To many of us, Hebrews is another book in the New Testament, but here at home, we have taken on for our morning and evening worship, the book of Hebrews and going through it verse by verse, finding a wealth of information of which we were not aware. We here share some of the history leading up to the existence of this extremely valuable portion of Scripture.
The book of Hebrews appeared at a critical time in the history of the early church. The destruction of Jerusalem was impending – all signs declared that the event could not be far off – and many of the believers felt that this meant the end of the world. To all at this time in history, it was a fair assumption, for even in the minds of some of the apostles the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world were closely intertwined, as their question, “When shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” clearly shows. – Matthew 24:3.
The disciples were somewhat troubled at Jesus' reactions when He visited the city and the temple for the last time. In the midst of the triumphant entry, when the people were jubilantly acclaiming Him King, He had wept over the city and said, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace, but now they are hid from thine eyes. For as the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round and keep thee in on every side.” – Luke 19:42,43. To this He added later, “All these things shall come upon this generation.” – Matthew 23:36.
This caused serious concern among the disciples. It did not seem possible that God would forsake His city and His people, and how could an enemy, however strong, destroy the temple? Was it not built of massive stones incapable of destruction? Perhaps Christ had not noticed how large these stones were. If He had, He would be more cautious of His statements. And so “his disciples came to him for to shew him the building of the temple” –Matthew 24;1, apparently unaware of the fact that He knew more about them then they could possibly know.
As they walked about, “one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” – Mark 13:1. They fervently hoped that a view of the massiveness of the structure would make such an impression upon him that He would not refer lightly to its destruction. Was not the temple God's dwelling place? Was it not built so solidly that nothing on earth could destroy it? It was embarrassing for them to have Christ make statements which they firmly believed could never happen.
We are not told which of the disciples asked Him to consider, “What manner of stones and what buildings are here,” but Christ promptly turned to him and said, “Seest thou these great buildings?” Then He added, “There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” –Mark 13:2. These words were spoken with such finality that the disciples said no more, but they certainly wondered.
This conversation had taken place as the company left the temple on the way to the Mount of Olives. Doubtless the disciples talked the situation over on the way to the garden, for it was a most important and astounding prediction that Christ had made. Therefore, when He was seated on the “Mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked Him privately,” saying, “Tell us, when shall these things be and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and the end of the world?” –Mark 13:3; Matthew 24:3.
For reasons we don't know, Christ did not in His answer recorded in Matthew 24, differentiate between the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world. It is evident, however, that the one event is symbolic of the other, and that the prophecy is of double application, referring to two events, which though widely separated in time, have much in common. The disciples had asked two questions. The first, “When shall these things be?”, referring to Christ's statement that not one stone should be left upon another in the destruction of the city and temple; the second, “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” Christ in His answer embraced both events.
The disciples must have been intensely interested in what Christ said about the destruction of Jerusalem. They had heard Him say that, “the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground and thy children within thee, and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” –Luke 19:43,44. These statements came close to them, for they were born and bred around Jerusalem, the city of the living God, and from Christ's saying they concluded the destruction would likely take place in their day.
Looking for Jesus’ Soon Return
There are grounds for believing that the disciples expected an early return of their Master. He had promised to come again and had said, “I will not leave you comfortless (margin: orphans): I will come to you.” –John 14:18. “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me.” –John 16:16. When in perplexity they wondered, “What is this that he saith, A little while? We cannot tell what he saith” –John 16:18. He asked them, “Do ye inquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me” –John 16:19. He then tells them of the sorrow that shall be theirs, but that their sorrow shall be turned into joy, and then gives them the promise, “I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” –John 16:22.
“I will see you again.” Cheering words. They hoped and prayed He would soon return. What could be more natural than this? But year after year passed and Christ did not come. At the time when the book of Hebrews was written, thirty more years had passed, and still no word had come from the Master. Had He forgotten His promise? Would He ever return? There was every indication that ere-long Jerusalem would be besieged by the Roman armies in fulfilment of Christ's prediction: “When ye therefore shall see the abominations of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand) then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.” –Matthew 24:15-18. Was it not time for Christ to come? Surely the time must be near.
The apostles must have done much searching of the Scriptures during this waiting time. Those who had known Christ and walked with Him, who had carefully treasured every word He had uttered, rehearsed again and again what He had said, and wrote down an account thereof. These accounts were compared with the prophecies and more light shone on the unknown that had perplexed them.
A Delay Is Found
Christ was coming again; of that there could be no doubt. The Old Testament prophets declared it; and Christ had confirmed their statements. But apparently He was not coming immediately. They continued searching Christ’s promises for more light to help them, but started to realise the end could not come until the gospel had been preached in all the world. They found there were to be signs in the heavens; the sun, the moon and the stars. These would witness to the fulfilment of prophecy, and these signs had not appeared, nor had the powers of heaven been shaken. (Matthew 24:29,30) Apparently there were a few things they had overlooked. Yet, certain things should come to pass in their own generation, according to Christ’s words in Matthew 23:36: “All these things shall come upon this generation.” But would He Himself come? They hoped He would, and prayed that He might.
