The Book of Hebrews

Study at Home Series

Explore the background and message of the Book of Hebrews and consider how the book still encourages Christians today.

For the Group Leader

Instructor: Multiple Instructors

Welcome to our small group study! Thirdmill produces teaching materials with the primary goal of helping church leaders around the globe study and teach the Bible more deeply. This 8-week small group study has been adapted from our series on the book of Hebrews, and focuses on introducing and applying the background, purpose, content, and structure of the book. Our goal is for you to understand and apply the focus of the author of Hebrews for his original audience, which was to reject false teachings and remain faithful to Jesus despite challenging circumstances. These lessons are as important today as they were 2000 years ago. This study is intended to take about 50-60 minutes each session, but you're welcome to adapt it to your own circumstances by making each section as long or short as is beneficial for your group. This study can be done individually, but it is designed to be done in a virtual group setting in replacement of a typical weekly, adult Bible study or Sunday school. You can watch the videos together through a third-party virtual networking platform (like Zoom or Skype), or you can watch the videos before meeting together online to discuss. Some groups might even gather together via a group phone call. Each video is around 15 minutes long to allow ample discussion on each section. We've also added approximate times for each section in case you have a time limit you'd like to follow. Feel free to use as many or as few of the questions provided. We hope these lessons serve as a way to grow together during these difficult times. On a final note, if you would like to download the full Lesson Guide or the manuscript for each lesson, you can find those resources on the series page for The Book of Hebrews.

Session  1

God's Word for Times of Trouble

CONNECT (10 minutes)

Christians who live in peace and safety often compromise their faith, but can you imagine how tempting it would be to compromise what you believe to protect yourself, your spouse, your children and closest friends from serious harm?

Followers of Christ have suffered persecution and hardship throughout history. Stolen property, beatings, imprisonment and martyrdom have been the fate of countless Christians. And by some reports, Christ's followers are being persecuted more than ever in our own day. Yet, in all of these circumstances the Word of God has become precious to the people of God.

The Holy Spirit inspired the author of Hebrews to write to his fellow Christians who were facing serious troubles. They had suffered in the past and were now threatened with even more suffering. They'd done well years ago, but the author of Hebrews cared so much about his fellow believers that he wrote to encourage them to remain faithful to Christ in the new trials they faced.

REFLECTION

The author of Hebrews brought the Word of God to his readers because he believed that "the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12 ESV).

GUIDING QUESTION

What would you do if the people you loved were going through trials and were tempted to turn from Christ?

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

Our lesson describes the author of Hebrews as a "passionate intellectual." But often Christians find it difficult to be both passionate about our faith and deeply committed to learning the Scriptures and Christian theology. Why do you think it's important to embrace both of these qualities?

APPLY (15 minutes)

1. The author refers to the Old Testament at least 31 times and extensively discusses Old Testament teachings about Melchizedek and the Tabernacle. What does this say about the value of learning as much as we can from the whole Bible in troubled times?

2. The author shows his personal passion for God's suffering people by saying, "sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated" (Hebrews 10:33). How should we imitate this same care for our fellow believers in times of trouble?

3. As we face troubles, Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." What are some ways that we can "fix our eyes on Jesus" and his sufferings in our times of trouble? Name some important lessons of faith that can be learned from Jesus' life, death and resurrection.

CHALLENGE

Recommended reading: Hebrews 12

Take some time this week to write down ways you can be encouraged by the author's commitment to learning from God's Word, his passion for the suffering of God's people and his passion for following Christ in his sufferings.

Finish with a time of prayer.

Session  2

Our Identity as Christians

CONNECT (10 minutes)

We talked last week about the value of God's Word for times of trouble. We also looked at how the Lord used the author of Hebrews because he was a "passionate intellectual."

In this session, we will focus on the original audience of the book of Hebrews. What trials were they facing? How did this book address their needs? As we learn more about those who first received the book of Hebrews, we can see more clearly how this book calls on us to reject the temptations of the world and identify ourselves with Christ.

