Hebrews, Chapter 1.
Imagine you live in a culture where Christianity is forbidden. The authorities have taken possession of your homes and have imprisoned the elders of your family units. This has happened more than once, and the effort to squelch your community is widening. Torture and death have been inflicted, because you follow Jesus Messiah, God in the flesh.
Your belief system threatens the idolatry of the nation in which you live. The authorities believe your faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior is an insult to their gods, bringing danger upon all of your neighbors. To them, you are an atheist, for you do not believe in nor worship their gods. If they can eradicate you or convert you, their gods will be appeased, and all will be right in their world. This is the threat you face.
Into this setting a written document arrives, an epistle that reads like a sermon, attested to and endorsed by the apostles. This letter from leaders you trust details why you should remain steadfast, why you should not abandon your faith and slide, invisible, into the pagan worship of the culture or return to your former somewhat accepted mode of worship as a Jew. However, to do so might save you and your family from great financial loss and a tortuous death.
The opening of the letter details numerous prophetic predictions in the Scriptures. One Biblical prophet after another proclaimed statements of events to come, of changes that would happen. Moses recorded predictions of what God would do if your people embraced the surrounding pagan standards, for instance.
And, one by one, the prophesies and fulfillments came true before the eyes of your ancestors. In the record of the Judges, incident after incident is recorded where God repeatedly rescued your ancestors from the very thing you consider — becoming invisible to threatening authorities by accepting the pagan norms. You know from history that when your people accept the surrounding customs, you often end up looking exactly like your neighbors, even in abhorrent practices. And now, they offer you the opportunity to simply do this again.
“Therefore, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it,” the letter states (Hebrews 2:1 ESV). Aware of your predicament, and a fellow sufferer of like treatment, the author urges you to realize that, just as all of these previous predictions have come true, so THE prediction has come true:
Messiah has indeed come. And He is Jesus of Nazareth. It is true.
You embraced this, you, a Jew, because the facts warranted it. Risen from the dead and witnessed by over 500, many who are still alive. No body anywhere to be found. Weeks of the risen Savior interacting with many people. Multiple eyewitnesses saw him. Unique treatment of the women as announcers of truth. Changed lives of those who followed him, from fear to boldness, even at the cost of their lives. These radical events changed everything.
How can you turn away from what you know to be true? This echoes in the letter: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:3-4 ESV).
Messiah was not what you expected. Everyone thought he would come to defeat the Romans, setting up his kingdom on earth to reign forever. But, God had a different kingdom in mind, one which includes the Gentiles, information he wove all through the Scriptures, but which not many comprehended. And now, here it is: The kingdom is now. It starts like this.
“In putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:8b-10 ESV).
Death. Suffering. This wasn’t the type of kingdom you had envisioned. You want to avoid this, for suffering has long tormented the descendants of Jacob. You don’t want to be martyred. You want to live, to blend in, to chat with your neighbors, and to watch your children grow and marry and give you grandchildren. The life of a Christian is harder than you ever dreamed when the glorious truth of Messiah dawned on you.
But, it comes with precious treasures, truths so earth-shaking that they make the risks worth it and at the same time equip you for the hardships:
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house” (Hebrews 2:14-3:2 ESV).
[bctt tweet="The life of a Christian is harder than you ever dreamed when the glorious truth of Messiah dawned on you. But, it comes with precious treasures, truths so earth-shaking that they make the risks worth it and at the same time equip you."]
He helps the offspring of Abraham, both natural descendants and believers of Gentile descent. He destroyed the power of death and delivered those who believe from its fear, the lifelong slavery of dread of the coming darkness of death itself. He promised a resurrection into eternal life, rather than darkness, and he went first by offering himself, dying a grisly death, being buried, and rising from the dead. He paid for your sins, he opened the way, and now he helps you through everything life might throw at you.
The first command in the letter, one you are to begin immediately is: Consider Jesus. Ponder on him and his words. Remember his promises and his life. Don’t forget. Recall his lifestyle and emulate it. Respect what he has said. Or, as Peter put it, walk in his steps, Peter who recently was crucified upside down after watching his wife also face death by crucifixion.
In the Roman Empire, at this time, this is your choice.
In the modern world today, these are also your options.
What will you do?
Find the next post in the Hebrews series, right here.