The first Christians were Jewish Christians. Jewish Christianity is important to understand because Christianity’s roots are Jewish. It was the Jewish Old Covenant prophets who foretold the coming Messiah. The Messiah would be the son of David who would fulfil specific promises made to David when He came. He came to fulfill the law (Mt. 5:17) and His death was to serve as a ransom so that no further sacrifices were needed (Mt. 20:28). Christianity was deeply rooted in the Old Testament revelation and the Apostles’ preaching in the synagogues in the book of Acts sought to prove this to convince the Jews that Jesus was the promised fulfillment.
As the Gospel advanced and Gentiles poured into the church through Paul’s missionary journeys throughout the Mediterranean, the Church that had begun with a large Jewish population became a Church with a largely Gentile population.
This change brought tension (see Acts 11, 15, Galatians 2, & Romans 14-15:13 for a sampling). The Jewish Christians had to grapple with several questions, certainly some of which are listed below:
- How was Christ to be understood in relation to the teaching of many Old Covenant passages?
- How were the worship practices of the Old Covenant system to relate to worship under the New Covenant?
- How did Christianity relate to the New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah and Ezekiel?
- Was life in the New Covenant really worth it in light of the persecution from their own Jewish people?
- Was there any legitimacy in Old Testament sacrifices?
- When Gentiles came to the Messiah, what Jewish practices would they observe?
- How were Jewish Christians, who had grown up under the Old Covenant understanding that Gentiles were unclean, relate to Gentile Christians?
Who wrote the letter?
The first author to quote this epistle was Clement of Rome in 96 AD, about 35 year or so after it was penned, though he does not say who wrote the book. Some have suggested Paul, Barnabas, & Apollos as the main possibilities. I lean to Apollos in my opinion but no one really knows. Apollos was from Alexandria and would have been well-versed with the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) which is quoted in the letter many times. Apollos knew the Old Testament and its flow well and after Aquila and Priscilla taught him the unfolding of it (Acts 18:24-19:1) Apollos blossomed and became a great and eloquent teacher in the Church (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4–6; 4:6; 16:12; Titus 3:13). Apollos specifically excelled in showing that Jesus was the Messiah from the Old Testament Scriptures.
Who read the letter?
First century Jewish Christians before the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 were probably the audience for whom this word of exhortation was meant (13:22). There are five warning passages that shows that the issue they were facing was the temptation to waver and leave New Covenant life in Jesus the Messiah and go back to Judaism to avoid persecution from their own Jewish people (6:4-6; 10:26-29; 10:38-39). Read the letter today imagining you had grown up under the Old Covenant, had professed you would be a disciple of Yeshua the Messiah, and were now facing extreme pressure to go back it.
The theme of Hebrews, quite simply, is the absolute supremacy of Christ—a supremacy which allows no challenge, whether from human or angelic beings.
I. A SUPERIOR PERSON—CHRIST—chapters 1–6
A. Better than the prophets—1:1–3
B. Better than the angels—1:4–2:18
(Exhortation: drifting from the Word, 2:1–4)
C. Better than Moses—3:1–4:13
(Exhortation: doubting the Word, 3:7–4:13)
D. Better than Aaron—4:14–6:20
(Exhortation: dullness toward the Word, 5:11–6:20)
II. A SUPERIOR PRIESTHOOD—MELCHIZEDEK—chapters 7–10
A. A superior order—7
B. A superior covenant—8
C. A superior sanctuary—9
D. A superior sacrifice—10
(Exhortation: despising the Word—10:26–39
III. A SUPERIOR PRINCIPLE—FAITH—chapters 11–13
A. The great examples of faith—11
B. The endurance of faith—chastening—12
(Exhortation: defying the Word—12:14–29
C. Closing practical exhortations—13
 Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Vol. 2. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996. Print.