Lecture 21: Hebrews Part 3
Lecture 21: Hebrews Part 3
This is the 21th lecture in the online series of lectures on New Testament Survey by Dr Thomas Schreiner. Recommended Reading includes: Article on Divorce and Remarriage – Craig Blomberg, Trinity Journal, 1990; The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris; Are there Two Will in God by John Piper; Two views on Women in Ministry by James Beck and Craig Blomberg; Word Bible Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Volume 46, by William D. Mounce and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood, by Wayne Gudem and John Piper (article by Vern Poythress entitled, ‘The Church as a Family’)
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The main points in the Book of Hebrews beginning with chapter 6: Jesus was a priest in the order of Melchizedek because he was superior to the Levites, Christ’s sacrifice is better than the animal sacrifices because it is once for all and sacrifices were good because they were a shadow and an image of what is coming, but the sacrifices were temporary and imperfect.
B. Warning 6:4-8 (Continued)
So, we start with Hebrews chapter 6, verse 4, for it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him, that is Jesus, up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. This is a famous and yet controversial passage. We need to remember in regards to interpreting all these warning passages; we must interpret them together instead of separate. One version of one such hypothetical view says that the warning was given merely for intellectual purposes. This is Thomas Hewitt’s view in his commentary. The warning is a means of providing information to the readers if they fall away. A more popular view in evangelical circles associated especially with the name of Zane Hodges from Dallas Seminary and his school. This passage relates only to the losing of rewards. So the warning is real if you fall away, these things will happen to you, but it doesn’t relate to salvation as such. So he is only speaking of losing your rewards, not your salvation. But the punishments that are describes seems to be more than losing your rewards and instead it refers to eternal destruction. I think Hodges under estimates what is said here and not just losing a reward. The advantage of Hodges view is that you don’t lose your salvation and this is why it appeals to so many people.
It seems the most popular view with commentators at least in looking at this text is that this passage teaches that you can lose your salvation. William Lang in his great commentary on Hebrews agrees with this idea. That is what it means. Scott McKnight wrote an excellent article on this passage and all the warning passages in the Trinity Journal. He also thinks that it teaches that you can lose your salvation. Howard Marshall in his book, Kept by the Power of God says that apostasy is rare but it does happen. People can fall away from the faith and leave the Lord and lose their salvation. Roman Catholics believe this and most Lutherans believe this along with Wesleyan theology. Baptists are divided on this point actually; most Southern Baptists don’t think you can lose your salvation. But Baptists are very independently minded people. Traditionally Presbyterian and the Reformed don’t believe you can. Most Pentecostals believe you can. If you look at numbers, the majority of Christians believe that you can, in fact lose your salvation. We can understand why people would hold this view as it is certainly not heretical. It is certainly one way of reading this text that respects what the text says.
Another very common view which I share theologically and see it in other passages; I think this warning is a test of genuineness. The warning functions retrospectively to assess whether or not you are truly a Christian. This view is held by many people and goes back to John Calvin and John Owen who wrote many volumes on Hebrews along with other people including Roger Niccole and Wayne Gruderman. Some of these people are not really Christians; they have been enlightened and have some understanding of the Gospel such as Gruderman, who has this long discussion and says things like people’s sins are forgiven, for example. This is view the warning is addressed to those who are almost Christians, but not quite. If you fall away in this view, it proves that you never were a believer. I believe that this paradigm is theologically correct in many passages, but I question whether or not this particular passage is about that. I also believe that there are texts showing people have spiritual experiences that aren’t saved and the show by their subsequent experience by falling away that they are not saved. I just think that the people described in this passage are described as Christians. When he says that they are partakers of the Holy Spirit, contrary to Gruderman, I don’t think there is a clear way of the describing this person as a Christian; that you are a sharer or participator in the Spirit.
My view is that this passage is a pastoral warning and it is given to believers and simply stated, ‘if you fall away, you will be damned.’ But the warning is the means by which the promise is preserved. This warning functions in the same way in that if we deny him, he will deny us. That is a serious warning addressed to Christians and it is a means by which we don’t end up denying him. I read this passage as saying if I fall away, I will be damned. There are some objections to this; an Armenian student wondered what kind of warning is this that will never come to pass? If you are warned about something, but if you are truly elect, you will never fulfill the warning. So, it is an empty warning. It is no different than the initial call of the Gospel; it is to believe and repent to be saved. That is a condition that must be fulfilled, but in the lives of God’s elect, he always fulfills it. Everyone who is saved should seriously consider the call to repent and believe. That was a condition of being saved with God by his grace granting us salvation. There is no getting away from that fact that in order to be saved, you must repent and believe. It is a condition. So we must fulfill these warning passages in order to be saved, but in the lives of his chosen, God always grants us the grace to do so. We must heed the warning passages. Yet, for Arminian theology, some don’t know whether they are saved or not and sometimes, this changes from day to day. So to conclude, the writer of Hebrews believes that they will listen to this warning.
C. Assurance 6:9-20
The author believes that these people are believers because of the evidence shown in their lives; their love for the other saints and yet verse 11 says that we desire that each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end. So you are saved but you need to show earnestness until the end to have assurance of faith and we are to be imitated of those through faith inherit the promises. He gives us an example from the life of Abraham. So God has secured his promise to us through his word and oath. I think the passage shows us that it is not wrong to take oaths. So we have a strong warning alongside a strong assurance. So I think that the warnings are the means by which our assurance grows. This is true in our daily lives, when we are careful and prepare for something; we have an assurance that things will be okay. We have God’s sure word as an anchor to our soul that reaches into heaven itself through Jesus’ high priestly work supporting that assurance. This gives us tremendous hope and certainty that we will receive the promise on the last day. So there is this tension but ultimately not a contradiction; so we have the warning and immediately after that we have a remarkable passage stating the assurance we have in Christ.
