Why Was It Written in That Way?
“Make me understand, that I may observe your law and that I may keep it with the whole heart.”—Ps. 119:34.
1. Is the need for encouragement a common problem, and where can the encouragement often be found?
HAVE you not found that oftentimes when you need encouragement, truths from God’s storehouse, the Holy Bible, have given you the strength to face personal trials and problems? It seems that all of us have had this occur in our lives as Christians.
2. What discouragement have many witnesses of Jehovah faced over the years, and how have they been able to stand firm in the face of it?
2 For example, many today have been through periods of discouragement when opposers have spoken slightingly of God’s people and have even resorted to violence because of their being Christian witnesses of Jehovah who have stood up for the truth. Many who have been associated with true Christianity for fifty or sixty years well remember the unkind remarks and actions of neighbors and others during World War I, and thereafter, against Jehovah’s witnesses. How often in derisive terms many were called Russellites and Millennial Dawners! Some were beaten, tarred and feathered, imprisoned, spoken of abusively, whipped and spit upon. Through it all, Jehovah’s Christian witnesses have continued on doing the work commanded by their God, Jehovah. How have they been able to do so? In part because of the understanding, encouragement and strength they have received from the Word of God and from the publications printed by the “faithful and discreet slave” in these days of wickedness.
3. What should our view be when we read the Bible?
3 And, really, that is the purpose of God’s Word, to build up the servants of Jehovah. For that reason when one reads the various books of the Bible one should have in mind background information about the book and its writer. The reader of the Holy Scriptures would do well to ask himself, ‘Why was it written in that way?’
4. On what Bible book in particular are we now going to focus our attention?
4 Let us take a book of the Bible and spend some time determining the reasons why it is written in the style and with the arguments that are used. Our discussion will focus on the apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Jerusalem; it is commonly called the letter to the Hebrews, in the Christian Greek Scriptures. (Heb. 13:22) By considering the circumstances existing nineteen hundred years ago when Paul penned his letter, we will be helped to understand and appreciate why he wrote what he did to strengthen and comfort God’s people.
FIRST-CENTURY OPINIONS OF CHRISTIANITY
5. What is the religious situation prevailing in Jerusalem about the year 61 C.E.?
5 Let us go back in time to approximately the year 61 C.E., and to the city of Jerusalem. It is about twenty-eight years since the death of Jesus on a torture stake just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a holy city to the Jews. From all outward appearances, Jerusalem weathered the days of the despised Jesus from Nazareth. The claim is that the religion of the Jews is the religion of antiquity, stretching back to their forefather Abraham. The spiritual leaders of the Jews, the rabbis, are held in high esteem by the people. They are given prestige and honor. They have seated themselves in the seat of Moses and have the most prominent place at evening meals and the front seats in the synagogues, and they receive the greetings in the marketplaces and are called “Rabbi” by men. They, indeed, are a part of the religious power structure of the day.—Matt. 23:6, 7.
6. (a) How were the Christians in that city viewed by the Jewish religious leaders? (b) What experience did the apostle Paul have when he was in the city not many years previous? (c) What was the great need of the small group of Christians in Jerusalem?
6 Also in the city of Jerusalem are comparatively few persons belonging to a hated sect called Christians or “The Way.” (Acts 9:2; 19:9; 22:4) They are viewed with scorn by the Jewish religious leaders and their followers. They are persecuted and berated. What is more, they are primarily of Jewish birth and therefore doubly hated for having left the Jews’ religion to become followers of Jesus, the “so-called” Christ. So great is the hatred for Christians that when the apostle Paul had been in the city some years earlier his mere appearance in the temple had stirred up a riot, with the religious Jews screaming at the top of their voices: “Take such a man away from the earth, for he was not fit to live!” (Acts 22:22) More than forty Jews bound themselves with a curse neither to eat nor to drink until they had done away with Paul. (Acts 23:12-15) In this atmosphere of religious fanaticism and hatred of Christians the congregation had to live, preach and keep itself firm in the faith. How they needed encouragement and a sound knowledge and understanding of Christ and the way in which he fulfilled the law of Moses in order that they might keep from falling back to Judaism and the observance of the Mosaic law! Certainly Paul knew what they needed. He knew personally of the trials they were undergoing.
