Published by Freda Hawkes at Shakespir
Copyright 2014 Freda Hawkes
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This study is written for people who have personal experience of the Christian faith. We are looking at a letter written to Christians in the first century AD whose lives changed when they chose to follow Jesus. If you haven’t heard the good news about Jesus yet, this study is not the best place to start. Instead it would be really good for you to read the four accounts of Jesus’ life in the New Testament of the Holy Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If possible, you could join a course like Christianity Explored, or find a Christian church and ask questions of the people you meet there. Or perhaps you would like to study the Bible using the eBooks “The Bible from Start to Finish” or “What Christians Believe”, followed by the book of Acts in the New Testament using the studies in the eBook “How the Church Began”. You can download all of these free at
This study is for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus and sometimes get discouraged. We have experienced God’s goodness to us in forgiving our sins and giving us his Holy Spirit. But our friends, colleagues, the society we live in, possibly even our families, do not understand our choice. Perhaps you came to believe in Jesus when you were in another country and have now returned home – maybe you find your new beliefs do not fit in with your normal busy life. The letter called “Hebrews” was written to Jewish Christians who knew all about the ancient Jewish faith in the part of the bible written in the Hebrew language, our Old Testament. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah (the Christ), predicted by the prophets and sent by God. But Jewish society taught that Jesus was a fraud and that to believe in him was ridiculous. The Jewish faith already had 2000 years of history – why leave that rich heritage and follow a man who was crucified? You are going against your own culture! And why make life difficult for yourself? The Roman government executed Jesus as an enemy of the State. It would be much easier to forget about Jesus and fit in with your own cultural background. Can this happen to us who have believed in Jesus today? Or maybe you have been hurt by someone within the Christian community and the easiest thing would be to walk away. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews gives encouragement, warnings and solid information so we can hold on to our courage, hope, confidence and faith.
Hebrews is a letter written within a generation of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The letter was written to people who had a very good knowledge of the Jewish Hebrew scriptures (the Christian Old Testament). These people believed that Jesus was God’s Son who died as a sacrifice to take away their sins. They had repented of their sins and put their faith in Jesus. They had received the Holy Spirit. They had shown love for God and for God’s people. But the letter writer can see they were in danger. Although they had background knowledge of the scriptures, they were slow to learn the truths of God’s word. The letter writer thought they were in danger of:
hardening their hearts,
turning away from the living God,
falling short and not entering God’s promised rest,
giving up meeting with other believers,
throwing away their confidence,
getting entangled in sin,
growing weary and loosing heart,
missing the grace of God,
refusing him who speaks,
being carried away by strange teachings,
forgetting to do good.
The people who first received this letter were probably Jewish, descended from Abraham the Hebrew (about 2000 BC) and from the Hebrew nation who left slavery in Egypt under Moses (about 1200 or 1400 BC). Some spoke and read the Hebrew language but most were more familiar with Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire. The Hebrew scriptures had been translated into Greek by a large group of leading scholars several centuries earlier. This Greek translation (the Septuagint, so called because of the 70 scholars involved in translation) was widely used and accepted. The Jewish faith in one God was most unusual in the Roman Empire, but Judaism was recognised as an ancient faith and tolerated. Some Jews lived in the province of Iuadea (the area we today call Palestine) but many more Jews lived in cities throughout the Roman Empire. Jews journeyed to their holy city, Jerusalem, for the religious festivals such as Passover and Pentecost. The centre where they worshipped was the beautiful temple that Herod the Great had rebuilt. In this temple the priests offered gifts and sacrifices for sins according to the law God gave Moses. The work of the priests enabled people to worship and serve God. The letter to the Hebrew Christians was written some time after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus (about AD 30) but while the temple was still in place – the activities of the priests are described in the present tense. In AD 70 the temple was destroyed by the Romans and the system of priests and sacrifices collapsed.
Who wrote the letter? He (it seems to have been a “he” from the grammar in Hebrews 11:32) does not say his name. All 21 letters in the New Testament except Hebrews and 1 John give the author’s name or nickname at the start of the letter, as was the custom. There have been guesses about the anonymous author: Paul himself? Barnabas, the “Son of Encouragement”? Apollos, the learned man with thorough knowledge of the Scriptures? But the author didn’t want us to know. He seemed to know his readers well, he wanted to come and see them soon but something was stopping him, he normally wrote longer letters, he was a friend of Timothy and he knew people from Italy; that is all the personal information he gives us in the last paragraphs of his letter.
Why did he write the letter? While the Jewish faith had a long history, the Romans saw followers of Christ as a possible threat. In daily life people could be required to sacrifice to the gods who protected the Empire. Believers who would not do this could be excluded from civic life and periodically were persecuted. The believers to whom the letter was written had suffered hard times. They had been publically insulted, their possessions had been confiscated and some of them had been sent to prison because of their faith. Maybe they would loose confidence in their new belief in Jesus and turn back to the world-view that their friends, families and schools had taught them. Maybe they would just drift away to their old way of life. The writer ends by saying “I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation for I have written you only a short letter”. His “exhortation” gives us warnings, encouragements and actions we can take to keep our faith in Jesus.
Why do believers in Jesus have a hard life? What has God given us to help us in our situation? Have other believers had difficulties but still stayed strong? Does it matter if we drift away? If we deliberately keep on sinning after we believe, won’t God just forgive us anyway? Can drifting away happen to anyone? If so, how can I avoid it? If these are our questions, this letter can help us. It will show us the meaning of the Old Testament system of worshipping God and the better hope, better promises and better covenant we now enjoy. It will give us examples of the amazing faith of some Old Testament characters who had a hard life, and will warn us from the Old Testament of the effects of unbelief and disobedience. It will teach us more about Jesus, who he is, what he has done for us and what he is doing for us now. We will be encouraged to take positive action and keep going until we finally reach our home, the city of the living God.
This study uses the New International Version of the bible. You will need to use the whole bible because there are many references to the Old Testament. Your bible probably has useful footnotes that tell you the source of the quotations. Some of the Notes give you information about the quotations and will be helpful if you have more time for background study. You should be able to answer the questions in these studies from the words you have read in the bible; the exceptions are questions which ask “what do you think?”. It is important not just to learn facts from the bible but to think about what we learn – there are sections called “To think about…” which should help you do this personally.
You may want to use this study on your own, but it should also work well if you use it in a group. Each session should take you about an hour. Reading the living and active word of God will always help us. Enjoy Hebrews.
[Study 1 Hebrews chapters 1 and 2
Jesus the Son of God – Jesus the Son of Man]
Read Hebrews 1:1-3
Q1. At the start of his letter, what does the writer want us to know about Jesus? There at least 6 statements about who Jesus is and what he has done.
Note: In Hebrew thought, the right hand side was the place of honour and strength. The Greek word translated “exact representation” was used for the impression left by a seal.
Read Hebrews 1:4-14
What information is given in 1:6-7 and 13-14 about angels?
From 1:4-14, find at least 5 ways in which Jesus is superior to angels.
Note: Jewish people were aware of the importance of angels. See for example the statements by Stephen that an angel appeared to Moses in the desert (Acts 7:30, 35, 38) and by Stephen (Acts 7:53) and Paul (Galatians 3:19) that the Law of Moses was put into effect through angels.
Q3. The writer begins by saying that in the past God spoke through the prophets (Hebrews 1:1). The writer of Hebrews then gives 5 quotations from these prophets in Hebrews 1:5-13. Find at least 7 things the prophets said in these quotations about Jesus the Messiah.
Notes: The words Messiah (from Hebrew) and Christ (from Greek) both mean God’s anointed one, God’s chosen king. If you want to know more about the Old Testament passages the writer quotes, see the Appendix Notes on Study 1.
