(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
The writer lists five privileges that the Jews had beginning in verse 4; 'For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy spirit... .' The first privilege is '...those who have once been enlightened....' The word 'once' (hapox) denotes a finality, or a once and for all enlightenment. It is the same word used to describe the sacrifice of Christ that was offered only 'once' (Heb 9:28). The question that comes to mind is 'Can an unbeliever be enlightened even though they are in darkness?' Yes. The distinction between an unbeliever and a believer is how a person responds to the light to which they have been exposed. Do they accept it, or reject it?
Matthew 4 illustrates this truth. Jesus has moved to Capernaum so that He could '...fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet saying, 'The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles-the people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and to those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned' (Matt 4:14-16). Not everyone who was in this region became a believer, but everyone was enlightened by the presence and ministry of Jesus Christ.
This same idea is displayed in John 1:7-9. John the Baptist was not the 'light' but came to bear witness of the coming 'light.' Jesus Christ is the true 'light' which 'enlightens every man.' The very coming of the Son of God to earth brought light and revelation to everyone, particularly to the Jews.
But with the knowledge of Christ comes condemnation for those who do not believe. Peter says, 'it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them' (2 Peter 2:21). In like manner Hebrews 10:26 says, 'For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins.' This is in reference to the continual rejection of Jesus Christ. For those who have been exposed to the knowledge of Him and reject it, only judgment awaits.
The second privilege seen in verse 4 is '...they have tasted of the heavenly gift.' The writer is referring to Jesus Christ, and the salvation offered through Him. We see this in John 4 when the Samaritan women meets Jesus at the well. Jesus says, '...if you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water' (vs. 10). The gift of God is the salvation that is provided only through Jesus Christ.
The question remains, 'Could the Hebrews actually have 'tasted' of Christ, and still have been unbelievers?' I believe the answer is 'Yes.' Remember in Hebrews 4 when the writer paralleled the actions of the Israelites seen in Numbers 13 with those of the Hebrews? Israel 'tasted' the land of Canaan, and the deliverance that God had promised, but they rejected Him. This is the same idea we have in Hebrews 6:2. The Hebrews have partaken of the heavenly gift, just as Christ tasted 'death' for all men (Heb 2:9). It was a one time tasting, not a continual action. Christ tasted death once, and was finished with it. Similarly, the Hebrews 'tasted' the heavenly gift, but they are not continually partaking of it because they did not and do not believe. They have rejected it, and wish to return to the Old Covenant worship system.
The third privilege that the Hebrews experienced was that they had been made '...partakers of the Holy Spirit.' The question is the same as the other two privileges: 'How can someone partake 'of the Holy Spirit' yet remain an unbeliever?' The word 'partake' means 'to be associated with.' Often, it is used as an expression of external association, rather than internal involvement. For example, in the gospels, the fishermen are said to be partakers together, meaning they are associated with each other when they fish; but their similarities end there. They have no intimate relationships with one another. They are united only in their work.
The point is that the Jews, who have become 'partakers' of the Spirit of God, are not necessarily believers. The writer is referring to a ministry of the Holy Spirit that is applied to all people. Consider what John says in His gospel, concerning the Holy Spirit; 'And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged' (John 16:8-11). Any time the Word is proclaimed, and people are exposed to it, they are exposed to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Some will respond through faith, and accept the gift of salvation provided by Jesus Christ. Others will reject the message, and continue to turn their hardened hearts away from God. But regardless of the outcome, everyone who hears the message of salvation becomes a 'partaker' of the Holy Spirit.
The fourth privilege the Hebrews have is that they have '...tasted of the good word of God....' The 'good word of God' actually refers to the kingdom of God. We know that the Hebrews have heard the Word of God, and have been exposed to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. But now we are told that they have also been exposed to the Kingdom as well.
Jeremiah 3:3 illustrates that the 'good word' is the literal Kingdom of God; ''Behold, days are coming', declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah' (Jer 33:14). One can understand why the Hebrews would associate the term 'good word' with the Kingdom of God. They were familiar with the context of Jeremiah 33.
What is the Kingdom of the 'good word?' 'In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. In those days, Judah shall be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she shall be called: the Lord is our righteousness.' The Hebrews have tasted of the 'good word' because they have experienced the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy. Yet they will not enter into the full realization of the Kingdom because they will not believe.
The fifth privilege is closely related to the fourth. The writer says the Hebrews have tasted of '...the powers of the age to come.' The fourth and fifth privileges both use the verb 'tasted', identifying the closeness of the expressions. What are the 'powers'? The word literally means 'miracles', as translated in Hebrews 2:4.
