Messianic jews, Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern

chapter 6
1. Therefore, leaving behind the initial lessons about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of turning from works that lead to death, trusting God,
2. and instruction about washings, s’mikhah, the resurrection of the dead and eternal punishment.
1-2 The initial lessons about the Messiah сал be presented as three pairs of doctrines constituting the foundation on which to build Messianic life. Being born again consists in turning from works that lead to death (repentance from sin) and trusting God. Both aspects are necessary: claiming to trust God without leaving one's sins behind is hypocrisy, because God is holy. Attempting to turn from sin without trusting God either fails, leads to pride in self-accomplishment, or both.

Two pairs of topics comprise the instruction a baby believer needs after coming to faith. The first pair deals with this world, the second with the world to come — biblical faith is neither altogether this-worldly nor altogether otherworldly.

Greek baptismon is the normal New Testament word not for the immersion which accompanies coming to faith (Ac 2:37, 8:38. 16:32; see Mt 3:9N) but for washings or purifications, of which the initial immersion is but one. The Messianic Jewish readers would have been familiar with this subject, since the Tanakh speaks of such purifications at many places; also Yn 13:3-17 and below at 10:22. S'mikhah. the laying on of hands (see Mt 21:23N), refers here to ordination of an individual for a particular task of ministry by the elders of a congregation, as with Sha'ul at Ac 13:1 and Timothy at 1 Ti 4:14; also see Mt 21:31N.

Instruction about washings leads to the whole question of how to live a holy life in a sinful world, while s'mikhah introduces the subject of working for the Kingdom of God. Compare Ya 1:27, where "the religious observance that God the Father considers pure and faultless" is defined in essentially the same terms. Without resurrection of the dead it becomes unclear how God is just (see the book of Job) and a believer's life becomes pointless (1С 15:18). The hope of eternal reward and the fear of eternal punishment are powerful motivators for believers to live holy lives and to work for the Kingdom of God.

Unlike Sha'ul at 1С 3:1, our author believes his readers do not need more "milk" (5:11-14); he assumes they understand these six basic doctrines and are prepared to go on to maturity, so he intends to explain the doctrine of Yeshua's high-priesthood and sacrifice and is satisfied that he need not lay again the foundation. 

3. And, God willing, this is what we will do.
4. For when people have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become sharers in the Ruach HaKodesh,
5. and tasted the goodness of God’s Word and the powers of the ‘olam haba
6. and then have fallen away — it is impossible to renew them so that they turn from their sin, as long as for themselves they keep executing the Son of God on the stake all over again and keep holding him up to public contempt.
These verses have been commandeered into service of the most amazing variety of theological positions. Arminians (named after their supposed founder, Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609)) take them as proof that it is possible for someone who has once been a believer to fall away from faith irretrievably. Calvinists (after John Calvin (1509-1564)) interpret them in such a way as to make that a practical impossibility. The dispute between them has fueled many fires, but often forgotten is the author's purpose, which is not to deal abstractly with the "eternal security of the believer." but specifically with his readers' concern that unless the Levitical sacrifices required by the Five Books of Moses are offered their sins remain unforgiven. Whether they had in fact reintroduced sacrifices on their own cannot be determined from the evidence of this book. But it is obvious that they were fixated on the sacrificial system; and it becomes the author's task to show them that Yeshua's atoning death and his elevation to the office of cohen gadol has brought about "a transformation of Torah" (7:12) which alters the sacrificial system and priesthood.

Here is a review of the author's argument in these verses. He speaks of people who have
(1) once been enlightened, so that they know who Yeshua is and what he has done;
(2) tasted the heavenly gift of God's forgiveness;
(3) become sharers in the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit whom God gives only through his Son Yeshua (this terminology makes it impossible that the author is referring to pseudo-believers, because only true believers become sharers in the Ruach HaKodesh);
(4) tasted the goodness (compare Psalm 34:8) of God's Word and
(5) tasted the powers of the 'olam haba. which is interesting terminology for the gifts of the Holy Spirit as enumerated in 1С 12:8-10

When people who have experienced salvation in such a deep way and then have fallen away from faith by trusting not in Yeshua's own sacrificial death and high-priestly office but in animal sacrifices and the system of cohanim which the Torah set up to administer them — then it is impossible to renew them so that they turn from their sin, as long as for themselves they keep on executing the Son of Cod on the stake all over again. The reason is that they ignore what his death on the stake means, as proved by their trusting in animal sacrifices instead of his sacrifice. Thus they keep holding him up to public contempt by not glorifying his death as an atoning death but seeing it as having no special significance, so that his execution as a criminal becomes the dominant fact about it.

I am indebted to Jerome Fleischer, a Messianic Jew with a ministry in the San Francisco area, for pointing out to me that the author's purpose in these verses was not to provide fuel for the Calvinist-Arminian controversy of 1500 years later, but to turn his readers' concern away from animal sacrifices and toward the significance of Yeshua's final sacrifice. This is clear from the context of the following four chapters, which deal with precisely this question and which constitute the heart of the book.

