ETERNAL SECURITY- Hebrews 6 – Dr. William MacDonald
BELIEVER’S BIBLE COMMENTARY
PMI prefers the King James Version of the Holy Word of God. Notwithstanding, while this resource is written with another version in mind, we believe the author(s) is doctrinally sound making this by and large a trustworthy resource for Biblical study.
Hebrews 6:1 The warning which began in Heb_5:11 continues throughout this chapter. It is one of the most controversial passages in the entire NT. Since so many godly Christians are disagreed on its interpretation, we must not speak with dogmatism. We present the explanation which seems most consistent with the context and with the rest of the NT.
First of all, the readers are exhorted to leave the elementary principles of Christ, literally, “the word of the beginning of Christ” (FWG), or “the beginning word of Christ” (KSW). We understand this to mean the basic doctrines of religion that were taught in the OT and were designed to prepare Israel for the coming of the Messiah. These doctrines are listed in the latter part of verse 1 and in verse 2. As we shall seek to show, they are not the fundamental doctrines of Christianity but rather teachings of an elementary nature which formed the foundation for later building. They fell short of Christ risen and glorified. The exhortation is to leave these basics, not in the sense of abandoning them as worthless, but rather of advancing from them to maturity. The implication is that the period of Judaism was a time of spiritual infancy. Christianity represents full growth.
Once a foundation has been laid, the next step is to build upon it. A doctrinal foundation was laid in the OT; it included the six fundamental teachings which are now listed. These represent a starting point. The great NT truths concerning Christ, His Person, and His work, represent the ministry of maturity.
The first OT doctrine is repentance from dead works. This was preached constantly by the prophets as well as by the forerunner of the Messiah. They all called on the people to turn from works that were dead in the sense that they were devoid of faith.
Dead works here may also refer to works which formerly were right, but which now are dead since Christ has come. For example, all the services connected with temple worship are outmoded by the finished work of Christ.
Second, the writer mentions faith toward God. This again is an OT emphasis. In the NT, Christ is almost invariably presented as the object of faith. Not that this displaces faith in God; but a faith in God which leaves out Christ is now inadequate.
6:2 Instruction about baptisms refers not to Christian baptism, but to the ceremonial washings which figured so prominently in the religious lives of the priests and people of Israel (see also Heb_9:10).
The ritual of laying on of hands is described in Lev_1:4; Lev_3:2; Lev_16:21. The offerer or the priest laid his hands on the head of an animal as an act of identification. In figure, the animal bore away the sins of the people who were associated with it. This ceremony typified vicarious atonement. We do not believe that there is any reference here to the laying on of hands as practiced by the apostles and others in the early church (Act_8:17; Act_13:3; Act_19:6).
Resurrection of the dead is taught in Job_19:25-27, Psa_17:15, and it is implied in Isa_53:10-12. What was seen only indistinctly in the OT is brightly revealed in the New (2Ti_1:10).
The final foundational truth of the OT was eternal judgment (Psa_9:17; Isa_66:24).
These first principles represented Judaism, and were preparatory to the coming of Christ. Christians should not continue to be content with these but should press on to the fuller revelation they now have in Christ. The readers are urged to pass “from shadow to substance, from type to antitype, from husk to kernel, from the dead forms of the religion of their ancestors to the living realities of Christ.”
6:3 The author expresses his desire to help them do this, if God permits. However, the limiting factor will be on their side and not on God’s. God will enable them to advance to full spiritual manhood, but they must respond to the word positively by exercising true faith and endurance.
6:4 We come now to the heart of the warning against apostasy. It applies to a class of people whom it is impossible to restore again to repentance. Apparently these people had once repented (though no mention is made of their faith in Christ). Now it is clearly stated that a renewed repentance is impossible.
Who are these people? The answer is given in verses 4 and 5. In examining the great privileges which they enjoyed, it should be noticed that all these things could be true of the unsaved. It is never clearly stated that they had been born again. Neither is any mention made of such essentials as saving faith, redemption by His blood, or eternal life.
They had once been enlightened. They had heard the gospel of the grace of God. They were not in darkness concerning the way of salvation. Judas Iscariot had been enlightened but he rejected the light.
They tasted the heavenly gift. The Lord Jesus is the heavenly Gift. They had tasted of Him but had never received Him by a definite act of faith. It is possible to taste without eating or drinking. When men offered wine mixed with gall to Jesus on the cross, He tasted it but He would not drink it (Mat_27:34). It is not enough to taste Christ; unless we eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, that is, unless we truly receive Him as Lord and Savior, we have no life in us (Joh_6:53).
They had become partakers of the Holy Spirit. Before we jump to the conclusion that this necessarily implies conversion, we should remember that the Holy Spirit carries on a preconversion ministry in men’s lives. He sanctifies unbelievers (1Co_7:14), putting them in a position of external privilege. He convicts unbelievers of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (Joh_16:8). He leads men to repentance and points them to Christ as their only hope. Men may thus partake of the Holy Spirit’s benefits without being indwelt by Him.
