Hebrews 6:1-2, 9:13,14, Leviticus 16:21, John 6:55-56

Jesus cleanses us from all sin

Hebrews 6:2 continues from verse 1 naming the foundational teachings of Christ upon which the superstructure of the faith must be built. Hebrews 6:1-2 says, “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, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” The first foundational issue is that we repent of our confidence in our works and rest confidently in Christ’s work for us on the cross. It’s easy to see why the writer would include this as the first foundational issue. The second issue deals with 2 other items that could be connected to the idea of dead works. One commentary said, “Dead works may represent the efforts connected with the earthly sanctuary system to secure cleansing and acceptance before God.”[1] The instructions about washings and laying on of hands deal with offering sacrifices under the Old Testament economy. It has to do with the purification of sinners through blood sacrifices.

It’s faith in God and the sacrifice offered by Jesus on the cross of Calvary that replaces all that. It’s foundational to our faith to see that there need not be any more blood sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins. That’s been taken care of! It’s foundational. The author of Hebrews will make this all perfectly clear in Chapter 9 verses 13-14 when he writes, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

“Laying on of hands” is another ritual of the Jewish religious system. Another commentary explains, “The rite symbolized transfer. On the Day of Atonement hands were placed on the head of a goat as the priest confessed the sins of Israel (Lev. 16:21). Then the goat was sent away into the wilderness where he typically carried the sins which he bore, never to return with them again.”[2] The foundational issues associated with washings and laying on of hands as practiced in the Old Testament have been fulfilled in Christ. Like salvation by grace through faith alone, the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins is foundational. Your sins have been atoned for and taken away as far as the east is from the west to never return. If you don’t grasp this truth, you’ll not understand Jesus meat! He says (John 6:55-56), “My body is real food. My blood is real drink. Anyone who eats my body and drinks my blood remains in me. And I remain in him.”

[1] J. Paul Tanner, “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary, ed. Robert N. Wilkin (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 1052.

[2] Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1962), 50.

Hebrews 6:1, 1 Corinthians 3:11, Isaiah 28:16

Jesus is Milk and Meat!

Hebrews 6:1 begins with a “therefore.” That always requires that we understand what the “therefore” is there for. What is the connection between what he is about to say and what he has already said? He’s argued that Jesus is the absolute best thing from God. He’s better than the prophets, the angels, the law, Moses and the priesthood of Aaron’s line. When he speaks of the priesthood of Jesus, he identifies Jesus as a priest in the order of Melchizedek, not Aaron. Then stops and says this is really difficult to understand and is intended for the mature believer. He is concerned because his readers are only accustomed to the Jesus milk and needed to grow up in order to be able to digest the Jesus meat. Jesus milk is nourishing for infants but adults need more than that. Melchizedek is going to be meaty and the writer is going to go back to that discussion in Chapter 7 but not until he deals with the difference between Jesus milk and Jesus meat. Hebrews 6:1 says, “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.”

Don’t think that “the elementary doctrine of Christ” is something to be discarded! It’s actually the foundation of everything. It’s something that’s built upon and which holds the superstructure together. Jesus speaks of the difference between those who build on a solid foundation and those who build on sand.  Houses built on sand collapse, but not those built on a solid foundation. Paul makes sure we know what our foundation is and the writer of Hebrews knows this also. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:11, “For no one is able to lay another foundation than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” This foundation was spoken of by Isaiah years before. He speaks for God and says in Isaiah 28:16 “Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken.”

“Dead works” refers to a foundation of sand. It’s never going to be secure! A relationship with God based on my performance and my works of righteousness is always going to fall short. I’ll never quite be good enough. But faith in Jesus who is perfect, is a solid foundation upon which we can build confidently and securely. This is Jesus milk. Every understanding of the Old Testament must be founded on this truth. The writer of Hebrews directs our attention to the Old Testament prophets, priests, laws, and everything else as further nourishment for Christians. Drawing out the nutrients of Christ as seen in every verse is our solid food and our solid foundation. He will cut up the meat of Melchizedek for us in Chapter 7 and even go on later in his letter to dish up more meat of salvation by grace through faith alone by pointing out the foundational truth of Christ in all the key figures in the Old Testament. In Chapter 11 the writer will begin his long review of the key characters in the Bible explaining that it was faith, not works, that declared them righteous. In Hebrews 11:4 he talks about Able and says, “By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain. It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference. That’s what God noticed and approved as righteous” (The Message).

John 6:54-58, Hebrews 5:14

Jesus is our “Solid Food”

Jesus held up a loaf of bread in the upper room before His death and challenged His followers to do this in remembrance of Him. The bread represents His body. The wine represents His blood.  Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and to purchase for us a place in heaven which He offers as a free gift which can only be received by grace through faith. It’s not by works and especially not by works of the Jewish laws lest anyone should have reason to boast. This is true solid food! This is what Jesus called Peter to feed His sheep. This is what Jesus wants modern preachers and teachers to feed His sheep. This is perfectly clear from Jesus owns words recorded in John 6:54-58. Jesus says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

In Hebrews 5:14 the writer begins a discussion about solid food. He says, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Hagner rightly recognizes what the writer of Hebrews means by solid food. He writes, “Solid food is what the author is presenting in this epistle, and in this particular context it is the argument about Melchizedek.”[1] But Hagner doesn’t note that according to Hebrews, Jesus is the fulfillment of Melchizedek. Melchizedek is just a picture of the true “King of righteousness” (that’s what the name Melchizedek literally means). The writer will get back to the solid food of Melchizedek as the picture of Jesus in Chapter 7.

