A Final Exhortation
Editor’s Note: This concludes our series on the book of Hebrews, which began in the March/April 2008 issue of Israel My Glory. In the next issue, David Levy will begin a series on the First Epistle of John.
The final eight verses of Hebrews 13 conclude the Epistle to the Hebrews. In them, the author exhorted Jewish believers one last time through a beautiful prayer he offered on their behalf.
He promised to visit them soon and possibly bring Timothy with him. Meanwhile, he greeted the readers and their spiritual leaders, who were selected to shepherd, strengthen, and encourage the believers to submit to the Lord, who cares for their souls.
The exhortation focuses on Christ’s shed blood, His resurrection, and the New Covenant, while telling believers to persevere to spiritual maturity. The final verses ask them to “bear with” (listen seriously and willingly to) the words of the letter.
A Final Prayer
First, however, the author requested prayer for himself and those with him: “Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably. But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner” (Heb. 13:18–19).
His request is encouraging and reveals his humility, as well as his need of and confidence in prayer. He did not view himself as superior to others less mature than he in the faith. He was “confident” that he and those with him had “good” (clear) consciences in their motives and actions and that they ministered in the will of God.
The author’s ongoing desire was to live and minister honorably, with integrity before all men, but especially before the Jewish believers to whom he was writing. Prayer was all the more needful during his absence from them. The text implies something prohibited him from reuniting with his readers, but it is not specified.
He began his benediction by praying for his readers:
Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (vv. 20–21).
Many fascinating elements here provide a beautiful message.
First is the peace of God (v. 20). The focus is on peace secured through God the Father raising Jesus from the dead—not on any supposed discord between the author and those he addressed in the epistle, as some believe. It is through faith in Jesus Christ and God’s grace that people are justified and receive peace with and from God (cf. Rom. 5:1–2).
Second, the power comes through God, “who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead” (Heb. 13:20). This is the first explicit mention of Jesus’ resurrection in the book of Hebrews, although it is assumed throughout the epistle. Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for us provided God’s power and peace, as God declared when He raised Christ from the dead.
Third, Jesus is the preeminent Shepherd, “that great Shepherd of the sheep” (v. 20). The spiritual shepherds within the church care for the souls of the sheep; but over them is Jesus Christ, who oversees the path, provision, and protection of believers.
Fourth, the price paid for our salvation was “the blood of the everlasting covenant” (v. 20). Christ’s blood was efficacious for the remission of humanity’s sins. It paid the price for the penalty of sin and brings believers into a New Covenant relationship with God (Mt. 26:28; cf. Heb. 8:6–13; 9:15—10:18). This covenant is called “everlasting” since it provides eternal life and cannot be annulled, abrogated, or replaced.
Fifth, the author prayed believers would be prepared for service, made “complete in every good work to do His will” (Heb. 13:21). The word complete means “equipped” for whatever service the Lord calls someone to do. God is able to work through equipped believers to accomplish His will.
Sixth, all believers should strive to please God. This goal is accomplished by allowing Him to work in us “what is well pleasing in His sight” (v. 21). To have such a life, Christians must not serve the Lord through the work of the flesh, but rather by yielding complete control of their lives to the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit.
The prayer concludes with a doxology of praise “through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (v. 21). The doxology can be addressed to God the Father, who is the subject of the prayer; Jesus Christ, the nearest antecedent within the prayer; or both. Praise and glory are attributed to God the Father and Jesus Christ, who provided the salvation mentioned in this prayer—but especially to Jesus, who provided reconciliation in the plan of salvation. This praise is to ascend to God “forever and ever.” The benediction concludes the epistle’s message, but not the epistle.
A Final Pronouncement
Verse 22 makes a final appeal to listen patiently to one more word of exhortation: “And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.” The author spoke affectionately, calling his readers “brethren,” which indicates he viewed them as believers in the Lord Jesus, loved them, had a close personal relationship with them, and cared for their spiritual well-being.
