Tuesday, March 28th, 2023
the Fifth Week of Lent
the Fifth Week of Lent
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Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hebrews 6". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ hebrews-6.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hebrews 6". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
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‘Wherefore having left the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on to perfection, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the teaching of washings (baptisms), and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.’
So he intends not to deal with simpler ideas, ‘the first principles of Christ’, the foundation ideas of Christ, but to move on to more mature teaching. He will not deal with the question of repentance from dead works or of faith towards God. He has indeed already dealt with them in principle in Hebrews 3:7 to Hebrews 4:13. Nor will he deal with questions about baptisms (washings), laying on of hands, resurrection from the dead or eternal judgment. All these teachings were basic and could equally be taught by the Pharisees were they so minded. They were simply basic Old Testament teaching.
It may be asked, why are they then described as (literally) ‘the word of the beginning of Christ’? And the answer is simply that they were part of Christ’s teaching before His death and resurrection, before the events that had changed the world. ‘Repent and believe in the Good News’ (Mark 1:15) was His opening cry, and He went on to point men and women to the need for true faith in God. Repentance and faith in God were the Old Testament foundation laid down in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, which Jesus re-emphasised and expanded on, and on which the new teaching would be built. That is not to diminish their importance, but to stress the fact that they did not include the more advanced teachings which resulted from His death and resurrection. Repentance and faith in God are essential. External ordinances may be useful. The resurrection of the dead and the eternal sentence on man’s state are important teaching. But in their basic significance they come short of expressing the full Gospel. They are merely a beginning.
Thus his readers are to recognise that there is a need to go on from the basic teachings of Judaism.
‘Dead works.’ These are either works which are lifeless because done for the wrong reasons (not revealing ‘life’) or because done in a desultory manner (lifeless), or works which are dead because proceeding from one dead in spirit (Ephesians 2:1). Or they may indicate works seeking merit which only result in death. All reflect works done either for the purpose of meriting favour with God, or from a rebellious heart, and not from a loving and faithful heart in response to the covenant.
It was the sin of the majority of Israel and of certain types of Pharisee that they observed the letter of the law but ignored its spirit. They were not so much concerned with pleasing the God Who loved them and had had mercy on them, as with bribing the God Who might otherwise get in the way, or might make life difficult for them, or even judge them and reject them (although they would not have put it like that). Their thoughts were not on the true doing of good and a wholehearted and joyous response to the covenant, recognising that they were in the mercy of God, but either on doing as little as possible to get by, assuming they could fob God off, or doing enough to earn sufficient merit to ‘deserve’ God’s favour. They treated God as though He was impersonal. They drew near with their mouths but their hearts were far from Him.
They saw the Law not as a means by which those who were truly God’s could live a full and rich spiritual life because they were His covenant people secure in His forgiveness (the Law was intended to enable men to live truly - Leviticus 18:5), but as a standard to be grudgingly attained with the hope of a pass mark. They hoped ‘to live by them’. The laws thus brought death on men because they failed to fulfil them all. Such attitudes and sins rightly needed to be repented of, but he has earlier made that clear. To repent of such means in order to turn from them into God’s rest provided through partaking in Christ was part of his message (Hebrews 4:1-11).
‘Faith towards (epi) God.’ This probably has in mind a general belief in God as the One God, a turning from idols to the true God. It was essential that men knew the One God. But of this James 2:19 says, ‘well done, the devils also believe and tremble’. Coming to the One God was initially important, but it missed out on the deeper truths about Christ. That was why Jesus began to point men to Himself, and why the message after the resurrection centred on Christ. Men had to move on to Christ, the outshining of the One God.
‘Of the teaching of washings (baptisms) and the laying on of hands.’ Having referred to basic response he now turns to outward rites. These were Old Testament rites which had possibly been reinterpreted and Christianised and put into practise by this group to whom he is writing. (He clearly knows them well). Like repentance and faith in the one God both ordinances were well known from the Old Testament. They represented outward forms to which the teachings about Christ could provide the inner meaning.
The word baptismos refers to washings of various kinds. We can compare its use in Hebrews 9:10. Josephus used it of John’s baptism because he misunderstood that to be a ritual washing. It is used elsewhere of ‘dipping’ and in Mark 7:4; Mark 7:8 of the ‘washing’ of dishes. The plural form and the word used both confirm that it means other than just Christian baptism. It was such washings that Jesus had in mind when He turned water into wine (John 2:0) to signify that something better had come, and when He spoke to His disciples of those who, having bathed, needed only to wash their feet (John 13:10).
In view of the fact that he is writing to people in danger of being caught up in Judaism again the idea of purifying by washing, and suchlike, may well be in mind, as having been taken up into Jewish-Christian practise. Such washings continued in certain parts of the church in which Jewish Christians predominated.
