A Letter to the Hebrews is an amazing book in the Bible. It communicates a single message: Jesus is the only way to eternal life with God. Yet, Christian teaching virtually ignores this letter’s foundation when associating it with New Testament believers. Every passage needs to be understood how it first relates to Hebrews before it is applied to believers. Their story is the lens through which the entire book must be viewed.
The word Hebrews appears in this study many, many times. It’s referring to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s descendants –and also to the New Testament book of the Bible. So that you know which one is which, Hebrews is italicized when I’m referring to the book.
Further, there are three groups of Hebrews identified in the book. There are those of the Old Testament –before the cross (or pre-cross). There are those who lived after the cross (or post-cross). And there are the Hebrews who will experience the tribulation period.
In our English language it’s common to state a fragment of a familiar story and expect the hearer to recall the whole story –and apply it to the rest of the conversation. An example that comes to mind is the saying “Don’t listen to him, he’s just crying wolf.” It’s a reference to the fable about a lonely shepherd boy who lied to get attention. He cried wolf to get the town’s people to come. After being fooled too many times, they quit believing his cries for help. When the wolf really did attack, no one came his aid. The moral of the story is don’t lie or you might end up like that boy –eaten by the wolf. So, the expression “crying wolf” is a warning that one of those speaking is lying to gain attention. The point is that just a few words can mean much more than what is spoken.
The primary audience for the book of Hebrews was the New Testament Hebrews. That shouldn’t be a surprise since it’s addressed to them. The book abounds with quotes from the Old Testament –each one equating to a bookmark. So when a Hebrew read those few words of the quote, he would remember (or re-read) the familiar Scripture passages –and there he would find the fullness of the New Testament’s message.
One such case of a quote being a bookmark is found in Hebrews 1:13-14. There it says “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” It’s the first verse of Psalm 110. Of course we believers know that God will reset the creation at the end of time –and this snippet hints at that. The psalm continues with God the Father describing His Son –beginning with the Day of the Lord’s wrath. His kingdom will be centered in Jerusalem; He will be an eternal Priest; He will lead His army to crush His enemies and He will rule over their remnants. Although the quote expresses the basic thought, reading the psalm in its entirety fills in the picture.
The New Testament provides the framework of the message. But the details are brought to light through Old Testament passages. And they are especially bookmarked here for the Hebrews, and us, to find and grasp!