Friday, 26 October 2018
…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. Hebrews 6:6
This verse concludes the lengthy thought that began in verse 6:4. The author now begins with, “if they fall away.” There is no “if” in the Greek. This insert is based on a presupposition that the entire thought is hypothetical, but one which could not be expected to occur in reality. The words say, “and (then, or having) fallen away.” The verb is in the aorist tense. However, though “if” is not included in the thought, it is still, in a sense, a hypothetical postulation.
From verse 6:4 until this point, the author has not said that such a thing has occurred, but he is proposing that it could and then stating what the results would be. In this case, and understanding that, at a specific time, there was a falling away in this proposal being submitted. Despite having tasted and participated in what was offered through the Holy Spirit (through gift and word – the word of God comes through the Holy Spirit as well, just as 2 Peter 1:21 notes), they fell away. However, though the wording is not hypothetical in the sense that there is no “if,” Albert Barnes insightfully notes –
“The word rendered ‘fall away’ means properly ‘to fall near by anyone;’ ‘to fall in with or meet;’ and thus to fall aside from, to swerve or deviate from; and here means undoubtedly to ‘apostatize from,’ and implies an entire renunciation of Christianity, or a going back to a state of Judaism, paganism, or sin. The Greek word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is material to remark here that the apostle does not say that any true Christian ever had fallen away. He makes a statement of what would occur on the supposition that such a thing should happen – but a statement may be made of what would occur on the supposition that a certain thing should take place, and yet it be morally certain that the event never would happen. It would be easy to suppose what would happen if the ocean should overflow a continent, or if the sun should cease to rise, and still there be entire certainty that such an event never would occur.”
And so, if this were speaking of an individual, it does not necessarily indicate that the person had somehow lost his salvation. However, as noted in 6:4, the entire set of verses is referred to in the plural. This is not speaking of individuals, but of the collective group; the Hebrew people. It is a warning that in the rejection of the Lord, after they had tasted the heavenly gift, and after they had tasted the good word of God, they would be considered as having fallen away. It is the same collective type of thought which occurred earlier in Hebrews where the people failed to believe, and they collectively did not enter into God’s rest.
If it were to occur that this group of people fell away, it would be impossible “to renew them again to repentance.” The “repentance” speaks of turning the mind of the people once again to what they had already turned their minds to. Many in the collective had believed, but eventually, the people as a whole turned from this belief in (or about) Christ. They had been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, etc. To be renewed, in fact, implies that they had once been endowed with this tasting of Christ; some were followers of the Messiah. The verb here for renew is now in the active voice. What this is telling us is that it is impossible for men. However, as seen from Jesus’ words of Matthew 19:26, what is impossible with men is not impossible for God. There can be no contradiction in Scripture, and so this must be considered. Nothing that a man does to renew this group will be possible. But the truth is that nothing any person does can bring a person to salvation in the first place. Apart from God’s specific revelation of Himself, salvation is not possible. God has brought man to salvation through Christ. A man cannot save himself. The same is true with this verse here concerning Israel. As Vincent’s Word Studies notes –
“He merely puts his own hypothetical case, and says that, in the nature of such a case, the ordinary considerations and means which are applied to induce men to embrace the gospel no longer appeal to the subjects supposed. He contemplates nothing beyond such agencies, and asserts that these are powerless because the man has brought himself into a condition where they can no longer exert any power. Whether God will ever reclaim by ways of his own is a point which is not even touched. Destruction of the faculty of spiritual discernment is the natural outcome of deliberate and persistent sin, and the instrument of its punishment.”
It should be noted that Scripture never shuts the door on forgiveness to anyone who repents, nor does it shut the door on Israel as a collective (see Romans 9-11). Therefore, when such a falling away occurs, as long as the condition lasts, a renewal is impossible. The words in no way mean that such a renewal is impossible, but that it cannot occur while the person (or the group) is living under an old economy which has found its fulfillment in Christ (through the New Covenant). As Cambridge notes, “There can, he implies, be no second ‘Second Birth.’ The sternness of the passage is in exact accordance with Hebrews 10:26-29 (comp. 2 Peter 2:20-21); but ‘the impossibility lies merely within the limits of the hypothesis itself.’”
