The Audience of Hebrews

The Questions:

  1. Explain the situation of the first recipients of Hebrews. Who are these people? What threats or crises are they facing? How does the letter address them? What is the basic worldview of the letter to the Hebrews? What lessons can people today draw from Hebrews? How can we apply the principles/worldview of this book to our lives today? When we look at the audience Hebrews was written to. While the book is addressed “To the Hebrew” this is a pretty broad audience since it includes every Jewish person. However, It is likely the audience was Jews who were in Jerusalem, and so “although we cannot select Rome as the destination with great certainty, among the options it is an intelligent guess.[1] While the exact destination can’t be known with certainty, we can say the people were more likely Jewish Christians. Within the text we see several things, which point to an audience who is familiar with Judaism. “(1) The author assumes his audience has an extensive knowledge of the Old Testament…(2) The author uses theological concepts that were popular in the Greek-speaking synagogues of the first century…(3) a potential danger to this community seems to lie in the temptation to reject Christianity and return to Judaism proper.”[2] So in this we see the people are likely contemplating rejecting Christianity to return to their former ways, and that this would have likely been because of some form of persecution.

The author of Hebrews clearly held a worldview dependent on “common Christian tradition. The pastor is committed to the Son’s eternal preexistence; incarnation; crucifixion; and exaltation, including belief in his resurrection.”[3] While not every lesson is going to be applicable to every person in every situation, we can draw multiple theological principles, which we can relate to our daily lives. One of the common ones based simply on the principles already discussed, is to not revert back to our old lifestyles, but rather to continue in the truth of Jesus Christ. One other thing we need to remember is that all of the writers of the Bible shared the same message. Whether the author is Paul, Apollos, Luke, John, Isaiah, Moses or any other prophet of God, they all looked to Jesus Christ as the singular person around whom all of history rotates. It is only through Jesus that anything matters, and only through the sacrifice of our High Priest, Jesus, that we can live the lives we are called to. These are all basic lessons we can apply based on the basic outline of Hebrews from which we get timeless theological principles that can translate into application in the daily lives of Christians today. This often takes the form of not returning to our sins, continuing to seek the company and fellowship of other Christians, and remembering the sacrifice of Jesus and what He has done.

[1] Lea, Thomas & David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, Nashville: B&H Academic, 2003, 499.

[2] Guthrie, George. The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998, 19-20.

[3] Cockerill, Gareth Lee, The Epistle to the Hebrew, Grand Rapids: William B Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2012, 24.

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