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A. The Danger of Immaturity (The Third Warning) 5:11-6:12
"Dull of hearing" (Hebrews 5:11) and "sluggish" (Hebrews 6:12, Gr. nothroi in both cases) form an inclusio that frames this pericope and sets it off as a distinct textual segment. This Greek word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The first two warnings in Hebrews were against drifting (Hebrews 2:1-4) and disbelief (Hebrews 3:7-19). All the warning passages in Hebrews involve actions in relation to the Word of God.
"It is commonly assumed on the basis of Hebrews 5:11 to Hebrews 6:3 that the community addressed had failed to mature in faith and understanding, and consequently required rudimentary instruction rather than the advanced exposition of Christ’s priesthood and sacrifice presented in Hebrews 7:1 to Hebrews 10:18. The problem with this reconstruction of the situation is that it is not supported by the detail of the text. The biblical interpretation and the presentation of christology in Hebrews 1:1 to Hebrews 5:10 presuppose advanced Christian instruction and a level of understanding that corresponds to the adult consumption of solid food and not to a diet of milk. In addition, the writer shows no inclination to review with his hearers the foundational elements of the Christian faith [Hebrews 6:1]. He clearly regarded the hearers as mature. He reminds them that they have ingested over a considerable period of time the instruction that qualified them to be the teachers of others (Hebrews 5:12). Consequently, the portrayal of them as infants who have to be nurtured with milk is not an actual description of some or all of the members of the community. It is irony, calculated to shame them and to recall them to the stance of conviction and boldness consonant with their experience (Hebrews 6:4-5; Hebrews 6:10) and hope (Hebrews 6:9-12). The community has deviated from its earlier course (cf. Hebrews 10:32-34) by becoming sluggish in understanding (Hebrews 5:12). Their regression to infancy must represent a quite recent development. It was apparently an attempt to sidestep their responsibility in a world that persecuted them and held them in contempt, but it threatened their integrity. The purpose of Hebrews 5:11 to Hebrews 6:12 is to preserve the community from such aberration by reminding them of what they have experienced and what they possess through the gospel . . ." [Note: Lane, p. 135. For defense of the view that Jesus is the object of faith in this passage, and not just our model and enabler of faith, see Victor (Sung-Yul) Rhee, "Christology and the Concept of Faith in Hebrews 5:11-6:20," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:1 (March 2000):83-96.]
"If you keep in mind that the emphasis in this section is on making spiritual progress, you will steer safely through misinterpretations that could create problems." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:294.]
Since they needed stretching mentally they should, with the writer, "press on to maturity." That is, they should not be content with their present condition. In this context spiritual maturity involves receiving and responding appropriately to revealed truth (Hebrews 5:14), zeal for the realization of hope (Hebrews 6:11), and unwavering faith and steadfast endurance (Hebrews 6:12). [Note: Lane, p. 140.]
"It is a moral duty to grow up, and the duty involves an effort." [Note: Moffatt, p. 72. Cf. 2 Peter 3:18.]
The verb translated "let us press on" (pherometha) is in the passive voice. We could render it, "Let us be carried on" (i.e., by God’s Spirit). Spiritual maturity does not come merely by striving in self-effort but by cooperating with God as we do His will while depending on His help. It comes as we follow the Holy Spirit who leads and empowers us (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:16).
". . . they are saved. They are genuine believers. Thus their need is not knowledge; rather, they need to use the knowledge they possess." [Note: Pentecost, p. 103.]
The writer proposed that his readers leave elementary teaching concerning the Messiah in the past. They did not need to learn that again, presumably by catechetical instruction. [Note: Bruce, p. 112.] They did not need further instruction about abandoning confidence in works for salvation (either as part of the Levitical rituals or just as legalism) and turning to God in faith. This too was foundational truth they did not need to learn again.
2. The needed remedy 6:1-3
The writer proceeded to explain what the community of Christians that he addressed should do to change its dangerous condition.
