13 Studies in the Book of Hebrews

Here are 13 studies in the biblical book of Hebrews. I wrote these for my own small group Bible study. You’re welcome to copy them and use them however you like. I had troubles converting the numbered lists into WordPress. Please free free to fix them!  If you can keep my name attached to the studies I’d appreciate that.

Introduction to Hebrews by Tim Stafford

Hebrews offers several unique difficulties.

First, it takes up issues felt by first-century Jews—and not by modern people—such as the importance of Temple rituals and the relations between the Messiah and angels.

Second, it refers a lot to the Old Testament, sometimes to passages that are (to us at least) fairly obscure.

Third, it jumps through a series of quite different issues, and it’s not always obvious where the argument is going or how it holds together.

Nevetheless, Hebrews is a carefully argued book, which we can make sense of. In doing so, we are not trying to become merely skilled and sophisticated Bible readers. Hebrews’ aim is not so much theological as pastoral. The author’s concern is less about how we understand the relationship of the Old and New Covenants (though he is certainly interested in that) than in how weary we feel. He is concerned that the initial thrill of faith has faded, that it’s tempting to lapse back into the familiar and the comfortable, that Christians might just fade away.

Are you tired? Do you know people who are tired? Is the thrill gone? Hebrews is meant for you.

Study #1: A Hymn to the Messiah

Read Hebrews 1:1-2:4

  1. Hebrews launches with a brief summary statement about the Son of God. What does it assert is his nature? (verse 3)
  2. Looking at verses 1-4, list what the Son has done, is doing, or will do.   How would you explain each of these brief statements?
  3. Look up the source of both quotations in verse 5, Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:4. Both have to do with the reign of Israel’s King, that is, the Messiah, or Anointed One. What is Hebrews’ point contrasting angels and the Messiah?
  4. After two references in verses 6,7 contrasting the angels’ role with the Messiah’s, Hebrews cites (verse 8,9) another Messianic psalm, 45. Read that. In a poem to the king, the psalmist refers to him as God, and describes his eternal reign. What qualities is that reign to be known for? Since Israel’s kings never lived up to this exalted image, what is Hebrews’ point?
  5. Verses 10-12 introduce verses from yet another psalm, 102:25-27. What does this passage compare and contrast? What does this say about the Messiah’s reign? Where do our lives fit in?
  6. Verse 13 concludes this list of citations with another famous messianic psalm, 110, which Hebrews will refer to several more times. Read it. What picture do you get of the Messiah here?
  7. 2:1-4 sums up the point of the preceding. What are we to do? What are we to avoid?
  8. What does paying attention look like? What does drifting away look like?
  9. The message “spoken by angels” (2:1) refers to the covenant of the Law, delivered at Mt. Sinai.  This reminds any Jew of a spellbinding, awesome and unforgettable event through which everlasting blessing was offered to Israel. What has topped it?

10. This salvation, announced by Jesus and confirmed by the apostles (2:3)—what other reasons do we have for believing it? (2:4)

 

Study #2: The Messiah Suffering with Us

Read Hebrews 2:5-18

Superficially, our first study was dedicated to establishing Jesus’ superiority to angels. Well, who really cares? The greater context was our salvation, however—a message that we are warned to pay close attention to. (2:1-3) Angels serve this salvation, but God’s Son, the Messiah, is its glorious King.

This next section puts us—human beings, not angels—into play. It develops our salvation from the King in a surprising way.

  1. Psalm 8, quoted in Hebrews 2:6-8, considers the place of humanity in the creation. What is it?
  2. What conundrum does verse 8 raise?
  3. “But we see Jesus….” (verse 9) What do we see, and how does it affect our view of humanity’s place?
  4. What experiences, according to verse 9, enabled Jesus to attain his glory and honor?
  5. What, according to verse 10, is God’s intention for us in this process?
  6. What does it mean to say that the “author of salvation” was made perfect (or complete)? What was previously lacking?
  7. How did suffering complete Jesus?
  8. The verse quoted in 2:12 comes from Psalm 22:22. Please read that psalm from the beginning. What is the context for “I will declare your name to my brothers?”
  9. Hebrews next quotes from Isaiah 8:17,18. What is the context for trusting God, along with “the children God has given me?”