Or there may have been a controversy about whether baptism could be repeated, or how it compared with other washings and other baptisms, or whether John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism were similar, and what they signified. Whichever it was referring to ‘baptisms’ probably signifies such baptisms seen as external ordinances, and therefore but shadows of the truth. It is distinctly not just referring to baptism. Indeed ‘teaching of washings’ better suggests ‘what washings teach us’ when compared with other genitives used with didache.
‘Laying on of hands’ has in mind the laying on of hands in blessing and identification, regular Old Testament practises. It was taken up by Jesus and the early church, with the laying of hands being used for healing, and being seen as an indication of identification, which eventually came through into a means of setting aside men for ministry of various kinds. The early church clearly laid emphasis on such laying on of hands (see Matthew 19:13; Acts 6:6; Acts 8:17; Acts 9:12; Acts 9:17; Acts 19:6).
‘And of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.’ As we have pointed out all these basic ideas mentioned could have equally been taught to Jews, and indeed were, including these two. They were basic Jewish teaching and did not involve any specific reference to Christ. Resurrection from the dead and eternal judgment (the sentence of judgment, not the action), while important doctrines, were both in their basic form teachings of the Pharisees as taught in the synagogues. What the writer is seeking to do is point out that it is necessary to leave behind these basics, important though they may be, and move on to specific Christian teaching, which would amplify them and give them solidity, bringing out the lesson that the teaching of Judaism was but basic and lacked the essential added ingredients provided in Christ.
‘Let us be carried on to the perfection.’ Note the contrast between ‘the beginning of Christ’ and ‘the perfection’. It is the difference between basic Old Testament teaching and the full revelation of Christ. His desire is that they move on to the mature truth of Christianity, that they ‘be carried on’ by God as a ship is carried on by the wind. We can compare, ‘you believe in God, believe also in Me’ (John 14:1), This does not of course suggest that we have no part in the matter. Indeed we must give all due diligence. But in the end it is God who bears us on, revealing to us spiritual truth.
‘And this will we do, if God permit.’
This sentence comes like a hammer blow. He acknowledges that for some it may be too late to deal with these matters. Their hearts may have become too hardened. Only if God permits will it be possible to broach the true teachings of Christ. And to some it might not be permitted.
Alternately it may just be a reference to the fact that the writer recognises that his life and abilities are in God’s hands, and that time is short (compare James 4:13-15), but the connection with Hebrews 6:4 suggests the former.
‘For as touching those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of (or ‘sharers in’) the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then fell away,’
He now describes here in detail those for whom his message might have come too late, although claiming to be confident that they are not of them (Hebrews 6:9-10).
There are few verses which have caused more controversy. The question at issue is as to whether these verses necessarily refer to men who have been true Christians, who are then thought of as repudiating it all and being finally lost, or whether they can refer to outwardly professing Christians who gave all the appearance of being true Christians, and participated fully in God’s activity by His Spirit through the churches, but whose hearts were not truly won, and who were therefore never truly His. Before considering them it should be noted that he says of his readers, ‘we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation’. This might then suggest that these things do not necessarily ‘accompany salvation’.
We should also note, as we see in the later illustration, that he illustrates the situation by speaking about two types of land, good land and bad land, the one which produces fruit the other, which produces thorns and thistles. Both received the ‘rain’. But while one was fruitful the other was not. It only produced ‘thorns’ and ‘thistles’ as in Genesis 3:18. That being so we may see these people described here as being like those in Jesus’ parable who proved to be unsuitable ground for the seed. It seems likely to us that in that example at least, people who were such bad ground were not true Christians. But that should not make us diminish the seriousness of the warning, for in the end the Scripture makes clear that men are known by their fruits. Those who are unfruitful can have no confidence in their Christian standing (Galatians 5:16-21).
In considering these words we must remember that in those early days when the presence of the Spirit was so strongly experienced among believers, and so strongly at work, and the contrast between Christians, and non-Christian pagans and Jews, was so vivid, the church may well have described the experience of professing Christians who came under the umbrella of the Spirit-filled church in a similar way to this. It may well have been terminology used of all in the church who professed Christ, whether genuine or not (something which they could not after all know until it was revealed by their behaviour).
This is especially so in view of the fact that both Jesus and Paul spoke of people whose outward lives seemed to demonstrate gifts and activities of the Holy Spirit, when they were not in fact genuine (Matthew 7:15; Matthew 7:22-23; Mat 24:24 ; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 13:1-3; 1 John 4:1-3). Judas no doubt performed miracles and cast out evil spirits, even though Jesus knew the truth about him from the beginning. And the others would see him as a partaker of the Holy Spirit, which in a sense he was.
The next problem is as to how we are to split the experiences described. Are we to read ‘those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit’ as conveying one amplified description of the coming to them of the Holy Spirit, or are we to see each item as significant on its own? The Greek is not decisive. The same applies to ‘and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come.’
We shall first consider each phrase in some detail in order to lay a foundation.
He speaks of those who were ‘once enlightened’. They were ‘enlightened’ at one particular time in what seemed like a once for all experience as they heard the new teaching, their eyes were in a sense opened. The word of God was pressed home on their hearts. Outwardly at least they turned from their old ways, they had become ‘converted’. Intellectually at least they became aware of the new truth. The Greek word for "enlightened" here signifies "to give light or knowledge by teaching". It is so rendered by LXX in Judges 13:8, 2 Kings 12:2; 2 Kings 17:27. The apostle Paul uses it for "to make manifest", or "bring to light" in 1 Corinthians 4:5, 2 Timothy 1:10. But the question is, was this necessarily a saving receiving of saving truth? Certainly later being baptised was described as ‘being enlightened’, but that is a second century idea, a deterioration in thought.
In John 1:9 the verb is used of the Word as ‘enlightening’ every man who comes into the world (or as enlightening every man because He was coming into the world). There clearly men were enlightened who did not become Christians. The same applies in Ephesians 3:9. The idea there would seem to be of a generality of people and of angels being ‘enlightened’ without necessarily becoming responsive to God.
On the other hand in Hebrews 10:32 the writer does seem to use it to signify those who being enlightened became Christians, but as that is only one example it cannot be seen as determining a trend. It is clear therefore that the word could have either meaning. It could mean that they were enlightened and ‘persuaded’, or enlightened but not necessarily finally persuaded. It could mean that they ‘saw’ the truth in their minds but did not necessarily respond fully from the heart. Or it could mean that they were savingly enlightened. But the main point is that they had known a good level of enlightenment.
It should be noted that it is doubtful whether the early church would have consented to baptise people unless they had seen them as ‘enlightened’, even if afterwards some were seen not to have been savingly enlightened.
‘And tasted of the heavenly gift.’ To ‘taste of’ something is to fully savour a part of it. It signifies taking enough of it so as sufficiently to appreciate what it is, although when Jesus ‘tasted death’ He experienced it fully (Hebrews 2:9). It does not signify a quick sip (although see Matthew 27:34), but nor does it necessarily signify total absorption of the whole. There would be a case for suggesting that often it described a deliberate intention of testing out adequately, without actually partaking of the whole, before making a final decision, or a partaking of it without partaking fully and finally. Its full significance can only be determined in context (as with so many words). Here the idea is of a partaking in some significant way of part of ‘the heavenly gift’.
It may be that it is to be linked with the next phrase, with the two ideas being combined, in which case it would be the Holy Spirit Who is seen as the heavenly gift (see Acts 2:38; Acts 10:45) in which they have had a part through His work on them. Others see it as the gift of Christ (John 4:10; probably 2 Corinthians 9:15), but if that was intended here we might have expected the writer to indicate the fact, given the context. Yet others see it as the gift of eternal life (John 10:28), or the gift of salvation or the gift of righteousness (Romans 5:15; Romans 5:17), or the gift of the Gospel (which would tie in with Hebrews 6:5), or as tasting of the graciousness of the Lord (1 Peter 2:3). They had entered into the heavenly community and at least outwardly experienced their blessings.
And still others see ‘the heavenly gift’ as being the Lord’s Supper, the feast of which we partake, where we enjoy the heavenly gift which signifies to the true believer participation in the cross. Matthew tells us that Jesus ‘gave’ both bread and cup to the disciples. They could certainly be seen as a heavenly gift. And in Acts 20:11 we read of ‘having broken bread and having tasted’, linking ‘tasting’ with the broken bread. The communion bread may well also have been linked with ‘the corn of heaven’ (Psalms 78:24) through ‘the true bread that came down from Heaven’ (John 6:32-33), God’s heavenly gift to man. The phrase ‘tasted of the heavenly gift’ would certainly fit well with early church views of the Lord’s Supper, and all professing Christians would have partaken of it.
But as it is to the Old Testament that the writer has generally looked when giving his exhortations, it may be that we are looking in the wrong direction. It may therefore be from the Old Testament that he took the idea of the heavenly gift. Such a gift is spoken of in Ecclesiastes 3:13 where we read, ‘And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, is the gift of God.’ In other words God’s gift to His own is a life of quiet confidence and rest in faith. This would tie in with the idea of the Christian’s rest in Hebrews 4:1-11, and could have been spoken of as ‘tasting the heavenly gift’, that is tasting the good life of being in the heavenly community. They gave the impression of enjoying the heavenly rest. And that would be possible even to one whose commitment was not total.
Other possibilities are tasting of God’s gift of peace (Haggai 2:9), or of the former and latter rains seen in spiritual form (Joel 2:23), or of the gift of ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified’ (Isaiah 61:3), or the gift of ‘power to the faint, and to those who have no might He increases strength’ (Isaiah 40:29), or the pouring out of the Holy Spirit from Heaven (Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:1-28).
The idea of ‘tasting’ might also suggest Psalms 34:8, ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who trusts in Him’, where the gift would be the Lord, or Psalms 119:103, ‘How sweet are your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!’ where the gift would be the Scriptures. These might suggest tasting the Lord by walking with Him (but that is not really a gift as such, except indirectly), or tasting His words as revealed in His word, which could certainly be seen as a heavenly gift (Hebrews 6:5).
So there are a considerable number of possible alternatives, although a number of them co-relate. But while we can enjoy the thought of each one, especially where they co-relate, we cannot be dogmatic about any as being specifically in mind here. No doubt the phrase was known to his readers who would have known. The main point is that they have experienced ‘something of the heavenly as given by God’, and such a description could refer to either genuine or professing Christians, the latter of whom receive certain ‘heavenly’ benefits and experience ‘heavenly’ things from being among true Christians. For example, the seed on rocky ground could be said to have ‘tasted of the heavenly gift’ - Mark 4:16-17 as could the unfruitful land which was rained on in Hebrews 6:8.
Whichever gift we select he is saying that these people in mind have participated in such things to the extent that they can be said to have ‘tasted’ of them, to have had such experience of them as to say that they should now be in a position to really appreciate them. Whether that indicated saving faith might depend on which option we lean towards. Men may appreciate Christ and honour Him and be affected by Him and even follow His teaching, and thereby obtain much benefit, without being converted, they may experience the power of the Holy Spirit without being converted as the Holy Spirit powerfully works in the church which is their environment and even convicts them within. They may become involved in the Gospel and Christian teaching without being converted. They may even live a life of apparent rest and faith in God’s goodness without truly being His. The point here is that they have been involved with ‘the heavenly gift’, whatever that is seen as being, sufficiently for others to have been convinced that they were Christians, because that was what they professed. And that leaves them without excuse.
‘And were made partakers of (sharers in) the Holy Spirit.’ This can be compared with being ‘partakers of Christ’ in Hebrews 3:14. In that passage whether they were partakers of Christ or not would not be discernible to the end. They were outwardly partakers. They saw themselves as partaking of Christ but that would be finally proved by their perseverance. The same might therefore be true here. They appear to have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, but were they? In one sense yes in that they were involved, at least externally, in the working of His power in the church. They ‘partook’ or ‘shared in’ along with the whole church. But how real it was individually, as with the partaking in Christ, only time would tell.
For there are probably good grounds for suggesting that ‘partaking of (or ‘sharing in’) the Holy Spirit’ may simply have signified experiencing His working along with the whole church. Their very presence in the church necessitated contact with the power of the Spirit’s working, and being in a Spirit charged atmosphere. They were surrounded by the Spirit’s wondrous activity. And this view is supported by the following illustration where both the good and the bad land received the rain. Each type of land receives the benefit and influence of the rain, both the good and the bad (Hebrews 6:7-8). Thus while these described here were in some way looked on as ‘partaking (or sharing) in the Holy Spirit’, it may be that their final apostasy revealed that such partaking, such sharing, was mainly external, and had not reached to the heart. For they had in the end produced thorns and thistles, in a similar way to those who pleaded with Christ that they had prophesied and done miracles in His name, but were rejected, not as having once been His but now rejected, who were described as those whom He had ‘never known’ (Matthew 7:21-23). And in the same way as the ‘believers, mentioned in John 2:23-25.
‘And tasted the good word of God.’ Not only had they benefited by being in a place where the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work, they had also feasted on the good word of God. They had absorbed much teaching which came from God through a word (rema) of teaching or a word of prophecy in the church. It had spoken to their hearts. But sadly it had not found a true response that lasted. Their hearts had proved to be unreceptive ground. And their failure was the greater in that it was a ‘good’ word of God. Compare Jeremiah 33:14 where the ‘good word’ of God was closely connected with the coming of the righteous Branch of the house of David. It was not the word that was at fault, but their hearts.
We can compare Herod who listened to John the Baptiser and ‘feared John, knowing that he was a just man and a holy one, and observed him. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly’ Up to a point his heart responded to John’s teaching until it began to encroach too much on his own life (Mark 6:20).
‘And the powers of the age to come.’ As we have seen earlier the ‘age to come’ is what we call this present age, seen from the point of view of the Old Testament prophets (compare Hebrews 2:5). As they looked ahead they spoke of the coming age when the Kingly Rule of God would come. And in Jesus that Kingly Rule, that ‘age to come’, had arrived and had been even more firmly established by His resurrection and exaltation. And part of its manifestation was through signs and wonders and miracles taking place first through Jesus Christ and then throughout the churches (Hebrews 2:4).
Here were the ‘powers of the age to come’ manifested among His people and all had tasted of them in one way or another. Furthermore it may well have been that in those churches were those of whom Jesus warned, those who would manifest such wonders that they might deceive even the elect. They prophesied in His name, they did wonders in His name, they cast out devils in His name, but He did not know them. Thus did they manifest the powers of the age to come without really being His.
So careful examination of these descriptions indicates the real possibility that these people were professing Christians but without a genuine life transforming experience. Note that the whole emphasis is on that which comes from without (enlightement, heavenly gift, Holy Spirit, prophetic word, powers, and not on inward fruit such as love, joy, peace, etc. (He will later use love as the evidence that his readers probably are genuine believers - Hebrews 6:10). Like many in the church today they professed a kind of faith, they convinced others of the genuineness of their faith, they even convinced themselves, but it was not faith in Christ. It was rather faith in a church which revealed certain powerful experiences and a belief in that church and its leaders, and possibly a faith in baptism and certain basic teaching, but a faith which had not penetrated the heart. They had been members of these living churches for a long time. They had been enlightened, had partaken of the Lord’s Supper, had experienced the heavenly gift of blessing and rest and peace in the church, had experienced the power of the Spirit’s working and had indeed convinced their fellow church members that they had the Holy Spirit within them, had fed on the words of prophecy and had enjoyed the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in the signs and wonders performed in the church, perhaps even spoken in tongues and prophesied themselves. And yet they turned away because of persecution. Thus was it demonstrated that although they had given every impression of being so, they were not true partakers of Christ.
‘And then fell away.’ These dread words express so succintly the dreadful possibility. They had enjoyed experience of all this and they then ‘fell away’ from the right path, from the profession that they had made. So what excuse had they? Thus do all need to ‘test yourselves out whether you be in the faith’. And the test is as to whether Jesus Christ is genuinely in them (2 Corinthians 13:5). Whether their commitment to Him from the bottom of their hearts is real. And if He is and the commitment is real then their fruit will reveal the fact, and there will be no danger of their finally turning back.
‘It is impossible to renew them again to repentance, seeing that they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.’
But their action of apostasy in the light of all the blessing that had been theirs would be a considered denial of all that they had seen and experienced. This was not just a falling into sin. That could be repented of. Their apostasy would reveal that their hearts were totally hardened. That while they had outwardly ‘repented’, turning to some extent from their old ways, it had not resulted in saving faith, and it had thus only hardened them. They had not truly known Christ, for had they done so they could not turn away. And after such a turning away there could be no way of repentance open to them for they would have received, and deliberately and knowingly rejected, the light shining fully on them over a long period of time, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which had included the evidence of the casting out of evil spirits, and they would have declared it all false. They would have blasphemed the Holy Spirit.
Having themselves professed to serve the crucified One over a long period of time, if they now publicly rejected Him, they would thereby be declaring that His crucifixion was what He deserved, and that He had not been fit to live. By their attitudes they would in their own minds, by having fallen away (aorist tense), be crucifying Him afresh, and that continually (present tense), and continually putting Him to open shame in the eyes of the world. In the light of such determined rejection and hardening of heart, they would be like Israel in their murmuring in the wilderness, continually disobedient after so many wonders. God would say of them ‘they shall not enter into my rest’.
‘They continually crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh.’ Note the title used, not ‘Jesus’ but ‘the Son of God’. Their crime is worse than that of the Jewish leaders and Pilate, for they know with Whom they have to do. They have for a long time declared Him to be the Son of God. But now they will be declaring Him fit only to be crucified again. In their minds they take up a continuing position in their minds that it was right that He should be crucified. They pass the same verdict as their predecessors, and continue to maintain it, but with even less excuse. The title also brings out the depths of their crime. In intent they will crucify not only Jesus but ‘the Son’.
‘It is impossible to renew them again to repentance.’ To such people there is no point in reiterating the need for repentance or to attempt to seek to enlighten them as to the Gospel. They know all about it, possibly more than the evangelist. Thus to spend time teaching them the fundamentals that they already know would be to cast pearls before swine. The evangelist would be essaying a useless task, and the writer does not intend to attempt it. (Had it said ‘for them to be renewed’ it would have been stronger, for then it would have included God in the exclusion. But it does not).
We have all experienced situations where there is no point in talking to people any longer, because we recognise that in their present state nothing will move them. But this is not necessarily saying that people that we consider to be in such a state cannot repent even if they want to, and must therefore be rejected even if they give the appearance of repenting. If they want to repent it in fact shows that they are not in such a state, and we must therefore seek to help them, trusting that it is genuine.
Nor does it state that even God could not do it, although we may certainly suggest that God will not do it without repentance on their side. It is never for us to say what God can or cannot do. What the writer is concerned basically to say is that they have gone beyond anything that we can hope to remedy, and that we may therefore decide not to waste any more of our precious time on them, but to leave them in the hands of God. (Such people can take up too much of a godly man’s time, resulting in more worthy recipients of their message losing out).
To any who fear that they might be in this sad situation we can only say that the very fact that you fear it suggests that you are not in it. So not be afraid. If you truly repent God will receive you, for by it you will have demonstrated that your repentance is not unrenewable.
‘For the land which has drunk the rain that comes often upon it, and brings forth herbs meet for those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is rejected and nigh to a curse, whose end is to be burned.’
He now compares those who are truly Christ’s with such apostates. True Christians are like land which constantly experiences the rain of the Holy Spirit. They are ‘tilled’ by the Holy Spirit through God’s servants, and they produce good vegetation and herbs, they are fruitful, and such land receives the blessing of God, it is blessed and fruitful .
In contrast apostates are like land which bears thorns and thistles. They too drink of the rain that comes on them through the Holy Spirit’s working, but all they produce in the end is thorns and thistles. They are nigh to a curse, for it is certain shortly to come upon them, and their end is to be burned. We note here that both experience the work of the Holy Spirit, but in the latter case it is finally fruitless. They have shared in the Holy Spirit, but have chosen to receive death and not life.
They would prove themselves as being like the land which the first Adam would cultivate after he had fallen, for that land would also for him produce ‘thorns and thistles,’ and that land was cursed (Genesis 3:1-18). But those who were blessed were the children of the second man, the last Adam, who would produce fruit a hundredfold, because for Him there was blessing and no curse. He was crowned with glory and honour (Hebrews 2:9).
So in good Old Testament fashion there is the contrast between blessing and cursing, the choice that was regularly laid before God’s people. ‘Nigh to a curse’ could describe their present state, and refer to any considering apostasy at the present time, as not yet having taken the final step, the final renunciation, and who are therefore near to being cursed, but have not yet been so. Should they choose to do so their end will be to be destroyed, as thorn infested ground is burned, both to clear it of the weeds and stubble and possibly as a curse and judgment on it. Or it may signify that the sure curse is awaiting the land, although not yet having been applied, and that it will then result in its final fiery end
This comparing of what was fruit bearing and what was not is regularly used both by John the Baptiser and by Jesus. In the end it is by men’s fruits that what they are is really known. Fruits are regularly seen as necessary testimony to true faith (Matthew 3:8; Matthew 3:10; Matthew 7:19-20; Mark 4:3-20; Luke 13:6-9; John 15:1-6).
‘Brings forth herbs meet for those for whose sake it is also tilled.’ Note how the good land is not only itself blessed but it provides blessing to others. Through God’s help it provides for God’s people an all-sufficiency. And he will now point to the ministry of those to whom he is writing which seemingly does this and thus gives him hope that they are truly good land.
‘But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.’
However, the writer assure his readers that in spite of the way he has spoken he expects better things of them than to produce thorns and thistles because they are barren land. He is persuaded of those better things, things which go along with and accompany salvation. He looks for fruit and faithfulness, and the blessing of God on them. And he does so because he believes that he has seen genuine fruit in their lives.
‘Beloved.’ He is not just speaking cold doctrine. His heart it reaching out to them.
‘Accompany salvation.’ The word "accompany" signifies "conjoined with", or inseparable from, that which has a sure connection with "salvation". The things that accompany salvation are a true faith in Christ, a commitment to His service, and a life of love lived out in the Holy Spirit.
‘For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and the love which you showed towards his name, in that you ministered to the saints, and still do minister.’
For, he assures them, he is certain that God will not forget what they have done in His name. He is not unrighteous. And therefore there is no danger that He will overlook their work, and their ministry to the saints, to His people, and the love that they show for His name in continual ministry to His people even to the present time. He cannot believe that it is not genuine.
We are reminded here especially of the words, ‘inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these My brothers, you have done it to Me’ (Matthew 25:40). God sees what people do for those who are His, and takes regard of it. Even a cup of cold water given in Christ’s name to a disciple will not lose its reward (Mark 9:41).
‘And we desire that each one of you may show the same diligence unto the fullness of hope even to the end.’
And so his desire and longing for them is that each one of them will continue to show the same diligence as they have done in the past, with their eye on the future hope, so that they will be ready when the fullness of their hope becomes a reality in the second coming of Christ, kept faithful until the end.
‘That you be not sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
For his longing is that they will not be sluggish, but will faithfully imitate (behave similarly to) those who through faith and patient endurance inherit the promises. They have manifested love and hope, now he trusts that they will manifest faith and patient endurance. Others have faced persecution and have suffered or died gloriously (see chapter 11) from the time of Abraham (see Hebrews 6:13-20 following) right up to this present day. His longing is that if necessary they will do the same. And his hope in the end rests not on them but on the faithfulness of God, and on the faithful High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:20).
We should note here that being sluggish may well be an indication of those whose faith is not genuine. One sign of a true heart is diligence in the things of God. We must give diligence to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). Many Christians sadly are sluggish, but if we are not diligent we need to examine ourselves to see whether we really are in Christ.
‘Inherit the promises.’ The Christian’s hope is in God’s promises for the future life that are to be theirs with Him, which they will one day inherit (see Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 11:8), promises which are confirmed by God’s unchangeable oath made to Abraham (Hebrews 6:13-20). The idea behind ‘inheritance’ is the lawful receiving of what is not deserved.
God’s Sure Promise To Those Who Are Truly His (Hebrews 6:13-20).
And the assurance of salvation that His own can know is emphasised by the greatness of His oath to Abraham, and in respect of His oath sworn that the Messiah would be the High Priest according to Melchizedek. For our hope is established on this firmest of foundations, an oath made on His own Name, and an oath which was unchangeable. It is thus founded on two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, and is for us like an anchor of the soul, which enables us to enter into the very presence of God where our great High Priest is there to act on, as our Intercessor on our behalf, and our Forerunner as true and representative Man. His presence there is the assurance that one day All Who are His will be there, for they are already there in Him (compare Ephesians 2:6).
‘For when God made promise to Abraham, since he could swear by none greater, he swore by himself,’
For when God commenced the process of salvation history, of restoration, with Abraham, He made an irreversible oath. His promise to him was sworn on Himself because He could swear on no greater (Genesis 22:16).
‘Saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.’
And that promise was that He would certainly bless him, and would certainly multiply him, so that throughout the whole world God’s own chosen ones would be brought into being, those who would become sons of Abraham, who would walk as Abraham walked, and would be blessed through him (so that if necessary He would and could turn stones into sons of Abraham - Matthew 3:9). His purpose was set and fixed and nothing could stop it. Thus those who enter into the blessing of Abraham through becoming God’s children by faith (Romans 4:12-13; Romans 4:24; Galatians 3:7-9; Galatians 3:14; Galatians 3:29), have the assurance that they have come within the unchangeable promise of God, a promise which will never fail. When God made His oath to Abraham He made it to all who are His own.
‘And thus, having patiently endured, he obtained the promise.’
And as a result of His promises Abraham patiently endured, and through faith obtained the promise, an example to us all. So that we who are in Abraham should also patiently endure in order to obtain the promise (compare Hebrews 6:11-12).
‘He obtained the promise.’ He was promised numerous seed, but for a long period in his life no child was born to Sara, until at last hope grew dim and he resorted to a number of expedients. But his faith was at last rewarded and Sara bore a son. He obtained the promise, for in Isaac lay the whole future. Isaac was the guarantee of the countless seed that would look back to Abraham as their father. As a result of that remarkable birth Abraham then knew that all the other promises would be fulfilled. Thus did he have assurance that the One Who would finally bring all things together under God would also be born (John 8:56). He saw Jesus’ day and was glad.
And yet his final inheriting of the promise awaits the future. He has obtained it in faith but not in final fulfilment. That is yet to come, and we have our full part in it (Hebrews 11:39-40).
‘For men swear by the greater, and in every dispute of theirs the oath is final for confirmation.’
For as is well known the greater a man’s oath, the greater the object on which it is sworn. And when men have a dispute a most solemn oath firmly establishes the truth and confirms what a man says, and put all other considerations aside.
‘Wherein God, being minded to show more abundantly to the heirs of the promise the immutability of his counsel, interposed with an oath,’
And that is why, when God determined to show in the most certain manner to those who were the heirs of promise the unchangeableness of what He had determined to do, He did it by means of an oath in order to demonstrate that there was no way in which He would alter what He had determined.
The impression given here is that those heirs of promise were already fixed and determined in the mind of God, and that His oath was being made to them as well as to Abraham. He was speaking to them as much as to Abraham. Those who are His now can look back and see themselves as there in Abraham, receiving the promise. And that is why they can have full assurance of God’s faithfulness to them.
‘The immutability of His counsel.’ He wanted all to know that what He had determined to do He would do, that what He promised He would perform, because it was His unchangeable will. Thus do we recognise that it was not left to chance, or to the will of man, but was determined by God in every detail.
‘That by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.’
And this is guaranteed by two immutable things, two totally unchangeable things by their very nature, in which it is impossible for God to lie. This may be seen as referring to, firstly His solemn promise to Abraham, and secondly His solemn oath. Having such a solid basis for believing God we who have fled for refuge to the hope set before us, may have a strong encouragement to be steadfast, because they were made to us.
Alternately we may see the two immutable things as the two oaths in mind in the whole passage, the oath concerning Abraham and his seed and the oath concerning the appointment of the Davidic house as High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, which is mentioned in Psalms 110:4, the verse partly cited in Hebrews 5:6 (see Hebrews 7:20-22 where this oath is emphasised). They thus see the writer as declaring that in accordance with God’s oath to Abraham, and in accordance with God’s oath to the Davidic house, which includes the Messiah, God will secure Abraham’s chosen spiritual descendants for ever and will protect them through the God-appointed High Priest, appointed by firm oath (see Hebrews 6:20).
‘We who have fled for refuge.’ We who have thereby entered into His rest by fleeing from sin and disobedience and unbelief, and all the constraints of the world and of Satan, and all that would destroy us, in order to seize the hope set before us. There may well be in mind here the desperate fleeing to the cities of refuge of accidental menslayers seeking to escape from the avengers of blood (Numbers 35:9-34), or of sailors fleeing for refuge to a harbour from a great storm, where they can safely drop anchor.
‘To lay hold of the hope set before us.’ This hope is the hope of eternal life (Titus 1:2), the hope of final salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8). But finally it is hope in Christ.
‘Which we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and entering into that which is within the veil, whither as a forerunner Jesus entered for us, having become a high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
And that hope, which is like an anchor of the soul, is fixed on Jesus Who has entered (compare Hebrews 4:14) as our Forerunner ‘within the veil’, that is into the very presence of God, as our eternal High Priest. It is both sure and steadfast.
It should be noted that it is our hope in Him that is the anchor of the soul, not Jesus Himself, although Jesus is the One in Whom our hope is fixed. And therefore our anchor is grounded in Him. It is our ‘certain hope’ that anchors us to Jesus, and to all that He is for us. Such an anchor will not slip (is sure) or lose its grip (is steadfast) It is thus a hope sure and steadfast for it is fixed on and anchored in our Forerunner Jesus, the perfect representative of Manhood and Great High Priest appointed on our behalf Who has gone ahead on our behalf. But it is not suggested that this is the point at which He became High Priest, for the High Priest’s entry within the veil followed sacrifices. And thus we may see Jesus as High Priest as having first offered up Himself in sacrifice before His entry. At what point He did become High Priest is never clearly stated, but there are grounds for suggesting that it was when He was declared to be God’s Son and Servant at His baptism.
The picture of the anchor is vivid. An anchor is cast out into the sea where it sinks and is lost to sight in invisibility, and reaches out to the bottom of the sea where it takes hold on some invisible strength. So is our anchor of hope cast out and disappearing into invisibility in the great Beyond is caught up in our great Forerunner Who will hold us firm to the end. We can thus live our lives in the full confidence that we are safely anchored to Jesus. The anchor in fact became a recognised Christian symbol, being found engraved on Christian funeral memorials in the catacombs.
The use of the name ‘Jesus’ emphasises that in mind is Jesus as perfect, reinstated representative Man (Hebrews 2:9), but the whole sentence indicates that as such He has also become our eternal High Priest, not one bound by Levitical ordinances, but as a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, and thus free from earthly restraint, and made higher than the heavens. As the next chapter will reveal (Hebrews 7:26), His ministry as High Priest is superior to that of Aaron in every way.
‘Forerunner.’ One Who has gone before as Man to prepare the way and lead us into glory (Hebrews 2:10). And yet He is not only perfect man but also perfect High Priest (Hebrews 7:26-27), Who has offered a perfect Sacrifice on our behalf (Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 10:14) and makes perfect intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25; Hebrews 9:24), ‘a High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’. And because he is our Forerunner, we will eventually follow Him within the veil into the very presence of God Most High. Nothing could be more amazing to a Jew than this, for to him that within the veil was for ever barred.
‘Within the veil.’ The veil separated the part of the sanctuary into which the priest could enter from the Most Holy Place where none could enter, except the High Priest once a year on the Day of Atonement after certain complicated special sacrifices, and where he could only remain for a short while (Leviticus 16:0). To enter within the veil at any other time would be blasphemy of an extreme kind, for God was envisaged as being there, usually invisibly, in all His awful holiness. (Although the belief also grew that in the Most Holy Place shone the Shekinah, the glorious light that depicted God’s presence unseen by man).
‘A High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’. He will not die as earthly High Priests did. The death of a High Priest was no ordinary event. It was seen by Israel as an event having great significance a reminder of man’s frailty and itself a kind of atonement for the manslayers, an atonement no longer required now that the great Atonement has been made (Numbers 35:25; Joshua 20:6). Nor will He be required to come out from within the veil after a short period, as an earthly High priest was compelled to do, His ministry is perfect and heavenly and unceasing and triumphant for ever. He remains within the veil.