The Epistle to the Hebrews is primarily addressed to believers in the Lord Jesus from among the Jews. Its contents clearly show that it was written to establish these believers in the truth of Christianity with all its privileges and blessings and thus to deliver them from the Jewish religion with which they had been connected by natural birth.
To properly understand the significance of the teaching in the Epistle, we must remember the character of this religious system with which the Jewish remnant had been related. It was a national religion given to those who, by birth, were descended from Abraham. It raised no question of new birth. It was entirely for earth; it was silent as to heaven. It regulated man’s conduct in relation to God and his neighbor and promised earthly life, with earthly blessings, to those who walked according to its precepts.
This religion had for its rallying point a visible center—the most sumptuous building ever erected by man—with material altars, on which material sacrifices were offered by a special class of officiating priests who conducted an outward worship of God, accompanied by elaborate ceremonies, according to a prescribed ritual. It was purposely designed to appeal to the natural man to prove whether there is anything in man in the flesh that can answer to the goodness of God, when a religion is given with which regulates every detail of man’s life, from birth to old age, in order to secure his earthly prosperity, ease and happiness.
In result, this appeal to the natural man only served to show there is nothing in unregenerate man that can answer to God. Thus it came to pass that this Jewish system which in its inception was established by God, in its history became corrupted by man. The culmination of wickedness, under this system, was the rejection and murder of the Messiah. The Jews having thus filled up the cup of their iniquity became ripe for judgment. For the Holy God to bear longer with a system that, in the hands of men, had been degraded to murder the Son of God would be to tarnish His righteousness and excuse man’s sin. Hence judgment is allowed to take its course and in due time the city is destroyed and the nation scattered (Matt 12:30; Luke 11:23).
There is, however, another purpose in the law. It not only regulated man’s life by showing him his duty to God and his neighbor, but, the whole system was the shadow of good things to come. Its tabernacle was a pattern of things in the heavens; its priesthood spoke of the priestly work of the Lord Jesus; its sacrifices looked on to the great Sacrifice of the Savior. Christ being come—the glorious substance of all the shadows—the Jewish system has fulfilled its purpose as the pattern of things to come. It is therefore set aside, first, because man has corrupted it; secondly, because the Lord Jesus is its fulfillment.
We have further to remember that, while this system appealed to man in the flesh and left the great mass only in an outward and formal relationship with God, yet there were those in this system who clearly were in true relationship with God by faith and when Christ came they acknowledged Him as the Messiah. They formed a remnant of the nation and in this Epistle are recognized and addressed as already in relationship with God before Christianity was established. To this godly remnant the Epistle is addressed in order to bring them into the new and heavenly relationship of Christianity by detaching them from the earthly religion of Judaism.
While setting aside the old system God secures a believing remnant from the Jews, bringing them into the Christian circle. This Jewish remnant would naturally have strong links with the religion of their fathers. The ties of nature, the love of country, the prospects of earth and the prejudices of training, would all tend to bind them to the system that God has set aside. It would therefore be especially difficult for them to enter into the heavenly character of Christianity. Moreover, while the temple was yet standing and the Aaronic priest were still offering up visible sacrifices, there was the constant danger of those who had made the profession of Christianity turning back to Judaism.
To counteract this tendency then and now and in order to establish our souls in Christianity, the Spirit of God in this Epistle passes before us: First, the glories of the Person of the Lord Jesus and His place in heaven (ch 1, 2); Secondly, the Priesthood of Christ maintaining His people on earth, on their way to heaven (3, 4); Thirdly, the sacrifice of Christ, opening heaven to the believer and fitting him for heaven (9, 10); Fourthly, the present access to heaven where Christ is (10); Fifthly, the path of faith that leads to Christ in heaven (11); Sixthly, the different ways the Father takes to keep our feet in the path that leads to the glorified Christ (12); and Seventhly, the blessedness of the outside place of reproach with Christ, on earth (13).
It thus becomes clear how constantly and blessedly heaven is kept before us in the Epistle. It is indeed the Epistle of the opened heavens. This presentation of the heavenly character of Christianity makes the Epistle of special value in a day when Christendom has lost the true character of Christianity by reducing it to a worldly system for the improvement of man.
Moreover, as the Spirit of God passes these great and heavenly truths before our souls we are given to see how they exceed and set aside, all that went before. The glories of the Lord Jesus eclipse every created being whether prophets or angels. The Priesthood of Christ sets aside the many sacrifices under the law. The immediate access to the Father sets aside the temple and its veil. The path of faith sets aside the whole system of seen and felt things. The outside place sets aside “The Camp” with its earthly and fleshly religion.
It is the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ and Christianity, in contrast to Judaism, which is presented to us. We are made to see how everything in Christianity lies in the region of faith, outside the things of sight and sense. Christ in the glory, His priesthood, His sacrifice, approach to the Father, the path of faith, the heavenly race and the things to which we have come, can only be seen and known by faith.
The effects of Christianity may indeed be manifest in life and character and may even produce results in the lives of unconverted men; but all that properly pertains to life in Christ Jesus, that produces the effect in lives, is unseen, in contrast to Judaism with its appeal to sight and sense. Moreover, in coming to heavenly things, the things of faith, we have come to things which are before our Father and things which are eternally stable.
We are surrounded by things which are passing, things which are changing, things that are shaking. In Christianity we are brought to that which never passes, never changes and never will be shaken. The Lord Jesus remains, He is ever the same and all that is founded upon Him and His eternal redemption, is stable and will never be moved.
The practical effect of the teaching of Hebrews must be to detach us form every form of earthly religion, whether it be Judaism or corrupt Christendom formed after the pattern of Judaism. Further, if the truth puts us in the outside place on earth, it gives us a position beyond where the veil was, in heaven itself and makes us strangers and pilgrims in the world through which we are passing.