Read Hebrews 2:1-4
Q4. In the past God spoke to people in Old Testament times through the prophets (Hebrews 1:1) and by angels (Hebrews 2:2 – see also the Note to Q2). Now God has spoken to us by his Son (Hebrews 1:2). What is the warning in Hebrews 2:1-4? Who is the warning for?
To think about: Drifting is passive and probably not deliberate. The writer says “we” and includes himself, so drifting away can happen to anyone. What might cause me to drift away and what might I drift into instead? See for example Jesus’ words in Mark 4:19. How can I pay more careful attention to what I have heard so I do not drift away?
Who announced our great salvation (2:3, see also Hebrews 1:2)?
Who confirmed this salvation (2:3)?
Who testified to it (2:4)?
How does this encourage us to believe the message we have heard
Read Hebrews 2:5-10
Note: Hebrews 2:6-8 quotes from Psalm 8 where David describes God’s plan for humans (see Genesis 1:26-28). Following the disobedience of Adam and Eve, the words of Psalm 8:4-6 only partly apply to us humans, but they fully apply to Jesus, who has shared our humanity. Paul quotes Psalm 8:6 in 1 Corinthians 15:25-27 referring to God’s plan for Jesus – “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he has “put everything under his feet.””
Q6. What do we learn about Jesus from Hebrews 2:5-10?
Read Hebrews 2:11-18
Q7. From Hebrews 2:11-18:
How does Jesus describe our relationship to him (11-13)?
Why did Jesus share our humanity (14, 17)?
Notes: Hebrews 2:17 – in the Old Testament it was the responsibility of the high priest once a year on the Day of Atonement to obtain God’s forgiveness for the sins of the people. The footnote in the NIV says that the Greek word translated “make atonement” means that Jesus turned aside God’s wrath, taking away the sins of the people. A similar Greek word is used in Romans 3:25 and 1 John 2:2 and 4:10, explaining God’s plan to show his justice as well as his love. Sin separates us from God – we have a great need for purification from our sins (Hebrews 1:4). For more information on the quotations in Hebrews 2:12-13 see Appendix Notes on Study 1.
Q8. How can Jesus help us now (Hebrews 2:18)? See 1 Corinthians 10: 13 for a promise about God’s faithfulness when we are tempted.
Q9. What ideas and facts from Hebrews chapters 1 and 2 could you use to encourage someone who might be drifting away?
To think about:
In chapter 1 we see God’s Son, the heir of all things, God’s chosen king forever. In chapter 2 we see Jesus, the author of our salvation, sharing our humanity, suffering and dying to bring us to glory. Think about what this meant for Jesus and thank him for what he has done for us, perhaps using the words of Philippians 2:5-11. Because he suffered when he was tempted, Jesus is able to help us when we are tempted. He is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters. Are we ashamed to call Jesus our Lord?
[Study 2 Hebrews chapters 3 and 4
Jesus and Moses – Israel and Us]
From chapter 1 we have seen that God’s Son is superior to angels and is now sitting at God’s right hand. In chapter 2 we are warned to pay careful attention to the message spoken to us, spoken not by prophets or angels but by God’s Son. We have seen that Jesus shared our humanity so that by his death he might destroy the devil who holds the power of death and bring many sons and daughters to glory. He was made like us so he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, turning aside God’s just wrath against sin, taking away our sins and able to help us when we are tempted.
Read Hebrews 3:1-6
The writer of Hebrews refers to a time when Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ older sister and brother, were jealous of Moses and criticised him (Numbers 12:1-8). God told Miriam and Aaron “my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” God defended Moses’ honour. God’s statement in Numbers 12:7 that Moses was faithful in all God’s house is used in Hebrews 3:2 and 3:5.
Q1. The writer compares Jesus and Moses (verse 2). In verses 3-6, why is Jesus worthy of greater honour than Moses?
Note: “House” in Numbers 12:7 and Hebrews 3:1-6 means people (family or community). See for example Numbers 20:29 “when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, the entire house of Israel mourned for him”.
Q2. Who is now God’s house (verse 6)?
Note: 1 Timothy 3:14-15 identifies God’s household as the church. The word “church” in the bible is never used to mean a physical building, but it means a gathering, congregation or assembly of people. We are being built together to become a spiritual house – see 1 Peter 2:5 and Ephesians 2:22.
Read Hebrews 3:7-19.
The writer of Hebrews quotes from the second half of Psalm 95. The first half of Psalm 95 is a community song of praise to the Rock of our salvation, the great God, the great King, maker of land and sea, the Lord our Maker; the second half is a timeless warning from God not to harden our hearts like the house of Israel did under Moses’ leadership. God had promised to Abraham (about 2000 BC) that he would give the land of Canaan (Palestine) to Abraham’s descendents (Genesis 12:7). In about 1400 or 1200 BC God sent Moses to bring the house of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and take them to the land that was promised (Exodus 3:7-10). The rebellion where Israel tested and tried God happened straight after the miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt and provision of food from heaven. The people quarrelled with Moses over lack of water and tested God, saying “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7). God provided water from the rock, and Moses called the place Massah and Meribah (Hebrew for testing and quarrelling).
God then gave His laws to Moses, who wrote them in the Book of the Covenant. The Israelites broke the Covenant in a few weeks by worshipping a golden idol constructed by Aaron. Acting on God’s instructions, Moses commissioned the Tent of Meeting and consecrated Aaron as high priest. Miriam and Aaron were critical of Moses and God rebuked them (Numbers 12). Soon after, God said to Moses “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan which I am giving to the Israelites” (Numbers 13:1). After 40 days in the land, ten of these men reported back to Moses “we can’t attack these people, they are stronger than we are”. Two of the men, Caleb and Joshua, reported “If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land” but the whole assembly rebelled against God and talked about stoning Caleb and Joshua to death. God said to all the adults who grumbled “In this desert your bodies will fall”. The only people out of that generation who would enter the land would be Caleb and Joshua. It would be 40 years before the next generation entered the land, one year for each of the days the explorers spent in the land (Numbers 13:27 to 14:10, 14:26-34).
Q3. What warning does the writer give us in Hebrews 3:7-8 and 3:12-13?
Hebrews 2:1 warns us against passively drifting away because we do not pay careful attention to what we have heard. Hebrews 3:12-13 warns us against actively turning away from the living God because we have a sinful, unbelieving heart that is hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Read 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 which tells us that the rebellious events after Moses led the people out of Egypt were written down as examples for us, to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. If we think we are standing firm, let’s be careful we don’t fall! Temptations will seize us, but God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. He is faithful and will provide a way out of the temptation so we can stand up under it.
Q4. From Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14, what is our responsibility as people who are God’s house and as people who have come to share in Christ?
What does the writer say we should do to avoid being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (3:13)?
To think about:
Today am I listening to God’s voice? Today is there anything that is turning me away from the living God? Am I allowing my heart to be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness? Today is there a believer in Jesus who I can encourage, and who can encourage me?
Read Hebrews 4:1-11
In Hebrews chapter 3 the writer teaches us from Psalm 95:7-8 “Today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts”. In chapter 4 he teaches us from God’s statement in Psalm 95:11 “So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest””. God had promised Moses “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:12-14). Moses spoke to the people of Israel about the land they were about to enter, calling it “the resting place and the inheritance the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 12:9). Moses’ successor Joshua actually led the people into the land (see Joshua 1:1-9) and at 85 years of age Caleb was still a strong man (Joshua 14:6-13). So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side (Joshua 21:43-44). Their forefathers in the previous generation, except Joshua and Caleb, had not been able to enter the resting place because of unbelief. Several hundred years after Joshua, God spoke through David, the writer of Psalm 95.
Note: Hebrews 4:9 – the Jewish Sabbath is the seventh day of the week (Friday evening to Saturday evening). The 4th of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) is to do no work (labour) on the Sabbath day.
