Hebrews 6:13-20

David H. Linden, University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, NM USA (revised January, 2011)

The Sermon†† The scolding of 5:12-14, the exhortation of 6:1-3 and the terrible warning of 6:4-8 are followed by words of comfort in 6:9-12 and great encouragement in this present lesson of 6:13-20.This is the pattern of a sermon; it weaves from teaching to warning, from encouragement to duty.Hebrews covers the full range of how the Word of God addresses with authority.No element is omitted.It constantly argues from Scripture. It connects things that belong together for those who will pay attention. Now in 6:13-20, it will touch so briefly on the example of Abraham.In Hebrews 3 & 4, the readers received a terrible example of unbelief from Psalm 95.In Abraham, they will have encouragement, though the attention here is not to Abrahamís faith, but to His Lord Who gave His word as promise and backed it up with an oath. Hebrews as a sermon does everything. It has careful interpretation and exposition of Scripture, (exegesis), exhortation of both kinds (warning and encouragement), much explanation, and even illustration. When all the key issues have been stated, Hebrews has a massive section of illustration in the well-known chapter 11.

 

Two dangers to their faith

 

1.)Faith in Christ is an issue of truth.Thus Hebrews begins with much doctrine. Christ is not an angel but God the Son.He is also the appointed Priest Ė another doctrinal affirmation. Thus, our hope for acceptance by God lies in His ministry. Faith and theology must not be separated.

 

2.)Faith in Christ is an issue of hope.The other major issue of faith is related to enduring trouble.Will they truly inherit what God has promised?Will the future really be different?†† What good does it do for us to believe in Christ?†† The readers of Hebrews lived in a pagan world and were outcasts among their Jewish people. They appeared to lose their past heritage as Jews, and as Christians, they were persecuted. Their hope was threatened by the rejection of their neighbors. Faith is still theological because the hope of what they looked for was guaranteed by the ministry of Christ, and that ministry would be worthless if it were not true. Hebrews promotes a faith that believes truth; that same faith trusts in divine promises.

 

A person may turn away from Christ for more than one reason. Among other things, apostasy can come from error or fear of persecution. In such a context of theological and social tension, those who are not partakers of Christ (3:14) will give in to the error or pressure. Those who are partakers of Christ will not.The issue is: Are we for Him or against Him (Matthew 12:30)? It connects to our doctrine of Who He is, and in Hebrews 6, it relates to hope for the future. Faith is the larger word; faith agrees with Godís revelation and trusts all that God says. Hope is a smaller word; it is trusting God primarily for the future.

 

The word hope has been twisted into its opposite in our day.To say in the language of Hebrews that we have a hope is to speak of a future certainty. When modern man says, ďI hope so,Ē he uses the same word to express uncertainty.

 

6:12 speaks of those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.Hebrews now turns to Abraham as an example of faith, but the words that follow say nothing of Abrahamís faith at all. Instead, he appears in Hebrews 6 as an example of One to whom God made promises and backed them up with His oath.All the attention goes to God who promises and acts to assure His friend Abraham that He the Lord is trustworthy. Great faith in an idol is futility (Isaiah 41:29), but faith like a little mustard seed can never disappoint if placed in the Lord (Matthew 17:20).

 

This passage returns to Melchizedek.†† 5:11 Ė 6:20 is a parenthesis. The key texts of Hebrews are ďYou areĒ and ďYou areĒ in 5:5,6.He mentioned Melchizedek in 5:6 & 10 and stopped; then in 6:20, the writer returns to Christ as a Priest in the order of Melchizedek. During this parenthesis he spoke of apostasy, so it must be an apostasy that falls away from Christ our Priest. When it speaks of the hope in 6:18,19, this hope is connected to Christ as Priest entering heaven. When it speaks of moving to maturity (6:1) this too is tied to the theme that came before and after the parenthesis Ė one they might not be too eager to give attention too. We too should frame issues of maturity, hope, and belief in ways that center in Christ.

