Hebrews 6:1-20

Submitted by admin on Sun, 2010-06-06 17:50.

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The Hebrews had remained dulled in their understanding, resulting in their continuing to be spiritual babes. “Therefore,” the writer of Hebrews wanted them to go beyond the basic teaching relating to Christ (literally, “having left the word of the beginning of the Christ”), advancing to the state of solidly grounded mature believers and not starting at a point of again laying a foundation. This foundation consisted of basic teachings ― “repentance from dead works and faith toward God, teaching about baptisms, the laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (6:1, 2)

Faith and love motivate believers to act in a divinely approved manner. So any activity wherein faith and love are lacking would be a dead work, having no value from God’s standpoint. Dead works could include all deeds that are out of harmony with the disposition, words, and conduct that reflect trust in God and love for him and fellow humans. Being contrary to God’s ways, such works would lead to death. The Hebrew believers would have known that a basic requirement for having a right standing with God was to repent for acts he would have disapproved. (6:1)

Even before coming to be believers in Christ, the Hebrews had faith in God. It was their faith in God and his promise about the coming Messiah that aided them to be responsive to the message about Christ. (6:1; compare Acts 2:14-41.)

The “baptisms” with which the Hebrews were familiar included immersing themselves in water to be cleansed from certain kinds of defilement and the ceremonial washing of various vessels for cleansing purposes. (Leviticus 14:8, 9; 15:5-27; 17:15, 16; Mark 7:4) Preserved written evidence exists that at least some Jews in the first century recognized that immersion in water did not effect cleansing unless repentance preceded it. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, a document commonly known as “The Community Rule” (thought to have originated around 100 BCE) makes mention of individuals entering the water but indicates that no cleansing would take place unless they had turned away from wickedness. (1QS, V) The Talmud preserves ancient rabbinic statements about the need for proselytes to immerse themselves in the presence of witnesses. (6:2; see the Notes section for additional details.)

The background information available from ancient sources appears to explain why nothing in the nature of the questions directed to John suggest that he had introduced baptism (preceded by repentance) as something completely new or foreign. The priests and Levites whom the Pharisees had sent only asked him about his authority for doing baptizing but did not question the act itself. (John 1:19-25) So it appears that the basics about the “teaching of baptisms” were already known to the Hebrews at the time they became believers, repented of their sins, got baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and thereafter received the holy spirit. (Acts 2:38-41) Most appropriately, then, the “teaching about baptisms” is included among the ABCs. (6:2)

For centuries before the coming of Jesus Christ to the earth, the laying on of hands was common for a number of purposes. Worshipers who would present an animal for sacrifice would lay their hands on its head, indicating that the offering would be made for them. (Leviticus 1:3, 4) Moses laid his hands on Joshua to appoint him as his successor and to impart the gifts he needed to carry out his responsibilities. (Deuteronomy 34:9) Fathers would lay their hands on the heads of their children or grandchildren when blessing them. (Genesis 48:14) Accordingly, the laying on of hands for the purpose of appointing individuals to perform special services or to impart God’s spirit to them would have been just another one of the ABCs. (6:2; Acts 6:3-6; 8:14-20; 13:2, 3; 1 Timothy 4:14; 5:22; 2 Timothy 1:6)

Unlike the Greeks to whom the teaching regarding a resurrection was something new (Acts 17:18-20, 32), the Hebrews knew about it prior to their coming to be believers. They were acquainted with the promise made to Daniel that he would rise for his lot at the “end of the days.” (Daniel 12:12; compare John 11:24.) According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin, 90b) the highly esteemed Rabban Gamaliel quoted Isaiah 26:19 when proving that there would be a resurrection. According to the Septuagint, this passage reads, “The dead will rise, and those in the tombs will be raised, and those in the earth will rejoice.” Upon coming to be believers, the Hebrews put faith in Jesus Christ as the one whom his Father raised from the dead. So belief in the resurrection truly is a fundamental teaching. (6:2)

