As we approach this chapter, I must admit that I have procrastinated for a couple of days, wondering at times if indeed I had undertaken more than I could accomplish in this daily commentary. I had begun to write about the chapter but had set it aside. As I come back to it I have no doubt in my mind why I have been hesitant to go on. J. Vernon McGee begins his commentary like this:
"This chapter, by all odds, contains the most difficult passage in the Bible for an interpreter to handle, regardless of his theological position."McGee then quotes D.R. Dale who says:
"I know how this passage has made the heart of many a good man tremble. It rises up in the New Testament with a gloomy grandeur, stern, portentous, awful...."He adds "Every reverent person has come to this section with awe and wonder. And every sincere expositor has come to this passage with a sense of inadequacy." I 'm glad to know that I am not the only one who has ever been stopped cold by this passage... but we must know at the outset that we may come away from this lesson without some of the answers which we might wish we had!
1. Repentance from acts that lead to death.These are the "milk" doctrines, not the doctrines of Christian maturity. We are urged to press on to more substantial truths. And of course the first one that he approaches is the one which causes us such difficulty.
"For it is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because, to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace."In our initial view of the book of Hebrews, I characterized this as a "Warning against Backsliding." and in fact that is what we are being warned against. But beyond that and within it this is a more frightening warning about backsliding which leads to apostasy. Apostasy is more than neglect of the faith, it is more than Christian laziness or failure to fellowship with the faithful. It is more than being caught in temptations or addictions which keep us from growing and make our lives a discredit to he Lord luring us away from His work. Apostasy is the willful decision of one who has:
1. Known Christ ("been enlightened")His/Her willful decision to deny what (s)he KNOWS to be true (not out of doubt or confusion or compulsion) is apostasy. That decision to reject and cast off the salvation which has graciously been given as an eternally secure covering is apostasy. One who knows the voice of God and the will of God and the peace of the Holy Spirit, but chooses instead to pledge allegiance to those who would fight what they know to be a futile battle against the victory of God's kingdom -- these are apostates! These would commit the unforgivable sin by choice, recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit and calling it evil. These are like the demons who, when confronted by Christ, said "We know who you are--the Holy One of God!"(Mark 1:24).
The apostate is a traitor to Christ's cause who is "crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." Christ was crucified in the flesh for all humankind, but now may be crucified in the spirit by the separation of one that He died for. He lives in the hearts of those who believe and so experiences the pain of those who separate themselves. The warning here is that backsliding can lead to this kind of hardening of the heart. "Land which drinks in the rain.... but produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned." It is not easy for the Christian who has the heart of Christ to accept that some will be lost... It is almost impossible to imagine that some hearts will be so hardened that they will knowingly take up the losing fight against Christ's kingdom. But scripture does affirm that some will be lost. Could God give us free will, and not respect the decision of those who refuse to be saved?
"Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case." We must not be mistaken here about the Gospel. Christ's grace is sufficient to accomplish all that he has promised! Once we have committed our lives to him we are eternally secure - in spite of doubt or danger, temptation or sin - we are secure. We must not allow this passage to frighten us into thinking that we some-how teeter on the edge of safety. The covering of Christ is eternal security and all-sufficient grace and righteousness. Apostasy is an extreme position of rebellious disobedience which chooses with full will and responsibility to walk away from God. "God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people, and continue to help them" Yet this assurance should not lead to laziness but rather to faith and patience as we wait for the promises of God to be revealed.
The writer of the book must understand that this warning against apostasy would be frightening to the faithful believer who has a healthy fear and respect for God. He ends the chapter with reassurance that God's promises are unchangeable. God cannot swear by anything greater than himself. (When we swear an oath it is "So help me God", or "upon the word of God" or "for Christ's sake") - But when God wanted to make clear his unchanging purpose, he confirmed it with a promise. The promised One was Jesus who is "the anchor for the soul, firm and secure"
Jesus, the promised one, "enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain... on our behalf" - This "inner sanctuary" refers to the Holy of Holies in the temple (which was only a reflection or copy of heavenly things) - it represents the very throne of God... the intimate place where one approaches God in person. In the instruction given to Moses, the High priest was to enter this place only one time a year to make atonement for himself and for all of Israel. So that High priest was a picture of the promise of God.... Jesus Christ who entered once and for all into the heavenly throne of God to make atonement and to plead for us. "He has become our High priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek."
So we end this chapter once again with Melchizedek who is the priest of God, by God's will, not by appointment of human will. He is eternal, not fleeting. We do not have to enter again and again year after year for the atonement of our sin. Christ has done it once and for all. We need not fear the loss of our salvation, not even through neglect or temptation! -- Christ's grace is sufficient. Yet he will not force his will upon us. There are those who will be lost because they refuse to be saved. It is with awful solemness that this truth has been brought to our attention in this chapter.
Tomorrow we go on to Chapter 7. God bless us all.
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© 1998 Susan Kliebenstein