The elementary teaching about Jesus is laid out in this first few verses of Hebrews chapter six. Some have taken them as being worthy of further emphasis instead of what they are called: elementary –fundamentals that everyone should already be familiar with as believers –not something to further divide the body of Christ.
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 six items identified by these first few verses form three foundational issues…
These Hebrews had been diligent to be righteous –do good, avoid evil and keep their traditions. But something drastic changed. They saw that what they had been doing was only a foreshadow of Jesus’ accomplishments. He was the ultimate sacrifice, God’s Lamb who hung on the cross. He was the final High Priest who carried His own blood into the Holy of Holies, heaven. He was the One who brought new life.
The Law with its traditions are dead works. (Some Bible translations call them useless religious traditions or works that lead to death.) It’s not that practicing them actually causes death. They just don’t save a person from reaching their natural destination. Repenting from that former life is one of the items that should not need to be reestablished.
The opposite of living according to the Law is living by faith toward God –faith in the One who did what no one else could. Although they claimed to have that faith, for it to be genuine they had to esteem Jesus above their most revered authority figures –Moses (with the Levitical Priesthood) and the prophets.
God repeats His offer for a better destination –eternal life– over and over. But He’s only provided one way to get there –by trusting in His Son.
After a Hebrew became unclean –and there were many ordinary causes– he went to the Levitical priest for instructions about washings. Nearly always, living water, or a sacrifice’s blood, or both, were required.
The case of leprosy, described in Leviticus 14, provides an excellent illustration. When a person noticed an abnormality on his skin, he went to the priest for a ruling on his condition. If he was determined to be unclean –he had to live outside the camp and publicly confess his condition to everyone he met. If the abnormality later disappeared, the person returned to the priest for confirmation that God had indeed healed him.
The ceremonial washing then began with two birds. One was killed in a clay jar over running water. Pieces of wood, a scarlet string and hyssop –along with the live bird– were dipped in the blood of the one that was killed. The leper was also sprinkled seven times by the blood soaked hyssop. At that point the leper was declared clean –and the living, bloodstained bird was freed to fly away.
The healed leper washed his clothes, bathed and shaved his body. This was so that he could see for himself –and show the community– that he was wholly healed. No blemish remained hidden by hair or dirt or soiled clothing. Then he took offerings of animals and grain (flour) mixed with oil to the priest. Some of the blood and oil were put on his thumb, toe and ear lobe; the rest of the oil was poured on his head.
The ceremony is a teaching example of spiritual redemption and new birth.
The leper recognized that he was dead in his sins –outside the kingdom. Killing the first bird in a clay jar represents Jesus’ death while He was living in a human body. The running water shows that God’s cleansing never ends. Freeing the second bird pictures His resurrection. The wood represents His cross –the hyssop is the whip that drew His blood –and the scarlet string is the tie connecting His death and new life to the leper. Sprinkling the leper seven times certifies that no more sacrifice is needed.
The three offerings represent his whole being –animals for his body, grain for his soul and oil for his spirit. They showed that he was a changed person. It affected what he did (with his hands), where he went (with his feet) and what he listened to (with his ears). Furthermore, the additional oil on his head commissioned him as an official ambassador of the gospel.
The laying on of hands was essential in the offering of blood sacrifices. Individuals, as well as leaders, would bring their prescribed animals to the tabernacle. There, they would lay their hands on their animal to ceremonially transfer their guilt onto it –and then it would be killed.
A dramatic annual presentation of this was performed on the Day of Atonement. That’s when the high priest laid his hands on, and sacrificed, a bull for his own sins. He then laid his hands on, and sacrificed, a goat for the sins of the people. The blood of these substitutes was taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the mercy seat (the ark’s cover). Next, he laid his hands on a live goat (the scapegoat) which would be banished to wander in the wilderness ().
Instructions about washings (to remove sins) and laying on of hands (to transfer sins) were only pictures of realities that were to come. The Roman soldiers carried out the will of the people by laying their hands on Jesus. As their traditions predicted, the sins of the world were transferred onto God’s sacrifice. When He was on the cross and pierced by the spear, both living water and sacrificial blood flowed from His body to wash away all unrighteousness. It was the one-time payment for all sins.
Foreshadows of the resurrection of the dead are found in many Old Testament Scriptures. David prophesied about Jesus’ resurrection in Psalms 16 and 17. And one of the most famous passages in the Bible is Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection ( ).
The believers’ resurrection is vividly depicted in Isaiah 26, Daniel 12, and Job 14 and 19. Also, Hosea talks about the testing of faith and the reward of eternal life that follows ().
Eternal judgment was the subject of Jesus’ story in . It’s where He described the afterlives of Lazarus and a rich man. After the two died, angels carried Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom (also known as Paradise); but the rich man went to the grave (also known as Hades, hell, or the place of torment). Upon seeing the hopelessness of his situation, the rich man asked for someone to go back and warn his Hebrew brothers so that they might escape the horror awaiting them.
Then Jesus clearly told His audience that Moses and the Prophets had already explained that a life of faith (like Lazarus’) was required to enter God’s rest. Even if someone did return from the dead –referring to His own resurrection– they would be too stubborn to believe.
On Judgment Day, everyone will be raised to appear before the Judge () –the Son of God ( ). At that time, everyone’s destiny will be revealed.
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: elementary teachings about Jesus. They need to be accepted as truth for a person to become mature, useful members of His household.