They did not need further instruction in four other subjects either. "Washings" evidently refers to the doctrine of spiritual cleansing. The Greek word translated "washings" is baptismos that refers to Jewish ceremonial washings whenever it occurs in the New Testament (Mark 7:4; Mark 7:8; Hebrews 9:10). A different Greek word (baptisma) describes Christian baptism. This means the writer here referred not to baptism but to spiritual cleansing.
The "laying on of hands" in Judaism was part of the sacrificial ritual (Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 3:2; Leviticus 4:4; Leviticus 8:14; Leviticus 16:21; et al.) and commissioning for public office (Numbers 27:18; Numbers 27:23; Deuteronomy 34:9; cf. Acts 6:6; Acts 13:3). In the early church the imparting of the Holy Spirit sometimes accompanied this practice (Acts 8:17-18; Acts 19:6; cf. Hebrews 6:4; Hebrews 2:4; Hebrews 10:29).
The Old Testament taught the resurrection of the dead (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2) and eternal judgment (Genesis 18:25; Isaiah 33:22).
"We are responsible people, and one day we shall rise from the dead and give account of ourselves to God. This must have been of importance to new converts in a time when many people thought of death as the end of everything." [Note: Morris, p. 54.]
The writer presented the six foundational teachings in Hebrews 6:1-2 in three pairs: (1) repentance from dead works, and faith toward God (Hebrews 6:1), (2) instruction about washings, and laying on of hands (Hebrews 6:2 a), and (3) instruction about the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:2 b). The structure of this sentence in Greek suggests that the last two pairs explain the first pair. Laying the foundation of repentance and faith consists of instruction regarding washings, sortilege (laying on hands), resurrection, and judgment. The first pair points God-ward, the second man-ward, and the third forward into the future.
Each of these teachings was foundational in Judaism as well as in Christianity. Most of the original readers would have come to believe these truths even before they became Christians. They are very basic.
We will press on to maturity "if God permits." The writer again (Hebrews 6:1) acknowledged dependence on God for spiritual growth. We can continue to grow only as He enables us to do so.
"It seems that the apostle here addresses true Christians, as non-Christians cannot grow in their ability to experientially apply the word of righteousness to daily life and have their spiritual senses trained in spiritual discernment." [Note: Dillow, p. 434. His whole nineteenth chapter, pp. 433-55, deals with Hebrews 6.]
What does a stagnant, sour believer need? He or she needs to mature. How does growth toward maturity take place? It happens when, by God’s grace, the believer responds positively to further revelation beyond the basics. We see examples of the danger the writer warned his readers about all around us. Many Christians attend churches where they only hear the basics repeatedly. Their ears become dull, they stop growing, and many of them turn away from the faith. Some of these people follow cultic leaders who claim to offer deeper spiritual truth. Those who put themselves under the challenge of more advanced sound teaching and respond properly to it grow more mature.
The writer could describe Christians fairly as those who were once "enlightened" (cf. Hebrews 10:32; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6). The "heavenly gift" of which they have "tasted" (cf. Hebrews 2:9) at conversion seems to refer to salvation (cf. John 4:10; Romans 6:23; James 1:17-18). Any attempt to interpret tasting as only partial appropriation (i.e., the idea that they tasted it but did not swallow it) is not credible. [Note: E.g., John MacArthur, Hebrews, p. 143.]
"This is not to explain Scripture, [but] to explain it away in favour of some preconceived doctrine." [Note: F. W. Farrar, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, p. 82.]
Elsewhere the same Greek word refers to complete appropriation (e.g., Jesus Christ tasted death for everyone, Hebrews 2:9; cf. 1 Peter 2:1-3). This is an Old Testament usage as well (cf. Psalms 34:8). [Note: Guthrie, p. 141.] Christians become "partakers" (cf. Hebrews 1:9, "companions"; and Hebrews 3:1; Hebrews 3:14, "partakers") of the Holy Spirit through Spirit baptism.
3. The dreadful alternative 6:4-8
The writer pointed out the consequences of not pressing on to maturity to motivate his readers to pursue spiritual growth diligently (cf. 2 Peter 1:5; 2 Peter 3:8).
