In these closing words of Hebrews, the author gives his benediction and shares his travel plans with his audience. This article will briefly example those things and look back on the letter as a whole. What were the major themes of Hebrews? And what should we take away from our study of this letter?
Benediction and Prayer
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.Hebrews 13:20-21 NIV
The God of Peace
The author closes his letter with a prayer for his audience. And his prayer is addressed to the God of peace. This is an apt description of God who has sent his Son to be the savior of the world, reconciling a lost world to himself and thus making peace (Col. 1:19-22).
God brought Jesus back from the dead through the blood of the eternal covenant. This is an interesting expression. The eternal covenant is undoubtedly the new covenant the author has repeatedly mentioned. Jesus was the mediator of that covenant (Heb. 9:15, 12:24), established with his blood (Heb. 9:12). And it was through that covenant that Jesus came back to life. He was the firstfruits of those under the new covenant who will rise again (1 Cor. 15:20). In a sense, his dying to mediate the new covenant was what enabled his resurrection.
The author of Hebrews had previously identified Jesus as the pioneer of our faith (Heb. 2:10; 12:2). Here he used a similar term, calling Jesus the great shepherd of the sheep. Both pioneer and shepherd lead the way, ensuring safe passage and provision along the way. Jesus is our great shepherd. As his sheep, we need fear nothing that comes our way.
The author has two specific requests in his prayer for his audience. First, he prays that they would be equipped for whatever they need for doing God’s will. His prayer is not that they would be blessed with health, security, and material possessions. But that God would equip them to be able to walk the path that God has set each of them on. God calls each of us to serve him. Not all of us are called to the same thing. But, we can trust that in whatever way we are called to serve, God will be pleased to ensure we have what we need to accomplish the task.
And secondly, he prayed that God would work in both his listeners and himself to accomplish what was pleasing to God. This request is that God would be active in the lives of his hearers, working within them to produce the fruit he desires. We too often focus on our own efforts to be holy. And we should strive for holiness. But it is important to remember that God is the primary architect of the new humanity he is creating. He calls on us to come alongside and participate. But it is primarily his task.
Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you quite briefly.Hebrews 13:22-23 NIV
I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you.
Most of us probably laugh at this being a brief letter. But clearly, the author had much more that he wanted to say. And, no doubt, when he and Timothy came to see them, he would expand on what he had said in this letter. His encouragement here is that they would bear with his word of exhortation. There might have been a temptation on the part of his audience to dismiss his call to remain faithful to Christ’s place as their great high priest. His encouragement is that they would not just put up with what he has said. But that they would follow through on it. That they would let God speak to them through these words.
This Timothy is likely the Timothy who traveled with Paul and was left in Ephesus to manage the affairs of the church in that area (1 Tim. 1:3-7). At some point, Timothy had found himself in prison, likely in Rome since the author is in Italy and he is waiting for Timothy’s arrival. Why Timothy was in prison is unknown. But apparently, the charges against him were dropped, and Timothy was free to travel again.
Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.Hebrews 13:24-25 NIV
Grace be with you all.
And the letter closes with a greeting to the leaders and members of the church he writes to. And this greeting comes not only from the author but also from those with him in Italy. What had taken him to Italy and how long he was there is unknown. But he had been there long enough to develop a relationship with the believers there. And those in Italy had come to know about the people being addressed in this letter.
The author of Hebrews had a lot to say to his audience. Much of it is strange to Gentiles, especially those unfamiliar with the Torah. But, despite that, there are some significant contributions that this letter makes to our faith. Below is a review of some of the major themes of Hebrews.
The Exalted Son of God
Hebrews starts with a discussion of the Son. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. He is the heir of all things. The Son is the agent of creation. And he is the last revelation of God to us (Heb. 1:1-3).
Angels are messengers sent to serve. In contrast, the Son sits at the Father’s right hand in the place of honor (Heb. 1:13). There should be no temptation to elevate angels to an exalted position.
When Hebrews talks about the divine nature of Jesus, he calls him the Son. When referring to his humanity he uses the name, Jesus. Jesus was, for a time, made lower than the angels (Heb. 2:7) but is now exalted above them (Heb. 1:9). The Son has always been exalted above the angels. But in his humanity, Jesus was elevated above them because of his obedience to the Father.
Jesus was made fully human, in every way (Heb. 2:17). As a human, Jesus did not have any special abilities that allowed him to resist temptation or face the common challenges of all of humanity. But he never gave into temptation and sinned (Heb. 4:15). He was fully obedient to the Father in every way.
