Hebrews Overview

Theme, Chapter Titles, and Chapter Summaries

2013 Update, Tod Kennedy

Hebrews Theme. Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, is superior to angels, Moses, the Levitical priesthood, the tabernacle, the Levitical sacrifices, and the Old Covenant, and is the leader of a better way of life. The author exhorts the believers of the first century and then all believers to run the spiritual race by trusting Christ alone as sufficient for everlasting life and to live each day by keeping the eyes of our life focused on him.

Christ the Son, chapters 1-4

  1. The Father speaks through the Son
  2. The Father honors the Son
  3. Christ, the Faithful Son.
  4. Faith in the Son produces rest

2. Christ the High Priest, chapters 5-10

  1. Jesus Christ is our high priest
  2. Trust Christ alone
  3. Melchizedek priesthood of Jesus Christ
  4. Jesus Christ is the high priest mediator
  5. Jesus Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant by death
  6. Jesus Christ, the high priest, benefits believers

3. Therefore Live the Faith Life, chapters 11-13

  1. Approved by faith
  2. Keep your eyes on Jesus
  3. Selected instructions

Christ the Son, chapters 1-4

Hebrews 1. The Father speaks through the Son

After God spoke to mankind through the prophets of old, he has now spoken to us through His Son, Jesus the Christ. Jesus is heir of all things, the creator and sustainer of the universe, is God by nature, and the only savior from sin (Hebrews 1:1-4). He is much better than angels. God the Father said "Today I have begotten you" (installed as God’s king, not born, Psalm 2:7), and that he was his son and his firstborn (unique and special as Psalm 89:27, not first one born). The son receives worship from the angels (he is better than angels by nature, status, action, and proclamation), he is God with an eternal righteous kingdom, he is the creator of the earth and heavens which will be replaced, but he continues the same forever (Hebrews 1:5-12). God the Father told him, not angels, to sit at his right hand, the place of honor. Angels are simply ministering spirits for believers (Hebrews 1:13-14). Therefore Jesus Christ is the only one worthy of our complete faith, confidence, loyalty, and service.

Hebrews 2. The Father honors the Son

The author now warns the Hebrew Christians to pay attention to what they have been taught about Jesus and the salvation they have in him so as not to drift away from Jesus and the doctrine they had received. Israel was judged for not paying attention to God’s word (Mosaic Law), and if these believers neglect (αμελεω, 1 Tim 4:14) or are unconcerned with the doctrine of salvation only through Jesus, they can also expect God’s judgment. Jesus taught salvation and those who heard the Lord then taught these believers and confirmed the message through temporary signifying spiritual gifts (Hebrews 2:1-4). The author continues to express the superiority of Jesus by saying that all the world will be subjected to him in the future, but first he had to die for all mankind (taste death). Jesus was tested and matured through his sufferings and the Father crowned him with glory and honor (Hebrews 2:5-10). Jesus and believers in Jesus are a brotherhood under the Father; Jesus is the author of salvation and believers are the beneficiaries of his salvation (Hebrews 2:11-13). This brotherhood is possible because Jesus became man, and as man he defeated the devil and therefore the fear of death. He was tempted and suffered, he propitiated for sins, and he became the merciful and faithful high priest for those who accept him (Hebrews 2:14-18).

Hebrews 3. Christ, the Faithful Son

The author now challenges the Hebrew Christians to carefully think about the apostle and high priest of their confession, Jesus Christ. He is worthy of faith. Jesus is also worthy of greater honor than Moses because he is faithful as a Son over God’s house while Moses was faithful as a servant in God’s house. The house refers to the sphere of service and responsibility—Israel was the house Moses served in. The church is the house Jesus Christ heads. Believers serve well in God’s house if they hold to what they believed about Jesus (Hebrews 3:1-6). Since a failure of faith in God’s promises was the Exodus generation’s problem, the author refers to the Exodus generation who, because of unbelief, did not enter God’s rest which at that time was Canaan. The readers are to guard against this unbelief and encourage each other against the sin of unbelief (Hebrews 3:7-13). He continues by saying that the Hebrew Christians will be partners with Christ in fellowship and service if they continue to hold their confession and confidence in him. Unbelief undermines partnership, confident service, and the blessings (Hebrews 3:14-19).