Christians have interpreted this passage in many different ways. Some believe that those who fall away (Hebrews 6:6) are believers who lose their salvation. [Note: E.g., Westcott, pp. 148-53; Moffatt, pp. 76-82; I. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God; and other Arminian writers.] Others hold that those who fall away are people who have professed to be believers but really are not. [Note: E.g. Bruce, pp. 118-25; Philip E. Hughes, pp. 206-24; Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, pp. 298-320; E. Schuyler English, Studies in the Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 160-68; Homer A. Kent Jr., The Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 107-15; R. Kent Hughes, 1:156-57; and The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1315.] Still others take the whole situation as hypothetical. They believe that if a Christian could lose his salvation, which he cannot, it would be impossible for him to be saved again. [Note: E.g., Guthrie, pp. 140-46; Thomas Hewett, The Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 106-11; Thomas, pp. 72-75; Kenneth S. Wuest, "Hebrews Six in the Greek New Testament," Bibliotheca Sacra 119:473 (January 1962):45-53; Wiersbe, 2:297; and The Ryrie Study Bible: New Testament. King James Version, p. 404.] Another view is that only Hebrew Christians living before the destruction of the temple could commit this sin, whatever it is. The view that I believe harmonizes best with the writer’s emphasis is that those who fall away are believers who turn away from God’s truth and embrace error (i.e., apostates). The majority of scholars view these people as genuine believers. [Note: Marshall, p. 142.]
"The transition from the first person (Hebrews 6:1-3) to the third person suggests that the author does not wish explicitly to identify the people described with the readers of the epistle. This may be partly out of tact; it is certainly (cf. Hebrews 6:9) in part because he believes that his readers can still avoid apostasy." [Note: Ellingworth, p. 318.]
Every true Christian has tasted the Word of God and found it to be good to some extent. The original readers had also tasted the powers (lit. miracles) of the coming messianic age. They had observed the apostles perform miracles (cf. Hebrews 2:4). The five events listed in Hebrews 6:4-5 view salvation as involving different aspects; they do not present a succession of salvific events. [Note: Philip E. Hughes, "Hebrews 6:4-6 and the Peril of Apostasy," Westminster Theological Journal 35 (1973):143.]
"Together, the clauses describe vividly the reality of the experience of personal salvation enjoyed by the Christians addressed." [Note: Lane, p. 141.]
"The warnings are clearly not addressed to nominal Christians, but to those who have shared, as fully as it is possible to share in the present time, in the blessings which accompany and follow entry into the Christian life (Hebrews 6:4 f.)." [Note: Ellingworth, p. 75.]
Earlier in this letter the writer warned his Christian readers about drifting away from the truth through negligence (Hebrews 2:1-4). He also warned them about failing to continue trusting God and walking by faith (Hebrews 3:7-19). Now he referred to the same apostasy as "falling away."
"The aorist tense indicates a decisive moment of commitment to apostasy. In the LXX, the term parapiptein has reference to the expression of a total attitude reflecting deliberate and calculated renunciation of God (Ezekiel 20:27; Ezekiel 22:4; Wisdom of Solomon 6:9; Wisdom of Solomon 12:2; cf. Michaelis, TDNT 6:171 . . .). [Note: Cf. Philip E. Hughes, "Hebrews 6 . . .," pp. 146-50.] In Hebrews it is equivalent to the expression apostenai apo theou zontos, ’to fall away from the living God,’ in Hebrews 3:12. Apostasy entailed a decisive rejection of God’s gifts, similar to the rejection of the divine promise by the Exodus generation at Kadesh (Hebrews 3:7 to Hebrews 4:2 . . .). . . . What is visualized by the expressions in Hebrews 6:6 is every form of departure from faith in the crucified Son of God. This could entail a return to Jewish convictions and practices as well as the public denial of faith in Christ under pressure from a magistrate or a hostile crowd, simply for personal advantage (cf. Mark 8:34-38 . . ." [Note: Lane, p. 142. Cf. J. C. McCullough, "The Impossibility of a Second Repentance in Hebrews," Biblical Theology 20 (1974):2-3.]
