The text below is a summary from a 8-hour inductive fly-through Hebrews. The best way to use this text is as a study guide for Hebrews. This is not by any stretch of the imagination an exhaustive guide. But it’s a good starting point. The process of doing inductive study bible is to first read the entire book, then go back and pull out some key ideas from each chapter as bullet lists. Then summarize the bullets into a chapter Title. Finally, take all the chapter titles and create a sort of a large summary. Then go another step further and make a summary from the summary, no longer than 2 paragraphs. What you end up is a condensed version of the epistle.
But before you get into the biblical text itself, it’s good to get acquainted with the historical and theological setting of the epistle. You can use any study bible for this. NIV Study Bibles have great introductions to the books of the bible. For this text I used the Interpretation series:
I’m not saying this is the absolute best of commentaries on Hebrews. In fact I think the Word Biblical Commentary is much better, but since this is an inductive bible study (not a research project), I’ve settled for the book introduction from a single commentary. I’ve used the Intro to create my own several Intro points below, but I’ve left the actual biblical text to speak to me without consulting commentaries. Enjoy the read, and please, comment. Let me know what you think.
The Problem of biblical encouragement for tired people
Whenever there is a problem in a church, pastors, teachers and believers turn to the epistles of Paul for advice and counsel. But what happens when the church itself fails? Where to turn when the known recipes of spiritual comfort fail on a congregational level and people are so tired and emotionally drained that they all feel like giving up on church as the last communal act?
For such events, we need a book of the Bible that is both strange and fascinating. Both deeply religious yet completely fresh. Both quite quoted but mostly misunderstood. A book that many know but very few bother to dig deep into. Such is the Epistle to the Hebrews. As a piece of literature it is completely different from all the other NT writings because it is structured and worded as a sermon you’d hear in a synagogue. It is completely different from the OT because it is completely obsessed with the person and functions of Christ. And yet it is different from anything Biblical because it is written in such a rich language that only a first century Helenistic scholar could write it.
Author, date, recipients: all just best guesses
We have no idea who the author is. We have no idea when it was written other than to only guess that it’s between 60-100AD simply because the Christology is so developed that it had to be at least 2-3 generations away from Christ so the Early Church would have the time to build a strong Christology as the one presented in Hebrews. We also have no idea who the recipients were. It’s named Hebrews because of the allusions to the OT, but there are so many neo-Platonic philosophical categories to question the readership to Jews alone.
What we do know of the book is that the author is a sprout from Paul’s missionary activities. We know that the readers aren’t facing a danger of going in the wrong direction with their church. They’re in danger of letting go of their church altogether because they’ve been in it for too long that they are tired of meeting together, tired of serving in the world, tired of being ridiculed and second-grade folks…tired of trying to walk a faithful life under the weight of all spiritual struggles.
A bold preacher’s approach to church jump-start: Sugar-free deep Christology
We also know that this preacher who wrote this book has an interesting dilemma about the church that he hasn’t been in for a while:
- Should he engage this community with human wisdom for interpersonal conflict resolution, reorganizing the leadership, making up a new catch-phrase to get people going until the next spiritual recession, or
- Should he engage them with a deep and profound teaching about the nature, work and person of Christ that they’d be completely taken by surprise of the depth of Christ and create in them a desire to move past church trivialities and dive deep into a Christology they seem to have forgotten.
It’s obvious that he picked the second option. There is hardly a book in the NT that is so strong on Christology as Hebrews is. And it’s interesting that for a disillusioned and discouraged community, the preacher opts for some heavy theological ideas about Christ, salvation, faith, communal living etc.
As we don’t know who wrote this book and when, from a strict perspective of canonicalization the book fails the first prerequisite since it’s probably not written by an apostle or someone who had first hand prolonged experience with the apostles. But, it does make it in because of the second prerequisite of being widely used by the early church as part of Scripture. Lastly, it passes the third canonicalization test about preserving Christology with flying colors.
If James is perhaps the first book written just years after Christ’s death and resurrection (about 48 AD) and has poorly developed ideas about Christ and Christian living, Hebrews is at the other end of the spectrum as the go-to book for proper Christology and proper Christian living. So let’s see what the book is about.
