ImmerseMessiah NLT - Page 379



IMMERSED IN HEBREWS
“Think back on those early days when you first learned
about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even
though it meant terrible suffering. . . . Remember those
in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also
those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own
bodies.”
The book of Hebrews was sent to Jewish believers who were facing
persecution for their faith in Jesus. Some were tempted to leave the
believing community and return to Judaism in order to escape their
mistreatment and pain.
It’s likely that the recipients of this letter lived in Italy, perhaps even
Rome. The author (whose name is not given) sends greetings to them
from “the believers from Italy,” that is, people they would likely have
known but who were now living abroad, probably displaced from Rome
by persecution. This also makes it likely that the “terrible suffering”
they had experienced earlier was instigated by Emperor Nero, who
was known for persecuting Christians—especially in and around Rome.
It was probably Nero who ordered the executions of the apostles Paul
(see “Immersed in 2 Timothy,” p. 249) and Peter (see “Immersed in
Mark,” p. 257). Since these Jewish believers may have lived near the
center of power in the Roman Empire, they would have been prime
targets for the next wave of persecution.
But in this new wave of persecution, Christians who were also Jews
seemed to have an easy way out. The Roman authorities had recently
begun to make a distinction between followers of Jesus and Jews.
Judaism was a legal and protected religion in the Roman Empire. Jews
who had come to believe in Jesus could return to that protective umbrella if they identified themselves as Jews only, walking away from
their faith in Jesus.
In response to this situation, the author of Hebrews argues that there’s
no going back. All of Israel’s history was leading up to the “great salvation” that had now finally appeared in Jesus. The author insists, “The
old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of
the good things to come.” Through Jesus, believers could participate
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