In chapter five we saw God’s desire for the Hebrews. It was to become mature, productive members of His house. For that to become a reality, they had to wholeheartedly accept that Jesus was their prophesied Messiah.
Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. (Hebrews 5:11-12)
Chapter six begins with a list of some stumbling blocks that the Hebrews had with Jesus being their Messiah. Isn’t it curious that we struggle with these same things today? We’ve even created divisions –denominations– within the body of Christ over them.
Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ [Messiah], let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits. (Hebrews 6:1-3)
The very first word of this chapter is “therefore.” To keep this passage in context, the preceding chapters must be reconsidered. In those chapters we read some of the many Old Testament prophecies that declare Jesus is the Son of God and that He is greater than Moses and the prophets. He’s the eternal Head over God’s house. He’s the Messiah, the King, the Ruler and the Judge over all creation –and He’s the new and final High Priest.
The six items identified by these first few verses form three foundational issues which are summarized below.
The Hebrews were to leave their ways of righteousness based on the Law –“repentance from dead works.” They were to move on to a life of “faith toward God.” Works (the Law with its traditions) are visual aids describing what their Messiah would accomplish during His life. Furthermore, eternal life depends on God’s grace and mercy which comes through faith that Jesus already finished those works.
“Washings” show that the effects of sin have to be removed to be righteous before God. The “laying on of hands” demonstrates that sin had to be punished with death –but a totally innocent being could die to pay for the sins of another. Ceremonies on the Day of Atonement and Passover provided the means for each person to see and participate in a practical demonstration of what is required to be acceptable to God. Jesus’ death completed that total, final washing –and that total, final sacrifice.
While Jesus –the Son of God– lived among the Hebrews as a Hebrew, He described the “resurrection of the dead” and then proved its reality with His own return. One day, all will be raised from the dead to appear before Him on His great white throne and He will pronounce “eternal judgment” for each and every person. They will live forever with Him –or be in eternal torment apart from Him. (We’ve read some of the prophecies about the Father giving His Son that role.)
These items (repentance from dead works, faith toward God, washings, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment) are just what the verse says. They are “elementary teachings about Jesus” which need to be accepted as truth for a person to become a mature, useful member of His household.
What we’re about to read next is considered by many as one of the most difficult passages in the Bible. (Another is in chapter ten.) It’s difficult because we easily forget who the intended audience is. The introduction in chapter one clearly states it –and the historical events recounted throughout prove that it surely belongs to them. This letter is to the Hebrews who had not yet put their trust in Jesus.
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6)
Let’s look at each of the points in the first part of this passage. Hopefully you’ll see that they all have a common thread. They refer to specific instances in which the Old Testament Hebrews encountered God first-hand –and refused to trust Him. Below each point, I’ve associated a parallel encounter that their New Testament offspring had with Jesus.
Who were “enlightened”? It was those who followed Moses –who followed the column of light every night in the desert. They also saw the bright glory of God on the mountain –and the effects of that “light” on Moses face. Nonetheless, they perished because they refused to enter God’s rest.
These Hebrews knew what their fathers experienced and they heard that Jesus was the fulfillment of that light. He was the light of men –and He reflected the glory of the Father.
Who “tasted the heavenly gift”? It was those who ate manna every day –a gift from God that tasted like wafers with honey and contained all the nutrients necessary for life. Still, they grumbled, demanded meat and yearned for the vegetables that they had in Egypt. They spurned His provision –they essentially rejected Him.
These Hebrews celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread (including the Passover) every year. It retells the story of God’s bread that came down from heaven. And they heard that Jesus was fulfillment of that bread –He was the Bread of Life who came from the Father.
Who were “partakers [sharers] in the Holy Spirit”? The Holy Spirit rested on Moses so that he could fairly judge the people’s disputes. Hearing complaints from every family was a huge burden so he selected seventy elders to take part in relaying God’s will for them. God put His Spirit on the seventy (plus two who remained in the camp) –making them partakers (sharers) of the Holy Spirit –and of the burden ( ).
These Hebrews heard the story of those seventy in their synagogues. They also heard about the seventy that Jesus sent among them as witnesses. Even more well-known was the occurrence on the Day of Pentecost when Hebrews from all over were gathered and saw the Holy Spirit being shared. Those partakers told the world that God’s will is for all to be saved and none to perish.
Who “tasted the goodness of the word of God”? Moses repeated God’s word to the people in the days leading up to their departure from Egypt. That word culminated in instructions to slaughter a perfect lamb, to put its blood on the sides and tops of their doorways, and to cook and eat it. That way they tasted its goodness and avoided death.
These Hebrews killed and ate a lamb every year in observance the Passover. But they also heard that the word of God (Jesus) became flesh and dwelled among them –that His blood and His flesh had to be consumed to achieve eternal life.
Who saw “the powers of God that were yet to come”? From the time of their release from Pharaoh until their entry into Canaan, the Hebrews saw supernatural events occur before their eyes. God inflicted the ten plagues upon their opposition. Then He parted the sea for them to escape slavery and He closed it again. Death came to His enemies –and He gave life to His own.
These Hebrews lived in the land that had been promised to them through Abraham. And they knew that Jesus spoke about another promised land –the kingdom of heaven. He offered an escape from the corruption of sin in this world, victory over death and a new eternal life to those who trusted Him.
