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Hebrews – the Pivotal Epistle (Chuck Missler)

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The Epistle to the Hebrews is one of the two greatest theological treatises of the New Testament.1 This letter is, in a real sense, the “Leviticus” of the New Testament, detailing how the Lord Jesus Christ is both the fulfillment and the successor to all that had gone on before.

The extreme dilemma of the Jewish Christians — especially while the Temple was still standing — was their extreme predicament.

They had been drawn from a divinely appointed religion, with divinely appointed priests officiating in a divinely appointed Temple, accomplishing a divinely ordered service, all of which had been ennobled throughout their entire history.

How could believing priests and Pharisees remain “zealous of the Law”? It was, after all, the Jewish world that had crucified Christ and was repudiating Him.

This letter was clearly aimed at the people who were now Christians but had come out of Judaism. It focuses on the background that they came from, and tries to demonstrate how Jesus was a fulfillment of those things; in fact, he superseded those things. Jesus is the very fulfillment of the Old Testament.

Authorship

Who wrote the book of Hebrews? Hebrews is an unsigned book and there are many theories, but the available evidence, we feel, seems to justify a Pauline ascription.

Apollos? Some suggest that Apollos wrote this epistle, although there is not much evidence to support the theory. Furthermore, Apollos was from Alexandria, and yet even in Alexandria in the earliest times the book was associated with Paul. So, if Apollos was the author, somehow he didn’t even convince his own hometown.

Barnabas? Others ascribe the book to Barnabas, but here again there is no evidence to support this theory. There are some spurious writings (that are not regarded as authentic) that were attributed to Barnabas, but their style is so different from the epistle to the Hebrews that if one can conclude that the writings attributed to Barnabas were at all indicative of Barnabas’ style, he clearly didn’t write the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Paul? There are many stylistic reasons that point to its Pauline authorship.

Paul’s Special Mark

If one recognizes that there were apparently forgeries of Thessalonian letters being circulated, then several passages become clearer.2 Thus at the end of that letter, Paul includes a sort of special mark, a token:

The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.
2 Thessalonians 3:17

Note how Paul is emphasizing that he has signed the letter with his own hand (most were probably drafted by an amanuensis or secretary). He would include a sign at the end so they would know that the letter was really from him.

So what is this signature or style item that is included in every letter?3

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
2 Thessalonians 3:18

And how does Hebrews end?

Grace be with you all. Amen.
Hebrews 13:25

Why is this so impressive of Paul’s style? Because the word “Grace” does not even appear in the other epistles!4

The Trilogy on Habakkuk 2:4

The key verse in Habakkuk is:

The Just shall live by faith.
Habakkuk 2:4

This verse became the primary banner that inflamed the Reformation. It would seem that Paul penned a deliberate trilogy on this very verse.

Who are “the Just”? The Book of Romans answers the question (Cf. Rom 1:17).

How then “Shall [they] Live”? Gal-atians shows how we are to live — called out of religious externalism (Cf. Gal 3:11).

“By faith…” What is the epistle on “faith”? This Epistle to the Hebrews (Cf. Heb 10:38)!

As a former systems engineer and technologist in the information sciences, I tend to favor evidences that reveal an architecture and integrity of design, and it is this unique characteristic of the entire Bible that has been the foundation of our ministry.

Thus, it is the apparent trilogy of Romans, Galatians and Hebrews, dealing specifically on Habakkuk 2:4, that causes us to lean strongly on the inference that Hebrews was authored by Paul.

(If it should turn out that it was by another, then this very design becomes an even more impressive “fingerprint” of the Holy Spirit!)

Other Stylistic Evidences

In Romans 8:35-39, Paul lists a number of things that can separate you from the love of Christ. He lists seven things, and then 10 more, for a total of 17.

In Hebrews 12:18-24 we find a similar list: Again there are seven things, and then 10 more, for a total of 17. And in Galatians 5:19-21 there is also a list of 17 things.

