Hebrews, Chapter Six What Does It Mean?
I can hear some saying right now, "You are using Hebrews a lot, so what about Hebrews, chapter 6?" Ok, let’s look at it.
for it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
First, let’s understand one thing about this passage. It is not referring to Salvation, but deals with our purpose in God’s plan. If it is talking about Salvation, per se, then it teaches that if you have lost your salvation, you can never get it back. You could never be ‘renewed’. For those who say that you can lose it, always say you can get it back. But not according to this verse.
As in all interpretation of Scripture, we must take this passage in the context that is was written. It was not written in a vacuum. To lift this passage out of the context of the whole letter is, “deceitfully handling the Word of God.” Anyone who takes a Scripture out of the context in which it was written, is immediately in error. If we are going to come to the truth in any passage of Scripture, we must leave it in the context in which it was written.
BACKGROUND FOR THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS
First, we want to underscore what seems to be the theme of Hebrews. There is a thread, woven throughout this letter. That is the word or the idea of ‘better’. The word better, appears 13 times in the letter, the phrase more excellent, 4 times, and the word perfect, 12 times. The Greek word for ‘better’, is best understood as that which is stronger, or of higher character. The writer of Hebrews is stressing the fact, that the New Covenant is STRONGER than the first one, the New Covenant makes PERFECT, what the first cannot, and the things pertaining to the New are MORE EXCELLENT. This is the purpose of the writing of the letter to the Hebrews, to show the Superiority of the New above the Old.
When looking at the internal evidence, it is apparent that the recipients are Jewish believers. There is language used to describe their experience that can only be used of those who have entered into a Salvation experience. Hebrews 6 is one of the best examples. In verse 4, he speaks of those who have ‘been enlightened.’ This enlightenment, according to its verbal construction, is a once-for-all enlightenment. He then continues to describe this enlightenment. They had been enlightened to the point of tasting the heavenly gift, even being made partakers, or partners of the Holy Spirit. Not only this, but they have tasted the good word of God, even the powers of the world to come. This can only describe one who has entered into a New Covenant relationship with the Lord Jesus, and has been filled with the Holy Spirit.
We must ask this question. What is the problem with these Jewish believers? If we go to chapters 3 & 4, we will find a strong clue. In these chapters, the writer uses the ancient children of Israel's experience in the wilderness as an example of warning to these believers. The context of this warning is found in Numbers, where the Israelites were commanded to go in and possess the land. They had come in their travels to Kadesh-barnea. It was here that they sent in a reconnaissance team of 12 men, to spy out the land. They returned with their report, that the land was indeed good, flowing with milk and honey. To this they all agreed. But 10 of them also reported GIANTS in the land. The other two, Joshua and Caleb, also saw the giants. All 12 saw the same things, but only two had a good report. Their report was, ‘We can take it, because we have an Awesome God’. But the multitude of Israel, did not believe their report, but believed the evil report of the ten. So they said, ‘We cannot do this, we are like grasshoppers in the sight of these giants’.
And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Eygpt? AND THEY SAID ONE TO ANOTHER, LET US MAKE US A CAPTAIN AND LET US RETURN INTO EGYPT. [Num. 14:1-4]
The Israelites wanted to return to Egypt, the house of bondage. This seems to be the problem with these Jewish believers addressed in Hebrews. They thought that returning to the bondage of the Law was better than what they presently had.
Inspite of Moses’ pleading with them, they would not listen. At this point, God is ready to destroy them on the spot, but Moses intercedes for them, and God chooses another course of action. Then God says to Moses,
Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it.
Then in Num. 14:28-45, the Lord tells them that they shall not see the land that he swore to give them. They would wander for 40 years and die in this wilderness. However, their children, whom they said would be a prey, would enter in. Only Joshua and Caleb, who brought a good report, would be allowed to enter in of the original twelve.
Upon hearing this pronouncement of the Lord, the Israelites suddenly found the courage to go up and possess the land (vs.40). Moses told them, ‘don’t go up, for the Lord is not with you’. But they would not listen and presumed to go up anyway. In their minds, they were being obedient to the Lord’s command, but it was not faith, but presumption. They went up to fight, and were sorely defeated. Because of unbelief, they had failed to attain to the purpose of God. God’s purpose for them was not to live wasted lives in the wilderness, but to inherit the land of promise.