 

6:13-15††† Abraham is mentioned in Hebrews 2,6,7 & 11.Others who believed Godís promises (6:12) will be mentioned in chapter 11. At this point only Abraham is mentioned with no further reference beyond v.15 to his faith but to his God. Often the Psalms reveal God in His deeds as in Psalms 78, 105, & 106. So our faith rests on more than claims. God informs by propositions and by what He has done in human history, such as sending the Flood in the days of Noah. Often history is humanityís experience of the words of God. Thus we have in Godís Word a record of faithfulness, not just an assertion. The Scriptures are prolific in recording the story of Godís dealings with man. God could and would be truthful in describing Himself in words alone, but if we never witness any example of these qualities in action, we would have no depth of understanding. God not only speaks; He acts.

 

Making an oath is more than giving more words. An oath by nature agrees to serious consequences upon the one making it if it is broken. We too do this kind of thing in raising a hand to swear in court or by signing a document. This text shows there are sober occasions when we may add to our word in the form of an oath. A serious oath in a serious situation (such as marriage) is very fitting. It must have been a surprise to Abraham that the Lord Who cannot lie was willing to swear an oath.

 

God had made promises to Abraham earlier that Isaac would be his heir and that many nations would come through Isaac (Genesis 17:19,21; 21:12). The words were clear; then came the order to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham was so sure of Godís word that he obeyed knowing that God would raise Isaac from death (11:17-19). Before his eyes Abraham saw his living son; he lived to see Isaac alive. Yet none of the saints in 11:39 received what had been promised, i.e., all that was promised. For them there was still more: the resurrected life in the city of God. Abraham already had a tested and proven faith; nevertheless, it was right after his obedience in offering Isaac (Genesis 22:1-14) that God swore to him with an oath (Genesis 22:15-18). That we should believe God is so important to Him (11:6) God did this amazing thing of swearing an oath to convince a man of His resolve. Abrahamís unwavering faith was strengthened (Romans 4:20,21), and God by His oath wanted to build in Abraham great assurance. Before him was one son, but the promise was that he would be the father of many nations. We too need faith focused on the security of Godís stupendous promises.

 

6:15This verse does not mean after waiting patiently Abraham saw the promise of many nations fulfilled.†† The way vv.13-15 flow, one might think that, but we interpret Scripture in the light of the entire Bible. Abraham died long before the promised nations came; even today that fulfillment is unfinished. I think v.15 means, after waiting patiently for the promised son and enduring the enormous test of faith (Genesis 22:1-14), he ďobtained the promiseĒ that his future offspring would be multiplied. I am convinced that the way the ESV, NASB, & NKJV translate this is preferable to the NIV. As a result of faith in Genesis 22:1-14, Abraham received the sworn declarative promise from the Lord that he would father many nations. He did not obtain what was promised; he obtained the promise of more Further, obtain may show how deeply the promise of God was internalized. The Word of God became part of him. He became more certain of Godís promise than anything else in life, not because he saw it fulfilled, but because he knew Who had promised. No person yet has received all that God has promised (11:39,40), so we are in the same situation as Abraham. Yet no person who believes God lacks blessings prior to total fulfillment. The Holy Spirit is the current gift to each believer as the guarantee of all the inheritance yet to come (Ephesians 1:13,14).

 

6:16,17Why do people pledge by oaths?One reason is that sin has contaminated human communication, so we need ways to give assurance. God condescended to use an oath to give assurance. It must have startled Abraham.Creating an awareness of Godís great seriousness and pledge to keep His promise overcomes the detrimental effect of looking only at what one can see. We must believe God for what will be. So God swore by Himself and Hebrews gave the reason for it. He wanted the unchanging nature of something to be clear. The thing being made clear was Godís purpose. All Biblical texts which reveal Godís purpose contribute to our sense of hope. (Since there has been some unhealthy debate on prophecy, many avoid the theme altogether and suffer loss as a result.) Godís purpose was clear to Him; He wanted it clear to them. A promise is made in our time, but Godís purpose has been His for all eternity. Abraham was not an heir by himself; there are many heirs. The promises to Abraham are promises to us (Ephesians 2:12 & 19). He was promised the world (Romans 4:13) and so are we (Matthew 5:5). Thus with an oath God confirmed promises He had made already with words. Men do that; God did it too. Things promised to Abraham are promised to us in Christ (Galatians 3:29).