Q5. In chapter 3 the writer of Hebrews introduces us to the idea of “rest” by using the quotation from Psalm 95 which begins with the word “today”.
What do you think “rest” meant for the people of Joshua’s time (4:8)?
For the people of Joshua’s time, what was the connection between obedience, belief and faith in God and entering God’s rest (3:18-19, 4:2, 4:6)?
What do you think “entering God’s rest” means for us today (4:3, 9-11)? See also Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8-10, Romans 4:1-5 and Romans 6:23 contrasting our own works which we could boast about, which earn wages, and God’s gift through faith which we cannot earn.
In Matthew 11:28-29 how does Jesus say we can find rest?
Q6. What are the warnings for us in Hebrews 4:1-2 and 4:11?
Read Hebrews 4:12-16
Q7. In verses 3,4,5,7 and 8 of Hebrews 4, the writer quotes what God had said or spoken in scripture (our Old Testament) and shows us that it applies to us today. How is the word of God living and active (4:12)? Can you think of experiences you have had of God’s word being living and active?
Q8. Nothing is hidden from God’s sight (4:13). Our high priest is able to sympathise with our weaknesses (4:5). Do you think these statements are good news or bad news? Why do you think that?
Q9. What reasons does the writer give us in verses 13-16 to encourage us to approach the throne of grace (God’s throne) with confidence?
To think about: What can help us to hold firmly to the faith we profess? See for example 2:18, 3:13, 4:15-16.
Suggestions for prayer: Thank God that he knows everything about us already. Thank Him that we can approach his throne of grace with confidence because of Jesus, the Son of God. Thank God that he gives us mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.
[Study 3 Hebrews chapters 5 and 6
Jesus and Melchizedek – Abraham and us]
Jesus was made human so he could be a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:17-18). We have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, able to sympathise with our weaknesses, who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:14-15). With only a break of about 70 years during the exile in Babylon, Jewish people had a high priest from the time of Moses (about 1200 or 1400 BC) until the time Hebrews was written (before 70 AD). The first high priest was Moses’ brother Aaron, descended from Jacob’s son Levi. The priests were all descendents of Aaron. But Jesus, as the prophets predicted, was a descendent of Jacob’s son Judah and of king David. Jesus is the descendent of kings, not priests! In the Old Testament the roles of kings and priests were completely separate. Can Jesus be a true priest? The writer addresses this question by referring once again to David’s Psalm 110 (See Appendix Notes on Study 1, Hebrews 1:13) The writer introduces us to the mysterious priest Melchizedek named in Psalm 110:4, but we wait for a full explanation until chapter 7.
Read Hebrews 5:1-10.
Q1. What information about high priests is given in verses 1 to 4?
Note: For the command of God that Aaron must offer sacrifices for his own sins before making offerings for the sins of the people (Hebrews 5:5), see Leviticus 9:8 and 15 which describes the very first day Aaron acted as high priest, and Leviticus 16:6, 11, 15-16, the ceremony for the yearly Day of Atonement.
Q2. From Hebrews 4:14-15 and 5:1-10, how is Jesus like all human high priests, and how is he different?
Human High Priest
In Hebrews 5:5-6 the writer returns to two psalms he quoted in chapter 1 – Psalm 2 and Psalm 110, emphasising words said by God to Jesus. He has already quoted Psalm 2:7 in Hebrews 1:5 “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”, and Psalm 110:1 in Hebrews 1:13 “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”. Now he quotes Psalm 110:4 “You are a priest for ever in the order of Melchizidek”.
Maybe as he wrote Hebrews 5:7 the writer was thinking of Jesus’ experiences in the garden of Gethsemane the night before his death, and on the cross (see Luke 22:39-44 and Matthew 27:45-50). The writer uses the idea he introduced in chapter 1 – Jesus as God’s son – and the idea from chapter 2 – Jesus sharing our humanity. Compare 2:10 with 5:8-9. The word translated “perfect” in both of these verses has the meaning of “complete”. Look out for more perfect (and not perfect!) things in chapters 7, 9, 10, 11 and 12.
Q3. From 5:9, who receives this eternal salvation?
Read Hebrews 5:11-14 and 6:1-8
Q4. From 5:11 to 6:3, why does the writer of the letter find it hard to explain to his readers about Jesus and Melchizedek? How does the writer challenge his readers? Think of a mature Christian you know and ask their advice about going on to maturity.
Q5. The writer talks about people who have tasted the goodness of the word of God but fall away. He compares the people who fall away to land producing thorns and thistles instead of a crop. Jesus talks about four sorts of soil receiving seed (Mark 4:1-20). In Jesus’ parable, what sort of people quickly fall away and why (Mark 4:16-17)? How can we produce a crop (Mark 4:20)?
Read Hebrews 6:9-10
Q6. Even thought the writer calls his readers “slow to learn” (5:11) he also calls them “dear friends” and is confident they are not like worthless land. What reason does the writer give for this confidence? What sort of “crop” have his dear friends produced (verse 10)?
To think about: How am I showing my love for God by what I do? Think, for example, about the practical actions Jesus describes in Matthew 25:31-40.
Read Hebrews 6:11-20.
Q7. What message does the writer send his readers in verses 11 and 12?
Abraham is given as an example of those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. God’s promises to Abraham started when he was about 75 years old and still called Abram meaning “high father” (Genesis 12:1-4). Abram was married to Sarah (meaning princess) but the couple had no children. In Genesis 12:1-3, God told Abram to leave his father’s household and go to a land God would show him. God gave Abram 6 promises, including: ”I will make you into a great nation” and “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”. During the next 10 years Abram, Sarah and Abram’s nephew Lot travelled about 500 miles from Haran (on the border of modern Turkey and Syria) to modern Israel/Palestine, then called Canaan after the people group which lived there. Lot separated from Abram, and God gave Abram 2 promises: “All the land you see I will give to you and your offspring for ever” and “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth” i.e. countless. But Abram still had no children.
Lot was taken captive during a power struggle between kings in the region, and was rescued by Abram. Melchizedek came to give Abram food and a blessing from God at this dangerous time. In Genesis 15 God promised “I am your shield, your very great reward” but Abram replied “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir”. God again told Abram his offspring would be uncountable and “to your descendents I give this land”, together with other promises including “a son coming from your own body will be your heir”. In order to have a son coming from his own body, Abram agreed to Sarah’s suggestion to have a surrogate son with her servant-girl. This happened when Abram was 86 years old, and caused tensions in the household. When Abram was 99 years old, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham (meaning “father of many nations”, Genesis 17) and promised Abraham “Your wife Sarah will bear you a son”. Abraham was 100 years old when he and Sarah had their only child. It was 25 years since the first promise “I will make you into a great nation”.
Some time later God tested Abraham – read the summary in Hebrews 11:17-19 of the dramatic story of Genesis 22. When Abraham had passed the test and God had provided a substitute male sheep for sacrifice, God gave the final emphatic summary of all his promises to Abraham which the writer of Hebrews quotes in Hebrews 6:13-14, beginning with an oath “I swear by myself, declares the Lord…I will surely bless you and give you many descendents…” and ending “…through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed”. See Genesis 22:15-18. The “two unchangeable things” in verse 18 are God’s promise and God’s oath. Paul in his letter to Jewish Christians points out that the word “” or “seed” in Genesis 22:18 (“through your all nations on earth will be blessed”) is singular and refers to one person, Jesus (Galatians 3:16).
Q8. The writer wants us to show diligence in order to make our hope sure (6:11). What is the encouraging message of Hebrews 6:17-20?
Note: The inner sanctuary in the Tent of Meeting or temple represented the presence of God. We find out more about this place, which only the high priest could enter, in Hebrews 8 and 9, and about the curtain in chapter 10.
