Session 1: Deserts
The first session is an introduction to the Book of Hebrew. In this session, we identify the benefit of the book of Hebrews for us today and know how to persevere according to Hebrews.
- Play: Session 1 Video
- Before studying the book, it might be good to talk about what you already know about the book. If you are studying in a group setting, this is a good way of identifying the familiarity that already may or may not exist about the book.
Identifying the benefit of the book of Hebrews for us today:
“The preacher is not preaching into a vacuum; he is addressing a real and urgent pastoral problem, one that seems astonishingly contemporary. His congregation is exhausted. They are tired – tired of serving the world, tired of worship, tired of Christian education, tired of being peculiar and whispered about in society, tired of the spiritual struggle, tired of trying to keep their prayer life going, tired even of Jesus. Their hands droop and their knees are weak, attendance is down at the church, and they are losing confidence. The threat to this congregation is not that they are charging off in the wrong direction; they do not have enough energy to charge off anywhere. The threat here is that, worn down and worn out, they will drop their end of the rope and drift away. Tired of walking the walk, many of them are considering taking a walk, leaving the community and falling away from the faith.” – Tom Long
- The book of Hebrews was written to weary Christians who were thinking about abandoning Jesus for their old life. The book was written to inspire perseverance.
- Go through scripture and make a list of all of those people who went through some difficult time in deserted places. Talk about what patterns emerge from their example.
How to persevere according to Hebrews:
Hebrews 3:1 – Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.
- Know who you are. What does this verse say about our identity? Why does it matter?
- Know whose you are. What does this verse say about Jesus? Why does it matter?
- Discuss moments where you’ve been in the desert. What sent you into the desert? What has helped you to persevere?
- Discuss practical ways that you can “fix your thoughts on Jesus.”
- Read through the entire book of Hebrews in one setting. Take on notes on the major themes and important questions that you have after reading the book.
A Note on the Author and Audience of Hebrews:
Author:**** We can’t be sure who the author of Hebrews was. Church tradition held for a long time that Paul was the author, but even prominent believers in the early Christian centuries were unclear about who wrote this letter. Today few scholars believe that Paul was the author. We can know several things about the author just from reading the letter. He apparently had received the gospel secondhand (2:3-4). He knew Timothy, and we can assume that he knew Paul as well (13:23). The author is clearly well educated in rhetoric, philosophy, and the Hebrew scriptures. It is also likely that the author is a Hellenized Jew meaning that he wasn’t from Jerusalem. Even though the letter is anonymous, it also seems clear that he knew this audience well. Various names have been put forward as potential authors. I’ve become convinced that Martin Luther’s suggestion of Apollos makes some sense, but it is impossible to know for sure.
Audience: It is also unclear who the intended audience of the letter was. We can be sure that they were likely second generation Christians who were mostly former Jews and were considering going back to their Jewish beliefs and practices. This letter was also likely written to a sub-group of Christians within a larger church unlike most of the other letters in the New Testament. This group had a history of faithfulness, but they were now being tested. Some of them had lost property or even their freedom, but they hadn’t yet resisted to the point of bloodshed (12:4). I believe that there is good reason to believe this letter was written to a group of Jewish Christians who had been kicked out of Rome by the emperor Claudius in the year 49 (see Acts 18). Many of these Jewish Christians had made their way back to Rome by the early 60’s. They were feeling alienated in their faith even as they were facing the prospect of renewed persecution (bloody this time) by the emperor Nero. Hebrews was written so that they may persevere in their faith.
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