Lecture 12: Hebrews 5:11-6:12 (Part 2)
Lecture: Hebrews 5:11-6:12 Part 2
B. The Warning Itself (Hebrews 6:4-8)
There is an article by Dave Mathewson by the title of Reading Hebrews 6:4-6 in light of the Old Testament. That is found in Westminster Theological Journal, Volume 61, and 1999 page 213. Those who were once enlightened could refer to people’s initial exposure to the Gospel in some way. The author says to them to remember the former days, the earlier days after they had received the light. It was after you were enlightened. You can use the term in that sense, but Mathewson notes that the pillar of fire enlightened the way for the Israelites. You have this in Nehemiah 9:12 and 19 and also Psalm 105:39. So, what the author has in mind perhaps is exposure to right Christian teachings, perhaps even the teaching of the Gospel.
1. Those Who Were Once Enlightened:
One of the things you should keep in mind as we go through these, in regards to the author’s description; he doesn’t define specifically what he is talking about. Even you say that they had been enlightened in the sense of being exposed to the Gospel, it doesn’t tell us how specifically exposed in what way. So, the first point here, these people have been enlightened. The second point, they had tasted the heavenly gifts. Some have taken the concept of tasting, to have tried and not fully partaken of. Westcott in his commentary says that the enjoyment of what you describe is only partial. I think Westcott is wrong in this case. Jesus tasted death and this doesn’t mean that Jesus partially partook of death. So, what the word taste means is to experience something. This is another way of saying that he experienced something. Others think this relates to the taking of the Eucharist, but there isn’t anything from the context that would suggest this.
2. Tested the Heavenly Gift:
So, they have experienced the heavenly gift. In Acts, the gift refers to the Holy Spirit, but here the author seems to make a distinction between the gift and the spirit. Dave Mathewson says that this echoes the manna in the wandering passage. It is the idea of the tasting of the manna from heaven; the vision from God. This analogy in a New Testament context in Pauline usage, the term refers more generally to the blessings of God in being God’s people.
3. Companions of the Holy Spirit:
So they have become companions of the Holy Spirit. We have the term methakust, the term I would translate as companions. Some have translated this as friends but other places in Hebrews gives the meaning of companions such as in 3:14. The quotation in chapter one has to do with being anointed with the oil of gladness. So, methakust means that they have in some way become associated with the Holy Spirit. The terms could be used in reference to a partner, a sharer or perhaps a room-mate in the ancient world. Again, Mathewson suggests that in looking at the passages in the Old Testament that have to do with the falling away in the wilderness; there is a great deal of emphasis that these people fell away in spite of the fact that the Holy Spirit was working among them. The exact nature of the relationship with the Holy Spirit isn’t defined. What does it mean that they were companions of the Holy Spirit? Those of the wilderness generation also had a liberal experience of the Spirit among them, yet they didn’t respond to God in true faith.
4. Tasting the Word of God and Powers of the Coming Age:
The Word and Power of God are very closely linked in Hebrews. You have a direct parallel with the wanderers who heard the Word of God and yet didn’t combine that hearing with faith. Those who serve as a negative example in some ways have experienced God’s good word and power and yet not responded appropriately. In fact, they did the opposite; they turned away in spite of experiencing the powers of God. Back in chapter 3, looking at Psalm 95, one of the emphasis of that passage was that they rebelled in spite of the powerful work that God had done in their midst.
5. They have Fallen Away:
Finally, the author shows them as having fallen away. This is very much a wilderness type of imagery; the falling in the wilderness.
6. There is a Renewing to Repentance:
The renewed repentance suggests that they have repented before this. So, these are people that in some way, however you define it; they have been very associated with the church. They are people who have been very involved in what was going on, having seen God work in their midst. Evidently, they have even made public repentance themselves. Yet, the author says that it is impossible to renew them to repentance. The explanation given in the text for this
are two participles here; the other participles are in a different tense whereas these two participles are in the present tense. In dealing with tense forms in terms of syntax and not read too much temporally in these forms. But if you have a shift like this, you need to ask why. One thing that the present tense form seems to communicate is something that is ongoing, not perfected yet; it is something that is an ongoing state. It could be translated as causal or temporal, even circumstantial. So, they have fallen away and it is impossible to renew them again to repentance because they are crucifying the Son of God and putting him to open shame. Or it could be temporal; as long as while they are crucifying the Son of God and putting him to open shame. The writer provides this explanation in these two forms of parallel present tense participles. It may be understood as significant that he shifts to the present tense. The act of crucifying and subjecting to disgrace are very harsh terms here. The interpretative weight should have some kind of causal idea, since they are crucifying the Son of God and putting him to open shame. They can’t return to repentance because they are treating Christ in this way. If you understand this as an ongoing action whether causal or temporal; just from a grammatical standpoint, it leaves open the possibility that they could come back. If you understand it as while they are doing this, then perhaps they could repent if they stop doing it. It may not be the appropriate interpretation. From a grammatical viewpoint that is a possibility. From a theological standpoint; why is it impossible? What these people have done, if they turn their backs and walk away from Christ and the church, they have taken sides with those people who are standing in front of the cross jeering at Jesus, saying that they don’t believe that Jesus in who he says he was. This is a harsh actuation to say to somebody, but that is what they are doing. Is there something ontologically that once a person has turned their backs on Christ, they are changed in some way that they can’t.