To think about: We are the heirs of God’s promise to Abraham, blessed through Jesus. Jesus became human to help Abraham’s descendents (Hebrews 2:16). Are we prepared to imitate Abraham’s faith and patience to inherit what has been promised? Our hope in God is like a firm, secure anchor which links us to the presence of God. Jesus has gone before us into God’s presence to represent us as our high priest for ever and to deal gently with us when we are ignorant and going astray.
Suggestion for prayer: Thank God for our security.
[Study 4 Hebrews chapters 7 and 8
Jesus and Melchizedek – the better covenant and us]
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:19-20).
At the time of writing the letter, the inner sanctuary behind the curtain was in the beautiful temple in Jerusalem. The plan of the temple followed the pattern of the portable Tent of Meeting (tabernacle) that God commanded Moses to construct in the desert (Exodus chapters 25 to 40). The writer to the Hebrews introduced the mysterious priest Melchizedek in Hebrews 5:6 in a quotation from David’s poem, Psalm 110. The writer has already said Psalm 110:1 talks about Jesus (Hebrews 1:13), and Jesus applied Psalm 110 to himself (see Matthew 22:41-46). So we can be sure Psalm 110 includes information about the Messiah, God’s anointed one. Both kings and priests were anointed with oil in a ceremony to show they were appointed by God to their separate roles. But Melchizedek was both king of Salem (meaning peace) priest of God Most High. His name seems to mean “king of righteousness”. Melchizedek’s story occupies just three verses in Genesis (Genesis 14:18-20). It seems very surprising that king David should mention Melchizedek’s name in his poetry perhaps 1000 years after the original event. God had promised David that David’s throne would be established for ever (2 Samuel 7:16), so David expected God’s Messiah to be a king for ever. But in Psalm 110 David foretold that God’s Messiah would also be a priest for ever.
Read Hebrews 7:1-10
This story from the life of Abraham is told in Genesis 14:11-24. Abraham was living in tents in the foreign land of Canaan (modern Palestine). Abraham’s nephew Lot was living in the city of Sodom and was captured during a war between rival kings. Abraham and his men attacked the victorious kings and rescued not just Lot but also the possessions and people from the city of Sodom. It was clear that Abraham had been successful where the king of Sodom had failed. We can imagine the king of Sodom saw Abraham as a threat. The king of Sodom came out to meet Abraham. Melchizedek brought Abraham bread and wine and blessed Abraham and God, and Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything. After the meeting with Melchizedek, the king of Sodom offered Abraham a deal, saying “Give me the people and you keep the goods”. Read Abraham’s wise reply in Genesis 14:22-23. Even today we use the name Sodom to mean a wicked place. So Melchizedek met Abraham during a dangerous time in Abraham’s life. Read all we know about Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20.
Q1. From Hebrews 7:1-2, what do we know about Melchizedek? From Hebrews 7:3, what we know about Melchizedek?
The city of which Melchizedek was king, Salem, meaning “peace” (7:1), may be the city we now call Jeru. Ancestors and genealogy (7:3) were very significant to Jewish people. Genesis recorded no information about Melchizedek’s ancestors or his death – maybe this was in David’s mind when the Holy Spirit inspired David to write in Psalm 110:4 “You are a priest after the order of Melchizedek”.
Hebrews 7:1-2 quotes 2 surprising facts about Abraham and Melchizedek from Genesis 14:19-20:
Melchizedek blessed Abraham
Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the plunder Abraham had recovered during the mission to rescue Lot.
In Hebrews 7:4-10 these two facts are used to show how great Melchizedek was. Abraham’s son Isaac had twin sons, one of whom was Jacob. Jacob had 12 sons, one of whom was Levi (Hebrews 7:5), from whom Moses and his brother Aaron (the first high priest of God) were descended. So Abraham was the great grandfather of Levi. Levi was born maybe 125 years after Abraham met Melchizedek. The requirement to give a tenth of all agricultural produce to the descendents of Levi to support their work as priests and to support aliens, orphans and widows is described in Deuteronomy 14:22-29.
Q2. From the story of Abraham and Melchizedek in verses 4 to 10, which of these two men was greater? Note the lesser person pays the tenth to the greater person, and the lesser person is blessed by the greater person.
Read Hebrews 7:11-28
Q3. From verses 11-12, which of Jacob’s 12 sons were the priests descended from? From verses 13-14, which of Jacob’s 12 sons was Jesus descended from (see Matthew 1:2)?
Note For the requirement that only the descendents of Levi (the Levitical priesthood) could work as priests in the Tent of Meeting, see Numbers 18:1-7.
Q4. From verses 15-17, on what basis is Jesus a priest in the order of Melchizedek? (Also notice the words “for ever” repeated in verses 17, 21, 24 and 28 and the emphasis on “permanent” and “always lives” in verses 24 and 25).
Note: A covenant (7:22) is a legal promise. In Greek, the Old and New Testaments of the bible are the old and new covenants. In verse 20-22 the writer quotes for the first time the whole of Psalm 110:4 which begins “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind…”. See Hebrews 6:16-17 about the significance of God’s oath. The writer says that Jesus was appointed priest not through the Old Testament law under the old covenant but by God’s oath. So Jesus has become the guarantee of a new, better covenant (7:22). As the writer summarises in Hebrews 7:28 “The law appoints as high priests men… but the oath appointed the Son”.
Q5. In what ways is Jesus a better high priest than the high priests in the Old Testament? Reasons are given in verses 23-25 and verses 26-28. How does Jesus meet our need?
Note the word “completely” in verse 25 can also mean “for ever”, so verse 25 can read “He is able to save for ever those who come to God through him…”
To think about: In Hebrews 7:19 and 22 the writer tells us we have a better hope and a better covenant, so we can draw near to God. We have a high priest who meets our need. Think of the privileges we enjoy that Old Testament believers did not know about: Jesus sacrificed for our sins once for all when he offered himself; he is able to save us completely for ever when we come to God through him; Jesus always lives to intercede for us and to help us when we are tempted. Thank God for the privileges he has given us in Jesus.
Read Hebrews 8:1-6
Shortly after the house of Israel quarrelled and tested the Lord at Massah and Meribah, in the third month after the Israelites left Egypt, God made a covenant with the people, saying “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession… a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:5-6). The covenant started with the 10 commandments in Exodus 20, then laws on social justice and how to worship God. The covenant included instructions about the construction of a portable tabernacle or Tent of Meeting (Exodus 25 to 40) and the offering of gifts to God and sacrifices for sin (Leviticus 1 to 7). In Exodus 25:8-9 God says to Moses “…have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you”. A sanctuary is a holy place.
Q6. According to Hebrews 8:1-2 what is the point of what the writer of the Hebrews is saying? Why is this so important for us, do you think?
Q7. Review what we have been taught about Jesus the high priest in:
From Hebrews 4:15, 5:9-10 and 7:23-28, find the ways in which Jesus’ ministry (his service, what he has done for us and is doing for us now) is superior to the ministry of the high priests descended from Aaron.
To think about: Give thanks that Jesus was made like us so he is a merciful and faithful high priest, able to help us when we are tempted. Give thanks that he is able to sympathise with our weaknesses yet he was without sin. Think about how he was submissive and obedient to his Father, and think how we should obey him. Give thanks that he has become the source of eternal salvation for us, that he has gone into the inner sanctuary of God’s presence in heaven on our behalf and that he will save us completely because he always lives to intercede for us. Jesus now is talking to God the Father about us sympathetically. Let this encourage us to hold firmly to our faith.
Q8. What is the relationship between the sanctuary in which earthly priests serve (8:5) and the sanctuary in which Jesus serves (8:2)? Why was it important that Moses built the tabernacle (Tent of Meeting) exactly as God told him (Exodus 25:9, 40 and Hebrews 8:5)?