REFLECTION

Hebrews 12:1-2 appeals to followers of Christ in this way: "Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

The author of Hebrews acknowledged that his audience faced serious temptations as they endured trials. He wanted them to identify with Christ and turn away from everything that hindered them.

GUIDING QUESTION

How does our identity with Christ help us "run with perseverance the race marked out for us"?

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

1. What were some of the circumstances that influenced the original audience of Hebrews? What are some circumstances that influence our Christian community today?

2. Why do you think the author was so concerned for his audience's spiritual maturity? What kinds of problems can arise when Christian communities remain immature in their doctrinal beliefs? How do the author's words to "obey your leaders and submit to their authority" (Hebrews 13:17) remind us of our need for spiritually-mature pastors and teachers as we face challenges?

3. The audience of Hebrews was tempted to lose confidence and boldness as they faced persecution. So, the author encouraged them to "Consider [Christ] who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:3) What kinds of persecution tempt Christians to lose heart today? How are we encouraged by Christ's example to persevere against such opposition?

4. The Scriptures teach that true followers of Christ cannot lose their salvation. Still, at times, people profess faith and later utterly reject Christ. The author of Hebrews warns that those who turn away from Christ should only have "a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God" (Hebrews 10:27). How does this warning remind us that remaining faithful to Christ in difficult times is crucial for everyone who professes faith in Christ?

APPLY (15 minutes)

1. In what ways can we support a community of believers that needs to mature spiritually? How do we do this in a way that effectively reaches a community that might reject or persecute us?

2. How can we encourage our communities to keep their eyes fixed on Christ in spite of current difficulties?

CHALLENGE

Recommended reading: Hebrews 3-6

Take some time this week to write down ways in which this lesson helps you see something old or new that pushes against you or your community because of your faith in Christ.

Finish with a time of prayer.

Session  3

Ready for Some Exhortations?

CONNECT (10 minutes)

In our last session we discussed some of the challenges the original readers faced while struggling to remain faithful in times of trouble. Now we will see how our book was designed to exhort the original audience and Christians in every age.

REFLECTION

The author of Hebrews wrote with a purpose — "to exhort his audience to reject local Jewish teachings and to remain faithful to Jesus." He recognized the struggle and knew that many would have to make some difficult choices for the sake of the gospel.

Hebrews 13:22 says, "Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation." A "word of exhortation" was an early Christian way to describe an urgent, persuasive sermon. It was not the kind of sermon that fills your head with abstract ideas, but a practical sermon filled with exhortations that challenge, persuade and encourage.

GUIDING QUESTION

What is the most effective sermon you've ever heard, and why was it so effective?

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

1. The book of Hebrews contains many exhortations, such as "Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess" and "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence" (Hebrews 4:14,16). Exhortations like these don’t simply explain Christian doctrines, but they are meant to transform our attitudes and actions. How should we transform our attitudes and actions when we face challenging circumstances?

2. The author of Hebrews often used imperatives, or direct orders, to persuade his audience. How effective are imperatives when trying to persuade people today?

3. The author exhorted his audience by using ancient, persuasive rhetoric — examples of faith in action from the beginning of biblical history. Hebrews 11 proves that God’s people have endured trials throughout the ages by focusing their faith on "things hoped for" and "not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Read the long list of examples (exempla) of faith in Hebrews 11:4-40. How do these examples encourage your faith in Christ when your life is filled with troubles?

APPLY (15 minutes)

1. How is Christian exhortation a crucial part of your life? Share some ways you exhort others.

2. Create a list of modern examples you might use to exhort others to remain faithful to Christ.

CHALLENGE

Recommended reading: Hebrews chapter 11

This week, notice some of the ways Christian exhortation can become a more important part of your life at church; in your small group; in your family.

Finish with a time of prayer.

Session  4

Exhortations Then and Now

CONNECT (10 minutes)

In our last session, we saw that the author of Hebrews exhorted his audience using ancient persuasive rhetoric. At this point, we want to explore the goal of his exhortations. What did he attempt to accomplish in the lives of his first readers? How do his exhortations speak to our lives today?

