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Lesson Plan on Hebrews 1-6


"The more you study the epistle of Paul to the Hebrews, the more you come away with three certainties. One is that it's not an epistle. Two, that it was not written by Paul, and three, that it was not written to the Hebrews." (1) How is that for an introduction? Even the manual points out how Paul was probably not the primary author. Also, many of the brethren through the years, correctly, do not refer to it as Paul's epistle in their General Conference address (see here for one example from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland). The authorship of Paul has long been debated, even anciently, and evidence of this is found in the order this 'epistle' falls in the New Testament. All of Paul's epistles are in order from longest to shortest, but then Hebrews (being 13 chapters long) is thrown in after the very short epistle to Philemon. 

Why is this important? It might not be the most important, but restructuring the original authorship, context, and intent of this 'letter' can teach us a lot.

For example, there is some consensus that this letter was written, probably, in the early 60's AD. It should be remembered that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. Also, it was in 64 AD that Christians in Rome faced severe persecution from Nero who had them arrested, tortured, and executed. Paul also dies around this time and is in Rome himself. N.T. Wright, a New Testament historian, has a fascinating take on the context of the Epistle to the Hebrews given all the clues. In essence, it appears to have been a group project with influences from Paul, Apollos, Barnabas, Luke, and perhaps others. Their goal was to help the flailing flock in Rome around 60-62 AD who was, as just noted, meeting increasing and extreme persecution. The problem these Christian leaders faced was that many of the flock began to revert back to the old ways and observances of the Torah. Why did Christians do this? Frankly, because Judaism had "official Roman recognition" and "represented a much safer social and legal option than belonging to an unpopular sect." It should be remembered that Christians, at this time, did not see themselves as a new religion, but simply as the fulfilled promise of Judaism. Therefore, to revert back to the Torah in the mind of an ancient Christian in Rome could have been seen as keeping themselves and their family safe while also, in their mind, staying within the 'ballpark' of their newfound Christian belief. (see The New Testament In Its World, p. 714)

With this context in mind, our minds should begin to see why so much discussion about ancient symbols and rituals are discussed in Hebrews. More importantly, we begin to see why the largest theme we find in the first handful of chapters is, succinctly, Jesus Christ is superior to all things; Christ is the embodied fulfillment of all that was old and is now making all things new. To be even plainer and, perhaps, a little morbid, Jesus Christ was the reason to withstand all the persecution. It might have been of great comfort, given the context, to have been taught that Jesus Christ is the "high priest of good things to come" (see Hebrews 9:11).

The Christology of the Epistle to the Hebrews is unrivaled in the New Testament. Hugh Nibley, the towering Latter-day Saint scholar, called it "the greatest Christian tract on the Atonement [of Christ]" (see Approaching Zian, p. 555). With that said, this epistle is also known for being very deep, elegant, sophisticated, mysterious, and enigmatic. The writer/writers don't really pull any punches when it comes to discussing "the deep things of God" (see 1 Corinthians 2:10).

With that stage set, let's start a little ahead in Hebrews chapter 5 where the author goes on a side tangent but with the intent to make one thing absolutely clear: Jesus Christ, when we really begin to learn about Him, is meat, not milk.

MILK vs MEAT: MEAT is for those who are Teleios


"11 Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.

12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.

14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."


"11 We have much to say about this that is difficult to explain, since you have become hard of hearing.

12 For although you should already have become teachers by this time, you need someone to again teach you the fundamental principles that God has spoken. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 

13 For anyone who drinks only milk, being still an infant, is unacquainted with the teachings of righteousness. 

14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of their maturity have their faculties trained to distinguish between good and evil." (BYU New Testament Rendition)


What is the author trying to teach here? What can we learn from the metaphor of milk and meat? Most of us have dealt with babies, how can we liken their diet as they grow to our own spiritual diet?

Elder Boyd K. Packer once taught:

"Undernourished children must be carefully fed; so it is with the spiritually underfed. Some are so weakened by mischief and sin that to begin with they reject the rich food we offer. They must be fed carefully and gently. Some are so near spiritual death that they must be spoonfed on the broth of fellowship, or nourished carefully on activities and programs. As the scriptures say, they must have milk before meat. But we must take care lest the only nourishment they receive thereafter is that broth." (2)

The author of Hebrews and Elder Packer's last line appears to be in agreement; sometimes the babes in Christ need some meat if they are ever going to grow. 

