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               THE ESCHATOLOGY OF THE

                WARNING PASSAGES IN THE

                        BOOK OF HEBREWS

 

 

                                     STANLEY D. TOUSSAINT

 


 

 

The prophetic portions of the warning passages in the Epistle to

the Hebrews contain broad hints as to whom these admonitions are

addressed. The notices of .judgment and the warnings of failure do

not deal with rewards for Christians but with eternal judgment and

the missing of millennial blessing.

 

*     *     *

 

                                      INTRODUCTION.

 

THE Book of Hebrews fairly bristles with a number of large and

perplexing problems, such as authorship, destination, the nature

of the work, and the writer's use of the OT. At or near the apex of

questions concerned with the interpretation of this work is a con-

sideration of the warning passages. Are they directed to believers,

advising that there may be a loss of reward, or do they warn

professing believers about the danger of apostasy?  Even if the warn-

ings are only hypothetical, the reader ultimately is driven back to

these two alternatives. It is quite clear the book is addressed to a

specific readership in a particular location with a definite situation in

view (cf. 10:32-34; 12:4; 13:3, 23). Because the epistle is so specific it

can hardly be said that one warning passage is directed to one group

and another warning to a different group. It seems that the writer is

addressing all the warnings to the same readership.

One great aid in determining the target of the warning passages

is the eschatology in these passages. In other words, do the passages

threaten loss of reward or the missing of salvation? If the former is

correct, the paragraphs in question are addressed to believers; if on

the other hand the eschatology deals with eternal damnation or

eternal salvation, the passages are aimed at professing believers.

It is the thesis of this article that eschatology is a determinative

factor in coming to the conclusion that the passages in question are


68                          GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

concerned with the danger of apostasy. There were some in the

readership who had made a profession of faith in Christ but were

seriously considering returning to Judaism. It was not a case of the

Galatian heresy where some were attempting to unite Christianity

with Judaism; on the contrary, these people were about to abandon

Christianity to slip back to the works system of Judaism.

 

HEBREWS 2:1-4

A crucial point in this section is the meaning of "salvation" in

v 3: ". . . how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" Does

it refer to believers' rewards or to ultimate salvation? For several

reasons, the word must be understood eschatologically and soterio-

logically.

First, the same noun is used in 1:14, where the writer says angels

are rendering service for the heirs of salvation. It is obvious that the

noun swthri<a is used in 1:14 in the ultimate sense.

 

The salvation here spoken of lies in the future; it is yet to be

inherited, even if its blessings can already be enjoyed in anticipation.

That is to say, it is that eschatological salvation which, in Paul's words,

is now "nearer to us than when we first believed" (Rom. 13:11) or, in

Peter's words, is "ready to be revealed in the last time" (I Pet. 1:5). Our

author does not need to explain to his readers what he means by this

salvation; the term and its meaning are familiar to them already. What

they do need to understand is the fearful danger to which they will be

exposed if they treat this salvation lightly.1

 

However, someone may object that the question is not the

meaning of "salvation" in 1:14 but in 2:3. This criticism sounds valid,

but it must be noted that the author of Hebrews often uses "hook

words," i.e., vocabulary that is employed both at the end of one

paragraph and at the beginning of the next to link units of thought

together.2 It appears that "salvation" is one of those hook words.

(This is confirmed by the use of dia> tou?to in 2: 1.) The noun swthri<a

in 2:3 must then have the same meaning as it does in 1:14, that is,

eschatological deliverance. Buchanan agrees with this concept:

"Salvation" in the Old Testament usually refers either to deliver-

ance of a nation from the power of the enemy at war, or to receiving a

pardon or verdict of "not guilty" in a court case. For the author of

 

1 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1964), 25-26.

2 Neil R. Lightfoot, Jesus Christ Today: A Commentary on the Book of Hebrews

(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976); 48-49.