Hebrews 4. Faith in the Son produces rest

There are two rests in this section: Israel’s physical rest in Canaan which they missed because they did not believe the Lord, and the present generation’s spiritual rest or Christian life rest which is had by believing God’s promises to them. The author continues to use Israel as an example of how not to be. Israel did not believe the Lord to go in and take over the land, trusting the Lord to give it to them and to give them rest from their enemies. Now the present generation, and we, can have spiritual rest if we will believe God about Jesus, the only Messiah and savior and his finished work of death, resurrection, ascension, intercession, and his provision for the Christian life (Hebrews 4:1-6). Israel failed to believe God in Joshua’s time and in David’s time, so they did not have national rest in their land. We have the possibility of enjoying spiritual rest right now if we will believe God. The author challenges them and us to enter God’s day to day spiritual rest by faith. If we do not, the word of God will judge us (Hebrews 4:7-13). Jesus is our high priest. We ought to hold our statement of allegiance to him, not be people of unbelief. He was tested and did not sin. He sympathizes with us in our tests. We should go to him in prayer. He is gracious to give mercy and grace when we need help. (Hebrews 4:12-16).

Christ the High Priest, chapters 5-10

Hebrews 5. Jesus Christ is our high priest

A high priest is the one who offers sacrifices for himself and for people. He must be human and he must be called by God to be a high priest. He served only while he lived. Aaron was called by God to be a high priest of the Levitical kind, and the Levites could sin and the priesthood ended at one’s death (Hebrews 5:1-4). God the Father appointed Jesus Christ to be a priest, not like Aaron, but like Melchizedek. Though Jesus was God’s Son, as a man he suffered and learned obedience, and he was shown to be qualified to gain our salvation. Christ’s priesthood was, in rank and nature, patterned on Melchizedek. This was an entirely different, better, and eternal priesthood (Hebrews 5:5-10). The author had more to say of Jesus’ Melchizekek kind of priesthood, but the readers were spiritually lazy and poor listeners. Instead of being mature believers who understood more advanced doctrine and could teach others, they needed to go back to milk doctrine and relearn those. They were spiritual infants unable to teach others or distinguish good and evil (Hebrews 5:11-14).

Hebrews 6. Trust Christ alone

The author, in view of what he has just written, now writes that these believers should press on to maturity, but as long as they repudiate or doubt Jesus Christ and His work they cannot do so. They crucify and shame the Son of God when they go back to the temple and the sacrifices. They need to repent, to change their wrong thinking about Christ to right thinking about Christ (Hebrews 6:1-6). The author then gives an illustration about rain, vegetation, and thorns to teach that God wants to bless those who respond to his grace, but he disciplines those who reject his grace. Nevertheless, the author is convinced that these Jewish Christians will repent and receive God’s blessings that go with salvation and ministry work. God has not forgotten their service up to now (Hebrews 6:7-10). The author then challenges them to continue ministry. He does not want them to be sluggish or lazy in their Christian lives when they are tested about who Jesus is and what Jesus did. Instead they are to imitate believers who practiced faith and patience when they were tested. Abraham is an example to follow of one who believed God’s promises. He knew God could not lie. The readers can also believe God’s promises. These promises are the anchor to stabilize their faith. This anchor is in heaven with Jesus who is the believer’s forerunner and high priest forever (Hebrews 6:11-20).

Hebrews 7. Melchizedek priesthood of Jesus Christ

Melchizedek was the king of Salem (later named Jerusalem) and priest of God, making him both a king and a priest. Unlike the Levitical priesthood there was no record of his parents, heritage, birth, or death, and therefore no recorded beginning or end of his priesthood (Hebrews 7:1-3). Melchizedek was superior to Levi—he blessed Abraham, and Abraham and Levi honored Melchizedek by paying him a tenth or tithe, even though Levi had not yet been born (Hebrews 7:4-10). But why the need for the Melchizedek kind of priesthood to replace the Levitical priesthood? And, if there was a new priesthood there would also have to be a new law because the Lord Jesus was from Judah, not Levi, and Moses in the law did not say that Judah was a priest tribe (Hebrews 7:11-14). Hebrews 7:15-24 says that Jesus’ Melchizekek kind of priesthood was superior to the Levitical priesthood: the Levite priesthood was based on legal and physical requirements (Hebrews 7:16); Jesus’ life was indestructible—by nature, by sinlessness, by resurrection, by ascension, and by intercession—(Hebrews 7:16); he was a priest by God’s appointment and oath (Hebrews 7:17, 21); he brought in a better removal of sin and access to God (Hebrews 7:19); the Levi kind depended on sinful men who could not remove sins once and for all and who died (Hebrews 7:16, 18, 23); and Jesus’ priesthood was permanent (Hebrews 7:24). Therefore Jesus is the perfect high priest for us. He is able to save forever, he makes intercession for us, he is holy and does not need to offer sacrifice for himself, and he offered himself for sin once for all (Hebrews 7:25-28).