7. List some of the arguments the Jewish leaders and their followers might have used against the Christians.
7 Think for a moment of some of the arguments and opposition those early Jewish Christians had to face. First of all, far be it from the Jewish religious leaders and their followers to let those hated Christians think they had God’s favor. Was it not the Jews that had the tangible evidence of God’s blessing? Was it not true that God dealt with the Jews through angels? Surely, for says the book of Moses: “Jehovah’s angel appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire in the midst of a thornbush.” Later Jehovah said: “Here I am sending an angel ahead of you to keep you on the road and to bring you into the place that I have prepared.” (Ex. 3:2; 23:20) Why, the Jews may have boasted that Moses even spoke with God mouth to mouth. Furthermore, look at the magnificent temple, with the Holy and Most Holy compartments. Observe its striking beauty, its strength, its firm foundation! That is what the Jews had! And another thing: think of the Jewish priesthood! Why, it ran all the way back to Aaron and his sons, members of the tribe of Levi. The high priest was a descendant of this special line. The Jews had the Law covenant, given to Moses by God himself. The divine kingdom was the possession of the Jews; and Jerusalem, why, Jerusalem was the throne city from which God’s rule was to go forth.
8, 9. (a) How might the Jewish leaders have berated the founder of Christianity and his followers? (b) With what may they well have contrasted the Christians themselves and their humble meeting places?
8 Now look at the Christians in Jerusalem. What did they have? From the viewpoint of the Jewish leaders, the Christians had nothing by comparison. Their leader Jesus was dead, and had died as a common criminal. Who was he? He had no prominence as far as the Jewish leaders were concerned. He was just the son of a lowly carpenter, and from Nazareth at that. As for education, he had none of the formal training in the advanced rabbinical schools. How he lacked in knowledge and education from the Jews’ point of view when compared with what their teachers and instructors knew and had been taught! And more than that, among his followers there were very few learned men. Fishermen, tax collectors, and even Gentiles comprised his followers for the most part, and those Gentiles were certainly not of the natural seed of Abraham in the eyes of the Jewish leaders. How could the Christians think for one moment that they had the favor of God and that God was dealing with them? The Jews felt they were the ones chosen by God, for it was they who were the offspring of Abraham. Added to that, the Christians met in upper rooms or other out-of-the-way places, while the Jews had their beautiful temple at which to assemble.
9 No doubt, arguments such as these, and many others, were used against Jewish Christians. How they needed encouragement and understanding of the situation! If only someone would know of their need and send comfort and help!
COUNTERARGUMENT FAVORS CHRIST OVER MOSES
10. Who knew of these problems facing Christians, and so who was inspired to write to upbuild them?
10 Of course, Jehovah God in heaven knew of their plight. By inspiration he caused the apostle Paul to be concerned with the circumstances they faced. And so Paul wrote to those faithful ones in Jerusalem, and the book of Hebrews contains his answer to the many charges that undoubtedly were made against first-century Christianity by its enemies.
11, 12. (a) What line of argument did Paul now take, and why was this appropriate? (b) How did Paul show Jesus’ superiority when compared with angels? (c) With Moses?
11 Taking the very claims of the Jews, Paul shows the superiority of the Christian system and its priesthood when compared with Judaism. It was important for him to do this. Those Christians in Jerusalem were, no doubt, for the most part of Jewish birth. They were well acquainted with the law of Moses and the arguments of the Jewish leaders. For that reason Paul had the obligation to show them the counterarguments, the truth of matters and to expose the falsity of the charges laid against them by the Jewish religious leaders. For example, it was true that the law of Moses had been transmitted through angels. But how do angels compare with the Lord Jesus? Here is what Paul wrote at Hebrews 1:4-6: “So he [Jesus] has become better than the angels, to the extent that he has inherited a name more excellent than theirs. For example, to which one of the angels did he ever say: ‘You are my son; I, today, I have become your father’? And again: ‘I myself shall become his father, and he himself will become my son’? But when he again brings his Firstborn into the inhabited earth, he says: ‘And let all God’s angels do obeisance to him.’” Really, then, Paul points out, angels are servants, but Jesus is the Son of God.
12 But what about the fact that God spoke mouth to mouth with Moses? There can be no doubt that this was a significant thing. But, concerning Jesus Christ, Paul writes: “For the latter [that is, Jesus] is counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who constructs it [the house] has more honor than the house. . . . And Moses as an attendant was faithful in all the house of that One . . . but Christ was faithful as a Son over the house of that One.” Here, in effect, Paul was saying, ‘Brothers, who is greater in a house—an attendant, such as Moses was, or the Son of the Owner of the house, as Jesus Christ is?’ How strengthening it must have been to the Jewish Christians living there in Jerusalem to have this understanding of matters!—Heb. 3:3-6.
SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST AS HIGH PRIEST
13. (a) What could be better than the material temple in Jerusalem, and where was Christ Jesus? (b) How did Paul show the superiority of Christ’s priesthood when compared with Aaron’s?
13 Paul now proceeds to another argument, that of the beautiful material temple in Jerusalem. And, indeed, it was beautiful and costly. But of what significance would a material temple be when compared to being in the very presence of God? It was King Solomon who built the first beautiful temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem back in the eleventh century before our Common Era, and at its dedication he said that Jehovah would not truly dwell in that man-made edifice. Rather, he said that the heaven of the heavens could not contain the Almighty God Jehovah, much less the temple he had built! (1 Ki. 8:27) So, to be in the very presence of Jehovah in heaven would be far, far grander than to serve in any earthly temple. Therefore Paul writes of Christ Jesus that he “passed through the heavens” into the presence of his Father, Jehovah. (Heb. 4:14) And as for the Aaronic priesthood, which in those days was serving in Jerusalem’s temple, Paul compares it with the priesthood of Christ and shows the latter to be far superior, for it is after the manner of Melchizedek. Paul’s words at Hebrews 5:5, 6 were: “Christ did not glorify himself by becoming a high priest, but was glorified by him who spoke with reference to him: ‘You are my son; I, today, I have become your father.’ . . . ‘You are a priest forever according to the manner of Melchizedek.’” Yes, a priest forever, and it was something dependent, not on any inheritance of sinful flesh, but on an oath from God. Paul’s words on this matter are recorded in Hebrews 7:19-22: “For the Law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in besides of a better hope did, through which we are drawing near to God. Also, to the extent that it was not without a sworn oath, . . . to that extent also Jesus has become the one given in pledge of a better covenant.” And as for continuing on without the necessity of a successor, Paul then says: “Furthermore, many had to become priests in succession [under the Jewish Law] because of being prevented by death from continuing as such, but he [Jesus] because of continuing alive forever has his priesthood without any successors. Consequently he is able also to save completely those who are approaching God through him, because he is always alive to plead for them.”—Heb. 7:23-25.
14. Show how the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice must have brought encouragement to the Christians reading his letter.
14 Certainly these were strong arguments from their beloved apostle Paul to strengthen the Christians’ position and to aid them to remain firm in the faith. But that was not all. Paul continues showing the superiority of Jesus as high priest in Jehovah’s heavenly temple. He strikes to the very heart of the situation in giving additional arguments to the Christians. He compares the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus with those sacrifices offered by the Aaronic priesthood in which the Jewish leaders took such pride. In Heb 7 verses 26 to 28 of chapter seven Paul writes: “For such a high priest as this was suitable for us, loyal, guileless, undefiled, separated from the sinners, and become higher than the heavens. He does not need daily, as those high priests do, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for those of the people: (for this he did once for all time when he offered himself up;) for the Law appoints men high priests having weakness, but the word of the sworn oath that came after the Law appoints a Son, who is perfected forever.” Think of the encouragement those words brought to the faithful ones in Jerusalem. Yes, Christ a high priest who offered his own perfect life for mankind is by God’s sworn oath now a priest forever without successors.
NEW COVENANT MAKES OLD ONE OBSOLETE
15. What is the thrust of Paul’s argument in Hebrews 8:7-13 concerning a better covenant, and what is the logical conclusion concerning the old covenant?
15 Paul continues on to another argument now that will also benefit the Christians, and that concerns the Law covenant mediated by Moses as compared with the better covenant mediated by Christ between God and his faithful ones on this earth. Notice Paul’s argument at Hebrews 8:7-13: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, no place would have been sought for a second.” Had the first covenant been faultless? No, for it was Jehovah himself who said: “I will conclude with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant; not according to the covenant that I made with their forefathers in the day of my taking hold of their hand to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt, because they did not continue in my covenant.” “For this is the covenant that I shall covenant with the house of Israel after those days,” says Jehovah. “I will put my laws in their mind, and in their hearts I shall write them. And I will become their God, and they themselves will become my people.” “In his saying ‘a new covenant,’” Paul reasons, God “has made the former one obsolete. Now that which is made obsolete and growing old is near to vanishing away.”—Compare Jeremiah 31:31-33.