 


TOUSSAINT: WARNING PASSAGES IN HEBREWS        69

 

Hebrews it refers to the deliverance that the Son provides when God

makes his "enemies a footstool for [his] feet" (1:13), and the Son utilize

"the staff of justice" (1:8) to rule over his people.3

 

There is a second reason why the salvation must be eschatological;

v 5 clearly defines it in such a manner. In that passage the writer

refers to ". . . the world to come, concerning which we are speaking."

The salvation certainly involves an eschatological age. In discussing

the phrase th>n oi]koume<nhn th>n me<llousan, Westcott states:

 

the phrase is not to be understood simply of 'the future life' or,

more generally, of 'heaven'. It describes, in relation to that which we

may call its constitution, the state of things which, in relation to its

development in time, is called 'the age to come' (o[ me<llwn ai]w<n), and,

in relation to its supreme Ruler and characteristics, 'the Kingdom of

God,' or 'the Kingdom of heaven,' even the order which corresponds

with the completed work of Christ.4

 

Michel in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says,

"Hb. 2:5 clearly represents the old apocalyptic phrase xBAha MlAOf5

There is a third factor that enters into the understanding of

salvation in Heb 2:3. This is found in the clause of the same verse,

"After it was at the first spoken through the Lord. . . ." The Greek

text has h!tij a]rxh>n labou?sa lalei?sqai dia> tou?  kuriou?. "This

singular made of expression suggests somewhat more than the simple

fact of having first been spoken, and implies that the teaching of the

Lord was the true origin of the Gospel."6 This can hardly be the

doctrine of justification by faith. That truth had been m effect SInce

man sinned (Heb 11:4; Gen 15:6; Ps 32:1; Hab 2:4). Nor can it refer

to rewards, for this doctrine also is found in the OT (Dan 12:3). The

salvation which received a beginning in the preaching of Christ was

the kingdom and its nearness. Bruce comments:

 

It had, of course, been proclaimed in advance by the prophets; but

not until the coming of Christ, when promise gave place to fulfillment,

could it be effectively brought near. The note of fulfilment was heard

when Jesus came into Galilee after John the Baptist's imprisonment,

"preaching the gospel of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the

kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe in the gospel" (Mark

1:14f), and when, as in the synagogue at Nazareth, He read the words

 

3 George Wesley Buchanan, To the Hebrews (AB; Garden City: Doubleday, 1972) 25.

4 Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.) 42.

5 TDNT, s.v. "oi]koume<nh," by Otto Michel, 5 (1967): 159.

6 Westcott, Hebrews 39.

 


70                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

of Isa. 61:1f. which announce "good tidings to the poor" and "release

to the captives", and proclaim "the acceptable year of the Lord", and

followed them with the declaration: "Today hath this scripture been

fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:18ff).7

 

The kingdom was based on the death and resurrection of the

Messiah, but it is not limited to that. The writer is looking beyond

forensic imputation to the age to come so graphically proclaimed by

the Lord Jesus. That is the salvation which is in view.

The fourth evidence in favor of seeing the salvation in this

passage as being eschatological is the usage of a(swthri<a in Hebrews.

It is found seven times in the book (1:14; 2:3, 10; 5:9; 6:9; 9:28; 11:7).

The occurrences in 1: 14 and 2:3 quite clearly are prophetic in nature.

The reference in 2:10 is in the context of bringing sons to glory, an

obvious reference to the Christian's future life. In 5:9, the salvation is

described as "eternal." The meaning in 6:9 is not so clear; it may,

however, look at eternal salvation. The author expects the readers to

bear fruit in their lives as those who are heirs of salvation. In 9:28,

swthri<a is the goal of Christ's second coming. In 11:7, it is used of

Noah's deliverance in the flood and therefore does not relate to the

subject at hand. Quite clearly then, the writer of Hebrews looks at

salvation as being eschatological. The occurrence in 11:7 does not

pertain to Christians. The only debatable uses are in 2:3 and 6:9, both

of. which probably refer to ultimate deliverance.

