“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Hebrews 6:4-6 NIV)
The letter to the Hebrews was written to the church in Rome while it was undergoing severe persecution from Emperor Nero. It was primarily addressed to the believers who came from a Jewish background because the Jews had a way of escape from suffering that was not open to the Gentile believers. Since Judaism was a legal religion with its synagogues officially registered, these particular believers could escape persecution by publicly denying Christ and returning to their former faith.
Realising the intensity of the crisis and the gravity of the situation, efforts were made to stop any drift back to the synagogue (Hebrews 2:1). Through a letter, this unknown writer used every means possible- appeals, arguments, encouragement and warnings- to urge people to stay true to Christ. He specifically emphasised that denying their faith in Christ would be equivalent to crucifying the Son of God afresh and trampling Him under their feet (Hebrews 6:6; 10:29). The consequences would then be disastrous and irrevocable- severe punishment and judgment from God.
The above passage is one of many in the whole letter where the writer stresses the importance of staying faithful to Christ (see also 2:2-3; 3:12-13; 4:6-11; 10:26-31; 12:14-17, 25-29). In this portion, he also recalls and describes the experience these individuals had already received. Five features unique to the Christian faith are highlighted. Truly precious and priceless, these privileges were not to be taken lightly or thrown away carelessly by anyone (whether Jew or Gentile).
1. The Reception of Light
There are only two realms or kingdoms- light and darkness. Every individual is born into the kingdom of darkness and is under the dominion of Satan (Ephesians 5:8; Colossians 1:12-13).
To be ‘in darkness’ is to be “totally blind, ignorant or deceived”. It is to have a complete inability to perceive reality and understand spiritual truth. This had been the condition of the Hebrew believers as well. But one day, they received the light- God had caused the light of His gospel to shine in their hearts and enabled them to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Corinthians 4:6; Hebrews 10:32).
Now they had a revelation of the living God and were trusting in Christ, His Messiah. They also knew what was eternally significant and valuable such that they were wholeheartedly willing to have even their properties confiscated (Hebrews 10:33-34). Their joy was in the Lord and no longer dependent on the earthly privileges or material possessions they had.
It was an invaluable enlightening that had been received such that they knew the one true God and His Son, had begun to understand His ways and recognize what is eternally significant.
2. The Tasting of the Heavenly Gift
There was a gift from Heaven which they had tasted. To ‘taste’ is not to be misunderstood as merely ‘having a small sample’; it is the same as to ‘truly experience’ (the author makes a similar expression when he describes how Jesus ‘tasted’ death- Hebrews 2:9).
What was this gift that the author was referring to? While there are many gifts which God gives to people, the main offer made in the Gospel is the ‘gift of righteousness’ (Romans 1:16-17; 3:22-24; 5:17).
In order to understand the significance of this gift, we must first of all realize its necessity and importance. God being righteous (perfectly good), He does ‘nothing wrong’ and always does ‘everything right’. It means He will therefore ‘punish’ and ‘banish’ all evil one day. All this implies that we too will be condemned as not one of us is righteous in His sight.
Helpless and hopeless, here is where the good news comes in- God is willing to offer us His righteousness through Jesus Christ! Since we can never on our own produce the righteousness He requires and live the righteous life He demands, He offers to give it (impute/credit) to us and work it (impart/create) within us through our trusting in His Son. This is an amazing offer and requires believers to ‘abide in Christ’.
Believers who persevere and not shrink back will finally be presented before God on the day of Christ without any blame or accusation and will inherit the Kingdom of God (Hebrews 3:12-14; 6:11-12; 10:36-39).
3. The Sharing in the Holy Spirit
The precious gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon these believers. Through this reception of the Spirit, they had embarked upon a journey through which they could both experience and minister life in all its fulness.
Life in the Spirit is a privilege open to every believer in Christ. Infact, it is a key feature of the New Covenant, with God now willing and able to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh.
