Background and Outline of the Epistle to the Hebrews
A debate exists among scholars as to when the Epistle to the Hebrews was written. Some believe it was written just before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, while others maintain that it was written just after 70 AD. This author favors the former position since the author of Hebrews speaks of the sacrificial system in the present tense as if it were still functioning (Heb 10:11; 13:10, 11).
At the same time, the author of Hebrews seems to be addressing the concerns of early believers that without the temple standing and the sacrificial system functioning, there is no longer remission for sins. He assiduously points out how the patterns and prophecies of the Tanakh are pointing to the greater priesthood of Messiah Yeshua in the heavenly tabernacle. As such, the author seems to have in view the destruction of the temple, yet while the temple is still standing. After all, Yeshua predicted the temple’s demise and that its destruction would be so complete that not one stone would be left standing on another (Matt 24:2; Luke 21:20–21).
Perhaps, the author was writing Hebrews in the four-year time period (between A.D. 67 to A.D. 70) when the Romans besieged Jerusalem, then pulled away for one year, then rebesieged and finally destroyed the city in A.D. 70. The events of A.D. 67 to 69 may have caused the writer to feel that Jerusalem’s fall was imminent in fulfillment of Yeshua’s earlier prophecies.
In his Epistle to the Hebrews, the author emphatically asserts that:
- Yeshua is over all.
- Yeshua is leading his people to the ultimate higher spiritual reality.
- The Tanakh (Old Testament) validates the gospel message.
- The Epistle to the Hebrews is about transformation, shifting, growing from a lower level to a higher level spiritually. It is about one coming closer to the reality of heaven in their spiritual walk; about one approaching and growing closer to Elohim.
- Though Hebrews doesn’t deal directly with this issue, we have to ask the following question: While in this flesh on the earth, do we abandon the letter of the Torah-law’s types and shadows and live in a spiritual dimension only? We know from Hebrews that through Yeshua’s death and resurrection, we have moved from the higher spiritual level with regard to the tabernacle system, and the Levitical priesthood and sacrificial systems. But does this apply to the rest of the Torah as well (e.g. the Sabbath, feasts, dietary laws, etc.)? Christianity by in large teaches that it does. But this is not what the writer of Hebrews is saying. The transformation of the priesthood and sacrificial systems to the higher level of reality in Yeshua doesn’t invalidate the rest of the Torah. Believers are still required to keep the rest of the letter of the Torah law as best they can. As physical beings living in this earthly dimension, we still have to follow the Torah-Word of Elohim as it applies to our physical walk (e.g. don’t murder, steal, commit adultery, lie, worship idols, etc.). But at the same time, we are to walk, as much as possible, in the heavenly dimension by following spirit of the Torah, being led of the Spirit in our walk and by focusing our attention on Yeshua, our heavenly High Priest. As such, redeemed believers are caught having to walk between the physical and the spiritual dimensions. We are in the process of being transformed from the physical to spiritual. Until this total transformation takes place, we must meld the physical or letter of the law and the spiritual realms, and we must keep progressing toward the ultimate goal of the higher Torah, which is total spiritual existence and oneness as Elohim’s children in his eternal kingdom as characterized by the New Jerusalem.
Outline of Hebrews
Overview: Yeshua is priest, prophet and king
In the Tanakh, the priest, prophet and king were the three principal leaders in ancient Israel. No one except Moses was all three. David was a king and prophet, but not a priest. Samuel was a priest and a prophet, but not a king. Scripture tells that Moses was all three. Yeshua was the only other Person who was all three. Deuteronomy 18 tells us that Moses was a prophetic shadow picture of a greater Moses who would come. The writer of Hebrews validates this and shows that Yeshua was that greater Moses.
Hebrews 11:1 explains this process by defining faith. We live in the physical world, but we hope through faith for the spiritual world to come. Our spiritual forefathers went through this process successfully, though they paid a great price physically, anticipating in faith their heavenly reward. This is the story of Hebrews 11—the faith chapter.
Yeshua is the vehicle that leads us onward and upwards to the higher spiritual dimension. He is the ladder to and gate or door of heaven. He proclaims this in John 1:51 and John 10:7. Jacob dreamed of this ladder or highway to heaven, which was a picture of the Written and Living Torah (literally, a Torah scroll). (See telios: Col 1:28; Eph 4:13; Phil 3:13)
The Tanakh prophesies that the Messiah to come would be a priest, prophet and king.
- Priest: Ps 110:4; Mal 3:1–3; Isa 53:12
- Prophet: Deut 18:15–19
- King: Ps 2:1–12; Isa 9:6–7; Ezek 37:24–27
It is important to note that Hebrews focuses on Yeshua’s role as that greater heavenly high priest that the Tanakh prophesied would come.