Chapter 1: Christ is the one, baby
The preacher loses no time to start bombarding his congregation with heavy artillery:
- Christ is eternal and creator of the Universe, and he’s now the voice of God to us, not some prophets (vv 1, 2)
- Don’t mistake Christ for a created being. Everything will perish but He remains forever, unchanged. (11, 12)
- If you want to know God, take a look at Christ. No room for questions or but-ifs. He’s God and savior. (v. 3)
- Keep the Ch 1 ideas close to mind because without them, you’ll drift away from the true teaching. And the teaching that Christ gave us is no mere babbling. It’s serious stuff man. (vv 1-4)
Chapter 2: Christ is the unique Son of God turned perfect High Priest
- Christ is the author of our salvation. His sacrifice is grace poured out by God onto us because His suffering is instead of us. This suffering has made Him a perfect Savior (vv9-12)
- Christ is the Son, we are the children of God. Although He calls us brothers, we are not the same as sons. The son is one, huios Theou, and we are children of God teknia Theou. The difference between the two is like Mercedes vs Mercedes, where the first is the factory of Mercedes, while the second is a car that bears the mark of Mercedes.
- The reason why Christ is like us, in flesh, is so that He could be qualified to do the work of a high priest who brings atonement from the people before God. (vv14-18)
- His part in feeling temptation is in him not rejecting the cross to fast-forward to the crown. Instead, he resisted that jump to crown and took the cross. Christ’s jump to power was a very viable option for him and this is why it was a relevant temptation, just as relevant temptation for us is to: lie, steal, hate, cheat, covet, be careless etc. (v 18)
Chapter 3: Jesus is the ultimate servant of God, see to it to encourage others to believe this
- Jesus is greater than Moses just as the builder is greater than the house he builds. The Church is the house, and we’re a part of it if we are serious about being Christians…since we boast about it (vv 1-6)
- Don’t allow sin to engulf your heart and turn it away from God in unbelief. The way to keep such hardening of heart is to encourage one another (v 12)
Chapter 4: True faith brings peace, mercy and grace of God when we need it
- Faith that is crucial for experiencing the peace of God. Obedience to God is responding in faith in God (vv 1-12)
- The Word of God cuts deep inside you to reveal your inner thoughts and motives. Make sure you’re genuine to God: being serious about our faith and approach God in confidence that he provides mercy and grace when we need it (vv13-16)
Chapter 5: Don’t you get it, Christ has divine mandate and yet he suffered so he can provide us with salvation. You blockheads.
- Christ’s mandate to be our high priest is given by God, and therefore his mandate is greater and supersedes the priestly mandate of Levites (vv 1-6)
- Christ checked all requirements to be the Savior, not only by origin but also by choice, through suffering. So he is a unique high priest who provides our salvation (vv 7-10)
- Since you’re such blockheads you can’t learn much for obedience and sacrifice at this time, so let’s stick to the basics a bit more… blockheads (vv 11-14)
Chapter 6: Grow up folks. Move past trivialities and get to know our Savior on a deeper level
- Your fundamental problem is that you’re stuck at the basics of Christianity when you should by now have been delving deep in the mysteries of Christ. (vv. 1-3)
- For blockheads that refuse Christianity even though they’ve seen its benefits, it’s impossible to get to grace because they simply refuse to see the obvious. They can’t have any bright future (vv 4-8)
- Although you behave like spiritual babies you still are children of God and He still works his miracle in you. So stop being lazy and start living out your faith like many people you personally know (vv 9-11)
- Don’t panic. Remember that it is God’s promise that keeps you safe. So be encouraged by this. It’s not up to you to earn salvation. It is anchored in God’s promise. (vv13-20)
Chapter 7: Christ is greater than priests and patriarchs. He is the sustainer of our salvation.
- Christ goes beyond patriarchs. He’s a type of Melichizedek, a priest to whom even Abraham was inferior (vv 1-10)
- Christ is a new type of priest, so forget about religious rites from before. The rules have changed, and that’s great news (vv 11-17)
- Jesus leads us to God in a unique manner, through the promise, not through the Law. This new covenant is way better than the previous. This new one is actually efficient for salvation because Christ is a priest that will forever live to intercede for us. So He upholds/supports/keeps alive our salvation (vv 18-28)
Chapter 8: Christ acts outside of Time under a covenant of love: He saves, He regenerates, He teaches us.
- Christ’s redemption played out in the heavenly temple, and as such, is beyond Creation, and timeless. So his sacrifice on the heavenly altar is effective for all time. (vv 1-6)
- In the old covenant God reacted to people’s disobedience. With the new Grace covenant now God takes center stage and changes peoples’ hearts and minds. In this new system people know God because He reveals himself to us and teaches us (vv 9-13)
Chapter 9: OT stuff doesn’t save. It only illustrates what Christ did on the real altar, and He now is the salvation-bearer
- The Old Testament Law system wasn’t even designed to save. It was only as a reminder/anticipation for Christ’s work. (vv 1-10)
- The work of Christ is done not in a mirror-image temple, but in the real celestial temple, not with substitute sacrifices but with Himself as sacrifice. This act makes it possible for us to really serve God (vv 11-15)
- Animal sacrifices were not really substitute for our death. They were in fact symbols of the ultimate sacrifice of Christ. Animal cleansing was symbolic, the cleansing with Christ is essential. (vv. 16-22), See also 7:9-10.