D. Jesus a Melchizedek type Priest 7:1-28
We have already noted that Melchizedek was such a strange person in the Bible, Genesis chapter 14 and then Psalm chapter 110; only two passages but yet this person plays a very important role in the Book of Hebrews. Of course, we are reminded that he is the King of Salem, the priest of God who met Abraham and he blesses Abraham. Abraham gives him a tenth of his money and we see that the author of Hebrews sees significance in Melchizedek’s name. He is the King of Righteousness and also the king of Peace. He is a real person who is a type of Christ in the Old Testament; the ultimate King of Righteousness and King of Peace. When it says in verse 3 that Melchizedek doesn’t have a father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son God he continues as a priest forever. You could argue from this that he was a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus; many do hold this view. But I think the writer is only arguing typologically in that he was a real person in history and really did have parents, etc. and so what I think that author of Hebrews is pointing out, ‘nothing is said about him having a father and mother, etc.’ So he is functioning as a type of what Christ would be, because it says that he has been made like the Son of God and therefore this points to Jesus, as there is a hint in the story line that another priest is coming. The author wants to argue that Melchizedek is superior to the Levitical priest through the fact that Abraham gave him a tithe of money showing that you give that to the greater person. Abraham blessed Melchizedek and in turn Melchizedek blessed Levi, thus showing that his priesthood is better than the priesthood of Aaron. But know that this is not allegory as it is rooted in real historical events and the order is considered to be very important. You know that allegory is symbolic and separated from the historical narrative while typology is rooted, in this sense, in the flow of redemptive history. The author of Hebrews uses this elsewhere in Hebrews.
Hebrews 7:11-19: Now if perfection had been through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law). So the priesthood and the law are intertwined, belonging together. This is clear from the Old Testament. So it continues with a rhetorical question, ‘what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?’ What is the main point here? Perfection is not through the Levitical priesthood because there is another priesthood that is prophesized; that which is like Melchizedek. We see in this change of priesthoods; the law is changed as well. This next sentence shows an idea and explanation. Simply, the main point is that there will be another order of priesthood, which is the Melchizedek priesthood. Verse 13 shows us that it was Jesus that these things were spoken from a tribe that doesn’t function as priests and that was the tribe of Judah. To continue, Jesus must be a Melchizedek priest for he can’t be a priest of the Levitical order, thus Jesus is a new kind of priest, not from the law of a physical requirement as the Levies are. Jesus became a priest by being raised from the dead; he was resurrected thus this qualifies him to be a priest of the Melchizedek order. It was prophesied that there would be a Melchizedek priest in Psalm 110:4 again, ‘you are a priest forever because of the resurrection.’ For verses 18 and 19; ‘for on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.’ So the former law was set aside because it was weak and useless as it could not bring perfection; it could not bring us to God. So there is a better hope and a better priesthood because he is from a different tribe.
E. A Better Covenant 8:1-13
So we have seen that we have a better priesthood in Jesus and now in chapter 8 we see that Jesus is a high priest of a better covenant. Jesus is the minister in the true holy places in heaven. Hebrews likes to do two things: the first is linear eschatology; the fulfilment of the promise and we have the already, not yet that we have seen so many other times. There is also a vertical theme as well; the earthly tabernacle which is a picture of the heaven one. This is why some people relate Hebrews as Platonic of that of Plato. He is not fully platonic because he has this linear eschatology. But he does see the things on earth as mirroring, in terms of the tabernacle what is in heaven in the very presence of God. In verse 5, he says that the things on earth serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. What Moses made of the tabernacle reflected what God intended, thus this was God’s intention from the beginning. So the problem with the Hebrews is that they are stopping at the earthly representation. Roman Catholics relate to Hebrews like that of the Levitical sayings in the Old Testament; they don’t look at the fulfilments. We don’t return to the earthly things as we now have a better covenant. Of this, he quotes the Old Testament passage in Jeremiah 31:33-34; ‘for this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, know the Lord, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.’
So what is the main promise in Jeremiah that will be ours when the new Covenant comes? Our sins will be forgiven which couldn’t happen under the Old Covenant and the law will be written on our hearts. Jeremiah looks at Israel as being plagued by disobedience. But when the New Covenant comes, his law is on our hearts and we do his will. These are the two elements of the New Covenant. In chapter 9 he talks about different articles in the Temple and he says that these things are patterns and types of what is to come. He reminds us in 9:7 of the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur which is always in October of every year found in Leviticus chapter 16. Of course the Jews don’t have a temple so they decided that repenting is the same thing. Only the high priest could go into the Holy of Hollies once a year revealing that God is so holy and awesome, that you just can’t walk into his presence casually. The whole of the temple was divided up into courts where only certain people could go and the same with the priests along with elaborate sacrifices, all established in order to stop people from just entering into the Holy of Hollies. Chapter 9:8 tells us that there wasn’t a clear access to God. These sacrifices were only outward rituals and regulations that point to something else. He argues that these rituals and sacrifices were given by God to be only temporary. God planned something that would not last forever. It was all established to point to something else. This shows us that our faith is a historical faith and it is confirmed that history matters to us as Christians. The Old Testament is inferior to the new revelation of Jesus Christ.