Hebrews Bible Study
--Pastor Jamey Nichols
As we near the end of our weekly study in the New Testament (NT) book of Hebrews, I will not soon forget the way this study solidifies the supremacy of Christ over all things Jewish. Huh? That might sound a little anti-Semitic, but such an accusation couldn’t be further from the truth. The supremacy of Jesus (himself Jewish by heritage) is something so profound that to point out His excellency as far and away above His human genetics is similar to acknowledging the vast cosmos is greater than Earth. It’s not hateful to planet Earth to point out the third rock’s smallness in the grand scheme of outer space. Neither is it anti-Jewish to acknowledge that who Jesus is and what He has done is far and away more significant than the fact he was born a Hebrew or that he was born within a God-instituted religious system. As He himself said, no one can put new wine into old wineskins. Jesus is that new wine and the Jewish system is the old wineskin.
There is a growing movement among certain Christians emphasizing the old wineskin of Jewish laws and customs. Known popularly as The Hebrew Roots Movement, the newest face of an old trend seeks to return modern Christianity to what some consider a more authentic and historically appropriate practice of the Christian faith. The essential tenet is that Jesus’ arrival on the scene of history does not negate the Jewish laws and customs but, instead, extends them to fuller meaning. Where modern Christianity would tend to view Old Testament (OT) rules and requirements as now obsolete, Hebrew Roots, like the name suggests, believes that the very roots of Christianity are not only not obsolete but are a necessary part of proper Christianity. So there is the question: Does God require Christians to abide by OT laws and customs?
The space of this article doesn’t allow for a full in-depth consideration of the movement. If you want more discussion than you’re reading here, get in touch with me personally or do some research. There is an abundance of information available online. Suffice it to say that the beautiful OT system that God instituted through Moses was something that the book of Hebrews refers to as a “shadow.” As it turns out, this enriching study has shown that Hebrews was written to a group of Christians who were on the fence about how to integrate the new approach (covenant) to God through Christ versus the generational history ensconced its former expression. The main theme of Hebrews is that old system is now obsolete and for very good reason. The new system, rising and falling on the person and work of Jesus, is so incredibly superior that the old system with its regulations and teachings pales in comparison. What was meant to serve as a sign-post pointing to Messiah is instructive but by no means binding.
This is not to say that the OT is unimportant. It’s absolutely important. But, its importance needs to be understood in light of the New Testament (NT). As Hebrews makes abundantly clear, Jesus is superior to Abraham, to the priesthood, and to the temple. Also, in books like Acts and Colossians where Greeks were beginning to embrace Christianity, we find tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Some of the same modern questions concerning feast days or dietary regulations were being asked in the first century. The answers to such questions were that OT practices had certain value at a certain time, but their substance is found in Christ. In Jesus, every lesson, custom or law of Orthodox Judaism is fulfilled in Jesus. One might say, the Mosaic system was the opening band, but the headliner was Jesus. Again, the old covenant was the appetizer; the new covenant is the main course. The law and the prophets were okay, but Jesus is best. I love the OT because by it we are able to more deeply understand God’s gospel. However, keeping Jewish traditions in a NT world is never a requirement. In other words, God is not more pleased because we celebrate the Passover—a feast to remember a moment in time event for a specific people group. He is most pleased when we celebrate communion with the risen Christ—a love feast to remember a once-for-all event for the Jews first, then also for the Gentiles.
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . . Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses . . . The former regulation has been set aside because it was weak and useless . . . In speaking of a new covenant, [God] makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away . . . The law is a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves . . . Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so.“ Hebrews 1, 3, 7, 8, 10, 13 (selected)