(Again, it is Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews that evidence a similarity of style.)

Paul also favored the Greek word, huios, “sons,” rather than a similar Greek word, teknon, which other writers use, which means “children.”

The “witness of the Holy Spirit,” discussed in Romans 8:16 and Hebrews 10:15 also hints at a common authorship.

In Hebrews 13:18, the writer says, “Pray for us.” There is only one epistle writer that makes that specific request: none other than Paul.

The Role of Timothy

In Chapter 13 of Hebrews, there is a reference that notes that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was accompanied by Timothy.5 We know from a number of epistles that Timothy accompanied Paul.6 We do not have any record of him accompanying anyone else. While that does not mean that Timothy exclusively accompanied Paul, we do not have any evidence of him accompanying any other writer.

Why Anonymous?

So if Paul did write the book, why would he keep it anonymous? From Acts 9:15 we know that Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. While the Gentiles were his primary mission field, he also had an intense burden for his own brethren. Looking at Paul’s life, it is clear that Paul would sooner or later write an epistle to the Hebrews.

So why would he write one and keep it anonymous? Because every time he tried to address them there were riots. They were prejudiced against his ministry; he was distrusted by the Jews because he had converted to Christianity.

He never recovered the confidence of the Jewish side; they reputed his apostleship and also feared his attack against their ancient rituals and ceremonies.7

Nowhere in the book of Hebrews does Paul assert his apostleship, unlike his other epistles, but instead he builds his entire thesis uniquely from basic Jewish arguments from Old Testament passages. He exalts Christ, not his own apostleship.

There are reasons in the text that we could infer that the book was probably written after Paul’s first imprisonment, but before his second arrest.8 It was clearly written prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 a.d. The impending destruction of the Temple may have been one of the reasons that God had Paul show them how they needed, as Christian believers, not only to accept Christ, but to come out of Judaism.9

Peter’s Testimony

Peter also seems to allude to this letter in 2 Peter 3:15-16:

And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you…
2 Peter 3:15

Peter here ascribes a letter written by Paul to the Hebrews. But the other 13 Pauline epistles all went to Gentile churches. So if Hebrews was not written by Paul, then there is a missing letter written by Paul to the Hebrews.

As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
2 Peter 3:16

Here Peter is commenting on Paul’s letter, saying that Paul had written some things that were hard to understand (indeed, the difficulties in Hebrews 6 and 10).

Pressing On to Maturity

The primary focus of this letter to believers is to press on to spiritual maturity.10

For anyone serious about their spiritual growth, both the Epistle to the Romans and the Epistle to the Hebrews are absolutely essential to thoroughly understand.

And is there any priority or commitment that is more important — or urgent — in your own life? Pray about it.

Run Through Romans (5.6-11)

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6For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

This emphasises the point of the law: to show you that you have no strength.  To show you that you could never achieve righteousness on your own.  Because you could never achieve it on your own, Christ died for you.  He died in your place, becoming your sin, taking your death, bearing the punishment that should be on you.  How wonderful!

7For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.

8But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Before you ever tried to do anything good, before you ever prayed, before you ever fasted, before you ever read your Bible, before you tried to walk in love, Christ died for you because God loves you.  Never, ever doubt the love of God for you: while you were still unrighteous and while you were cursing His name and disrespecting His people, He sent Christ to die for you.  He loves you.  He loved you when you were a rebel.  Now you have tried and failed, do you honestly think he doesn’t love you anymore?  He loves you.  He adores you.

You determine God’s love for you not by your feelings or experiences.  If you try that you will be a yo-yo Christian up and down with your moods and your feelings.  You determine God’s love for you on whether Jesus died or not. 

You commit a sin.  You don’t feel loved by God.  Did Jesus die for you? Yes – then God loves you.

You do something great.  You feel loved by God.  Did Jesus die for you? Yes – then God loves you.

You try to do something and make a mistake.  You feel unloved.  Did Jesus die for you?  Yes – then God loves you.

