Hebrews 5:1-6:12 – The High Priest and the Third Warning
Hebrews 5:1-4 – Qualifications of Human Priests
- They must be called and appointed by God.
- They must be compassionate on those who have gone astray, for they themselves have sinned.
- They must offer sacrifices not only for others but also for themselves.
- They represent God to man, and man to God.
Qualifications of Jesus Christ the High Priest
Previously mentioned qualifications:
2:17 – Jesus became like us in all things.
2:17 – Jesus is merciful, so we have no fear in approaching Him.
2:17 – Jesus is faithful, so we can dare to trust Him.
2:18 – Jesus suffered and was tempted in all things as we are, so He can empathize with us.
2:17 – Jesus made propitiation for us by satisfying God’s wrath against sin.
4:14 – Unlike earthly priests, Jesus “passed through the heavens.” This means that Jesus was highly exalted by God and brought total salvation. Jesus has opened up the Holy of Holies and allowed us to enter.
4:16 – Jesus has made the throne of grace our home! Therefore we can enter into the presence of God daily, with confidence and boldness.
- Jesus was appointed by God. He did not exalt Himself. God spoke to Jesus in Hebrews 1:9, “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”
- Jesus is the permanent High Priest. There were many priests in the Mosaic priesthood, because they died and had to be replaced. Jesus is “priest forever,” with the power of an indestructible life. (We will study “Melchizedek” later.)
- Jesus’ life was marked by godly fear, the fear of the Lord. He turned away from sin and evil and did not sin; and He turned to His Father in total obedience.
- Jesus “learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” (5:8) He was obedient from the moment He was born, but He learned the cost of obedience, and the joy of obedience, through suffering. Jesus was perfected through suffering.
- Jesus became a human being like us, so He could represent humans to God. At the same time, He is God, so He can represent the Father to humans.
The author is beginning to launch into “deeper waters,” showing the superiority of Jesus Christ and the total inadequacy of the Jewish religion to which they are considering returning.
Two basic problems of the hearers (5:12-14)
- Doctrinal immaturity – ignorance of the basic doctrines of Christianity
- Dull of hearing, slothful, sluggish (5:11)
- Need to be taught (5:12) Not only do they not understand the deep mysteries of the faith; they even need someone to teach them the basic elements of the faith. They need milk, because they are babies in the faith and not ready for solid food.
- Moral immaturity
They are unwilling to press on in their Christian walk. They need practice to train their senses to discern the difference between good and evil.
“Let us press on to maturity.” (6:1-3)
They need to learn the elementary doctrines of the Christian faith. But the author does not plan to teach them again; he merely lists the six doctrines. Instead, he says, “Let us leave the discussion about the elementary things and press on to maturity.
The 6 elementary doctrines of the Christian Faith
The author is not saying that the elementary doctrines of our faith are unimportant. They are the basic doctrines of our faith. Through them we learn about the Christian faith. They form the content of some of the catechisms of the Church.
To leave the teaching of the elementary doctrines means that knowledge of them must not be their goal. A child learning a language begins with the ABCs of the alphabet. They are foundational. But the child cannot stop and be satisfied with knowing these elementary things; he must move on to deeper understanding. The Hebrew Christians who received this letter were satisfied with their knowledge of the faith. The author is saying that knowing the basic doctrines of the faith is not a stopping point, but rather it should open a door into a deeper walk with God. Remember Jesus’ definition of “eternal life,” in John 17:3 – “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” This is our greatest desire, to know God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, intimately, to make our home in God’s presence (the secret hiding place of the Most High God – Psalm 91:1).
Let’s briefly examine these six foundations and then press on to the richness of our salvation.
- Repentance from dead works – Anything done without faith is a “dead” action. Remember, faith begins with our living relationship with God. This means that we always listen to God and seek His will in everything that we do. Only when we are confident that it is God’s will can we do the works of the Lord in obedience and trust.
We must guard ourselves from making decisions and acting on them independently of God. In today’s religious world we tend to focus on church growth. It is good to make our churches appealing to all people, and to create programs that fit peoples’ needs. But if we make church growth our main purpose, we may do many dead works by neglecting to spend time in God’s presence, and by not allowing Him to take the initiative in everything we do.
- Faith in God – Faith is the only way to live in righteousness. “Now it is impossible to please God without faith, since anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6 NJB)
3. Teaching about baptisms – Notice the author speaks of baptisms in the plural.
- Baptism into the body of Christ – 1 Corinthians 12:13. The Holy Spirit baptizes us into Christ’s body, koinonia
- Water baptism – we are commanded by Christ to believe and be baptized; this is the public declaration of our decision to follow Jesus Christ.
- Baptism in the Holy Spirit – Jesus is the one who baptizes us with the Spirit. Acts 1:4-5 – After His resurrection, Jesus commanded His disciples “not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Father . . . for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. Notice that there 2 “baptisms of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ. Jesus Christ baptizes us with the Holy Spirit (or in the Spirit) for empowerment in witnessing to the world. In 1 Corinthians 12:13, the Holy Spirit is the one who baptizes us. In Acts 1:5, Jesus is the one who baptizes us. It is unbecoming to see Christians fighting, and even dividing, over this terminology. Just receive both baptisms!
