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by Ger de Koning
This letter is called by someone: the letter of the opened heavens. You will discover how justified this description is. In this letter the writer is directing your attention to an opened heaven. And what do you see there, or better said, Who do you see there? Christ. You get to see the Lord Jesus in many glories. Both in His Person and in His offices (i.e. His official services) there is a variety of His glories. You will see His glories as God and His glories as Man, for He is both perfectly and truly God and perfectly and truly Man.
Although the name of the writer is not mentioned, this way of presenting the Lord Jesus just gives us all reason to presume that Paul is the writer of this letter. Like no other writer he shows us in all his letters the glory of the Lord Jesus as the glorified Man, while He also fully maintains His Divinity. Paul does not mention his name as writer of the letter, in order to catch all the attention for the Lord Jesus. If he would have presented himself as an apostle at the beginning of the letter, he would then have drawn attention to himself too, and that would not be appropriate here. Besides, the Lord Jesus Himself is presented as Apostle in this letter (Heb 3:1). That too makes it inappropriate for Paul to present himself in that way. Therefore, from now on, I will not mention his name, but speak of ‘the writer’.
There is another letter where the writer doesn’t mention himself and that is the first letter of John. The reason for that is the same as for this letter: it is the intention of the Holy Spirit that all light shines on the Lord Jesus.
The letter is written to the Hebrews, that means to Jews who have accepted the Lord Jesus as the Messiah and who have believed in Him. Their unbelieving fellow countrymen looked at Him as a deceiver whose crucifixion was justified. They had rejected Him. They treated the believing Jews as apostates who had abandoned the religion of their ancestors. They persisted in keeping the outer temple services and the offerings and customs that belonged to those services. At the same time their hatred towards their believing fellow countrymen was revealed.
They also pointed these believing fellow countrymen at the visible and tangible temple service and they mocked them, because they believed in what was unseen and intangible. They furiously resisted against the believing Jews by persecuting and mocking them. Therefore the writer of the letter – that is in fact the Holy Spirit through the writer – is doing his best to present the believing Jews all the glories of the Lord Jesus in heaven. Although they did not see Him, their faith was therefore not poorer. Their faith, on the contrary, was enormously richer.
In the letter the writer shows that the whole Old Testament worship service has been fulfilled in Christ. You will see that the sacrifices of the Old Testament have found their fulfillment in the sacrifice of Christ. In that way the priesthood of Aaron is also replaced by the priesthood of Christ. Next to these similarities there are also contrasts. Look at the sacrifices. Those were repeated again and again, while the sacrifice of Christ is made for once and for all, so that it is not needed to be repeated. With Aaron you see the same. Aaron was a sinful and mortal high priest, but Christ is the sinless and eternal living High Priest.
Therefore the Christian worship service, wherein Christ and His completed work are central, is far better than the Jewish service. In the letter the better things of Christendom with respect to that of Judaism will be dealt with. The word ‘better’ (or ‘more’) occurs thirteen times in the letter with a total of nineteen times in the whole of the New Testament. You read for example about: better things, better victims, a better hope, a better promise, a better resurrection, a better covenant, a better inheritance, a better country.
Now you should not think that it was easy for the believing Jew to abandon the old and familiar religion, which was even given by God. They were familiarized with it from their childhood and now they had to turn their back on all that splendor and impressive glory. An event out of Peter’s life shows us how difficult that was. He was a Jew to his bone marrow. The Lord really had to make great efforts to liberate him from his old thinking (Acts 10:9-16).
Perhaps you know from your own experience how hard it is to change certain religious habits and thoughts, which you were familiarized with. To the believing Jews holding on to the old things was a hindrance to grow in the new and better things. Therefore the writer presents the glory of the new and better things, so that it will be easier for them to abandon the old things.
His arguments were not meant for the unbelieving mass of the Jews. Therefore he did not address them. These people were holding on to the outward forms. By name they were God’s people and they even boasted on that. However, their relation to God was only formal, without any inward desire to Him and to obey Him. Among the mass, however, there were believers, who were standing in a real relationship to God by faith. They had acknowledged their Messiah in Christ. The letter was addressed to them with the purpose on the one side to liberate them from an earthly religion and on the other side to affirm them in their new and heavenly relationship with Christ.
The letter shows the heavenly character of Christendom in an excellent way. That’s what makes this letter very significant in our days. Throughout history Christendom has lost its heavenly character more and more. It has been reduced to a worldly system. Many forms of Christendom consist of ceremonies and religious rites, which are often directly copied from Judaism. In that way the Judaic religion, which has become meaningless to God, has come back.
Therefore this letter is extremely important for you too. In this way you learn to look at Christendom through God’s eyes. Through this letter you will recognize how God wants to be served and worshipped, so that at the same time you may reject everything that is not in accordance to that.
The reason why this letter is written is because a certain weariness had arisen among the believing Hebrews, due to persecution and scorn, while what they were hoping for still had not come. Their hands became weak and their knees lame and the inclination arose to fall back to that which they had abandoned. They could not cope any longer with the pressure and their hope for a quickly return of the Messiah was not fulfilled.
Therefore the writer presents to the Jewish Christians the loftiness of Christendom in comparison to Judaism. Until now they had connected Christendom to Judaism. Thousands of Christians were zealots for the law, but God was about to destroy the Judaic system completely. The writer also presents many believers who had also lived by faith, though without receiving any of what they were looking forward to. They persevered through to the end.
Above all, the writer draws attention to the Lord Jesus and His perseverance. It seems that even He too did not receive what He came for. Still He kept on going and is waiting now in heaven for the time the promises will be fulfilled. Time and time again their attention – and also yours – has to be turned to Him. That’s the way to be connected to heaven and to see that your calling is a heavenly calling. You are called from heaven and you are called to heaven. Your path is the path to heaven.
You cannot see that (yet) through your natural eye and therefore it is faith that it really comes down to. Because you still live on earth and because your attention is very often drawn by things you can see, there is a great risk that you might give in to those things. However, if you look to the Lord in heaven by faith, you will not waver, but you will be strengthened in your Christian position. By looking to Him you learn to bear the cross of scorn and contempt on earth.
In summarizing, it can be said that in the letter the writer points to the Lord Jesus, to His life on earth, to His sacrifice on the cross, to His glorification at the right hand of God and finally to His future.
In conclusion to this introduction a global outline of the letter:
1. The personal glories of Christ and His place in heaven (Hebrews 1-2).
2. The heavenly priesthood of Christ, to sustain His people (Hebrews 3-5).
3. The sacrifice of Christ, that made you fit for heaven (Hebrews 6-9).
4. The access you now already have to heaven where Christ is (Hebrews 10).
5. Examples of faith that lead to Christ in heaven (Hebrews 11).
6. Sanctification and grace on the way that leads to Christ in heaven (Hebrews 12).
7. Jesus Christ, yesterday and today the Same and forever (Hebrews 13).
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13