IT ALL STARTED WITH THE SECURITIES OF GOD’S PROMISE (6:13-20)
The writer of Hebrews has been urging the Jews to completely abandon the Old Covenant and to commit themselves entirely to Jesus Christ in the New Covenant. But, as the writer says very clearly here, the substance, even of the Old Covenant was faith, as far as man’s part was concerned.
Probably the most outstanding example from the Old Testament, of trusting God is Abraham, who lived thousands of years before Christ came to earth. He, in fact, is called “the father of all who believe” (Rom. 4:11; cf. Gal. 3:7). The father of the Jews is also the father of the faithful. In Romans 4 we see that he was saved by faith even before the Old (Mosaic) Covenant was given, and before he was circumcised, which was the mark of the covenant God made with Abraham.
The Lord promised Abraham that He would give the land of Canaan to him and his descendants and that through Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). God’s integrity and faithfulness are the real theme of Hebrews 6:13-20.
This passage in Hebrews gives us four reasons for trusting God: His Person, His purpose, His pledge, and His Priest.
1 HIS PERSON
“For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you.” And thus, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise.” (6:13-15)
By the very nature of His person, God cannot lie and if He makes a promise, He keeps it. Since, therefore, God has promised that all who come to Him through His Son will be saved, it is impossible for anyone who trusts in Christ not to be saved or to lose salvation once it is attained.
A legitimate question, then, is, Has God kept this promise to Abraham? Millions of the physical descendants of Abraham are still in the world today. Not only that, but many more millions around the world are Abraham’s spiritual descendants. God has indeed kept His promise to Abraham.
2 HIS PURPOSE-TO REDEEM A LOST WORLD
“Saying, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you.” (6:14)
Abraham had not asked God to send him to Canaan or to bless the world through him. It was God’s purpose and plan. The Abrahamic covenant, with its promise, was unconditional. Although Abraham was obedient and had faith, God had a predetermined purpose for Abraham.
From his descendants was to come the nation of Israel, God’s earthly, historical channel of revelation and redemption. The Old and New Covenants, the law, the prophecies, the priestly sacrifices—all came through Israel. The Messiah Himself was a Jew, the truest Jew of all. God’s plan of redemption was to be carried out through these specially chosen people. “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).
To Israel, this message: “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers” (Deut. 7:7-8).
The point of this for Hebrews 6:13-20 is that God’s promise did not depend on anyone’s faithfulness but His own. Abraham, his descendants, and all the world through them would be blessed.
PURPOSES FOR ISRAEL
The chosen nation of Israel was supposed to proclaim the true God, reveal the Messiah, be God’s Priest nation, preserve and transmit Scripture, show the blessedness of serving God and show His faithfulness. Over and over they failed God, but He never failed them.
God is still not through using her for this purpose. Speaking of the last times, Paul writes, “And thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,. . . so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy” (Rom. 11:26, 31). Those who claim that all the unfulfilled promises to Israel are fulfilled in the church impugn God’s Word and His faithfulness. She has been, still is, and will yet be a living illustration of His faithfulness.
God cannot not stop using her without violating His unconditional promise to Abraham, which would be impossible because it was contrary to His nature. God’s promise to those who believe in Christ is, in fact, an extension of His promise to Abraham. “They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; . . . That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants” (Rom. 9:6, 8).
3 HIS PLEDGE
“Since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, … For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath.” (6:13b, 16-17)
God, of course, did not need to make an oath. His word is every bit as good without an oath—as ours ought to be (Matt. 5:33-37). But to accommodate to the weak faith of men, God swore His promise on Himself.
“In order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us.” (6:18)
The two unchangeable things are God’s promise and His pledge, His promise and His oath. The hope set before us is Jesus Himself, and the gospel He has brought. Paul speaks of his Savior as “Christ Jesus, who is our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1). In Colossians he speaks of the gospel as our hope (1:5).
4 HIS PRIEST
“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (6:19-20)
As our High Priest, Jesus serves as the anchor of our souls, the One who will forever keep us from drifting away from God. Jesus’ entering within the veil signifies His entering the Holy of Holies, where the sacrifice of atonement was made. Under the Old Covenant it was made yearly by the high priest. Under the New is has been made once for all time by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
ROLL-OUT OF THE NEW COVENANT (9:15-28)
“And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” (9:15)
Christ, because of His sacrificial death, had become the mediator of a new and better covenant. By God’s standard of righteousness and justice, the soul that sins must die (Ezek. 18:4). He became the bridge between God and men.
Old Testament believers were saved on the same basis as believers today are saved—by the finished work of Christ. Part of Christ’s work as mediator of the New Covenant was the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant. Christ’s atoning death was retroactive. Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) also pictured symbolically what Christ’s atonement actually did. It, too, was retroactive. When the high priest sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat, the unintentional sins of the people were covered for the previous year.
