The book of Hebrews was written to encourage Christians who were being persecuted and discouraged in their faith. The trials and discouragement was predicted by Jesus. He told His disciples of the hardships that His disciples would experience prior to the fall of Jerusalem (as recorded in Matthew 24). Before the fall of the Jerusalem temple, famines and persecutions would bear down upon the disciples of Jesus and the “love of many would grow cold” (Matt.24:8-12). This prediction was made in about AD 30 and the fall of Jerusalem was completed in AD 70, 40 years later. The years of 66-70 AD were especially difficult years. Because of the signs Jesus gave in Matthew 24 regarding the fall of Jerusalem and what would take place just before that fall, the disciples would know the signs to look for, and these would signal to them when to leave the city of Jerusalem. So Hebrews was written just prior to the fall of Jerusalem encouraging the brethren to stay strong and beware “least there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God” (Heb.3:12). The Christians were to encourage one another and “so much the more as you see the day approaching” (Heb.10:24-25). What day could they see approaching? The day of the final fall of Jerusalem, the center of Judaism, and the place from which Christians needed to be prepared to escape when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by the Roman armies (Luke 21:16-22).
At one point these brethren “endured a great struggle with sufferings” (10:32) and “joyfully accepted the plundering of their goods” (10:34). Paul encouraged them not to “cast away your confidence, which has great reward” (v.35). He told them to “endure” and not “draw back to perdition.” The whole book is designed to encourage them in the midst of their hardships. The Jews were doing well at this point, and it seemed for the moment that it was advantageous to return to Judaism and avoid persecution. The book of Hebrews reminds these persecuted Christians that returning to Judaism was not the answer. As great as the system of Moses and the priesthood of Aaron was, it was only a shadow of the better things that are provided by Christ. The whole book argues that we have a better lawgiver in Christ, a better covenant, better promises, a better High Priest in Jesus, and a better sacrifice (Jesus Himself) for sin than was imposed in the Old Testament system with animal sacrifices. We have a better provision in Christ since all the Old Testament was foreshadowing the things the Messiah would accomplish, and Jesus is the prophesied and foreshadowed provision of God. The thesis of the book is hang tough and “endure,” but hold on to the spiritual advantages you have in the better provisions in Jesus.
After proving that Jesus is greater than Moses and Aaron, greater in every way, and His provisions were better, then the admonition was to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (10:23), and “we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (v.39). Following that encouragement, he reminds his original readers that men and woman of faith have done well in the past “by faith” even under times of inferior provisions. Chapter 11 is a reminder of people who did great things by faith, and by believing in God and trusting His promises and provisions we can likewise handle more than we think. It is a matter of “looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Ch.12), who endured hostility of sinners against Himself, enduring even the cross (12:2,3). He learned “obedience” in all that He suffered and became the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him (5:8-9). Our obedience must be in place through the trials because that is how we prove our faith in genuine. If the only time we show faith is when it is easy to show faith, when there is no opposition, then that is no quality faith at all. We must obey Him loyally through the things that bear down hard to discourage us, else we have not learned obedience as Jesus did. Look to Jesus for strength. He authored your faith and He will help you finish your faith, that is, take your faith and help you get to your goal of heaven with it intact.
Read this book all the way through and be impressed with how encouraging it is even now. Watch it build the case for knowing the better things in the New Testament system over the Old Testament system. Notice how Jesus is able to aid us in so many deep and meaningful ways so that we too can have a heart “established by grace” (13:9), a heart that is able to endure anything for the honor of Christ Jesus our Lord! To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen! Is your faith the obedient and enduring kind?
–Terry W. Benton