Falling away from the truth is no hypothetical possibility but a tragic reality in too many cases among believers (cf. Numbers 14:27-32; Genesis 25:29-34; Hebrews 3:7-19; Hebrews 10:23-25; Hebrews 10:35-39). [Note: Lane, p. 141.] Christians departed from the faith in the first century (e.g., 2 Timothy 2:17-18) and they do so today (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1).
"The author repeatedly urges his readers to maintain their Christian profession and confidence (cf. Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 3:12-15; Hebrews 6:11-12; Hebrews 10:23-25). The man who falls away is evidently the one who casts that confidence, and its attendant reward, aside (Hebrews 10:25)." [Note: Hodges, The Gospel . . ., pp. 70-71.]
To what is it impossible for an apostate to be renewed? The writer said it is repentance, not forgiveness or salvation. Immediately the question arises whether this explanation is realistic since some believers who have departed from the truth have repented and returned to the fold of the faithful. I believe the writer meant that in the case of apostates, the really hard cases who are persistently hostile to Christ, it is impossible to restore such people to repentance (cf. Hebrews 6:1; Hebrews 6:3; Hebrews 6:7-8). The word "apostate" refers to extreme cases of departure from the truth. We usually refer to less serious departure as backsliding. This inability to repent is the result of sin’s hardening effect about which the writer had sounded a warning earlier (Hebrews 3:13). It is also the result of divine judgment (cf. Pharaoh, Exodus 9:12; Exodus 10:20; Exodus 10:27; Exodus 11:10; Exodus 14:4; Exodus 14:8; Exodus 14:17).
Some people who, earlier in their lives have given evidence of being true Christians, later renounced their belief in Christianity, and even in the deity of Christ. Does this mean they were never saved in the first place? Possibly. But it may mean that they were believers and have been misled by false teaching. If such a person persists in his or her departure from the truth, this verse warns that he or she may not be able to return to the truth.
This writer also wrote about three other impossible things. It is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18), for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4), and for someone to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6).
"God has pledged Himself to pardon all who truly repent, but Scripture and experience alike suggest that it is possible for human beings to arrive at a state of heart and life where they can no longer repent." [Note: Bruce, p. 124.]
"That certain persons could not repent of their sins was, e.g., an idea admitted in rabbinic Judaism." [Note: Moffatt, p. 77.]
Even God cannot renew these apostates to repentance because He has chosen not to do so.
". . . the author does recognize the possibility that one may have regressed so far that it is impossible to again make progress toward maturity. He therefore states in Hebrews 6:4-6 that it may be impossible to renew certain believers so that they can progress toward maturity." [Note: Pentecost, pp. 105-6.]
Would it not glorify God more for apostates to repent? Evidently by making it impossible for them to repent God will bring greater glory to Himself than if they did repent. Consider the glory that came to God because the Pharaoh of the Exodus did not repent. One might ask the same question in regard to everyone being saved? Would it not glorify God more for everyone to be saved than for some to perish eternally?
God allows this hard condition because by repudiating Jesus Christ these apostates dishonor Him. The writer spoke of this dishonor as taking the side of Jesus’ enemies who crucified Him and publicly humiliated Him. The apostates in view crucify Him in the sense of passing judgment against Him again, by repudiating Him and His work, as those who literally crucified Jesus did. Evidently these "hard cases" are not those who turn away from just any aspect of God’s will but specifically the doctrine of Jesus Christ.
"The meaning of the vivid phrase ["they again crucify to themselves the Son of God"] is that they put Jesus out of their life, they break off all connexion [sic] with him; he is dead to them." [Note: Moffatt, p. 80.]
"Anyone who turned back from Christianity to Judaism would be identifying himself not only with Jewish unbelief, but with that malice which led to the crucifixion of Jesus." [Note: Guthrie, p. 144.]
". . . once Christ and his sacrifice have been rejected, there is nowhere else to turn. . . . The ’impossibility’ of a second repentance is thus not psychological or more generally related to the human condition; it is in the strict sense theological, related to God’s saving action in Christ." [Note: Ellingworth, p. 323.]