10. What does it mean that God has hidden his face from Israel? How can the Isaiah text be seen as applying to Jesus?

11. What do we get out of this, according to 2:14-18?

12.  Verse 2:17 introduces the idea of the Messiah as a merciful and faithful high priest. What qualifications would suggest the idea of priesthood?

13. What would this idea of priesthood offer to us?

14. Given this section, how would you describe “the great salvation” that we are supposed to pay close attention to?

 

Study # 3: Looking Forward, Not Back

The Israelites had their heroes. They revered Moses as the Lawgiver, who (in company with God) set all the foundations of their nation. And the first generation, who came from Egypt, were like the Pilgrims. You wanted to trace your ancestry to them, to show you were a True Jew.

Such attitudes, this chapter suggests, aren’t all bad, but since they look back, not forward, they don’t make a firm base for living as Christians. We are meant to press forward, not back! It’s the future we’re proud of, more than our heritage.

Read Hebrews 3:1-6

  1. Verse one addresses us as “holy people, who share in the heavenly calling.” What kind of people are those?
  2. In the same verse, we are called to “fix our thoughts on Jesus….whom we confess.” How do you fix your thoughts on him? What does it mean to confess him?
  3. The word “house” has a triple meaning. It is a dwelling place, a Temple (a god’s dwelling place), and a family line. All three senses appear in this section. What is the fundamental difference between Moses and Jesus in their “faithfulness” to God’s house?
  4. If “we are God’s house” (verse 6) what is our relationship to Moses and to Jesus?

 

Read Hebrews 3:7-19

  1. What would you say is the overall point of this section?
  2. Verses 7-11 quote from Psalm 95, which is itself a commentary on the history told in Exodus 17:1-7. What happened there, what was its significance for that generation of Israelites, and why is it an important lesson for the readers of Hebrews?
  3. “Rest” is a tricky word that can be translated as “rule.” Kings and gods, after they have defeated their enemies, sit down on their thrones, at rest, to rule their realm. Thus the first generation of Israel could not enter the Promised Land, where God intended to enact his loving rule. Why?
  4. How are we not to imitate them, according to verse 12?
  5. Why is belief so important? What does Hebrews mean by belief and unbelief?
  6. What are we meant to do for each other? How does this keep us from being hardened?
  7. What is sin’s deceitfulness? How does it harden?
  8. Verse 14 says we have come to “share in Christ” if we carry on in faith all through our lives. How is this different from “sharing in the heavenly calling?” (verse 1) Why does it require carrying on?
  9. Verses 16-17 remind readers that the wonderful first generation actually failed miserably. Why is it important to be reminded of this?
  10. Who do you know who has failed miserably? How does their performance affect you?
  11. How should we practice looking forward, not back?

 

Study #4: The Place of Rest

So far, Hebrews has been adding elements, one on top of another, about the greatness of Jesus the Messiah and his gospel. First we learned that he is far above the angels, then that he shared our human suffering as he led the way to glory, and again that he is worthy of more honor than Moses because he is a son, not a servant.

At the same time, certain other elements keep resurfacing. The chief concern is: don’t drift, focus! Hebrews keeps coming back to that. I’d add four other elements that fit into the larger scheme and keep getting repeated:

A)   God’s Word. Read 1:2; 2:3-4; 3:5; 4:12. What is the basic thought?

B)   God’s Rule. Read 1:13; 2:5-9; 4:3b. What is our place in this rule?

C)   Our Obedience. Read 2:1; 3:19; 4:2. What does obedience look like?

D)   Our Atonement. Read 1:3b; 2:9; 2:17. Why is atonement necessary?

