Times were hard for the first readers of the letter to the Hebrews. Many had been exposed to fierce persecution. They had been assaulted, their homes had been plundered, and some had even been cast into prison.
To such people this letter came as an encouragement. The writer of the letter turns their eyes to Christ, shows how he fulfills the hope expressed in the Old Testament sacrifices, and calls his readers to a steadfast faith that will take them through the hard times they now face.
Such encouragement and challenge are never without relevance to Christians. Raymond Brown demonstrates this clearly in his passage-by-passage exposition.
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“The letter to the Hebrews begins by asserting the greatest single fact of the Christian revelation: God has spoken to man through his word in the Bible and through his Son, Jesus. In Christ God has closed the greatest communication gap of all time, that which exists between a holy God and sinful mankind.” (Page 27)
“Hebrews gather all its leading ideas around two great themes, revelation and redemption, the word of God and the work of Christ.” (Page 17)
“Christ does not break with the great Jewish past. He comes to bring it to fulfilment. Without him the Old Testament revelation is partial, fragmentary, preparatory and incomplete. God spoke at different times by different means. He used many and various ways. But in Christ he spoke fully, decisively, finally and perfectly. The first-century Christians must listen to him, the greatest prophet of all times. Ezekiel portrayed the glory of God,1 but Christ reflected it (1:3). Isaiah expounded the nature of God as holy, righteous and merciful,2 but Christ manifested it (1:3). Jeremiah described the power of God,3 but Christ displayed it (1:3). He far surpassed the best of prophets of earlier times, and these wavering Christians must listen to his voice.” (Page 28)
“This magnificent letter to the Hebrews was written to a group of first-century Christians who were in danger of giving up.” (Page 13)
“But the man or woman of faith possesses the conviction of things not seen. Such people look beyond the situation as it can be perceived by natural vision or enjoyed by the physical appetites. They do not look simply at their circumstances; they discern the activity of the invisible God (11:27) in their present situation and are able to endure.” (Page 198)
Raymond E. Brown, S.S., taught for many years at Saint Mary's Seminary in Baltimore and was Professor of Biblical Studies at the Union Theological Seminary for two decades. He was the author of three books in the Anchor Bible series on the Gospels and Epistles of John and wrote the classic Anchor Bible Reference Library volumes The Birth of the Messiah, The Death of the Messiah, and An Introduction to the New Testament. He died in 1998.