Now, back to Hebrews. It is in this background that the writer admonishes these believers to continue in their walk of faith. Those Israelites did not enter in because of their unbelief (Heb. 3:19). THEY DID NOT FULFILL THEIR PURPOSE IN GOD, BECAUSE THEY DID NOT TRUST AND BELIEVE HIM. This is the point of Hebrews 6, and the essence of the warning of the writer to these believers. There is a danger of not fulfilling your purpose in God, and this is done only through a lack of trust and faith in Him. It is not related to salvation, i.e., heaven or hell, but it is related to the purpose for which we were saved.
The recipients of the letter seemed to be in danger of returning to trusting in the old rites of Judaism (returning to Judaism = returning to Egypt -> the house of bondage), which the writer points out were mere shadows of the reality found in Jesus. Why would they return to the emptiness of a mere shadow? In a word, persecution. They were likely being persecuted by their fellow-countrymen. In Hebrews 10, the writer tells them,
32 But call to rememberance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;
33 Partly whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.
34 For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.
35 Cast not away, therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.
36 For ye have need of patience, that , after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.
37 For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.
38 Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.
39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe unto the saving of the soul.
Here is further evidence that these were believers. In verse 33, the writer refers to the days in which they were illuminated, which is the identical word used in 6:4, enlightened. In ancient religious culture, Light was Salvation. These believers became a public spectacle of scorn, through verbal and physical abuse. They endured joyfully the spoiling of their material goods, and were companions and associates with others in the Body of Christ who were enduring the same treatment. They understood that they had a more enduring and better possession in heaven, than they could ever have here. In other words, they had begun well, and now the writer exhorts them not to Cast away their confidence, because it will pay off for them.
Therefore, they had need of patience, after they have done the will of God, they would receive the promise. It is not clear what caused these believers to begin to trust in the old shadows of their religion, instead of continuing to live in its fulfillment. The best guess is persecution by the synagogue of satan. It is evident from the language of the writer, that some of them already had returned, or were in the midst of a return. For this reason he warns them that God has no pleasure in them that draw back. This phrase, draw back means, to shrink back or withhold something because of fearfulness or timidity. The word, perdition, means destruction, waste, or to destroy through waste. The tragic results of this drawing back, is that one would waste their life, or destroy it through wasting it, living in fear and distrust of the promises of God. The ultimate waste for the child of God, is to not live in the realization of God’s plan for their life.
However, the writer says, “We are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving (possessing) of the soul.” The writer says that they are not of the same group who shrink back because of fearfulness or timidity. This tells us that there are those who do. Who are these that draw back because of fear?
One example is found in John, chapter 6. Jesus proclaimed himself the Bread of Life. The teaching went to such depths, that his disciples could not understand it. It became revolting to them. Some of them went back and walked no more with him. The phrase, went back, can be understood as, drew back. They went back and walked no more with him, because they lacked faith IN HIM. These men walked away into perdition, i.e., walked into a wasted life. Jesus then turned to the twelve and asked them if they would go away also. Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” The twelve did not understand the words of Jesus anymore than those who went away. But they had one thing that the others didn’t, faith in Him. Notice Peter said, “To WHOM shall we go?” This is why the writer says, "we are not of those who draw back . . ." because we are of those who have faith in Him. Earlier, the writer says,
9 But beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.
10 For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which you have showed toward his name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
11 And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.
12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Heb. 6:9-12)
Even though the writer gives such stern warnings, he says that he is persuaded better things for them, even though he speaks in such a manner. He simply exhorts them not to be ‘slothful’, or dull and sluggish in their response to God’s word. They are to show diligence in their faith, resulting in a full assurance of hope (confidence) unto the very end. This is what marks the difference between those who draw back and those who do not. It is not that true believers do not struggle, or have their times of wavering. It is that they continue in their faith and confidence in the Lord and his promises, in the face of doubt and struggles. This is the mark of real believers, continuing even though they may fall. Peter is a good example of this.