So, why is it impossible to renew them to repentance? It is because once you have rejected Jesus, there is no place else to repent. In 10:18 & 26, the author says that once there was a lack of forgiveness in these things, there is no longer a sacrifice for sins. In other words, the Old Covenant sacrificial system is gone, once you understand the significance of what Jesus has done. You can’t repent if there is no place to repent. If you reject Jesus, perhaps to go to another mainline form of Judaism of the day, there is no repentance there. These are equally valid religions here from the author of Hebrews perspective. This doesn’t sit well for our Jewish friends as they don’t want to hear that, but that is what Hebrews is saying. He can’t repent if you have rejected Christ. There is no place to do that. You can’t find forgiveness for your sins at that point. Know that repentance is in the Old Testament and we need to take it in its context as real repentance. My point is, once Christ came and the new covenant was offered and you reject it, then, there is no place to find forgiveness for sins. It isn’t like the Old Testament sacrifices were going along parallel to the new covenant as being equally valid. This is not Hebrews perspective on things. The new covenant and Christ’s sacrifice has replaced the old covenant and the old sacrificial system. We will see this clearly in chapters 9 and 10. The causal idea is the predominate idea among many in regards to Hebrews. You could still understand this in a temporal framework for if they stopped doing this, perhaps they could.
7. Agricultural Analogy:
This analogy talks about the ground drinking in the rain. If it produces a crop then it receives a blessing from God, but if it is barren, then it is near to a curse and ends up being burned. This imagery is common; it is a kind of wisdom type of imagery that was used at times in the ancient world. The imagery here may be related to Deuteronomy where Moses talks about his rain coming down like rain from heaven. Within that context, you also have the burning of the land. It is possible that this gives some backdrop to what is going on here. This imagery of productive land and non-productive land would suggest that the people who are in mind have received the blessings of God; they have had it poured out on them and yet they haven’t produced anything. In other words, their lives haven’t born fruit. By analogy then, they are in deep trouble. They are near to a curse and judgment is about to fall. The burning here is an image of judgment.
8. Interpretations of the Warning:
Some of the labels I provide here aren’t that great. Some of these views include what I would call a hypothetical view. The author has crafted this passage, this harsh warning for rhetorical impact; to bless the hearers out of their spiritual slumber. What he describes here can’t really happen; so it is hypothetical. So, it is more for shock value than it is for anything else. In regards to this interpretation, it would read something like this: if there were those who fell away which cannot really happen, then it would be impossible to renew them to repentance. We have seen that the author uses rhetorical devices throughout the book. What they have done, instead of standing with Jesus at the Cross, instead you have joined this group that cursed Jesus, laughing and saying if you are really the Son of God, come down off there. I don’t believe that you are. It is the same kind of imagery that you have 10:26-31; they are treating the blood of Christ as common. The term is used of sacrifices that were not fit for sacrifice. So, they were treating God’s sacrifice as not being fit for my sin. Salvation can only be seen adequately from the perspective of God. We can only act on the revelation that God has given us but I can’t say exactly how salvation works in every situation. Let’s say that a person has walked away; I am still going to encourage them to repent and come back to Jesus. You have this fuzziness in the New Testament with the wheat and the tares. You don’t know and can’t tell exactly what is going on. Our part is to exhort on the basis of the Word of God and then leave salvation to God. We are going to find that 6:13-20 is another transitional point; it is still exhortation but it is moving us back to consideration of Melchizedek.
So, in reviewing this section; you have the movement through this material that goes from confrontation of hearers with their immaturity 5:11-6:3 and then the warning of 6:4-8 and then the mitigation of the warning. We have just covered and seen a very harsh warning in 6:4-8; you have language of crucifying the Son of God, shaming him and then the agricultural image of these people being near to a curse. So, now he transitions to mitigation. So, we can say in 6:9-12, the purpose of this unit is to soften the blow of the warning in chapter 6:4-8. It is another form of encouragement. There are better things that are going on with you in things that accompany salvation. I will read this from the NET Bible.