"Just as the Hebrew spies who returned from their expedition carrying visible tokens of the good land of Canaan nevertheless failed to enter the land because of their unbelief, so those who had come to know the blessings of the new covenant might nevertheless in a spiritual sense turn back in heart to Egypt and so forfeit the saints’ everlasting rest." [Note: Bruce, pp. 119-20. Cf. 3:7-11. See also Lang, pp. 98-107.]
Not only did the 10 spies fail to enter the Promised Land through unbelief, but so did the whole adult generation of Israelites who left Egypt with Moses (Numbers 14). It was impossible for them to repent in the sense that, even though they confessed their sin of unbelief (Numbers 14:40), God would not permit them to enter the land (Numbers 14:41-45). Two New Testament examples of these "hard cases" may be Hymenaeus and Alexander. Paul said he had turned them over to Satan that they might learn not to blaspheme because they had apostatized (1 Timothy 1:18-20).
"A double illustration forms a transition between the negative and positive realities described in Hebrews 6:4-6 and Hebrews 6:9-12:
|Hebrews 6:4-6||Hebrews 6:7||Hebrews 6:8||Hebrews 6:9-12|
reality" [Note: Ellingworth, p. 325.]
In the illustration in this verse, the ground represents believers who drink in the water of God’s Word and bear fruit as a result. This kind of response leads to God bestowing a blessing on those individuals who, by their fruit-bearing, have been a blessing to others (cf. Matthew 13:23).
If no good fruit results, however, only dangerous and destructive thorns, God will bring judgment on this ground rather than blessing it (cf. John 15:2; John 15:6).
"Worthless" literally means disapproved (Gr. adokimos). It does not mean totally rejected but failing to gain God’s blessing (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27). It is "in danger of being cursed" but is not cursed as unbelievers are. "Burned" does not mean burned in hell (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:13-15). In ancient times, as well as today, farmers often burned their fields to removed unwanted vegetation, not to destroy the field itself. This is evidently a judgment on a believer that God allows because of his or her apostasy (cf. Isaiah 9:18-19; Isaiah 10:17; John 15:6; Hebrews 10:17). The judgment might result in premature death in some cases (cf. 1 John 5:16-17). However the text does not warrant concluding that this fate will befall every apostate. Some "fields" once burned turn out to be more productive in the future, and that might be what God’s judgment would lead to in the case of some apostates (cf. 1 Timothy 1:19-20). The purpose of the burning (chastening) is restoration to fruitfulness (cf. Hebrews 13:1-9; Hebrews 13:18-23). [Note: See Charles C. Bing, "Does Fire in Hebrews refer to Hell?" Bibliotheca Sacra 167:667 (July-September 2010):342-57.]
The history of the interpretation I have offered in this passage, and in Hebrews generally, is as follows. Robert Govett was one of the earliest modern authors who wrote on the theme of the Christian’s rewards. [Note: See Robert Govett, Entrance Into the Kingdom.] He was also a leading figure in the school of thought that took the warnings of Hebrews as being addressed to Christians who were eternally saved and secure. However some in this school also believed that unfaithful Christians would miss the Millennium and spend 1,000 years in a kind of "purgatory." Those in this school include G. H. Lang, [Note: G. H. Lang, The Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 106-7.] R. E. Neighbor, [Note: R. E. Neighbor, If They Shall Fall Away.] and probably Philip Mauro. [Note: Philip Mauro, God’s Pilgrims.]
Among the standard commentators B. F. Westcott, James Moffatt, and I. Howard Marshall, as well as most others, took the view that the writer addressed true Christians in the warning passages. These three men took what we would call an Arminian stance, believing true Christians can lose their salvation, but they believed the writer addressed Christians in these passages.
Students of this passage sometimes assume that the view that the writer addressed only false professors (i.e., not genuine Christians) is the majority view, but it is not. It is, however, the most popular Calvinistic interpretation.
