Meditations in Hebrews 13: 75. The End
Heb 13:23-25 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 God’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings. Grace be with you all
Uncertainties: The letter to the Hebrews draws to a close quite quickly and unfortunately (for the sake of our curiosity at least) gives few clues to the author, his location and his intended audience. The opening sentences of these three verses indicate he is on the same circuit, may we say, as the apostle Paul, mentioning Timothy, but if we would wish to link him via Timothy to the apostle Paul there are sufficient differences as well as few similarities to suggest this is clearly uncertain! Yet by his confident writing he must be a member of the apostolic band, probably associated with Paul. Timothy has obviously been in prison recently but is now freed and is clearly a free agent who can decide, possibly with the advice of others, where he next goes because there is that uncertain ‘If’ in the verses, and if he does come soon then the writer may also travel to see his readers.
Now those first two sentences are sufficiently imprecise that we cannot be certain of their meaning. The “If he arrives soon,” may mean, “If he gets back here where I am from his imprisonment, I will bring him with me to come and see you.” It may also mean, “If he comes to you, I will come with him.” The writer is obviously a traveling apostle and, again, someone who makes his own decisions. Beyond that, anything else is pure speculation and we have to rest with that.
The twice-used ‘all’ in respect of the Greeting suggests that the intention of this letter is that it should be read in a number of churches, which was a fairly common thing to happen to such pastoral letters. His words, “Those from Italy send you their greetings,” appears to suggest that he is writing from Italy, possibly from Rome, but again there can be no certainty about that. His concluding words, “Grace be with you all,” are traditional and may simply be taken to mean, “May the blessing of God be on you, may you be receivers of His goodness.”
Questions: The question may arise in our minds, do all these uncertainties over the origins of this letter undermine it? How did this letter get into the canon of Scripture? Rather than go into the history of that in respect of this particular letter, let us consider how the early church assessed such writings.
Answers: First of all the church checked the authority of the writers so that only known and accepted apostles and their close associates were accepted. From these closing words we’ve just been considering above, it is clear that the early church knew this writer and that he was part of God’s apostles or close contacts at that time.
Second, the church looked at what is called ‘external evidence’ so the churches had to feel they were historically accurate. Absence of any reference to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem indicates this was written before AD70 when it was destroyed, and the reference we’ve just seen to Timothy places it within the period when Paul’s apostolic team existed.
Third, the church considered what is referred to as ‘internal evidence’, to observe that the contents conformed to known apostolic teaching, and that each book had to have a self-authenticating nature, as having a sense as from God. All of the exhortations that we have referred to so many times are clearly in line with the apostolic teaching that we find throughout the rest of the New Testament and there is a distinct absence of human wisdom or questionable writing here, that is so often found in non-canonical books of that period. The teaching is again and again to glorify God and glorify Jesus, almost more than any other epistle in the New Testament. It comes with a clear sense of revelation and a deep sense of understanding the will of God.
Transition: The early church clearly struggled somewhat with the transition from a Jewish-based religion to a universal world-impacting religion and we see this, for example, in the apostle Peter’s struggle to go to the Gentiles (Acts 10), and the decision-making that went on in the Council in Jerusalem, accepting the apostle Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 15), and when the apostle Paul had to counter the Jewish tendency to backtrack and rely on the Law (see Galatians), but perhaps nowhere is the transition made so clear as in this book, for example, “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” (8:13) As we commented earlier, the priesthood and old covenant sacrifices ceased when the temple was destroyed in AD70 and have never been revived because the temple has never been rebuilt.
And so, to conclude, we have this amazing book, not always easy to understand, but which lays out doctrinal passage after doctrinal passage in order to bring exhortation after exhortation to the early church to keep on in the face of both persecution and heresies. Once we can see past its ‘Old Testament Jewishness’ we find it as a pillar truth, unique in its form and style, that calls us in our age to likewise keep on in the face of what, in the West at least, is opposition by words and ideas and ideologies, with a challenge to test all things, think through all teachings, and hold fast to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. May it be so. Amen.