To think about: It was hard for the Jewish Christians to think that the beautiful temple in Jerusalem was just a copy and a shadow – the true temple is in heaven. What is our perspective on life? Do we think that the things we can see are only temporary, while the things we can’t yet see in heaven are reality? What difference would it make to our lives if we thought that way? See 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16-18 for Paul’s viewpoint.
Note: Hebrews is sometimes called the “better letter”. Hebrews 7:19 talks of a better hope, 7:22 of a better covenant and Hebrews 8:6 of better promises. Look out for more “better” things in chapter 9, 10 and 11!
Read Hebrews 8:7-13
Q9. In chapter 7:22 and 8:6 the writer has introduced us to the better covenant guaranteed by Jesus. The covenant of which Jesus is mediator is superior to the old one. From 8:7-9, what was the problem with the old covenant?
Q10. From verses 10 to 12, what “better promises” does God make about this “better covenant”?
Note: The words “covenant” and “testament” are related. Hebrews is part of the New Testament, the written record of God’s new, better and superior covenant guaranteed and mediated by Jesus. Hebrews 8:8-12 contains a direct quotation from a prophecy God gave the prophet Jeremiah in approximately 590 BC. At that time the Jewish people worshipped other gods and would not repent when warned by God. So they were forcibly taken away from their land by the Babylonian superpower, and the temple of God was destroyed. God sent the nation these encouraging words. A time was coming when he would make a new covenant with them, bringing a close relationship and forgiveness of sins.
To think about: Thank God that our relationship with him is through the new covenant. When we repented and believed we received the Holy Spirit who puts God’s laws in to our minds and hearts and helps us to know God. God will never remember our sins – we are forgiven. Thank him for all this.
[Study 5 Hebrews chapters 9 and 10
Christ entered the Most Holy Place – we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place]
Moses was warned to make the tabernacle (Tent of Meeting) exactly to the pattern God showed him. This tabernacle was just a copy and shadow of the reality of the true tabernacle in heaven. God has invited his Son to sit at his right hand. Jesus, our high priest, the Son of God, has gone through the heavens and serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by humans. Jesus, who went before us, has entered the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, the presence of God, on our behalf. So we can expect to learn about the way we can meet God from the architecture of the Tent of Meeting, the regulations about gifts and sacrifices and the role of the high priest on earth. We cannot design our own way to God. God has provided the new covenant, the sacrifice, the priest and the living way so we can draw near to him.
Read Hebrews 9:1-15
Q1. Verses 1-5 describe the earthly sanctuary which had two rooms, the Holy Place (the outer room) and the Most Holy Place (the inner room). These rooms were separated by a curtain. Who could enter these rooms and how often (verses 6-7)? What does this show us (verses 8-10)?
Note: The word translated “illustration” in verse 9 is actually the word “parable”. The Greek word translated “been disclosed” in 9:8 is related to the word translated “appeared” in 9:26. For more information on verses 1-13, see Appendix Notes on Study 5.
Q2. How is the sacrifice of Jesus better than the sacrifices offered in the earthly sanctuary? Compare 9:7 with 9:11-12 and 9:9-10, 13 with 9:14-15.
Read Hebrews 9:16-28
The writer continues to compare and contrast the first covenant and the new covenant. The Greek word translated “will” in 9:16-17 is the same as the word translated “covenant” in 9:18, 20 and throughout Hebrews. The writer tells us a will is only put into effect after the death of the person who made it. Similarly, the first covenant required blood, the death of an animal, to be put into effect. See Leviticus 17:11, 14 for the statement that “blood” means “life” and the animal’s blood made atonement for the person’s life. The idea of blood being used to make things clean is hard to understand because we take the idea literally. The writer explains that the cleansing with blood he describes is a picture of the method of forgiveness of sins (9:22, see also 9:14 where the blood of Christ has cleansed our consciences from acts that lead to death).
Q3. From verses 18-22, how were the copies of the heavenly things purified? From verses 23-28, how were the heavenly things themselves purified (see also Hebrews 1:3)? How is the sacrifice of Jesus better than the sacrifices offered in the earthly sanctuary?
Q4. What is the encouraging message of Hebrews 9:28?
To think about: Jesus once for all to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself (9:26). Jesus for us in God’s presence (9:24). He a second time to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (9:28). Let’s thank Jesus for what he for us, for us now and for us in the future.
Note: For more information on verses 18-22 and the Greek words translated in 9:24, 26, 28 as “appear” see Appendix Notes on Study 5.
Read Hebrews 10:1-18
Q5. In verses 1-4, what disadvantages of the Old Testament sacrifices does writer of Hebrews emphasise?
Note: In Hebrews 10:5-7 the writer quotes from David’s Psalm 40, where David saw that God wanted from him an attitude of trust and the desire to do God’s will, not just animal sacrifices. The quotation is from the Septuagint translation (about 200 BC) from Hebrew into Greek. The writer understands that David’s words were a prophecy about Jesus. God prepared a human body for Jesus to come into the world to do God’s will, the body which was sacrificed to make us holy. The writer tells us in Hebrews 10:5 that David’s words represent Christ’s words to God the Father.
Q6. In verses 11-12 the writer contrasts the work of the Old Testament priests with the work of Jesus as priest. The Old Testament priest stood to perform his religious duties (verse 11). From verses 12-14, why is it significant that Jesus has sat down? See also Hebrews 1:3.
Q7. The writer contrasts the Old Testament sacrifices with the sacrifice of Jesus. How is the sacrifice of Jesus different? Compare verse 1 with verse 14, and verses 4 and 8 with 9-10.
Note. The word “perfect” in verses 1 and 14 means finished, fully grown, fulfilled. See how the word “perfect” is used in Hebrews 2:10, Hebrews 5:9, Hebrews 7:11, 18, 28 and Hebrews 9:11. Look out for more perfect things in Hebrews 11 and 12.
Q8. In verses 15-18 the writer returns to the description of the new covenant the Holy Spirit gave Jeremiah to encourage the people in dark times. When he first quoted these words in Hebrews 8:8-12 he used them to show a new covenant was needed. The second time he quotes these words in Hebrews 10:17-18 what different point does the writer emphasis?
To think about: We live in the time when God’s promise through Jeremiah has come true: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more”. Through Jesus our sins have been forgiven and forgotten. Our priest has offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, his body (10:10, 12). Thank him for this.
Throughout his letter, the writer to the Hebrews has shown us our privileges. God has spoken to us, not through prophets or angels but through his Son. Jesus shared our humanity so he could destroy the devil and free us from the fear of death. Jesus is a high priest in the service of God who has made atonement for our sins. He is able to sympathise with our weaknesses and help us in our time of need. Jesus is the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. Jesus has entered heaven on our behalf and we can approach the throne of grace with confidence to receive mercy and find grace to help us. God has promised us on oath that Jesus is a high priest forever, so our hope in Jesus is firm and secure, like an anchor in heaven for our souls. Because of this better hope, we draw near to God. Jesus is the guarantee of a better covenant – he is able to save completely those who come to God through him. He always lives to intercede for us. He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood. By his blood our consciences are cleansed so we can serve the living God. Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. Our priest Jesus offered for all time one sacrifice for sins and sat down at the right hand of God. By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The writer next asks us to respond to these privileges.
We saw from Hebrews 9:7-8 that under the first covenant only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place and that only once a year. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed. We saw in Hebrews 10:5-10 the prophecy that God would prepare a body for his Christ to come into the world. We have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ. The curtain separated people from the presence of God (the Most Holy Place) in the tabernacle and temple. The curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom at the moment when Jesus died (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:37-38, Luke 24:44-46).
Read Hebrews 10:19-25
Q9. Under the new covenant, who can enter the real Most Holy Place and draw near to God (10:19-22)? Why is this?
Q10. Because of the good things the writer has described, what does the writer say in verses 19-25 that we should do?
Let us not…
Q11. Can you think of ways we can spur one another on towards love and good deeds?
