The Reign of the Servant Kings
By Joseph C. Dillow
Chapter 19—Conditional Security: Hebrews 6
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come, 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. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And 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, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:4-12)
Few passages have had greater impact on Arminian thinking than this fearful warning about falling away and entering into such a spiritual state that it is impossible to be renewed to repentance. Strict Calvinists have exercised ingenuity in their attempts to maintain the doctrine of final perseverance in the face of the seemingly plain statements confuting it in this passage, their exegesis widely acknowledged as “theological” rather than “exegetical.” Of these two positions the Arminian view is more defensible; however, there is another option.
The Exhortation (6:1-3)
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection [maturity], not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Hebrews 6:1-3)
The opening phrase “therefore” is best taken as referring to the preceding verses (5:11-14) as a whole.
Of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since 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. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 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 5:11-14)
Because of the reader’s spiritual dullness, they need to commit themselves to learning and applying the truth and to press on to maturity. They need to be able to distinguish “good and evil,” and the author of this epistle wants them to move from “milk” (receiving truth) to “solid food, (more in-depth truth and its application).
In the midst of his discussion regarding the Melchizedekian priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 5:1-10) the author pauses to rebuke the readers for their spiritual stupor (5:11-14), to exhort them to press on to maturity (6:1, 2), to warn them about the danger of falling away (6:4-6), to illustrate to them the danger with an analogy from nature (6:7, 8), and to encourage them regarding confidence in their spiritual status and their need to finish what they have begun (6:9-12). He then returns to his main theme, the priesthood (Melchizedekian) of Christ in chapter 7.
The apostle’s focus in this passage is for these (true, not professing) Christians to grow to spiritual maturity. They “ought to be teachers, “but they are “dull of hearing,” i.e., slow to learn. They need “milk,” not “solid food.” This is a frequent metaphor of Paul, who also contrasts “babes” (Gk. nepios) with those who are mature (Gk. teleioi), such as is found in 1 Corinthians 2:6; Galatians 4:3; and Ephesians 4:13, 14. Like these other references in the New Testament, the “babes” here are not non-Christians but “infant” Christians who have refused to grow spiritually. The spiritual “maturity” in view is the same as that described in the preceding verse—not just spiritual understanding, i.e., advanced mental perception, but it is experiential righteousness and spiritual discernment (5:14).
The author is addressing Christians, since non-Christians (professing Christians) cannot grow in their ability to experientially apply the Word (Bible doctrine) to daily life and have their spiritual senses trained in spiritual discernment. They are to go beyond the foundation of repentance and the elementary teachings about Christ and faith in God. He says, “And this we will do if God permits.” What is it that we will do, “God permitting,”? The antecedent of “this” cannot be “laying again the foundation” because then the author would be saying, “Let us go beyond the foundation, and we will lay the foundation, if God permits,” yielding nonsense. The immediate antecedent of “this” is obviously “let us go on to perfection [maturity].” And in phrasing it this way, he is preparing them for the warning to follow because God may not permit it (the advance in spiritual maturity) just as He did not permit the exodus generation to enter into their inheritance-rest, the land of Canaan.
The Warning (6:4-6)
For it is impossible for those who were once [once for all] enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come, and have fallen 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 6:4-6)
The transitional word “for,” which is incorrectly omitted in some translations, establishes a causal link with what the author has just said about going forward to spiritual maturity, God permitting. What is the precise nature of this link? It appears to refer back to the phrase “this we will do,” i.e., “go on to perfection [spiritual maturity].” Thus, the author explains by this warning why it is necessary to press on to spiritual maturity. It is because if not there is the danger of “falling away,” a condition from which it is impossible to be renewed to repentance [specifically, a condition from which it is impossible to “change one’s mind” and return].
Because this warning suggests the possibility of final apostasy of the regenerate man, strict Calvinists have labored to demonstrate that only professing non-Christians are the subject of the warning. Typically, their exegesis consists of an attempt to prove that the descriptive phrases (“enlightened,” tasted the heavenly gift,” “become partakers,” and “tasted the good Word of God”) do not necessarily refer to regenerate people.
Instead, they argue that they could only refer to those exposed externally to the influence of the Gospel through association with Christians and sitting under the preaching of the Word of God. Yet, most commentators in the history of the Church have found little difficulty in understanding that the components of this warning in Hebrews are addressed to genuine Christians.
