Introduction to the Majestic Letter
Dr. R. C. Sproul was once asked If he was on a desert island and could only take one book of Scripture with him, which book would it be?
Without hesitation he said it would be the book of Hebrews. I thoroughly agree (though the book of Romans would be a close second). The book of Hebrews is that central to Holy Scripture that if I had to choose, I would select it among all the writings of Scripture.
The more I study it, the more convinced I am that every believer ought to make a serious study of this letter. For one, it is one of the central doctrinal epistles in all the Word of God, setting forth the Lord Jesus as all the believer will ever need. For that reason, it sets forth the Lord Jesus in a way that no other book does. The key word in the entire letter is the word better. The Hebrew believers addressed in this letter are taught that no matter how great the Old Testament law, ordinances, and rituals are, Jesus is so much better.
Many believers are unaware that the book of Hebrews struggled long and hard to gain admission to the canon of Scripture; that list of books which the Church Fathers recognized as authoritative and therefore Holy Scripture. That’s because for a book to be accepted it had to be written by an apostle or under the auspices of an apostle. And that presented a problem for Hebrews for the simple reason no one knows who authored it! It is the only book in the New Testament that has no name attached to it. This has led to much speculation about authorship. While the traditional view remains that the apostle Paul wrote it, a whole host of other people have been suggested such as Apollos, Clement and even Priscilla (she didn’t attach her name since she was a female).
How then did Hebrews get admitted into the canon of Scripture if authorship was unknown? The answer is, even though authorship was unknown, the fathers could not deny that it was the most apostolic letter ever written. So, it was admitted, even though authorship was not known, solely on the basis of its powerful content.
What most don’t realize is this book contains a strong, practical message as well. More than just a book of doctrine, it is a very powerful exhortation for every man and woman in Christ today. This should be of no surprise to anyone who reads the New Testament letters. They contain great doctrinal statements followed by practical exhortation that we must live it out. That’s because doctrine is not merely for the education of our brains; it must be lived based on the truth we have discovered. Perhaps the best example of that can be found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The first three chapters contain the great truth of what God has done in and through the Person of his Son. When we get to chapter four, Paul begins to introduce how the believer must walk in light of what God has done in Christ. He spends the remainder of the book describing the believer’s transformed walk.
The same is true when it comes to the book of Hebrews; the great doctrine is wedded to the strongest exhortation. Take, for example, the first chapter of this majestic letter. It sets forth the overwhelming truth that Messiah, the Son, is greater than the angels (an important truth for Hebrews). That is immediately followed in chapter two (2:1-4) by a strong exhortation that believers not drift away from what they have heard. This also contains the first warning of several in the book. This pattern is repeated throughout the book as we shall see.
So, Hebrews is a great doctrinal epistle setting forth the Lord Jesus as totally sufficient for all the believer will ever need. Do you know that fact personally in your Christian life? Do you view Jesus as merely a means to a greater end or do you appropriate the Lord Jesus to your life as the totally Sufficient One? In a word, it is the difference between living a merely religious life which goes through the motions and living a life partaking of all the reality of God. It is the difference between living in the shadow and partaking of the substance.
As we carefully study this letter, we will observe how the author presents each facet of Judaism as a shadow of the good things to come. They point to reality but are not reality itself. It is what they reveal about Messiah that points to reality. More about this in our next installment.