If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.
12 December. Hebrews chapters 1-6
The letter to the Hebrews is difficult to follow, since it consists of dense theological argument in the Jewish tradition, in which verses of scripture are quoted out of context in support of the writer’s argument, a practice that would be frowned on these days. And the argument itself is difficult to follow. Since the plan I am following covers the whole book in only three days, I can only scratch the surface of its meaning.
In the first two chapters, the focus is on angels. Angels have had a bad press at times. Go back forty years and you would find that few people would claim to believe in them. The “age of reason” had no time for angels, and classed them along with ghosts, fairies and UFOs as mere mythology. But times have changed. Spirituality is back in fashion, experience matters more than doctrine, and you will find plenty of people who claim to have experienced angels. I know at least two.
But what are angels, or rather where do they fit in a Christian worldview? The danger is to consider angels as demi-gods and pay them too much attention. The anonymous writer of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus was, in his earthly form, “a little lower than the angels” (2:7, quoting a psalm). But also that after his resurrection he ascended from earth, through the heavens (sky) in which he angels dwelt, to the throne of God above. Such “up and down” imagery cannot be taken literally today – if it ever was – but as a metaphor it works, if by “up” we refer to importance. Jesus is more important than the angels. Why? Because as the Son of God he has more authority than angels who are mere servants of God. And he came to earth, not to serve angels but people (2:16).
Not only that, but Jesus is also more important than Moses, the greatest of Jewish prophets and leaders (3:3). The rest of chapters 3 and 4 concerns the concept of “rest”, which is an extension of the ides of the Jewish Shabat (sabbath). If God ‘rested’ after his work of creation, so he intends humanity to ‘rest’ after our work on earth. That ‘rest’ might be seen in an individual sense of “rest in peace” after death. But more constructively, it is the new heavens and earth” that Jesus promised would come at the end of time, a new existence like an endless sabbath, where praise and worship are all that matters, and there is no toil or suffering.
Chapter 5 starts on the major theme of the book – Jesus as High Priest -and I will look at that tomorrow.