Last time, we looked first at the Hebrews writer’s explanation of his meaning when he wrote that his readers had become “dull of hearing.” We discussed the need for all believers – both the newly-reborn and those who have walked with the LORD for many years – to continually exercise their spiritual senses so that we will be able to discern good from evil, particularly in these “perilous times” in which the Church now lives.
We then took up an analysis of one of the most difficult passages in all of Scripture – Hebrews 6:4-6 – looking first at some historical perspectives for its interpretation (including a brief overview of the principles of Calvinism and Arminianism), then taking a close look at what Jesus Himself had to say in answer to the fundamental questions raised by this passage:
- Do we have free choice in coming to a saving faith in the Gospel or is our salvation pre-ordained by God?
- Is it possible for a true believer and follower of Christ to fall away from faith to the extent of losing salvation?
Unfortunately (but not surprisingly) we found that God’s Word does not give us clear-cut answers to these questions, but contains support for both sides of them both. Thus the debate has continued for nearly half a millennium.
In conclusion, we found that although we may never have fully satisfactory answers to such questions in this life, God has given us the promise of deeper enlightenment in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians…
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. [1 Corinthians 13:12 – NKJV]
Hebrews 6:7-18 – Confident of Better Things
Small wonder that after such a difficult passage, the writer now turns to a brief word of encouragement prior to his launching into an in-depth discourse about Melchizedek and Jesus’ relationship with (H)him.
7For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; 8but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. 9But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. 10For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. 11And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.13For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.”[Genesis 22:17] 15And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. 16For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. 17Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, 18that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. [Hebrews 6:7-18 – NKJV]
7For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; 8but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.9But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. [Hebrews 6:7-9 – NKJV]
1“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.5“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. [John 15:1-6 – NKJV]
10“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,And do not return there,But water the earth,And make it bring forth and bud,That it may give seed to the sowerAnd bread to the eater,11So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;It shall not return to Me void,But it shall accomplish what I please,And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. [Isaiah 55:10-11 – NKJV]
- those whose attention is distracted by the evil one so that they never really consider the Truth they have been given.
- hardened hearts which initially accept the Word, but are never properly cultivated (discipled) so that the Word is unable to take root and prosper.
- those who initially accept the Word gladly, but allow the cares and lusts of this world to carry away their love for it. These are the ones the Hebrews writer speaks of in Hebrews 6:1 whose spiritual discernment has been dulled through lack of exercise.
- the blessed souls who take the Word of Truth given to us into the very depth of our hearts, abide in His Word, and thus bear fruit for the Kingdom of God. These are those the Hebrews writer says he is “confident of better things concerning” in Hebrews 6:9.
10For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. 11And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. [Hebrews 6:10-12 – NKJV]
Part of our discipleship in Christ is the growth of our ministries. As we exercise our spiritual discernment, Jesus calls us to ever more challenging ministries in His Name. As we continue to abide in His Word, we grow from taking the milk of the fundamental principles to which the writer alluded in Hebrews 5:12-6:3, into mature believers fully capable of digesting the meat of the full counsel of God’s Word, including the difficult passages such as Hebrews 6:4-6, remembering always that it is God’s Spirit who is our Teacher, and our more mature brethren in the LORD who help to guide our development. The result, as the Hebrews writer mentions here in Hebrews 6:10-12 is that God reveals to us the particular gifts of His Spirit with which He has endowed each of the members of His body – the Church.
11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. [Ephesians 4:11-16 – NKJV]
This process of sanctification – God’s setting of His chosen people apart for Himself as Christ’s inheritance – is ongoing. God’s Spirit continues to challenge us as His Gospel ministers, until He is able to ultimately perfect us into the very image of Christ. When we read Jesus’ words in His Sermon on the Mount when He said…
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. [Matthew 5:48 – NKJV]
…we usually think of it as a challenge that we could never possibly meet. That is correct. Of ourselves, it would be impossible to ever attain the perfection of God. But we might more rightly look on this verse as a promise of God when we consider that our perfection is strictly God’s holy work, not anything of our own. It is God’s Spirit who sanctifies us through His Word, and yes through the suffering to which we are called just as Jesus was. When we consider the daunting task Jesus gave us in His Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) to go and make disciples of all the world, we would do well to remember the promise Jesus attaches to this command.
I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. [Matthew 28:20b – NKJV]
13For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.”[Genesis 22:17] 15And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. 16For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. 17Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, 18that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. [Hebrews 6:7-18 – NKJV]
There’s a lot to unpack in this passage, but it is one integrated concept. The writer once more invokes the name of Abraham for his Jewish readers, knowing that doing so would pique their attention and interest since they held (and still hold) Abraham above all people except perhaps Moses.
The promise and oath of God to Abraham to which the writer refers in Hebrews 6:13-14 is found in Genesis 22. God had called Abraham to sacrifice his own son Isaac – the child which God had promised to Abraham as his heir – on the mountains of Moriah. At the last minute, the voice of God commanded Abraham not to harm his son, just as he was about to put the knife to Isaac’s throat. God then gave Abraham this amazing promise and sealed it by an oath.
15Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, 16and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—17blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” [Genesis 22:15-18 – NKJV]
Aside – During the time of Abraham, the Mountains of Moriah were two distinct summits – Mt. Moriah and Mt. Zion – separated by a deep saddle known as the Millo. On the northernmost summit (Mt. Moriah), Abraham sacrificed the ram which God provided in Isaac’s place. The city of Salem (later called Jebus and then Jerusalem) was later built on this site. Near the end of King David’s reign he sinned by counting the people of Israel, and God brought a plague upon the people as punishment. God then commanded David to build an altar and make sacrifices at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel 24:18). At that time, the mountain was still two separate peaks with Jerusalem on the higher (where the threshing floor of Araunah was located), and the original Jebusite stronghold which David conquered and renamed the City of David on the lower of the two (Mt. Zion). After David’s death, Solomon began the work of filling in the Millo with a huge landfill, making it nearly level. On Mt. Moriah, Solomon built a huge platform on giant stone vaults where he constructed the first Jewish Temple. This platform was later vastly expanded by King Herod the Great during the 1st century BC to become what we call the Temple Mount in Jerusalem today – the world’s largest man-made platform. Today it is the site of the Muslim shrine – The Dome of the Rock, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Dome of the Rock was originally a Christian church built by the Crusaders around 1100 AD. They also built the mosque building which was originally a Crusader palace constructed about the same time.
Abraham did indeed wait for many years for God’s promise and covenant with him to be fulfilled but it could hardly be said that he did so patiently as it says here in Hebrews 6:15 – at least not initially. Recall that when God first gave the promise of an heir to Abram in Genesis 15 he was already quite old. Nevertheless Abram believed God’s promise, and it was credited to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6). But Abram became impatient and allowed his wife, Sarai to convince him to try to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise himself by impregnating Sarai’s maidservant Hagar when he was about 85-86 years old (Genesis 16 – especially Genesis 16:16). Another thirteen years passed before God appeared again to Abram, renaming him Abraham and renewing the promise of an heir by his wife Sarai whom He renamed Sarah at about the same time the following year when Abraham turned 100 (Genesis 17). By this time, Abraham had matured and decided to patiently await the fulfillment of God’s promise. The Bible doesn’t say exactly how old Isaac was when God called Abraham to sacrifice him, but he was certainly old enough to speak, to accompany his aged father on the three-day journey to the mountains of Moriah, and to carry himself the wood for his own burnt offering up the mountain. All told, by then it had probably been some 25 years from the time God first made His promise and covenant with Abram until He renewed the promise with an oath sworn by Himself as we saw in Genesis 22:15-18. By this time, Abraham had certainly learned to patiently trust God and await the fulfillment of His promises.
But this quarter century was only the beginning of Abraham’s patient waiting. The events described in Genesis 15-22 occurred somewhere around 2,000 BC. The ram God provided on the Mountains of Moriah as a substitute sacrifice in the place of Isaac was symbolic of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – Jesus – who was born some 2,000 years later. By that time, of course, Abraham’s body was long since dead. Nevertheless, his faith in God’s promise and his enduring patience awaiting its fulfillment has been credited to him for righteousness, so his spirit was able to rejoice at the coming of Jesus into the world, as Jesus proclaimed to the Jews in the temple in Jerusalem.
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” [John 8:56 – NKJV]
Indeed, it might well be said that Abraham is still waiting for the final fulfillment of God’s promise that “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” Abraham continues to wait patiently as the writer urges his Hebrew audience to do, and as we ourselves are called to do until the Day of the LORD. On that Day we will all join with Abraham to see the ultimate fulfillment of the promise God first made in the Garden of Eden when He cursed the serpent and made the first promise of the coming Messiah – Jesus.
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.” [Genesis 3:15 – NKJV]
Therefore, the writer urges the Hebrew congregation(s) to whom he wrote just has he does the believers of today who read his letter to remain steadfast in our faith in God’s promise first given in the Garden, knowing that God will keep the oath He swore upon His own Name because there is none greater upon whom He could swear, and knowing that God who can do almost anything cannot by any means lie. Thus, just as Abraham believed the promise of God and is was credited to him for righteousness, so we also believe in the promise of hope which Jesus has set before us by the covenant He made in His own blood on the cross. We agree with the apostle Peter that we must continue to patiently wait until the great Promise is finally fulfilled in its entirety.
8But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.10But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 13Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. [2 Peter 3:8-13 – NKJV]
In Chapter 7, the Hebrews writer takes up once more his exposition of Jesus’ role as our Great High Priest of the order of Melchizedek. We will learn much more about this fascinating figure who greeted and blessed Abraham upon his return from rescuing his nephew Lot and the King of Sodom, and to whom Abraham himself gave a tithe of the spoils.