Category Archives: Hebrews

Christ our Anchor and Forerunner

 

Laboring through some of the more difficult passages of Scripture, namely that of Hebrews 6, proves worthwhile as the chapter concludes with a glorious statement of assurance rooted in the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In Hebrews 6:19-20 we read that Jesus is our steadfast anchor, hope, forerunner, and High Priest stringing together pearls of assurance for the believer.  Note well the passage below:

19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

The return of the authors use of “we” likely indicates that he is including himself in the statement that follows which highlights Christ’s mediatorial and intercessory work on behalf of believers.  In view here, the “this”, is the faithfulness of God to His promises, first as seen in the example of Abraham (Heb. 6:13-18) and secondly, by way of comparison, His promises that are rooted in the finished work of the Son of God.  The believer’s salvation and assurance is founded on nothing less than the very character of God and the effectualness of Christ’s death, resurrection, and now intercession as High Priest.  In short, a true believer in Christ may fall away to their eternal destruction the moment God can be called a liar and Christ ceases to intercede for them.  God is not a liar (Num. 23:19; Titus 1:2) and it necessarily follows that one’s security is eternally sealed in the person of Christ.

This promise is said to be a steadfast anchor of the soul.  Again we see the use of nautical language (see Heb. 2) to provide a lasting and understandable mental picture for the immediate audience.  By way of the anchor analogy, the promise of God is seen to function as an immovable guarantee.  It should not be assumed, as we will see, that the anchor is somehow set weakly or in soft sand that may shift and loosen the anchor.  Quite the contrary, the anchor of God’s promise is not only set by God and secured by God, but the anchor is God’s very own Son who gave Himself up for all who have and will believe.  Therefore, though the sea may toss and turn, the believer may be assured that the soul of his or her vessel will surely be secured and reach port safely by no merit of their own, but by grace through faith in the Savior Jesus Christ.

Moving on, this hope is said to have entered “into the inner place behind the curtain” bringing to mind the Old Covenant tabernacle/temple where only the High Priest could enter annually on the Day of Atonement.  This phrase serves as a notable “hook” to preview and introduce a later developed concept of the superiority of the “tabernacle” in the New Covenant as opposed to the type and shadow of the tabernacle under the Old Covenant.  Nevertheless, it functions to support the staggering statement that through Christ’s sacrificial death and ascension to the Father, we now have access to the Holy of Holies and into the very presence of Almighty God.  Further, the argument from the anchor, now to the hope that enters, indicates that this is not an abstract statement but has as its object a Person that functions as the anchor and the hope that has entered behind the curtain, namely Jesus Christ.  This priestly work of Christ develops the introductory thesis given in Hebrews 1:3 and builds upon the contrast with the Levitical Priesthood in Hebrews 5:1-10 preparing us for the reintroduction of the Melchizedekian Priesthood in the chapter that follows, a type of the superior Priesthood of Christ.

Pressing deeper into the argument we see clearly in the next phrase that it is indeed Jesus Christ who has entered the inner curtain or veil, and has done so as a forerunner or trailblazer on “our behalf”.  As though the glory of this passage could not reach a higher crescendo, it is stated with clarity that this priestly work is done with a purpose and object in mind, namely on “our behalf” or for the sake of believers.  By stating that Christ has blazed this trail it necessarily implies that there will be followers.  As seen in Hebrews 4:16 and upcoming in Hebrews 7:18, 25 the pathway has been opened and cleared for those who draw near to God, not simply one time, but a continual drawing near to God.

Commenting on the use of “forerunner”, yet another nautical reference, Talbot writes,

“The Greek harbors were often cut off from the sea by sandbars, over which the larger ships dared not pass till the full tide came in. Therefore, a lighter vessel, a “forerunner,” took the anchor and dropped it in the harbor. From that moment the ship was safe from the storm, although it had to wait for the tide, before it could enter the harbor…. The entrance of the small
vessel into the harbor, the forerunner carrying the ship’s anchor, was the pledge that the ship would safely enter the harbor when the tide was full. And because Christ, our “forerunner,” has entered heaven itself, having torn asunder everything that separates the redeemed sinner from the very presence of God, He Himself is the Pledge that we, too, shall one day enter the harbor of our souls and the very presence of God, in the New Jerusalem.” [1]

Using this informative statement, perhaps the significance of Christ as our forerunner takes on a greater meaning by seeing through His work of carrying the cross-shaped anchor into the port of God’s Holy Temple He has eternally secured our safe passage into the harbor.  Brothers and sisters there can perhaps be no sweeter truth than to know that we who were once rotten sinners under the wrath of God have now obtained entrance into the Holy of Holies, access to the very presence of God Whom we are told is a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29), through our forerunner Jesus Christ by means of His death, resurrection, and ascension such that we now may come freely to the throne of grace and receive mercy in our time of need.  All this we are told is our assurance and hope, grounded in the High Preistly office of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Let the majesty of God’s steadfast love through what He has done in His Son on our behalf sink in for a moment and allow it to lead you into meditation and worship of the Most High God.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

[1] Louis Talbot – Studies in the
Epistle to the Hebrews (p. 23.) as cited by Phillips, Richard. The Reformed Expository Commentary. New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2006. 

