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The Audience of Hebrews

By Justin Johnson

Determining the audience is an important task for dispensational Bible study. The book of Hebrews hosts so large a controversy over the author that the audience is often overlooked. Just as important as the author in determining application is the audience.

Jesus called this believing audience his “little flock” (Luke 12:32). This little flock was the Jewish church at Pentecost, and after the scattering became the audience of the book of Hebrews.

It is commonly thought that Hebrews is written to people in the mystery church, the new creature, the Body of Christ, but that would be wrong. It is time to set the record straight.

As we go through Hebrews verse by verse on Tuesday nights, we are collecting clues to define the audience. What we find is overwhelming evidence Hebrews is written to the believing remnant of Israel, the Hebrew church of the Twelve apostles.

Here are some clues:

1.2 – “in these last days” – This puts the audience in the dispensational context of the prophetic last days spoken about in Acts 2:17.
1:2 – “spoken unto us by his Son” – Jesus came to Israel as a minister of the circumcision promises, and not to Gentiles with the mystery (Matt 15:24; John 1:10-11).
1:4 – “better than the angels” – That the author is comparing angels to Christ indicates a Hebrew audience in a dispensation where angels had a role (John 1:51; John 5:4; John 20:12). Paul instructs the church to avoid angels with a message today (Gal 1:8).
1:14 – “shall be heirs of salvation” – The future promise of salvation describes Israel who alone God made a promise and covenant of salvation.
2:3 – “how shall we escape” – Certain punishment would come if they let slip the things they have heard about Christ. The church today is at peace with God, and Christ remains faithful even if we do not (2 Tim 2:13).
2:3 – “which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord” – The Lord’s earthly ministry was to Israel in accordance with the message of salvation proclaimed by the prophets through the law, covenants, and kingdom.
2:3 – “unto us by them that heard him” – This speaks to those who heard the Lord in his earthly ministry. This excludes anyone in the church the Body of Christ which did not begin at Pentecost.
2:4 – “with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles” – See previous comment referring to the Pentecostal believers, not the church today.
2:5 – “world to come, whereof we speak” – The content of the book concerns the prophesied world to come to earth which was promised to Israel not angels.
2:9 – “but we see Jesus” – Peter testifies to seeing Jesus crowned with glory and honour also in 2 Pet 1:16-18 referring to the transfiguration in Matthew 17.
2:10 – “many sons” – Reminds us of Christ declaring that he would give his life a ‘ransom for many”, in reference to the little flock. Whereas in 1 Tim 2:6, according to the mystery, he gave his life a “ransom for all.”
2:11 – “both he that sanctieth and they who are sanctied” – The only sanctified people that existed when Christ was in the flesh was the nation Israel
2:11-12 – “call them brethren” – Those who do the will of God according to his earthly prophetic ministry he called brethren (Matt 12:50; John 20:17; Ps 22:22).
2:13 – “the children which God hath given me” – This is a reference to Isaiah speaking about those who were for signs to Israel, and remotely to John 17:6 referring to the disciples during his earthly ministry.
2:16 – “seed of Abraham” – Which would have had import to those concerned with the seedline.
2:17 – “to be made like unto his brethren” – Who were of the seed of Abraham (Heb 2:16).
3:1 – “High Priest of our profession” – Israel had priests. A high priests implies lower priests. There is no priest in the Body of Christ according to the mystery.
3:6 – “as a son over his own house” – Moses built a house; but the house belonged to Jesus as the son. This connects Jesus ministry in Hebrews to that of Israel.
3:6 – “whose house are we” – The author and audience are included in the house that Peter describes in 1 Pet 2:5, which is Israel (1 Pet 2:9).
3:7 – “if we hold fast the confidence… unto the end” – There are many conditional statements in Hebrews that speak about this sort of endurance required of Israel, because their covenant had not yet been fulfilled (Heb 3:11; 3:12; 3:13; 3:14; 3:19). Members of the church today are presently complete in Christ, and are not waiting for grace or salvation to come in the end, since they have it now.
3:8 – “as in the provocation, in the day of temptation” – The audience is the same people that went through the provocation and temptation in the wilderness. The audience is covenant Israel being tried in a wilderness before the enter the promised kingdom.
3:12 – “in departing from the living God” – The audience can choose to depart from God.
3:14 – “partakers… if we hold the beginning of our confidence” – Their partaking of Christ is conditioned on their holding fast.
4:1 – “a promise being left us” – The audience are not strangers from the covenants of promise (Eph 2:12).
4:1 – “should seem to come short of it” – The audience can after having the promise, come short of receiving it. Today, members of the church do not receive any promise until they are first sealed and saved (Eph 1:13).
4:2 – “unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them” – The gospel this audience had heard was the same as what was told to Israel in the wilderness. Namely, the good news of the promised land being nigh: the gospel of the kingdom.
4:11 – “let us labour … to enter into that rest” – The audience of Hebrews is required to labour to the end, or lose their place in the promised kingdom rest.

And this after only four chapters of verse by verse study!

The History of Hebrews

Jesus commissioned the twelve apostles to begin their kingdom ministry in Jerusalem (Luke 24:47). From there they would minister to Judaea, then Samaria, and finally the Gentiles (Acts 1:8). Their message of the King and the kingdom never got past Jerusalem. The rulers of Israel rejected Christ and his followers by murdering Spirit-filled Stephen (Acts 7:59).

Consequently, the believing remnant in Jerusalem was scattered (Acts 8:1), and it became evident that the kingdom they were proclaiming had not yet come. Since Jerusalem rejected and separated them from their holy city, temple, and priests, the Spirit filled remnant of Israel needed encouragement that their promises were still sure.

The book of Hebrews provides that encouragement by explaining the better things by faith for the remnant. Jesus was Christ according to prophecy and was the assurance of their promises being fulfilled if they endured unto the end.

Our relationship to the doctrinal content in Hebrews as members of the mystery Body of Christ is that of spectator not participant. This is a right division that will cure many confusions that are caused by the covenant content of the book.

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Published: April 9, 2016
Last Modified: April 20, 2016
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