Key theme: JESUS HAS FULFILLED THE LAW
Imagine yourself as a first century Christian Jew. For two thousand years your worship of God has centred on following the Torah that included offering sacrifices through a priest. One day a year the high priest, with solemn ritual, offers a sacrifice of atonement for the whole people of Israel. For a thousand years (excepting a period of exile in Babylon) this has happened at the temple of Jerusalem which Solomon built and Nehemiah rebuilt. Suddenly, within the space a few years, there’s no need for priests, high-priests, temples or sacrifices. You are accused by Jews of worshipping many gods and by the pagans of worshipping no gods. (How can you worship without priests and a temple?) What does that mean for the Covenant and the Torah? Do you follow them? Don’t you follow them? It’s hardly surprising that you might be tempted to return to the security and structure of your previous ways.
We don’t know who wrote this letter. But whoever did was well versed in Judaism, literate and articulate, and was specifically concerned about Jewish church believers struggling to keep their faith in the face of persecution from Jews and pagans alike.
As you read…
This letter is a sustained argument that for the first ten chapters alternates between demonstrating the superiority of Jesus to a variety of rivals, and exhorting perseverance in order to avoid the consequences of rejecting membership of God’s people. Jesus acts simultaneously as the perfect High Priest (mankind’s representative before God) able to perfectly offer a sacrifice once and for all, and also as the perfect sacrifice (his earthly life represented perfect fulfilment of the stipulations of Torah, his blood achieved what the blood of goats could not, and his resurrection life maintains the worth of his sacrifice eternally).
We might accept Jesus claims, but how do we persevere? Chapter 11 tells us in this famous passage on “faith”. The heroes of faith who accomplishes great deeds, and the many who suffered and died without seeing great deeds, are both commended because they trusted God’s promises. Faith is demonstrated by faithfully following God, not by whether we are “successful” in our life or ministry.
The concluding two chapters begin with the expectation of hardship that comes with following Christ and end with the privilege of worship according to the new covenant – where worship is not restricted to a place, or governed by written code, but through Jesus can happen wherever you are and in all areas of our life. Worship and service cannot be separated: “Let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”