But then what does it mean to have our “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil?” I’m convinced that “good and evil” has nothing to do with moral issues at all but rather with being able by training and through practice to discern between good teaching and poor bible teaching. Guzik gets this. In his commentary he says, “Not moral good and evil, but wholesome and corrupt doctrine. The implication is that the readers’ condition is such as to prevent them from making this distinction.”[2] When you grasp that solid food is always about Jesus and the Gospel, you have a basis of evaluating teaching and preaching as well as writing. If it’s about Jesus, it is solid food. If it’s about you it is not solid food. It’s just another pep-talk, or self-help instruction, or even a religious requirement to shame you to change your ways. Solid food, the real meat of Christianity, is always about Jesus!

[1] Donald A. Hagner, Hebrews, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 86.

[2] David Guzik, Hebrews, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible (Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik, 2013), Heb 5:12b–14.

Hebrews 5:12b-13, Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:10, Philippians 3:9, Jeremiah 33:15-16

Jesus is our Righteousness!

Jesus interpreted the whole Old Testament as a commentary on Himself to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The writer of Hebrews begins his letter and keeps it going with the same effort; Jesus is the revelation of the Bible from Genesis to the end. He quotes the Old Testament over and over again and interprets it Christologically. He points out how it’s really about Christ. Some passages he uses are relatively obvious. But when he gets to Genesis 14 and the story of Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek, he realizes that this is not so easy to understand. Understanding Jesus from Melchizedek is difficult to digest. So in Hebrews 5:12b-13 he says, “You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.”

They should be teachers but they haven’t matured. What should they be teaching? They should be teaching as Jesus did to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and what the writer of Hebrews demonstrates for them. They should be interpreting the Old Testament Christologically, that is, as it pertains to Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. This is what the author of Hebrews has been doing all along and this is what Christian expositors of the Bible should do as well. If it’s “Christian,” it must be about Christ or even better, Jesus as the Christ. The writer moves on from the milk of the Psalms and other obvious passages about the Messiah and reaches back to Genesis 14 and the story of Melchizedek. But that’s solid food. They are not ready for that yet because of their immaturity. He argues that just drinking the milk, although nourishing when you’re a child, will not foster true maturity. Milk keeps one “unskilled in the word of righteousness.”

Commentators are divided over what “the word of righteousness” means. Some suggest it is referring to our own personal righteousness. But the Bible makes it clear (Isaiah 64:6) that all of “our righteous deeds are as filthy rags” to God. The New Testament (Romans 3:10) says “there is none righteous no not one!” Paul tells the Philippians that he’s not trusting in his own personal righteousness but in Jesus. He writes in Philippians 3:9, “…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Jesus is the “word” of righteousness. Jeremiah actually told the sinful nation that righteousness would be theirs but not through good works.  Jeremiah 33:15-16 says, “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”

Hebrews 5:12a, Luke 24-25-27, Matthew 13:15

Jesus is the Oracle of God

The writer of Hebrews wanted to teach his readers some mature doctrines relating to the Old Testament character Melchizedek. He had a lot to say about it but hesitated because he said in Hebrews 5:11 that his readers were dull or slow of hearing. Jesus used a similar phrase in his rebuke of a couple of disciples. They too were dull or slow of hearing and believing. In Luke 24:25-27, Jesus speaks to the two men on the road to Emmaus, “And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

The point of the author’s rebuke of the Hebrews as well as Jesus’ rebuke of the two travelers is that they didn’t understand how the Old Testament was a progressive revelation of God’s salvation of mankind through the promised seed of the woman mentioned in Genesis 3:15. Actually “dull” hearts and minds is how Jesus used to refer to those who did not get or believe in who He was and what He, as the promised Messiah, was to accomplish on behalf of those who would believe in Him. The dull hearts, deaf ears, and blind eyes all refer to the comprehension of Christ and His complete fulfillment of the Old Testament and His complete sufficiency to save us from our sins. Jesus mentions this in Matthew 13:15. He says, “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”

The writer of Hebrews wants his readers to mature in their grasp of the truths of Jesus as seen in the Scriptures from beginning to end. He wants them to see, hear, and understand how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. He frequently challenges them to “consider” or to “think about” or to “reflect on” Jesus. This is what will mature them and enable them to become teachers of Jesus as well. But their dull hearts and minds have lulled them into a lethargic stupor regarding the things of Christ and allowed them to drift back into a religion of works. Hebrews 5:12a says, “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.” What does the writer mean by “the basic principles of the oracles of God?” Hagner correctly understands this writing, “This probably refers to the basics of the Christian gospel, but as contained in the OT. If the readers still need elementary Christian exegesis of the OT, how will they move to such exegesis at the more advanced level?”[1] Jesus is the oracle of God.

[1] Donald A. Hagner, Hebrews, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 86.

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