Considering the depth of the subject matter of this book, the author brings us a smile at the end, in verse 22 of the thirteenth chapter, when he appeals to the brethren to bear with the word of exhortation for he has written to them in few words. He is not identified, but is almost certain to have been the Apostle Paul.
The letter to the Hebrews was written addressed especially to Jewish believers, hence its name. It is important to always remember that fact to understand its content, because many things relate only to the Jews. In the absence of this understanding distortions and errors emerge, even the heresy of replacement theology, which holds that the church took the place of the Jews in the promises made to their fathers... Hebrews is not without helpful teaching also to believers in general for, like all other books of the Bible, it is divinely inspired and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
The Jewish believers in Israel suffered severe persecution because of their faith, and many were tempted to return to Judaism, thinking that they could give up their salvation temporarily until the situation improved, and after that accept the Lordship of Christ again and so erase the sin of apostasy. Hebrews explains that there was no such option. For Jews "to save" or "salvation" could have for its object spiritual death, but also physical death, and only bearing this in mind can some texts of the book be understood.
We shall now take five warnings from the book which are all related to the judgement and physical death of the Old Testament, but are also adaptable to the spiritual life of the believer.
1. Against drifting away (chapter 2:1-4): " Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away..." - "therefore" is a reference to the fact that the Lord Jesus is superior to the angels, so it is necessary to pay attention to what He says, and not to stray away as if being adrift, forgetting what has been handed down. The revelation through the Son, which we have in the New Testament, brings obligations to those who receive them that are much more solemn than the revelation through angels or simple men as in the Old Testament. The superiority of the Gospel is that having at first been announced by the Lord, was later confirmed to us by those who heard Him, and finally testified by God by signs and miracles through them (see the third and fourth verses).
Even today many allow themselves to forget the teaching of Christ to hear messages that assert to be from angels or men, as if they could be even superior. How many dedicate most of their time reading “spiritual” books that expound theories, teaching and counsel other than what we learn from the Word of God, having already forgotten what it really teaches! The believer who turns away shall be subject to divine discipline - not the loss of spiritual salvation, but material loss, even of physical life, as happened in the Old Testament to those who drifted away from the ways of God revealed there.
2. Against disobedience (3:7 to 4:13): - "to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?"- Because of their unbelief, that generated disobedience, the vast majority of Jews who came from slavery in Egypt rebelled against Moses and Aaron did not enter the land of promise. We read in Numbers 14:20 that after they repented and God forgave their sin, they still suffered the penalty of physical death in the wilderness: not the loss of their spiritual salvation. "...Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion…” is the parallel of that episode in the life of the believer. He should beware because he is responsible for his conduct, avoiding that in him be found "an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God" as did that generation, including here the suggestion of corrupting others as well. Instead, believers are urged to “exhort one another daily, while it is called "TODAY," lest any of them be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin."
It is not the retention of salvation based on perseverance in faith, but the possession of salvation as evidenced by continuing in the faith. A true believer continues to believe even if he has stumbled into sin. The converted Jew is encouraged to "enter that rest." The rebels did not enter the land of promise, which would be their "rest" on earth (not a symbol of heaven, for in the land of promise there would still be many struggles, but it represents the blessings in the life of the believer here on earth). The converted Jew would not have the life of blessing if he returned to Judaism. Today, the converted believer suffers the temptation of unbelief, for example with the harassment of the theories of evolution and humanism. If he gives them an ear, he will be compelled to disobedience, and will lose his “rest”, which are the blessings in his life here on earth. But he will not lose his salvation and eternal life.
