The community of believers is a family of “brothers,” God’s children. As such, the Hebrews owed love to one another. They had good reason to heed the admonition for brotherly love to continue to exist among them. (13:1)
On account of persecution, believers often came to be in need. They might have their possessions plundered and be forced to abandon their homes. In expression of their brotherly love, the Hebrews were not to “forget” or neglect to show hospitality (literally, “love of strangers”), welcoming fellow believers whom they did not know personally into their homes. Abraham and Lot extended such hospitality to complete strangers, unaware that they were entertaining angels. (13:2; Genesis 18:2-8; 19:1-3)
On account of the intense hostility believers faced, some among them were imprisoned for being Christ’s disciples. The Hebrews were to remember the imprisoned fellow believers as if they were “bound” or in confinement with them. They were also to remember the mistreated believers, truly feeling for them in their distress. Those who may not have been experiencing mistreatment at the time did know how it felt to be subjected to abuse, for they also were in a body, a body subject to sensations and not immune to future afflictions. To remember the imprisoned and afflicted believers would include praying for them and, if possible, going to see them to provide encouragement and whatever aid they might need. (13:3)
Believers should be exemplary in their married life, honoring their marriage by remaining faithful to their mates and thus keeping the marriage bed free from the defilement of sexual sins. Moral purity must be safeguarded, for God will judge those who engage in sexual immorality or make themselves guilty of adultery. (13:4)
Instead of allowing a “love of money” (literally, “love of silver”) to affect their life, believers should strive to be content with what they have. The basis for contentment is God’s assurance (quoted from Deuteronomy 31:6), “I will not forsake you nor abandon you.” He would never leave believers without any aid, making them completely dependent on their own efforts and resources.(13:5; see the Notes section.)
Believers can draw encouragement from God’s assurance, saying with confidence (Psalm 118:6 [117:6, LXX]), “The Lord [YHWH, Hebrew text] is my helper, and [missing in numerous manuscripts] I will not fear. What can a man do to me?” God strengthens and sustains those whom he recognizes as belonging to him, enabling them to endure the distressing situations that may confront them. So there is nothing to fear from what any human might seek to do to them. (13:6)
To continue living a life that reflected complete faith or trust in God and his Son, the Hebrew believers would have benefited from giving attention to good examples. These exemplary ones would have been men who had ministered to the community of believers. Entrusted with the responsibility of looking out for the welfare of fellow believers, they had spoken the “word of God.” Speaking the “word of God” would have involved imparting all the instruction that was essential for living a life that honored God and Christ. Upon considering how the conduct (the whole course of life) of these responsible believers turned out (how they maintained faith in God and Christ to the very end of their life), the Hebrews were to imitate their faith. Based on the context, the implication is that these devoted men endured faithfully to the end because they continued to trust in God as their helper and did not yield to any fear respecting what any human might do to them. (13:7; see the Notes section.)
The mention of Jesus Christ in the next verse suggests that those who completed their course in faithfulness also had his help and adhered to his example and teaching. The Hebrews could likewise fully rely on Jesus Christ, for he is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (literally, “into the ages”). (13:8)
In sharp contrast to Christ’s unchanging dependability, the Hebrew believers were in danger of beginning to waver in their convictions. So the writer of Hebrews admonished them not to allow themselves to be “carried away by various and strange teachings.” They needed to guard against teaching that could cause them to be turned aside from a life that reflected a genuine acknowledgment of Christ as their Lord. The “heart,” or the inmost self, of believers would not be made strong in adherence to the right course by following regulations about foods. Those who walked or conducted themselves as scrupulous observers of rules relating to foods were not benefited thereby. The “heart,” or the inmost self, is stabilized or made firm by divine favor. A believer’s strength comes from continuing to be a recipient of God’s unmerited kindness, and this requires responsiveness to his help and guidance. (13:9)
The book of Acts reveals that many of the Hebrew believers zealously observed the ceremonial features of the law, including the offering of sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem. Their continued focus on these aspects of worship hindered a significant number among them from recognizing the fullness of the revelation that came through Jesus Christ, and it made them susceptible to teaching that tended to minimize his role in relation to an individual’s having an approved standing with his Father. (Acts 11:2, 3; 15:1, 5-11; 21:20-26; compare Galatians 1:6-9; 2:1-5, 11-18; 3:1-6.) For their spiritual well-being and progress, the Hebrew believers needed to appreciate fully the priceless sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with his Father that it had made possible. With this apparent objective, the writer of Hebrews reminded them that they had an altar from which the priests serving at the sanctuary (literally, the “tent” or “tabernacle”) had no “authority” or “right” to eat. (13:10)
