Notes on the Epistle to the Hebrews

from notes of readings by F. W. Grant.

Loizeaux Brothers, Bible Truth Depot

Bible Truth Press, 1 East 13th St., New York

The epistle is anonymous, and the authorship has been much disputed; not its canonicity, which never really was. Peter's mention of an epistle of Paul to the circumcision, which he classes among the "other Scriptures," seems sufficiently decisive that the author of it was Paul; spite of which modern commentators generally waver between Apollos and Barnabas. Tertullian in the third century ascribed it to the latter; none except moderns have ascribed it to the former. Their claim is mainly founded upon its style, the constant quotations from the Septuagint, and an approach in some things to Philo the Alexandrian. A sufficient answer to this is that the Alexandrian church ascribed it to Paul, and not to their countryman Apollos.

But its doctrinal relation to Paul has never been doubted; and it finds its place among his epistles in such a way as would leave a serious gap in them if it were taken away. Paul's epistles in fact, though fourteen in number, form (according to their subjects) a double Pentateuch: a first series which develop, characteristically, Christian position before God, and its consequences, viz.:
1. Romans.
2. Galatians.
3. Ephesians.
4. Colossians (with Philemon, as a supplement).
5. Philippians.

In the second series are those which develop collective relationship to God:
1. As His family: Thessalonians.
2. As a fellowship: Corinthians.
3. As worshipers: Hebrews.
4. As walking in the house of God: Timothy.
5. As followers of the truth which is according to godliness: Titus.

Without going further into this now, it will be seen that Hebrews is the Leviticus of this second pentateuch, filling its place in it. It clearly belongs to Paul's epistles, which are themselves, as a whole, the Leviticus of the New Testament as aiming to bring the soul near to God in Christ. or as he states it, "to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus" (Col. 1:28). Hebrews, by its place among these, exhibits this character in an intensified form. Ephesians. the corresponding epistle in the first series, puts us in the full Christian place — "seated together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus"; Hebrews, on the other hand, develops the living activities which belong to the heavenly places, the sphere of service of Christians as the priestly house of God.

Let us seek now to get a nearer and fuller view.

Christianity is characterized for us largely by two things implied for us in the rent veil. God dwells no more "in the thick darkness:" He is "in the light." He is able to come out to man; man is able to go in to Him. In Christ God has come out to man; in Christ man is gone in to God. The Gospel of John shows us eminently the first of these; the epistles of Paul develop the second.

God coming out means more than a theophany. The Son of God in manhood (never to be laid down again) is the "outshining of His glory." He has not only spoken, but lived, loved, suffered, and died amongst us, and gone back again — not simply by His personal title, but in the power of such a sacrifice, by which those in whose behalf it has been offered find a "new and living way" into the presence of God. Both things — the coming out and the going in — are found in Hebrews, as they are found also in the beginning of John's first epistle. John and Paul connect with one another — each emphasizing the truth differently, yet each looking along the track of divine glory and recognizing each other's object. Thus Paul here bids us "consider" both "the Apostle and the High Priest of our confession"; though he emphasizes the High Priest. The full revelation of Christianity is that which is given by the Son, in contrast with all fragmentary communications by the prophets, which had preceded it.

But Christ has effected also by Himself a purification of sins, and thereupon taken His seat at the right hand of God. A necessary and glorious consequence is that He has now "companions," fellows," "partakers" with Him — yea, those whom He is not ashamed to call His brethren. These are the children given "to Him, the "many sons," whom as the First-born, the Kinsman-Redeemer, He as the "Originator of" their "salvation" is "bringing to glory." They are the "sanctified," the "house of God," over whom He as Son is — Son over sons, "Great Priest" over a priestly house to whom He gives entrance into the innermost sanctuary.

Thus there is sharpest contrast between the law with its successional priesthood of sinful and thus mortal men, worshiping afar off — with sacrifices whose constant re- petitions proclaimed their inefficacy — and the grace of Christ which by one perfect offering purges the conscience to serve in His presence the living God. The carnal ordinances of Judaism, mere shadows of the true, have now, therefore passed away irrevocably for the Christian. Christ is the glorious Reality, the abiding Priest of a heavenly Sanctuary into which faith freely enters, to find the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.

Decision was absolutely to be made now between the shadows and the reality. The weaning-time which God had permitted the Jewish believers, and of which the Acts gives the history, was now at an end. They were called absolutely to leave the camp, the glory of God having for the third time forsaken it; the issue of all that He had done for them being the crucifixion of the Son of God, sent to them in fullest grace, at the predicted time and in the marked-out way.

Thus, as to man, all was over; but, in that which proved it, God had found a way in which He could manifest Himself to the wonder and joy and worship of eternity, and open heaven to those who had hopelessly lost earth. The blood of the sin-offering, burned outside the camp, was that which went inside the veil into the presence of God. The true Sin-offering, bringing all other offerings to an end, has rent the veil and made the permanent way of entrance into the glory of God; and the natural man, even in the highest place of privilege — the camp — is judged, and entrance into glory with God is unveiled.

The epistle has five divisions, which have, as all true divisions in Scripture have, numerical significance.

The first (Heb. 1 — 2:4) shows us Christ, the Son of God in manhood — thus the First-born — in His uniqueness and supremacy as the Apostle of our confession; and now enthroned, having laid the foundation of peace. He is thus supreme above angels through whom the law was given.

The second (Heb. 2:5 — 4:13) shows us Christ in His humiliation to death for His "brethren," become the Originator of salvation for them, annulling the devil's power, and delivering those subject to bondage. He is here far beyond both Moses and Joshua.

The third division (Heb. 4:14 — 10) — much larger than the others, as giving the main theme of the book — shows us Christ as Priest in the heavenly Sanctuary, the way into which He has opened by His accomplished sacrifice. He is here in contrast with both the priests and sacrifices of the law.

The fourth (Heb. 11) puts before us, in examples, carefully classified for our instruction, the walk, trial, and experience of faith. The object of the apostle is to show that, if the glorious realities of which he has been speaking are invisible, faith laid hold of the invisible by which all those that ever pleased God obtained a good report.

The fifth and last division (Heb. 12 and 13) closes with admonition as to the responsibilities involved in all this: first, of the need of steadfast continuance in their good confession; and secondly, of the need of separation from the Jewish system, which could now be held to only in the rejection of that to which it pointed, and which alone had made it valuable at any time.