It should be noted that the salvation in view cannot refer to

believer's rewards. The context has retribution in view in contrast to

salvation. The argument is a fortiori. If disobedience to .the angelic

message brought just recompense, how much more will there be

judgment on those who disregard the good news of a salvation that

bears fruit in the coming age? At the judgment seat of Christ there

will be no remembrance of sin (Heb 8:12; 10:17; Jer 31:34; Ps 103:12).

The paragraph is looking at eschatological salvation and therefore is

a warning to the professing readers of Hebrews not to jettison

Christianity in favor of Judaism.

 

HEBREWS 3:7-4:13

 

The warning here is for readers to fear coming short of the

promised rest. The crux interpretum is the meaning of "rest." The

vocabulary used is kata<pausij (3:11, 18; 4:1,3 [twice], 5, 10, 11),

katapau<w (4:4, 8, 10) and sabbatismo<j (4:9). The noun kata<pausij

was employed in classical Greek to mean "a putting to rest, causing to

cease," but in the LXX and NT it lost its causal sense and simply

 

7 Bruce, Hebrews. 29.

 


WARNING PASSAGES IN HEBREWS                    71

 

meant "rest, repose.”8 The verb katapau<w has a transitive meaning in

Heb 4:8, where the writer refers to Joshua's failure to give Israel rest.

In Heb 4:4 it takes an intransitive sense, where God is said to have

rested from his creative work. The noun sabbatismo<j is an NT

hapax legomenon and means "Sabbath rest, Sabbath observance.”9

As one studies the passage he comes to the conclusion the writer

of Hebrews is looking at several facets of rest. First, there is the

seventh-day rest of God when he ceased from his creative work (4:4,

10). There is a second aspect of rest, the rest which involved Israel's

taking the promised land (3:11, 18-19). That the conquest of the land

was viewed as a form of rest is seen in such passages as Deut 3:20;

12:9; 25: 19; Josh 11 :23; 21 :44; 22:4, and 23: 1. The third facet of rest in

Hebrews 3 and 4 is the promised rest. Here is the difficulty. What is

being promised?

There are a number who take the promised rest to be eternal

bliss,10 and several factors support this position. First, the promise of

entering the rest (4: 1) implies that the blessing is a future one

(cf. 4:11). Second, the heavenly estate described in Rev 14:13 refers to

rest.

Others say that the rest in view is the present Christian experience

of peace.11 Some who hold this position say that the existing rest for

the Christian finds its ultimate completion in eternity. Several lines of

evidence are used to support this interpretation. For one, the verb

ei]serxomeqa in 4:3 is present tense, which implies that this is to be

the present experience of believers who walk with God. However, this

may well be a futuristic present such as one finds in Matt 17:11; John

14:3; and 1 Cor 16:5. Turner affirms that such Occurrences are ". . .

confident assertions intended to arrest attention with a vivid and

realistic tone or else with imminent fulfillment in mind. . . .”12 Quite

 

8 G. Abbott Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (New York:

Charles Scribner's Sons, 1937), 237.

9 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon C?f the New

Testament and Other Earl.v Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago,

1957),746.

10 Representative of this group are Bruce, Hebrews, 77-79; Thomas Hewitt, The

Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 89; Philip Edgcumbe Hughes,

A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 161-

62; Homer A. Kent, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary (Grand Rapids:

Baker, I 972}, 86-87; Lightfoot, Hebrews, 96-97; Westcott, Hebrews, 98-99.

11 Representative are W. H. Griffith Thomas, Let Us Go On (Grand Rapids:

Zondervan, n.d.), 45-50; Clarence S. Roddy, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand

Rapids: Baker, 1962), 46-48; Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible New

American Standard Translation (Chicago: Moody, 1976), 1841; R. B. Thieme, Jr., The

Faith-Rest Life (Houston: R. B. Thieme, Jr., 1961), 22-49.

12 Nigel Turner, Svntax, James Hope Moulton, ed., A Grammar of New Testament

Greek, Vol. 3 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963), 63.


