This is the final posting in this series on The Letter to the Hebrews from the New Testament. Our author, a prominent Christian leader in the first century, has just asked his recipients, a community of believing Hebrews, to pray for him. In this letter he has given many urgent requests to hold fast to Jesus, the great high priest and despite many testings, to remain faithful to the end. Now finally, he prays for them here at the end of his great letter:
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (13:20-21)
The letter ends with a beautiful appeal to the God of peace. Letters in the Ancient World invariably ended with a prayer to a god or the gods, who in peoples’ pagan imagination, were always fighting and competing with each other! But this is a cry to the God who is Peace.
In his prayer he reminds us of the great theme of this letter : the blood of the eternal covenant. He adds a striking reference to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep. Jesus rose from death in a transformed human body just as he said he would. Without this resurrection, there would be no eternal covenant. We would be lost in our sins. An entombed, decomposing Jesus would have not been able to enter the heavenly sanctuary with his blood and secure the forgiveness for everyone who trusts in him, a mysterious act of cosmic proportions which has been introduced to us in this unique letter.
It is clear in this letter, that this author considers himself among the sheep with no more status before God than the brothers and sisters he cares for. There is no office of an ‘under-shepherd’. Actually there are no human offices or officials at all in the Body of Christ, only activists, bold servants, workers busy in the Lord’s business. There are varieties of service, of action, of gifts for the Body. The Holy Spirit is dynamic not static, not institutional.
So, he asks that they be equipped with God’s gifts and graces in every way for doing God’s will. Clearly, the people of God are not to be spectators, a mere audience, but active participants doing God’s will in their households and their holy community and in wider society.
The result of this dynamic working in us will be what is pleasing to God. It will be pleasing to God only because it is done through Jesus the Christ (Messiah). All other works no matter how grand, spectacular or ‘good’ will be lost in God’s sight. We are to build only by following God’s wonderful design revealed in Jesus and his words. All else will be ‘rooted up’ said Jesus (Matthew 15:13).
This here final hallowing of God, includes Jesus as well as God! Incredibly, the name of Jesus comes out of the writers mind in the same flow as God Himself. Clearly, this mystery is a huge shift from Judaism, certain to draw furious opposition. Just who is Jesus? Consider Jesus! Look to Jesus! It is Jesus who is the same yesterday, today, forever. Jesus is the only mediator between the one, true, living God and his people.
Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you quite briefly. I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you. Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings. Grace be with you all. (13:22-25)
The use of personal pronoun “I” in this letter, right at the very end, is remarkable in such a long letter—and although the author claims to have written briefly(!), it is clear that the tone throughout is indeed very serious, with many warnings and reminders of dire consequences should the message be ignored, hence, I urge you to bear with me in my word of exhortation. He pleads with them, he does not issue authoritarian commands. We see that the author sees himself as carrying no coercive authority –he urges them, and does not treat them like a master or a prelate.
The mention of our brother Timothy assures us that the author is well connected with the other apostles, especially Paul, Timothy’s close fellow apostle. They could look forward to a visit from two well-known sheep of the great Shepherd among them. What a full-on time that must have been.
Timothy’s imprisonment also reminds us once more, that they lived in a hostile environment. They are asked to greet all their leaders—the letter is addressed to the community, not to leaders. He appears to ignore the leaders, asking his readers to greet the leaders, and all the Lord’s people, including no doubt, Gentile believers. The others who are the Lord’s people are not forgotten!
Then he sends greetings from people in Italy from where we assume he writes. There is certainly no Pope in view! Rather a reminder again that this fellowship is wider than just the community addressed in the letter. The ekklesia of God is international already at this early stage, and it is a family of brothers and sisters, God’s family, not a corporation.
How much there is to take home from a close reading of this letter, one that demands we go beneath the surface! We finish this series by praising and thanking God for such precious and unique perspectives and praying that more believers would feed on its richness.
So Grace be with you all.
(Oh, almost forgot. Could you pray for me please in my writing?)