Animal sacrifices were presented on the altar in the temple courtyard, but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ did not take place on a literal altar. In full submission to his Father’s will, he surrendered his life. The arrangement that God had purposed for the acceptable sacrifice, including the way in which his Son would die sacrificially, proved to be like an altar. Only those who put faith in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for them are partakers of the benefits of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with his Father. In view of their being partakers of the benefits, they could be spoken of as having the right to eat from the altar (as would persons who shared in eating a portion of the animal that was presented for sacrifice). The priests who officiated at the temple and who did not have this faith did not have the right to eat from this “altar.” They were not partakers of the benefits from Christ’s sacrifice. (13:10)
According to the law, not even the priests were entitled to eat a portion of a sacrificial victim whenever the high priest took its blood into the sanctuary (literally, the “holies” or “holy places”). The plural for “holy” in the Greek text may signify that the blood was taken into both compartments of the sanctuary, the Holy and the Most Holy. It was in the Most Holy, representative of heaven itself, that the high priest sprinkled the blood on and in front of the cover of the ark of the covenant. This took place on the Day of Atonement. (Leviticus 16:11-15) The carcasses of the bull and the goat that were then sacrificed were taken outside the camp of Israel, or (after the temple was built) to a location outside the walls of Jerusalem, where they would be burned. (13:11; Leviticus 16:27)
Paralleling what happened to the carcasses of these animals, Jesus Christ “suffered outside the gate.” His sacrificial death, or the total surrender of his body (as if consumed by flames), occurred outside the walls of Jerusalem or “outside the gate” (the means of egress from and access to the city). This happened so that “he might sanctify the people through his own blood,” making it possible for humans to be sanctified or set apart as holy by reason of their being forgiven of their sins on the basis of the blood he shed sacrificially for them. (13:12)
The fact that Jesus Christ suffered outside Jerusalem suggested that the Hebrew believers should not continue to focus on the aspects of worship associated with the temple located in the city. They needed to direct their undivided attention to Jesus Christ, going to him “outside the camp,” or outside the “camp” of the Jews who worshiped at the temple but did not put faith in him, the promised Messiah to whom the law and the prophets pointed. Jesus experienced the taunts of unbelievers at the time he suffered outside the city of Jerusalem. (Matthew 27:39-44; Mark 15:29-32; Luke 23:35-37) Therefore, the Hebrew believers should have been willing to be reproached for going to him. They would be going to him by identifying themselves as his disciples, which would result in their being subjected to the same reproach that he endured from hostile unbelievers. (13:13)
Their going to Jesus Christ “outside the camp” would indicate that they no longer looked to Jerusalem and its temple as the central place for worship. As the writer of Hebrews stressed, “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the one to come.” Believers are not attached to any city on earth as if it were to be their permanent home or their unique place for worship. They are seeking the heavenly city, with their lasting home being with Jesus Christ and his Father, enjoying a never-ending relationship with them. (11:10; 13:14)
Believers who are “outside the camp” present offerings other than animal sacrifices. Through Christ, or in recognition of him as their Lord and the great high priest who made them divinely acceptable by his one sacrifice, the Hebrew believers should have continued to offer a sacrifice of praise to God, thanking him for everything he made possible for them. This sacrifice is the “fruit of lips,” and the expression of the lips included the confession “to his name.” (Hosea 14:2) The designation “name” stands for the person. God is the one to whom the “fruit of lips” is offered, suggesting that the words “his name” apply to him. On the other hand, believers render praise to God “through Christ,” thus acknowledging “his name,” or the person of Christ as their Lord. This confession or appreciative acknowledgment honors the Father who granted the Son all authority in heaven and on earth. (13:15; Matthew 28:18; John 5:23; Philippians 2:9-11)
Besides offering praise or thanksgiving to God through Christ, believers actively do good as part of their sacrificial service. The writer admonished the Hebrews not to forget or not to neglect the doing of good (or engaging in whatever promotes the well-being of others) and “sharing.” This “sharing” could refer to helping others, sharing with them what one has in response to their needs. God is pleased with such “sacrifices” that are an expression of love and concern for others. (13:16)
The Hebrews were admonished to follow the direction or guidance of responsible men in the community of believers, submitting to the exhortation they would be imparting. When functioning in the capacity of guides, these men would be concerned about the well-being of fellow believers. They would be watching out for their “souls.” In this case, “souls” could mean either the believers themselves or their lives. The responsible men in the community of believers would exercise the kind of diligent watching as would a shepherd over the sheep that are entrusted to him. They are accountable to God and Christ for the way they discharge their responsibilities. (13:17)