REFLECTION

As we've seen, the author of Hebrews wrote so that his audience would reject local Jewish teachings and remain faithful to Jesus. Those who first received this book were tempted to find safety and comfort by following teachings that made them more acceptable in their local Jewish communities. Although we do not face precisely the same temptation, all of us are tempted to compromise our faith in Christ in ways that make life easier for us in our modern cultures.

GUIDING QUESTION

How do we run the risk of compromising our faith in Christ to find acceptance, comfort and safety in our modern world?

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

1. Hebrews 13:8-9 tells us, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings." The "strange teachings" that drew the original audience away from the supremacy of Christ were associated primarily with Jews outside of Palestine. What were some of these "strange teachings"?

2. As Christians today, we're not usually tempted to follow ancient Jewish teachings. What kinds of widespread false beliefs today tempt us, especially in times of trouble?

3. The book of Hebrews exhorted the original audience to remain faithful to Christ by understanding Jesus' superiority over angelic revelations (1:1-2:18), over Moses' authority (3:1-4:13), over Melchizedek (4:14-7:28), in the new covenant (8:1-11:40), and in practical daily perseverance (12:1-13:25). Why was the supremacy of Christ so important for these first century believers as they faced trials?

APPLY (15 minutes)

1. How is Christ superior to the false hopes the world offers us today? Why do we sometimes fail to remember that Christ is supreme over every false belief?

2. What are some practical ways we can love and care for others whose beliefs are different than our own without being drawn into those beliefs ourselves?

CHALLENGE

Recommended reading: Hebrews 10

This week, list some of beliefs and practices in our modern culture that pull you and your family away from acknowledging the supremacy of Christ.

Finish with a time of prayer.

Session  5

Jesus and the Last Days

CONNECT (10 minutes)

In previous sessions, we saw that the book of Hebrews exhorted Jewish Christians to remain faithful to Christ rather than turn for safety from persecution by following the “strange teachings” of their local Jewish communities. In this session, we’ll explore how in every major section of the book our author explained that Jesus brings the last days of God’s plan for world history.

REFLECTION

When most modern Christians speak of the “last days,” they refer to what will happen when Jesus returns in glory. By contrast, the opening verses of our book declare that Jesus has already begun to bring the wonders of the last days. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

GUIDING QUESTION

Why is it important for us to understand that when the author of Hebrews referred to the “last days,” he was talking about something much broader than just Christ’s second coming?

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

1. Prior to the first coming of Christ, the people of Israel had been under God’s judgment of foreign tyranny for 500 years, but faithful Jews in the first century still longed for the last days when God would pour out his blessings on his people. Why was it so important for the author of Hebrews to proclaim to his Jewish readers that God had sent his Son “in these last days” (Hebrews 1:2)?

2. Most Jews in the first century believed that the last days would bring a sudden end to all of their suffering and persecution. By contrast, the New Testament teaches that the last days unfold in the inauguration, continuation and consummation of Christ’s kingdom. How does this New Testament teaching explain why followers of Jesus suffer troubles and persecution, even though he has brought the last days?

APPLY (15 minutes)

1. The book of Hebrews highlights many blessings of the last days that are already ours in Christ: final atonement in Christ’s death (Hebrews 10:10), a new covenant that guarantees our eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15), and the gifts of God’s Spirit (Hebrews 2:4). How do these blessings encourage us to remain faithful to Jesus despite the troubles we face in this life?

2. The author of Hebrews repeatedly called attention to the fact that history had reached its last days in Jesus. How does this change the way you think about the “last days”? In what ways should this understanding of the last days affect the way you live your Christian life?

CHALLENGE

Recommended reading: Hebrews 1; Psalm 110:1-5 and Romans 8:14-17

This week, list some difficult experiences that may make Christians question whether Jesus has really brought the last days. Then make a list of God’s blessings that help you hold fast to your faith in Christ. Compare the two lists.

Finish with a time of prayer.

