We in this day and age can easily forget the situation that first century Christians found themselves in. Most believers were Jews. The Expositor’s Greek Testament notes, The Jew who accepted Jesus as the Christ had problems to solve and difficulties to overcome of which the Gentile world knew nothing. They faced a transition from Judaism to Christianity so momentous it is difficult for us to comprehend. “No greater mistake, I believe, can be committed (though it is a common fault of commentators) than to assume that the first readers were in the main in sympathy with the doctrinal views of the writer” [Expositor’s, vol. 4, p. 238].
“It is easy for those who look back upon it [Christianity] as an accomplished fact to see that there was no real breach of continuity between the old religion and the new; but that was not readily perceived by those whose whole life and experience were marked by the turmoil and instability which accompanied the change:
- the abandonment of old forms and symbols,
- the acceptance of new ideas,
- the building on other foundations besides their Jewish heritage.
“Brought up in a religion which they were persuaded was of Divine authority, the Jew was now required to consider in large part, both in his belief and his worship, as antiquated.” [Expositor’s]
Jesus Christ was “a Person in whom earthly glory is suggested only by its absence and in whom those apparently most qualified to judge could discover nothing but imposture which merited a malefactor’s death—on a cross.”
What about the Temple?
- with all its hallowed associations
- its visible indwelling of the shekinah glory of God
- its altars
- its priesthood
- its complete array of ordinances, holy days and festivals
Jews were haunted by the Christian new-born instinct that there is something essential lacking in all these arrangements and that they were irrelevant and obsolete. A blight had suddenly fallen on what was brightest in the Jewish religion, a blight they could neither dissipate nor perfectly justify. The Jewish Christian must have found it quite beyond his power to understand the relation of the old to the new.
It became apparent that in Jesus Christ, prophecy had been fulfilled [hundreds of them]!
- Jesus had been accepted as the predicted Messiah because it was beyond dispute that in Him a correspondence was found to the figure, more or less, clearly defined in the Old Testament [see Psalm 22; or Isaiah 53].
- This hinted that there was some strong and vital connection between the two faiths. God had not changed, but worship had become a spiritual matter, not an outwardly religious ritual to perform.
But what relation did this Messiah have with the Old Testament Mosaic institutions [the Pentateuch—the Law—the first five books of the Old Testament]? This was a more difficult problem.
- The difficulty of it is appreciated when we consider that a large section of the Christian Church judged the old to be irreconcilable with the new,
- and went so far as to maintain that the God of the Old Testament was antagonistic to the God who revealed Himself in Christ.
Expositor’s continues: “Many Jewish Christians must have passed those first days in painful unrest,
- drawn to trust Jesus by all that they knew of His holiness and truth
- and yet sorely perplexed and hindered from perfect trust by the unexpected spirituality of the new religion,
- by the contempt of the Pharisees and Sadducees,
- by the enforced relinquishment of all outward garnishing and glory [with the 70 AD destruction of the Temple…],
- and by the apparent impossibility of fitting the gorgeousness of the old and the bareness of the new into one consistent whole” [edited].
The writer of Hebrews appeals to these problems and gives them a fuller insight into the relation of Christianity to the Mosaic Law, by illustrating the unique supremacy of Christ and the finality of His work.
- The writer makes it his aim to show that every name, every institution, every privilege, which had existed under the Old Testament Law survived in Christianity, but was invested with a higher spiritual meaning and a truer glory.
- It now, for the first time, fulfilled the great purpose of God which had been dimly foreshadowed.
- “The first was taken away only in order that the second might be introduced” [Hebrews 10:9].
Jesus told the parable of New Wine being put into Old Wineskins. [Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:18-22 and Luke 5:33-39]. For the Jew, this was a perplexing problem, which the writer of Hebrews addresses.
Is matter eternal? Or is this material world just a shadow or a more real and permanent spiritual world?
The reality is the unseen spiritual world, of which earthly things are but the shadow [Hebrews 8:5]. The visible heavens and earth will one day pass away, “as things that have been made” [Hebrews 12:27], in order that the eternal things which cannot be removed may remain in existent. It can be mind-boggling.
Expositor’s writes, “On this broad philosophical basis, unshakable as the eternal things, the writer builds his argument. Here he finds the key to the essential distinction between Mosaicism and Christianity, as well as the proof of the superiority and finality of Christianity.
- The Mosaic [Ceremonial, Old Testament] dispensation belongs to the seen and temporal, with its Temple and sacrifices;
- The Christian dispensation belongs to the unseen and eternal, where we “walk by faith, not by sight” [2 Corinthians 5:7].