Relevant Verses: Hebrews 1
Leading Question: Is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ better than all previous revelations?
Note: A resource I have found very helpful in preparing this study guide has been William Johnsson’s Hebrews, in the Abundant Life Bible Amplifier series (PPPA, 1994). References in the study guide to Johnsson are simply indicated by his last name and the page number.
Our leading question brings several other questions into play that we should consider.
Question: If the revelation of God in Jesus is better than all others (as the letter to the Hebrews implies), why did God give lesser revelations in the first place? Shouldn’t God always give just the “best” revelations?
Answer: Perhaps because the people were not ready.
Question: What is the best biblical evidence that God meets people where they are?
Answer: Some of the horrifying stories in the Old Testament, such as the story of Achan in Joshua 7, where God chose to make use of the Canaanite custom of cherem = dedication to destruction, vividly illustrate the principle of “accommodation.”
Question: Is the truth of Hebrews’ argument that Jesus is a “better” revelation, affected by his use of scripture, i.e. all of his quotations of the Old Testament are cited out of context, in accordance with the Jewish practice of “midrash,” an approach to Scripture that reads later meanings into earlier passages of Scripture? To what extent are any of our significant conclusions shaped initially by Scripture? Or does scriptural support come after the experience?
Comment: Many times the “chicken-or-egg” question turns up a surprising answer if we stop and think about it. C. S. Lewis’ comment about the role of the Gospels is a case in point:
“The earliest converts were converted by a single historical fact (the Resurrection) and a single theological doctrine (the Redemption) operating on a sense of sin which they already had — and sin, not against some new fancy-dress law produced as a novelty by a ‘great man,’ but against the old, platitudinous, universal moral law which they had been taught by their nurses and mothers. The ‘Gospels’ come later, and were written, not to make Christians, but to edify Christians already made. (The Screwtape Letters , ch. 23, par. 3).
In short, the author’s convictions about his “better” revelation seem not to have been determined by discoveries that he had made in Scripture. These came later. His convictions about Jesus came from his knowledge of the story of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus himself taught largely by “stories.” Was that the reason why the common people heard him gladly?
Question: The official study guide suggests that the book of Hebrews was the first Christian sermon. Do we learn of Jesus primarily by sermons?
Comment: The official study guide notes that the author of the book of Hebrews describes his dissertation as a “sermon” (Heb. 13:22 = “word of exhortation”), a phrase that is repeated in Acts 13:15 and abbreviated to simply “exhortation” in 1 Tim. 4:13. Also, in Hebrews 13:22 the author says that he has written “briefly”! One could perhaps argue that 13 chapters would not be considered “brief” in our day.
Question: The crucial question is: How do we learn about Jesus? In Hebrews 2:4. The author refers to three additional factors that are often part of a believer’s experience:
- signs and wonders
- gifts of the Spirit
Comment: Ellen White has some striking statements about the diversity in our experiences:
Every association of life calls for the exercise of self-control, forbearance, and sympathy. We differ so widely in disposition, habits, education, that our ways of looking at things vary. We judge differently. Our understanding of truth, our ideas in regard to the conduct of life, are not in all respects the same. There are no two whose experience is alike in every particular. The trials of one are not the trials of another. The duties that one finds light are to another most difficult and perplexing.
So frail, so ignorant, so liable to misconception is human nature, that each should be careful in the estimate he places upon another. We little know the bearing of our acts upon the experience of others. What we do or say may seem to us of little moment, when, could our eyes be opened, we should see that upon it depended the most important results for good or for evil. – Ministry of Healing, 483
Question: From the book itself, what can we learn about the experience of the recipients of Hebrews?
Comment: These are some of the clues from the book:
Hebrews 2:1: The danger of drifting away
Hebrews 3:12 Caution about the dangers of an evil and unbelieving heart
Hebrews 5:11-14 They should have been leaders, but had to stay on milk
Hebrews 10:25 Warned about the danger of neglecting corporate worship
Hebrews 10:32-36: Experience with sufferings, persecution, public mockery
Hebrews 12:3 Cautioned about becoming weary and losing heart
Note: A question like the previous one shows the value of simply reading the text of Scripture rather than depending on commentaries. When we see cautions, admonitions, and warnings, we can surmise that these were threats to the believers.
A powerful biblical example: As an encouragement to modern readers, the official study guide points to Elijah’s experience when he fled from Jezebel in 1 Kings 19:1-4. Elijah went from a spiritual high on Carmel, to deep despair. But God gave him both food and words of encouragement. God’s willingness to do the same for us should be a source of great comfort.
Note: Complexity and simplicity in Hebrews. Much of the material in Hebrews is complex and closely argued. Could children, the illiterate, the new convert, understand that complexity? Not likely. So we will attempt during this quarter to find ways to simplify the issues, remembering that Jesus could summarize his teaching in one short verse: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12)