+ Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson introduces Hebrews with the reminder that Jesus is our leader and guide in the life of faith, from beginning to end.
Marianne Meye Thompson is the George Eldon Ladd Professor of New Testament in Fuller’s School of Theology. An ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA), she is the author of multiple commentaries, and coauthor of Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology.
“The whole book of Hebrews is one extended argument about the superiority of Jesus to everything and to everyone who came before him. Jesus is better.” – Marianne Meye Thompson
Well, here’s the problem: Hebrews is just so complicated. So, I started writing this long—and I thought, I’m just gonna leave Melchizedek out. So, he got axed.
I’m Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson, and I’m the George Ladd Professor of New Testament. I’m going to be introducing the Book of Hebrews today from the perspective of a New Testament scholar.
Hebrews maybe one of the most neglected books in the New Testament. It’s in many ways one of the most puzzling books in the New Testament. We call it the letter to the Hebrews, but it’s not quite clear whether this is a letter or a long sermon or an exhortation or an argument for something. It seems to have a variety of forms.
It also has some very memorable passages in it. One of the better-known is the long catalogue of the heroes of faith that we read in chapter 11. Here we find the names of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David, and the prophets. These are held up as great examples of the faith for the readers of the letter. And after the author makes that list, offers that list, of all these great heroes of the faith, he writes this: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that lies before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” That passage puts Jesus at the beginning and the end of everything that has to do with the life of faith. Jesus is both the pioneer, the one who started it all, and the perfecter of faith, the one who brings it to its wonderful, glorious conclusion. Jesus leads the way—he leads us to our destination as the pioneer of faith.
The book also argues that no one can surpass Jesus in dignity, in status, and in honor. And that nothing can surpass the blessings that Jesus brings. In fact, the whole book of Hebrews is one extended argument about the superiority of Jesus to everything and to everyone who came before him. Jesus is better. Jesus is better than Moses. Better than Joshua. Better than all the priests and their sacrifices. And better than the sanctuary in which those sacrifices were offered. And that’s why he’s worth following. And that’s why we can be confident that Jesus will get us to our goal, and that goal is life with God. Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, can therefore take people to their final destination. And there is a journey—a pilgrimage for the people of God. And the people of God are called to follow Jesus, that pioneer and perfecter of faith, and to do so faithfully.
As noted earlier, as I said before, the book of Hebrews often appeals to what are called sometimes the heroes of faith: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and so on. They are examples of faith because they are headed for something they didn’t see. They are headed for something they can’t see, but they are also examples of faithfulness. They keep on going even when they don’t always know exactly where they are going. Hebrews also reminds us that we are not on this journey alone. Others have gone before us. Others are bearing testimony to us, urging us: “Keep on. Keep on walking. Keep on journeying towards God. Don’t take your eyes off Jesus because he is a faithful guide and he will lead us to life with God.”
Let me then read what is one of the classic, quintessential exhortations in the Book of Hebrews. This is from chapter 12 verses 1 and following: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.”