Several things are said of these people who are capable of “falling away.” The central theme is enlightenment. The last four phrases explain what characterizes those who have been enlightened.” The five phrases that are all united under the word “who,” which describes these people (6:4, 5) are as follow:
All statements are united under the same “who” and there is no reason for taking number 5 as conditional (i.e., “if they fall away”) even though some translations attempt to do so. Furthermore, whenever the Greek word te is followed by kai . . . kai, they must all be taken the same way. In other words, four of the five cannot be circumstantial participles but the fifth one conditional. Therefore, it is not impossible for those characterized by 1-4 to fall away from the faith.
The Greek word for enlightened is photisthentas, a common word in the New Testament. In John 1:9 it is used of Christ as the true light who enlightens every person that comes into the world—mostly likely a kind of general enlightenment short of actual conversion. In Hebrews, however, this is not likely. The addition of “once for all” or “conclusively” (Gk. hapax) and the defining phrases that follow indicate that the enlightenment of conversion is probably its true meaning.
In Ephesians 1:18 the apostle Paul applies it to Christians in his prayer for their enlightenment. The author of Hebrews uses it of his readers’ initial reception of the gospel: “But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated (enlightened), you endured a great struggle with sufferings” (10:32). Those who received this light are those who have confessed Christ (10:35), who have proven their regeneration by a life of works and hope of heaven (10:32-34), who have been sanctified (10:29), and who possess the imputed righteousness of Christ (10:38). In Hebrews it is used only of true conversion.
In 2 Corinthians 4:4-7 receiving the light is used for regeneration. In 1 Peter 2:9 coming out of darkness into light is described as conversion. Indeed, the movement from darkness to light is a popular theme in the apostle John’s writings for the movement from death to life, conversion (John 5:24). Jesus called Himself the light of the world (John 8:12) and said “I have come into this world so that the blind will see” (John 9:39).
The readers of Hebrews have been hapax photisthentas (“once for all” enlightened). The word hapax often has a sense of finality in it. It is the opposite of “again” (Gk. palin) in verse 6. It is used by the writer to describe the once-for-all entrance into the Holy of Holies by the high priest on the Day of Atonement, in contrast to the regular and repeated entrances by the priests during the preceding year (Hebrews 9:7). He uses it of Christ’s “once-for-all” appearance at the end of the age to do away with sin (Hebrews 9:26) and of the finality of death that comes upon all men (9:27). It is applied to the “once-for-all” taking away of sin by Christ’s sacrifice (9:28). And the apostle John uses it of the faith, which has been “once-for-all” delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
This “enlightenment’ is not merely a mental awareness, a mere first introduction, but a “final” enlightenment—hardly consistent with the thesis that these readers were not born again. Furthermore, assuming that the structural arrangement of the passage outlined above is correct, the word is then defined in the immediate context as “tasting the heavenly gift” and as being a “partaker of the Holy Spirit.”
Tasted the Heavenly Gift
The enlightenment is first explained as involving a “tasting” of the heavenly gift (Gk. dorea). The parallel with John 4:10 is noteworthy:
Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift [Gk. dorea] of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water." (John 4:10)
In every usage of dorea in the Bible it refers to the bestowal of some divine gift, spiritual and supernatural, given to man. In each case, unless Hebrews 6 is an exception, the receiver of this gift is either regenerate already, or the gift itself is regeneration (John 4:10; Acts 2:38; 8:20; 10:45; 11:17; Romans 5:15, 17; 2 Corinthians 9:15; Ephesians 3:7; Hebrews 6:4).
Regeneration is, of course, not part of the semantic value of the word. The precise nature of the gift must be determined from its sense in the context of Hebrews 6—in this case a “heavenly” gift, or a gift that comes from heaven. The gift of God is the gift of regeneration (2 Corinthians 9:15) and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-46). [Reviewer’s comment: It is notable that the gift mentioned in Ephesians 1:8 is in the Greek, “doron,” from which is derived “dorea.”]
The Greek word for “taste” is geuomai, and it is not used by the author of Hebrews of an external association but of an internal taste. It is not merely, as some would indicate, only to sample but not feasted upon. On the contrary, it includes within its compass the sense of “to eat.”
Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat (“geuomai”) . . . . (Acts 10:10).
Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten (“geuomai”) . . . . (Acts 20:11).
As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word that you may grow thereby, if [sense] indeed you have tasted (“geuomai”) that the Lord is gracious. (1 Peter 2:3)
In both biblical and secular Greek it commonly means to eat or to “partake of” or to “join.” Eating and tasting are synonymous terms and imply believing in Christ resulting in regeneration and eternal life. In Hebrews 2:9 Christ tasted death in the sense that He experienced its bitter taste to the full. The amount consumed is not the point, but the fact of experiencing what is eaten. The experience of tasting is not that of those who do not know Christ but of those who have come to know Him.
Partakers of the Holy Spirit
The second qualifier of enlightenment is that it includes being “partakers” (Gk. metochoi) of the Holy Spirit. This is the same word translated “partners” and used in Hebrews 3:14 of true Christians.
In each reference in Hebrews to metochoi truly regenerate people are in view, a few examples follow:
In view of the fact that they are partakers of the Holy Spirit and that in all other references to partakers true Christians are in view, there is no reason here not to assume that it means something like close partnership or true spiritual fellowship, which is possible only to the regenerate.
Tasted the Goodness of the Word of God
The third qualifier of the word “enlighten” is their “tasting the goodness of the Word of God.” This may be described as a continual tasting of the Word (cf. 1 Peter 2:2, 3), not an external taste but a consumption of it.
Tasted the Powers of the Coming Age
And the last qualifier of “enlightenment” is the tasting of the powers of the coming age. This refers to the miracles of the New Testament, which are a foretaste and preview of the miraculous nature of the future kingdom of God. The ministry of the Holy Spirit in authenticating the gospel with “powers” is mentioned in Hebrews 2:4. The taste, just as in the tastes above, is not superficial. It was a full taste just as Jesus tasted death. A personal experience with the Holy Spirit is implied, not just the observation of His performing miracles. They had experienced personally and internally the power of God in their lives.
While some may suggest that the people here are contrasted with true believers later in verse 9, in actuality the contrast is not so much between two different groups of people as between two possibilities that may affect the same group (just as verses 7 and 8 describe two possibilities that may arise on the same earth).
Who Have Fallen Away
One cannot know if in fact any of the readers had “fallen away,” but nevertheless, the author of Hebrews warns them of this distinct danger. The Greek word used is parapipto, which means to “fall by the wayside.” It is used only here in the New Testament. In the papyri manuscripts it is sometimes translated “to wander astray.”
In the LXX (Septuagint—Greek translation of the Old Testament) it appears to have the sense of religious apostasy. In Ezekiel it often takes the sense of turning from God to idols (Ezekiel 14:13; 15:8; 18:24; 20:27; 22:4—LXX). This meaning fits well with the theme of Hebrews. These believers were considering a relapse into Judaism. Indeed, the whole book was written to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity to Judaism and hence to prevent precisely such a relapse. In addition, the central sin, the sin of willful unbelief, is what is warned about in 10:26. Throughout the epistle the readers are urged to hold fast to their confession of faith (10:23). It is the danger of final apostasy that is in view.
The author of the epistle seems to imply that some of his readers may already have taken this step. He writes to warn others that they too are in danger of doing so (6:9). He is aware, however, that the decisive act of apostasy has precursors. It is the result of a period of hardening of heart that crystallizes at a particular moment. It is preceded by “neglect” of one’s great salvation, by hardness of heart (3:7-13), and by refusal to grow (5:11-14). It is likely that the particular reference to “going astray” in Hebrews 6 refers not to apostasy but to the preceding hardness of heart as well.
The context has been addressing the need of the readers to grow from infancy to maturity. The meaning, “fall away,” must include the opposite of “going on to maturity.” As they “go on,” as they press to that goal, there is a danger that some will “go astray, fall away,” that they will fail to persevere. It is not falling away from salvation referenced here; it is about wandering from the path that leads to spiritual maturity (the progression in the Christian life that will result in ultimate entrance into “rest,” the achievement of the believer’s life’s work—Hebrews 4:11). It is not about falling away from a “profession of faith.” The readers possessed true saving faith. They were regenerate. The real concern of the epistle is that they were in danger of failing to press on to spiritual maturity and thereby eventually denying the faith altogether.