Hebrews 8. Jesus Christ is the high priest mediator

Jesus, God’s son, is the Melchizedek kind of high priest the author has written about in chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7. He has the position of honor at the right hand of God the Father and he serves in the true heavenly sanctuary and tabernacle. The heavenly tabernacle is probably in some way the central location for God’s presence and glory. It was the model for the earthly tabernacle. Jesus is now there. We may well associate the throne of grace of Hebrews 4:16 with the heavenly tabernacle. From it believers gain sympathy, mercy and grace, prayer support, and legal defense against Satan’s accusations (Hebrews 8:1-3). Jesus, on earth, would not be a Levitical priest. He was of the tribe of Judah. The Levitical priests served only a copy and shadow, that Moses constructed, of the heavenly tabernacle, while Jesus serves now in the real heavenly tabernacle (Hebrews 8:4-5). Furthermore, Jesus has a better ministry than the Levites and mediates a better covenant with better promises than the Mosaic Covenant. This New Covenant was brought about by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the covenant God made with Israel that Jeremiah and Ezekiel wrote of in Jeremiah 31: 31-34 and Ezekiel 36:25-27. It provides God’s law in the people’s hearts (Hebrews 8:10), a renewed relationship with God (Hebrews 8:10), all the people will personally know God (Hebrews 8:11), and God will have put Israel’s past sins and failures away—they will have been forgiven (Hebrews 8:12).The Old Mosaic Covenant could not provide forgiveness or everlasting life. God has canceled the Old Mosaic Covenant (Hebrews 8:6-13).

Hebrews 9. Jesus Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant by death

The author continues with the theme that the New Covenant brought in by Christ replaces the Old Covenant of Moses. The first or Old Covenant with its regulations, furniture, and gifts and sacrifices was simply an inspired symbol, but this symbol could not remove guilt "cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience" (Hebrews 9:1-10). When Jesus Christ, the high priest, came and died on the cross, his death did remove guilt resulting from sin. He made his priestly offering in the heavenly tabernacle once for all. He was the real sacrifice to which the earthly tabernacle and sacrifices pointed (Hebrews 9:11-14). While Moses ratified the Old Covenant with the blood of calves and goats, Jesus ratified the New Covenant with his own blood from his death and became the mediator of the New Covenant. His sacrifice was a better sacrifice (Hebrews 9:15-23). Christ entered the heavenly tabernacle after his death and there he represents us to God the Father. He did not offer himself many times like the Old Covenant priests had to do. He offered himself once as the sacrifice for sins, and he will come to earth a second time to bring the historical results of salvation to each believer who anxiously expects him. The historical results are a resurrection body, freedom from sin, kingdom blessings, and rewards (Hebrews 9:24-28).

Therefore Live the Faith Life, chapters 11-13

Hebrews 10. Jesus Christ, the high priest, benefits believers

The Mosaic Law (Old Covenant) was only a shadow and a reminder of sin, and only a yearly and temporary remedy for sin, not the once for all remedy (Hebrews 10:1-4). The sacrifices and offerings of the Law were insufficient. But God had a plan—one that fulfilled the purpose of the Mosaic Law—to completely deal with sin. Jesus came as a man to fulfill and then retire the Old Covenant and to establish the New Covenant through his once and for all sacrifice of himself for sin (Hebrews 10:5-10). While the work of the Levitical priests was insufficient, the one-time work of high priest Jesus was completely sufficient. One proof of this is that Jesus was honored to sit at God the Father’s right hand. The author then uses the words of Jeremiah 31:33-34 to illustrate that Jesus’ work brought complete forgiveness—sacrifices are no longer needed (Hebrews 10:11-18). Jesus work should now affect our present living. Because now we can confidently approach the holy place (of the heavenly tabernacle), and because Jesus is our high priest we ought to draw near to God, hold fast our confession of forgiveness and life, consider how to stimulate others to love and good deeds, and not forsake assembling in church (Hebrews 10:19-25). Those who now reject the complete and only work of Christ, yet go on sinning, have no other sacrifice to remove those sins. They remain forgiven through Christ’s sacrifice, yet they face God’s severe judgment—divine discipline—because they have now insulted the work of God’s Son and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. If one was punished for disobedience to Moses’ law, and he was, how much worse it is to insult Jesus and His work (Hebrews 10:26-31). These believers need to remember the days when they had great confidence in Jesus Christ and his completed work. They suffered and they served with great reward awaiting them. They need to endure in their faith and service as they did then, not shrink back (Hebrews 10:32-39).