- Baptism by fire (Matthew 3:11) – Read through the Bible and notice the many ways the word “fire” is used. Jeremiah 23 says that God’s Word is fire; the Bible speaks of the fire of persecution. When the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, “tongues of fire” rested upon the heads of the believers.
- Baptism of suffering – Jesus told His disciples that He had to go through a baptism of suffering. The New Testament does not speak directly about this baptism for believers. But when Jesus told James and John that He could not promise them a place of honor beside Him, He said, “You do not know what you ask . . . you will indeed drink the cup that I drink (the cup of suffering), and be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.” This would seem to indicate that there is a baptism of suffering that some Christians are called to endure.
- Laying on of hands – Paul tells Timothy to stir up the gift of God that had been given to him by the laying on of hands (2 Timothy 1:6). The leaders of the Church of Antioch laid hands on Saul and Barnabas to commission them as missionaries (Acts 13:3). Paul laid his hands on some disciples in Ephesus and they received the empowering of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 19:1-7)
Ananias, who was known only as a “certain disciple,” laid hands on Saul for him to be healed of his blindness and receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17-18). The New Testament does not forbid ordinary Christians from laying hands on people to be healed, or to receive power for ministry. There are many instances of church leaders laying hands on people to commission them as leaders in the Church.
- Resurrection of the dead – This is the life of the Church, the hope that we have as Christians.
- Eternal judgment – Hebrews 9:27 – “It is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment.”
Hebrews 5:12 – 6:8 – The Third Warning in Hebrews
The Hebrew Christians are in danger of apostasy – turning away from Jesus Christ, leaving their salvation. Hebrews 6:4-8 explains the meaning.
It is impossible restore again to repentance those who:
- Have experienced the following blessings:
- Have been enlightened – Hebrews 10:32 interprets this to mean those who have been saved.
- Have tasted the heavenly gift (John 4:10)
- Have become partakers of the Holy Spirit
- Have tasted the good Word of God
- Have tasted the powers of the age to come – signs, wonders, miracles
- Have then fallen away – The author is not talking about a moral falling away through a sinful act, but rather a willful rejection of Jesus Christ.
The question is, can a Christian who commits apostasy arrive at a state of heart where they can no longer repent? We are in a stage of our study of Hebrews where we need to be able to sit down together and share our mutual insights and understanding. We pray that we can meet together soon.
I will leave you with some wisdom from my theological school professor who first taught me to love the Epistle to the Hebrews. It was 1959, and we were trying to understand the solution to this very difficult problem. Our professor, Dr. Donald G. Miller, reminded us that it is indeed possible for a person to turn away from Christ and never be able to repent again. He said he would answer the question in two ways. Suppose there was a man who was formerly a very devoted follower of Christ, but who then turned away from Christ. This man continued, in an arrogant and rebellious spirit, to reject Jesus Christ as his Lord and even spoke derogatory remarks about Him. He continued in his rebellion. “I would say to that man,” said Dr. Miller, “Sir, you had better read Hebrews chapter 6 verses 4-6. If you continue to curse the Lord, to crucify the Son of God and put Him to open shame, you will not meet him in heaven.”
But Dr. Miller said there was another way he would answer the question. He asked us to imagine a woman who had endured severe pain and suffering for many years. In her sorrow and anguish she began to doubt that God was alive, or if He was alive, why had He not helped her, or encouraged her? She had cried out to the Lord for many years, but with no response. She finally abandoned her faith and said that she wanted nothing to do with God. But over the years she began to feel a deep loneliness and an emptiness in her life, that no human could fill. She wanted to return to the Lord, but she felt that the door to repentance was closed forever. Could she repent and regain her salvation? “If this lady came to me and asked me what she could do, I would simply tell her to read the words of Jesus to His Father, in John 17:12 – ‘While I was with them, I kept them in Your name. I have guarded them, and not one of them is lost except the son of destruction (Judas Iscariot), that the Scripture might be fulfilled.’”
These are two examples and two answers. If a person is once saved, and then turns away from Jesus Christ and continues in willful rebellion against Him, with no desire to return to his faith, there is no way to restore this person to repentance.
But the author is confident that the Hebrew Christians will avoid turning away from the Lord. He gives the key to maintaining our faith. “We desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish (lazy), but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promise.”
Some questions to consider:
- Do not worry about “losing your salvation!” If you worry about it, this is evidence that you still have it, that you long for a deeper walk with God. Only the crass, arrogant people who boast about leaving the faith (as some have done recently on Facebook) need to worry. As for you, imitate Jesus “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
- How do you understand the “6 elementary doctrines” of our faith? Have you discovered “dead works” in your own life? Have you experienced the baptisms of Christian life?
- How do you understand the permanency of your life in Christ? Remember that Jesus spoke of eternal life as “knowing the true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.” (John 17:3) Our salvation is a living, dynamic relationship with God. Does this describe your relationship?
- Spend some time searching the Scriptures for more understanding that will protect us from the danger of apostasy and lead us to a deeper faith.