From the holy writings, the Hebrews knew about a judgment to come. The prophet Isaiah, for example, referred to the terrible judgment to befall those who transgress against YHWH. They are portrayed as lying as unburied corpses in a place of refuse, where fires burn continually and maggots feed. (Isaiah 66:24) In his teaching about the judgment to come, Jesus Christ conveyed the same thought. (Mark 9:43-48) Judgment also included the imparting of rewards to those found to be divinely approved. (Daniel 12:2, 3; compare John 5:28, 29; Acts 17:31; 24:15; Romans 2:6-16.) Upon coming to be believers, the Hebrews learned about Christ’s role as judge and the eternal outcome of that judgment. Based on what they already knew from the holy writings, the teaching regarding eternal judgment belonged to the basics. (6:2)

The words “and this we will do” (“and this let us do,” according to another manuscript reading) relate to moving on from the basics and focusing attention on the fullness of the revelation that came through Jesus Christ and how this should have affected the Hebrew believers in all their thoughts, words, and actions. The writer’s aim was for them to grow, attaining the level of spiritual maturity that distinguishes those who are firmly grounded in their faith in God and Christ. Nevertheless, he realized that he could be of assistance to them only if God permits. Without divine help and blessing, the Hebrew believers would not grow spiritually. (6:3)

For the Hebrews, remaining in their infantile state and being limited to a condition comparable to the laying of a foundation posed a grave spiritual danger. This is the danger of experiencing a loss of faith and reaching a point where repentance and a return to God and his Son become impossible. The writer of Hebrews commented about those who could not be restored to repentance. (6:4-6)

They had once been “enlightened,” coming to recognize Jesus Christ as Lord and God’s unique Son and accepting his sacrificial death for them so as to be forgiven of their sins. Their having tasted the heavenly gift included their realization of having come to enjoy an approved relationship with God as his beloved children on account of his gracious favor in making it possible for them to be declared guiltless on the basis of his Son’s having died for them. (6:4; compare John 4:10; Romans 5:15, 16; Hebrews 3:1.) As “partakers of the holy spirit” (6:4), they may have been granted special gifts to be used for the benefit of others. (1 Corinthians 12:4-31) They would have experienced the spirit’s guidance and strengthening. Under the impelling power of the spirit, they would have had an inner conviction that made it possible for them to address God as “Abba, Father,” with the kind of trust and affection that distinguishes a father’s deeply loved child. (Romans 8:9-16)

Tasting the “good word of God” would have included experiencing the joys and blessings from having put faith in this word or message, acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord and his Father as the one who raised him from the dead. The joys and blessings included the realization of having been granted a clean conscience, continuing to benefit from divine help and blessing, and being part of the family of God’s beloved children. (Romans 10:8-11) One’s tasting the “powers of the age to come” would have included experiencing the tremendous transformation in life that God’s spirit made possible. Instead of continuing to be dead in trespasses and sins, the believer comes to enjoy a newness of life and the motivating power of God’s spirit to live uprightly. (Ephesians 2:4-7) All that God’s spirit accomplishes within a believer is a foretaste of what is ahead in the age to come. At that time, the transformation that started upon putting faith in Jesus Christ will be complete, making it possible for the individual to reflect the image of God flawlessly in the sinless state. (6:5)

A person who experienced everything to which the writer of Hebrews made reference and then fell away could not be restored to repentance. Upon becoming a believer, such a one had repented of his sins and accepted Jesus’ sacrifice as the means to be forgiven and reconciled to God. Upon falling away, he would have cast aside the only basis on which a divinely approved standing is made possible. Individuals who fall away reject their initial repentance, and so it is impossible for anyone to restore it. They crucify the Son of God anew and expose him to public disgrace. Although the manner in which Jesus Christ died served God’s purpose, those who did not put faith in him but considered him to be an impostor sought his death by crucifixion. In seeking to have him killed in this manner, they sought to expose him publicly to an agonizing and shameful death as a vile criminal stripped of his clothing. Accordingly, those who fall away would be siding with those who faithlessly rejected God’s Son, which is tantamount to sharing with them in the crucifixion and the exposure to public shame. (6:6)

