Hebrews 5:11 - 6:20:
Milk, Meat, and Spiritual Maturity
Hebrews 5:11-14 reads,
11 Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
Keep in mind that the author is writing to Hebrew people, who prided themselves on their understanding of the Word of God. But here we find that these Hebrews were having trouble making the leap from an Old Covenant understanding to a New Covenant understanding of Scripture.
Many of them were still depending upon the Levitical priesthood and did not comprehend that Jesus was the High Priest of an entirely new order of priesthood that pre-dated Moses and Aaron. For this reason, in spite of the fact that they had studied the Scriptures for many years, they were spiritually immature.
The author was clearly referencing many in the Jerusalem Church that continued to think the temple priests retained their calling as priests before God, when in fact they had been replaced by an entirely new order of priesthood. Their lack of understanding showed their need for milk and their inability to digest meat, or “solid food.” The meat, of course, is what the book of Hebrews attempts to teach. The meat is the new and better way which the mature believers are able to discern.
In Hebrews 6:1, 2 we are told the definition of “milk.”
1 Therefore, leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings [“baptisms”], and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and aionian judgment.
Believers should already understand that they should repent from the idea that they are saved by performing temple rituals, which he calls “dead works.” They should already know that justification is by “faith toward God.” They should already know the laws of water purification (washings or baptisms, which he references in Heb. 9 and 10), because the Hebrew Christians were well versed in those ceremonial cleansings that were practiced under Moses and Aaron.
Further, the Hebrew Christians already should have known about the laying on of hands to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and to affirm spiritual gifts and callings. As for the resurrection of the dead, there were some who incorrectly taught that this had already taken place (2 Tim. 2:17, 18). Most likely, this was the teaching that the resurrection had taken place at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion (Matt. 27:51-53). The idea that the resurrection was merely one’s justification (coming from death into life) probably was not yet developed. The dispute over the resurrection itself was a well-developed one between the Pharisees and Sadducees, for we read in Acts 23:8,
8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.
The Apostle Paul firmly held to his earlier training as a Pharisee and taught the resurrection of the dead. If he had deviated from this teaching, he surely would have thought it imperative to discuss these changes fully. But never does Paul spiritualize his teaching on the resurrection.
The final example of “milk” that everyone should have known clearly is that of “aionian judgment.” This indicates the time of judgment following the Great White Throne when all the dead are raised to be held accountable for their deeds. That time of judgment is aionian, which Dr. Robert Young translates as “judgment age-during.” In other words, it is judgment during an age to come. See Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible.
It is interesting that few today understand this “milk” issue, because so many have translated it to mean “eternal judgment,” as if to say that the divine judgment can never correct a sinner, nor will he ever repent, nor will every knee bow and confess Him to be Lord. It is sad that we would have to return to teaching milk today, after nearly 2,000 years of Church teaching. This shows the immaturity of the Church, according to the standard found in the book of Hebrews.
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, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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.
These verses have been an unnecessary and tragic source of terror to many backslidden believers. It seems that many preachers have used fear tactics in the attempt to keep people from leaving the Church denominations. They tell people that if they leave the Church, they will surely be burned in hell forever, and that they will not be allowed a second chance for salvation even a day after they back slide.
This is one of the cruelest teachings in the Church. It is comparable to saying that once Israel backslid in the book of Judges, God would never be able to take them back. But we see the people repenting toward the end of each of the captivities, and God never had any problem sending deliverers (judges) to renew their relationship with God. The law of God tells us that when the people sinned, God would send them into captivity, but when they repented, God would reverse their captivity (Lev. 26:40-42).
Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple says the same (1 Kings 8:47-50). There is forgiveness throughout the Old Testament. Shall we insist that Jesus is less forgiving in the New Testament? Such an interpretation makes no sense, unless someone wants to use it to bar the gates to prevent people from leaving the denomination.
No, Hebrews 6:5, 6 is speaking of those who would revert to Judaism, with its physical temple, Aaronic priesthood, ceremonial washings, dead works, and animal sacrifices. Hebrew Christians were supposed to leave those things behind and walk in a new and living way. God had left the temple in Jerusalem to inhabit our bodies on the day of Pentecost. Jesus is the High Priest of the Christians. If a Christian sinned, he was admonished to confess his sins to God and be cleansed of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-10).
But what would happen if a Christian reverted back to Judaism? How would such a person obtain forgiveness if he were to sin against his neighbor? Would he go to the temple with an animal sacrifice to obtain forgiveness from God? Would such a sacrifice be valid? Would God accept such a sacrifice? No, not after the perfect Sacrifice had come to replace animal sacrifices.
And so, Hebrews tells us that if a Hebrew were first enlightened by the message of Christ, but then later reverted back to Judaism, such a person would find it impossible to truly repent and to find forgiveness from sin—because he had rejected the perfect Sacrifice of Christ on the cross. He could sacrifice a thousand lambs, but to no avail, for such sacrifices were no longer acts of faith in the sight of God. In fact, the continuation of animal sacrifices had become acts of defiance against Jesus Christ, “since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”
In recent years the idea of Dispensationalism has crept into the Church, teaching that when Jesus returns, He will revert back to a physical temple in Jerusalem, and Aaronic priests will replace the Melchizedek priesthood once again, and animal sacrifices will be instituted once again in a so-called “Age of Law.” Nothing could be further from the truth, and this doctrine crucifies Christ again and puts Him to open shame. Such Bible teachers have no understanding of the book of Hebrews, for they seek to replace the “better things” with those worse things which God set aside.
