The writer of Hebrews has been trying to convince his readers to remain faithful to Christ rather than returning to the old ways of the Law of Moses. To do this he has shown the superiority of Jesus. He is superior to angels (1:4-14) as well as to Moses (3:1-6). His priesthood is superior to that of the old law (7:1-10:18). His covenant is better than the covenant given through Moses (chapter 8). His sacrifice, Himself, is far superior than the sacrifices offered under the old law (9:1-10:18). The revelation of Jesus is better than that of old (1:1-4). The promises offered by the covenant of Jesus are better than those offered by the old covenant (8:6). And the hope offered by Jesus is superior to that offered through Moses (cf.6:13-20). He also seeks to keep them from returning to the law of Moses by encouragement. He encourages them to (1) obey the word of Christ (2:1-4); (2) remain faithful to enter the promised rest (4:1- 5:10); (3) press on to spiritual maturity (5:11-6:3); (4) be faithful in their worship and service to God (10:19-39); (5) have saving faith like those of old (10:39-11:40) and to (6) persevere in their faith (chapter 12).
He has given His readers every reason to remain faithful to Christ. He closes his "word of exhortation" (13:22) with several reminders for his readers.
He first reminds his readers about love (13:1-3). The recipients of this letter have already been urged to encourage and stimulate one another (3:13; 10:24,25). Mutual encouragement and stimulation is important but it must be done out of a motive of love for our brethren or it will be to no profit (cf.1 Cor.13:1-3). Peter tells us we are to "love one another from the heart fervently"(1 Pet.1:22). This love must also be expressed to strangers. The hospitality of Abraham to strangers, which turned out to be angels, is given to illustrate how we are to show love to strangers. This love must also be seen toward those who are in prisons.
He also reminds them to maintain purity (13:4). The relationship of marriage is to be an honorable and pure relationship. Sexual relations outside the marriage is anything but honorable and pure. Those who practice such will be judged in due time.
He reminds them to be content with what they have (13:5,6). Paul put it beautifully in his epistle to Timothy: "But godliness with contentment is great gain: for we brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out; but having food and covering we shall be therewith content" (1 Tim.6:6-8). Paul followed those words with a warning about the love of money (cf.1 Tim.6:9,10). We can be content with what we have since we know God will never fail us but will always take care of us.
He encourages them to imitate the faith of those who had ruled over them (13:7). Three times in this chapter the writer refers to their spiritual leaders or rulers. In verse 17 they are instructed to obey those who rule over them and in verse 24 they are asked to convey the writer's greetings to their rulers. The reference in verse 7 is apparently to those spiritual rulers who had already left this life ("had the rule over you") whereas verses 17 and 24 has reference to those still living and ruling over them ("have the rule over you"). The clear reference in each of these places is to the elders who were watching "in behalf of your souls" (v.17). They are encouraged to imitate the faith demonstrated throughout the lives of those elders who had already left this life. They, like those in chapter 11, apparently had the kind of faith needed to endure the trials and temptations of life to receive the crown of life in the end. We too should imitate the faith of godly elders now departed.
There is also a need for stability (13:8,9). Jesus is unchanging and unchangeable. Therefore, Christians must also have this stability by standing firm in the word of Christ. We must not allow ourselves to be carried away by the teachings of men. Spiritual maturity is the only thing which will guard against such instability (cf.Eph.4:11-16) and we become mature only by the constant use of God's word (Heb.5:12-14).
As God's children we have an "altar" different from that of the Jewish system. The sacrifice made on this new altar is that of Jesus Himself (v.12). Jesus "suffered without the gate" and shed His blood "that he might sanctify the people." The writer has already shown the superiority of the sacrifice of Jesus to the sacrifices of the old system (cf.9:11- 10:14). The sacrifice of Jesus on the new "altar" indeed meets the need of man by providing remission of sins by the blood shed in the sacrifice.
The writer adds, however: "whereof they have no right to eat that serve the tabernacle" (v.10). Those that "serve the tabernacle" are all those who continued to adhere to the Mosaic system. Under the old system the sacrifices on the annual day of atonement were burned outside the camp instead of being eaten as were other sacrifices. "And no sin-offering, whereof any of the blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the holy place, shall be eaten: it shall be burnt with fire" (Lev.6:30). It was to be "carried forth without the camp" to "burn in the fire their skins, and their flesh, and their dung" (Lev.16:27). Since Jesus is the reality of what the old atonement sacrifices where mere shadows, those adhering to the old law could not partake of the sacrifice of Jesus.
"Let us therefore go forth unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach" (v.13). In telling them to go "without the camp" he was telling them to leave Judaism completely and altogether. They needed to quit serving the altar within the camp and start serving at a new "altar" where Jesus sacrificed Himself for everyone's sin. At the new altar, they were to "offer up a sacrifice...to God continually" (v.15). Under the old system sacrifices were offered at specified times and intervals. The followers of Jesus are now expected to make continual offerings unto God "through him": that is, through Jesus. We are to "offer up a sacrifice of praise...the fruit of lips which make confession to his name" (v.15). Our Lord expects us to continually confess our faith in Him by the things we say and by the life we live. We also offer a sacrifice of praise to God with our lips when we sing or pray unto Him. "But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns unto God" (Acts 16:25). Paul said, "Therefore will I give praise unto thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name" (Rom.15:9). Our writer continues: "But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (v.16). The Philippians communicated unto the needs of Paul and he considered them "an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well- pleasing to God" (Phil.4:18). Such sacrifices should be offered by all followers of Jesus (see Gal.6:10).
Earlier in the chapter, verse 7, they were told to remember the righteous examples lived by those spiritual rulers over them, elders, who had already left this life through death. In verse 17 he tells them to "obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them: for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief: for this were unprofitable for you." Elders are responsible before God for the spiritual condition of those within their particular "flock." Their work is a difficult one but it will be made much easier and joyful for them if we submit to and obey them. Many men are hesitant to take on the responsibilities associated with being an elder because they know it is a difficult work. In many places it is the failure of the congregation to submit to and obey the elders that makes the work so difficult in the first place.
The readers of this letter are asked to pray for the writer and those who are with him (v.18,19). By their prayers he hopes to see them again with Timothy who had been set at liberty (v.23).
The writer himself prays for his readers that they would be made "perfect in every good thing to do his will" (v.20,21). Having given every possible reason why they should not return to Judaism but remain faithful to Christ, he prays for their spiritual maturity in Christ.
They are exhorted to "bear with the word of exhortation: for I have written unto you in few words" (v.22). In other words, "listen to it and give it fair consideration." If they would give serious consideration to the things he has written, they would surely remain faithful to Jesus.
The writer has used some pretty strong language with his readers throughout the book. In essence he said they were immature (5:11-14), weak (12:12,13) and perhaps at the point of completely falling away (2:1; 3:12). In closing the letter he salutes the elders of the congregation as well as all the saints. He also passes on the salute of the brethren in Italy. To close with such salutations would reinforce the love the writer had for his readers.
"Grace be with you all. Amen" (v.25). The subject of grace has appeared several times throughout the book (2:9; 4:16; 10:29; 12:15; 13:9). We might say he has been making a subtle comparison all through the book between the grace of God and the works of the law. By closing the book with this phrase he makes one final, though subtle, argument for remaining with Christ. To remain faithful to Christ means they would be able to continue receiving the benefits of the grace of God. To return to the old law is to give up God's grace. This is a most appropriate way for the writer to bring his letter to a close.
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