The book of Hebrews is one of the most Christ-centered, Old Testament-saturated, faithfulness-inspiring books of the New Testament and yet it is also one of the most feared by students of the Bible. Hebrews is a difficult book to interpret. It covers topics like angels, the mysterious Melchizedek, apostasy, the heavenly sanctuary, covenant-mediation, and the nature of the new covenant, and all by the hands of an unknown author. It’s no wonder many Christians would rather spend their time in the Gospels and Romans than do the difficult work of exegetical digging in a book like Hebrews.
But the diligent student will reap many rewards by lingering long over this epistle. This post is my effort to encourage you in your study of Hebrews by giving you four reasons why you should spend your mental energy on this “word of exhortation” (Heb 13:22).
Hebrews will help you understand the Old Testament. If you want to learn how to interpret the Old Testament, read Hebrews. The Old Testament permeates every page of this epistle. Chapter 1 opens with seven explicit citations of the Old Testament and all of them find their meaning in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The author of Hebrews was not a proof-texter. Neither did he rip Old Testament texts out of context to force them to say what they were never originally intended to say. Instead, the author of Hebrews shows us what the Old Testament is all about, and it is all about Jesus. He may not be telling us how to read the Old Testament, but he is showing us. If we take the time to learn to read the Old Testament the way the author of Hebrews did, then the Old Testament will come alive for us as we discover Christ in all of its pages.
Hebrews will deepen your admiration and love for Jesus. The epistle to the Hebrews is a Christological feast. The author presents a Jesus that is both gloriously divine (Heb 1:1-3) and immensely human (Heb 2:5–9; 5:7–10; 12:1–3). Most of Hebrews develops Christ’s human achievements. As a man, Jesus restored dominion over the earth to humanity (Heb 2:5–9). He has regained for the human race what Adam lost in the Fall. Hebrews describes a Jesus who is everything we are supposed to be as bearers of God’s image. Hebrews presents a Jesus who was able to do in his humanity what we could never do in our sinful condition. He conquered sin, Satan, and death to restore us to God that we might rule with him in the world to come (Heb 2:14–15; cf. 2:5–9).
The Jesus of Hebrews is not a savior that coasted through life on flowery beds of ease only pretending to encounter pain, difficulty and emotional turmoil. The Jesus of Hebrews faced death not in stoic silence, but with loud cries and tears (Heb 5:7). He pleaded with God in advance of the cross because he trusted that God was able to save him from death (Heb. 5:7). He went to the grave with the eyes of faith in a God who was able to raise him from the dead and God heard him because of his reverence (Heb. 5:7). These were not the actions of a man gliding through temptation because he was God incarnate. They were the painful struggles of a new and better Adam learning obedience from what he suffered (Heb 5:8). Therefore, he is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because in every respect he was tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15). Even the fiery trial of the cross did not shake Jesus’ faith in God. In fact, of all the Old Testament heroes in the great “hall of faith” (Heb 11), Jesus is the faithful one par excellence. By faith, he endured the cross, despising the shame for the joy set before him (Heb 12:1–3).
Hebrews will help us realize our need for our local church. The Christian life is war, and an army of one is easily defeated. If we think we can fight the good fight alone, we might find ourselves on the wrong side of eternity. To assemble with other believers was not merely a suggestion for the author of Hebrews; it was a command: “Let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:24–25). This exhortation comes to us with the weight of eternity hanging in the balance. In other words, do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together because without the encouragement of other believers you might succumb to a life of deliberate sin, and your future will be a fiery judgment (and, for the record, I do believe in the perseverance of the saints) (Heb 10:26–27). Sound strong? Read Hebrews.
Hebrews will encourage you towards perseverance in the faith and embolden your service to Jesus. The message of Hebrews is simple: Nothing is better than Jesus, nothing. The author of Hebrews knew the antidote to apostasy. He gave his unstable audience a vision for the supremacy of Christ that was and is more compelling than anything this world has to offer. Hebrews forces its original audience and its modern-day readers to grapple with questions of eternal significance. Will you grasp for shadows when you can lay hold of the substance that is Christ (Heb 10:1)? Will you gladly embrace suffering for Christ in this life because you are seeking the city that is to come (Heb 13:13–14)? Will you joyfully accept the plundering of your property because in Christ you have a better and abiding possession (Heb 10:34)? Will you choose to endure ill-treatment with the people of God instead of the passing pleasures of sin (Heb. 11:25)?
Study Hebrews and your life may never be the same.