72                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

obviously, this kind of use in Heb 4:3 would catch the reader's

attention.

There is a second line of support for taking this to be the peace

of God in one's heart as he walks with God. It may be that the

invitation of Christ Jesus in Matt 11:28-30 parallels this passage. Of

course, the Lord's solicitation in Matthew 11 is a call to rest, but does

that prove that this is the meaning in Hebrews? The idea of peace in

the Christian's walk is completely biblical, but this by no means

confirms that concept here.

The third support for taking this to be the Christian's present

experience is typology. Thus, the Exodus is said to portray redemp-

tion, the wilderness wanderings illustrate the pre-rest walk of the

believer, and being in the land looks to the faith-rest walk. This line

of evidence has its own seeds of destruction in it. The writer of

Hebrews specifically notes that neither Joshua nor David, who were

in the land, gave the people rest (Heb 4:7-8)! Not only does every

support for this view lose its force when fully considered; there are

formidable objections to it. For one, the words of Heb 4:12-13

oppose such an interpretation. These verses are not words of assurance

but warning. That they explain the preceding verse is obvious from

the yap with which v 12 is introduced. It is an admonition which

predicts judgment for those who do not enter rest. A second objection

rests on the instruction of 4:10. There the writer says that the readers

are to cease from works as God did. The clear implication of the

faith-rest view is that God's works were bad!  In other words, the

viewpoint which takes this passage as referring to the Christian's

intimate walk with God and the peace which results from it enjoins

the Christian to cease from his law-works, his striving, his fleshly

labors, and simply to trust in God. If the parallel is carried out in

4:10, then God's works were also carnal and fleshly strivings.

A third interpretation takes this rest of 3:7-4:13 to anticipate the

coming millennial kingdom age.13 A number of factors point to this

as the best interpretation.

First, in Heb 4: 1, the promise to enter God's rest remains for

those who receive it. The promise implies that it is futuristic in

application.

Second, Psalm 95, the basis for the entire warning section and

the source of the admonition concerning rest, is an enthronement

Psalm.14 Regarding this type of psalm Kaiser says, "Therefore, each

 

13 Representatives of this viewpoint are Buchanan, Hebrews, 64-74; G. H. Lang,

The Epistle to the Hebrews (London: Paternoster, 1951),75-80; Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.,

"The Promise Theme and the Theology of Rest," BSac 130 (1973), 138-50.

14 Christoph Barth, Introduction to the Psalms (New York: Charles Scribner's

Sons, 1966), 21.


TOUSSAINT: WARNING PASSAGES IN HEBREWS        73

 

of these psalms alike tells the story of a divine kingdom which is yet

to be set up on the earth.”15 In other words, the theme of the

enthronement psalms is clearly eschatological and anticipates the rule

of the Lord on this planet (cf. Ps 93:1-2; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1). The "rest"

of Psalm 95 must therefore anticipate the millennium.

Third, the concept of sabbvatismo<j (Heb 4:9) was used in Jewish

literature to refer to the kingdom age. This has been noted by many.16

In the Jewish prayer after sabbath meals the petition is made, "May

the All-merciful let us inherit the day which shall be wholly a Sabbath

and rest in the life everlasting.”17 Buchanan asserts that the Epistle to

the Hebrews is so steeped in the OT that the concept of rest cannot be

limited to a spiritual interpretation but must include national and

earthly concepts; in fact, he feels that any other interpretation is

inconsistent.18

Andreasen's view is an illustration of this.19 While he acknowl-

edges the OT expectation of a Jewish earthly kingdom in the term

"rest," he goes on to give the word a limited spiritual meaning in

Hebrews. Westcott does the same. He says, "The Jewish teachers

dwelt much upon the symbolical meaning of the Sabbath as pre-

figuring 'the world to come’.”20 But having said this he goes on to

take this to be eternity. It certainly is more logical to say that the NT

theology of rest is founded on OT doctrine.