Another modern writer who takes this passage as I do is R. T. Kendall. [Note: R. T. Kendall, Once Saved, Always Saved, pp. 175-99, and 219-28. Kendall succeeded D. Martin Lloyd-Jones as minister of Westminster Chapel, London, England.] He also discussed briefly the history of this interpretation in the church fathers. [Note: Kendall, pp. 224-25.] Hodges also held this view [Note: Hodges, "Hebrews;" and The Gospel . . . .] as did Oberholtzer, [Note: Oberholtzer, "The Warning . . .," 145:319-28.] Dillow, [Note: Dillow, pp. 433-55.] Gleason, [Note: Randall C. Gleason, "The Old Testament Background of the Warning in Hebrews 6:4-8," Bibliotheca Sacra 155:617 (January-March 1998):62-91.] and others.
The "better things" in view reflect the writer’s confidence that his readers would not turn away from the truth. He based his confidence on their realizing the dreadful consequences of apostasy that he had just explained and avoiding it. "Salvation" refers to the full salvation ahead of them, about which he had been speaking throughout this epistle (cf. Hebrews 1:14).
"The things to which he refers are defined in the following verses (Hebrews 6:10-12): work and love, diligence to the end, and faith and patience. Salvation is the victorious participation with Christ in the coming kingdom as it is in Hebrews 1:14, which only those who persevere as companions of the King will inherit. The writer obviously expects that his readers will persevere to the end, enter into rest, and obtain these blessings." [Note: Dillow, p. 132.]
This is the only place in the epistle where the writer referred to his readers as "beloved" (dear friends). This affectionate address softens the severity of the warning just given (Hebrews 6:4-8). Hebrews 6:9-12 provide strong evidence, I believe, that genuine Christians are in view throughout this warning passage.
4. The encouraging prospect 6:9-12
Even though the danger his readers faced was great, the writer believed they could avoid it. Consequently he concluded this warning, as he did the ones in Hebrews 2:1-4 and Hebrews 3:1 to Hebrews 4:16, with a word of hope to encourage his audience.
God had taken note of the readers’ commendable Christian conduct and would justly reward them for it. Therefore they should persevere in it and not turn aside from it (i.e., apostatize). "Not unjust" is understatement; God is eminently just. This is also litotes, a figure of speech that sets forth a positive idea by stating its negative opposite (cf. Acts 12:18; Acts 15:2; Acts 17:4; Acts 17:12; Acts 19:24; Acts 27:20; et al.). [Note: For further discussion of rhetorical elements in Hebrews, see Trotter, pp. 164-77.]
"Hope is important. Probably no movement has ever gripped the hearts of people if it did not give them hope." [Note: Morris, p. 58.]
Earlier the writer had described his readers as being sluggish (lit. lazy, Hebrews 5:11). Now he urged them to be diligent and to stop being lazy (Hebrews 6:12; cf. Proverbs 24:30-34; 2 Peter 1:5; 2 Peter 1:10). The same Greek word (nothroi) occurs in both places. He wanted them to remain faithful to God while waiting patiently for Him to fulfill His promises to them regarding their future inheritance.
"The theme of imitation recurs in Hebrews 13:7, and in both instances faith is seen as steadfast persistence that pursues the divine promise . . ." [Note: Lane, p. 145.]
Some commentators have used this verse to support the unbiblical idea that believers should look to their good works as evidence of their election and as the basis for their assurance of salvation. This verse is not saying that. The Greek word plerophoria always means "fullness" in the passive sense, not "fulfilling." The writer meant that we need to be diligent regarding something we have already obtained, not to obtain something, namely, assurance. [Note: See Dillow, pp. 293-95.]
Note the linking of love (Hebrews 6:10), hope (Hebrews 6:11), and faith (v.12) here (cf. Hebrews 10:22-24). This triad occurs often in the New Testament epistles (cf. Romans 5:2-5; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:5-6; Colossians 1:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:8; 1 Peter 1:21-22).
The writer offered Abraham as an encouraging and supreme example of one who continued strong in faith and patience.
"There is in Hebrews a sustained interest in Abraham (Hebrews 2:16; Hebrews 6:13-15; Hebrews 7:4-5; Hebrews 11:8-19). The appeal to Abraham as a prototype of faithful endurance in Hebrews 6:13-15 gives specific content to the exhortation in Hebrews 6:12." [Note: Lane, p. 150.]
