You can find an introduction and outline to Hebrews, here.
Hebrews is a theologically dense letter, not unlike Romans in that regard. And so the decision must be made whether to write a lot or a little. It is difficult to find middle ground. My decision is to write less rather than more in hope that we will not become lost in the tangle of theological trees and miss the big picture of the forest.
From the Orthodox church, a prayer before you read.
Shine within my heart, loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of my mind that I may understand Your teachings. Instill in me also reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that having conquered sinful desires I may pursue a spiritual way of life, thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to You. For You, Christ my God, are my light, and to You I give glory together with Your Father and Your Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
IV. Preliminary Exhortation 5:11-6:20
A. A Challenge to the Addressees 5:11-6:3 see last week
B. Warning and Encouragement 6:4-12
1. 6:4-6 The Warning: The author is not accusing his hearers of falling away but is giving them a serious warning.
2. 6:7-8 An Illustration that reinforces the previous verses
3. 6:9-12 Encouragement:
C. God’s Promise and Oath 6:13-20 : another example of an argument comparing lesser to greater. The belief that God’s promises are sure and God’s words in scripture are important reflects Jewish tradition. Verse 19 is a reference to the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle ( Ex 26:31-35) which was restricted to the high priest.
V. The Exposition on Christ as High Priest 7:1-10:25 Section “A” returns to Psalm 110:4 and reaffirms the theme of chapter 1. Section “B” reaffirms chapter 2 theme concerning the incarnation and explains more about Christ as high priest.
A. Christ and Melchizedek 7:1-28 :
1. 7:1-3 Introduction: Genesis 14:17-20 tells about Melchizedek. At the time Hebrews was written there was much speculation about Melchizedek as a heavenly figure, which may explain the author’s interest in comparing Jesus and Melchizedek. Verse 3 Melchizedek’s ancestors, birth and death are not recorded in scripture.
2. 7:4-10 Melchizedek and the Levites: Numbers 18:21 says that priests who are descendants of Levi should receive tithes from the other people. Melchizedek, who is not a descendant of Levi (who hasn’t been born yet) receives a tithe from Levi’s ancestor (Abraham).
3. 7:11-19 The Implications of a New Priest: remember that Jesus is not a Levite. Jesus is a non Levitical priest ( like Melchizedek) because God says so. (Ps 110:4).
4. 7:20-25 The Confirming Oath: verse 22 introduces what will be a new theme. Again there is a comparison between lesser and greater, priests who die and the one who does not.
5. 7:26-28 Conclusion: this section summarizes the contrasts made previously.
B. Christ’s Sacrifice and the New Covenant 8:1-10:18: Notice as you read this section that the author discusses two biblically faithful ways to understand Christ’s death. Historically, the church (in the broadest sense of the word) has never had a single, simple understanding of what Jesus death means for us. Here in the letter to the Hebrews, very early in the life of the church, a complex, multifaceted understanding is developing. Notice how the author uses “opposites” to explain his message, heaven/earth, old/new, external/internal.
1. 8:1-6 Introduction: The Heavenly Tabernacle: The idea of a heavenly Tabernacle was a traditional Jewish belief, but also the language reflects the Greek idea of a physical and an immaterial world, with the immaterial world the more “real”. Again a comparison between lesser and greater.
2. 8:7-13 The Promised New Covenant: See Jer 31:31-34. Verses 7 and 13 help explain the purpose of quoting the prophet Jeremiah. Notice that to persuade his readers that the Old Covenant has been surpassed by a New Covenant, the author uses a text from the Old Covenant. Now the author follows with five segments.
The idea and practice of sacrifices and blood can be difficult ones for modern people. We need to understand are recognize the world as it was when “Hebrews” was written. “Blood sacrifices were common in antiquity and believed by the Greeks and Romans as well as by Jews (Plutarch Moralia 290D; Aeschylus Eumenides 28-83). It was not just the shedding of blood, but the priestly applying of the blood in the right places that made it efficacious, for it was believed that blood shed and sprinkled did have cleansing power that in turn lead to forgiveness, however much we may find this idea troubling. Forgiveness from God came at a cost in all these ancient cultures.” (Witherington, 274)
3. 9:1-10 The Old, Earthly Cult: Only once a year on the Day of Atonement could the high priest enter the inner portion of the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies. Perfection or make perfect means something along the lines of make completely clean or holy. “various baptisms” would be better translated as “various washings” or “various ablutions” referring to ceremonial purification and not Christian baptism.
4. 9:11-14 The New Heavenly Cult: Again a comparison of the less ( verses 1-10) to the greater. Notice the phrase ” the greater and more perfect tent”. The author is not saying that the previous “tent” was without greatness and perfection. To say that Jesus’ sacrifice is better is not to devalue to old system but to highlight the amazing work of Christ.
5. 9:15-22 The New Covenant: In English we must use two different words to try to capture the full meaning of the one Greek word diatheke. That word has the sense of both covenant or contract and testament or will.
6. 9:23-20 The New Heavenly Cult: Notice again how the author uses comparisons to make his case. Christ’s sacrifice only needs to happen once and is efficacious. Notice how the second coming is described in verse 28.
7. 10:1-10 The New Earthly – Heavenly Sacrifice: now the author is not contrasting heaven and earth but earlier and later events on earth. What has happened with Christ is the perfect reality that the previous covenant pointed toward. Again the author uses the Old Testament to critique itself. On verse 10, “The offering of his body is simply the offering of himself; if here sanctification and access to God are made available through his body, in vv. 19 and 29 they are made available through his blood. Whether our author speaks of his body or his blood, it is his incarnate life that is meant, yielded to God in an obedience which was maintained even to death. So perfect a sacrifice was our Lord’s presentation of his life to God that no repetition of it is either necessary or possible: it was offered “once for all”. (Bruce, 243).
8. 10:11-18 Concluding Flourish: the author summarizes his homily
C. Transitional Parenesis 10:19-25: With “Therefore” the author offers an exhortation. Notice “let us approach…faith”, “let us hold fast…hope”, “let us consider….love”
VI. Exhortation to Faith and Endurance 10:26-12:13
A. Preliminary Exhortation 10:26-39
1. 10:26-31 A Renewed Warning: A warning against willful, deliberate apostasy.
2. 10:32-39 New Encouragement: In this letter, words of warning are followed by words of encouragement. The readers are reminded that they have successfully endured persecution in the past. They took care of each other in the midst of the persecution (v34). This quotation from Habakkuk 2:4 appears here and in Galatians 3:11 and in Romans 1:17.
Read More About It
Attridge, Harold W. “Hebrews” in in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, rev. ed.James L Mays, ed. (New York: Society of Bible Literature) 2000.
Bruce, F.F. The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.) 1990.
Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed. (Minneapolis:Fortress Press) 1999. Chapter 20 “The Letter to the Hebrews”
Metzger, Bruce and Pheme Perkins in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Bruce M. Metzger, Roland E. Murphy eds. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Witherington III, Ben Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians: A Socio_Rhetorical Commentary on Hebrews, James, and Jude. (Downers Grove Ill: IVP Academic) 2007.