Hebrews 6

Overview

  • The author says:
  • Okay, people, let’s move past Jesus 101 already. Time to get to the sophisticated stuff.
  • No need to review the foundational principals of 1) turning away from the belief that your own efforts can save you, 2) placing all your hope of salvation in God, 3) symbolically using water to indicate that your are purified before God, 4) symbolically transferring God’s spirit to one another by the laying on of hands, 5) the understanding that we will all be raised from the dead one day, and 6) that we will have to face eternal consequences for our actions here and now (Lord willing).
  • There’s no way that someone who has turned back to Judaism after having been enlightened (about Jesus), experienced God’s grace, his Holy Spirit, and the gifts God gave us to bring about his kingdom, will ever come back to Christianity by you trying to save them. Not gonna happen.
  • It’s like that person who turned away is now willingly and knowingly rejecting Jesus as the savior. Just like the Jews and Romans did previously when they unknowingly rejected Jesus as their leader and humiliated him by nailing him to the cross, except now these people are fully aware of who Jesus is and are still hoping that Jesus will die and disappear from their lives forever.
  • It’s like we’re all farmland and God is raining down truth on us. When that truth is absorbed and crops bloom, we (the land) are useful to God–we are producing the right results. But when the rain on that farmland produces nothing useful (thorns instead of crops), the farmer isn’t going to let the weeds run rampant. He’s going to cut them all down. He’s going to clean the field by burning up all the unwanted plants. God will purge the bad farmland. You don’t have to worry about trying to do it yourself.
  • But I don’t have to worry about you producing thorns instead of crops, right? I’m convinced you’re on the right track. God is not unfair. He’s watching all your work and sees that you are trying to help his people produce good crops. Keep up the good work. Keep on keeping on. This kind of faith will get you where you need to go.
  • Don’t slack off now. Imitate those you know who keeping trying so hard to bring everyone in alignment with God.
  • Remember that time when Abraham nearly sacrificed his only son Isaac, the son that God had promised to him, and Abe was all, “Why does God want me to kill the son he promised me?” but God stopped him and said, “Whoa, now. I haven’t forgot my promise. All people will be blessed through your descendants, just as I said.”
  • Well God made that promise on his own authority, because there is no greater authority than him, and Abraham patiently waited out the trials and realized that the promise would come true.
  • People enter into binding agreements (like contracts) that are greater than any one person’s promise, so that there’s no subjectivity in administering the result.
  • God entered into a binding agreement with us through a contract based on himself, because 1) he cannot lie, and 2) he is unchanging in his opinion– the two most rock solid pieces needed in any agreement.
  • Take courage that we have been made the promise that we will end up in heaven with God, a promise made to us by God himself, on his own authority.
  • Our future hope is anchored in the most secure place possible–in Jesus who is in heaven already. Jesus has gone before us and is sitting in the holiest place possible, right next to God, acting on our behalf as the greatest high priest ever, in the tradition of Melchizedek.

Historical Context

Six foundational teachings of the early church are laid out in verses 1 and 2 in three pairs: (1) repentance from dead works, and faith toward God (v. 1), (2) instruction about washings, and laying on of hands (v. 2a), and (3) instruction about the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment (v. 2b).1

This list of doctrines relates to issues shared by Judaism and Christianity. These would be doctrines that believing and unbelieving Jews would agree on easily.2

These six elements of instruction have 1) two spiritual qualities: repentance, faith; 2) two symbolic acts: washings and laying on of hands; and 3) two eschatological truths: resurrection and judgment.5

  • Repentance from dead works is a reference to the class of deeds from which the conscience requires to be cleansed, as evidenced by the same description of them in Heb. 9:14.  The works of human righteousness, the works of the flesh, the works of mortal achievement, and even the works of the Law of Moses, must all be included in the “dead works” mentioned here.3
  • The ritual washings (literally baptisms) may relate to either Old Testament cleansing ceremonies or Christian baptism. The plural use of “baptisms” is never used for Christian baptism anywhere else in the New Testament, but always refers to Jewish ceremonial ablutions–this is the most common understanding. However, some scholars think that use of the plural “baptisms” came from the idea that there are two baptisms taught by the Christian religion: baptism by water and by the spirit.6
  • Laying on of hands in Judaism was part of the sacrificial ritual (Lev. 1:4; 3:2; etc.) and commissioning for public office (Num. 27:18; Deut. 34:9; Acts 6:6). In the early church the imparting of the Holy Spirit sometimes accompanied this practice (Acts 8:17-18; etc).1
  • The resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement come from Daniel 7:9-10 and 12:2. In these depictions of the final establishment of God’s kingdom, the dead will be raised to face God, “Some to everlasting life, others to reproach and everlasting disgrace.”

Genesis 22:17

The author of Hebrews is paraphrasing God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 22 (“I will bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.”) which takes place after Abraham almost sacrificed his son, Isaac. The author is saying that the audience must continue to trust and obey, as they had done in the past, even though it looks as if faithfulness would result in tragedy, just as Abraham must have thought.1

Observations

  • The verb translated “let us press on” (Greek, pherometha) is in the passive voice and so could be translated, “Let us be carried on” (i.e., by God’s Spirit). Spiritual maturity comes as we follow the Holy Spirit who leads and empowers us.1
  • The most difficult portion of this passage is the idea that it is “impossible… to be brought back to repentance.” Some commentators think this is not saying that it is impossible for God to renew a a person a second time; but that it is impossible for other members of the congregation to restore them.3
  • The author implies that in crucifying Jesus once more the crime would be aggravated beyond that of those put him to death initially for 1) they knew not what they did; and, 2) because it would be a rejection of the only possible plan of salvation.6
  • The word rendered “fall away” means properly “to fall in with or meet (someone).” Here it means undoubtedly to “apostatize from,” and implies an entire renunciation of Christianity, or a going back to a state of Judaism, paganism, or sin. The Greek word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament.6
  • The useless land that will eventually be “burned” does not necessarily imply non-believers being burned in hell. In ancient times, as well as today, farmers often burned their fields to removed unwanted vegetation, not to destroy the field itself.The implication may be a purifying judgment, not eternal doom.
  • Our hope is in the unchanging character and promises of God. These are the “two unchangeable things” of v. 18.2
  • 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. 2:1). Our anchor rests firmly in the holy of holies in the heavenly temple, in God’s presence.1
  • Hope is a compound emotion made up of an earnest “desire” for an object, and a corresponding “expectation” of obtaining it. The hope of heaven is made up of an earnest “wish” to reach heaven, and a corresponding “reason to believe” that it will be ours.6

Discussion

  • Hebrews 6:4-6 is often used to argue both for and against the idea that once a person is saved they can never lose their salvation. Given the context of the book thus far, what do you think the author is saying to his audience about their ability to forsake God? What do you think personally about your ability to forsake God? Can someone who turns away from God never be brought back to repentance? Is there a connection between this passage and what Jesus says about the “unpardonable sin” in Mark 3:29?
  • What do you think about the list of the six foundation teachings listed in v.1-2? How often have you been taught about these ideas? Is the church still anchored on these basics?
  • The author says we are to place the anchor of our faith in heaven, with Jesus. How do we know that is where our anchor is? How does this change our perspective on life when heaven is where our hope is set?

References

  1. Constable’s commentary
  2. Utley’s commentary
  3. Coffman’s commentary
  4. Gill’s commentary
  5. Cambridge commentary
  6. Barnes’ commentary
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