The desirable outcome would be for the responsible men to be able to give their account with joy. This would be the case when fellow believers are responsive to exemplary guidance and sound teaching. If, on the other hand, fellow believers are unresponsive, resisting efforts to encourage and to strengthen them to remain faithful to God and Christ, the responsible ones would give their account with sighing. When believers give occasion for such sighing, they would be harming themselves or working against their own spiritual interests. (13:17)
The writer of the letter asked that the Hebrew believers pray for him. When making this request, he assured them that there was nothing in his life that would hinder their prayers for him to be heard. Using the editorial plural, he wrote, “For we are confident that we have a good conscience; in everything, we desire to conduct ourselves commendably.” So when praying for him, the Hebrews could be sure that they were making their petitions to God for a fellow believer who had maintained a clean conscience and endeavored to live uprightly in all respects. (13:18) He encouraged them to pray for him all the more so in order for him soon to be restored to them. This could mean that there might be a change in his circumstances so that he would soon be able again to be with them. At the time, he may have been imprisoned in Rome. (13:19)
The expression “God of peace” identifies him as the source of the peace or inner well-being that believers experience, knowing that he will care for them and sustain them in whatever circumstances they may come to be. God is also the source of peace in that he made it possible for humans to be reconciled to him as his beloved children on the basis of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. “He raised the great shepherd of the sheep from the dead.” The “sheep” are all believers who are under the loving care of “our Lord Jesus.” (13:20; see the Notes section.)
In the Greek text, the reference to the “great shepherd of the sheep” is followed by the words “in the blood of the eternal covenant.” This could mean that the God of peace raised his Son with the benefits from the blood that put the eternal new covenant in force. Another possible significance is that Jesus Christ validated the eternal new covenant with his own blood. A third meaning could be that Jesus Christ came to be the great shepherd of the sheep through his blood, the blood that put the eternal new covenant in force. As the eternal covenant, its benefits are enduring. (13:20)
The prayer for the Hebrew believers is that the God of peace would prepare or equip them “in everything good” (“in all good work” or “in all good work and word,” according to other manuscripts) “for the doing of his will.” This was an appeal for God to grant the Hebrew believers all the help and guidance they needed in order to do his will. God’s working among believers (“you,” the Hebrews who were being addressed; or “us,” including the Hebrews [according to other manuscripts]) would be through Jesus Christ and would result in their doing what would be pleasing in his sight. “To him [God be] the glory forever and ever [literally, ‘into the ages’; or, according to other manuscripts, ‘into the ages of the ages’]).” For all that God has done, “glory” or “honor” are his rightful due for all time to come. (13:21)
Instead of expressing himself at great lengths, the writer limited himself to a short presentation. On this basis, he admonished his “brothers,” fellow believers, to be patient with his word of exhortation or to give patient attention to what he had written. (13:22)
The writer informed them that Timothy had been released, evidently from imprisonment. He hoped that, if Timothy would soon be meeting him, the Hebrew believers would see both of them at his planned visit. (13:23) Greetings are then extended to “all” (not in P46, the oldest extant manuscript) the leading men among the Hebrews and “all the holy ones,” the entire community of believers. After conveying the greetings of fellow believers from Italy, the writer concluded with the prayerful expression, “Favor [be] with all of you.” This was an appeal that the Hebrew believers might continue to have God’s guidance and assistance in expression of his gracious favor. (13:24, 25; see the Notes section.)
In verse 5, the quotation from Deuteronomy 31:6 expresses the assurance in the first person. In the extant Septuagint and Hebrew texts, however, the third person singular appears. Nevertheless, the quotation in the book of Hebrews preserves the basic thought. Both in the Greek text of the Septuagint and the quotation in the book of Hebrews, the assurance about being neither forsaken nor abandoned is stressed with two words that mean “not” and could signify “absolutely not forsake” and “absolutely not abandon.”
The Greek term designating those who had spoken the word of God to the Hebrew believers (in verse 7) is a participial form of hegéomai. This word has been defined as meaning to “lead” or “guide.” The men who provided guidance in the past and who spoke the word of God doubtless included apostles and other elders who had personally heard Jesus Christ’s teaching.
The participial form of hegéomai also appears in verse 17, where the reference is to those who were then providing guidance. These would have been elders in the community of believers.
In verse 20, many manuscripts add “Christ” after “Jesus.”
Not all manuscripts (in verse 23) include “our” when referring to Timothy (“our brother Timothy”).
According to numerous manuscripts, the book of Hebrews concludes with “Amen” (“so be it”).