God’s blessing can only be retained through faithfulness and remaining responsive to his help and guidance. Believers must prove themselves to be like productive soil and not like ground that produces weeds or worthless fruit. Soil that absorbs water from repeated rains and produces a crop that benefits those for whom it is cultivated “receives a blessing from God.” In the case of the ground, the “blessing from God” is continued productivity. Similarly, believers who accept God’s gifts (like the repeated rains that fall on the ground) and continue to think, speak, and act in a manner that reflects genuine faith or trust in God and his Son will receive his blessing in the form of continued aid and guidance. They will bear fruit, bringing praise and honor to God and his Son through their exemplary disposition, speech, and conduct. (6:7)

If, on the other hand, the ground produced thorns and thistles, it would be rejected as useless and would come near to being cursed or to being despised as valueless land. Anciently, a field overgrown with thorns and thistles would have been set on fire. Likewise, believers who fall away, reaching the point where restoration to repentance becomes impossible, would experience a severe judgment, comparable to the “end” for a field of unproductive land. (6:8)

Even though the writer had expressed himself in very strong terms, he did not believe that the Hebrews would experience such a severe judgment. He was confident about “better things” for them, his “beloved ones,” “brothers” (according to other manuscripts), or fellow believers. These “better things” related to “salvation” (their complete deliverance from sin and coming to enjoy all the privileges and blessings God would bestow on them as his sinless children). (6:9)

Confidence in God is based on knowing that he is not unrighteous, unjust, or unfair in his dealings and judgments. In the case of the Hebrew believers, he would not forget their works, which included compassionately helping the needy, and the love they had shown for “his name” (or for him). This love would have been reflected in words, conduct, and activity that was consistent with their faith or trust in God. Their love for him would have been evident in their love for those whom he loved, their serving and continuing to serve the “holy ones,” or fellow believers, in keeping with their needs. (6:10)

The writer desired that, to the end or throughout their entire life course as believers, each one of the Hebrews would manifest the “same earnestness” respecting confidence in their hope as they had shown by their commendable deeds and their love for God. They were never to waver in their conviction that the hope based on God’s promises would be fulfilled. The hope included sharing in all the privileges and blessings they would receive as God’s beloved children and joint heirs with his Son. (6:11)

Their confidence in the hope would prevent them from becoming sluggish, ceasing to be earnestly motivated to bring praise and honor to God and Jesus Christ. The writer admonished the Hebrews to be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherited the promises.” Often the faith of those who figured prominently in the history of the Hebrews was severely tested. The immediate circumstances gave no indication that the promises could be fulfilled. Abraham and Sarah remained childless for years. After being sold into slavery and unjustly imprisoned, Joseph found himself in a situation that appeared to be unlikely to lead to the fulfillment of his prophetic dreams. Abraham, Joseph, and others needed to maintain faith and to be patient or steadfast until they experienced the fulfillment of the promises. (6:12)

God made an oath-bound promise to Abraham, swearing by himself. This was because God could not swear by anyone greater. (6:13) The words of this promise are found in Genesis 22:17 (LXX), “Surely, blessing, I will bless you, and multiplying, I will multiply you.” Abraham heard these words after he had demonstrated his faith by his willingness to offer his beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice. (6:14; Genesis 22:9-18)

Upon having proved to be patient or steadfast, Abraham obtained the promise. Twenty-five years passed from the time that Abraham entered Canaan until the birth of Isaac. (Genesis 12:4, 5; 15:1-5; 21:1-5) In the meantime, he had become too old to father children, and his aged wife Sarah could no longer conceive. (Genesis 17:1-21) Still, he believed that, in fulfillment of God’s promise, he would come to have a son by Sarah. (Romans 4:18-21) So he waited patiently for the fulfillment of a promise that, from a human standpoint, could never have become a reality. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Isaac was 25 years old at the time of Abraham’s attempted sacrifice. (Antiquities, I, xiii, 2) This would mean that some 50 years passed from the time of Abraham’s entrance into Canaan until he heard God’s oath-bound promise that is recorded in Genesis 22:17 and quoted in Hebrews 6:14. (6:15)

