You will find an introduction and outline to the book of 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.
VI. Exhortation to Faith and Endurance 10:26-12:13
A. Preliminary Exhortation 10:26-39
1. 10:26-31 A Renewed Warning
2. 10:32-39 New Encouragement
B. An Encomium on Faith 11:1-40 This is a very well known chapter. Consider how it is a part of the larger argument of Hebrews. Does your understanding or appreciation of this chapter change?
“The expositions and exhortations up to Hebrews 11 were all about the substance of what they already believe and know they ought to do, but the resolve, trust and faith to do it is another matter. Thus our author offers up one of the great encomiums in all ancient literature on faith, on a part with that other great epideictic piece on live in 1 Corinthians 13… Here in Hebrews 11 our author stresses the continuity of all believers – both the Jewish patriarchs before Christ and current Christians. Thus, when he discusses faith here he is not talking about what Christians might call “the faith” (i.e. what Christians believe about Christ and other uniquely Christian doctrines). He is talking about that most basic form of trust in God- the faithful living and obedience of believers that should grow out of that trust.” (Witherington, 292-293)
“[O]ur author is not trying to illustrate some native human virtue, but to give examples of trust that results in assurance and conviction, which ultimately is a gift from God that is thin used and exhibited by his people. His interest is not in some eternal or timeless principle for all people, but historical precedents of the faithful for his audience to follow in the footsteps of….The implicit undercurrent throughout is that God is not asking something impossible of the audience- such faithfulness and perseverance and trust has been exhibited in historical reality innumerable times before.” (Witherington 294)
1. 11:1-7 Faith from Creation to Noah: Often there is not one best translation of a word from Greek to English. The word translated “assurance” also has the sense of “firm foundation”, “substance”, “real essence”. The word translated as “conviction” carries much the same sense as assurance but amplifies the definition of faith. There is both a future component and the present reality of things not seen.
Why do you think the author begins what is often described as a “roll call of heroes and heroines of faith” with God? What does the author want to bring to our attention with each example he uses?
2.11:8-12 The Faith of Abraham and Sarah Verse 8: Why a “place” rather than “land”? Verse 9: Why is Abraham living “as in a foreign land” in “the land he had been promised” ? Verse 10: We don’t normally think of Abraham being promised a city who architect and builder is God. What is the author talking about in verses 8-10? Remember the audience are Jews. Some are not citizens but foreigners or resident aliens. But even those who were citizens could have their citizenship rescinded.
3.11:13-16 A Reflection on the Patriarchs’ Faith: again what “homeland”, “better country” and “city”?
4. 11:17-22 Faith from Abraham to Joseph: To give a blessing implies faith that there will be a future.
5. 11:23-31 Faith from Moses to the Conquest: verse 23 “beautiful” commentators suggest that the beauty of Moses was more than simply physical appearance but something which indicated he was special. Verse 26 is difficult. It may suggest that “[t]he Messiah is one with the messianic people,bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh.” (Bruce, 311) See Ex 4:22. It may mean that Moses is allied with the greater purposes of God.
6. 11:32-40 Later Examples of Faith: Notice how the authors list changes, no longer explaining who and why but rather a list of names without deeds and then a long list of deeds without names, example after example piles up. But these examples are not necessarily “happy”. Verse 40 what is “something better”? Perhaps the new covenant?
C. Christ, Faith, and Endurance 12:1-13
1. 12:1-3 The Perfect Paradigm, Christ “Therefore” what follows belongs with the previous section, chapter division not withstanding. The “cloud of witnesses” are they watching the current faithful or do they bear witness to God’s faithfulness? Athletic metaphors were common in the ancient world. Jesus is the final and most important example of faith.
2.12:4-13 Suffering and Education: Recall 5:8 where suffering and learning were related.The suffering of athletes is not due to punishment but is part of the discipline of achieving one’s goals. Commentators think that while the audience of the letter suffered persecution they were not martyrs. Another example of lesser to greater, human fathers to God. The author is not trying to explain all suffering but is writing to a congregation trying to help them understand the struggles they endure as a result of their being Christians.
VII. Life in View of the End 12:14-13:21
A. Warning and Hope 12:14-29
1. 12:14-17 A Final Warning: Esau is an example of the opposite of the previous examples of faithfulness.
2. 12:18-24 Earthly Sinai and Heavenly Zion: A description of the receiving of Torah at Sinai and then a description of the future, the final reconciliation of God with God’s people.
3. 12:25-29 The End in View: Again an echo of the events at Sinai. The shaking of earth and heaven is not destruction but rather a putting things right.
B. Final Recommendations and Rhetorical Conclusion 13:1-21 The ending of Hebrews is like a letter.
1. 13:1-6 Loving Service: A list practices.
2. 13:7-17 True Worship: No longer a sacrifice for sin but now a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise.
3. 13:18-21 Finale Verse 20-21 a benediction
VIII Epistolary Conclusion 13:22-25 verse 22, brevity? This may be a conventional ending remark.
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.