6:5 They had tasted the good word of God. As they heard the gospel preached, they were strangely moved and drawn to it. They were like the seed that fell on rocky ground; they heard the word and immediately received it with joy, but they had no root in themselves. They endured for a while, but when tribulation or persecution arose on account of the word, they promptly fell away (Mat_13:20-21).
They had tasted the powers of the age to come. Powers here means “miracles.” The age to come is the Millennial Age, the coming era of peace and prosperity when Christ will reign over the earth for one thousand years. The miracles which accompanied the preaching of the gospel in the early days of the church (Heb_2:4) were a foretaste of signs and wonders which will be performed in Christ’s kingdom. These people had witnessed these miracles in the first century, in fact, they might have participated in them. Take, for instance, the miracles of the loaves and fishes. After Jesus had fed the five thousand, the people followed Him to the other side of the sea. The Savior realized that, though they had tasted a miracle, they did not really believe in Him. He said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (Joh_6:26).
6:6 If they fall away, after enjoying the privileges just enumerated, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. They have committed the sin of apostasy. They have reached the place where the lights go out on the way to hell.
The enormous guilt of apostates is indicated in the words since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame (v. 6b). This signifies a deliberate, malicious spurning of Christ, not just a careless disregard of Him. It indicates a positive betrayal of Him, a joining of forces against Him, and a ridiculing of His Person and work.
EXCURSUS ON APOSTASY
Apostates are people who hear the gospel, make a profession of being Christians, become identified with a Christian church, and then abandon their profession of faith, decisively repudiate Christ, desert the Christian fellowship, and take their place with enemies of the Lord Jesus Christ. Apostasy is a sin which can be committed only by unbelievers, not by those who are deceived but by those who knowingly, willfully, and maliciously turn against the Lord.
It should not be confused with the sin of the average unbeliever who hears the gospel but does nothing about it. For instance, a man may fail to respond to Christ after repeated invitations from the Holy Spirit. But he is not an apostate. He can still be saved if he will commit himself to the Savior. Of course, if he dies in unbelief, he is lost forever, but he is not hopeless as long as he is capable of exercising faith in the Lord.
Apostasy should not be confused with backsliding. A true believer may wander very far away from Christ. Through sin his fellowship with God is shattered. He may even reach the point where he is no longer recognized as a Christian. But he can be restored to full fellowship as soon as he confesses and forsakes his sin (1Jo_1:9).
Apostasy is not the same as the unpardonable sin mentioned in the Gospels. That was the sin of attributing the miracles of the Lord Jesus to the prince of the demons. His miracles were actually performed in the power of the Holy Spirit. To attribute them to the devil was tantamount to blaspheming the Holy Spirit. It implied that the Holy Spirit was the devil. Jesus said that such a sin could never be forgiven, either in that age or in the age to come (Mar_3:22-30). Apostasy is similar to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in that it is an eternal sin, but there the resemblance ends.
I believe that apostasy is the same as the sin leading to death, mentioned in 1Jo_5:16 b. John was writing about people who had professed to be believers and had participated in the activities of local churches. They then had imbibed the false teaching of the Gnostics and had spitefully left the Christian fellowship. Their deliberate departure indicated that they had never been truly born again (1Jo_2:19). By openly denying that Jesus is the Christ (1Jo_2:22), they had committed the sin leading to death, and it was useless to pray for their recovery (1Jo_5:16 b).
Some earnest Christians are troubled when they read Hebrews 6 and similar passages. Satan uses these verses especially to unsettle believers who are having physical, mental, or emotional difficulties. They fear that they have fallen away from Christ and that there is no hope for restoration. They worry that they have drifted beyond redemption’s point. The fact that they are even concerned about it is conclusive evidence that they are not apostates! An apostate would not have any such fears; he would brazenly repudiate Christ.
If the sin of apostasy does not apply to believers, to whom then does it apply in our day? It applies, for instance, to a young man who makes a profession of faith in Christ and seems to go on brightly for a while, but then something happens in his life. Perhaps he experiences bitter persecution. Perhaps he falls into gross immorality. Or perhaps he goes off to college and is shaken by the anti-Christian arguments of atheistic teachers. With full knowledge of the truth, he deliberately turns away from it. He completely renounces Christ and viciously tramples on every sacred fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith. The Bible says it is impossible to restore such a one to repentance, and experience corroborates the Bible. We have known many who have apostatized from Christ, but we have never known one who has returned to Him.
As we approach the end of this age, we can expect a rising tide of apostasy (2Th_2:3; 1Ti_4:1). Therefore the warning against falling away becomes more relevant with every day that passes.