To think about:
Think about the meaning for you of the 4 “Let us…” challenges in Hebrews 10:22-25.
The writer tells us “Let us not give up meeting together”. Do we meet regularly with others who follow Jesus for encouragement? If not, is there a good reason we cannot meet together with other believers? If there is a good reason you cannot meet believers, think of other ways you can be in touch with believers and enjoy their fellowship.
We can enter the Most Holy Place with confidence. Jesus opened the new, living way so we can draw near to God. Thank God for the privilege.
Read Hebrews 10:26-39
Q12. Why is it so serious for someone to deliberately keep on sinning after they have received knowledge of the truth?
Note: The quotations in verse 30 come from a song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 (verses 35-36) on the day God told Moses he was about to die. Moses gave the people of Israel a strong warning in the song that if they rejected God, who had been very good to them, then God would judge them. People hearing about God’s grace sometimes think they can choose to go on sinning because God will always forgive them. Paul says a believer cannot choose to go on sinning to see more of God’s grace because we died to sin when we believed and rose again to live a new life (Romans 6:1-11). Our aim as believers is never to sin, but we all fail. John wrote to believers “If we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins…If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One”. Read what John says in his letter, 1 John 1:8-10 and 2:1-2.
Q13. What encouragement and warning does the writer give his readers in verses 32-39?
Note: The quotation in Hebrews 10:37-38 is a statement by God in the book of the prophet Habakkuk chapter 2:3-4, from the Greek Septuagint translation. God gave Habakkuk a clear warning that in the future the people would be destroyed by the Babylonians. Habakkuk was deeply troubled but responded with an amazing statement of trust in God – read it in Habakkuk 3:16-19.
[Study 6 Hebrews chapter 11 and 12:1-13
Their faith commended – our faith (and their faith) perfected]
The writer has warned us to pay more careful attention to what we have heard so we do not drift away, because how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? (2:1,3). The people Moses led out of Egypt heard God’s message and rebelled. That generation was not able to enter the land God had promised because of unbelief (3:16-19). The message the house of Israel heard about leaving the desert and entering God’s rest was of no value to them because those who heard it did not combine it with faith (4:2). The writer wants his hearers to imitate those who through faith and patience do inherit what has been promised (6:12). God spoke through the prophet Habakkuk “my righteous one shall live by faith” (10:38). The writer now gives us examples of people who lived by faith. Faith is life-changing because the things we believe in are real.
Read Hebrews 11:1-7
Q1. What does the writer say about our faith in 11:1-3? Could you explain to a friend why you have faith in God? Notice throughout this chapter that the writer makes it quite clear he is talking about faith in God, not faith in ourselves or anything else.
Note: In English we think of the word “hope” as something uncertain and vague. The Greek word used for “hope” in the New Testament is different – it is full of confidence. For example see how the writer uses the word “hope” in Hebrews 3:6, 6:18-19, 7:19 and 10:23. When you have time, try looking at the word “hope” as it is used in the letters in the New Testament, for example Titus 1:2, 2:13, 3:7.
Q2. In Hebrews 11:4-7 the writer starts with characters from the beginning of the bible in Genesis chapters 4 to 9. What can we learn from Hebrews 11:4-7 about:
faith and pleasing God? (verses 5-6)
faith and righteousness? (verses 4 and 7)
Note: If you do not know the sad story of how angry and competitive Cain murdered his younger brother Abel when both brought sacrifices to God, read Genesis 4:1-12. Cain denied killing Abel, but God said “Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground”. The writer says Abel still speaks to us, and he mentions Abel again in Hebrews 12:24. Enoch is a mysterious man described twice in Genesis 5:21-24 in the words “Enoch walked with God”. Only one other man, Noah, is described in the words “he walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).
Read Hebrews 11:8-22
Q3. The writer continues with stories of Abraham and Sarah, their son Isaac, Isaac’s sons Jacob and Esau and Jacob’s son Joseph from Genesis chapters 12 to 50. What can we learn from Hebrews 11:8-22 about:
faith and obedience?
faith and God’s promises?
Note that Joseph (verse 22) knew about God’s promise to his great grandfather Abraham that, after ill-treatment in a country not their own, Abraham’ descendents would return to Caanan, the land God promised. See Genesis 15:12-16 and 50:22-26.
Read Hebrews 11:23-29
Q4. The writer continues with the story of Moses from the second book of the Old Testament, Exodus chapters 1 to 14. What reasons does the writer give for the faith of:
Read Hebrews 11:30-38
The writer continues with examples of men and women of faith from the Old Testament. For the story of the fall of the walls of the city of Jericho because of the faith of God’s people and how one woman who lived in Jericho had faith in God (Hebrews 11:30-31) see Joshua chapters 2 and 6. More examples of people of faith are given from the book of Judges, the history books entitled Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, the prophets’ books such as Daniel and Jeremiah, and some stories we do not recognise today. God commended all these people for their faith (11:2, 4, 39).
Read Hebrews 11:39-40
Q5. From Hebrews 7:19 and 22, 8:6 and 9:23, what better things has God planned for us (11:40)?
Q6. How has God planned to make all the people in Hebrews chapter 11 perfect (11:40)? Check your answer from Hebrews 10:12-14.
To think about: Having read Hebrews chapter 11, how would you describe faith? From Hebrews 11, what difference has faith in God made to people’s lives? What did these people understand about God?
Read Hebrews 12:1-11
Q7. What picture is described in 12:1?
Q8. In 12:1-2, the writer identifies himself with his readers. What does he say we should all do?
To think about: Is there anything I need to “throw off”? In chapter 11 the writer has quoted many examples of people who faced difficulties by faith. These examples show us what God can achieve through people who have faith in him. In 12:2-3, the writer asks us to consider the shame and opposition Jesus endured so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.
Q9. The writer says “endure hardship as discipline”. From 12:5-11, why does God discipline us? How do verses 2-3 and 5-6 encourage us not to loose heart?
To think about: Read the advice attributed to wise king Solomon about trusting in the Lord in Proverbs 3, the chapter that the writer quotes to encourage us in Hebrews 12:5-6.
[Study 7 Hebrews 12:12-29 and chapter 13
Make every effort to live in peace and to be holy]
The Hebrew word for holy means “set apart”. We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. By one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:10, 14). That is why we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through his body, so we can draw near to God (Hebrews 10:19-22). Angels and heavenly beings in the presence of God call out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8). The apostle Peter writes “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: “Be holy for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-15). The writer of Hebrews has told us that God disciplines us because he loves us and we are his children. It is for our good, to train us so that we may share his holiness and enjoy a harvest of righteousness and peace (Hebrews 12:6-7, 10-11). The writer now asks us to make every effort to live in peace and to be holy; without holiness no-one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). In Hebrews 12:12-17 and Hebrews 13 he gives advice about practical holiness. In Hebrews 12:18-29 he summarises some of the themes he raised in previous chapters, and refers to other earlier themes in Hebrews 13.
Read Hebrews 12:12-17
Hebrews 12:12 quotes from Isaiah 35:3. Isaiah chapter 35 was written to people in Judah (centred on Jerusalem) expecting attack by the superpower enemy Assyria. It contains encouraging, joyful words about a highway in the desert called the Way of Holiness which is only for the redeemed, the ransomed of the Lord. The redeemed will walk in that way and enter Zion (Jerusalem is built on Mount Zion) with singing, with everlasting joy; gladness and joy will overtake them and sorrow and sighing will flee away. In this encouraging chapter Isaiah says “ Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts “Be strong, do not fear””. The idea is similar to Hebrews 12:2 – Jesus for the joy set before him endured the cross. The writer goes on to talk in Hebrews 12:22-24 about the joy set before us if we walk in the way of holiness.
Hebrews 12:13 quotes from Proverbs 4:26 “Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm”. This is a section of wise words about the right path to walk, including in Proverbs 4:18 “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.”