Read Hebrews 4:1-16

  1. “Rest” is cited from three different contexts: the creation of the heavens and the earth, the Exodus, and a warning (attributed to David) from Psalm 95. What do you learn about it from the Genesis context? (4:3-5)
  2. From the Exodus, it might seem that “rest” equals the Promised Land. How does Psalm 95 show that this is incorrect? (See Hebrews 4:8, particularly.)
  3. What, then, is “rest?” Is it a psychological state, a place, or a condition?
  4. How does one enter this rest? Is it a destination you can arrive at in this life?
  5. How would you compare the idea of “rest” with Jesus’ preaching about the kingdom of God?
  6. Why does the author immediately go on to describe the power of the word of God? (4:12-13) What does this have to do with entering the rest?
  7. What does “a great high priest” (4:14-16) add to this picture?
  8. Overall, what kind of portrait of the Christian life is Hebrews giving us so far? Do you find it inspiring, or depressing? Why?

 

Study #5: Why We Need a High Priest

Once before Hebrews mentioned Jesus as our great High Priest (2:17). Now we turn to his priesthood for most of the next five chapters. Obviously, the author of Hebrews thinks Jesus’ priesthood is important for us to understand, but it’s not familiar territory, especially for those of us raised Protestant.

This first section seems to come in response to a section on the biting, probing nature of the Word of God. For going through such an examination, we need priestly help!

Read Hebrews 4:14-5:10

  1. According to 5:1-2, what does a high priest do? What problems in human life does he address?
  2. 4:14 says that our great high priest has “gone through the heavens.” What does this mean? (Read 2 Cor 12:2 and 1 Kings 8:27 to gain some idea how ancient Israelites thought about the structure of the heavens.)
  3. What does the image of the “throne of grace” (4:16) suggest to you? How does this fit with Jesus’ having “gone through the heavens?”
  4. In summary, where is Jesus now? What is he doing?
  5. What life experiences does Jesus have to make him a super-effective High Priest? (See 4:15, 5:2, 5:7-8.)
  6. What does it mean that he “learned obedience” and was “made perfect?” If he was the Son of God, why did he need to learn and grow?
  7. N.T. Wright compares this to a friend of his who took over the family business but who learned it from the bottom up. Why is that kind of learning important for a boss? Why was it necessary for Jesus?
  8. Hebrews makes the point that Jesus did not appoint himself, but was named Messiah and priest by God himself. (5:5-6) What would be the implications of this for Jewish Christians working out their new relation to the Temple?
  9. In summary, what kind of high priest is Jesus? Why do we need him?

 

Study #6: What It Takes to Persist

Having introduced the name of Melchizedek in 5:6 and 5:10, Hebrews takes a sudden off-road excursion. We’ll get back to Melky in 7:1, but this section gets us ready. It’s also a return to a familiar theme in Hebrews.

Read Hebrews 5:11 to 6:12.

  1. What would you say is the main point of this section?
  2. See how many metaphors you can find for our process of growing. (I count five, but I might have missed some.)
  3. The author is obviously concerned with something. What do you think it is?
  4. What does he want the Hebrews to do and not to do?
  5. Thinking of your own experiences, what causes people to get stuck in their faith journey? Why do they drift away?
  6. Christians differ as to whether 6:4-6 is talking about transformed believers who lose their faith, or people who have been in and around the church but never really committed themselves. The author says in 6:9 he doesn’t believe his description applies to his readers. What then is the point in saying it? Do we need this kind of warning to be verbalized today?
  7. Verse 6:12 peeks ahead to the famous chapter 11. What raw material do we need in order to follow this prescription?

Read Hebrews 6:13-20.

8. What was Abraham’s promise, and how does it apply to us?

9. What is the big deal about God taking an oath?

10. What was God’s intention in doing so?

11. Verses 19-20 may set the biblical record for mixed metaphors. Can you make sense of it?

12. What is the role of hope in our lives, according to this metaphor?

13. What is the basis of our hope?

14. How does hope link us to Jesus?

15. And how does hope help us to persist in growing?

 

Study #7: The Permanent Priesthood of Jesus (from Lesley Van Dordrecht)

For a man who has only a small reference in Genesis, Melchizedek has a prominent place in Hebrews, shedding light on the priesthood of Jesus.