Session  6

Jesus and the Old Testament

CONNECT (10 minutes)

In our last session, we saw that the book of Hebrews boldly proclaims that Christ brings the hope of God's blessings in the last days of history. In this session, we'll explore how our author attempted to convince his original Jewish readers to remain faithful to Christ because he fulfills the teachings of the Old Testament Scriptures.

REFLECTION

Many modern Christians mistakenly believe that the Christian faith is somehow contrary to the teachings of the Old Testament, but the author of Hebrews repeatedly referred to the Old Testament to support his theological views. The book of Hebrews demonstrates that faith in Christ is in perfect harmony with the Old Testament Scriptures. The Old Testament reveals why we should remain faithful to Christ even in times of trouble.

GUIDING QUESTION

How does the fact that our Christian faith is perfectly harmonious with the Old Testament help us remain faithful to Jesus?

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

1. This lesson mentions five ways the author of Hebrews appealed to the Old Testament to support his exhortations to remain faithful to Christ:

     a. He used Old Testament facts to enhance his teachings about Christ (Hebrews 7:2; cf. Genesis 14:18).

     b. He noted theological beliefs expressed in the Old Testament that were still true (Hebrews 1:7; cf. Ps 104:4).

     c. He pointed out that basic moral obligations in the Old Testament also applied to Christ's followers (Hebrews 12:5,6; cf. Proverbs 3:11,12).

     d. He showed how Christ fulfills Old Testament predictions about the last days (Hebrews 8:8-12; cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34).

     e. He clarified that Christ fulfills Old Testament ideals for David's dynasty (Hebrews 2:11,12; cf. Psalm 22:22).

Why was it so important for the author of Hebrews to demonstrate to his Jewish audience that the Christian faith was true to the teachings of the Old Testament?

2. The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews corrects misguided beliefs that many Christians hold today. For instance, look at Hebrews 12:28-29. How does the author's application of Deuteronomy 4:24 ("the Lord your God is a consuming fire") contrast with many Christians who say that New Testament faith is only concerned with God's love?

3. There are many differences between Old and New Testament faith, but do they contradict each other? (To help with your answer, consider how the author, in Hebrews 10:17,18, appealed to Jeremiah 31:34 to prove that the Old Testament itself anticipated a day when sacrifices would end in the new covenant.)

APPLY (15 minutes)

1. How does your devotion to the Old Testament compare with the devotion of the author of Hebrews?

2. Does your relationship to Scripture indicate that you agree or disagree with the author of Hebrews that these sacred Scriptures are vital to your Christian life? Explain your answer.

3. How have you used Scripture (both the Old and New Testaments) to help other Christians remain faithful to Christ in times of trouble?

CHALLENGE

Recommended reading: Hebrews 7-9

This week, notice how many of your Christian beliefs are based on the Old Testament.

Finish with a time of prayer.

Session  7

Jesus and Our Perseverance

CONNECT (10 minutes)

In our previous sessions, we've seen two themes that are repeated in every major portion of the book of Hebrews: how Jesus brings the last days and how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. Now we turn to a third theme that is repeated throughout the book: the author's exhortations to persevere. We'll see the various ways this book motivates followers of Christ to remain faithful during difficult times.

REFLECTION

The call to persevere in the Christian faith is a crucial theme of Hebrews. For example, in Hebrews 12:12 the author wrote, "Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees." Christians often go to extremes when it comes to our need to persevere in following Christ. Some sincere believers say that we never need to put any effort into remaining faithful because salvation is all by God's grace. Other sincere Christians say that we must work to remain faithful because we can lose our salvation if we don't. The exhortations to perseverance that appear throughout the book of Hebrews help us avoid these extremes.

GUIDING QUESTION

What kinds of exhortations have helped you persevere in your service to Christ during difficult times?

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

1. Look at the exhortations from Hebrews in the following chart, and determine if they focus more on our emotional (How should we feel?), conceptual (What should we believe?) or behavioral (How should we act?) perseverance in the Christian faith. What does this range of exhortations tell you about the breadth and depth of a true believer's devotion to Christ?

