5:11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (ESV)
The writer wants to discuss at greater lengths about Jesus functioning as our high priest after the order of Melchizedek. However, he says that while there is much to say about this, there is a problem. The audience is going to have a difficult time understanding, not because the subject matter is too hard, but because they are dull of hearing. The word “dull” carries with it the idea of being “slow” and “slothful.” The problem the author is pointing out to his audience is that they have become spiritually lazy. The author says that they could dig into deeper things, but the readers have not prepared themselves to go deeper. They are shallow Christians.
The author goes further declaring that they ought to be teachers, but they still need to be taught the basics. The idea is that they still needed to be taught the ABCs of God’s word. I think we need to pause here for a moment. The goal of every Christian is to be a teacher. This does not mean that everyone must teach a Bible class at the building. But it does mean that each of us should be able to explain the basic principles of the oracles of God to people. We may not have a handle on the more difficult concepts and teachings in the scriptures, but every person ought to be able to teach the basic principles. If not, the writer says we have been spiritually lazy toward God’s word.
He drives home the point further by describing them as little babies who need milk and cannot handle solid food. There is nothing wrong with an infant who is drinking milk. But those who are parents know that this stage does not last long, as real foods begin to be introduced into the diet. There is something wrong with a child that does not want to eat delicious solid food, but still wants to eat baby jar pureed carrots. We would tell our child that they are too old for such food. Baby food was suitable as an infant, but not as a toddler or preschooler. This is the point being made to these Hebrew Christians. You are still on milk. Even worse, you need to be taught again the basics and have not progressed forward. There was a time where what we were doing was acceptable. But that time has passed. The way we acted in the past must be ended. What was acceptable at infancy is no longer acceptable as a child grows and progresses. We cannot continue to do what we have always done previously.
The problem is not a lack of education. The problem is not a lack of intelligence. We may want to make these our excuses, but it is a lie. The problem is a lack of intensity. We do not want to learn. We do not want to put in the effort to learn. We just want to tune out to God’s word. Tuning out is an easy thing to do. We see it happen on a regular basis. Many of us have been a store or restaurant with a child that is just screaming his or her head off. The parents are not trying to quiet the child. They are tuning out the child. The child screams so much so often that they do not even notice any longer when the child breaks into a crying fit. We can tune out the word of God. We are here but we are not growing. We are here but we are not changing. We are here but we are not becoming teachers. We are spiritually lazy. So we remain unskilled in the word of righteousness, choosing to remain as an infant.
In verse 14 the writer tells us what needs to be done. He says that those who are on solid food are those who have through constant practice trained their senses to distinguish good from evil. Those who move forward are those who are constantly working and practicing. I have a new appreciation for this concept because of our disabled daughter. She has therapists and teachers working with her weekly, constantly practicing with her various activities so that she needs to be able to be age appropriate. We are trying to prevent her from falling too far behind what those of the same age are able to accomplish. But it is work and constant practice. It does not happen by laziness.
6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. (ESV)
The writer of Hebrews calls for his audience to move forward. Let us leave the ABCs of the teachings of Christ. We cannot stay on the basics. It is not natural and it is not spiritually healthy. We are to carried along to maturity. Quit rehearsing the things you already know! One of the grave mistakes that can be made in our Bible classes and in our Bible studies is that we simply rehearse the things we already know, going over the basics again and again. We need to look at the scriptures with a new light to make sure that we are understanding God’s word properly. We should not be content to stick with the basics. We should not merely rehearse what we agree on. We need to study, examine, and discuss things that are more challenging from the scriptures.
The various things described as “laying again a foundation” seem to be things from both the first covenant and the second covenant. “Washings” is probably a reference to the ritual immersions that took place under the first covenant for ceremonial purity. “Laying on of hands” likely refers to the imparting of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit through the apostles. The resurrection of the dead was clearly hotly contested and debated in the first century between the Pharisees and Sadducees, as the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. But all in all, these things are the foundational elements of the teachings of Christ: repentance, faith, purity, gifts, resurrection, and judgment. It was time to press forward.