A fourth factor supports the idea of a millennial rest as being in

the mind of the writer of Hebrews. The OT refers to the kingdom age

as being a time of rest (Ps 132:12-14; Isa 11:10; 14:3; 32:18; 34:15).

Fifth, the "rest" spoken of in Psalm 95 clearly involved Israel's

dwelling in the land; therefore, the promised rest can scarcely be

divorced from settlement in the land.

Sixth, Heb 4:8 speaks of another prophetic "day." This clearly is

a period of time and is explained in 4:9 as the sabbath rest.

Seventh, the rest was prepared from the foundation of the world

(Heb 4:3-4) just as the kingdom was (Matt 25:34). This explains why

Christ was employed in healing on the Jewish sabbath in John 5. The

ultimate sabbath had not yet come so Christ with his Father was

working to bring in that ultimate sabbath or kingdom age. It should

 

15 Kaiser, "Promise Theme," 142.

16 Westcott, Hebrews, 98-99; cr. Bruce, Hebrews, 75; Buchanan, Hebrews, 73;

Hughes, Hebrews, 161.

17 Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, S.v. "Sabbath (Jewish)" by I. Abraha~s

10(1930): 891.

18 Buchanan, Hebrews, 64-65, 72-74.

19 Neils-Erik Andreasen, Rest and Redemption (Berrien Springs, Michigan: An-

drews University, 1978), 109-15.

20 Westcott, Hebrews, 98.


74                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

be noted that this idea of a sabbath day being the millennial age is no

recent, innovative interpretation. It dates back at least to the Epistle

of Barnabas in the early second century.

By way of conclusion to this section it may be said that there are

three "rests" in these paragraphs of Hebrews. First, there is God's

cessation from His creation work. This rest will be manifested in the

kingdom age when redeemed mankind enters His inheritance. The

second rest was Israel's conquest and possession of the promised land

under Joshua. This is a picture of the kingdom rest. The third rest is

the promised rest which actually is God's rest which comes to man in

the millennium.

Here then is the warning. If the readers were mere professors and

rejected Christ in order to go back to the works system of Judaism,

they would be excluded from the promised kingdom age or God's

rest.

 

HEBREWS 6:4-8

This warning, infamous for its difficulty, has little to say eschato-

logically. The only prophetic statement is made by illustration and

implication in vv 7-8. There the writer warns, "For ground that

drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation

useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from

God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to

being cursed, and it ends up being burned.”21

Obviously, some kind of judgment is in view here. But is it a

judgment to determine believers' rewards or is it the condemnation of

the lost? Those who claim the former position point to the consump-

tion of the Christian's works by flame in 1 Corinthians 3 as being

parallel with v 8 here. Is this, however, the best interpretation?

There is no solid evidence that the picture portrays the damnation

of the lost. No comfort can be derived from the clause "close to being

cursed" in v 7. The same vocabulary is employed in 8:13 for a certain

and imminent doom. In other words, the worthless ground was

destined to be cursed soil, scarcely the kind of vocabulary to be used

of a Christian, even if he was carnal! Furthermore, the contrast

between the two verses seems to portray the condition of the earth

before the fall and after. In its Edenic state it was blessed and

productive; after the sin of Adam it was cursed and in need of

redemption.22 Bruce compares the analogy to the vineyard song of

Isaiah 5.23 In either case the figure graphically portrays Israel. It had

 

21 NASB. All extended quotations are from the NASB.

22 Buchanan, Hebrews, 110.

23 Bruce, Hebrews, 124-25.


TOUSSAINT: WARNING PASSAGES IN HEBREWS        75

 

received the blessings of promises, covenants, the law, the Scriptures,

and the name of Jehovah. If, however, the people failed to respond to

the Messiah, the only destiny was eternal perdition. Kent comments,

"The whole tenor of the passage demands retribution and destruction

as the emphatic point.”24 Also, as Hewitt notes, "The context does

not favour the suggestion that the piece of ground should be burnt by

man to improve it. . . .”25 The threefold progression in v 8 of

worthless, cursed, and burned hardly looks at the life of a believer in

Christ. Finally, the contrast with v 9 implies that a distinction is being

drawn between the future of the lost and saved. As was noted before,

swthri<a in Hebrews when used of Christians anticipates eschato-

logical salvation.26 This is the destiny of the redeemed; v 8 looks to

the future of the damned.