ExhortationEmotional
(feelings)
Conceptual
(beliefs)
Behavioral
(actions)
3:8,15
"do not harden your hearts"
   
10:35
"do not throw away your confidence"
   
3:13
"let us encourage one another"
   
2:1
"we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard"
   
6:1
"leave the elementary teachings about Christ"
   
13:4
"let the marriage bed be undefiled"
   
13:1
"show hospitality to strangers"
   

2. Look at the exhortations in the following chart and classify them as positive (offering God's blessings) or negative (threatening God's judgment). Why are both kinds of motivations important in the Christian life?

ExhortationPositive
(blessings)
Negative
(judgment)
10:35
"Do not throw away your confidence, it will be richly rewarded."
  
2:3
"How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?"
  
13:16
"Share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."
  
10:30
"The Lord will judge his people."
  

APPLY (15 minutes)

1. Before today's session, what was your response to the warnings against apostasy in the book of Hebrews (see Hebrews 6:4-6)?

2. True believers cannot lose their salvation. Yet, there is a crucial difference between those who profess faith in Christ (the "visible church") and true believers who have saving faith in Christ (the "invisible church"). How does this distinction help us understand why the book of Hebrews warns against apostasy? How does 1 John 2:19 help us understand the true spiritual condition of those who only profess faith in Christ and later turn away from him?

3. How does knowing that true believers cannot lose their salvation motivate you to remain faithful to Christ?

CHALLENGE

Recommended reading: Heb 6:1-12; 1 John 2

This week, pay special attention to how your perseverance in the Christian faith needs to include your emotions, concepts and behaviors. Also, consider what impact the offers of God's blessings and the threats of God's judgments in the Scriptures have had on you.

Finish with a time of prayer.

Session  8

The New Covenant and Practical Perseverance

CONNECT (10 minutes)

In previous sessions, we saw that three themes appear in every major section of the book of Hebrews: Jesus brings the last days; Jesus fulfills the Old Testament; Jesus calls us to persevere in our faith. In this final session, we will see that the author of Hebrews wove these themes into the five major divisions of his book, ending with a focus on the new covenant and practical perseverance in the face of trials.

REFLECTION

Throughout biblical history, God has governed his people through covenants. The prophet Jeremiah predicted in Jeremiah 31:31 that, in the last days, God would bring a new covenant, a covenant of peace that will not fail. The author of Hebrews demonstrated how Jesus had brought the new covenant, and urged his audience to remain faithful to Christ. Even as their lives grew increasingly difficult, he reminded them, "We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved" (Hebrews 10:39).

GUIDING QUESTION

How does the promise that the new covenant in Christ will not fail give us strength to remain faithful to Jesus and help us persevere in troubled times?

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

1. The author of Hebrews argued for Christ's supremacy by pointing out that the new covenant is superior to the old. He said that the new covenant "is founded on better promises" (Hebrews 8:6). What did he mean by "better promises"? (See Jeremiah 31:31-34 to help with your answer.)

2. In the old covenant, the Levitical priests had to offer sacrifices for the people's sins again and again. But when Jesus brought the new covenant, he put an end to these repeated sacrifices. How is Jesus' sacrifice better than those of the Levitical priests?

3. The author reminded his audience that they had willingly and joyfully suffered in the past for their faith. How does being reminded of our suffering in the past help us persevere in the present?

4. The author of Hebrews ended his book by encouraging his audience to be faithful in daily life. What were some of the things he encouraged them to do? If we are saved by grace, why are these types of actions still important?

APPLY (15 minutes)

1. What does it mean to you personally that Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant?

2. The book of Hebrews exhorts us to persevere as if we are in a race. In biblical times, runners would strip off everything in order to run unimpeded. What does this tell us about how we are to live our Christian lives? What are we to "strip off"?

3. Based on the practical ways the author of Hebrews encouraged his audience to persevere, what does it look like for us to live faithfully in the midst of struggles?

CHALLENGE

Recommended reading: Hebrews 13

Take time this week to remind yourself of all that Christ has done for you, and live out your faith with gratitude and joy.

"Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God" (Hebrews 13:15).

Finish with a time of prayer.

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