Friday, November 13, 2020
Letters of Light
Hebrews, Ch 13
Like many of Paul’s letters, after teaching, the letter to the Hebrews offers practical applications of the teaching (13.1-6). Compared to Paul, though (eg Ephesians 4.25-6.20) the applications given in Hebrews are very brief.
The letter then invites imitation of the faith of past leaders. Vs 8 is meant to reassure the readers/listeners that although those leaders have died, Jesus Christ lives (“the same, yesterday, today and forever”). Picking up a theme often found in Paul’s letter, Hebrews warns against reliance on the dietary laws of the First Covenant, insisting that salvation is by the grace of God not dietary observances (v9). The altar (v10) is not a reference to a physical structure; it is a metaphor for God’s grace of salvation in Christ which “those who serve the tabernacle” (the First Covenant temple) do not share. As Victim (sacrifice) and Priest (one Who offers the sacrifice), Jesus suffered “outside the gate” (separated from the city) (vss 11f). This is interpreted as a reminder to the readers/listeners that they are separated from the First Covenant and incorporated into the New Covenant; they must beware of syncretism (mixing the two) or apostasy (abandoning the New Covenant). The author’s mention of “no lasting city but seek the one that is to come” (v14) harks back to the “shaken” versus the “unshakeable Kingdom” of 12.26ff. The author then offers a plea to live a sacrificial life through charity (v16).
The letter asks for obedience to leaders (v 17), not because they’re big shots, but because they will have to render an account to God regarding the faith of the people they serve. The author asks for prayers, mentioning his personal desire to “be restored” to the readers/listeners (v 19).
Vss 20-21 need no commentary. They are a beautifully profound blessing the author offers to his readers/listeners/us. Note one thing. Although the Lord’s Resurrection is assumed as a given throughout the letter (remember the Exaltation theme?), this is the only place in Hebrews that His Resurrection is explicitly mentioned.
The author begins to sign off (v 22) insisting that the letter is one of encouragement (not condemnation) and tells the community that Timothy is free (v 23). It implies that Timothy was imprisoned (perhaps for a time with Paul?), but gives us no details. V 24 is a generic greeting “Say hi to everybody for me.” The note about Italy (v 25) suggests that the letter may have been written from there. The liturgical greeting “Grace be with you” closes the letter.
Something to consider:
Remember that Hebrews is not strictly a letter, but a homily. We’ve seen how tightly packed and masterfully structured it is in getting its main points across. Why not go back and read Hebrews all the way through in one or two sittings to get a sense of what it may have felt like when first heard.
Try what I just said. See you Monday.