Later the readers are told:
Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise. (Hebrews 10:35, 36)
The author of Hebrews has before his mind the failure of the regenerate exodus generation who failed to achieve their intended destiny, entrance into the inheritance-rest of Canaan.
Reviewer’s comment: The exodus generation as an analogy indicates that “salvation” was their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, not the achievement of “rest” in Canaan.
A failure to go on to maturity typically results in spiritual lapse, a hardened heart, and unbelief (Hebrews 3:7, 12). What is in danger is the forfeiture of their position as one of Christ’s metochoi, those who will partake with Him in the future reign of the servant kings.
How does one know when a believer has “gone astray”? Some indicators follow:
(If indeed the exodus generation is the parallel, there may be the suggestion that an “age of accountability” is involved. Only those who were twenty years and older were in danger of the certain severe divine judgment for this behavior pattern—Numbers 14:29).
These are only the initial symptoms. The author of Hebrews has a deeper concern. He worries that Christians who begin to fall away will eventually commit apostasy by finally rejecting the faith altogether. This is his meaning when he warns them not to throw away their “confidence” (Hebrews 10:35) and not to “deliberately keep on sinning” (10:26). He does not want them to take this final step and be among those who “shrink back and are destroyed” (10:39). It seems evident from these warnings that it is possible for true Christians to commit apostasy, final rejection of Christ. The consequence of such an apostasy, however, is not loss of salvation but loss of inheritance, as is shown in the example of Esau (Hebrews 12:17). Likewise, the readers are warned extensively through the example of Israel’s failure to obtain “rest” in chapters 3 and 4.
The Impossibility of Renewal
For those who have “fallen away” (“gone astray”), i.e., committed apostasy (final rejection of Christ), it is “impossible” (Gk. adunatos) to renew them again to repentance. The usage of adunatos (“impossible”) in other places in Hebrews excludes the idea that it could be rendered “very difficult”—it is impossible for God to lie (6:18), impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin (10:4), and impossible to please God without faith (11:6).
Yet “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37) except to lie or otherwise contradict His own holiness (Hebrews 6:18). Therefore the impossibility to renew such a Christian that has achieved a state of apostasy applies to man, i.e., the apostate himself or any other human. When such a state is reached by a Christian he will, like the wilderness generation, die in the wilderness and never enter into “rest.” It must be remembered that God “swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest’” (Hebrews 3:11). This is why the author of Hebrews says that progression to maturity (6:1) can only continue “God permitting” (6:3). God may not permit it. He may draw the line and disinherit them like He did the exodus generation. But what is the precise object of “renew”? It is “repentance.”
Reviewer’s comments: The author of the book takes several paragraphs to express the fact that “repentance” in this context represents the redemptive experience of faith alone in Christ alone, which is not an uncommon usage in the New Testament. The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia,” which strictly means a “turning around” (180 degrees) or a “change of mind.” Salvation (redemption/justification) repentance does not embody the requirement of “sorrow for one’s sins;” although, this emotion may be involved with some individuals prior to their decision for Christ. Salvation repentance is precisely a genuine decision within a person’s will when he turns solely to Christ and His work on Calvary instead of (away from) any other confidence (dead works) for his personal salvation (justification before God).
In Hebrews 6:1 the readers of the epistle had experienced the foundation of “repentance from dead works [any other confidence] and of faith toward God.” In 10:23 it is said of them that they had professed hope (Gk. elpis) or “confident expectation (true faith) in Christ. In 10:35 they are said to have “confidence” (Gk. parresia) or “unwavering and fearless confidence of faith in their public confession” of Christ.
In other words, these readers were truly saved and it was this salvation experience represented by the word “repentance” to which they would never be able to be renewed should they achieve an apostate’s state of mind (final rejection of Christ). The first time these people repented they changed their mind about their sin-condition, the works-means for salvation, and trusted Christ (God) alone for their personal salvation. Should they become apostates, it would be impossible to restore them once again to the state of mind where they would be willing to change their minds about their sin of hardness (lethargy and unbelief) while turning back in faith to Christ.