Speaking of Better Things

 

The transition out of the warning passage in Hebrews 6 is rather obvious, especially if you are reading an ESV or NASB translation.  There you’ll see verse 6:4 say, “in the case of those” contrasted in 6:9 with, “yet in your case” which would seem to indicate that the author’s attention is shifting from a third party back to his immediate audience as he prepares to identify and address specifically their condition.

The phrase translated above “in the case of…” is not present in either of those verses however.  The ESV’s decision to include it may be one of smoothing for readability, but more likely its to highlight the contrast being implied in the two verses.  While maintaining the “in the case of those” in 6:4 the NASB may be more accurate in 6:9 which it renders, “we are convinced of better things concerning you.”  This still conveys the idea of an attention shift from the example held up in Hebrews 6:4-8 to the immediate audience and the forthcoming commendation.

Due to the high level of interpretational uncertainty that many have experienced from this particular warning, highlighting yet another reason that shows a negative example was in mind from verses 6:4-6:6, rather than the possibility of genuine salvation, is a significant step in rightly interpreting the passage.  That said, we turn our attention with the author back to the condition of the audience who has been previously warned about their dullness of hearing and spiritual lethargy.  So as not to leave them totally discouraged, we find in our present passage under consideration a commendation on the evidence of their fruit, corresponding nicely to the parable from 6:7-8.

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

The use of “beloved” is important as the author shows his pastoral care and knowledge of not just their “dull of hearing” but of their work and service in the name of God.  Building on this introductory address is the statement, “we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation” further securing the notion that those things previously mentioned in the passage were not dealing with salvation.  These “things” are defined for us in the subsequent verses to  include work, love for the name of God, and service of the saints, all of which points towards a believer’s fruit or evidence of salvation.

Recognition of this evidence is not arbitrary or even unseen, but is rooted in the very justice of God.  Whereas we saw in verse 8 that the ground that does not bear fruit is “worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned“, no doubt reflective on the justice of God, here we see that God’s justice extends to the recognition of the “ground” that bears fruit.  Simply put, justice is getting what one deserves.  In the case of unrighteousness deeds getting what one deserves is punitive, however,  in the case of righteous deeds getting what one deserves is rewarding; both are the result of justice.  For those who have trusted in Christ as Savior, our punishment has been swallowed by the mercy of God in Christ by withholding what we deserve, namely the wrath of God.  Conversely, having been made righteous, justified by the blood of Christ, clothed in His righteousness, enabled by the Spirit to perform the works that God prepared for us beforehand (Eph. 2:10), we may eagerly expect the reward that God has promised, namely eternal life and the blessings that accompany that.

As the pastor-author of Hebrews moves on in his encouragement he aims to prod the church (and by relation us) to continued progress in the faith as seen in vs. 11.  Earnestness, or perhaps intensity, and assurance work somewhat together like hand and glove.  Certainly one can be zealous for the things of God, but be fueled by improper motivation or ignorance of the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:1-3).  But here, proper motivation grounded in a love for God will lead to assurance in salvation.  Conversely, assurance is not alone, pointing simply to a one-time decision or walking of an isle, but can look toward intensity in serving the saints and glorifying the name of God motivated by love and fueled by the Holy Spirit.  Both sides of the coin are necessary and mutually dependent upon one another.

As is pointed out in verse 12, zealousness is in direct contrast with sluggishness, as the author provides the closing bracket to his argument begun in Heb. 5:11, you have become dull of hearing utilizing the same word to enter and exit his warning.

As is so often the case in Hebrews, we are introduced to an idea or concept that is expanded on in greater detail later, such is the case again here.  Before entering a discourse on Melchizedek, begun in Hebrews 5:10, we see the mention of the phrase “those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” whom the readers are supposed to imitate.  As we will see, in the near context this statement has its attention towards Abraham (6:12ff), however we will see it expanded with numerous examples in the Hall of Faith found in chapter 11.

Working through this difficult and divisive chapter of Hebrews we have seen it is not meant to be a battleground for Calvinism vs. Arminianism or eternal security vs. loss of salvation.  Instead, it is for the purpose that we have seen employed in this section, namely to spur on believers to continue in good works through faith and patience, rooted in a love for the name of God, and anchored by hope in the promises of God secured by the High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore we can conclude that these harsh sounding warnings are a divine means of preservation by a loving God for the perseverance of the saints.

The Finality of Apostasy

 

Having now worked meticulously through the experiential descriptions from the warning passage in Hebrews 6, we turn our attention to the consequence which began with the introduction, “For it is impossible” back in verse 4. Before we reach the conclusion of that statement we must address the last descriptor in this warning, “and have fallen away.”