And, because Jesus is fully human and has experienced what we face each day, he can sympathize with us in our weakness (Heb. 5:15). He can be our merciful high priest (Heb. 2:17) who mediates with the Father on our behalf.
Learned Obedience and Perfected
A couple of expressions used in Hebrews can challenge our understanding of Jesus. Hebrews 5:8 says that “he learned obedience from what he suffered.” How does one learn obedience? By being obedient, even when it is costly. The Son’s knowledge of suffering and faithfulness is something that he experienced. He learned it by what he suffered.
This passage goes on to say “and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb. 5:9). Was not Jesus, in both his divinity and humanity, already perfect? Yes, in the moral sense, he was. But perfection means more than morally good. It can refer to suitability to a task. And that is what he refers to here. Jesus, in his suffering and death on the cross, became the source of salvation.
Jesus was the divine Son. And he was fully human. But in his death and resurrection, he became something else. He is now an exalted human sitting at God’s right hand. He is what we will be when this life is over.
Fulfilling the Law
Hebrews never explicitly says that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law. But it does make clear that the Law and the Tabernacle were only a shadow and copy of the reality that came with Jesus (Heb. 8:5, 10:1). The priesthood of Jesus is of the order of Melchizedek and superior to the Levitical priesthood. The sacrifice Jesus offered was superior to the sacrifices of the old covenant. And the new covenant is superior to the old covenant and has made it obsolete. Jesus’ sacrifice did what the blood of bulls and goats was unable to do: offer atonement.
The Importance of Remaining Faithful
Based on the numerous references to the tabernacle, the priesthood, and their sacrifices, it seems clear that this letter was written to a Jewish audience. A Jewish audience who had become followers of Jesus but were tempted to turn back to their former practice. And to correct that temptation seems to be one of the major purposes of this letter, if not the primary focus. The author contrasts Jesus with Moses, the Levitical priesthood, the animal sacrifices, and the covenants. And in every case, Jesus is better.
That also explains the large number of warnings against turning away and the encouragement to be obedient. The experience of the wilderness generation is discussed at length. A group who was delivered from Egypt and entered into covenant with God but failed to enter into God’s rest because of their disobedience. The readers of this letter are encouraged not to follow their example. Instead, to remain faithful and enter into God’s rest.
What is Faith?
The importance of faith is stressed throughout the New Testament. But the best description of faith is found in Hebrews. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews defines faith (Heb. 11:1, 6) and gives numerous examples of faith in action. Faith always leads to action. Each of the people mentioned in this chapter did something because of their faith.
Hebrews goes on to say that the actions of these people looked beyond their present condition. They thought of themselves as strangers and foreigners here on earth and looked forward to what God had prepared for them. A heavenly home (Heb. 11:13-16).
- Hebrews: An Introduction
- Hebrews: The Supremacy of Christ (1:1-4)
- Hebrews: Superior to the Angels (1:5-14)
- Hebrews: A Warning to Pay Attention (2:1-4)
- Hebrews: We See Jesus, Crowned with Glory (2:5-9)
- Hebrews: Made Perfect Through Suffering (2:10-13)
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Fully Human in Every Way (2:14-18)
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Greater Than Moses (3:1-6)
- Hebrews: Failure to Enter God’s Rest (3:7-19)
- Hebrews: Enter God’s Rest (4:1-11)
- Hebrews: the Active Word of God (4:12-13)
- Hebrews: Our Great High Priest (4:14-16)
- Hebrews: Obedience Learned Through Suffering (5:1-10)
- Hebrews: Move Beyond Elementary Teachings (5:11-6:3)
- Hebrews: A Most Explicit Warning (6:4-12)
- Hebrews: An Anchor of Hope for the Soul (6:13-20)
- Hebrews: The Priesthood of Melchizedek (7:1-10)
- Hebrews: A New Priesthood (7:11-28)
- Hebrews: We Do Have Such a High Priest (8:1-6)
- Hebrews: A New Covenant (8:7-13)
- Hebrews: Worship in the Tabernacle (9:1-10)
- Hebrews: The Blood of the New Covenant (9:11-15)
- Hebrews: Entering the Heavenly Sanctuary (9:16-28)
- Hebrews: One Sacrifice for All Time (10:1-18)
- Hebrews: Enter the Most Holy Place (10:19-39)
- Hebrews: The Role Call of Faith (11:1-31)