President Russel M. Nelson has recently taught:

"Your mountains will vary, and yet the answer to each of your challenges is to increase your faith. That takes work. Lazy learners and lax disciples will always struggle to muster even a particle of faith... Become an engaged learner. Immerse yourself in the scriptures to understand better Christ’s mission and ministry... The more you learn about the Savior, the easier it will be to trust in His mercy, His infinite love, and His strengthening, healing, and redeeming power." (3)

If verse 12 is read carefully you see that the audience here has already been taught the milk of the gospel. This is not to say that a reminder of the broth of the gospel isn't needed often, but this does highlight that the audience were long-standing members of the ancient Church. They would be Christians who are full-fledged teachers of the gospel by now but have a constant need to be nourished with milk instead of the meat of the gospel. Elder Neal A. Maxwell once lamented over this issue among members of the Church in our day when he said, "It never ceases to amaze me how gullible the Latter-day Saints can be. Our lack of doctrinal sophistication makes us easy prey for fads." (4)

In addition, the Greek word translated as "of full age" in verse 14 is teleios. That is the same exact word translated as "perfect" in Matthew 5:48 ("Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect"). I have commented in previous lessons on what this word more fully means. It does mean 'complete' and 'fully developed', but that meaning implies how it was used in the ancient world. In short, it was a term used to describe one who was fully initiated into the ordinances. This means that meat is for temple-attending people. That is where meat is largely found and it is calculated to help us become better trained to distinguish between good and evil (see the end of verse 14). This, obviously, implies that a milky spiritual diet means we are susceptible to deception. 

A variation of teleios occurs in the very next verse (Hebrews 6:1) where the author admonishes us and His audience to "go on unto perfection" and then lists off the foundational truths he wants to build on from like faith, repentance, baptism, laying on of hands, resurrection, and eternal judgment (see Hebrews 6:1-2). This might, again, tell us that the principles of perfection or teleios are those things taught in the temple: sacrifice, obedience, consecration, chastity, and others.

What is the meat of the gospel? It is Jesus Christ as the great high priest after the order of Melchizedek (see Hebrews 5:5-6). This shouldn't be mistaken as "all you need is Jesus", but more so that Christ and His gospel are inexhaustible in what we can learn and apply. To learn of Christ requires much physical, mental, and spiritual work; which might be why we are called upon to worship Him with all our heart, might, mind, and strength. It is why President Nelson has taught that "To those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is clear that the Father and the Son are giving away the secrets of the universe!" (5)

The stage is now set for what we read this past week and what we will read this coming week. Hebrews contains profound and deep truths about the Savior that are glorious. These truths about Christ were given to ancient Saints in the most trying circumstances so that they may find the strength to endure well. I also ask for your patience in recognizing my frailties as I try and teach the plainness and meatiness of these chapters.


The text of Hebrews begins with what appears to be an ancient Christian hymn in the first 4 verses. You will find that most modern translations put these verses in poetic format because of this. The author chooses to start with this high Christology hymn to set the stage for his discussion on Christ and angels. 

A fascinating side note on Hebrews 1:3 can be found here. It might be a hint at what 1 Nephi 13:40 discusses concerning plain and precious truths being removed and tampered with in the Bible.

The author proceeds to quote lengthy passages from the Old Testament, mainly Genesis and Psalms, seven times from chapter 1 until Hebrews 2:9. The large theme being discussed is that Jesus is superior to angels. This is because the Torah was long interpreted as being a gift given to Israel from angels on Mount Sinai (see Deuteronomy 33:2, Acts 7:38, & Galatians 3:19). Many ancient Christians probably thought, "if the law was given by angels then it can't be that bad, right?" The theological argument of chapters 1 & 2 is that Christ is above the angels and descended below the angels as part of the seed of Abraham. He became our "High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people." This theme of Jesus Christ being our High Priest will appear again and again in the coming chapters and it is meant to draw on the symbols of the ancient High Priest over the temple in Jerusalem. This High Priest, anciently, was probably most well known for the role they played once a year when they were the only ones allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice. This sacrifice would purge Israel and surrounding creation of the sins that brought decay and alienation from God.

Jesus Christ was the new High Priest (not Aaronic, but after the order of Melchezidek) and came to renew the initial invitation the Lord gave Israel before they rejected it.


In Hebrews chapter 3 we get the author retelling the events of what originally happened at Sinai when Israel had undergone their exodus from Egypt. It is worth noting that a large chunk of the chapter is a large quotation from the Septuagint, it quotes the Greek version of Psalms 98:8-11. These verses speak of Israel's rejection of the Lord's invitation to "enter into [His] rest" (see Hebrews 3:11). It is another evidence that Christ is greater than the law given at the base of Sinai, even greater than the tabernacle revealed. 