 

HEBREWS 10:26-39

 

This fourth warning section has a great deal to do with future

judgment and some with the promise of future blessing. In this

paragraph the writer declares:

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of

the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain

terrifying expectation of judgment, and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH

WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.

Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy

on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who

has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean

the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted

the Spirit of grace?

  For we know Him who said, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY."

And again, "THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE."

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you

endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly, by being made a public

spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming

sharers with those who were so treated.

For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully

the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a

better possession and an abiding one.

 

24 Kent, Hebrews, 115.

25 Hewitt, Hebrews, 109.

26 Cf. p. 68.


76                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

Therefore, do not throwaway your confidence, which has a great

reward.

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the

will of God, you may receive what was promised.

FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING

WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY.

BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIFE BY FAITH; AND IF

          HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM.

But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of

those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

 

This paragraph is the most severe of the five warning sections.

Perhaps this is due to the degree of sin and the descriptions of the

rebellion committed by those who fall into the peril of the warning.

They are guilty of willful sin, outright defiance of God (v 26; cf. Num

15:30-36). The disannulling of the law of Moses described in v 28

looks back to Deut 17:2-6. The context of that OT passage deals with

Israelites who abandoned the worship of Jehovah to go into idolatry

or the veneration of other gods. In v 29 the writer of Hebrews

describes the sins of those who apostatize as trampling under foot

(katapate<w) the Son of God, of regarding (h[ge<omai, a sin of the

intellect) as unclean the blood of the covenant, and of insulting the

Spirit of grace. In this last sin the verb is e]nubri<zw, a compounded

verb which describes the awesome violence of God's holy name by

insolence.27 It here parallels the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matt

12:32; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10).

Sprinkled throughout these descriptions of sin and rebellion are

allusions to eschatology, particularly the coming of judgment and the

promise of blessing.

In several verses there is the prediction of judgment. The first

allusion to this judgment is found in the connective yap in v 26. Quite

clearly this particle introduces an explanation of the significance of

the approaching day referred to in the preceding verse. That day,

while it will be a time of vindication and deliverance for God's

people, will bring condemnation for the lost as is seen in this passage.

Westcott succinctly asserts, "The mention of 'the day' in v. 25 calls

out the sad severity of the warning which follows.”28

The judgment is described more fully in Heb 10:27, the verse

which follows. The description is very interesting and significant. To

explain what the judgment involves the writer of Hebrews quotes

 

27 The only occurrence of e]nubri<zw in the LXX is in Lev 24:11 where it describes

blasphemy.

28 Westcott, Hebrews, 327.


TOUSAINT:  WARNING PASSAGES IN HEBREWS         77     

 

from Isa 26:11, a passage which contrasts the righteous with the

wicked. Specifically, the lost are referred to as "enemies." The Greek

term u[penanti<oj describes what is "opposed to, opposite or contrary

to.”29 This assize can hardly be a reference to believers' rewards! The

awesomeness of this judgment is emphasized by the vocabulary. "The

terror of the expectation is brought out by a more literal rendering of

the words, 'a certain fearful expectation of judgment' (ASY); the

indefinite 'a certain' leaves it somewhat open to the reader's imagina-

tion to fill in the gruesome details of that judgment.”30 Certainly, as

Wescott puts it, "Such a judgment (c.ix.27) would be, for those whom

the Apostle describes, condemnation.”31

This future judgment of the lost is further described in v 29

where the writer uses an a fortiori argument. The punishment inflicted

for highhanded or willful disobedience was death (Deut 17:2-6). If

this was true in the OT for defiance of the law, how much worse will

be God's judgment for scorning the Son of God (cf. 2:2)? What would

be worse than physical death but eternal perdition? "The judgment

awaiting those who will not trust for their salvation in the sacrifice of

Christ must consist of eternal loss in hell. It is pictured as a fire that is

almost personified and is possessed of zeal which is about to consume

the opponents of Christ.”32

The quotations in v 30 taken from the Song of Moses in Deut

32:35-36 first sets forth the principle that God avenges his enemies.

