God does not require periodic animal and vegetable sacrifices from us, we should offer other sacrifices to Him. These sacrifices include praise (cf. Hosea 14:2), good works, and (even, especially) sharing what we have with others (as well as giving Him ourselves, Romans 12:1). We should offer these sacrifices of the New Covenant continually.
"In systems like Judaism sacrifices were offered at set times, but for Christians praise goes up all the time." [Note: Morris, p. 151. Cf. Moffatt, pp. 236-37.]
The leaders in view are church elders (pastors; cf. Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:24). These shepherds will have to give account to God one day for their stewardship over us. We should make their work now easier for them by being obedient and submissive to them. Will the leaders of your church be able to tell God that leading you was a pleasure when they stand before Him?
The writer confessed to needing the prayers of his brothers and sisters in the faith. He faced the same pressure to depart from the Lord that they faced. He longed to return to them again wherever they may have been living. He believed their prayers could affect God’s timing of his return to them. Hebrews was not originally anonymous since the writer and the readers knew each other.
Elsewhere John and Peter called Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd (John 10:14) and the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). Here He is the Great Shepherd, greater than any in Judaism. This is another expression of Jesus’ superiority over the Mosaic system.
"As the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ died for the sheep (John 10:11). As the Great Shepherd, He lives for the sheep in heaven today, working on their behalf. As the Chief Shepherd, He will come for the sheep at His return (1 Peter 5:4). Our Shepherd cares for His own in the past, present, and future. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever!" [Note: Wiersbe, 2:330.]
Likewise the "eternal covenant" is the New Covenant in contrast to the temporary Old Covenant. Jesus’ blood (death) was superior to animal blood (death) offered under the Old Covenant. This pastoral prayer brings the sermon to its conclusion. Many of the emphases expounded in the epistle come together in this benediction: peace, resurrection and ascension, shepherding, blood, covenant, Jesus, and glory.
These verses express the writer’s prayerful wish for his readers.
"Equip" means to prepare for use (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). The same Greek word, katartidzo, describes elsewhere a doctor setting a broken bone, a general preparing his army for battle, and a fisherman mending his net (cf. Matthew 4:21). It was the writer’s concern that his readers be ready to reign with Jesus Christ. This is the purpose for remaining faithful to God throughout the epistle. Part of our full inheritance (full rest, full salvation) is the privilege of reigning with Him (2 Timothy 2:12). To attain this privilege we must continue to press on toward maturity by following Jesus Christ faithfully rather than turning from Him.
The writer urged his readers again to accept the word of exhortation contained in this epistle rather than rejecting it. It is, after all, a brief word.
"The definite expression ’the exhortation’ is a synonymous designation for the sermon. It referred specifically to the exposition and application of the Scripture that had been read aloud to the assembled congregation. In a fourth-century description of the liturgy for the consecration of a bishop the homily is designated logous parakleseos, ’words of exhortation’ (Apost. Const. 8.5). This appears to be a fixed expression for the sermon in early Christian circles . . ." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 568. See also L. Wills, "The Form of the Sermon in Hellenistic Judaism and Early Christianity," Harvard Theological Review 77 (1984):280 and footnote 10.]
2. Personal Explanations 13:22-25
The closing verses of Hebrews are an addendum to the body of this homiletical epistle. The writer added them because he felt concern for his addressees and wanted to add a few personal remarks.
The writer obviously composed this epistle during the lifetime of Timothy and after some confinement that Timothy had experienced. Evidently the writer and Timothy were close associates in the Lord’s work. This is almost certainly a reference to the Timothy referred to elsewhere in the New Testament. This is the only Christian that the writer mentioned by name in the entire epistle.
The term "leaders" refers to local church leaders (cf. Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:17). The letter probably went to one house-church. The evidence indicates that most first-century churches had more than one leader (cf. Titus 1:5; Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17; Philippians 1:1). It would be strange if the writer sent this letter to someone in a church who was not a leader.
"The multiplicity of house churches suggests why diversity, disunity, and a tendency toward independence were persistent problems in the early Church. Unity and organization became matters of urgent concern. The members of the several house churches in a particular center needed to keep in touch with one another. It was of vital importance that the greetings of the writer be conveyed to ’all the saints’ . . ." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 570. Cf. F. V. Filson, "Yesterday": A Study of Hebrews in the Light of Chapter 13, p. 76.]
"Those from Italy" probably refers to Christians who had left Italy rather than to believers currently living there (cf. Acts 18:2). [Note: Westcott, pp. 451-52. Cf. Tenney, pp. 234-35.] If this is true, the writer probably wrote from somewhere other than Italy.
The writer closed with a final benediction and prayer that God’s grace would be with his readers in the sense that they would receive strength from it (cf. Hebrews 2:9; Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 10:19; Hebrews 12:15; Hebrews 13:9). This would happen as they persevered faithfully in the truth.
This entire last chapter is an admonition to worship God acceptably, according to the New Covenant.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Hebrews 13". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent