This will be the first post in a new category: Bible. If you have read The Last Day of Forever or An Eternity of Four Years, you will know there is a strong spiritual thread laced through both books. Ethan struggles with his faith and often fails because he is human like you and me.
In a previous post I spoke about “The Hebrew,” Judah P. Benjamin, and now I will address the Epistle to the Hebrews in the Bible. (They are kind of alike, right?)
One of the more controversial passages in the Bible is found in Hebrews chapter 6, and some of the finest expositors I have heard interpret it incorrectly.
Hebrews 6:4-8 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. 7 For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; 8 but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. (NKJV)
Some claim that this passage is teaching that a believer can lose his salvation and point to words like impossible, once tasted, fall away, renew, repentance, and burned, and say “See, you can lose your salvation!” There is one problem with that interpretation: This passage has absolutely zero to do with salvation or losing it! Hebrews is apologetic in character; it is a defense of the faith.
The author is unknown, but the epistle is full of Paulineisms so some believe Paul wrote it. More likely it was someone who spent a lot of time with Paul, like Barnabas or another of Paul’s disciples. It was written before the siege of Jerusalem (AD68) and fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple (AD70). We believe that because the epistle makes mention of the animal sacrifices and Temple worship as if they were still being practiced.
The epistle was clearly written to Jewish believers in Jesus Christ as Messiah who are likely part of a larger Jewish community. For them at the time of writing, it has been perhaps 40 years since the Cross, and they were under tremendous pressure from non-believing family members and others in the local Jewish community, who are trying to convince them they have made a mistake. They must have been thinking Jesus just may not have been the Messiah after all. He promised to come back, but He hasn’t yet. Maybe it is time to return to our old system of worship, the Law.
What would that mean for them?
- The law was a Conditional Covenant – “Carrot and stick” system to manage Israel and through which God could relate to His people.
- It was designed to point out the impossibility to achieve righteousness through human effort. No universal indwelling of believers by the Holy Spirit, thus no guidance, enablement like we enjoy today. Keeping the Law was done through human effort alone.
- It was designed to point to the need for a mediator (Christ – the Lamb pictured in the Levitical offerings.)
- It was a system whereby, through the Levitical sacrifices, they could be declared “judicially blameless” from sin under the terms of the covenant and find forgiveness for one year, then the process had to be repeated.
- They looked forward to the coming of Messiah and His Kingdom
Context review… A quick review of the 13 chapters of Hebrews demonstrates four things very clearly
- It was written to Jews and the message has a strong Jewish context that would have resonated with Jews, but not so much with Gentile believers.
- These Jews were under some kind of pressure to abandon their faith in Jesus as Messiah and return to their old ways of worship under the Law, thus all this Old Covenant New Covenant contrasting.
- The problem for them is they have not advanced spiritually and are still babes in Christ and are thus easily swayed because …
- Their faith is weak. Faith and the consequences of the lack of faith are the core themes of Hebrews.
Chapter 6 begins with the writer saying they need to move on and not go back. “Dead works” = a system of worship that is now dead – the Law. The only option for them is to move forward because “back” is no longer there to go back to. And what happens when they try to go back? – Verse 4 “It is impossible … if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance…”
“Fall away” in the Greek means to abandon a former relationship or association. “Restore” should be translated “renew” (see 2 Corinthians 4:16; Colossians 3:9-10). The Greek means “to make new,” “to produce something new,” “to bring into use,” “to dedicate.” “To” is the Greek eis, which can have a spiritual application in the sense of connecting a separate divine reality with a cosmic reality.
“Repentance” actually means “a change of mind (or one’s way of life) for the better” and is not used here in the context of salvation or from sin but refers to spiritual maturity. Returning to the Levitical sacrificial system is returning to ritual and rejecting reality (the Cross). The Old Covenant has been replaced by the New Covenant (Romans 6:14-15).
Summarized: It is impossible … for those who have fallen away (abandoned a former relationship or association – faith in Christ as Messiah) to renew them again (for them to grow spiritually) to repentance (to have the divine imparted to them – maturity, Christ-likeness).
More simply: it is impossible for those who turn back to the Law and its system of sacrifices with its looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, to find spiritual growth and gratification there again. You can’t go back, because “back” isn’t there anymore!
The writer spells out the consequences of attempting this with an agricultural metaphor (verses 7 and 8), which is saying God brings blessings (rain on the field) upon those who are His, and the field (you) can bear fruit or briars. If the latter you can expect chastisement (burning the field) to get rid of the “briars” so you can become productive. This does not refer to the fires of hell.
Hebrews is simply an apologetic defense of the faith and a warning to those Jews who would abandon their faith in Jesus as Messiah and would attempt to return to an old and now obsolete system of worship where they will no longer find judicial blamelessness through the sacrifices. That is no longer available because of the Cross. Nor will they find the possibility for spiritual growth. And if you do go into this apostasy, you will be an unproductive child of God, and you can expect chastisement to bring you back to the truth and fruit production.
The Message for us today
- There is no going back for believers.
- There is no standing still for believers.
- There is only spiritual advancement as an option.
- Anything else will bring chastisement because God will burn your field of briars for fruit production.
- God didn’t save us to just become His trophies on a shelf. He saved us for service and to be productive for Him and His Plan.
You can’t go back, because “back” isn’t there anymore.