There’s a lot we don’t know about the Letter to the Hebrews. In fact, some of the most basic facts about the epistle (for example, the author and its original audience) still aren’t clear to us today. While the church has always appreciated it for its elegant style and sophisticated presentation of the gospel, Hebrews can be a puzzle to those who study it. (But then again, who doesn’t love a puzzle?)
For all the mystery and complexity that makes Hebrews a special part of the New Testament, the letter is very easy to summarize. In various ways, the author writes to convince us of something perfectly simple: Jesus Christ is better than every possible rival. No one can compare to who he is, and nothing can match the power of what he’s done for humanity. Since that’s true, rejecting him and his message is the most foolish and dangerous decision that a person can make.
The writer doesn’t waste time in his introduction to the letter:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
—Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)
In just three verses, the author makes a number of profound points. First, Christianity accepts and depends on the truth of the Old Testament. Those who accuse the New Testament of being antisemitic can find no support here! Rather than denounce them as corrupt or write them off as “un-Christian,” Hebrews says that the Jewish Scriptures accurately communicate God’s word to God’s people. But secondly, the writer goes on to say that God’s message in the person and work of Jesus is even more authoritative and more relevant. If the Old Testament is good, then the message of Jesus and his apostles is even better. Any why is that? Because (thirdly) Jesus himself is a more perfect and more powerful representative of God than any other figure in history. He is the perfect prophet, teaching us God’s will better than anyone else. He’s the perfect priest, dying for his people’s sins and praying for them effectively and continually. And he’s the perfect king, ruling over all things that he himself created with an authority that is both total and incorruptible. In short, he is everything we need. Calling him “the best man who ever lived” or “the wisest teacher in history” is an insult, not a compliment, to Jesus. Is he both of those things? Yes — but he is so, so much more. And because of that, his message is all the more important. Do you believe it?