Those to whom the writer penned the letter to the Hebrews were Jews who had accepted Jesus of Nazareth as Lord and Saviour. The alienation that this caused between them and the Jews around them, and even between members of the same family, should not be minimised. Their confession of faith in the One who had died at Calvary had been very costly. So strong were the feelings aroused that family, friends, and indeed the whole nation, treated them as outcasts!
Doubtless, they would often be reminded of the "folly" of the step that they had taken. Being shown the magnificence of Herods temple, the offerings, the priests, the Levites, the feasts and the daily round of ritual, they would be asked mockingly, "Where is your High Priest? Where are your offerings? Where is your temple?". The charge was, "We have everything and you have nothing".
The purpose of the writer was to encourage the readers in the face of such critical attacks. Despite the onslaught, they were to be aware that the choice they had made in becoming followers of the Lord had not impoverished them, but rather had enriched them to an extent that was beyond description. What they had given up was weak and shortly to be destroyed; what they had was eternal.
Today, in a different context, the Adversary seeks to cause believers to be dissatisfied with what they believe and what the gospel has given them. Not the Jewish ritual, but the materialism and the "let us eat, drink and be merry" attitude of the age are set before us with the subtle suggestion: "You could be enjoying all this". Beware, for that is a lie just as great as the cunning suggestion that fell on the ears of Eve in Edens garden.
The writer of this epistle, handling his subject with consummate skill, shows the readers clearly the surpassing glories and greatness of the Lord, the spiritual wealth that they presently possess and the prospect before them, leading to the great promise, "Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved" (Heb 12.28).
Among the encouragements that he gives are three that must not be overlooked. The first is, "We have a great high priest" (Heb 4.14). Such a high priest is required because He deals with all "things pertaining to God" (Heb 2.17). Our worship, thanksgiving, worries and concerns all ascend on high through Him. His office is essential! Israel could look back to the Aaronic priesthood, but these priests died and successors had to take their place. Our Great High Priest will never die, and thus never will be replaced. We know where His sanctuary is, we understand how sensitive He is to our feelings, how sympathetic He is to our sorrow, and we feel His support, for He is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Heb 4.15).
But we are also taught of "the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul" (Heb 6.18-19). In a world where countless hopes have been dashed and proven valueless, where millions have lost any hope, where leaders often proclaim policies which promise to give hope, but soon fail - in that environment the hope of the Christian to enjoy eternal glory with Christ is living and real. This hope is "an anchor to the soul, both sure and stedfast" (v.19). It is firm and unshaken because the Lord has entered the third heaven and His being there is as an anchor to us, a guarantee that we will never be forsaken, never lose our right to enter. He is the Forerunner who has gone to heaven and every believer will follow behind.
As he nears the end of his writing the author reminds the reader that "We have an altar" (13.10). This altar is not the material altar that was in the Temple in Jerusalem. This is an altar for the believer alone. It is not a physical altar that can be seen on earth. It indicates that our sacrifices are brought to Him, the Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus, and are accepted by Him. Our sacrifices are all for Him and we present them; He accepts them.
What privileges are ours! Let us enjoy them to the full. We have the sympathy and support of the High Priest, the hope is secure, firmly embedded in glory, and with the altar we can show the devotion of our service. Have we lost out becoming followers of the Lord? Far be the thought! We have gained privileges, promises and a firm glorious eternal prospect; blessings of which the unbeliever knows nothing.