Both the Lord Jesus and His apostles placed great importance on the need for believers to receive the Holy Spirit, a characteristic which seems to be missing in a large part of the Body of Christ. Today, ‘believing in Jesus’ and ‘receiving the Spirit’ are so widely assumed to be synonymous (and therefore simultaneous) that the two phrases (always distinct in the New Testament) make people presume without question that anyone who has ‘believed in Jesus’ has also immediately and automatically ‘received the Spirit’, whether this is accompanied by any conscious experience and outward evidence or not. This thinking is, however, contrary to both the teaching and accounts of events given in the New Testament!
One thing emerges very clearly from a study of the New Testament references to ‘receiving the Spirit’– namely, the ‘peculiar definiteness’ of all the records. We find that the gift which the apostles received was a definite gift at a definite time. Later the Holy Spirit was given to many others, but this peculiar definiteness marked the coming of the gift upon them as well. There was always a time and a place at which each believer received the gift.
It was perfectly natural for Paul to ask certain men at Ephesus of whom he stood in some doubt, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2). He asked a specific question expecting an equally specific answer. He expected Christians to know the Holy Spirit, to know whether they had received Him, and to know when they had received Him.
For the apostles, the absence of outward manifestation at the time of initiation was taken as evidence that the Holy Spirit had ‘not’ been received. They would then lay hands on them to ‘receive’ the outpouring (Acts 8:16; cf. 1:8; 10:44; 11:15; 19:6).
4. The Goodness of the Word of God
This group of believers had heard the Word of God. They had enjoyed the privilege of understanding the heart and ways of the living God.
Although previous generations of Jews also had access to God’s Word, their situation was different in comparison. To their ancestors, God’s Word had come indirectly and incompletely. Now, however, God had spoken by His Son, in a direct and complete manner. This meant that they needed to pay very careful attention to what they had heard.
The writer reminded them that if the message spoken through angels to their ancestors was binding and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, they could not escape if they ignored the message of salvation which was proclaimed and confirmed before them.
Having the Scriptures is a unique privilege and we too must give it our greatest devotion, even learning to tremble before it (Deuteronomy 4:8; Isaiah 66:2).God’s Word has been given to know “what is right” (teaches), “what is not right” (rebukes), “how to get right” (corrects), and “how to stay right” (trains in righteousness) enabling us to lead godly and fruitful lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We must study, obey, and teach it (Ezra 7:10).
Believers tend to struggle when it comes to the study of the Scriptures. No doubt difficulties exist in this library of books. But if we can get an overview of the entire Bible, it will then be easier to grasp its details.
The central issue which is described and discussed is this: “what has gone wrong with the world” and “how it can be put right”. From beginning to end, there is one unfolding story of God’s salvation for mankind- what may be described as “the drama of redemption”. This salvation is through the person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
Jesus Himself testified that He was the theme of the entire Bible (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39, 46-47). The Old Testament is the preparation (Isaiah 40:3). The Gospels are the manifestation (John 1:29). The Book of Acts is the propagation (Acts 1:8). The Epistles give the explanation (Colossians 1:27). The Book of Revelation is the consummation (Revelation 1:7).
5. The Powers of the Coming Age
With the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth, the Kingdom of God has been formally inaugurated. The powers of the future age have invaded the present age. People can now come directly under the rule of God and experience His work actively in their lives.
The word ‘foretaste’ associated with the Holy Spirit indicates how it is possible to partake of the riches and resources of Heaven even now. While it is true that the fullest dimension of the Kingdom of God is still awaited, it is also true that there is much which can be accessed and relished.
This tension between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’ dimensions must be understood if we are to avoid extremes. Those who think the Kingdom benefits are already fully here need to be reminded that the “old order” is still in place today (Romans 8:23; Revelation 21:1-4). Those, on the other hand, who believe that its all slated for the future need to be aware that the rule of God was an experiential and tangible reality for believers in the Early Church, thereby indicating that there is much which can be practically enjoyed by every one of us who also live like them in the “last days” (The Book of Acts).
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you!