Continuing in Hebrews 6, we read,
7 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; 8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.
Those who revert back to Judaism are here compared to a field which receives the rain of God’s word and Holy Spirit, but which then brings forth “thorns and thistles” instead of vegetables fit to eat. Such people are “worthless” and “close to being cursed,” though not actually cursed. Even so, as Paul would say in 1 Cor. 3:15, they will be “saved yet so as through fire.” They end up being “burned” in order to rid their “fields” of thorns and thistles.
9 But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. 10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.
The author is clearly writing to Hebrew believers, and though he warns them of reverting to Judaism and the old manner of worship, he shows confidence in his readers. Even though many of them have need of going back to the milk of the word, he knows that they will resist the temptation to revert to the religion of types and shadows.
11 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Even as Israel in the wilderness needed endurance to inherit the Promised Land, so also does this word admonish the Hebrew believers to imitate Caleb and Joshua in order to qualify as overcomers. The Promised Land speaks of inheriting the feast of Tabernacles, that third great feast of Israel after Passover and Pentecost. The Israelites were justified by faith through Passover when they came out of Egypt, and this made them “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38).
They had opportunity to receive the Holy Spirit at Sinai, which day came to be celebrated as the feast of weeks (or Pentecost). However, their hearts were hardened, and so Pentecost remained a promise for another time. Likewise, they were unable to enter the Promised Land during the feast of Tabernacles, for only Caleb and Joshua had the faith necessary to fulfill that feast.
The Pentecostal Christians of the first century had succeeded where Israel had failed at Mount Sinai, for they had the faith to go to the upper room to see Pentecost fulfilled. Nevertheless, they needed endurance in order to have the faith to fulfill the feast of Tabernacles. This feast represents the promise of God, which is no longer a piece of real estate in Canaan, but the glorified body—the “tabernacle from above” that Paul wrote of in 2 Cor. 5:1-4.
13 For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you.” 15 And thus, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise.
Here is another example to show that we need patience and endurance to obtain the full promise of the feast of Tabernacles—that is, to be an overcomer. This is one of the most misunderstood ideas in the book of Hebrews, because so few understand the distinction between a believer and an overcomer. They do not know the difference between a citizen and a ruler in the Kingdom.
Without knowing this distinction, one side argues that “once saved, always saved,” while the opposing view argues that one must “endure to the end to be saved.” Both sides make this an issue of salvation, when in fact it is an issue of which feast one is fulfilling. The Church in the wilderness under Moses was “saved” (i.e., justified by faith), but they were neither filled with the Spirit (by rejecting Pentecost at Sinai), nor did they receive the promise of Tabernacles, which is the glorified body.
Once we understand that there are three feasts of Israel which we may experience, then it is plain that not every believer is at the same place in his/her Christian walk. If a believer wants to inherit the first resurrection and reign with Christ during the thousand-year Age to come, he must endure to the end. In the context of the book of Hebrews, he cannot revert back to Judaism and still hope to be an overcomer.
The example of Abraham refers specifically to the promise of Sonship, for Abraham was promised a son. In fact, he was promised many sons and a multitude of nations. This promise of Sonship was part of the birthright passed down from Abraham to Isaac and then to Jacob. Jacob gave it to his son, Joseph (1 Chron. 5:1, 2), of whom it was said, “Joseph is a fruitful son” [Heb. ben]. I have written more extensively about this in my book, The Laws of the Second Coming.
16 For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. 17 In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, 18 in order that by two unchangeable things, in which is it impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. 19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, 20 where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
God swore an oath to Abraham to establish Sonship through him. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:26-29 that one does not have to be a physical descendant of Abraham in order to inherit this promise of Sonship. Like the change in priesthood from Aaron to Melchizedek, the promise of Sonship is no longer based upon one’s genealogy, but upon one’s faith. The idea of being “the son of Abraham” is much like other Hebrew idioms such as “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17), “children of light” (Luke 16:8), “children of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36), “children of the wicked one” (Matt. 13:38). Note also that “wisdom is justified by her children” (Luke 7:35).
Thus, we see that God vowed to give Abraham many children, and Paul tells us that this is in no way limited to genealogical children. In fact, John the Baptist informs us in Luke 3:8,
8 Therefore bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham for our [genealogical] father,” for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
This promise of Sonship was established by “two unchangeable things” (6:18). The first was the promise to Abraham, ratified by the blood-sacrifice of seven animals (Gen. 15:9). The second was the promise ratified by the blood of the True Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In both cases, the blood sacrifice was unchangeable. This anchors our hope (expectation) with a sure and steadfast faith in the One who entered the veil as our great High Priest after the Order of Melchizedek.
As High Priest of this new Order, Jesus Christ entered the Most Holy Place in the True Temple in heaven, carrying His own blood to sprinkle upon the mercy seat, of which the ones in Moses’ tabernacle and Solomon’s temple were only shadows of the True.