Hebrews is a tricky book. It seems to start in the middle of a discussion, without introduction, recipient, author or greeting. The first chapter demonstrates that Jesus is superior to angels, and the second shows that Jesus was fully human. But why is either of those things important? Why is the letter talking about angels at all? Just what’s going on here?
Hebrews was written to a group of Judaic Christians who were having second thoughts. They were beginning to look back to their former times and think maybe they should go back. The author of Hebrews wrote this letter to make his readers stand fast. The author was a master of classical rhetoric — the art of persuading an audience through speech. He uses the classic rhetorical techniques of reason and emotion to convince his readers to not turn back. He uses rational arguments to explain why they shouldn’t give up, and he uses emotional techniques so they don’t want to.
Chapter 2 begins with a rhetorical device that is repeated throughout Hebrews: a negative observation (often a warning) followed by a positive (a recommendation or encouragement). Don’t do that, instead, be inspired by this. In short, it’s a carrot and stick approach!
We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
Don’t drift away, since a punishment will surely follow. Instead, remember that this message came from the Lord and was confirmed by God himself.
In the second half of chapter 2, the author shows that Jesus will become the greatest because he has suffered death for everyone, freeing us all. This is a rational argument — why return to the old things when the new message has this great feature.
Both of these techniques keep occurring throughout Hebrews.
Just a quick thought on this sad passage. Why didn’t someone refuse? Someone should have said, “Don’t even think about it!” Being surrounded by people who always agree with you is a seriously dangerous position.