What is the Main Message of Hebrews? (2)

Read the series so far.

There is a second way in which Auctor (Latin nickname for the author of Hebrews) effectively but succinctly presents his message. Beginning in Hebrews 2:9, he mentions Jesus by his personal name in the first of ten times. But the way in which he does it is obscured by most of the English translations. He piles up the titles and activities of Jesus first and then concludes by mentioning his name. This rhetorical device (climax) builds anticipation on the part of the reader until the climax arrives: JESUS!

The NASB does express the word order correctly the first time this occurs. “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus” (Heb. 2:9). This translation accurately reflects the word order of the Greek sentence. The sentence builds to a climax and then that climax is announced: Jesus. In nine of the ten occurrences he mentions Jesus by that name alone, including our two exemplar texts (Heb. 3:1, 12:2). Listen to them this way. “Fix your thoughts on the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, JESUS” (Heb. 3:1). “Fix our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our faith, JESUS” (12:2). The parallel structure of the two commands becomes even more evident by his delaying the name of Jesus until the end, thus building anticipation until the rhetorical climax arrives: JESUS.

Now look closely at the other times that “Jesus” appears alone without his additional titles. In each of these except one, his name appears at the end of a series of his titles, actions, or characteristics (Heb. 2:9, 3:1, 4:14, 6:20, 7:22, 10:19, 12:2, 12:24, 13:12, 13:20).

  • 2.9—However, we do see the one who was made lower in order than the angels for a little while—it’s Jesus! (CEB)
  • 3.1—Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus
  • 4.14—Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens,Jesus
  • 6.20—Where the forerunner has entered for us, Jesus
  • 7.22—He who has become the guarantee of a better covenant, Jesus
  • 10.19—Therefore, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus
  • 12.2—Fixing our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our faith, Jesus
  • 12.24—And to the mediator of a new covenant Jesus
  • 13.12—So Jesus, in order to sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered outside the gate
  • 13.20—Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, our Lord Jesus

Only in 13:12 does Auctor not place Jesus at the climax of his sentence. This exception is because in this sentence He is the subject of the main verb and not the object to which our attention is being directed.

This is a powerful rhetorical device, especially when we recognize that Hebrews is a sermon first delivered orally and then heard thousands of times by congregants as it was read out to them in their assemblies. The closest example of this rhetorical device that I can think of is the practice of many African-American preachers and some Southern evangelists. They will lead their hearers through a series of questions or statements to the climax of their point. By altering the question slightly the congregants will then start repeating the identical answer expected by the preacher. An excellent example of this is in the closing scene of the film, The Apostle, where the Robert Duvall character is preaching to his fellow prisoners on the chain gang as they cut grass beside a road. As the credits roll, he preaches by asking them a series of questions. “Who is the fairest of ten thousand?” “JESUS!” they answer. “Who is the Lily of the valley?” “JESUS!” they answer. And on it goes.

Try it sometime with your congregation or class or Bible study. The rhetorical effect is powerful, but more importantly your hearers/respondents will come away with a strong reminder of the ultimate answer that Auctor provides for all his hearers’ problems and challenges: JESUS.

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Dave Gilbert's picture

Hebrews ( I suspect the Lord used Paul to write it because of a reference to Timothy in the closing chapter, seeming very much like the Epistles ) was written mainly to...wait for it...Hebrew believers, and contains details about God that the average Gentile believer would probably not know, given that those of Israel ( at least those of that time period ) were raised with quite a bit of knowledge regarding God; Knowledge that would not need a "foundation" of instruction on the Creation, sin, the Law, the need for atonement and many other details ( such as those found in the book of Romans, for example ).

 

Good article, but perhaps I like to look past the apparent literary style or methods used, and get to the root of things...that being, the content of the letter itself.

 

The main message: Grace through faith in the shed blood and atoning power of a very personal and powerful Creator... one who became a man, Jesus Christ ( John 1:3 ). No works needed ( or wanted ) by Him, only faith, only belief in who He says He is, and what He did ( and continually does ) for us. Similarly, Ephesians 2: 8,9.

 

I think that about covers it. Wink

 

Dave.

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