Crucifying Again the Son of God to His Public Shame
The reason given for the impossibility of renewal to repentance is that they crucify the Son of God and subject Him to public shame (Hebrews 6:6). There were only two possible interpretations of the death of Christ. He was either crucified justly as a common criminal (the Jewish view) [Reviewer’s comment: This would constitute a denial of Christ’s deity], or He was crucified unjustly as the Son of God. When a Christian denies Christ, he is in effect saying that the Jewish view is correct. If He is not the Son of God dying for all sin, then the only other possible conclusion was that He is a blasphemous deceiver who received what He deserved. It is in this sense that the apostate holds Christ up to public shame. The apostate’s life and denial testifies that Christ was not God incarnate, was a criminal, and His shameful death was deserved. To go this far, to finally deny Christ, is possible for a true Christian, but the loss of his salvation is never possible!
But why is crucifying the Son of God the reason for the impossibility of renewal to repentance? It is possible that the habitual and continuous aspect, which the present tense sometimes carries, should be stressed here. The tenses of the preceding verses were all aorist, so the unexpected switch to the present may be intentional. They cannot be renewed to repentance because they continually crucify the Son of God. In other words, because they have arrived at a state of continuous and habitual sin, they continuously and habitually shame the name of Christ by denying His deity. The hardness associated with any continued state of sin makes repentance psychologically and spiritually impossible. Because of their harness they are beyond persuasion by other Christians.
Reviewer’s comment: Although the author of this book holds to the position that God could still bring the apostate Christian back to repentance, this may indeed be an impossible path for God. God cannot go back on His Word, which in this passage reveals clearly that it is impossible for an apostate Christian to be renewed to repentance.
The Saved Condition of the Apostates
Before continuing the discussion of “falling away,” it is necessary that some summary points regarding the regenerate nature of these apostates be made, as follow:
The Thorn-Infested Ground (6:7, 8)
The only possible result for such behavior is divine discipline and judgment. The author of Hebrews explains this by an analogy from nature, as follows:
For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.
(Hebrews 6:7, 8)
The “earth” refers to the individual regenerate man, the true Christian. Two types of earth are not in view, i.e., one that produces a good crop and one that produces thorns. The view here is of two differing crops that can come from the same earth. That the “earth” represents a regenerate person is demonstrated by the descriptive phrases applied to him in 6:1-3 (see also 6:10; 10:14, 32-34).
The “earth” (Christian) can bring into being one of two differing types of “produce” once it receives the often coming rain, e.g., a life of perseverance in good works (herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated) or a wasted life of thorns and briars. The rain refers to the influence by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God upon the believer. In sum, the rain points back to the four blessings described in Hebrews 6:1-3. Furthermore, the earth “drank” these blessings. The difference is not in drinking or not drinking but in the kinds of produce that resulted from the drinking. There is no picture of the rain simply falling on the surface and not sinking into it. It would be difficult to find a clearer picture of saving faith. These people not only were enlightened and were partakers of the Holy Spirit and recipients of the heavenly gift, but they drank and absorbed it.
The word “drink” (Gk. pino) is commonly used elsewhere of saving faith (John 4:13; 6:54; 7:37, 38). These “holy brothers” who are in danger of apostasy have all drunk of the water of life (i.e., believed), and on the authority of Jesus will be raised on the last day. The fact that drinking and receiving water elsewhere means regeneration further substantiates the interpretation above that “enlightenment” is not mere “mental perception” but “rebirth.”
The crop is useful to God, the “owner.” However, the same earth may not produce this useful crop. It may also produce “thorns.” It is clear that the author of Hebrews does not believe that a life of perseverance is the necessary and inevitable result of regeneration. The Lord taught the same thing in the parable of the soils. The final three soils all represent regenerate people as proven by the fact that even the one with no root did grow and hence manifest regenerate life. But two of the three did not produce fruit.
When the earth produces a good crop, it receives blessing from God. This blessing is to be understood as divine approval, the believer’s entrance into “rest” (Hebrews 4:11), the receiving of eternal rewards and various unspecified temporal blessings as well. The only other use in Hebrews is of Esau forfeiting his inheritance (Hebrews 12:17). That seems to confirm the interpretation that the blessing from God is reward at the judgment seat of Christ. As demonstrated elsewhere, the inheritance-rest of Hebrews, indeed the inheritance in the New Testament, is always, when conditioned on obedience, a reward in heaven and not heaven itself.
