I have come to believe that much of the New Teatament is misunderstood by the western world due to our lack of a reference point to the persecution going on at the time. Christians who have faced persecution think about the Bible differently. For example when American Christians talk about a rapture where God rescues His church to protect them before life gets bad on planet earth, believers in say persecuted China, the Sudan or Iran scratch there head and are stunned. They think we have been able to endure hardship all this time by understanding books like Revelation and Hebrews through the context of a persecuted Roman Empire. They may think something like “Stop making the message so complicated. The message is Jesus conquered through sacrifice therefore go and do likewise.”
The book of Hebrews is the same. In the first century a preacher wrote a sermon that was to be read aloud among some churches. They were probably a network of several house gatherings. These believers were Jewish.
Paul is often credited for writing Hebrews. I am nearly 100% sure he didn’t. I wasn’t there so I can’t be 100%. But the evidence concludes he didn’t. Here are some reasons why:
- Writing style- not personal to a person like Paul and doesn’t use personal examples. Paul always tells you who he is.
- Genre – Paul addressed the churches in epistle form not sermon manuscript.
- Some of the leading theories are women authors. This would put a woman in leadership or as a preacher. Many people find it better to settle on Paul becaus he is a man and is a safer theological bet.
- Language usage – just like an English writer uses different language than another author, the difference in Greek usage is easily discernible from Paul’s letters.
There are other reasons but that is good enough for our purposes.
In Hebrews the preacher builds a case against the Jewish Christians who are looking for an easy way out. Persecution has broken out and their lives are in danger. It seems they have found a loophole.
If they put Jesus in the back but lift up their Jewish roots as the focal point of their faith they can avoid persecution.
They are tempted not to advertise the living Christ or the Cross. They are tempted to continue in the sacrificial system. They are tempted to shrink back as a group.
This inability to stand firm on their faith is a denial. By not standing they are compromising. By compromising they are tainting their witness.
When the Romans come persecuting them what will they see? Do they see the same resolve to fight to the finish like Christ who when He gave His last earthly breath before the resurrection said, “It is Finished?”
When the writer of Hebrews wrote, “We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved (Hebrews 10:39), he/she was explaining to them that as a group they are to conquer through sacrifice just like Christ. It is highly possible some of the original apostles had already been killed for their faith as well. The fear would have been valid that faith would be wiped out by killing the faithful. But the truth is it multiplies under persecution.
So, back to your church. What type of resolve does your church have? Would your local community of believers stand for Christ with each other under hard times? Is there real faith with your local fellowship? I am not talking about politics, or how you vote. I am talking about the very real temptation to trade in the power we have in Christ to blend in and look like the world around us that we are being saved from.
I welcome your thoughts as I have given many opportunities for disagreement in this post, but don’t miss the main message to us as groups fellowshipping together. “Christ conquered through sacrifice, therefore go and do likewise.”