Read Hebrews 7:1-10

  1. What do we learn about Melchizedek in this passage? ( See also Genesis 14)
  2. Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, was the beginning of the priestly tribe of Israel. How does 7:4-10 make the case that Melchizedek’s priesthood is superior to Levi’s?
  3. How are Melchizedek and Jesus similar in these verses?
  4. Being both priest and king, Melchizedek presages the view of the Messiah from Psalm 110. In what different ways or areas of your life do you gain assurance knowing that Jesus is king, but is also our high priest?

 

Read Hebrews 7:11-19

5. What further contrasts are outlined in 7:11-19 between Jesus’ priesthood and the priesthood of Levi and his descendent Aaron?

6. The word “perfection” in 11 & 19 can also be translated as  “completeness.” It is when everything has been put into place for the final great purpose to be achieved. What is this great purpose in verses11-19?

7. What was the purpose of the “old” religious system, and what makes the new system in Jesus better?

8. What examples have you seen of God, through the new system in Jesus, which bring this world to completion?

Read Hebrews 7:20-28

9. What does Jesus’ superiority to other priests mean for our salvation?

10. Some Christians face the danger of forgetting just how central and vital Jesus himself was and is to every aspect of Christian faith. How do we tend to forget the centrality of Jesus?

Response

This chapter of Hebrews should bring us to a place of gratitude and hope after we truly grasp the work of Jesus in His death and resurrection. In what ways can we express our gratitude this week?

 

Study #8: Good, Better and Best

We’re nearing the home stretch of Hebrews. So far we have followed a carefully chosen twisting path. We began with Jesus the Messiah–higher and more honorable than servant angels, worthy of worship. He is the first true human being, nominated to lead the way in ruling over all creation. We are on a journey, like Israel was, toward God’s rest, where his kingdom reigns, and we must press on in faith toward that goal. Jesus is our true High Priest, a new kind of high priest hinted at in the OT references to Melchizedek.

We’re beginning to put these pieces together in one coherent picture.

Read Hebrews 8

  1. What, according to 8:1, is the main point of what the author is saying?
  2. What would this “main point” mean to 1st century Jews? What does it mean to us?
  3. Verse 5 says the Temple is a “copy and shadow” of the “sanctuary in heaven.” (Unlike Plato’s ideal world, heaven is a real place where people can live–Jesus already does.) What is the point of this contrast?
  4. Tom Wright says there are three great contrasts in this passage: between the OT priests and Jesus our great high priest, between the Temple and the sanctuary in heaven, and between the old covenant and the new. Each one is a contrast between the good and the best. Which one means the most to you?
  5. How does Hebrews describe the difference between the old covenant and the new? (verses 10-12)
  6. The images of “high priest” and “sanctuary” fit together rather easily. How do they fit with the new covenant–with the Law etched on the heart, and a personal relationship with God?
  7. Can you combine these three “bests” with the meaning of entering God’s rest?
  8. Verse 13 says that the old covenant has become obsolete. What are the implications for 1st-century Jews? How would they feel about it? What kind of encouragement would they need?
  9. Do we have anything comparable to the old covenant to hold us back from embracing the new? How does this 1st century message apply to us?

 

Study #9:  The Temple Parable

In commenting on this passage, Tom Wright compares the Temple to the temporary road system Boston endured for years while preparing for the Big Dig. It was an important and carefully built-out system, but it wasn’t meant to go on forever. It prepared for something better. Once the tunnels under Boston Harbor opened, there was no need for it any more.

Read Hebrews 9:1-10

  1. This passage gives considerable detail about the tabernacle, claiming the tabernacle as a visual parable of intimacy with God. Who could go into the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place?
  2. To understand what was so important about the Most Holy Place, read Exodus 25:17-22; Leviticus 16:2; and Numbers 7:89. Regarding the atonement cover read Leviticus 17:14. What does the Most Holy Place represent?
  3. If only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place, what does this say about the inadequacies of the Old System?