We should not reprimand the early disciples for the hope in regard to the soon coming of Christ in their day. They clung to the promises of his soon return, and shared those promises in sincerity. This attitude caused Paul to issue a warning in his second letter to the Thessalonian church, which evidently believed that the coming of Christ was just at hand as well. “Let no man deceive you by any means,” he said – an echo of Christ's first statement in regard to the same subject, “Take heed that no man deceive you.” – Matthew 24:4. “That day shall not come,” continued Paul, “except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.” – II Thessalonians 2:3
Paul Sheds More Light
This shows that Paul did not believe that Christ would come in his day. He knew that the man of sin was first to be revealed and that many long years would elapse before Christ should appear. And so he warned the church against entertaining a false hope.
Paul's letter brought light to them, but it also caused a certain measure of discouragement. The believers had hoped that the coming of the Lord was near at hand, and now they were told that the event was far off. The months and years following the receipt of the letter were hard. It appeared to the church that their hope had been taken away, and that which had buoyed them up and made persecution bearable, had been removed.
If ever the church needed help and encouragement, it did then. The apostles were passing away one by one, and soon the church would be left to fight its battles alone. Christ had promised not to leave them orphans, but now it seemed that this very thing would happen. It was a critical time. And it was in this hour of perplexity that the book of Hebrews appeared with needed light and comfort.
Paul increased the understanding for all who were looking steadfastly for the second coming when he made the comment to the Thessalonians that there must “come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.” But this was evidently not a sufficient explanation. The people wanted more information. What was Christ doing? Was He sitting in idle expectation, waiting for certain things to happen before He could return; or was He doing some very important work that vitally affected their own salvation, and possibly the salvation of all mankind? If the latter was the case; if Christ was performing a service comparable to that of the earthly priest who, after the slaying of the sacrifice went into the holy place, there to minister the blood of the victim, then Christ's absence may become understandable.
All Israel well understood that the death of the sacrifice was not sufficient to forgiveness. There must be a ministration of the blood to make the offering efficacious. If Christ indeed was priest, and if as a victim He had died on Calvary and there shed His blood, was it not necessary that His blood be ministered? And was this what Christ was doing now in heaven?
There were so many unknowns that the early church struggled with, and it was to answer these questions that Hebrews was written. Christ is indeed priest and high priest. He has “not entered into the holy places made with hands (the earthly temple), which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” –Hebrews 9:24. There in the heavenly temple He has “appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” –Hebrews 9:26. And there, says Paul, “shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” –Hebrews 9:14.
The Value of Hebrews
Hebrews occupies a very high and important place in Scripture. It is a book that has been too long neglected by God’s people. We rightly understand Christ as our high priest, yet we can so easily neglect the only book where this work of our Saviour is emphasised. In all the rest of the New Testament there is no discussion of His priestly work; in fact outside of Hebrews the term ‘high priest’ is not mentioned once as referring to Christ. On the other hand chapter after chapter in this book, Christ as high priest is the subject, with ten times the title being applied to Him directly. In seven other instances He is compared or contrasted with the high priests on earth.
The book of Hebrews connects the sanctuary on earth with the sanctuary in heaven. The first half of the book gives a view and a review of the services on earth, making constant references to the higher service above. It compares and contrasts the qualifications of the priests on earth with the greater dignity and surpassing glory of our great High Priest in heaven. It lays a solid foundation for the sanctuary on earth which is imperative to our understanding of Christ’s work in heaven. Again and again Hebrews stresses the parallels between the sanctuary and the services on earth, and the sanctuary and the services in heaven, making clear the former is the type of the latter.
Some Spirit of Prophecy Gems
“The first chapter of Hebrews contrasts the position of the angels and the position of Christ. God has spoken words concerning Christ that are not to be applied to the angels. They are “sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation,” but Christ, as Mediator, is the great Minister in the work of redemption. The Holy Spirit is His representative in our world, to execute the divine purpose of bringing to fallen man power from above, that he may be an overcomer. All who enter into a covenant with Jesus Christ become by adoption the children of God. They are cleansed by the regenerating power of the Word, and angels are commissioned to minister unto them.” —Manuscript 57, 1907.
“Divine ministration is needed to give power and efficiency to the church in this world. God’s family on earth, subject to temptations and trials, is very near to His heart of love. He has ordained that communication be kept up between heavenly intelligences and His children on this earth. Angels from the courts above are sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation, those who as faithful warriors are partaking of Christ’s suffering. Christ is represented as dwelling in His people. They must be fed with meat in due season. Therefore, a connection has been established between them and the church above.” —Manuscript 142, 1899
“Our faith must pierce beyond the veil, seeing things that are invisible. No one else can look for you. You must behold for yourself.” —Manuscript 42, 1901
Drawn from ‘ The Book of Hebrews’, by M L Andreason