By their obedient faith in God they were “credited,” so to speak, with what Jesus Christ, their promised Messiah, would one day do on their behalf and on the behalf of all sinners who have ever lived and who will ever live. In a deeper sense, the sacrifice had already been made in God’s mind long before it was made in human history, because Christ’s “works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Heb. 4:3; cf. 1 Pet. 1:19-20; Rev. 13:8). From the human perspective, however, the Old Testament saints could only look forward to salvation.
The eternal inheritance that the Old Testament saints could not receive without Christ’s death was salvation, the total forgiveness that alone could bring total access to God. They could not be faulted, of course, for having a limited understanding of the Messiah, for God had only given limited revelation.
NECESSITY OF MESSIAH’S DEATH
A TESTAMENT DEMANDS DEATH
“For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.” (9:16-17)
A testament, by its very nature, requires the death of the testator. The basic meaning of covenant corresponds closely to that of our present-day will. Its benefits and provisions are only promises until the person dies. God gave a legacy, an eternal inheritance, to Israel in the form of a covenant, a will.
FORGIVENESS DEMANDS BLOOD
“Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (9:18-22)
Blood is a symbol of death, and therefore follows closely the idea of a testator’s having to die in order for a will to become effective. Even before the old priestly sacrifices were begun, the covenant itself was inaugurated, or ratified, with blood. Among other things, the great amount of blood that was spilled in the time of Moses was a continual reminder of the penalty of sin, namely death.
Jesus said, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). He was to ratify the New Covenant through His own blood, just as the Old Covenant was ratified by Moses with the blood of animals. It is however important to note that it was not Jesus’ physical blood that saves us, but His dying on our behalf, which is symbolized by the shedding of His physical blood. If we could be saved by blood without death, the animals would have been bled, not killed, and it would have been the same with Jesus. Since the penalty for sin is death, nothing but death, symbolized by shedding of blood, can atone for sin.
“Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.” (9:23)
The copies of the things in the heavens were the things of the old economy. They were but sketches, or outlines, of the realities of heaven. It was necessary for these copies to have sacrifices. It was therefore necessary for the better covenant, the better economy, to have better sacrifices.
“For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (9:24-26)
As previously mentioned in our study, Christ did not go into an earthly Holy of Holies, but He went into the presence of God—the heavenly, real Holy of Holies. He did it for us.
If Jesus’ sacrifice had not been once and for all, He would have had to suffer continuously from the foundation of the world, since the time Adam first sinned. But His one sacrifice of Himself was made at the consummation of the ages at Calvary. He put away sin. He did not simply cover sin, as the old sacrifices had done.
JUDGMENT DEMANDS A SUBSTITUTE
“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (9:27-28)
All men have to die, and our death is by divine appointment and after death comes judgment. God’s judgment demands that men pay or have a substitute pay for their sins. Jesus Christ was also divinely appointed to die once, but He will never face judgment. He took our sins upon Himself, He took our judgment upon Himself. God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor.5:21). He died the one death that judgment demanded.
If the former high priests did anything wrong, or failed to follow God’s precise instructions on the Day of Atonement, they would die. If the people were so eager to see the former high priests reappear from the earthly Holy of Holies, how much more should Christians look eagerly for their great High Priest to reappear from the heavenly Holy of Holies? This will occur at the Second Coming (Rev. 19:11-16).
When He comes back, our salvation will be full. When He appears a second time to those who expect Him, it will not be to deal with sin. It will be without reference to sin.
RECEIVING CHRIST (10:19-22)
When a person knows the truth of the gospel, he either goes on to believe or he falls back into apostasy. Hebrews 10:19-25 is speaking to the one who makes a positive response to the claims of Jesus Christ and therefore mentions the word “brethren” right at the beginning of the passage. A positive response results in salvation.
“Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God” (10:19-21)
In Christ’s shed blood, His perfect sacrifice, we have confidence to enter the holy place, into God’s very presence. The blood of Jesus Christ counts for everything, and the person who trusts in His atoning work can come with complete boldness before God, claiming all the blessings and promises in His Son. Through His shed blood, satisfied God’s justice in our behalf, so that we can now claim God’s mercy and grace.
He has torn the veil of the Holy of Holies in two. The old way could not even bring man into God’s symbolic, ceremonial presence, much less into His real presence. When Jesus’ flesh was torn, so was the veil that kept men from God. Jesus’ death conquered death and gives everlasting life. When the physical veil of the earthly Temple was torn in two during Jesus’ crucifixion, the spiritual veil, so to speak, of His flesh was also torn.
He is now our great priest over the house of God. He does not merely provide the way to God; He also takes us with Him to God and ministers for us in heaven.
“Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (10:22)
Coming to God with full assurance requires a sincere heart and commitment that is genuine. “‘Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,’ declares the LORD” (Jer. 3:10). But a day was to come when His people would change. “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart” (Jer. 24:7). From the earliest days of the Old Covenant, God had demanded a sincere heart. “You will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deut. 4:29).
Faith in Jesus Christ must include our own decision, but it must proceed from God’s decision. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Salvation is a gift of God, and part of that gift is saving faith itself. God plants in the heart the desire and the ability to believe, and the ability to receive the gift of salvation.