Read Hebrews 9:11-15

4. Where does Christ the new High Priest go with his sacrificial offering? What is the sacrificial offering? What is its effect?

5. It’s possible that we are so familiar with the message that we overlook the shocker: human sacrifice is necessary.  And the High Priest is the sacrifice. What does this say to you?

6. What is “the promised eternal inheritance?” (9:15)

Read Hebrews 9:16-28

7. Verse 16 plays on the commonality of “covenant” and “will,” which are the same word in Greek.  Who are the beneficiaries of the will/covenant in the Old System, and how do they benefit? Who benefits in the New System, and how?

8. We’ve seen that the New Covenant means that God’s law is written on our hearts. How does that follow from Jesus’ going into the real Most Holy Place with a sacrifice for sins?

9. How does Jesus appear “for us?” (9:24) See 7:25; 1 John 2:1.

10. What is the impact of the fact that Jesus does his sacrifice just once? How does this impact the life of the Jewish Christians who first read this letter?

11. What does Hebrews mean by “the end of the ages?” (verse 26)

12. If Jesus has forgiven sins once and for all, what are we waiting for? (verse 28)

 

Study #10: Come to the Party

In chapter 10 the long crescendo of Hebrews begins to gather together, picking us up and carrying us forward into … life in God.

Read Hebrews 10:1-18

  1. “The law is a shadow,” goes with “the tabernacle is a copy”… both having to do with what is less than full reality. The difference isn’t between physical and spiritual, or real and ideal, it’s between the present system and the coming-into-being system. (Both the temple sacrifice and Jesus’ sacrifice are bloody and fully physical). What picture do you get of the psycho-spiritual state of worshipers in the old system, versus that of the new system? (vv. 1-4)
  2. Do people experience those old and new states today? How?
  3. Verses 5-10 say that the law (which was never God’s desire) is supplanted by “doing your will.” Isn’t the law God’s will? What point is intended here?
  4. “Sit down” (verse 12) is what you do when you are done working and at rest. (Remember “enter God’s rest?”) What does this say about Jesus, and why does it matter?
  5. What is the fate of the Temple? (verse 18)

Read Hebrews 10:19-25

6. Finally! We are invited in. What qualifications do we need as we “draw near” and enter the Most Holy Place?

7. How does the author go from the individual “drawing near to God” and the emphasis on church? (verse 25) What does church have to do with it?

8. For people being persecuted, attending church is making yourself a visible target. Is there anything comparable in our environment that might deter people from attending church?

Read Hebrews 10:26-31

 9. Tom Wright notes that the Old Testament sacrifices were explicitly meant to cleanse from accidental or unavoidable sin. Intentional sin was always subject to stern punishment. This section also seems to warn against blatant, deliberate sinful rejection of the gospel. Since we hardly ever talk about God’s judgment, it’s uncomfortable. What do you think of God’s judgment? How does it shape your understanding of what’s being offered here in Hebrews 10?

Read Hebrews 10:32-39

10. How would you describe the Hebrews’ experience of faith in Christ? Why should they remember it?

11. Do you have any experiences comparable to these that you need to remember?

12. In urging the Hebrews to persevere, what does the author offer in the way of encouragement and motivation?

 

Study # 11: The Punch Line           

Read Hebrews 11

  1. Hebrews begins with a definition of faith and goes on to give practical examples. By the formal definition, faith involves certainty about things yet to come, things now invisible.  Given the ten chapters leading up to this, what things do you think the author has in mind?
  2. How can you be sure of such things? How do you acquire faith? How do you maintain it?
  3. What, if anything, does verse 3 say about Christian debates regarding creation and evolution?
  4. Hebrews emphasizes that a lifetime of faith often fails to see its goal completed. (11:13, 39) Knowing this, what does a lifetime of faith really look like? Why is this important to understand?
  5. Verse 6 makes another general statement about faith. How is faith necessary to a relationship with God? How do you acquire it? How do you maintain it?
  6. What is the nature of people of faith, according to verse 13?
  7. Surveying the many people mentioned in verses 4-31, with whom do you most identify?
  8. Are there any examples of faith that leave you puzzled? If so, explain why and let’s discuss.
  9. . Given verses 32-38, would you say that faith conquers all? Why or why not?