The writer is confident that they will move forward. With God’s help, we can move forward and grow deeper in faith and maturity in Jesus Christ.
4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. (ESV)
The theme of this book is that these Christians not throw away their faith and confidence in Jesus. This warning is brought to light in the gravest way here. “Those who have once been enlightened” is a reference to receiving the knowledge of the truth. We can see this in Hebrews 10:32, “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings.” This thought is in the context of “sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth” (10:26).
So the writer begins that those who have received the knowledge of the truth, and then says they have tasted the heavenly gift. The scriptures repeatedly speak of our reception of the gift of grace and the gift of righteousness. We have tasted the gift of God’s grace in forgiveness of sins.
The writer goes further, “and have shared in the Holy Spirit.” I currently think this is a reference to miraculous spiritual gifts that the apostles gave through the laying on of hands to Christians in the first century. I will explain my reasoning better in just a moment. But I believe the writer is saying that they had shared in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Also, they “have tasted the goodness of the word of God.” You have enjoyed the riches of God’s word and seen how it is useful and beneficial to your life.
Finally, he says that they have tasted “the powers of the age to come.” “The age to come” is normally a reference to the Messianic age, as the Expositor’s Bible Commentary points out. We have done much work in many of our lessons and studies to show this to be the case. When we read about “the last days,” “in that day,” and “the age to come” we are reading references to the coming of the Messiah and the events that would unfold around his arrival. Therefore, I believe the writer is saying that they are part of the Messianic kingdom. They have seen the power of God’s kingdom and are currently enjoying being part of God’s family. This is the reason why previously I said I believe that the phrase “shared in the Holy Spirit” means miraculous spiritual gifts. The other possible meaning for “sharing in the Holy Spirit” would be entering into God’s restored kingdom, receiving God’s blessings, and being part of God’s new family in Christ. But I think these points are summed up in the phrase, “tasted the powers of the age to come.”
So what is the point? If you have enjoyed all the benefits of being in God’s family and have the knowledge of the truth, but then fall away, it is impossible to restore them again to repentance because they are choosing the crucify the Son of God and are holding him in contempt. There is nothing that we will be able to do to bring them to repentance because they already know what they need to do. They have received the knowledge of the truth and participated in God’s family. It is impossible for you to restore them because they are making the choice to crucify the Son of God. They have not slipped into temptation or are having a moment of weakness. They know but choose to hold Jesus in contempt.
How can anyone argue that we cannot fall away? Here the writer is warning us about falling away. In fact, the writer uses those very words in verse 6. They received the knowledge of the truth and are full participants in God’s kingdom, but fall away.
The writer then uses an illustrations in verses 7-8 to prove his point. In a sense, this is the writer’s version of Jesus’ parable of the soils. The kind of heart you have will determine what happens when the blessings of God are poured out on you.
9 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (ESV)
The writer comes back to them and says that he knows that they will not fall into this category. God sees your work and love shown by serving the saints. He cautions them not to fall back and not to be dull (“sluggish” is the same Greek word as “dull” in 5:11). Show the same earnestness so that you have the full assurance of hope until the end. Do not lose your faith and fall away from the Lord and all of his goodness. Imitate those who through faith and longsuffering inherit the promises. Press forward like the example of those before us so that we also obtain the promises of the rest and the promises given to Abraham.
13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (ESV)
The writer concludes his thought about the surety of God fulfilling his promises to those who endure with diligence to the end. God swore to Abraham that he would receive the promises, and he did receive the promise. There are two things going for us that we know with certainty that the promises await us. (1) It impossible for God to lie. If he says something will happen, it will. (2) God made an oath. Look at verse 17: to show more convincingly that this promise will come to us, God also took an oath. God is bound by an oath and by the fact that it is absolutely impossible for him to lie.
This is our anchor through hard times. While the waves of life beat against us and make us want to become spiritually lazy, the anchor of this promise keeps us from drifting away from God. Our hope rests on Jesus who is serving as our high priest in the heavenly realms before God himself. He is our forerunner, our trailblazer, leading the way to our heavenly home with God.