Q1. What practical advice does Hebrews 12:12-17 give about living a holy life? Also read Proverbs 4:20-27 for more good advice.
Note: Hebrews 12:14 may refer to Moses’ final speech to God’s people in Deuteronomy 29:18. Moses asked them to make sure there was no-one among them whose heart turned away from God to worship the gold and silver idols of other nations, saying “make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison”. The warning in Hebrews 12:16 about the effects of living without God (being godless) comes from Genesis chapters 25:29-34 and 27. Esau was Isaac’s son, Jacob’s slightly older twin brother. Esau despised his right as the elder son to inherit his father’s blessing, and sold his birthright to Jacob for some bread and lentil stew. His action split the whole family apart. The promises made to Abraham passed to Jacob, not to Esau.
Read Hebrews 12:18-29
The writer first describes the scene where God gave the Old Covenant law on Mount Sinai in the desert. Exodus 19:16-19 describes Moses leading the people out to meet with God at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered in smoke because the Lord descended on it in fire. The whole mountain trembled violently. The sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. Whoever touched the mountain, man or animal, had to be put to death (Exodus 19: 12-13). When the people saw the thunder and lightening and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses ”Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die”. (Exodus 20:18-21). To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain (Exodus 24:17).
As the writer said in his opening sentences (Hebrews 1:1-2) “In the past God spoke to our fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son”. The writer contrasts Mount Sinai, where the people could not bear God speaking to them, with Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. The heavenly mount Zion is described in Revelation 14:1 and the heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation 21:2, where the dwelling of God is with men and women and he says “I am making everything new!”.
Q2. After reading verses 18-21, how do you feel? Do you think God is any different now from the God who spoke through the prophets in the past? How has the way into the presence of the holy God changed for us, so that we can come to God with confidence? See for example Hebrews 10:19-22.
In Hebrews 12:22-24 the writer reviews many topics he has already written about. We have come to the city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10,16). We have come to the angels who the writer described in chapter 1 and who spoke the message of the old covenant (2:2). We have come to the brothers and sisters who Jesus has brought to glory (2:10-13). We have come to God through Jesus (7:25). It is human destiny to die once and face judgement, but Christ was sacrificed once to take away our sins (9:27-28). We have come to the spirits of righteous people, such as the people in chapter 11, now made perfect together with us (11:39-40). We have come to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant (9:15). We have come to the blood of Christ that cleanses our consciences (9:14). Abel, the son of Adam, still speaks (11:4) – as God said to his brother Cain who murdered him, “your brother’s blood cries out to me” (Genesis 4:10). But the blood of God’s Son speaks a better word than the blood of Adam’s son.
To think about: Thank God for everything we have come to.
The writer started his letter by telling us that the earth and heavens are not permanent and that God is always the same: “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same and your years will never end” (Hebrews 1:10-12 quoting from Psalm 102). We are told in Hebrews 12 about the mountain that shook at God’s voice and the people that trembled. God warned them that even an animal that touched the mountain must be stoned to death. Anyone who refused God’s warning did not escape. As the writer told us in Hebrews 2:1-3, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” In Hebrews 12:25 he gives us a similar message: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks”.
We are told of God’s promise “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens”. The writer reminds us that created things can be shaken and will be removed; only what cannot be shaken will remain. Perhaps he has also in mind the words of Jesus to his disciples, “Men will faint from terror, apprehensive at what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory…When you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near…Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Luke 21: 26-27, 31,33). The quotation in Hebrews 12:29 was spoken by Moses, an old man, warning the people to take the worship of God seriously (Deuteronomy 4:15-31).
Q3. From Hebrews 12:18-29, why should we worship God with reverence and awe? How has reading Hebrews helped you to worship God?
To think about: Thank God that we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken.
Note: For the interesting background to the quotation in Hebrews 12:26, which encouraged Jewish leaders fearful of political pressure from the Persian empire, see Appendix Notes on Study 7.
Read Hebrews 13:1-8
Q4. List the useful instructions the writer gives his readers. How do these instructions help us to live in peace with everyone and to be holy?
To think about: which of the instructions do I need to work on? Are there people in my life that I can remember and imitate as an example of faith? Am I being an example of faith for other believers?
Notes: His readers had experienced the situation described in verse 3 – see Hebrews 10:32-34. We can guess they had been recently remembering Timothy (see Hebrews 13: 23). Verse 5 quotes the words of the leader Moses aged 120, handing over to the new leader Joshua (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8), ending “do not be afraid, do not be discouraged” and a model positive response “The Lord is with me, I will not be afraid, what can man do to me?” from Psalm 118.
Q5. What do your think has made the writer place verse 8 at this point in his letter? Jesus Christ is the same forever, or as the writer said at the start in Hebrews 1:8 and 12 “about the Son he says “…you remain the same…”.How does knowing that Jesus is the same forever help us today?
Read Hebrews 13:9-16.
Verses 9-10 probably refer to the regulations for worship still operating in the temple in Jerusalem at the time of writing (Hebrews 9:1,10). Maybe the readers were tempted to go back and live under the old regulations. Verse 11 refers to the regulation under the old covenant for the Day of Atonement, the day once a year when the high priest entered the Most Holy Place to offer blood from a bull and a goat – see Leviticus 16:27 and Hebrews 9:7-14. The bodies of the bull and goat must be taken outside the camp to be burned. In the time of Moses the people lived in tents and were camping in the desert. The writer reminds his readers that Jesus suffered and bore disgrace outside the city gate of Jerusalem (John 19:20) to make the people holy. See what Moses, prince of Egypt, thought about disgrace for the sake of Christ in Hebrews 11:26, and why. See in Hebrews 11:9-10 why Abraham was prepared to live in a tent, not a house in a city, and what city Abraham was looking for (11:16). What city have we come to? (12:22).
Q6. What do you think it might mean for us if we went to Jesus outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore (13:13)? What might help us to do this (13:14)?
To think about: Am I prepared if necessary to bear the disgrace that Jesus bore?
Q7. What sacrifices can we offer God? See verses 15 and 16.
Read Hebrews 13:17-25
Q8. From verses 17-23, what do you understand about the responsibilities of Christian leaders (including the writer of Hebrews himself)? How can we make their job easier (verse 17)?
To think about: The writer has given us examples of how can we do God’s will and please him. See for example 10:32-39, 11:5-6, 13:16. But it is God who can equip us with everything good, and work in us what is pleasing to him. Jesus intercedes for us (7:25). Jesus is our great priest (10:21) and also our great Shepherd, caring for us. How is God equipping me to do his will? Can I see God working in me what is pleasing to him? Have I seen God work this way in other people and can I learn from this?
Q9. In the Introduction we saw the dangers the writer though were facing his readers:
drifting away (Hebrews 2:1)
hardening their hearts (3:7-8)
turning away from the living God (3:12)
falling short and not entering God’s promised rest (4:1)
becoming lazy (6:12)
giving up meeting with other believers (10:25)
throwing away their confidence (10:35)
getting entangled in sin (12:1)
growing weary and loosing heart (12:3)
missing the grace of God (12:15)
refusing him who speaks (12:25)
being carried away by strange teachings (13:9)
forgetting to do good (13:16)
What have you learnt from this letter that helps you to avoid these dangers? Go through the letter underlining the places the author says “Let us….” and think if you are doing these things.
Suggestions for prayer: Thank God that we can approach the throne of grace with confidence and find grace to help us in our time of need. Thank God that Jesus always lives to intercede for us and that we have a high priest who meets our need. Thank God that we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Christ once for all. Thank him that we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Worship our holy God thankfully with reverence and awe. Ask God that we may make every effort to live in peace with everyone and be holy, and that he will equip us with everything good for doing his will and work in us what is pleasing to him.
