By Thomas Icard
At the time the book of Hebrews was written the church was being persecuted. Christianity was not the most popular religion of the day. The Jewish Sanhedrin was one of the great persecutions of the Lord’s church beginning with the arrest of Peter and John in Acts 4 and continuing still at the time of the writing of the letter. It is believed by most Bible scholars that the letter was written about 68 or 70 A.D. by either Paul or Apollos. This included the murder of Stephen by the Sanhedrin in Acts 7 and scattering of the disciples from Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 8:1-4. All through the book of Acts (which is the history book off the early church), as the apostles taught the truth from city to city, they were constantly harassed by the Jewish leaders.
When the Roman government finally made a distinction between Judaism and Christianity, they also began a persecution against the church of Christ beginning with the killing of James the brother of John with the sword and the arrest of Peter in Acts 12. This persecution began in 44 A.D. and used the Christians as scapegoats. They were fastened to crosses and burned as torches and others were torn to pieces by wild animals. The spectators watched as a matter of sport. This made the Christians political criminals in the eyes of the Roman government and her citizens. Paul was arrested and imprisoned the second time because of this deception about Christians.
Because of these persecutions many of the First Century Christians were turning away from the Christian faith. In fulfillment of the prophecy Jesus made in Matthew 10:35-36 some Christians turned over their own families along with other Christians to the Roman government to save their own lives. “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” again He prophesied, “They shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9).
Many of the Hebrew Christians were turning back to Judaism and the law of Moses. Although there was a problem with some that wanted to incorporate the law of Moses into the law of Christ (Judaizers), it seems that the book of Hebrews was written primarily to those that were going all the way back to Judaism and totally abandoning Christian teaching. Of course the Judaizers would eventually do this as they followed the pattern of introducing various items of the old law into the new. Paul gives warning of this in Galatians 5:1-4. The Hebrew writer is trying to persuade the Hebrew Christians to keep their faith in Christ and the truth of His fulfillment of the law of Moses. Paul wrote to the Christians of Galatia, “But now after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God; how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” (Galatians 4:9). This would be the case with the Hebrew Christians as well as those of Galatia. Their total abandonment would put them back in bondage even though there might be a temporary security from the persecutions that faithful Christians were suffering at the time. There seemed to be a little physical safety in Judaism at this time. Nero was spreading terror through the Christians in the Roman Empire by attacking their homes and making them martyrs by these terrible and cruel deaths. These Hebrew Christians could have given some seemingly valid arguments for their forsaking the assemblies and the Christian faith. No matter how valid these arguments sounded though, they were not valid in the sight of God. There is one thing for sure about this persecution. It was weeding out the insincere and the ones that did not deny the Lord were very strong. When someone encouraged them to attend the assemblies there was a very good possibility that the meeting house may be surrounded by Roman soldiers and everyone arrested and killed. This possibility did not help the incentive to attend the meetings, but the strong, sincere, and faithful Christians attended anyway.
The Hebrew writer pleads with these Christians to remember “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; Partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used. For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward” (Hebrews 10:31-35).
Those today that are forsaking the assemblies and the truth they once so joyfully obeyed are not even to be compared to these Hebrew brethren of the First Century. Their homes, children nor their lives are not in any danger. They will not be arrested, terrorized or killed as the First Century Hebrews were because of their standing in the faith of Christ. If the Hebrew arguments did not have any validity in 68 A.D., then our excuses today could not have any. The Hebrew writer pleaded, “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering: for he is faithful that promised; And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works; Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more as ye see the day approaching. For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:23-26).
Truth Magazine, XX:17, p. 6-7
April 22, 1976