As its name implies, the book of Hebrews was written to Hebrew, or Jewish, Christians. It is actually a letter, but the identity of its author has been lost to history (I think it was written by Paul, but many people do not). Hebrews was written to encourage Jewish believers who were under pressure. Some of them were being persecuted for their faith and they needed to be reminded that the tenets of Christianity were true and that Jesus was really the Messiah, the goal and fulfillment of Judaism. Some were being pressured by Jewish family members and spiritual leaders to either forsake Jesus or be ostracized by the synagogue community. Many responded to these pressures by trying to practice their Jewish traditions and their Christian faith at the same time, resulting in a hybrid of the two — but that missed the point of Jesus’ teaching that He came to usher in a “new covenant” that would fulfill and supersede the old one (see Matthew 5:17, Luke 22:20, 2 Corinthians 3:6).
The letter begins with a subject that would capture the attention of any Jew: the writings of the Old Testament prophets (v.1). Throughout the years, God had revealed His Word to His chosen people through the prophets in many ways, like the visions of Ezekiel, the sorrow of Jeremiah, and the preaching of Malachi. But those prophesies were all pointing to something, or rather someone, who would not just speak for God, but as God; He would not just speak the Word of God, but embody and fulfill the Word of God; and He would not just show the way to salvation, but He would offer Himself as the way to salvation. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, was the culmination of everything the Jews had been taught — He was their Savior!
The description of Jesus in verses 2-3 summarizes His glorious identity. He is “heir of all things” — everything belongs to Him. He is the creator and sustainer of all things. He is the exact representation of God — to know Jesus is to know everything that can be known about God. He died for our sins to make us pure and holy. He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven to rule as Lord of all. What a wonderful Savior! He deserves our praise and our devotion.
In the rest of this chapter the writer confronts what must have been a popular distortion of the gospel in his day. Some false teachers taught that God should be approached through His messengers, the angels. The idea had the ring of legitimacy; after all, God had dispatched angels all through the Old Testament, and angels had played an important role in the birth, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. These false teachers encouraged people to worship angels, and they even drew the conclusion that Jesus was not God in the flesh, but rather the greatest angel God had created. This idea had to be refuted and eliminated. It distorted the identity of Jesus and took the saving power out of the gospel message. (Note: whenever I hear one of my brothers or sisters in Christ sharing stories of angel encounters or angel sightings, I cringe a little. I believe in angels; I believe angels are actively ministering today in ways that are unseen and mostly unknown to us. But I don’t need “angel stories” to validate the gospel. I know Jesus, and Jesus is enough.) Here is the truth (v.4-14):
Angels are messengers, Jesus is the Message. Angels are ministers of God, Jesus is God. Angels give praise in heaven, Jesus receives praise in heaven. Angels are created beings, Jesus is the one who created them. Angels serve people, but they cannot save people — only Jesus can do that. Jesus is “superior” and “more excellent” (v.4), and He is all we need!