The question facing those first century Hebrews was, “Other than having clearer evidence on which to base their decision, were they truly any different from their faithless ancestors?”
We looked briefly at repentance earlier in this chapter. It’s a change from believing one thing to believing something that is exactly the opposite. These Hebrews were to change from reliance on good behaviors and religiously keeping their traditions. And they were to change to faith in God’s mercy and grace through His Son.
They were repeatedly told to not do what their fathers did. Their fathers –those that Moses led– claimed that their lives were based on trusting God. When they said “We will do whatever God tells us!” they announced their supposed change –their repentance– from being Pharaoh’s faithless slaves to being faithful followers of God.
That was a declaration of a change to their very basis of life. But we know that didn’t really happen. Their rejection of God’s plea to “Enter My rest” was willful. Witnesses presented evidence and testimony. Time was taken for deliberation. Their votes were counted. The decision was made. They chose to not enter. And that choice revealed the truth. They didn’t trust God to preserve them at the start of their journey and they were still a stubborn, unchanged, unrepentant people when they reached the border of the Promised Land. They saw God’s faithfulness every day; nonetheless, they fell away from starting a new life in the land. The crux of the matter is that they had never become a people with faith toward God –they had never repented.
I realize that I’m being repetitive, but it’s most important. The consistent message in this letter is that God has provided only one entryway into His kingdom. His Son (Joshua, Yeshua, Jesus) is that way. Here’s that passage again.
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again cruc ify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6)
There is no other use of the word repentance in the Bible –only changing from death to life –from darkness to light –from lost to saved –from religion to faith in God. That’s even what John the Baptist’s ministry was about –changing from a system of works to an eternal life by faith. I’m jumping ahead in our reading with this next verse to state the obvious. Jesus isn’t going to die again. It’s not going to happen. He bore all the sins of the world and now it’s finished.
Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:28)
The Old Testament Hebrews came to the Jordan River with the ark in front of them. God had stopped the water upstream at the city of Adam and Joshua led them across on dry ground. When they reached the other side, they piled up stones from the riverbed as a monument to remind them that they would never pass through it that way again. God returned the rushing water –and they have never been able to undo what God did.
Their history alludes to Jesus (Joshua, Yeshua) leading believers into the kingdom of God. Like the stones that their fathers piled up when they crossed the Jordan, the Holy Spirit is a reminder that His Salvation can never be undone –never given back –never lost.
Those who refused to enter the Promised Land died in the desert –in their sin –their unbelief –their distrust of God. It was the next generation that followed Joshua by faith and was blessed with citizenship in the Promised Land. Both groups saw demonstrations of God’s amazing, undeserved love.
For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. (Hebrews 6:7-8)
Throughout the Bible, ground is a metaphor for the heart. This passage corresponds to Jesus’ parables of the sower (where God sows His word in four different conditions of the heart) and of the wheat and tares (where eternal destinations are decided). There is a time limit in this warning. These Hebrews heard the gospel that their forefathers preached about living by faith in the coming Messiah. And they heard the evidence that He had come. Their fate –eternal life or fiery death– would be determined by their acceptance of Him.
But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.
And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:9-12)
The phrase “ministering to the saints” refers to guiding people into the kingdom. (We saw that same notion in the last verse of chapter one, “angels are ministers of service to those who will inherit salvation.”) The Hebrews of old had ministered to the world for centuries. The appeal here is for these Hebrews –who knew about Jesus, but hadn’t trusted Him– to join the ranks of other believers. They were to be diligent and reach the goal –to cross through the Jordan –to step into the promise –to become heirs through faith.
For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.” And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. (Hebrews 6:13-15)
Abraham didn’t see the multitude of his offspring living in Canaan. But he did trust God to make it happen. As a reward to him –and as confirmation to those who read about him– Abraham saw a foreshadow of Jesus’ crucifixion.
He endured the heartache of preparing himself to give up the life of his promised, treasured son. However, God relieved him of that death and sacrificed another in his son’s place. In a way, Abraham got his son back from the grave. The sacrificed ram –like the Lamb of God who died for all– was wearing a crown of thorns! ()
The passage says “And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise.” Effectively, Abraham entered the kingdom on that day. And later, after his time on this earth was over, he saw his inheritance.
For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:16-20)
Men make promises that are often backed up with empty oaths –saying “May God strike me dead if. . .” or “I swear on the Bible (or on my mother’s grave) to tell the truth.” But God made His promise and then guaranteed it with an oath greater than anything mankind can accomplish. “I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.” From that childless old man and old woman came a son who became the symbol of sacrificial death and resurrected life. And through that son came a nation that died in the desert and was given a new life in their own land.
The first person to experience new life through God’s promise was Jesus. Those who live by faith in Him are also heirs to the promise. That includes both the Old Testament saints, such as those listed in Hebrews 11, and those who have come after them. They are all sons of God.
The Hebrews who followed Joshua were obviously alive when they entered the Promised Land. In the same way, those who follow Jesus into the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God do so while they are alive in this world. The significance is that eternal life –His Sabbath rest– begins here. And the kingdom of God is wherever He reigns as King. Yes, it’s in heaven –but equally important, it’s on earth today. Trusting Him and knowing Him provide steadfast security.