This first quotation is not taken directly from the Hebrew or LXX

and may be a well-known proverb adapted from Deut 32:35.33 While

the objects of the warning in Deut 32:35 are Israelites, unbelieving

Jews are in view. As Hughes asserts, "This God whom they have

confessed as the God of grace and mercy is also the God of holiness

and justice: faithfulness to his covenant leads to blessing, but rebellion

means retribution.”34 The second quotation from Deut 32:36 predicts

God's vindication of his people, Israel, in a still future day. The two

passages together describe the deliverance of believing Israel and the

judgment of those who do not trust in Messiah. Bruce comments,

"This certainly means that He will execute judgment on their behalf,

vindicating their cause against their enemies, but also that, on the

same principles of impartial righteousness, He will execute judgment

against them when they forsake His covenant.”35

 

29 The only other NT occurrence is in Col 2: 14.

30 Lightfoot, Hebrews, 194.

31 Westcott, 329.

32 Kent, Hebrews, 205.

33 The same saying is found in

34 Hughes, Hebrews. 425.

35 Bruce, Hebrews, 262-63.


78                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

Further reference to judgment is found in v 31 of Hebrews 10.

While the verse parallels David's statement, "Let us now fall into the

hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great" (2 Sam 24:14), the context

is pointedly judgmental. For a believer it is a merciful thing to fall

into the hands of a loving God, but for apostates it is punitive and

terrifying.

Not until Heb 10:37-38 is the next reference to judgment given. It

is a quotation from Hab 2:3-4. In an article of this length it is quite

impossible to discuss the problems of quotation in this passage. It

may be summarized by saying that the writer of Hebrews introduces

the Habakkuk quotation by using Isa 26:20, "For yet in a very little

while." The passage from Habakkuk is a free citation of the LXX

text. In the use of the quotation, the NT writer refers to the one who

draws back. The nature of this failure is not spelled out; however, it is

quote clear that it refers to an apostate. In such a one God takes no

pleasure.

V 39 portrays the destiny of the one who "shrinks back." For

him the end is (i,7tWAEtav. Concerning this noun Kent simply states

that it

. . . means destruction or ruin, and is commonly used in the New

Testament of eternal destruction. Such passages as Matthew 7:13;

Romans 9:22; Philippians 1:28; 3:19; and 1 Timothy 6:9 reveal this

aspect of the word. Both Judas and the Antichrist are called 'the son of

perdition' (John 17:12; 2 Thess. 2:3), because of the eternal torment

and ruin which their heinous deeds will bring. The usage of apoleia

here makes it clear that the judgment described in this context is not

just a chastening of God's people but the final destruction of apostates.36

 

This fourth warning section not only contains eschatology antici-

pating judgment; it also looks ahead to promise. The first reference to

this blessing is found in 10:34 where there is mention of a better and

abiding possession. As the Lord had promised in Matt 6:20, they had

laid up treasure in heaven. Peter also describes the imperishable

quality of the Christian's inheritance (1 Pet 1:4). The Hebrew believer's.

eschatology in this time of persecution would be a real source of

encouragement to him.

V 35 refers to the reward that comes from confidence. This is not

the same as the rewards given in I Corinthians 3 and 2 Corinthians 5.