For the sake of clarity, other scriptures describe more clearly what happened at the base of Sinai during the exodus. As we read these scriptures, pay attention to what the Lord took away from Israel and how the Lord defines certain terms:

READ D&C 84:19-25

"19 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.

21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;

22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.

23 Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;

24 But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.

25 Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also;

26 And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel;"


What did the Lord take away from Israel? Why did he do so? How is 'rest' defined?

With those questions answered, let's read some from Hebrews chapter 4. Again, remember how the Lord defines 'rest' and how that rest comes through the power of the Melchizedek priesthood.


"1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.

2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.

3 For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

4 For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.

5 And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.

6 Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:

7 Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

8 For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.

9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.

10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief."


"1 Therefore let us be concerned, while the promise of entering into his rest still stands, that none of you should be found to have failed to reach it. 

2 For we have also had the gospel preached to us even as they did, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united with those who listened in faith. 

3 For we who have believed enter into that rest, as he has said: “So I swore an oath in my anger, ‘They will certainly not enter into my rest’” [LXX Ps. 94:11], although God’s works have been finished since the founding of the world. 

4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day as follows: “And God rested on the seventh day from all of his works.” [LXX Gen. 2:2]

5 And as cited earlier, “They will certainly not enter into my rest.” [LXX Ps. 94:11]

6 Now since it remains for some to enter into that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not enter in because of disobedience, 

7 God again appoints a certain day, “Today,” speaking much later through David, as has been previously cited, “Today, if only you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts.” [LXX Ps. 94:7]

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later of another day. 

9 Consequently a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God. 

10 For anyone who enters into God’s rest, he also rests from his works just as God rested from his own works. 

11 Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one will fall into that same pattern of disobedience." (BYU New Testament Rendition)

The author states plainly that the promise of entering into this rest still stands because of Jesus Christ. It has been extended through Jesus Christ to these ancient Christians and to us today. One scholar, Dr. Mattew Grey, has aptly summarized the point:

"Jesus Christ will bring you into eternal rest that earlier generations only dreamed of. So that's the way this author concludes this [portion of his argument]. Jesus is superior to Moses and can bring us into the rest of the Lord, whereas that first generation [in Jerusalem] could not experience that. So, therefore, don't backslide, don't give up on Jesus." (6)

This is all especially interesting considering the entire context of the book. In other words, the ancient Christians may have wanted to revert to Judaism for safety, but Judaism doesn't get you into the fullness of the Lord's glory. It doesn't bring you into the Holy of Holies, in short. 


How can we liken that to ourselves? Namely, what things might tempt us to backtrack? How do we maintain focus on the Savior whose very flesh is symbolized by the veil in the temple (see Hebrews 10:19-20)?

Elder Kevin W. Pearson has said:

"Enduring to the end is a hallmark of true discipleship and is essential to eternal life. But when trials and challenges come our way, we are often told to simply “hang in there.” Let me be clear: to “hang in there” is not a principle of the gospel. Enduring to the end means constantly coming unto Christ and being perfected in Him. If enduring to the end is essential to eternal life, why do we struggle to be faithful? We struggle when we are caught between competing priorities. Casual obedience and lukewarm commitment weaken faith. Enduring to the end requires total commitment to the Savior and to our covenants." (7)

Elder Neal A. Maxwell has taught on what results in a "lack of rest":

"One major cause of real fatigue, little appreciated by those so afflicted, is trying to serve two masters. This is devastating double duty. If so divided, one inevitably ends up being ineffective, even disloyal, in respect to one master or another-a most fatiguing circumstance." (If Thou Endure It Well [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 115.)

Throughout chapters 3 & 4 the term "today" is used several times when discussing these points. Defining what that term means can help us get a better understanding of what is meant, especially when Hebrews 3:15 invites us to heed the Lord's invitation "today" unlike when Israelites rejected it at the base of Sinai (this rejection that brought the lower law of angels is what is referred to as "the provocation"). The term 'today' comes to us from the Greek word Sēmeron (transliterated) and literally means "this very day." (8) When one looks at how that word is used throughout the New Testament that is also how it is used. Of further interest is how the Lord defines "today" in D&C 64:23-25. The obvious context is to redeem men (to bring them into the Lord's rest) today, literally. Today is the time we have to prepare for the presence of Jesus Christ before he comes in burning to those who are not prepared (again, see the verses in D&C). Without mincing words, Elder Bruce R. McConkie puts the meaty doctrine here quite plainly: "... it is the design and intent and purpose of the Lord to redeem men spiritually while they yet remain in the flesh." (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 120)


With all that said and with the invitation to Come unto Christ, we see it has direct ties to the veil, glory, rest, and priesthood. Chapter 4 ends with a bang:


"14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."


