During the first century, a number of very vocal Jews were hesitant about accepting Jesus Christ as High Priest under the New Covenant. The conference recorded in Acts 15, held to resolve their doubts, provides evidence of this group's existence. However, through the human author, God led, as it were, with a knockout punch in Hebrews' first chapter. Reading the powerful and true statements about Christ from God's own Word, laid out with devastating logic, a convert could find nothing to contradict.
Is there any other person besides Jesus, be he angel or human, whom God names as His only begotten Son? Is there anyone else whom God names as His Son who will inherit all things? Through whom the entire creation came into being? Who has given life itself to all creatures including humans?
God does not stop there. He continues His direct attack. Did God appoint any other person besides the One who became Jesus of Nazareth as “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person”? Does anyone else also uphold all things in creation by the very word of His power?
Did anyone but His only begotten Son purge us of our sins by sacrificing His perfectly lived life in an extremely painful death? Did anyone else rise from the dead and ascend to heaven to be seated at the Father's right hand, filling the second-highest position of power and authority in the entire universe?
All these questions challenge the skeptics to justify their reasons for rejecting Him as High Priest. Is there any room for even an angel, a creation of Jesus and thus on a lower plane than He, to be considered? And that is only the beginning of the questions that surely arose.
What God establishes at the very beginning of this magnificent epistle did not directly answer a few of the Jews' central doubts. What really perturbed the doubters was that Jesus of Nazareth appeared to be just another human, and He obviously died as all humans die. These facts, based on sight, not faith, did not meet their expectations.
The Jews' expectations about the appearance of the Messiah were built—and twisted from time to time—over a 1,400-year, on-and-off knowledge of God. Frankly, in terms of time, it was far more often “off” than “on.” God did not praise even one king of the ten northern Israelite tribes for leading a period of righteous rule over them. The tribes in the southern kingdom, Judah, occasionally had a David, Hezekiah, or Josiah rise to the point of God giving such praise. However, this kingdom eventually fell, and God judged that its conduct had been worse than that of the Kingdom of Israel!
Jesus was born among these people of Judah, and to them, He preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God. The Jews had had an especially long period of free access to the prophets God sent through the centuries, so they had had access to the Scriptures as they came into existence through the prophets. Hebrews 1:1 declares that God ensured that this witness occurred: “God . . . at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets.” The Israelites were never totally without access to God's guidance. Their problem was they did not believe deeply enough what He said to allow them to use it to bring Him glory. Like many modern Americans, they mostly did their own thing.
They were not totally wrong on everything, but they were in error enough that they could not come to correct conclusions to give them an accurate picture. For example, some Jews understood enough of the Promised Seed prophecy (Genesis 3:14-15) to know that it would be fulfilled by a great leader among the Israelites. They also knew He would be “the Anointed” and the “Messiah” and lead Israel to material greatness among the nations.
That scenario does not even begin to scratch the fullness of the Promised Seed's accomplishments, let alone that all nations will benefit both spiritually and materially from His greatness. They had only the slightest inkling that His appearance and subsequent accomplishments would bring salvation to the Gentile world too.
So, they had difficulty with the concept that Jesus of Nazareth was both God and man at the same time—even with the idea that He could be divine while in the flesh. They had trouble connecting their understanding of the Promised Messiah with Jesus' public ministry of both words and healings of mind and body, with His sacrificial death, and with the spiritual gifts He gives to heal the elects' minds and spirits, even though a spiritual mind can see that the prophecy in Genesis 3 contains hints of them. To some Jews, influenced by Judaism, these elements were a leap beyond their abilities to grasp.
When Christ's three-and-a-half years of ministry concluded and the church began, virtually everyone called and converted was a Jew. It was not that Jesus did not preach to Gentiles. He preached to the Gentile Samaritans as early as John 4, and His message attracted them, but none were converted during His ministry. Gentiles grasped some level of the truth, but not until God sent Peter to the home of Cornelius, a Roman soldier, and he and his family were converted and baptized into the Family of God, did the middle wall of division separating the Israelites—most specifically the Jews—and the Gentiles began to dissolve, little by little, within the church, the Israel of God.
The biblical record does not suggest in any way that the Gentiles called into God's church had any more difficulty being converted to Jesus Christ than Jews. The Jerusalem Conference resolved much of the “Gentile problem” challenging the Jews, and the church began moving to correct any remaining issues tied to this dispute.
Three things assisted the Jews through this issue:
The apostles' and others' consistent, truthful teaching from the Old Testament in Sabbath services and Bible studies.
The called Gentiles quick understanding of the truth, at least partly a result of their not having to overcome false, Jewish teachings.
The gradual writing of gospels, letters, and other material by the apostles, especially those that became part of what is now the New Testament.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1