16. Who now had reason to be encouraged? Who had reason to be discouraged? Why?
16 Think of how encouraging these words must have been: “Now that which is made obsolete and growing old is near to vanishing away.” Who was it that could now be happy and not sad and mournful? Why, the Christians, for they were adhering to a covenant that was replacing the obsolete one, the Law covenant. The sad and mournful ones would prove to be the religious boasters who were fighting Christianity. That on which they were depending no longer was God’s way of dealing with his people. His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, resurrected to heavenly glory, had mediated a new and better covenant founded on better and more lasting promises, and validated by a more precious sacrifice, his own shed blood.
KINGDOM ESTABLISHED ON HEAVENLY MOUNT ZION
17. (a) In contrast with Moses’ approaching Mount Sinai for the Law covenant, what were those Christians approaching? (b) How does heavenly Jerusalem compare with earthly Jerusalem?
17 But what about any claim that the Kingdom right belonged with the Jews and that Jerusalem was God’s city from which divine rule would go forth? How did Paul handle this argument in his letter to the Hebrews? Very interestingly, he begins his argument, found in Heb chapter twelve, verses 18-27, in this way: “For you have not approached that which can be felt and which has been set aflame with fire, and a dark cloud and thick darkness and a tempest.” True, Christians had not approached ancient Mount Sinai, where the Law covenant for the nation of Israel was given. They had not approached something they could feel and from which they could see the flame of fire shooting forth. No, but beginning in Heb 12 verse 22, Paul’s words are: “You have approached a Mount Zion and a city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem, and myriads of angels, in general assembly, and the congregation of the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens, and God the Judge of all, . . . and Jesus the mediator of a new covenant.” Yes, that is what they had approached, the real seat of power and government, not earthly, but heavenly Jerusalem, with God, myriads of angels, the congregation of the firstborn and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant. By comparison earthly Jerusalem, also Mount Sinai, as well as the temple and priesthood of the Jews, paled into insignificance.
18. (a) How long is heavenly Jerusalem to endure? (b) What already had happened to earthly Jerusalem and would happen a second time?
18 And how sturdy, long lasting, firmly founded are that Mount Zion and heavenly Jerusalem? We are not left in doubt, for Paul adds: “Wherefore, seeing that we are to receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us continue to have undeserved kindness, through which we may acceptably render God sacred service with godly fear and awe.” (Heb. 12:28) There would be no shaking of that kingdom as earthly Jerusalem was severely shaken for seventy years, from 607 to 537 B.C.E., and would again be shaken in the not-too-distant future by the Roman armies under Titus.
19, 20. What were those Jewish Christians to do now, and to what had Paul appealed in his arguments?
19 How comforting and inspiring Paul’s words must have been to those early Jewish Christians! Nineteen centuries later, the words are still alive and filled with meaning for us Christians in this twentieth century.
20 So, at a time when Jewish opposers were relying on antiquity, material wealth, power, splendor of rites, ceremonies and the wisdom of this world, Christians were to grow in faith, in the assured expectation of things hoped for, in the evident demonstration of realities, though not beheld. How encouraging that letter must have been to God’s faithful ones about the year 61 C.E.! Indeed, “The Way” to life with eternal blessings was clearly set before them. And Paul so wrote his letter that it would appeal to their reasoning and logic as natural-born Jews and cause them to be built up in the faith. The words of Paul in the book of Hebrews are likewise comforting for present-day Christians.
21. As has been illustrated in our lesson, how can all of us increase our appreciation for God’s Word, and for what reason?
21 To benefit fully from the Scriptures, we need to appreciate why they are written as they are. With the help of such books as Aid to Bible Understanding, as well as “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial” and many other publications, we indeed have a storehouse of knowledge to help us to know how and why each book of the Bible is so written. With such a broadened outlook we certainly can become equipped for every good work that God may give us to perform. As we have done with the Bible book of Hebrews we can do with the other sixty-five books comprising God’s Word, the Holy Bible. How appropriate are the words found in the concluding chapter of the letter to the Hebrews for all Christians today: “May the God of peace . . . equip you with every good thing to do his will, performing in us through Jesus Christ that which is well-pleasing in his sight”!—Heb. 13:20, 21.