In the case of humans, they swear by someone who is greater than they are. The oath serves to confirm a matter, placing it beyond any dispute. (6:16)

Likewise, wanting to show more prominently the immutability of his purpose to the heirs of the promise, God “guaranteed” (mesiteúo) it by an oath. The heirs are believers, the true children of Abraham by reason of their faith. As heirs, they share in all the blessings associated with the promise. Being the Messiah or Christ who was divinely promised to be the “seed” of Abraham, Jesus is the heir of everything by his Father’s appointment. Therefore, by coming to be at one with Jesus Christ, believers are constituted joint heirs. The Greek verb mesiteúo incorporates the noun mesítes, meaning “mediator.” In this context, mesiteúo appears to mean “to act as surety” and so may be understood to signify “guarantee.” (6:17)

On the basis of two unalterable things (God’s promise and his oath), wherein it is impossible for God to lie, the Hebrew believers had strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before them. They are described as having fled or taken refuge, but the object of their flight or security is not identified. God is the one who made the promise and backed it up with his oath. So believers may be regarded as having fled to him as their refuge, doing so by putting faith in his Son and, through him, having their sins forgiven and escaping from the condemnatory judgment to which sin leads. In view of the role of the Son in making forgiveness of sins possible and effecting reconciliation with his Father, the Hebrew believers may be represented as having fled to Jesus Christ. There is also a possibility that believers are being referred to as having fled to the hope that is based on God’s oath-bound promise. (6:18)

God’s promise and the oath he attached to it provided strong encouragement to the Hebrew believers to seize the hope that lay before them. This hope, which included being united with Christ as sinless members of his Father’s beloved family of children, rested on God’s oath-bound promise. This made its fulfillment absolutely certain. The Hebrew believers needed to keep fast hold of the hope, for its sure fulfillment lay before them. (6:18)

An anchor keeps a ship from drifting away from a specific location. Likewise, hope aids believers to avoid drifting away from a life of faith centered in Christ and what he effected through his death. Hope is an “anchor for the soul,” a sure or dependable and firm, secure, or immovable anchor. In this context, the “soul” seems to designate a believer’s inner life. (6:19)

In being described as “entering into the inner [location] of the curtain,” the hope is identified as being in a place represented by the “Most Holy” of the sanctuary, which lay beyond the curtain that separated the “Holy” from the “Most Holy.” This could signify that the hope has entered God’s very presence in the heavens and is firmly attached to him as the one who provided the basis for it. The location of this hope, “the anchor of the soul,” is the most secure place possible, guaranteeing that not a single aspect will go unfulfilled. (6:19)

For believers, Jesus entered beyond the “curtain,” into his Father’s presence in the holy heavens, as a “forerunner” in the capacity of high priest “according to the order of Melchizedek.” His being the forerunner indicates that others would follow, joining him as sinless children of his Father. Functioning as high priest, Jesus made atonement for them and continues to intercede in their behalf, assuring that they will see the fulfillment of their hope. Like Melchizedek, Jesus combines in himself the offices of king and priest. So his priesthood is like that of the king-priest Melchizedek in the ancient city of Salem. (6:20)

Notes:

The ancient Jewish sages maintained that a man was not a proper proselyte without having been circumcised and having immersed himself in water. Certain ancient rabbis also adhered to this view and stipulated that three men needed to be present as witnesses. These witnesses would have been able to verify that every part of the naked man’s body had been covered by the water. Before the performance of the ritual ablution, the man wanting to be a proselyte was asked why he had this desire, considering that Israel was then persecuted, oppressed, despised, harassed, and afflicted. If he acknowledged that he knew and yet considered himself unworthy, he was accepted and given instructions regarding some minor and major commandments. One of the major commandments related to observing the Sabbath. (Yevamoth, 46a, b; 47a)

In the case of a woman proselyte, Jewish women had her sit in water up to her neck. Two learned Jewish men would be standing outside and provide the woman with instructions regarding some minor and major commandments. (Yevamoth, 47b)