Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.
For me, this little bit of text always brings a bit of a shock, for we see that the things we almost always talk about are the “elementary teachings”, the “milk”, but not the “solid food” of maturity at all. Let’s take a closer look:
“…not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God…” This is something we need to see in a different way, for it isn’t maturity in Christ. What is this “foundation” for repentance from sins and faith in God? Think…
It is the cross. All of us take everything back to the cross, and properly so, but we normally do that as if the cross was the end, but it is not the end; the cross is the beginning of the story. Yes, it’s true, as awe-inspiring, wonderful and amazing as it is in its fullness and mercy and love, the cross is the beginning, not the end of maturity. “Cleansing rites” for us today would be in the same category as rituals, ceremonies, styles of worship and so forth. These things are elementary, “young” and “baby milk” things, not the sort of things that the mature in the faith are much concerned with. “Laying on of hands” and other spiritual gifts are wonderful, but elementary. Resurrection, eternal life, and judgment are at the beginning of the process, wonderful promises, and highly instructive at an early stage of growth, but they are not in and of themselves maturity in Christ. Can you see why I said that these are things we always talk about? Yet, they are milk, not solid food for adults; God permitting, we will move on from these things.
Before I close out this section, let’s pause and take stock. Hebrews is written to Jewish Christians in Rome who are being persecuted by the Emperor Nero, one of history’s most notorious criminals. The author is writing this to encourage them, to instruct them and to hopefully energize them so that they do not give up their faith in the stress of persecution. Doesn’t it seem reasonable to suggest that their “elementary” spiritual development might be the cause of their temptation to drift away? I hope that we too, will reflect on this.
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.
About 20 years ago, I was teaching a class in a predominately Calvinist group of people. The scope of my engagement was that I would present “controversial” passages giving the various interpretations, and then let each decide their own view. In teaching this section, I presented various views and then broke down the various arguments and ended by saying “We report, you decide!”
The following week, a guy came up to me and said, “Boy Don, you really had me going last week; I had to go home and look this up in my study Bible, and then I saw the note that said that the author obviously was talking about people who weren’t really all the way saved. That was sure a clever way to get us to go deeper into the Word!”
I thanked the man and told him that it was great to hear that he went deeper into the Word, and found the answer in a margin note… the irony, I’m afraid, was lost on him that day. Clearly, his margin note might reflect the way this is sometimes explained, but it seems to me at odds with the text under review.
Let’s get back into context. We are in a section of warning to Christians enduring terrible persecution, not to fall away from the faith. We just covered the section referring to spiritual maturity, and now the warning gets a little pointed. It is not possible for someone who falls away from their faith in Christ to return to the faith. Now, a closer look:
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, (6:4) This verse is a parallelism., thus “enlightened”, “the heavenly gift” and “shared in the Holy Spirit” are all referring to the same thing: receiving the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Let’s be very clear and simple; it doesn’t really matter what your doctrinal position is, the only way that someone can receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit without “really” being saved, is if they could fool God. It seems unlikely to me that this is possible. who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age (6:5) this also provides a challenge for some, for how does an unbeliever “taste the goodness of the word of God”? The only way would be if the “Word” is something on a printed page, rather than a Person (cf. John 1:14). Tasting the powers of the coming age…? Isn’t that the power to overcome death? (Hint: Yes) So far, the author is referring to a person who has received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and received the gift of eternal life, and then… and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace (6:6). Here you can see that they have fallen away and would need to be brought back to repentance. Repentance is something that we do after we first believe. This person, who has received the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the gift of eternal life, would need to be brought back to repentance, so it is impossible since they would be crucifying the Lord over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace. It sure sounds to me like this person had been a “real” Christian, but they gave it all up and now can’t come back. Verses 7 and 8 use another metaphor (land) to underscore that conclusion, or at least that’s how I read it.
If you, dear reader, prefer the doctrine of eternal security, that’s OK by me, but I wouldn’t suggest this text as being one that supports it. Yes, I know there are other passages; maybe they support it better than this one.
Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
This paragraph begins the transition into the next area of discussion in the letter, and it does so on a more optimistic note, showing the love and mercy of God. Even though our author has just delivered a very serious warning, he believes that the people who read it will heed the warning and remain faithful. Notice he says “in your case” as opposed to in every case, meaning that some others might not be so wise. Notice also that our attention is now turned to God’s mercy and forgiveness. This is a really important thing for us to bear in mind, for God is not looking for a technicality to have as an excuse to cut anybody off from relationship. He knows that we will make mistakes He knows that we will slip up, and the blood of Christ is sufficient for those cases. If we can lose our salvation, we would have to really work at it before God gave up on us; we would need to utterly reject Him and walk away, and to me, this seems like a very rare thing, as opposed to those who might have a season out in the wilderness, or benign neglect of our relationship with Him.
The whole point of the warning bears this out; God loves us, even when we aren’t doing a very good job in following Him. Yet, it is much better if we hang in there and see things through.
When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that our author has moved into a section that reassures us of God’s promises right after the warning contained in the first part of this chapter. The message is clear: God keep His promises! Since Abraham is the point at which Jewish history was generally thought to have begun, it would only be natural to start with God’s promises to Abraham, which is what the author does. Notice that he makes the point that God swore an oath in making His promises; a covenant required an oath, and God swore His by Himself, since there is nobody greater than He. Also notice that the author adds that after Abraham waited patiently, God kept His promises.
People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
In these final verses of chapter six, an amazing transformation begins to take shape, for beginning with God’s promise to Abraham, a promise that Jewish Christians would be very well aware of as a foundational event, our author begins the process of morphing it into a New Covenant reality. Notice that he wants us to understand that God swore the oath so that there could be no argument about His intentions and purpose in entering covenant. He points out two unchangeable things that form the basis for our own hopes. First, God cannot break His promise, for He is holy and faithful. Second, God cannot break His oath, for He swore it on Himself. To the ancient Middle Eastern mindset, the significance of the oath would be that if He broke His oath, He shall die, and this applies to all oath swearing at the entry point of all covenants, thus the use of blood sacrifices in oath swearing. There will be more on this point as we continue…
Next, the author applies this principle to our situation in Christ with the words “we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us”. This refers to all of us who have left behind the old ways and taken up the cross of Jesus, and here the point is made that because of the surety of our hope in Jesus Christ, we will be greatly encouraged, both in our times of trial and in all other situations. You see, this is a transition to a larger principle that is only just beginning to take shape in this amazing letter.
The larger principle is that Jesus, who is superior to the angels, and superior to Moses, our superior high priest, has brought a superior sacrifice to establish a superior covenant with superior promises. This great hope is not only encouraging, but it is the very anchor of our souls, because It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
When the reference is made to the “inner sanctuary, behind the curtain” the author is actually referring to the Holy of holies in the Temple, where nobody could go. Once a year, the High Priest could enter there, but only if he followed the prescribed procedure. Any other time, any other person would be immediately struck dead. The reason for this is that the Holy of holies was considered to be the dwelling place of God on the earth, and since God is holy and righteous, and no man is holy or righteous, no man could enter His presence. Then the author makes an amazing claim: Jesus has entered that space. No matter how carefully you read the four Gospels, you will not find this event; when did Jesus enter the Holy of holies? To understand fully this statement, we must go back to the cross. Remember that at the moment Jesus died, there was an earthquake, and the veil (curtain) in the Temple was torn in two? This veil (curtain) was what separated the Holy of holies from everything else, it was the thing that kept man from coming into the presence of Holy God, and when Jesus’ work was done, it was ripped apart, because Jesus had made it possible for us to enter God’s very presence. No, Jesus did not enter that exact geographical location in body, but He entered it in a vastly more significant way, for He did in Spirit and in Truth; the Old Covenant was over forever.
Actually, as we will soon see, the Temple itself was only a picture of the reality to come, for Jesus entered God’s actual presence when He returned to the throne in heaven where He sits at God’s right hand to this day…
In doing so, He became our high priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek. Yes, there he is again! Chapter seven is all about Melchizedek and Jesus.