You have a row with someone.  You disobey the Holy Spirit.  You let everyone down.  You lose control.  Did Jesus die for you?  Yes – then God loves you!

9Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.

Follow Paul’s argument here because it is so powerful and will bring you so much confidence and peace.  Paul is saying that when you were a sinner and a rebel and there was nothing good in you, God loved you so much that He sent Jesus to take your sin and swap it for His righteousness. 

Now you have believed in the love of God and the death and resurrection of Jesus you are righteous.  If God loved you when you were a sinner, how much MORE – now you are justified (made righteous) by Jesus’ blood – are you saved from His wrath.  God will never punish you for sin.

Do you understand that: God will NEVER punish you for your sin.  You could go out and sin right now and God will not punish you for it.  You are righteous because of what Jesus did and are completely free from the wrath of God.

The wrath of God is the element of God’s justice and goodness that demands God punish sin.  Now when you were unrighteous, you were what Ephesians 2 calls “a child of wrath”.  Your whole nature was unrighteous and you deserved the judgment of God.  You lied, you stole, you blasphemed.  You were selfish.  When you died and were judged by God you would have gone to hell.

Now, because of your faith in Jesus you have been given a new nature.  You are not unrighteous anymore, but righteous: this change in your spirit is so monumental that Jesus Himself calls it being “born again”.  God punished Jesus for all your sins and He died on a cross taking your death.  He descended to hell, suffering your punishment.  Now you are now made righteous when you believe in Jesus.

Because you are righteous, you are not under the wrath of God.  In fact, it would be wrong of God to punish you for your sin.  God has already punished Jesus fully for every sin you have committed or ever will commit.  If God punished you for your sin, He would be unjust.   If Jesus has legally taken all the punishment for every sin you have ever committed you are not under the wrath of God.

Put in simple English: God is never going to punish you.  He is not mad with you.  He is not angry with you.  You are righteous.  The Lord God loves you.

Isaiah 54.9 says: For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.

Ask any Christian: do you believe that one day there will be another worldwide flood?  They will tell you not a chance – God has promised He will not judge the world with water again.   Ask any Christian: do you believe that God will ever be angry with you or rebuke you again?  They will most likely say: probably lots of times. 

Why? They are basing God’s love for them on their performance and not on the work of the cross and the grace of God.  Read Isa. 54.9 again carefully: as surely as God has promised that there will be no more worldwide floods, He will NOT be angry with you or rebuke you.  Ever.  That is what the Bible says.

You are righteous.  You are right with God.  You are at peace with God.  God is not angry at you.  Stop running away from God, He loves you.  He is not judging you for your sin, He is not holding your sin against you – He already held it against Jesus.  You are free and delivered and safe from the punishment of God.

This is the good news of the gospel!10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

11And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

If you realize this, you would joy in God too.  When you were God’s enemy and you hated God, He didn’t wipe you out: He sent His Son to die for you.  Now you are God’s friend, you shall be saved by the life of Jesus.  Jesus lives in you, and God loves you as much as He loves Jesus.  You should be shouting about now if this is sinking in.

We have now received the atonement.  Atonement is a terrible translation of the Greek word katallagē. It should be translated: exchange or reconciliation. 

You have received the exchange: Jesus took your sin and gave you His righteousness.  Say it out loud.  Get used to thinking that you are righteous with the righteousness of God.  That is the truth.  God is not angry with you, God is not going to punish you because you have received the exchange – the greatest exchange in history.  His righteousness for your sin.  God will never, ever deal with you according to your sin.  Most Christians don’t believe that, many ministers don’t preach that but it is the message of the gospel.

You have received the reconciliation: you and God are no longer at war.  The sin issue has been dealt with by Jesus.  You and God are at peace.  God is not about to punish you or rebuke you and that is sealed in the blood of Jesus.

So start to joy in God.  The word for joy here in verse 11 means to boast gladly about.  Boast gladly that you are saved, not because of yourself, but because of Jesus.  Boast gladly that God will never punish you, not because of yourself, but because of Jesus’ blood.

