Anna is a pastor, writer, and theologian who obtained her BA in religion in '06, Diploma of Ministry in '16, and Diploma of Divinity in '17.
The Book of Hebrews
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.”
Those were the words of the author of the Book of Hebrews. The book was written during the reign of Nero, after the burning of Rome but before Jerusalem was destroyed. Knowing this bit of trivia makes it easier to understand why Hebrews was written. It was not written to Gentiles but to Jews who were at a crossroads. At the time, Jews were under the legal protection of Rome while Christians were blamed for the great fire of Rome, horribly persecuted, and brutally tortured and killed. It is believed that the apostles Paul and Peter were martyred around the time this book was written, approximately 66 AD. The temptation was strong amongst the Jews that they keep their faith, that they hold on to the traditions and rituals of their fathers. And certainly, renouncing the traditions and comfort of Judaism would have been all the more tempting considering that a conversion to Christianity could mean a prison sentence or even death.
There were many Jews interested in the new sect who still felt a strong pull to the old ways. The author of Hebrews wrote the book in an effort to explain to these Jews why they should give up their old, comfortable way of life, to risk persecution, and even death, and take up the cross of Jesus. The author used the Old Testament as a jumping off point to explain to the Jews why they should choose Christianity over the older covenant. The author filled the book with Old Testament quotes and references to explain to the reader that Christianity is not a rejection or abandonment of the Jewish faith, but the fulfillment of God’s plan. The sacrifice of Jesus rendered the sacrifice of lambs and goats obsolete.
In Hebrews 9:11-14 the author explains to the reader that the old system of temple sacrifice is no longer necessary. “When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, that is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”
The author explained why metaphorically bathing in the blood of Christ is an improvement on the old system of temple sacrifice. Instead of regular sacrifices, Christ died only once to save us from all our sins. Chapter 9:27, 28 he wrote “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.” After the author described why Christ came, he urged his readers to persevere and reminded them why the suffering was worth it. Chapter 10:37-39: “For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” The author quoted the second chapter of Habakkuk; the righteous will live by faith.
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From there, the author draws the focus from the tabernacle to faith. In Chapter 11, he assures the readers that Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. It is here, that some people get confused. They believe that faith in God will lead them to a healthy and prosperous life. The Bible never promises that, in fact, it promises the opposite; “in this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Having a lot of faith won’t necessarily cure cancer or land a person a dream job, but it will please God and ultimately, lead to a much greater reward than anything anyone on earth can dream. Without faith, we learn in verse six, “it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”
Chapter eleven is a veritable who’s who of Biblical All Stars of faith. It lists Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and reminds the reader that some of them did not live to see God’s promise fulfilled, yet they continued to believe. The author mentions Moses and his parents, the Israelites passage over the Red Sea on dry land, the destruction of the walls of Jericho, the prostitute Rahab. He covers Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. These heroes of faith would have been well known to the original Jewish readers, who, no doubt, would have noticed that some of the people, like Samson, were flawed humans, yet God still commended them for their faith. Some of them were persecuted and tortured, but never wavered in their faith. The author notes that the faithful of the list did not receive what they had been promised, but that God had planned something much better. (Hebrews 12:39,40)
Reassurance In Times Of Trouble
It is important to remember that this book was written during the persecution of Nero. Under ordinary circumstance, it would be a difficult task to convince somebody to choose a life of torment over a life of ease. The author was asking a lot from the Jews, but what he promised was so much better. He does not promise them that the Christian life will be pleasant. In the twelfth chapter, the author compares it to a race. Anybody who has ever run a race can attest that it’s not easy. Muscles cramp, the stomach can cramp, it can cause nerve pain down the lower back down through the feet, the heart palpitates, and afterwards a cool down period is necessary. Some people, such as the ancient Philippides, literally run themselves to death. But runners run for the satisfaction of a race completed. They run for the medal that they know awaits them at the finish line. Some races only hand out medals to the winners. Other races hand out finisher medals to anybody who completes the course.
Heaven is the finisher medal, free to everybody who completes the race. Some races are at high elevation over difficult terrain. Some endurance races are hundreds of miles long, while other races are a simple 5k. Those who run a 5k put in as much heart as those who run a 50k trail run, even though the course itself is easier. God asks that no matter the race, we do it with a full heart. Most Christians don’t face persecution or martyrdom, but just because their life is a 5k, doesn’t mean that it’s not an uphill run. In this world there will be struggles but we must “run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-3) We must remain steadfast against all odds and keep our eyes on Jesus.
The author ends the book with a prayer, that the God of Peace, who brought Jesus back from the dead, equip us all with the everything we need to do His will. We are on this earth only a short while, eternity is forever. Through faith, we can dwell in heaven with God Almighty, and it is there we will reap our eternal reward.
© 2017 Anna Watson