What was the purpose of this letter? The writer called it a “word of exhortation” (13:22) using a Greek word that includes encouragement, comfort and warning from someone who is close to you. You can look the word up at . The word is related to the word Jesus used in John 14:16, 26, 15:26 and 16:7 to describe the Holy Spirit, and that John used in 1 John 2:1 to describe Jesus acting as our advocate, speaking to the Father in our defence. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is able to save completely, for ever, those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for us. We can see how Jesus intercedes for us by reading John chapter 17, Jesus’ prayer for his disciples the night before he died.
The writer was certainly close to his readers. He called his readers “dear friends” (6:9) and “brothers and sisters” (3:1, 3:12, 10:19, 13:22). He knew how well they had reacted to persecution in the early days when they first believed (10:32-34). He knew their record of showing love to God by helping God’s people continually (6:10). The guidance he gave them often started “let us…” rather than the impersonal “you should…”. The information he gave them was carefully chosen to encourage, comfort and warn. As a by-product we get many insights in to the meaning of the Old Testament law relating to sacrifice and the priesthood, but technical information was not the main purpose. Hebrews was written by a man who cared deeply about his dear friends, and wanted to give them reasons and resources to keep on believing. We might call this man a pastor or shepherd, and maybe that is why he introduced the idea of our Lord Jesus as the great shepherd of the sheep in his final prayer (13:20).
The writer introduces us to many themes, then expands them and applies them. You can go on studying this letter for yourself. Look for a theme – for example the priesthood of Christ, God’s promises, God speaking to us, Christ seated at God’s right hand – then highlight where the theme is introduced, expanded and applied. Or highlight repeated words, for example “son”, “angels”, “rest”, “covenant”, “sacrifices”, “blood”, “faith”, “perfect”, “holy” and see how the ideas are developed. Highlight everything that encourages you as you re-read Hebrews – and remember to encourage others daily from what you find.
Notes on Study 1
These quotations are from the Septuagint (Greek) translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, made several centuries before Christ.
Hebrews 1:5a quotes from Psalm 2:7. Psalm 2 was written by king David, Jesus’ ancestor, about 1000 BC. The early Christians quoted this Psalm as a prophesy about Jesus. Read Psalm 2 and Acts 4:23-28.
Hebrews 1:5b are God’s words to king David through the prophet Nathan, promising not only that David’s son Solomon would be king after him, but that that there would be a king descended from David whose rule as king (throne) would be established for ever. Read 2 Samuel 7:4-5, 11b-17.
Hebrews 1:6 quotes the words of the prophet Moses in Deuteronomy 32:43 in the Septuagint. The standard Hebrew manuscript dating from the 10th century AD used by the translators of the NIV does not include these words. However, the words are also found in Hebrew in the Dead Sea Scrolls possibly dating from 200 BC, suggesting they may represent the original text.
Hebrews 1:8-9 quotes from Psalm 45, a poem about a king’s wedding, a king who is blessed by God for ever, who is anointed with grace and joy, who acts on behalf of truth, humility and righteousness and who rules with justice. Read Psalm 45:1-7.
Hebrews 1:10-12 is a quotation from Psalm 102 written by a suffering man at a time when Jerusalem (Zion) was in trouble. The suffering man believed the appointed time had come for God to show compassion to Jerusalem and says he is writing for a future generation. The writer of Hebrews has reminded us already of the Son through whom God made the universe and who sustains everything (Hebrews 1:2-3).
Hebrews 1:13 quotes from Psalm 110:1, a poem of David. Jesus quoted this verse about himself to show that he is David’s Lord – read Matthew 23:41-46. Peter quoted Psalm 110:1 saying David was a prophet who spoke of Jesus (Acts 2:29-36).
Hebrews 2:12 is a quotation from Psalm 22 (written by the prophet David) which clearly refers to Jesus. See for example Psalm 22:1 and Mark 15:34, Psalm 22:18 and Matthew 27:35 as well as the description of Jesus’ suffering in the psalm.
Hebrews 2:13 says that the prophet Isaiah spoke of Jesus in Isaiah 8:17b-18a. Peter (1 Peter 2: 4-8) also said that Isaiah spoke about Jesus in Isaiah 8:14.
Notes on Study 5
Hebrews 9:1-5 The structure of the tabernacle is described in Exodus chapters 25 to 30 and 35 to 39. Exodus 40 summarises the commissioning of the tabernacle. For the 3 items in the ark (Hebrews 9:4), see Exodus 16:32-33, Numbers 17:10 and Exodus 31:18, 32:15.
Hebrews 9:7 The instructions for the high priest entering the inner room once a year are in Leviticus 16. The Day of Atonement is still the most holy day of the year for Jewish people who practice their faith.
Hebrews 9:13 The use of the ashes of a heifer for cleansing people who are ceremonially unclean is described in Numbers 19. Jesus described the true meaning of uncleanness in Mark 7:14-23.
Hebrews 9:18-22 The use of blood to put the first covenant into effect is described in Exodus 24 and 29 and Leviticus 8. See Leviticus 17:11 for the statement that blood means life – the life of an animal sacrificed on the altar in the tabernacle was needed to make atonement for a person’s life. Jesus made atonement for us, turning aside God’s wrath, taking away the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17).
Hebrews 9:24, 26 and 28 Translators have used the same English word “appear” for 3 Greek words which have slightly different meanings. An index of every Hebrew and Greek word used in the Old and New Testaments was published in 1890 by Professor Strong and his team. The different words for “appear” in Hebrews 9:24, 26 and 28 have Strong’s numbers 1718, 5319 and 3708. Use a bible search tool (e.g. or .com) to see these slight differences. The word translated “appear” in Hebrews 9:28 is commonly used to describe Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection; the word for “appear” in Hebrews 9:26 includes the meaning “to see something that was previously hidden” and in Hebrews 9:24 the meaning includes “to present one’s self”.
Note on Study 7
The quotation in Hebrews 12:26 is the word spoken by God to the prophet Haggai in about 520 BC when God’s people had returned from exile in Babylon to the destroyed city of Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders were preoccupied with rebuilding themselves nice houses and with the difficulties of daily living, instead of rebuilding God’s temple. We know from Ezra chapters 3 to 6 that the leaders had given up rebuilding the temple because of political pressure from the foreign empire of the king of Persia. Through Haggai, God encouraged the leaders to be strong, get their priorities right and commence rebuilding so he could bless them. In Haggai 2:6-9 and 2:21-22, God twice promised he would shake the heavens, the earth and all nations. God would overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of foreign kingdoms. When the Jewish leaders trusted God and started rebuilding, God changed the attitude of the king of Persia so that he even assisted them financially. When you have time, read Ezra chapters 3 to 6 for this encouraging story.
About the Author:
Professor Emeritus Freda Hawkes (BSc, PhD) is a biochemist. After a teaching and research career in applied microbial biochemistry she retired in 2009 as Professor from the University of Glamorgan (now the University of South Wales) UK. In 2010 the University admitted her to the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science. Throughout her scientific career Freda has been a practicing Christian and has for many years been involved in teaching the bible in small groups with internationals and young professionals.
Other books written by Dennis and Freda Hawkes can be obtained through
This study is for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus and sometimes get discouraged. Hebrews is a letter written to Christians in the first century AD whose lives changed when they chose to follow Jesus. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah (the Christ), predicted by the prophets and sent by God. But Jewish society taught that Jesus was a fraud and that to believe in him was ridiculous. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews gave them encouragement, warnings and solid information so they could hold on to their courage, hope, confidence and faith in spite of difficulties. Why do believers in Jesus have a hard life? What has God given us to help us in our situation? Have other believers had difficulties but still stayed strong? Does it matter if we drift away? If these are our questions, this letter can help us. It will teach us more about Jesus, who he is, what he has done for us and what he is doing for us now.