However, it is possible to make a midrash on these verses which does deal with the Calvinist-Arminian controversy. Calvinism teaches the eternal security of the believer. It is possible to define "believer" tautologically, in such a way that no one so defined ever falls away; but then no one could be certain he is a "believer" until his life had ended. For it is manifestly possible for a person to trust the Messiah as fully as he knows how, by any imaginable subjective or objective measure of his ability to trust, and [o experience subjectively all the benefits of faith, and still at some point later to fall away. If that happens, it is impossible, so long as he remains in such a state, to renew him again so that he turns from his sin. Why? Because God has given him everything he can give, yet he now refuses to accept his status as righteous with God, along with the implied responsibility of living a holy life. In vv. 7-8 these good gifts of God are compared to rain, intended to make a good crop grow; but if an evil crop comes, it is in due course burned — a reminder of the fate of the wicked on the Day of Judgment. But the New Testament's way of dealing with the security of the believer is different. Yochanan articulates it well: "The way we can be sure we know him is if we are obeying his commands"(I Yn2:3-6&N).

Some, insisting on the eternal security of one who has confessed the Messiah, understand this passage to say that carnal believers will be deprived of rewards (1С 3:8-15&N), or that they will spend the Millennial Age (Rv 20:2-7&N) in Outer Darkness (see Mt 22:13—I4&N) instead of ruling with the Messiah. 

7. For the land that soaks up frequent rains and then brings forth a crop useful to its owners receives a blessing from God;
8. but if it keeps producing thorns and thistles, it fails the test and is close to being cursed (Genesis 3:17–18), in the end, it will be burned.
9. Now even though we speak this way, dear friends, we are confident that you have the better things that come with being delivered.
The hellfire-and-hrimstone of vv. 4-8 is balanced by a positive and comforting word: we are confident that you do not fall in the category of those who have fallen away and are close to being burned, but that you have the better things that come with being delivered. 

10. For God is not so unfair as to forget your work and the love you showed for him in your past service to his people — and in your present service too.
There is no hint of "justification by works"; rather, the work and service to his people constitute "good actions already prepared by God" which those "delivered by grace through trusting" should do (Ep 2:8—10). The specific reference may be to 10:32-34 or the collection for the Jerusalem community (Ac 24:17&N, Ro 15:25-16:2&NN, 1С 16:1-4&N,2C 8:1-9:15). 

11. However, we want each one of you to keep showing the same diligence right up to the end, when your hope will be realized;
12. so that you will not become sluggish, but will be imitators of those who by their trust and patience are receiving what has been promised.
Keep showing the same diligence. Such action-oriented urging to "keep on keeping on" is found also at 1С 9:25-27, Pp 3:13-14. Ro 8:11-13, and below at 12:1-2. The point is reinforced by being expressed negatively in the advice not to be sluggish — a word found in the New Testament only at the beginning and end of this exhortation (5:11 and here).

Believers will surely realize their hope and receive what has been promised. This is the reason for the demonstration in vv. 13-19 of how certain God's promises are to those with trust and patience. Compare Ro 8:31-39, 9:1-11:36N. 

13. For when God made his promise to Avraham, he swore an oath to do what he had promised; and since there was no one greater than himself for him to swear by, he swore by himself (Genesis 22:16),
14. and said, "I will certainly bless you, and I will certainly give you many descendants" (Genesis 22:17),
15. and so, after waiting patiently, Avraham saw the promise fulfilled.
16. Now people swear oaths by someone greater than themselves, and confirmation by an oath puts an end to all dispute.
17. Therefore, when God wanted to demonstrate still more convincingly the unchangeable character of his intentions to those who were to receive what he had promised, he added an oath to the promise;
18. so that through two unchangeable things, in neither of which God could lie, we, who have fled to take a firm hold on the hope set before us, would be strongly encouraged.
19. We have this hope as a sure and safe anchor for ourselves, a hope that goes right on through to what is inside the parokhet,
20. where a forerunner has entered on our behalf, namely, Yeshua, who has become a cohen gadol forever, to be compared with Malki-Tzedek (Psalm 110:4).
Avraham was a man of great trust (11:8-19; compare Ro 4:1-22, Ga 3:6-18). The double security of oath and promise which God offered him strongly encourages us, who also have been given a hope set before us of going right on through... the curtain of the Holy Place in heaven to God himself (compare 10:22). This we will be able to do because we are united with Yeshua, and he has entered ahead of us as our forerunner. He has been able to enter because he has become a cohen gadol forever, to be compared with Malki-Tzedek. The author thus returns to the line of thought which he left at 5:10 in order to exhort his readers to diligence. He also is preparing the groundwork for his argument of 7:20-21. 

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