The author of Hebrews is generally unknown, although there are good arguments to suggest that it was Paul (but with strong evidence against this claim), Luke, or some have suggested Apollos or Barnabas. The basic message behind the letter was to convey the superiority of Jesus and the New Covenant to the Old Covenant.
The letter was probably written to a small group of Jewish believers in Rome (suggested by Hebrews 5:12) who at the time were tempted to to revert back to the old ways of worshiping God, perhaps because the Roman Empire protected Jewish religion but did not protect the Christians.
The author of this letter warns the Jewish reader that everything from their history, which they could see in the physical, was lesser than Jesus and pointed forward to Jesus, who ushered in a better covenant, a spiritual kingdom that they could not necessarily see. Therefore, it would have been a foolish decision to revert back to the ways under the Old Covenant.
For instance, the written law was a defining aspect of the Old Covenant that the Jews no longer needed to focus on. Jesus Himself, not the written law, was the only way to holiness since the law proved ineffective in making mankind holy:
There is, on the one hand, the abrogation of an earlier commandment because it was weak and ineffectual (for the law made nothing perfect); there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God.
The Jewish believers also had no need for human priests to make them clean before God. Jesus was the superior and last high priest they needed:
For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself.
Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy
Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.
The Jews’ temptation to revert back to the Old Covenant made me realize how tempting it is for people today to put our hope in everything but Jesus. Even though He truly is our greatest hope, it is much easier for us to put our hope in things that are immediate and seen, such as our careers, our spouses, our families, friends, achievements, etc. Perhaps for the Jewish believers at the time it was the law, the priesthood, and the temple.
Believing in Jesus and seeking Him in relationship each day requires faith because He is invisible yet alive. But having faith each day can be the most challenging aspect of our faith. How does one find life, hope, guidance, and all of our needs in an Invisible Being?
Although it can be hard to wait on God for our needs, faith is the only way to truly live:
…but my righteous one will live by faith.
The author of Hebrews therefore pleads for the original reader to approach God in faith to see their needs fulfilled:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
…let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
God rewards those who seek Him! It’s not about just believing in God for life after death, but believing God for all of our practical and spiritual needs today. For the original reader of the Book of Hebrews, they had to believe Jesus for everything they had previously trusted the old animal sacrifice system and priesthood for: holiness and relationship with their Creator. But now, they were to approach Jesus Himself.
Opposed to my faith is fear. Fear says to me, “What if He doesn’t come through? What if I can’t really trust Him for wisdom, for my finances, for contentment, etc.?”
But He always does, even if it’s not in the way and in the timing I expect.
For instance, whenever I have to prepare a presentation of some sort, sometimes I’m afraid He won’t give me wisdom and guidance in the timing that I need. I simply cannot control when God speaks to me or not. But God knows my presentation deadline and has always given me bouts of wisdom when I need it before the deadline. He’s never late. I can trust Him.
God has been teaching me over and over again that fear is not my friend. It lies to me. I shouldn’t partner with it by agreeing with it. So I no longer want to let fear stop me from boldly approaching God each day and moment for all of my needs, including my needs for intimacy and comfort in Him!
But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.