The Superiority of Messiah Yeshua Over OT Personages (1:1–4:13)
- Yeshua as Creator, Sovereign and Sustainer of the universe is superior to all things including the prophets — 1:1–3 (Ps 110:1)
- Yeshua is superior to the angels —1:4–2:18 (Ps 97:7)
- Yeshua is superior Moses —3:1–19 (Deut 18:15–19)
- Yeshua is superior to Joshua — 4:1–13
The Superiority of Messiah Yeshua’s Priesthood Over OT Priesthood (4:4–5:10)
- Yeshua is superior to Aaron — 4:14–5:10 (Ps 110:4; Mal 3:1–3; Isa 53:12 —Yeshua, the Suffering Servant, to take the role of high priest as an intercessor for transgressors before Elohim)
- Yeshua’s priesthood is after the order of Melchizedek — 7:1–8:5 (Ps 110:4)
Yeshua Mediator of a Better Covenant Than the First Covenant (8:6–10:18)
- The Renewed Covenant: a better covenant — 8:6–13 (Jer 31:31–33)
- The First Covenant’s sanctuary and sacrifices — 9:1–10
- Compared with the Renewed Covenant — 9:11–10:18
The Purpose of the Epistle to the Hebrews—Lift YOUR Eyes Upward to Our Heavenly High Priest
What follows you have probably never heard before. Hopefully the truth of it will ring loudly like a bell in your heart and mind!
What is the main theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews? For certain, The the author is not debating about the validity of the Torah-law of Elohim. To say that he is to miss the whole point of the book. Rather he is discussing whether the Levitical system with its sacrifices and various rituals involving the Tabernacle of Moses (and later the temple in Jerusalem) is still valid or not.
Why is this such an important issue in the author’s mind? Simply for this reason: the temple is about to be destroyed or has already been destroyed along with its Levitical and sacrificial systems. This begs the question: How are the saints of Yeshua now to view the temple with its rites?
There is debate among scholars as to when this epistle was written, but it is commonly accepted that it dates to around A.D. 70, which is when the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem along with its sacrificial system and Levitical priesthood. Therefore, of paramount importance in the mind of the author is the issue of the relevance, if any, the Levitical and sacrificial systems had in the life of the disciple of Yeshua. We see throughout this epistle that it is the author’s position that these systems in every way pointed to Yeshua and were thus fulfilled by his life, death, resurrection and current intercession on behalf of the believer at the right hand of his Father’s throne in heaven.
Again, what is not an issue in the author’s mind is whether YHVH’s Torah-law is valid or not. This was never the issue in this epistle, even though the mainstream church has erroneously and traditionally made it the issue as its advocates twist and mangle the Scripture to say what they want it to say instead of what it actually says. Just because a thousand, million or billion people scream in unison that two plus two equals five, that man descended from the cousins of apes or that the earth is flat does not make it so. The same is true when Christian theologian existing in an echo chamber of their own construction scream and declare that the book of Hebrews is in some way invalidating the Torah.
True, the Levitical system was an aspect of Torah, but it was given to the children of Israel after YHVH had initially revealed his Torah-law to them at the foot of Mount Sinai. The Levitical and sacrificial systems were temporarily added to the overall Torah (Gal 3:19) after the golden calf incident as a way to help the Israelites spiritually by preventing them from falling into idolatry again. It was designed to guide them in the path of righteousness. The Levitical system was, therefore, a temporary parenthetical subordinate subset of the Torah in place until the Messiah would come to which the whole system pointed. Whether it was no permissible to steal, murder, lie, commit adultery, worship idols, practice witchcraft, have sex with animals, keep the Sabbath and biblical feasts was never the issue of this book or anywhere else in the Bible including Paul’s epistles.
At issue in the author’s mind is whether the temple service was still needed some forty years after the death and resurrection of the Messiah, who himself predicted the demise of the temple along with its sacrificial system. Was the impending destruction at the hands of the Romans the fulfillment of Yeshua’s prophecy? Until that time, the temple in Jerusalem had played such a central role in the lives of religious Jews everywhere including, to some degree, the apostles (as the book of Acts indicates) that the idea of its irrelevance is an issue of extreme importance and to be carefully considered. The author of Hebrews is wrestling with this whole idea and because the temple’s destruction is imminent (assuming Hebrews was written before A.D. 70), or had just happened (if the epistle was written just after A.D. 70), he has to convincingly make the point, from Scripture, that the temple and its rites are now irrelevant for the disciple of Yeshua. Therefore, in ana effort to prove that the Levitical and sacrificial systems are now longer needed, the whole book of Hebrews is about transferring the believers’ focus away from a physical and earthly temple with its rites and ceremonies and, instead, to lift the focus of the saints’ collective gaze into the heavens where the true and eternal temple of Elohim exists (after which the earthly tabernacle and temple were patterned) and where Yeshua the Messiah is currently ministering as our Great High Priest. This is the whole purpose of the Epistle to the Hebrews—to glorify Yeshua the Messiah and to fix our attention on him and him alone!