C. Mitigation – Hebrews 6:9-12
Hebrews 6:9-12: Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. 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. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
9 πεπείσμεθα δε (But we are persuaded) περί (concerning) υμών (you,) αγαπητοί (beloved,) τα κρείττονα (of better things,) και (and) εχόμενα (having) σωτηρίας (deliverance,) ει και (if even) ούτω (thus) λαλούμεν (we speak.) [BI, JFB, MHCC, MHWBC, NET Notes, RWP, TSK, TSKe, TTB, Utley, VWS]
10 ου (3 is not) γαρ (1 For) άδικος (4 unjust) ο θεός (2 God) επιλαθέσθαι (to forget) του έργου υμών (your work) και (and) του (the) κόπου (toil) της (of the) αγάπης (love) ης (which) ενεδείξασθε (you demonstrated) εις (in) το όνομα αυτού (his name,) διακονήσαντες (having served) τοις (to the) αγίοις (holy ones,) και (and) διακονούντες (still serving.) [BI, JFB, MHCC, MHWBC, NET Notes, TSK, TSKe, TTB, Utley, VWS]
11 επιθυμούμεν δε (But we desire) έκαστον (each) υμών (of you) την (2 the) αυτήν (3 same) ενδείκνυσθαι (1 to demonstrate) σπουδήν (diligence) προς (to) την (the) πληροφορίαν (full assurance) της (of the) ελπίδος (hope) άχρι (as far as until) τέλους (the end;) [BI, JFB, MHCC, MHWBC, NET Notes, RWP, TSK, TSKe, TTB, Utley, VWS]
12 ίνα (that) μη (2 not) νωθροί (4 dull) γένησθε (1 you should 3 become,) μιμηταί δε (but imitators) των (of the ones) διά (through) πίστεως (belief) και (and) μακροθυμίας (long-suffering) κληρονομούντων (inheriting) τας (the) επαγγελίας (promises.)
So, he is using this unit to provide encouragement to them. He calls them dear friends. He uses the Greek word, agapitoir, people who are dear friends; those who have shown the relationship that he has with these people. It is used in Greek literature when you are greeting someone with affection. It is kind of a warm endearing greeting that he is giving them and very appropriate to the softening to the blow of warning that he has just given in this previous passage. He says that he is confidant of better things in their case. One of the rhetorical devices that you have in the ancient world in the Greco-Roman use of rhetoric is this expression of confidence. This is like Paul where he expresses his confidence in the Corinthians, even in the midst of the mess that they are in. So, he expresses confidence here and says that he is convinced of better things concerning them. Even though we are talking like this and giving these real harsh warnings, we really are confident in him. When we think about classical ministries, we ought to think about the mix of how we are exhorting people. We need to use serious language at times which embodies warning and at other times mixing that up with strong encouragement. In verse 10, he says that God is not unjust to forget your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name in having served and continuing to serve the saints. This is kind of moving things back to the perspective of God and God remembering what is going on. In the Old Testament, God remembers his covenant and you will see the Psalmist cry out of God and say, God, remember your words and your promises. This doesn’t suggest that God is forgetful. They are appealing to God on the basis of his covenant promises. The author is appealing to God on the basis of God’s covenant promises. In those promises, God said that those who hurt and devastate you, I will hurt and devastate. At that point, the palmist is reflecting on the atrocities of the Babylonians when they destroyed the land of Israel and Judah at that point including the killing of their children. This is not personal vindication as such; instead, he is calling out to God and appealing to God. God, indeed, is going to remember their work and their love that they have demonstrated for his name in having served the saints.
So, is he saying that God is going to make a decision about their salvation based on their works? What is this appeal that God is going to remember their works and love for his name? God is going to bear witness to the reality of your relationship with him in the community. In other words, these things that you have been doing in being consistent in living and showing love for the name; God sees all of this and bears witness to it. We will bear witness to it, even at the end of the age. The way the author actually affirms that many of these people are manifesting the fruit of salvation. It seems to be a way of him celebrating that. But notice in verse 11, we have a mild contrast. The NET says that we want you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of you hope to the end. So, you have had all of these good things going on; now, you endure in them. We want you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of you hope to the end. There is an eagerness for the demonstration of their hope. In verse 12, he is going to transition to moving toward an illustration that he is going to pick up within verse 13. Verse 12 says that he wants them to be energetic about your following the Lord in these things so that they will not be sluggish and lazy, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises. There are some key themes here. They are to persevere and be imitators of those who are people of faith. He is getting ready to give them the preeminent example of faith in Abraham. Abraham in Judaism was the preeminent example of faith. You also have an emphasis on promise and inheritance.