Warning to Pay Attention – Hebrews 2:1-4
Warning Against Unbelief – Hebrews 3:7-19
Warning Against Falling Away – Hebrews 5:11-14
Warning Against Refusing God – Hebrews 12:14-29
Hebrews was written to a specific audience facing very specific circumstances. We can discern various facts about the recipients of Hebrews through a careful mirror reading of the letter:
The original readers of the letter were conversant in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, as the author’s usage shows.
The contrast in 13:14 and the types of sins listed in Chapter 13 suggest they lived in a city.
They had once faced persecution, but not to the point of bloodshed. It is possible that 12:1-3 and 13:12-13 imply that they would soon face renewed opposition.
Some had stopped assembling together, and this was possibly due to persecution.
As the author saw it, at least some among them were being tempted to avoid severe persecution by “shrinking back” from the eschatalogical fulfillment of the true hope and faith of the Old Testament proclaimed by the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ. It is debated whether the anticipated persecution was from secular (i.e., Roman) authorities or Jewish authorities. Perhaps there were elements of both, or as we see elsewhere in the New Testament, the Jewish authorities may have stirred up the secular authorities to suppress the Christians. The author exhorted them to encourage “love and good works” and warned them that if they “sin willfully” by denying Jesus’ sacrifice it will become ineffective for them. But for non-Jews, these loving actions are sufficient for “great recompense of reward” as long as they “hold fast the profession of our faith [in Jesus] without wavering,” and thus do not need to convert to Judaism.
In 13:24 the author says that those from Italy greet the readers. This could mean that the author is writing from Italy or that the author is writing to recipients in Italy, and that Italians present with the author are greeting those back home.
We often think of persecution as the sort of thing our eastern brethren have to face day in and day out. By that definition, Americans haven’t really had to face serious persecution. Rather recently the National Day of Prayer was judged to be as un constitutional as prayer at school sporting events and displays of the ten commandments. It makes me wonder if Thanksgiving Day or Christmas will be next.
The Bible tells us what is comming down the pike. It also tells the Hebrews that in light of upcomming persecution they shouldn’t give up meeting together. Nor should we. When times get tough, the tough get going to church.