Oct 11 2020

96. THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS part 2

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The Epistle to the Hebrews

(Part 2)

The epistle’s theme:

St. Paul was no ordinary Jew.  Saul of Tarsus was scripturally adept, a militant Pharisee, and a Church persecutor (Gal. 1:13,14 and Phil. 3:5,6).  However, when Christ called him, on the road to Damascus, to evangelize the Israelites and Gentiles (Acts 9:3-6 and Acts 22:15,21), he did not consult any flesh and blood; rather, he obeyed and started preaching in the synagogues, “… and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus.” (Acts 9:22)  Furthermore, in Jeru_salem, “… he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him.” (Acts 9:29)  At the outset of his evangelical journeys, his first stop was the synagogues.  Although some accepted the Faith, the opponents were many – so he told them: “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46)  When St. Paul met with the disciples, they gave him “the right hand of fellowship” that he “should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” (Gal. 2:7-9)

Despite all that he had faced from the Jews, St. Paul’s heart remained tender towards them, and he continued to call them to the Faith.  In his letter to the Romans, he expressed his sorrow at the Jews’ rejection of Christ: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh….” (Rom. 9:3)

The wave of persecutions against this group of Hebrew Christians was understandably weighing down heavily on the apostle’s heart; the Sanhedrin had issued a ruling against them labelling them as unclean apostates – which, of course, hurt them deeply, and made them feel that, due to their faith, they had been alienated from the Lord’s people who awaited Christ.  Whereas, previously, they were members of the household, celebrating their feasts and seasons, they became “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel” like the Gentiles (Eph. 2:12), being forced to assemble secretly in homes. St. Paul wrote them this epistle to reveal to them that what they had acquired far exceeded their loss (which was symbolisms realized in Christ Whom the fathers awaited).  Furthermore, they acquired a heavenly temple replacing the stone one.

Over and above all this, the New Testament, which God had promised their fathers (Jer. 31:31 and Heb. 8:8-13), materialized through Christ on Whom they believed; also, Christ was not only greater than angels and Moses, but also His priesthood surpassed the Levite priesthood and its chief, Aaron.  Furthermore, Christ was “a great High Priest Who has passed through the heavens” (Heb. 4:14) and “has become higher than the heavens” (Heb. 7:26).  Also, Christ entered the Most Holy Place, once for all, “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood … having obtained eternal redem_ption …” (Heb. 9:12 & 14)  The immortal celestial Jerusalem, the most high city of firstborns, was thus opened for them, replacing the terrestrial Jerusalem.

Christ’s blood was not wasted, and the Cross was neither a manifestation of weakness nor humilia_tion – rather, they led to salvation of humanity in its entirety, and to heaven’s opening up for earth.  Christ crushed death through His death – through His resurrection, He became the firstborn of the departed: “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Heb. 7:25)

+ Consequently, St. Paul warns them against neglecting their salvation (Heb. 2:3), and relapsing into the old gloom and semi-celestials, thus urging them to enter into the genuine celestials, where Christ remains “According to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:6,7 and 7:1) – to Whom the patriarch Abraham (as well as all the Levites of his seed) offered tithes; Melchizedek accepted from him bread and wine, as the Hebrew history had indicated two thousand years earlier (Gen. 14:18, Heb. 7:4 ,5).

“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.” (Heb. 10:26 ,27)  For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” (Heb. 6:4-6)

But Paul subsequently adopts a conciliatory note, absolving them from the accusation of deviating from the Faith, saying, “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (Heb. 6:10)

+ St. Paul then accentuates the fact that all the forefathers had died in the Faith and that, despite their not having acquired the promises, they observed and acknowledged them afar, affirming that they were but sojourners on the earth (Heb. 11:13).  He starts with Abel, then goes on to Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, plus all the various prophets and martyrs across the ages – none of them acquired the promises: “God having provided something better [and greater] for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” (Heb. 11:40)

He concludes his epistle by asking them to remain steadfast in their hardship, by contemplating that great cloud of witnesses; he also exhorted them to persevere patiently, to consider that what they were experiencing constituted chastisement from the Lord for those who love Him, and to accept, as children, such chastisement with joy: “… looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” (Heb. 12:1-3)

Spiritual counselling and golden verses:

+ The epistle embodies several pieces of advice/counselling,    applicable to all believers, everywhere and at all times:

1. Being sensitized to God’s calling and salvation: not to ignore or neglect either (Heb. 2:1-4).

2. Obeying the voice of God (Heb. 3:7-13).

3. The power and effectiveness of the word of God (Heb. 4:12).

4. Faith in Christ is the foundation – apostasy spells perdition (Heb. 6:1-8, 10:26-31).

5. God does not forget the labor of love (Heb. 6:10).

6. Shielding ourselves from sin, having experienced salvation, and obtained God’s new promise for eternal life (Heb. 12:14-29).

+ The epistle also includes a number of golden verses – among the most famous verses of the Bible; here are some:

“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself [Christ] likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Heb. 2:14,15)

“For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Heb. 2:18)“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)

“But He [Christ], because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore, He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Heb. 7:24 & 25)

“Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Heb. 9:12)

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)

“… without faith it is impossible to please Him …” (Heb. 11:6)

“… let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1 & 2)

“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:” (Heb. 12:14)

“Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.” (Heb. 13:7)

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb. 13:8)

“For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.” (Heb. 13:14)                                                                                  (To be contd.)

SMOF

urges you to study the Bible and Orthodoxy, and to encourage others to do the same. You may give us the names and addresses of whom you think may benefit from these studies and the Fellowship will send them this newsletter immediately by the method they would like, by regular mail or e-mail.

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