The word for fallen away, parapipto, is used only here in the New Testament and conveys the idea of slipping away, synonymous with what we would term apostasy. Though unique in its use, it is similar in thought to Heb. 2:1, “Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Likewise, we read of a similar warning of apostasy in 3:12, “take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God”. Additionally, this general sentiment is conveyed in Heb. 3:17; 4:1; Heb. 4:6; Heb. 4:11; Heb. 10:28; Heb. 12:1. Those similarities mentioned, it may also be noted that falling or drifting away is the opposite of holding fast, as in Heb. 3:1 “hold fast our original confidence firm to the end”; 4:14; 6:18; 10:23. Those who have shared in all the experiences discussed in verses 4-6 may now add the description, “and have fallen away” to their resume. As a side note, the action being described here is not conditional, as in the faulty NIV translation that inserts “if” before falling away. Instead it is a statement of fact emphatically sealed with the word “impossible”, which shows up again with emphasis in 6:18, “it is impossible for God to lie.”

With this in mind, we move to the concluding statement of the warning, “for it is impossible…to renew them again to repentance”. If one takes the interpretation that has been argued against, namely that the loss of salvation is in view here, then you must conclude that if it is lost, it can never be regained. It is apostasy unto the end. To be clear, backsliding is not in view here. Though one may offer a convincing argument that hardening from sin, sluggishness, dull of hearing, may well be synonyms for backsliding and certainly place one on the path for potential apostasy, the warning here is more ultimate. It is a total renunciation of the person and work of Christ after having been exposed to the truths regarding Him, externally receiving the blessings of association with the New Covenant community, and then making a complete and outright rejection in its entirety.  It certainly does not have to be expressed verbally, though naturally out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

This rejection is not akin to Peter’s denial of Christ on 3 separate occasions (because he returned!), but finds its human parallel in Judas. Though their situation may in some ways be similar, Judas had a worldly sorrow for his actions, as did Esau in Heb. 12:17, but his repentance was not genuine. If Judas’ repentance had been genuine, he would not have committed suicide, but would have rejoined the disciples for the cause of Christ. The selfishness of his actions following on the heels of his betrayal indicates that his was an apostasy unto the end of his life (1 John 5:16; see also John 17:12). It has been said of those who commit this apostasy that it would have been better if they were never born (Matt. 26:24). They are the hidden reefs, waterless clouds, fruitless trees, wild waves of the sea, and wandering stars of Jude 12-13. Their rejection of Christ is proof that they were never children of God, but were children of the devil all along.

At this point it is fair to ask if it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, doesn’t that mean that they were originally in a state of repentance, i.e. saved. Again we can see that importing one’s own meaning of terms and theological concepts into a passage will inevitably lead to a wrong conclusion. The term “again” is also used in the following verse in reference to crucifying Christ “again”, yet that is no more likely to actually happen than it is for the apostate to have a genuine repentance “again”.

Why would it be impossible to renew them again to repentance? Because they have rejected the only means and object toward which repentance is due such that there remains no other option. If genuine Spirit-led repentance is God-ward and one rejects God, to whom shall repentance be made? To use our example of Esau again from Heb. 12:17, he was not given opportunity to repent, though he sought it with tears. His tears were not the hallmark of genuine repentance; if they had been then he would’ve found repentance. Similarly, Israel as a nation slid into apostasy, yet we see the repeated attempts to repent and return to the Lord. These attempts were not genuine as we read in Deuteronomy 1:45, “And you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord did not listen to your voice or give ear to you.” (Note again the Wilderness Generation)

As a side note, it is simply a misapplication of the passage to take the experiences mentioned here and apply it to our own knowledge of those who reject Christ and assume that theirs is a similar apostasy of finality. Not only is that a misapplication of the passage, but it strays from the passages intended meaning. It is not meant to be taken as a measuring stick of faithfulness, but as a warning to be personally heeded by all those who hear it. Once again, let us be reminded of the case of Peter and Judas, both were guilty of experiencing the blessing and association of our Lord, yet one returned and one didn’t. How faulty and self-righteous would it have been to have taken the warning from Hebrews 6 and applied it to Peter assuming that it would be impossible to renew him again to repentance. Peter was a living example of one who heeded the warning of Christ, recognized himself drifting away, and found repentance in the arms of a waiting Savior (Matt. 26:75; Luke 22:32).

What is your case dear reader? Is your life marked by open rejection of Christ, having presumed to walk with Him for so long? Perhaps you find your way on the road called Backslidden leading to the town of Apostasy. Heed the warnings of Hebrews and elsewhere in Scripture and find true repentance in the arms of a loving Father before it is too late and yours is an apostasy unto finality.

Concluding the thought of this passage we read of the egregious nature of those apostates in view, namely “crucifying again the Son of God.” Having rejected the person and work of Christ, they no longer have a claim to Christ’s death for them. Instead of the gloriousness of the cross in the provision of redemption from sin, the apostate denigrates the cross as a device of torture and punishment for blasphemy and yells out with the crowd, “Crucifying Him!” What once had been a shallow claim of “I am crucified with Christ” has turned to having “neither part nor lot in this matter”. Public renunciation of faith in Christ, whether by attitudes, actions, or words, makes a mockery of the Lord and His substitutionary sacrifice (Matt. 27:39-44). As we will see in Heb. 10:29 this rejection is a “profaning the blood of the covenant” and is in fact the unpardonable sin, “For it is impossible…to restore them again to repentance.”