The Jews needed a religion as much as Christians do. They needed assurance of God and His favor, and some means of access to Him. They found this in their religion symbolically, but not spiritually.
To them as to us, a gospel was preached (Hebrews 4:2). Through the symbolic arrangements of their earthly tabernacle and Temple, with their offering and sacrifices, and with the beauty of the buildings and ornamental priesthood, they learned real truth and were brought into fellowship with the eternal God. They witnessed the glory of God over the Tabernacle [Exodus 13:21], and over the Temple [1 Kings 8:10-11]. God’s presence was very real there. But symbols had no power to change a heart, a person’s will, or to sanctify and cleanse them from sins.
They did not understand what the physical arrangements of their religion typified [the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death, burial and glorious resurrection], but they did understand what it symbolized [the presence of Almighty God with them]. A symbol is an embodied idea, or what we might call an “object lesson”; an idea made visible and more understandable in a material sign or in an external action.
Remember our Wednesday evening Bible study of Ezekiel? Object Lessons, drama presentations, and visual aids galore! As a warning of coming judgement against Jerusalem and all of the Jewish people. Here is a summary of those “Object Lessons”:
- Ezekiel 3:11 – “go to the exiles” and Ezekiel sees visions of God and angels and cherubim.
- Hebrews 3:16 – he is told to be a “Watchman” on the wall, warning of coming destruction.
- Hebrews 3:14 – God told this “Watchman” to go home and shut the door, isolate himself in solitude.
- Hebrews 3:25 – he was to bind himself with ropes, so he couldn’t move.
- Hebrews 3:26 – this “Watchman” could not even talk for 7 years! Except to say what God told him to say to these rebellious exiles [3:27].
- Hebrews 4:1 – he takes a brick, makes toy soldiers, siege ramps, and wages war against the brick inscribed with the name Jerusalem.
- Hebrews 4:4-5 – he lays on his left side for 390 days [representing the wicked years of the Northern Kingdom of Israel].
- Hebrews 4:6 – he lay on his right side for 40 days [representing the wicked years of the Southern Kingdom of Judah].
- Hebrews 5:1-4 – he is told to shave off his hair and beard
- Burn 1/3
- Strike 1/3 with a sword
- Scatter 1/3 to the wind, with a sword chasing them
- Bind a few in the hem of his cloak, representing a small remnant that will be spared from destruction
- Hebrews 7:23 – make a chain
- Hebrews 12:4 – dig a hole in the wall of his house, and take his luggage out in the dark of night [I wonder what his wife thought about that]!
- Hebrews 21:19 – set up a road sign [signpost] for the King of Babylon to go to Jerusalem
- Hebrews 24:15 – Ezekiel’s young wife dies: and he is commanded not to weep, or to even grieve her death
- Hebrews 24:27; 33:22 – his mouth is opened, when a refugee comes from Jerusalem saying that the city had fallen.
For 7 years, Ezekiel prophesied despair and destruction as Object Lessons to the exiled Jews [chapters 1-32]. He prophesied hope and restoration for the next 15 years [chapters 33-48]. That glorious restoration includes a Millennial Kingdom where the Messiah will rule, and be worshipped. Christianity is not mentioned in Ezekiel, but the person who reigns is the Lord Christ.
Concerning the time the author of Hebrews is writing, “In most of the New Testament churches, there was a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers. The appeal of this Hebrews epistle would certainly have been as great to Gentiles, tempted to return to paganism, as it would have been to Jews facing temptation to return to Judaism. However, the writer’s primary concern appears to have been, that, his Jewish readers were failing to appreciate that Christianity is the divinely revealed successor to Judaism. He did not want them to abandon Christianity and return to Judaism.” [Thomas Constable, Plano Bible Chapel]
This is the central message of this Hebrews epistle:
We will only realize our full eternal reward as believers if we appreciate the greatness of Jesus Christ and continue to trust God, rather than turning away from Him.