"14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, even Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to our confessed allegiance to him. 

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but although he was tried and tempted in every way just like us, he was without sin. 

16 So let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (BYU New Testament Rendition)


From what we have discussed and what the scriptures have taught, what right do we have to "come boldly unto the throne of grace"? How do we do that? What does that look like? Why can we approach in confidence?

The author is now showing these ancient Christians that Christ is superior to the Levitical Priesthood. This priesthood didn't have the power to bring them into His presence. The ancient Israelites rejected that blessing and power, remember?

The throne of grace would have called to mind to these ancient Saints the "mercy seat" which was the literal throne of grace inside the ancient Tabernacle and temple. It was located in the Holy of Holies which symbolized the Lord's presence. Before Jesus's death and resurrection, as stated earlier, only one person was allowed to enter this holy space. He was only allowed to enter once a year during the "Day of Atonement" (Yom Kippur). This whole festival and ritual will be discussed in even greater detail in next week's readings, so it is very important to keep in mind.

When Jesus died, the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was rent in half. Christ is now sitting on the mercy seat/throne of grace where all are now invited, not just the one man on behalf of all Israel. Why is it important to understand that He is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" and "tempted like as we are"? It is because this allows Him to be our advocate with the Father ('advocate' comes from the same Greek word as 'comforter' in the KJV). He is our judge and, therefore, we can boldly approach Him. This was and is symbolized ritually in temples.

Latter Day Saint scholar, Gaye Strathearn, comments on the encapsulating message of these verses:

"The invitation to come boldly is, in part, a response to Israel’s fear to come into the presence of God at Mount Sinai. Hebrews pleads with the Christians in his day and ours, to learn from the Israelite experience. The Greek word that is translated as “boldness” in the King James Bible is parrēsia. It can be translated as boldness or confidence, but it also has the nuance of courage. In other words, no matter where we are in our personal spiritual journeys, the invitation to come is a call to have courage—courage to strive for something more, courage to not to settle for spiritual mediocrity, courage to pay the price to be able to enter the presence of God. After all, our Heavenly Father sent us here to earth to become [like Him]! For us to achieve that goal, it is important that we don't get stuck at the base of our Mount Sinai. The invitation to come boldly is also a recognition that we have an empathetic high priest who not only acts as our advocate with the Father, but who has broken down the barriers which, in the earthly tabernacle, kept us out of His presence." (9)

Elder Dale G. Renlund has recently taught:

"In mortality, we can “come boldly” to the Savior and receive compassion, healing, and help. Even while we suffer inexplicably, God can bless us in simple, ordinary, and significant ways. As we learn to recognize these blessings, our trust in God will increase. In the eternities, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will resolve all unfairness. We understandably want to know how and when. How are They going to do that? When are They going to do it? To my knowledge, They have not revealed how or when. What I do know is that They will." (10)

By way of conclusion, I think it is fitting for us to end how Hebrews chapter 6 ends. It ends with hope in Christ being an anchor that leads us behind the veil into the "inner sanctuary" (ancient Holy of Holies). It ends with the promise that God can make unto us unchangeable oaths and guarantees because of our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, after the order of Melchizedek. Remember, this was taught to ancient Christians before Emporer Nero tortured and killed many who believed in Christ. It is my hope that what we have discussed today will be widely helpful as we read some even meatier chapters this coming week:

READ HEBREWS 6:13-20 (BYU New Testament Rendition)

"13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he did not have anyone greater to swear by, he swore by himself, 

14 saying, “I will surely bless you and multiply you.”

15 And thus because Abraham waited patiently, he received the promise. 

16 For people swear by something greater, and an oath provides a confirmation that brings an end to their entire dispute. 

17 In regard to this, because God desired to show more clearly to the heirs of the promises the unchangeable nature of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 

18 so that by these two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge, might have strong encouragement to seize the hope that is placed before us. 

19 This hope we have as an anchor for our souls, that is firm and reliable, that enters into the inner sanctuary behind the veil.

20 There Jesus, who ran before us, went in on our behalf, because he had become “a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”"


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