Alongside the important doctrine of the person, offices, and work of Christ, the writer to the Hebrews weaves various warnings, impressing on his readers the significance of what has been taught. In that approach, there is an immediate and equally valuable lesson for believers today. Doctrine has practical implications! It should impact upon our Christian lives.
This first warning is set against the background of chapter 1 - ‘therefore’, v. 1 - and the message of the Lord’s superiority to angels. The writer emphasizes the seriousness of the message - ‘we ought’, words which are emphatic. The danger is not of rejecting but of neglecting the gospel. The picture is painted of a drifting boat that has slipped its moorings, slipped its anchor, and is in serious danger of floating away.
The significance of what has been written is found in the words ‘great salvation’ and that greatness is found in the Saviour who is its source and subject. We cannot overestimate its importance. As Jim Flanigan writes, ‘It is great in its scope; it is great in its power; it is great in its effects upon those who receive it; it was great in its cost’.1
The message bears a threefold attestation:
That attestation of the message is by all three persons of the trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Whilst an act of disobedience is failing to do what we should do, here we have the sin of omission, not doing what we ought. This is not openly and defiantly rejecting the word of God but neglecting it, whether through ignorance or indolence. Here is a challenge for every generation. Do we know the word of God and are we prepared to bow to its truth?
In this warning, a parallel is drawn between the past and the present. The generation that came out of the bondage of Egypt did not enter the promised land because of unbelief. It is descriptive of those who were active in their unbelief, whose hearts were controlled by unbelief. The warning goes out, ‘Take heed’, v. 12. The same catalogue of failure continues in chapter 4 but refers to different generations. Verse 8 speaks of the generation who went into the promised land under the leadership of Joshua. Enemies had to be ejected. But, above all, their continued presence in and rule over the land depended upon their faithfulness to God. In verse 7, there is the record of David, a man whom God honoured by making him king, and one who brought deliverance to the nation, uniting, and establishing it.
However, it is important not to underestimate the power and influence of sin. The writer warns his readers of the possibility of an evil heart. The visible and tangible systems of Judaism may appeal, but accepting and submitting to that appeal would be an irrevocable step from which there is no return. Similarly, speaking of the rest of God, the writer indicates that it is different from and greater than the rest that might have been enjoyed under the times of Joshua or David. It is a sabbath rest. It is a rest like God’s own rest following creation. The Jews to whom this Epistle is written must appreciate that the true rest lies before them and is founded, not upon the possession of the promised land, nor upon the enjoyment of that land, but in Christ alone. The true rest cannot be lost, broken, or disturbed. Do we appreciate what we have in Christ? Have we learned the lessons of ‘our examples’, 1 Cor. 10. 6?
What is the antidote to such impending and continuing danger? The writer bids his readers to be constantly watchful, 3. 12. There is also the benefit of Christian fellowship, ‘exhort [encourage] one another daily’, v. 13. Finally, there is the fellowship of Christ for ‘we are become companions of the Christ’, v. 14 JND. What a privilege is ours! Our fellowship with the Lord Himself demonstrates the reality of our faith and it is a guide to them that are the Lord’s. The promise of God’s rest is still open, and it is by faith. It is for us ‘which have believed’, 4. 3. It is not based upon ritual or Jewish legalism but on faith alone.
This third warning considers the condition of the people to whom the Epistle is written. They were ‘dull of hearing’, 5. 11. They were evidencing stunted growth, vv. 12-14. The figure of the babe indicates the seriousness of the condition. They ought to have moved on, but they still needed teaching those things that they had supposedly left in the ‘infant class’ of divine truth. How important to appreciate that we should not stand still in our spiritual life. The writer is looking for maturity, discernment, spiritual perception, and discrimination. These qualities can only be gained by exercising our hearts and spiritual senses to the word of God. This should be our food, and progress should be our goal.
In chapter 6, the writer states some of the deficiencies of the old economy and how it has been superseded by the person and work of Christ. The picture, seen in ‘the principles of the doctrine of Christ’, v. 1, should be discarded for the reality - Christ. Immaturity should be left behind in the pursuit of ‘perfection’ or ‘full growth’ KJV mg. Jewish rituals should be abandoned for faith in Christ.
In seeking to separate the true from the false, the believer from the unbeliever, Christians need to exercise discrimination. Those who ‘were once enlightened’, v. 4, had come under conviction but had not been saved. Those who had ‘tasted of the heavenly gift’ had, like the spies who went to spy out the land, seen its riches but were not prepared to go over into that land. There were those who were ‘partakers of the Holy Ghost’, seeing the Spirit of God at work, but never knowing His saving work and indwelling power. Wuest comments, ‘We must be careful to note that the Greek word translated “partakers” does not mean “possessors,” in the sense that these Hebrews possessed the Holy Spirit as an indwelling Person who had come to take up His permanent abode in their hearts … This work of the Holy Spirit in leading them on towards faith was a once-for-all work, so thoroughly done that it needed never to be repeated. However, there was nothing permanent of itself in this work, for the work was only a means to an end. This is shown by the aorist participle used’.2
In this warning, often misunderstood, it is important to note the contrast between the wording of verses 6 and 9. In the former, the writer speaks of ‘they’. In verse 9, he speaks of ‘you’. He addresses his readers as ‘beloved’, using the term descriptive of the love of God. Unlike the opening verses of the chapter, here he is addressing believers and expressing his compassion for them and his conviction about them, ‘things that accompany salvation’. In the verses that close this warning, the writer seeks the spiritual welfare and blessing of all, ‘we desire that every one of you’, v. 11.
Discerning between that which is genuine and that which is false is a continuing challenge for all believers, particularly those who are spiritually immature. The answer is given here - we need to know the word of God, 5. 14, and follow, or imitate, those of spiritual maturity, 6. 12.
In this warning, the writer bids his readers to ‘hold fast’, v. 23. It is set against the background of the threat of persecution, the intellectual opposition and reasoning of false teachers, the allurements and attractions of the world, and the adversary’s activity. He reminds them that what they possessed in Christ was far superior and, because of that, they should remain steadfast. He has not and will not let them down. They should remain loyal to Him.
Those tremendous blessings include continual access, fellowship, and communion with God, v. 19. They have a high priest, a great one, who officiates for them, v. 21. He is not a priest officiating in the house of God, but a great high priest over the house of God. He does not just go in on our behalf but bids us enter through Him, ‘Let us draw near’, v. 22. We can do so with full assurance of faith because the death and resurrection of Christ has fitted us for the presence of God.
A further encouragement to continue for the Lord can be found in the fellowship of the saints. In a world that is consumed by selfishness, there is sanctuary amongst the saints of God. We seek not our own interests but the welfare and blessing of our fellow saints, vv. 24, 25. Our constant desire and aim should be to stimulate each other to love and good works. This should be our practice or habit of life.
In contrast, the reader should consider the emptiness of that which was being returned to by the apostates. Their true situation is grave indeed, ‘there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins’, v. 26. Christ cannot and will not be sacrificed again. To have rejected the single sacrifice of Christ is to have rejected the only means of salvation. For the apostate there can be only one outcome to such a life - judgement.
Finally, in this warning, to fortify people against future trials the writer reminds them of the courage they displayed in past ones. Some of their number had suffered and endured ‘a great fight of afflictions’, v. 32. If they had weathered such a storm early in their Christian lives, why give up now? Call these things constantly to mind and from those thoughts take courage for the present fight. Do not waver in the face of further turmoil and strife. Do not let your hope be dimmed! Rest assured that ‘he that shall come will come’, v. 37. Do not be influenced or affected by others, remember, ‘we are not of them’, v. 39.
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