 

6:18Two Unchangeable Things††††††† The two are His word of promise and His confirming oath. We have His word.Some may ask where the oath is? This oath is recorded in Holy Scripture to Abraham our father and conveyed in this way to us. We have something Abraham did not have; we have a long history of God implementing promises. This should strengthen our faith. It is inadequate to sing over and over that God is good and faithful, etc, without the specifics of Him delivering on those qualities in action. His revelation is not confined to abstractions. One important way God convinces us of His character is by the large Biblical record of concrete acts in history. He wants us to review His record. This is especially clear in the Psalms.

 

The character and nature of God are essential to His promise, because a promise is only as reliable as the one who makes it. God can swear by no one greater than Himself (v.13), a truth about God that was not stated in the Genesis passage quoted. Further reference to the nature of God is that He cannot lie (Titus 1:2). These are wonderful impossibilities. He is unable to swear by anyone greater than Himself and unable like men to lie (Numbers 23:19). Doctrine is impossible to keep out of our understanding of God, for theology is simply a coherent understanding of what God has revealed about Himself.

 

The Language of Contracts†††††† The Bible uses many analogies to illuminate our relationship with Him.Christ the Husband and we the Bride is one, yet marriage to Christ is not the same in every way as human marriage.More prominent perhaps is the Father/Son analogy.The Judge and the one summoned to appear before him, even with a defense lawyer, is another. In some parables Jesus referred to God as Master and us as servants.

 

In Hebrews 6, we have the language of legal contracts.We read of an oath, vv.16,17; a dispute, v.16;swearing, v.13,16; providing a guarantee, v.17; providing proof, v.17; or confirmation, v.16; plus an irrevocable will in v.17. Such use of the language of contracts is like saying something is ďsigned, sealed, and deliveredĒ. The chief way God presents His relationship to us is in the form of covenant: ďI will be your God and you shall be my people.ĒYet here God used the language of commerce to state covenantal promise in the language of a binding contract.

 

6:18††† To flee is to behave as a fugitive; the flight is from danger.†† The reason we need a priest is that God is holy and just.As holy, He deplores our sin, and as just He will reward it with death and banishment from His holy presence.God is the sinnerís danger! The idea of drawing near to God in sin (i.e., not reconciled to Him) is the opposite of safety. The writer has changed from a focus on Godís truthfulness to why we need a promise and what the promise is. The oath to Abraham was the promise of many descendents. The focus changes to the need we have of a priest.If God is serious about His promise to Abraham, He is equally serious about His provision of the Priest for us. He has sent One and we must believe Him. Abraham needed his hope secured by the veracity of God, and so do we.

 

6:19-20†† The hope offered is simply the truth of Christ in which we trust and in Whom we trust. How can we know we are forgiven? We rest in the certain hope of what He has done on the cross and His acceptance by the Father. Our hope is not a feeling within, even though the truth of Christ creates a sense of peace in us. Our hope is in heaven, and that shows it is not subjective. Feelings change; this hope is likened to an anchor that does not move. Our hope is not like an anchor attached to the bottom of the sea; it is anchored in heaven above where Jesus has entered to plead for us as our Priest.††

 

Two things are made parallel and we must read them as one. Our hope is in heaven because Jesus is in heaven.If His one sacrifice had been treated as inadequate, and if He were told to make further sacrifices, our hope could not be anchored anywhere. We could have no reason for confidence to approach God, no place to run from His wrath on our sin. But Jesus has entered and has been seated. In this way, Hebrews mentions briefly what will be developed in the section to follow, a section of unbroken exposition on Christ as our Priest from 7:1 to 10:18 with some repetition even after that.

 

Only the high priest could enter the inner sanctuary, and then he had to leave. Our priest has entered and has not left; He is still there. He did not enter heaven simply to return to His Fatherís side. As the Son of God He could do that, but as our Priest He has entered heaven for us. That means He represents us there. At the very center of Godís unyielding hatred of our sin, Jesus sits as the approved and accepted Priest on our behalf. It is His ministry for us that secures our peace. It is His ministry that is the total and exclusive hope we have. Our Lord has entered heaven, and that is where our hope is anchored. Our hope is in Godís unbreakable Word and a hope in the effective ministry of Jesus. Hebrews is now ready for a detailed review of Psalm 110:4, the promise of and even an oath to a Priest from God. Our Lord Jesus is the Priest Who continues forever, a Priest in the order of Melchizedek.