Very interestingly, misqapodosi<a occcurs only in Hebrews (2:2; 10:35;

11:26). In 2:2 it is used of punishment and in the other two references it

has the positive idea of blessing. This noun, derived from misqo<j and

a]podi<dwmi, looks at a payment of wages. Quite clearly, this is the glory

 

36 Kent. Hebrews, 215.

 


TOUSSAINT: WARNING PASSAGES IN HEBREWS        79

 

which awaits God's child (Rom 8:18). Hughes explains, "'The relation-

ship of the present pilgrimage to the future reward is the relationship of

faith to hope, as the quotation which follows teaches (vv 37 and 38)

and the next chapter so amply illustrates.”37

What the reward involves is stated more clearly in 10:36. It

consists of receiving "what was promised." The Greek literally says

"the promise." The verb used in this verse, komi<cw, is used with the

promise in 11:13 and 39. This can hardly be accidental. In both of the

occurrences in chap. 11 this vocabulary anticipates the millennium.

The promise then looks ahead to life in Christ's earthly kingdom.

V 39 explains this as "the preserving of the soul." Bruce interprets

the phrase ei]j peripoi<hsin yuxh?j ". . . a variant expression for

zh<setai in the Habakkuk quotation in v. 38.”38 "To possess and

preserve one's soul is the essence of salvation.”39

In summary of the eschatology of the fourth warning it may be

said that the promise of life is made and the warning of eternal

perdition is issued for apostates.

 

HEBREWS 12:25-29

 

This fifth warning section is based on Hag 2:6, a passage which is

predictive and eschatological. The argument here is another a fortiori

one. The writer is looking back to Mount Sinai where God spoke to

Israel through Moses. The voice came from Mount Sinai, so it was

"on earth" as v 25 states. Today Christ who is in heaven warns

through his earthly messengers. If the voice on earth brought in-

escapable judgment, how much more the voice from heaven (cf.

2:2-3). From what those who were disobedient did not escape is left

unstated. It could be the judgment of death for flagrant disregard of

the law or it may be the failure to enter the promised land. Probably

it is the latter alternative since that entire generation failed in this

regard.

To make the point even more forceful and vivid Hag 2:6 is

quoted, "Yet once more I will shake not only earth, but also the

heaven." That passage looks back to the shaking of Sinai.40 The

primary problem here is how literal one is to take the future shaking

of earth and heaven. Kent has a good word on this:

Although some interpret the prophecy metaphorically as referring

to the upheavals accomplished by Christ's first coming in its effect

 

37 Hughes, Hebrews, 432.

38 Bruce, Hebrews, 275.

39 Kent, Hebrews, 215.

40 Cf. Exod 19:18; Judg 5:4-5; Ps 68:8; 77:18.


80                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

upon Jewish worship and politics, the parallelism with the former

shaking makes this view unlikely. The first shaking was physical and

geographical at Sinai. There is no good reason to take this second

shaking of the earth and the heavens above it in any less literal sense.41

 

The writer goes on to say that the only things which will remain

after this are those things which cannot be shaken. This is not looking

at the judgment seat of Christ where the believer's works and motives

are to be tried by fire. The contrast is between the saved and lost.

This fits with the conclusion in v 28. It is a kingdom which the

Christian will receive, not simply rewards in the kingdom.42

Finally, the concept of God as a consuming fire fits the idea of

the judgment of condemnation. Hewitt affirms, "At the second

advent of Jesus Christ, just as the material and transitory will

disappear and the eternal and permanent will remain, so what is false

and vile will be revealed in the fire of God's holiness and those whose

characters are such will be consumed by the fire of His judgment.”43

 

CONCLUSION

 

In all five warning passages of Hebrews the thing to be avoided

by the original readers of that discourse was not loss of believers'

rewards but loss of salvation. Quite clearly the writer knew of a group

in that early congregation who had made professions of faith in Jesus

Christ but were in peril of jettisoning their confessions to apostatize

and lapse back into Judaism. The prophetic elements in the warnings

confirm this interpretation.

 

 

41 Kent, Hebrews, 275.

42 The present participle paralamba<nontej is both present and futuristic. The

kingdom is received in the present time by faith; its realization is future. Cf. II :39-40.

43 Hewitt, Hebrews, 204.

 

 

 

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