With tenderness and heartfelt concern for them, in humility and sincerity, he pleaded with them to “bear with” (listen to) him one more time. Some may have been ambivalent about remaining in the church because they were slothful in their walk with Christ and needed to be stirred up and reproved. So he gently and humbly asked them to pay conscientious, deliberate attention to his final exhortation without becoming exasperated.
The phrase word of exhortation refers to the exhortation given throughout the epistle. He implored them to stay committed to Christ; some had wavered due to persecution and the apostasy of others (cf. 2:1; 3:1, 12; 4:1, 11, 16; 6:1; 10:22, 35; 12:1; 13:1–3, 5, 7, 9, 13–17). Many needed to embrace the sound doctrines taught throughout Hebrews and leave the Jewish sacrificial system, with its ritual and ceremony.
While Hebrews might have seemed like an enormous, detailed letter to its readers, to its author it seemed like “few words.” The phrase few words refers to the length of the epistle in view of the enormity of the issues with which it deals. The letter is a brief compendium of the vast subject matter relating to the importance of Christ and His ministry; volumes could have been written on the issues (cf. Jn. 21:25).
Abruptly, the author included a note concerning Timothy: “Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly” (Heb. 13:23).
Timothy is the only Christian in Hebrews mentioned by name. A full understanding of this verse requires information the author did not share. He did say Timothy was “set free,” meaning “released” or “set at liberty”—but from what? Most likely he was released from prison, but no New Testament reference confirms that the Timothy whom the apostle Paul mentored was ever in prison.
Since Timothy is called our brother, a phrase Paul used (2 Cor. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Th. 3:2; Phile. 1), many believe it refers to him. Paul took that Timothy on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:1–3). He was with Paul in Corinth and was with him in Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment. During Paul’s second imprisonment, he asked Timothy to come to him quickly (2 Tim. 4:9). For these reasons, some commentators believe Paul wrote the epistle to the Hebrews. Nevertheless, there is no indication in the New Testament that Paul was the author.
Whoever Timothy was, he was not yet with the author, who hoped he would come soon and accompany him to visit the readers. Timothy’s whereabouts is not known, nor is it known where the author resided while writing the letter. We do know he was not in prison.
A Farewell Postscript
The author closed the epistle with a word of greeting and grace: “Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. Grace be with you all” (Heb. 13:24–25).
First, he greeted the spiritual leaders with warmth and affection, giving them special recognition over those within the church. Second, he greeted the “saints,” a common word for true believers—in this case, Hebrew Christians. Third, the Italians sent their greetings.
Commentators disagree as to the Italians. Where were they at the time this letter was written? Were they with the author? Were they inside or outside Italy? The verse gives no insight. It simply tells of their origin. They likely had some relationship with the Jewish believers or they would not have been mentioned. If they had no relationship with the readers, the author evidently explained the situation thoroughly to the Italians, who became deeply concerned for the readers’ spiritual conditions.
The epistle closes with a blessing and benediction: “Grace be with you all. Amen” (v. 25). This benediction was common in the first century and often concluded other New Testament books (cf. Rom. 16:24; 2 Th. 3:18; Rev. 22:21). Grace can be defined as “that intrinsic quality of God’s being or essence by which He is spontaneously favorable in His disposition and action to bestow unmerited favor, love, and mercy upon whom He chooses within undeserving humanity.”
God’s special grace to believers is manifested in their salvation, sanctification, serving, and suffering and is sufficient to strengthen them in every situation of life. This grace is marvelous, infinite, matchless, and freely bestowed on all who believe—as written in the hymn “Grace Greater Than Our Sin.”
God’s grace had been bestowed on and was experienced by the Jewish believers addressed in the epistle, resulting in their salvation. Now they needed to prove their commitment by living out their faith, which required being obedient to Christ and moving forward to maturity in Him. We must do likewise.