Praise His name forever,

Ben

Run Through Romans (4.14-25)

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Now that Paul has shown us through the example of Abraham that there is nothing you need to do to become righteous but simply believe, he decides that it is important to keep emphasizing that it is important to realize that Abraham was made righteous by his faith:

14For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:

Do you realize that if you are trying to impress God by obeying the law you are making God out to be a liar?  You are saying that his promise to justify you by faith alone is worthless and that you need to do something to impress God.

15Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

All the law does is work wrath.  This means that the law only makes you deserving of punishment.  Every time you try and please God by your works and your righteousness, you fail and you put yourself again in a position where you know you deserve punishment.

16Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,

So we can only obtain righteousness by faith – because that way God gives it to us as a free gift, make available through Jesus completely taking our punishment on the cross.  And this promise is available to all who believe.

17(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

This is such a powerful revelation of God.  God calls those things which be not as though they were: you might never have done anything righteous, but because God still calls you righteous.  Abraham had no children, but God still called him father of many nations.  You might not feel healed, but God says that by the stripes of Jesus, you are healed.  You might not feel right with God, but God declares you are righteous.

18Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.

19And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb:

20He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;

21And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.

Paul is taking the opportunity of discussing the fact that Abraham was declared righteous by faith to explain exactly how faith works.

Paul shows us that Biblical faith works with four simple steps:

1. Against hope believe in hope (v.18)

Hope is your vision and imagination for the future.  When we hope for negative and evil things to happen in our life, it is called worry.  Worry is simply imagining all the bad things that could happen to you.  Hope is simply imagining all the good things that could happen to you.  Abraham started to develop his faith by refusing to imagine bad things in his future and deliberately imagining bad things.

Stop imagining your own funeral.  Imagine yourself standing in the front of your church testifying to your healing.  Stop imagining your children on drugs, rebellious, promiscuous.  Imagine them witnessing, laying hands on the sick, worshipping the Lord.

The first step to strong faith is to change what you are imagining.

2. According to what was spoken (v.18)

The next step to strong faith is to focus on what has been spoken.  Get yourself into the Word of God.  Don’t believe that you are going to stay sick – believe by His stripes you are healed.  Don’t believe you are going to go bankrupt, believe that God will supply all your needs.  Get yourself into the Word.

3. Considered not his own body(v.19)

Abraham refused to consider his own body.  He absolutely refused to think about the evidence of his senses that his body could not have a child.  He accepted the Word of God and rejected the testimony of his own senses.

If you are sick, and your body is yelling at you that it is sick: don’t consider it.  If you are in debt and your body is yelling at you to worry: don’t consider it.

Refuse to consider any testimony that contradicts the Word of God – even if it is your own body.

4. Gave Glory to God (v. 20)

One of the best ways to develop strong faith is to give glory to God.  Praise God.  Worship God.  Exalt His name.  If you are sick, don’t beg God to heal you.  Thank Him that you are healed.  Praise Him for being the healer.  You cannot stay in doubt while glorifying God.

Abraham was praising God for his children before he saw them.  Praise God for your healing before you see it.  Praise God for your husband coming to the Lord before you see it.  That is strong faith.  That is how faith works.

22And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

Faith like that is what makes you righteous.  If you feel unrighteous, if you realize that you have sinned and your actions are not good, then you need to realize as well that you can be right with God by faith.

Start to imagine the Lord accepting you and welcoming you into heaven.  Start to meditate on Scriptures that say you are righteous (2 Cor. 5.21 is a great place to start).  Don’t consider the sins you have committed – don’t even think about them.  And thank and praise God that you are righteous.

23Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;

24But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;

25Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

And you, as well as Abraham, can be right with God, can be righteous with the righteousness of God, just by believing that God raised Jesus from the dead.  This is glorious news.  This is the gospel.

Praise His name forevermore!

Ben

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