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originally posted by: DISRAELI
The message of the letter is that Christ has brought “completeness”.
That is, God is making available, through him, a much greater and more decisive revelation than anything they have received from him previously
In the fifth chapter, the writer is explaining this in terms of Christ being appointed High Priest “after the order of Melchizedek” (ch5 v11)
But he postpones his development of this thought, in order to reproach his expected readers for their slowness; “It is hard to explain, since you have become hard of hearing”.
This is about their willingness to learn, not their natural abilities.
He complains about the necessity of repeating to them the basic lessons of the gospel.
The real problem seems to be that they are tempted to lose interest in the teachings of the gospel.
They are in danger of losing their grip on the Christian faith and reverting to pre-Christian Judaism.
He is facing, in fact, the same issue that Paul.
So he has begun by trying to shame them, and stimulate them into a revived commitment, by presenting it as a case of backwardness in learning.
He says by this time they should have become teachers themselves (v12).
This is normally explained as a reference to the length of time they have been Christians.
I think the comment may be more pointed than that.
Other references to teaching in the New Testament include the observation that Nicodemus is “a teacher of Israel” (John ch5 v10) and James warning his own readers not to assume the function recklessly (James ch3 v1).
This suggests to me the possibility that the Jews of the time thought of themselves as “the teachers of the world” in matters of religion.
Christian Jews in particular. If they were obliged to accept that their people had lost their monopoly relationship with God, now sharing it with Gentiles, it would be a consolation to be able to tell themselves “Yes, but that’s only because we’ve taught them”.
In that case, “You should be teachers” warns them that they miss their vocation as long as they neglect the knowledge of Christ.
From being potential teachers, they slip down to the bottom of the class.
In fact they remain babies in the growth of their understanding.
At a time when they should be taking in solid food, they can only cope with milk.
That is why they need to have their faculties trained, to distinguish between good and bad teaching.
In the next chapter, he spells out what he means by the difference between elementary and mature teaching (ch6 vv1-2).
The “elementary” doctrine is the basic teaching which provides the foundation of the gospel.
It deals with the change of heart involved in turning away from sin (“repentance from dead works”) and turning towards God in faith.
It deals with the ceremonies (baptism, laying on of hands) which accompany and express the change of heart.
And it deals with the reasons why the change of heart is necessary, which are to be found in the teaching about the resurrection of the dead and the eternal judgement.
I wonder if the phrase “dead works” is a reference to “works without faith are dead”, a possible slogan which might have prompted (or might have been prompted by) the well-known counter-slogan found in James.
“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity… and this we will do if God permits”.
What does the writer mean by maturity, or “completeness” [TELEIOTATES]?
The answer comes later in the chapter, when he keeps his promise by returning to the interrupted theme of the priesthood of Melchizedek.
That is the “solid food” which he claimed they could not take. The taunt was meant as a challenge to prove him wrong by giving the topic their close attention.
The Melchizedek theme is part of the advanced teaching that the gospel has brought “completeness” to the teaching of the Old Testament. In other words, it is not just a supplement to the old revelation, but has replaced the old revelation, decisively.
If God has committed himself entirely to offering salvation through Christ, then losing contact with Christ will also mean losing contact with God.
Therefore if his readers lose their grip on the fundamentals of the gospel, and fall back into dependence on the Law, they will not merely be slipping down to a more elementary class.
They will be dropping out of the school altogether.
That accounts for the urgency of the warning he now gives against apostasy (vv4-6).
They have already received all the benefits of the gospel, and he recites them in roughly chronological order.
That is, they have been enlightened. They have received knowledge of the truth.
They have “tasted the heavenly gift” of true life from God.
They have shared in the experience of the Holy Spirit.
They have also tasted the goodness of God’s word and the powers that come with it, powers which belong to “the coming age” (the age which began with Christ).
Since they have already made this grand “turning” once, a renewed “turning” would not be possible.
Rejecting Christ while knowing what he was, they would be joining themselves with those who crucified him in the first place, and causing others to hold him in contempt.
The writer illustrates the point by using the familiar Old Testament image of land which has been blessed or cursed.
Normally the blessing will be expressed in the fertility of the land, and the curse will be expressed in thorns and thistles.
Applying this image to those who have received the gospel, those who are fertile receive more blessing.
But if the “land” produces only thistles, it is to be judged as worthless and close to a final curse; its destiny will be destruction by fire.
This image would have an even greater impact if his expected readers inhabited the original “promised land”, as would be the case if he was writing to the church in Jerusalem.
After presenting this picture of despair, he changes his tone again and begins assuring them of his confidence that they won’t be doing anything of the kind.
“In your case, beloved, we feel assured of better things that belong to salvation” (v9).
He reminds them of what they have done for the faith in the past, the love shown in “serving the saints”. He is confident that God will reward this and support them.
All he asks is that they keep doing it- “show the same earnestness in realising the full assurance of hope until the end”.
They should not be sluggish, but should activate their energies to join those whose faith and patience enables them to inherit what God has promised