In my past life as a business consultant, I was engaged to help clients develop strategic plans to accomplish their organization’s mission and business goals. As part of that process we often included an analysis of the “environment” in which the client operated. It was called a situation analysis.
A situation analysis refers to a collection of methods that are used to analyze an organization’s internal and external environment to understand their capabilities, customers, and competition. These methods of analysis helped to identify not only opportunities but also potential threats to the business. These analyses often served as informative warnings of potential dangers.
The epistle of Hebrews, a letter to Jewish Christians of that day, includes warnings that are much like a business situation analysis to help its readers see potential threats to their spiritual well-being.
The writer of this Hebrews’ letter knew the needs of their intended recipients. Unlike the recipients of Paul’s letters, they were not a church (Rom. 1:7; Eph. 1:1; Gal. 1:2). They were a specific group of Jewish Christians–men of some intellectual ability. They had been established for a good many years (Heb. 2:3; 13:7), and had a history of persecution. They should have been mature Christians by this time, capable of teaching others (Heb. 5:11-6:2). Instead they were withdrawn and inward-looking.
The audience was seen as negligent in good deeds (Heb. 13:16). They were sloppy in their approach to attendance at worship service (Heb.10:23-25). They showed evidence of “cooling” in their faith. Most importantly, this group was wavering between Christianity and Judaism. The author of Hebrews needed to rekindle the readers’ commitment to Christ.
Their problem did not involve sin in its most obvious sense. They were not openly and willingly breaking one or several of God’s commandments, like stealing, lying, adultery, or murder. But regardless, they were falling short of the glory of God through wrong attitudes—things that we might consider today as being “matters of the heart.”
The writer of Hebrews’ challenge was to contrast the achievements of Jesus with that of the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system.
Like the authorship of Hebrews, the exact location of this audience is unknown. There is no opening salutation typically found in New Testament letters. No city is identified to indicate where these Jewish Christians resided.
We do, however, get a hint as to where the author of Hebrews was located. Included in the closing, the writer advises their readers to salute “those that rule over you and all the saints” just as “they of Italy salute you” (Heb. 13:24). Commentaries identify this reference to Italy as possibly pointing to Rome.
Written in Rome (before A.D. 70), Hebrews may provide valuable insight into the “world” these readers may have lived in. It may also help us understand what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ during that time.
The early converts to Christianity in Ancient Rome faced many difficulties. The first converts were usually the poor and slaves as they had a great deal to gain from the Christians being successful. If they were caught, they faced death for failing to worship the emperor. It was not uncommon for emperors to turn the people against the Christians when Rome was faced with difficulties. In AD 64, part of Rome was burned down. Emperor Nero blamed the Christians and the people turned on them. Arrests and executions followed.
The Warnings of Hebrew
The warnings of Hebrews have been the focal point of many commentators and biblical scholars. There are many reasons for this intense scrutiny. Most importantly, these warnings emphasize behaviors that seriously damage believers’ faith in Jesus Christ. These warnings are more than indicators of possible problems, or other unpleasant situations but extreme spiritual “dangers”.
Warning1: Danger of neglect (2:1-4)
Warning 2: Danger of unbelief (3:7-4:13)
Warning 3: Danger of spiritual immaturity (5:11-6:20)
Warning 4: Danger of drawing back (10:26-39)
Warning 5: Danger of refusing God (12:25-29)
Comparison with today
This series is intended to help us examine where we are in our individual walk of faith. Are we helping or hindering our journey? Therefore, I will offer “more questions than answers” for our consideration as we move through the book of Hebrews.
We begin with these. First, where are we in our current faith walk? Secondly, what would motivate us to seriously consider the five (5) warnings? And finally, where does Jesus Christ fit in our life today?
Our examination of these questions will act as the backdrop for this study series. It is our hope that at the conclusion we will better understand the current threats to our faith and our spiritual growth. This includes the current 21st century worldview of Jesus Christ and Christianity.
We begin next week with an analysis of the first two warnings–the danger of neglect and the danger of unbelief.