3. Against immaturity (5:11 to 6:20): - "you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food", which is immaturity because of the spiritual stagnation and inability to learn the "word of righteousness" and “by reason of use to have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” The words "you have become" indicate retrogression instead of the progress that would be expected in the believer. The retreat went back to the six rudimentary principles of the oracles of God mentioned here, "repentance from dead works " (the Levitical system), "and faith toward God" (conversion to the Lordship of Christ), "the doctrine of baptisms" (the many ablutions and immersions of the Levitical system) “and laying on of hands" (a way to bless and dedicate or to identify with people or things in the Old Testament), “and of resurrection of the dead" (also a doctrine of the Old Testament found in Job 19:25, Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:2), and "eternal judgement" (the final judgment, the "great white throne"). It is the will of God that the believer should progress towards maturity, but He does not force him to do so (6:3). Some of those Jews had already regressed to the point that they could not advance any further. They thought they had the option of going back to Judaism and then repent to return to the Christian faith, thus erasing the sin of apostasy. But according to their position before God, they did not have this option because it was impossible. If they were true believers, they would have had five spiritual privileges, "they were once enlightened" (regenerated and saved), “they had tasted the heavenly gift" (they had a real experience of the Messiah, the gift of God), "and had become partakers of the Holy Spirit" (they received the Holy Spirit when converted), and had tasted the good word of God" (they benefited from the knowledge and teaching of the Word), “and the powers of the age to come" (they saw apostolic miracles, a sample of the powers which will be manifested in the kingdom of the Messiah).
Verse 6:6 is crucial and a misinterpretation has been used by some as the basis for the doctrine of loss of salvation. What the author is saying is that it is impossible for the believers who have these five spiritual privileges showing them to be true believers to fall and, therefore, to be renewed for repentance. The reason for that impossibility is that, to lose their salvation and to receive it back it would be necessary for the Son of God to be crucified again. By their action, those which fell manifested their rejection of Jesus as Christ, standing by the other unbelieving Jews of his generation. The true believer does not have the option to go back and will have to keep on going. If he is negligent, he will be disciplined in this life or will have to give an account of his actions at the court of Christ. He will not lose his salvation.
4. Against wilful sin (10:19-31): - "If we sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins," therefore we must follow the exhortations of verses 22 to 25. The penalty for wilful sin is the fearful expectation of judgement. It is a condition of continuity, not an isolated sin. In the case of those Jews it would be to return to Judaism and to continue in it intentionally and permanently. In the Old Testament there was no possible sacrifice for sins such as adultery, murder and blasphemy, but the culprit had to suffer the death penalty. Again, it was not spiritual death. The Jewish believers of that time that returned to Judaism, committing apostasy, would have physical death as punishment (v. 28-29), death in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (v. 25 and 27) and loss of rewards at the Judgement Seat of Christ (v. 35-36).
Again, the believer today who continually sins voluntary and is also subject to discipline in this life and the loss of rewards at the Judgement Seat of Christ. But do not lose their salvation.
5. Against indifference (12:25-29): - "See that you do not refuse Him who speaks" - the Jewish believers should take care not to be indifferent to the voice of God as the Israelites were at Mount Sinai. It is in the present, so it is the voice of Christ who speaks to us today through His Word, as God spoke to the people in antiquity. Those who were under the Law of Moses did not escape punishment, so the believers who do not pay attention to the voice of Christ today cannot expect better treatment. They will suffer discipline and loss of reward, but will not lose their eternal salvation.
Finally, we repeat, these warnings are intended to prevent serious punishment in this world and loss in the hereafter. Although addressed to Jewish Christians in early Christianity, they have applications for the believer at present. There is no question of the loss of his salvation and eternal life, which are guaranteed by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in His Word to everyone who hears His word and believes in God (John 5:24). Eternal life is not subject to death.
Hebrews 2:1 Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.
2 For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward,
3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him,
4 God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?
Hebrews 3:7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: "TODAY, IF YOU WILL HEAR HIS VOICE,
8 DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS IN THE REBELLION, IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS,
9 WHERE YOUR FATHERS TESTED ME, TRIED ME, AND SAW MY WORKS FORTY YEARS.
10 THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THAT GENERATION, AND SAID, 'THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART, AND THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN MY WAYS.'
11 SO I SWORE IN MY WRATH, 'THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.' "
12 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;
13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called "TODAY," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
Hebrews 5:11 of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.
13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.
14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Hebrews 6:1 Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
2 of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
3 And this we will do if God permits.
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,
5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
Heb 10:22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,
25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries...
Hebrews 12:25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven,
26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, "YET ONCE MORE I SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO HEAVEN."
27 Now this, "YET ONCE MORE," indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.
29 For our God is a consuming fire.