Hebrews 11. Approved by faith

The author has clearly stated that Jesus Christ is God’s eternal son and God himself (Hebrews 1), is better than angels (Hebrews 1), has been tested and is without sin and we can go to him for help (Hebrews 4:14-16), is our permanent Melchizedek kind of high priest (Hebrews 5:10), has made the once for all sacrifice for sin when he offered himself (Hebrews 7:24-27), makes intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25), mediated the new covenant (Hebrews 9:15), is now in heaven (Hebrews 9:24), has offered the once for all sacrifice for sin so we can enter the holy place which is heaven (Hebrews 10:19), and we are to draw near to God, hold fast to our confession, stimulate one another to love and good deeds, assemble together, and not throw away our confidence because of suffering (Hebrews 10:22-25, 35). Now in chapter 11 the author describes, illustrates, and comments on faith. It is the basis or the title deed to that which we hope for and the evidence of what we cannot see at the present time (Hebrews 11:1). Faith in what God says gives us the right answers about how the world came about and therefore God’s worldview (Hebrews 11:3). The author then presents Old Testament individuals who believed—faith in—God when they could not see the object and answer of their faith (Hebrews 11:4-38). We cannot please God apart from faith (Hebrews 11:6) and these faith people gained God’s approval—they did please him—through believing him, even though they did not at that time receive what God promised (Hebrews 11:2, 39). They had to wait for Jesus Christ to come and completely pay for sin and become ready to bring his kingdom to earth which was what they looked for, hoped for, and had not yet seen (Hebrews 11:1, 40). People who believed God are those "of whom the world was not worthy." They pleased God and God approved them, though the world did not. The same is true for today for those who believe God.

12. Keep your eyes on Jesus

The author now follows up on chapter 11. That chapter showed us that Old Testament people could live by faith when under suffering and testing. Now, after Jesus has come, we can successfully run the Christian life race by faith. To do this we must shed our distractions and get rid of our area of weakness sin, whatever it is. The author then tells us how to run the Christian life—by keeping our spiritual eyes on Jesus, our leader. This means to know God’s word, believe God, and apply God’s word as Jesus did. Jesus faced enormous opposition, yet he continued because he kept his goal, which was the Father’s will and provision, before him. Jesus is our pattern to follow and he is our encouragement because he was successful in his mission though rejected by most people (Hebrews 12:1-3). Sin always tries to interfere in our lives. When we give in too often, God disciplines us in order to bless us. God’s discipline is training and preparation for practical life and godliness. It includes some just punishment for sin when needed (Hebrews 12:4-11). We are to watch how we live the Christian life so that we do not follow the wrong people and wrong ideas because they can trip us up. Pursue peace and holiness, live life based upon God’s grace, and practice God’s grace toward oneself and others, not bitterness and self-centeredness, (Hebrews 12:12-17). Furthermore, the Jewish believers, should not base their spiritual living on the Old Covenant given at Sinai, but on Jesus who mediated the New Covenant (Hebrews 12:18-24). Because of all that the author has written to this point, he exhorts the readers to listen to God’s message. Those who rejected his warning in the Old Testament were judged; those who now reject his message given from heaven (through his son, Jesus) will also be judged. God will judge all creation in the future. Only his kingdom will remain. We should therefore show gratitude to God by our reverential service (Hebrews 12:25-29).

Hebrews 13. Selected instructions

In the final chapter the author instructs the readers about various responsibilities they should fulfill. First, in Hebrews 13:1-4, the author has listed personal and social responsibilities: love the brethren, show hospitality to strangers, remember Christian prisoners, and honor marriage. The author then gives Christian life responsibilities in Hebrews 13:5-19. These include 1. good character (Hebrews 13:5), 2. spiritual contentment (Hebrews 13:5-6), 3. imitate the faith of leaders who have passed close scrutiny (Hebrews 13:7), 4. do not accept false teachings (Hebrews 13:9), 5. maintain loyalty to Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:10-14), 6. give thanks to God through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:15), 7. do good works and share with hurting believers (Hebrews 13:16), 8. follow your spiritual leaders in spiritual matters and do this in such a way that the leaders joyfully lead you (Hebrews 13:17), and 9. pray for the author and his fellow workers (Hebrews 13:18-19). In the last 6 verses, Hebrews 13:20-25, the author concludes with a prayer that God will equip them for service, then gives an encouragement to accept his letter, tells them that Timothy has been released, and concludes with a final greeting.