- Let’s revise: Christ’s sacrifice is once and for all, eternal, because the heavenly altar is eternal (i.e out of our time). So next time He appears, he won’t bear the cross but bring us salvation. (vv 24-28)
Chapter 10: Forget shame. Remember your vibrant faith and get back to that lifestyle
- The Law brought shame. The time-surpassing sacrifice of Christ brings relief from the guilt of sin. Sacrifices were never sufficient, but Christ sets aside insufficient sacrifices and does a sufficient, personal sacrifice which was according to God’s will all along. After this sacrifice, there should be no shame and guilt from sin. (vv 1-18)
- Ready to rumble: the curtain (symbolizing Christ’s body) is torn, Christ enabled access to the Holy Place forever, so:
- Let’s all come to God because we are pleasing and acceptable thanks to Christ’s sacrifice.
- Let’s live out the hope we have in Him.
- Let’s push each other to good deeds.
- Let’s not give up meeting together.
- Don’t forget it is through such pushing each other toward perfection that reveals how close we are to God (vv 19-26)
- Those that aren’t close to God through Christ ignore all the calls to encourage one another to godliness (vv 26-31), and as such, are useless. But keep in mind 6:9, this idea is not applicable to us.
- Remember that you were vibrant, strong, unwavering in your faith. Get back to that mindset because you have the lasting possession of salvation through faith in the sacrifice of Christ. (vv 32-39)
Chapter 11: Faith is individual but communal faith is what makes us perfect
- There are tons of examples of faithful living. Those didn’t get to see or hear of Christ. You have. They didn’t have a community of believers. You do. We all need each other as a community and only as community we can be made perfect (1-40, esp 39-40)
Chapter 12: Learn from your teachers, grow in your faith and when discouraged, just remember all the other faithful people that endured
- You feel overwhelmed and defeated by your sin? Keep in mind that there were tons of people before you in the same situation yet they persevered. So remember that the glass is half full with Christ. God’s allowing your suffering so you too would grow up. Stop wining. Dust off and do what’s right. (vv1-13)
- Invest in your personal holiness and make it count: be a peacemaker, reject bitterness, adultery, fornication etc. Keep in mind that in Christ you have forgiveness and acceptance, so get close to Him, he won’t bite. He’s a blessing to this earth, not a curse (vv 14-24)
- Don’t be a blockhead, learn from your teachers. Next time Christ comes to shake the bad things off, see that you don’t end up empty-handed and nothing to show for. (vv25-29)
Chapter 13: Keep your faith real by serving others, following your local leaders, and praying for the rest of us
- Let your faith be seen through your active care for others. Keep your lust and gluttony at bay and don’t act on them. Instead, remember God and stay true to the teachings you’ve heard. (1-9)
- Be careful not to get swayed in worldly philosophies, half-truths or shallow religiosity that’s ok with the majority (vv10-14)
- If you want religiosity then be a witness for Christ by talking and doing good things to others. (v15-16)
- Your local leaders are your guardians, listen to them and obey them. For other distant leaders, pray. (v17-18)
When church life gets stale, forget human wisdom. Shake things up with some serious deep teachings about Christ, salvation and church life. It is divine truth that sets people free, not philosophies, half-truths and sugar-coated/censored teaching.
Always encourage others to believe that Christ is above all men, the ultimate servant of God and our Savior. It is this truth that through faith brings peace, mercy and grace of God when we need it. It is this communal faith that makes individuals grow.
Often times we scratch the surface of Christianity by talking about basic things. Many are stuck in this infantile phase while they should have been teachers. Christ has so much to offer…but you have to move forward with your thinking. Move past Moses, Abraham, sacrifices…Christ is greater than all that. He’s the author and sustainer of our salvation.
Don’t be swayed by problems because you follow Christ. You’re in good company. When the going gets tough, remember your vibrant faith in the past, and remember all the other faithful people that endured. Dust off and move on. Keep your faith real by serving others, following your local leaders, and praying for the rest of us.
For a stagnant church, the way forward is to look up to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Thanks to His sacrifice at the eternal altar we now can freely go to God as his children. It is on this foundation that we all need to grow as individuals, and grow as a community by encouraging one another for love and good deeds. And when the going gets tough, let’s keep things into perspective: God loves those he disciplines, and we are not the only ones who had problems. Once we start focusing on Christ, all the other believers before us, and the needs of our brothers and sisters, our problems will not be all that big.