Hebrews: An introduction and an overview

POST OVERVIEW. This article gives an introduction to the letter of Hebrews with thoughts about the author’s purposes, the recipients, the author and the date of writing.

FORM OF A SERMON. The letter to the Hebrews takes the form of a sermon from the displaced pastor to his congregation.


The author preaches his sermon with two different purposes.

ENCOURAGED BY CHRIST AND OTHER BELIEVERS. His first purpose is to encourage the genuine believer and to urge that believer to persevere by faith in the face of persecution. The author’s primary means of encouraging the true believers in his flock is to present Jesus Christ in all His glory and majesty as the model we are to follow. The author also spurs his flock on by reminding them of others from the past who have persevered and who have remained steadfast despite great difficulty and suffering. We can press on and not shrink back because we have “a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us” (12:1).

APPLICATION – As we read about the glory of Jesus Christ, about His holiness and His power and His sinlessness and His sacrifice on the cross, true believers should take heart that we have such a High Priest (7:25) and, knowing that Jesus is our substitute, we should resolve to not shrink back but press on to maturity and persevere to the end.

DO NOT COME SHORT. But there is a second purpose in this epistle that is manifested in the warning passages which characterize this letter. The author is intent on warning the pretender, the one who is blending in with the believing crowd while still holding back from real faith in Jesus. These people are probably not aware themselves that they are unsaved. After all, they are doing the same things that the rest of the congregation does, so why would they not also be saved? But the author’s warnings are intended to make clear that it is possible to come short of salvation. It is possible to drift away, to go through all the motions and then fall away because you never, by faith, trusted in Jesus Christ. The issue is not to check off all the religious boxes and have all the “Christian experiences,” but the critical issue is to come to Christ by faith. With all your heart, mind, and strength, believe in the Lord Jesus without reservation. The author warns that anything short of that is an eternity away from salvation.

APPLICATION – In much the same way that we read 1 John, so we read Hebrews and examine our own profession of faith in light of the warning passages. “Do I exhibit any of the danger signs about which the author is warning us here?” Therefore, when we encounter a warning text, we compare our faith to the warning and see if there are any similarities. We should allow the text of holy Scripture to warn us away from the disastrous consequences of a formal false “faith” that falls short of salvation. We, therefore, put our faith in the balances and allow the Scriptures to determine its saving weight.

SUMMARY. Thus the author writes to his beloved congregation to encourage genuine believers to remain steadfast in their faith in the face of opposition and to warn those who are relying on their religious performance and on their association with the faith community as evidence of true salvation that they must place all their trust in Jesus Christ.

This overview will serve as a good template for understanding the individual sections of the letter. The author is either encouraging the perseverance of genuine believers or he is urging the pretenders to come all the way to faith in Christ, and he is using the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ as his means of accomplishing both.


AUTHOR. We do not know the author of this letter. Before canonicity was fully established, Paul was given as the author in order to justify the letter’s inclusion in the canon, but once the epistle was universally accepted as canonical, the need for Pauline authorship was removed. Thus, modern translations simply refer to it as the letter to the Hebrews.

Apollos seems to be the most likely author of this sermon. All the quotes are from the LXX (Septuagint), which was written in Alexandria, and Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria. We know that Apollos was “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). He was also an eloquent man (18:24), which would seem to suggest he was a good orator who would have been a strong preacher of sermons. Based on the breadth of quotes used in the letter, the author of Hebrews obviously had a comprehensive knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures. He also uses the most complex Greek in the New Testament, indicating the author was a very eloquent man. Although Paul is not the author of Hebrews, it is evident that Paul’s person and ministry influenced the author, which would also fit Apollos (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4, 5, 6, 22; 16:12; Titus 3:13). The author was well-acquainted with Timothy (Hebrews 13:23) and so was a well-known figure in the early Christian church, particularly in Asia Minor and Achaia. One of the most likely reasons that the author did not identify himself is that he needed no introduction. Those who were reading the letter immediately knew who he was, so he just went right into his sermon. All of these are clues that the author may very well have been Apollos.

AUDIENCE. The original recipients are also unknown. The audience did know Timothy (Hebrews 13:23), so they almost certainly knew Paul. The letter is referred to as “the letter to the Hebrews,” but it is inconclusive that the original recipients were Hebrews (Jewish). There is no mention in the letter of circumcision, of ceremonial foods, of the Law, or of Jews and Gentiles, so there is nothing here that we would expect in a distinctively Jewish letter.

Some have suggested that the author’s teaching about the tabernacle and the elements of the Day of Atonement are things that only the Jews would understand, but I would counter that with the fact that pastors today teach the Old Testament Law to Gentiles in order to help all believers know the Scriptures and know the glory of Christ in His fulfillment of the Old Testament types. In other words, that the author teaches how Christ fulfilled the foreshadows of the Day of Atonement reveals almost nothing about the audience.

My best guess is that the original recipients were located far away from Jerusalem and were probably mostly Gentiles. Maybe in Ephesus or Corinth?

DATE. The letter was probably written in the early 70’s AD. Since Paul is not mentioned in the letter, then I assume that Paul was dead by now. If he is not dead, he is far removed from this congregation. But Timothy is alive and is apparently in a leadership position. Nothing is mentioned about the destruction of Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is not mentioned in the New Testament unless someone is going to that city or is coming from that city.

The next post will use our template to give a preview of the letters contents.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 3/30/2023                   #637

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