The promise to which the writer referred was the one God gave Abraham after he had obeyed God by offering up Isaac (cf. James 2:21). Abraham trusted God to fulfill His former promise regarding his descendants by raising Isaac from the dead (Genesis 22:16-17). The writer was calling his readers to do what God called Abraham to do when He instructed him to go to Mt. Moriah. They too needed to continue to trust and obey, as they had done in the past, even though it looked as though perseverance would result in tragedy. Having patiently waited and remained steadfast in the face of trying circumstances, Abraham qualified to receive everything God wanted to give him (cf. Colossians 1:11; Hebrews 12:1-3; Hebrews 12:7; James 5:11).
B. The Basis for Confidence and Steadfastness 6:13-20
Again the change in genre, this time from exhortation to exposition, signals a new literary unit within the epistle. Here the writer proceeded to expound the reliability of God’s promise to Christians through Jesus Christ’s high priestly ministry. Notice the repetition of key words introduced in Hebrews 6:12 as the exposition unfolds. This pericope contains a strong argument for the believer’s eternal security, so it is unlikely that we should understand the earlier part of the chapter as saying that we can lose our salvation.
When a person wants to end an argument, one way to do so is to appeal to a higher authority with an oath. For example, some people do this by saying, "I am telling the truth so help me God." Even God used an oath to guarantee His promise to bless Abraham greatly (Genesis 22:16; cf. Exodus 32:13; Isaiah 45:23; Jeremiah 22:5; Jeremiah 49:13). God swearing by Himself signifies that He binds His word to His character. Thus God gave Abraham double assurance that He would indeed deliver what He had promised. He gave him the assurance of the promise of the God who does not lie and the assurance that God specially guaranteed that particular promise. The two unchangeable things are God’s promise and His oath. God’s strong promise to Abraham then can be a great encouragement to us now because God has also promised us future blessings. Specifically, He has promised that we will receive rewards when we see Him if we persevere faithfully now (cf. 2 Timothy 2:12).
The figure that closes Hebrews 6:18 is an Old Testament one. In our times of temptation to apostatize we can flee to the promises of God. We can take hold of them as a fearful person in Israel could flee to the altar of burnt offerings, take hold of its horns, and be safe from his assailants. The cities of refuge also provided safety for the Israelites (Numbers 35:9-15; Joshua 20). We have a better refuge than the Israelites did in Judaism.
"In Hebrews, the word ’hope’ never describes a subjective attitude (i.e., ’our hope,’ or ’hopefulness’) but always denotes the objective content of hope, consisting of present and future salvation . . ." [Note: Ibid., p. 153.]
These verses provide another illustration of our security. When Jesus Christ entered heaven at His ascension, He took our hope of future reward with Him. In the first century, sailors would carry their ship’s anchor in a small boat and deposit it on the shore so the ship would not drift away as waves beat against it (cf. Acts 27:29-30). Likewise the hope that Jesus Christ has planted firmly in heaven should serve as an anchor for our storm-tossed souls. It should keep us from drifting away from God (cf. Hebrews 2:1). Our anchor rests firmly in the holy of holies, in God’s presence in heaven, with Jesus. According to Wiersbe, at least 66 pictures of anchors appear in the catacombs under Rome indicating its popularity as a Christian symbol of Jesus Christ. [Note: Wiersbe, 2:298.]
"The author is not saying simply that hope secures the ’spiritual’ aspect of man. He is affirming that hope forms an anchor for the whole of life. The person with a living hope has a steadying anchor in all he does." [Note: Morris, p. 61.]
The writer returned here to his view of the universe as the true tabernacle of God (Hebrews 3:1-6). He also returned to the thought of Jesus Christ as our High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:10).
The writer was ready now to proceed to serve the solid food he said his readers needed to eat (Hebrews 5:14 to Hebrews 6:1). This spiritual meat was exposition concerning the present high priestly ministry of Jesus Christ.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Hebrews 6". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25