“…since they crucify again.” The Greek, as is translated by the Berean Study Bible, more closely reads, “and then having fallen away– to restore them again to repentance, crucifying in themselves the Son of God and subjecting Him to open shame.” It does not say, “again,” twice. Rather, it is only used once in relation to “repentance.” As far as the word, “crucify,” the verb is a present participle; and thus the Berean Study Bible is correct in saying “crucifying.” It has the intent of “crucifying as they are doing.” It does not imply an absolute apostasy, but one which is continuous. The tense of the verbs went from past to present. Such is the case with Israel today. They are “crucifying” the Lord through their rejection of Him.
The temple was standing; a future temple will stand. To observe temple rites, and then to come to Jesus who is the fulfillment of all of those types and shadows; and then to return to the same temple rites which only prefigured Him, would be to reject what God has done in Christ. He died for the sins of the world. Therefore, the cross of Christ is no longer available to them because it no longer has the meaning they once assigned to it.
The author then continues with, “…for themselves.” This is a reflexive pronoun, dative, third person, plural. The term should read, “in themselves,” or, “to themselves.” As Cambridge notes, “This is what is called ‘the dative of disadvantage’ – ‘to their own destruction.’” There is no human remedy for sin forgiveness, and the temple rites which looked forward to Christ are, in fact, a human remedy to this person. Only God can forgive, and that through Christ, who is “… the Son of God.” To take this course of action would then lead to the final words of the verses, “…and put Him to open shame.” What is the purpose of Christ’s cross if one retreats to what the cross only looked forward to? It is a shameful act which would, in turn, bring discredit upon the Lord who voluntarily took on the very sin which the temple rites could not expiate. This is what Israel did. After tasting His goodness, they shunned Him and returned fully to temple worship. To this day, they are looking to re-establish that temple worship once again.
What is seen here is a merely theoretical possibility within the teaching of the church – both of individual salvation, and of the salvation of God’s people, Israel, collectively. It is not speaking of God’s omnipotence which saved and sealed a person in the first place, and who redeemed Israel and promised that He would never forsake them. God does not make mistakes. It is a lesson of warning. As Cambridge states –
“In the face of sin—above all of deliberate wretchlessness—we must remember that ‘God is not mocked’ (Galatians 6:7), and that our human remedies are then exhausted. On the other hand to close the gate of repentance against any contrite sinner is to contradict all the Gospels and all the Epistles alike, as well as the Law and the Prophets.”
In other words, there is no finality revealed in these three verses. Everything in Scripture testifies to the forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ which is by grace through faith. The author’s warning is that for one to assume that going back to the temple rites will make that person holy (or more holy), or bring them nearer to God, is completely contradictory to the work of Christ itself. Further, the words of the author in verse 9 actually presuppose that this is, in fact, a hypothetical situation which is being spoken of, and thus it is a doctrinal treatise for the church to read and learn from, and for the nation of Israel, as a whole, to do the same. Until they, as a collective whole, come to Christ, they can find no way of being restored to God. Those things of the Old merely looked forward to the New.
Life application: Hebrews 6:4-6 are speaking first and foremost about Israel collectively. It is a statement that they cannot be saved by going to God through temple rites and services. The point of Daniel 9:24-27 (and all prophecy concerning this issue – even from the mouth of the Lord Jesus) is that Israel would try to do this and fail; but in the end, they will realize who Jesus is, they will call out to Him, and they will find collective salvation at that time. And you… have you believed in Jesus but let your heart go astray since then? Return to the Lord, knowing that He will receive you because He has already received you.
O Lord, may those around us who have heard about the glory of Your cross never attempt to replace it with something inferior. Rather, instill in them the knowledge that Calvary is all-sufficient for the atonement of every sin ever committed and that nothing else will do. Amen.