But strict Calvinists insist it is not possible for the same soil to bring forth both a good and a bad crop. It can only bring forth one or the other. But this contradicts statements in other parts of the epistle. These regenerate people had produced a “crop” of patience in suffering and commendable good works (10:32-34). But some had also produced the “crop” of dullness and spiritual lethargy (5:11-14), some of these “brothers” are in danger of hardness of heart (3:12), and many have stopped meeting together with other Christians (10:25). The same earth that produced a crop of perseverance in patience also produces a crop of initial righteousness that then may fall into transgression. That is the whole point of the book.
Reviewer’s comment: The author then takes several paragraphs explaining how strict Calvinists, which he calls “Experimental Predestinarians,” attempt to go outside of Hebrews (Matthew 7:16, 18; James 3:11) to prove that the same regenerate heart cannot produce righteousness for awhile and then fall into unrighteousness. His refutations of their arguments may be found in detail in his book.
If the heart of the regenerate man produces thorns, three phrases describe his uselessness to God. He is “rejected,” “near to being cursed,” and “whose end is to be burned.” Each phrase is considered in turn:
Paul used the word of himself in 1 Corinthians 9:27 when he said that his goal was that at the end of life he would not be found “disqualified (adokimos) for the prize.” As discussed elsewhere (the discussion under 2 Corinthians 13:5), Paul does not doubt the security of his salvation. He is burdened about finishing his course and receiving his reward. Similarly, the believer who produces thorns in Hebrews 6 is not subject to damnation, but his disobedient life will disqualify him at the judgment seat and will make him useless for the purposes of God in the present.
While the immediate reference is to divine discipline in time, the author of Hebrews probably has the future consequences of this cursing in mind as well. He often speaks of the need to persevere and hence receive reward (10:36; 11:6, 10, 15, 16, 26) and has this thought in view in the immediate context when he says, “. . . but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12). Conversely, those who do not persevere in faith and patience will be cursed, i.e., be disinherited like Esau was (12:17). The cursing does not refer to loss of salvation.
But the purifying intent is doubtful here. The parallel of the exodus generation’s failure and their destruction in the wilderness is the controlling thought of the warnings. It is impossible to renew them to repentance. So the burning is, first of all, divine judgment in time. This is the thought of 10:27 where the author speaks of the “raging fire that will consume the enemies of God”—this will be covered in the next chapter and proven that it refers to judgment in time and not the eternal judgment of hell.
Elsewhere is recorded the burning of the believer’s dead works at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-15), with negative as well as positive consequences that will accrue to believers at that time (2 Corinthians 5:10). So it is not without scriptural parallel if the interpretation of this passage is from that perspective. The burning of the believer then would be a metonymy for the burning of the believer’s works.
This would help explain the statement that in “whose end” the works of the unfaithful believer (the produce of the field) will be “burned.” There is no reference to hell here but rather, to the burning up of the believer’s life-works at the judgment seat of Christ. Even though the fire consumes his house of wood, hay, and stubble (= “earth,” metonymy for “thorns and thistles,” in Hebrews 6:8), yet this carnal Christian “will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
Consolation and Encouragement (6:9-12)
Having warned them, the author’s pastor-heart now emerges, and he turns to consolation in Hebrews 6:9-12. He is confident that their lives are characterized by the better things that accompany salvation. Salvation in Hebrews, as discussed elsewhere (see chapter 4), refers not to final deliverance from hell, which is based upon faith alone, but to the future participation in the rule of man (Hebrews 1:14; 2:5) and which is conditioned upon obedience (cf. Hebrews 5:9). The inheritance they will obtain refers not to heaven, which is theirs through faith alone, but to their reward in heaven, which only comes to those “who through [“by means of”] faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Hebrews 6:12). Since the “promise” in Hebrews usually refers to the millennium (e.g., 4:1; 6:13, 15; 7:6; 11:9, 11, 13, 17; 12:26), to “inherit the promise” means to rule in the Millennial Kingdom and parallels the phrase “inherit the kingdom,” which does not mean merely entering the kingdom but to own it and rule there.
There is no reference in Hebrews 6 to either a falling away from salvation or perseverance in holiness. Rather, this is a warning to true believers concerning the possible loss of rewards at the judgment seat of Christ and temporal discipline in time. This passage is a dreadful warning to those with a hardened heart, but it is not a passage to apply to the persevering Christian who is “in the battle.”