HebrewsTesting Christian's Faithby Jon Sedlak
March 22, 2011
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
- Hebrews 1:1-2 (ESV)
The letter of Hebrews has tested many Christians in their faith. It's filled with all sorts of Old Testament doctrine, complex sentences and ideas, rich biblical history, and last but not least, no explicit identification of whose mind is behind all of it! Should we let all these obstacles weigh us down? I don't think so. I think that for the Christian, the message of this letter and the testimony of the Holy Spirit's work in producing it is too important for us to just give a cursory glance at it and then set it back on the shelf. The message of the author (whom I won't be sharing my opinion about until half-way through the letter) is also too important. His claim right from the beginning is that God, the Creator of the world, has revealed himself to man in such a way that it will impact the entire future of the world.
Think about God and the Scriptures of the Old Testament for a moment. For the Hebrews, God created the world. Through faith, this was their most basic presupposition about the nature of reality as a whole. God spoke and it was (and continues to be because he spoke it). This is a radical view of the world. Not "radical" in the sense of dangerous, but in the sense of once being blind but now seeing for the first time! But what if you were one of the Hebrews in the days of Jesus and his apostles? What would you think about a man - a human being - who claimed to be God? This might cause you to pause for a moment and wonder how God could simultaneously create the world and actually be the human being standing in front of you.
Just think about the wide variety of ways that a citizen of the Hebrew commonwealth could question this singular claim of Jesus and his apostles. Many people were born and raised at the same time as Jesus, and many people remembered him in diapers (so to speak). How could this child have created the world long ago? Obviously, Jesus didn't claim to create the world and its foundations with his human nature or during the time of his incarnation. So that worry had to be discounted if Jesus' words were to be taken seriously. But maybe there were others who questioned Jesus' words because they didn't want God to become a man like them. Maybe such thoughts didn't appear to be very dignified for the God of the world. Think about this for a moment. If your religious history was inundated with belief in the one true God who transcends the whole Creation of the world and is also angry with the world's sin and rebellion against Him, and you believe that God has spoken to your ancestors from the very beginning of the world through prophets (i.e. sinful and rebellious human beings like yourself), why would you expect God to take upon himself human nature and speak to you, literally, in person?
Well, God did. And this is what the author of Hebrews is clearly teaching in the opening verses of this letter. "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son."
This opening sentence is important for us to remember as we study the remainder of this letter. The author is not interested in simply telling us that God created the world. Like I said before, that was a doctrine of Scripture presupposed by every faithful Hebrew. The author of this letter is interested in teaching his audience that the living and true God who created the world and has revealed himself to mankind (especially to the Hebrew commonwealth) has revealed himself in a way far superior to the ways he chose in the past. The author says that in the past God spoke through a wide variety of ways and a large amount of times, but now he has manifested himself in the flesh. Now he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed to be the heir of all things. This man, Jesus the Son of God, has been appointed by God to become the one who inherits all of God's creation.
To the twenty-first century Christian, this might not mean a whole lot. So what if Jesus has inherited all things. What does this mean for me today, one might ask. Well, this might appear meaningful for us today, but for the Hebrew citizen of Jesus' day, this was a huge claim. In fact, this was a claim of superiority over all things, including their kingdom and their future. And if their hearts were set on keeping the status quo of believing in the superiority of their Hebrew commonwealth or if they were set on restricting God's reign to the promised land of Palestine while remaining distant and angry with the surrounding gentile-world, then Jesus' claims would have been perceived as a challenge to everything they cherished. Jesus would be harming their sacred cow of religious and cultural superiority. Perhaps the author is addressing this very problem among the Christians of the early church.
Interestingly, most scholars of the Christian church today don't agree on what the problem is exactly that the author was addressing. Many scholars have wrestled with the exact meaning and purpose of this letter. Many of them also don't agree about the authorship, the generation in which it was written, and even the audience to whom it was written! Some scholars believe it was written to gentiles. Some think it was written in the second century (the 100's A.D.). Some think that Apollos, Luke or the apostle Paul wrote it, or that we'll never be able to know. As we progress through this commentary on Hebrews, I hope to show that not only is the author of this letter highly likely to be an author of previously known Scriptures, but also that it's audience was a very specific audience within a very specific time frame addressing a specific problem within the days of the early Christian church.