These Jews have tasted of the 'miracles' of the 'age to come.' This term is a reference to the Millennial Kingdom. Obviously, the Hebrews had not entered into the Millennium, but they have 'tasted', of the 'miracles' that will characterize that time. To what kind of miracles is the writer referring? One possibility is that some of these Jews may have experienced the earthly ministry of Christ personally. Certainly, the Hebrews have experienced the ministry of the apostles, who were representatives of Christ on earth, and were given the ability to perform miracles in His name.
The question regarding the Hebrews is not their exposure to the truth of God's Word and ministry. The question is how they react to the truth, and verse 6 gives us an indication to their reaction; 'and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.' When one falls away, it is action that denotes a finality. These Jews have 'tasted' of the very kingdom of God, yet they have 'fallen away,' or 'turned back' from the message of salvation. There is nowhere else this message is found. There is nothing that can be added to make them believe.
For people in this situation, 'it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.' This is one of the strongest statements one will find in the Old or New Testament. The writer is saying that it is 'impossible' for this group of people to be saved. When someone rejects the message of Christ after being exposed to the Word of God, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the coming Kingdom, they cannot come again to 'repentance.' They will not change their minds.
When one hears the message of salvation and chooses to reject it, they become like those who witnessed Christ's earthly ministry and rejected and crucified Him. In other words, someone who says 'I reject the message of Christ,' is saying 'I've heard the message, and I agree that He should have died. He deserved to be put to open shame, and crucified with criminals.' There are only two decisions one can make regarding Christ: belief or rejection. Anyone who rejects Him becomes one who crucified Him. Jesus said, 'He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters' (Matt 12:30). There is no middle ground. There is no fence to be walked in Christianity. You are either a believer, or one who, by your rejection of the gospel, crucified Christ. When one rejects Christ, it is 'impossible' for Him to be saved in any other way.
Verses 7 and 8 illustrate the destiny of those who reject Christ. The writer says, '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.' The picture is that, as the Word of God falls on us just as the rain falls on the ground. What happens? Some of us hear the Word and believe, becoming useful vegetation, and receiving blessings. But others hear the Word and reject it, becoming thorns and thistles. They are 'close to being cursed.' Literally this means that they are 'on their way' to judgment in an eternal hell.
The message (rainfall) is the same. It is not as if a different rain fell on the useful vegetation or the thorns. It is the same. The only difference is the response. One can have a perfectly green lawn, or a perfectly green dandelion that is produced by the same rain. It is the same for us. The same message of salvation brings salvation and blessing to some, and rejection and judgment to others ('close to being cursed, and it ends up burned').
A parallel passage is John 15:2 'Every branch in Me that does not bear Fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit.' There are two kinds of people: those who bear fruit and those who do not. It is impossible for a true believer not to bear fruit (verses 4-5). On the other side, it is impossible for the unbeliever to bear fruit (verses 4-5). Only Christ can bring fruit, and only those who have experienced His salvation will bear fruit. He says, 'As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me' (verse 4).
What happens to those who refuse to accept Christ's message of salvation? 'If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned' (verse 6). Those who believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ for salvation are eternally sealed, and abide in Him forever. But those who reject Him are discarded as a tares (Matthew 13:24-30) and will endure judgment and punishment, through fire in hell.
Again, one can see that there are two distinct groups of people through these analogies in John 15 and Matthew 13. Those who believe are compared to vegetation, fruitful branches, and wheat. Those who do not are compared to dead thorns, dead branches, and tares. One will notice that the fruitful branches did not become dead, nor did the wheat become tares. You are either one or the other. Those who have experienced salvation through Jesus Christ will spend eternity with Him in Heaven, while those who reject Him are cast out of the presence of God forever.
Where are you? Have you sat, week after week; month after month; year after year, rejecting the truth of God's Word? Or are you one on which the Word of God fell and you believed? If you reject Christ, do you realize that you are rejecting the only sacrifice for your sins? Do you realize that you are like thorns and thistles, worthless to God? Do you realize that your punishment for the rejection of Jesus Christ will be an eternity in a very real, and very horrible hell? But do you also realize that there is a provision for your salvation? If you believe that you are a sinner separated from God and have come to the point where you have believed that Jesus Christ, God's Son, came to earth to die for your sins, and then place your faith in Him alone for the forgiveness of your sins, you are forgiven, and immediately brought into a relationship with Him for eternity. Can you think of any reason for postponing your salvation? Ask Him to forgive you today!
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