10. In most ways, we are just like these people of faith. How are we special? (verse 40).

11. In what way is this chapter the climax of Hebrews? Do you see it relating closely to the long argument that went before? How?

12. What response are we meant to give to this climactic speech?

 

Study # 12: Invisible Realities

Read Hebrews 12:1-13

In Hebrews 11, we summoned up Israelite history in the stories of men and women of faith. Suddenly, here, they are not examples from the past. They are living witnesses, all around us. We perform in their presence.

  1. This passage begins with the metaphor of a long-distance race. What are the lessons you take from this image?
  2. When we focus on Jesus, the first runner of this race, what kind of difficulties do we see that he endured?
  3. Comparatively, what have the Hebrews gone through?
  4. Beginning at verse 5, the author interprets those difficulties as parental discipline, with God as the parent. Does that mean God is behind everything that is hard on us? Why or why not?
  5. Practically speaking, what do verses 12 and 13 mean we should do in the face of adversity?

Read Hebrews 12:14 17

6. Why do you think he singles out Esau as an example to be specially avoided? What makes hapless Esau’s mistake so especially dreadful?

7. It’s easy to apply Esau’s undisciplined, appetite-driven approach to our sensual culture. Do you think it also applies to the ethos of the contemporary church? If so, how?

Read Hebrews 12:18-29

  1. Regarding the destination described in verses 18-21, have you experienced religion like this? What made it so dark and fearsome?
  2. What about the destination described in verses 22-24? Which of the descriptive terms speaks to you?
  3. What does the blood of Abel say? (verse 24) What does Jesus’ sprinkled blood say?
  4. Who speaks that word, that we are not to refuse? (verse 25) What would refusal look like? What would acceptance look like?
  5. Much of Hebrews is dedicated to explaining a great transition that has taken place with the coming of Jesus. What great transition is still to take place? (verses 26-29) What will happen? How will it affect us?
  6.  What are we supposed to do in response?

 

 

Study #13: The New Church

This final, concluding chapter begins by touching on some basics of the new Christian life. Then it turns to a sketch of the new church, suggesting what the result of Hebrews’ grand theological thesis will look like worked out on the ground.

Read Hebrews 13:1-6

  1. Verses 1-3 begin with a general statement about love, then mention specific types of people to love. Why do strangers, prisoners, and those mistreated need special mention?
  2. What does verse 3 suggest about the kind of persecution the Hebrews experienced?
  3. Verses 4-6 go on to warn against two specific temptations: adultery and greed. Why these?
  4. How do the Old Testament verses quoted work against these temptations?

Read Hebrews 13:7-17

5. This passage begins and ends with support for the church’s leaders, and verse 7 particularly urges the Hebrews to ponder and to imitate their faith. Compared to the great heroes of chapter 11, what do these leaders have to offer?

6. Do you feel you live up to these admonitions with your own church leaders? Why or why not?

7. Verse 9 suggests what foundation a church should build on, and what foundations not to build on. What are they, and what do they look like in action?

8. Verses 10-14 propose Christianity as an outsider religion. What makes it so?

9. What is our status in this world? Do we belong? Does Jesus?

10. How does this outsider status affect our interactions in the here and now?

11. In this new religion of Christianity, what sacrifices should be made?

Read Hebrews 13:18-25

12. Only in these final verses do we see the author as a real person who knows the Hebrews personally. What do you learn about their relationship?

13. Verses 20-21 are famous as a benediction. What does it say about God? What does it say about us?

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One Response to “13 Studies in the Book of Hebrews”

  1. Gary M Says:

    Appreciate your practical and thought provoking questions. Would love to hear the discussions around each one. Thanks for sharing and now to Hebrews I go.

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