Hebrews: Introduction – Hebrews 1

Read the Passage: Hebrews 1

Listen to the Redeemed Mind Podcast: Hebrews 1

Author and Date: The authorship of the book of Hebrews is a topic that has long been debated by biblical scholars. Since the book is written anonymously, various names have been suggested for authorship, including: Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Peter, Apollos, Luke, Philip, Pricilla, and Clement of Rome, among others. Many in the early church held to Pauline authorship, and in the second century AD Clement of Alexandria (AD 150–215) indicated his belief that Paul had written the book in the Hebrew language, and that Luke had translated it into Greek. This view was echoed by the church father Origen (AD 185–254), as well. While some have argued against Pauline authorship based upon Heb. 2:3 (cf. Gal. 1:12), given the testimony of many in the early church, Pauline authorship is a real possibility, if not a likelihood. It is probable this book was written between AD 65–69, before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70 (cf. Heb. 10:1–2; 13:10).

Theme and Purpose: As with the author of the book of Hebrews, so the recipients of this epistle are unnamed. The identity of the recipients involves at least three sets of criteria: new converts or mature saints, Jews or Gentiles, and believers or unbelievers. This issue may seem abstract, but it is actually important, for it will impact one’s interpretation of the book’s warning passages (cf. Heb. 2:1–4; 3:7–4:13; 6:1–12; 10:26–31; 12:14–17; 12:25–29), which are a major theme in this letter. In this study, we’ll assume the view of most interpreters, which is that the recipients were a gathering of immature Jewish believers. The author, then, was writing to encourage relatively new Jewish believers to continue in the Christian faith regardless of their present challenges and temptations (cf. Heb. 10:32–33). The author’s method is to repeatedly give “a word of exhortation” (Heb. 13:22; cf. Acts 13:15) to his readers by highlighting the superiority of Jesus’ person and work. As might be expected, this book is known for its exposition of Old Testament passages, especially the Psalms. In fact, the author explicitly quotes the Old Testament at least 42 times in this letter.

Structure and Outline: Of all of the books in the New Testament, the book of Hebrews is the most like the Old Testament in content. No other New Testament book says as much about Jesus’ role as High Priest, the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, Jesus’ Atonement, as well as citing other Old Testament themes such as the Sabbath, tithing, and the sacrificial system, among many other subjects.

  • Introduction (1:1–4)
  • The Superiority of Jesus (1:5–4:13)
  • The Priesthood of Christ (4:14–10:18)
  • The Faith of Believers (10:19–12:29)
  • Conclusion (13:1–25)

Person of Jesus (1:1–2a)

The author begins in Heb. 1:1 by noting that while God spoke to his people in “time past” through “various ways,” God’s chosen method of communication in the New Testament era (i.e., “these last days” [Heb. 1:2]) is through His Son, Jesus Christ. Of course, the “time past” is the 1,800+ year period of the Old Testament, roughly from the time of Job (ca. 2200 BC) to that of Nehemiah (ca. 400 BC). The “various ways” include: the created order, prophets, Urim and Thummim, casting of lots, dreams and visions, supernatural signs, angels, and the like. Note that from the very beginning of time, God has been speaking. However, Jesus is a unique form of divine revelation, for Jesus is both God Himself and the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to redeem His people. Moreover, the revelation of Jesus is superior to all other subjective forms of revelation, for Jesus’ life is recorded in the objective Word of God.

Power of Jesus (1:2b–4)

In Heb. 1:2b–3 the author lists seven descriptors of Jesus that reveal the uniqueness of the person of Christ. These are: (1) He is the heir of all things, (2) He is the instrument of creation, (3) He is the brightness of God’s glory, (4) He is the true image of God, (5) He is the sustainer of the universe, (6) He is the Redeemer of mankind, and (7) He is the ascended Lord. In regard to Jesus being the heir of all things, the church is His inheritance, which the Father promised to Him before time began (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24–28; Eph. 1:18; Titus 1:2). Note that Col. 1:15–18 is a similar passage, as here Paul writes, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created . . . . He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.”

Position of Jesus (1:5–14)

Beginning in Heb. 1:5, and running through Heb. 4:13, the writer begins to develop an important theme—that is, Jesus is better than everyone and everything. In Heb. 1:5–2:18 the writer builds a case that Jesus is superior to the angels. Note that the writer uses the term “better” thirteen times in this epistle in describing Jesus’ preeminence. In Heb. 1:5–14 the author cites seven Old Testament passages to prove Christ’s superiority over the angels (i.e., Ps. 2:7; 2 Sam. 7:14; Deut. 32:43 [Ps. 97:7]; Ps. 104:4; Ps. 45:6–7; Ps. 102:25–27; Ps. 110:1). The author’s argument here can be summarized as follows: Jesus is better than the angels because He has a better identity (cf. Heb. 1:5), He alone is to be worshiped (cf. Heb. 1:6), He has a superior authority (cf. Heb. 1:7–9), He has a superior essence (cf. Heb. 1:10–12), and He has a superior destiny and role (cf. Heb. 1:13–14).

Application Questions:

  1. Should the anonymity of the author and the recipients of the book of Hebrews cause a problem for modern readers?
  2. Does God still speak in various ways today? If so, by what means, how often, how reliably, and to whom?
  3. Have you thanked God recently that He reveals himself to mankind? How can we know that the Bible is living, active, and profitable to read?
  4. How should we view the modern infatuation with angels in the church and world? Where do angels rank among God’s created beings?
  5. Do you trust Jesus to “uphold all things by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3) or are you trying to control the details of your life on your own?