When we come to God in faith, our hearts should not only be sincere but also sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. This figure is taken from the sacrificial ceremonies of the Old Covenant. The priests were continually washing themselves and the sacred vessels in the basins of clear water, and blood was continually being sprinkled as a sign of cleansing. But all the cleansing, whether with water or blood, was external.
Only Jesus can cleanse a man’s heart. By His Spirit He cleanses the innermost thoughts and desires. God is satisfied with the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, and sin is removed, and our consciences are free. We are changed on the inside as we are washed by the Word and born again.
The other part of the cleansing does not refer to baptism, but has to do with our living, with how the Holy Spirit changes our lives. He begins to change us on the inside
Faith cannot begin until a person realizes his need for salvation. The first feeling of need may only be for a purpose in life or a sense of need for forgiveness and removal of guilt, for inner peace. People came to Jesus for many reasons, some of them rather superficial. Felt need is essential, but inadequate on its own.
A person does need the gospel truth (1 Cor. 15:1-5) that he is lost in sin and needs the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He must know the gospel. The idea of “blind faith” sounds spiritual, but it is not biblical.
The climax of faith is commitment. A believer must totally commit his life to the Lord Jesus Christ. Only then is faith, saving faith.
APOSTASY: REJECTING CHRIST (10:26-33)
This part deals with those who had heard the gospel, had come face-to-face with the claims of Christ, had been associated to some extent with His church, but had gone away. They had made a superficial commitment of faith in Him and had identified themselves visibly with the true church. But their enthusiasm was cooling and the cost of being a Christian was becoming too high. They were in danger of becoming apostate.
This passage contains by far the most serious and sobering warning in Hebrews as it deals with apostasy. Apostasy is the sin of rejecting the gospel, for which there is no forgiveness. “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19)
Apostasy is not a sin of ignorance, but of rejecting known truth. Judas Iscariot is, of course, the classic apostate. He had the perfect evidence, the perfect light, the perfect example. For some three years he lived with Truth incarnate and Life incarnate, yet he turned his back on the One who is truth and life.
Paul speaks of a large falling away when he cautions the Thessalonians not to be misled about the coming of the Lord, “for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first” (2 Thess. 2:3). He said said that apostasy is going to be a characteristic of the last days. “The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron” (1 Tim. 4:1-2). In the end times, the times in which I believe we are now living, apostasy will only become worse and worse.
“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” (10:26)
Here is possibly the clearest and most concise scriptural definition of apostasy—receiving knowledge of the truth, that is, the gospel, but wilfully remaining in sin. An apostate is well acquainted with the gospel and knows more than enough to be saved. They are bred almost without exception within the church, in the very midst of God’s people. The process of falling away may be gradual, but at some point, a conscious decision is made to leave the way of God, and reject the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The reference here to sinning wilfully is not to sins of ignorance or weakness, but to those that are planned out, determined, done with forethought. A true believer may sometimes lapse into sin and stray from intimacy with the Lord and with His people, but he will eventually come back. He will be under conviction and be robbed of joy and peace and of many other blessings.
“If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:12-13). If a true believer falls short in his faithfulness to the Lord, the Lord still will not fail in His faithfulness to the believer, for He has promised never to let us go.
Hard times are not for the self-willed unbeliever who is simply using the church for business, or social, or other personal reasons—or who may have been raised in the church and has simply never gotten out of the habit of attending. Persecution, sometimes as mild as criticism, is usually enough to break that habit.
Holding on to the old religion, or simply the old lifestyle, can eventually bring a person to apostatize. Many of the unbelieving Jews addressed in the book of Hebrews were very much in this danger.
THE RESULTS OF APOSTASY
The apostate no longer has a sacrifice that can atone for his sins and he is therefore, beyond salvation. It leaves only sin, the penalty for which is eternal death.
“But a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.” (10:27)
Since apostasy is the worst sin, it will have the worst judgment. Judgment is certain and terrifying. The fury of a fire from Him is consuming. In explaining the parable of the tares, Jesus said to His disciples: “The tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 13:38-42)
DEGREES OF SIN AND JUDGMENT
“Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The LORD will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (10:28-31)
Jesus made it clear that judgment, like guilt, is in proportion to sin. “That slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few” (Luke 12:47-48).
The person who sinned under the Old Covenant was guilty and deserving of punishment. Every Jew knew the severity of breaking Mosaic law. If such disobedience was affirmed by the proper witnesses, the penalty was death. But the worst offender in that age cannot compare with the person who has heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and yet rejects Him. Such persons will find themselves in the Judas section of hell, enduring much severer punishment.
Apostasy involves total rejection of the godhead—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is not possible to reject one without also rejecting the other. Therefore, to trample under foot the Son of God is the same as to trample under foot the Father.
The man who has been led by the Spirit of grace in the pre-salvation work of redemption and has been energized by Him toward repentance (John 16:8-11), thus also insults the Spirit by turning from Christ.
(MAIN SOURCE: MACARTHUR NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY – JOHN MACARTHUR)