"If They Shall Fall Away..."
An Apostasy with Far-Reaching Consequences
By Arlen L. Chitwood
Hebrews 6:4-6 is looked upon by numerous Christians as possibly the most difficult, and sometimes controversial, passage in all Scripture. And the reason why the passage is looked upon after this fashion is because of an erroneous interpretative approach. The passage is invariably approached from the standpoint of teachings surrounding the Christians' presently possessed eternal salvation—salvation "by grace through faith."
The passage though doesn't deal with this subject. And, not dealing with this subject, it is understandable why those who seek to interpret the passage from the standpoint of teachings surrounding salvation by grace through faith find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings. And not only is this the case, but they also invariably find themselves being forced into erroneous views concerning salvation.
Then, beyond the preceding, the correct subject matter is not even being dealt with. Rather, through this erroneous interpretative approach, the correct subject matter is, instead, being completely obscured. And such can only foster the present work of the enemy as it is outlined in 2 Corinthians 4:4—blinding the minds of Christians relative to "the gospel of the glory of Christ" (ASV).
Contextually, Hebrews 6:4-6 must be looked upon as dealing with four basic issues surrounding Christians, from the standpoint of possibility ("If they shall fall away..."):
First, the Christians referred to in this passage must have come into a mature knowledge and understanding of the things surrounding Christ as King-Priest, "after the order of Melchizedek [a position to be realized only during the coming Messianic Era]" (5:6ff).
Second, these same Christians must fall away, apostatize.
Third, after these Christians fall away, they can never be restored to the position from which they fell.
Fourth, such a falling away would negatively reflect on Christ Himself.
These four issues will be dealt with under two subsequent headings. The first and second will be dealt with under the first heading, and the third and fourth will be dealt with under the second heading.
Once Enlightened...but Fell Away
Certain descriptive words appearing in verses four and five make it virtually impossible to look upon these verses as describing unsaved people.
There is the word, "enlightened" (v. 4), which is used in Hebrews 10:32, translated "illuminated." And according to 1 Corinthians 2:14, "the natural man" cannot be enlightened or illuminated in spiritual matters. Then, beyond that, the passage is dealing with things other than the "milk" of the Word; it is dealing with "strong meat" (5:12-14), something impossible for the unsaved man to grasp.
Then there is the word, "tasted" (vv. 4, 5). This is the same word used for Christ tasting death "for every man" in Hebrews 2:9. The experiences entered into by those in Hebrews 6:4, 5 must be looked upon as a tasting to the same extent that Christ tasted "death" at Calvary. The latter was full and complete, and the former must be also.
And the last descriptive word is "partakers" (v. 4). This is the same word translated "fellows" in Hebrews 1:9 and "partakers" in Hebrews 3:1, 14. This is the word metochoi, which could be better translated, "companions." It is used in chapters one and three to describe Christ's co-heirs, His companions, in the coming day of His power.
Being "enlightened," tasting "of the heavenly gift," being made "partakers of the Holy Spirit," tasting "the good word of God," and tasting "the powers of the world ['age'] to come," contextually, form a description of Christians progressively coming into a mature knowledge and understanding of the things surrounding the antitype of the Melchizedek priesthood from chapter five. It, thus, has to do with Christians coming into a mature knowledge and understanding of Christ's coming reign over the earth, with His companions.
Then, spiritual lessons surrounding the possibility of Christians falling away after coming into this mature state is drawn from the type dealt with prior to the introduction of Melchizedek in chapter five the account of the Israelites under Moses (chaps. 3, 4).
The Israelites under Moses passed through parallel experiences within the framework of their earthly calling, and these experiences were climaxed by their hearing the report of the twelve spies and tasting the actual fruits of the land which they had brought back with them. And that which happened to the Israelites at this point (in the type) is where one must go in order to understand the falling away and accompanying statements (in the antitype) in Hebrews 6:6.
The Israelites at Kadesh-Barnea were in possession of the Word of God (received at Sinai), God dwelled in their midst (in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle, built and erected at Sinai), they had heard the report of the spies, and they had tasted the actual fruits of the land (brought back by the spies). And occupying this position, they were then ready to enter the land, conquer and possess the land, and subsequently realize their calling in the land as God's firstborn son.
They, at this point, were in possession of what could only be looked upon as a mature knowledge of the whole matter. They understood their calling and that which lay ahead. And it is at this point that they fell away and, within the framework of that stated in the antitype in Hebrews 6:4-6, found it impossible to be renewed "again unto repentance."
Impossible to Renew Again...Because...
The report which the spies brought back concerning the land was both positive and negative. It was a good land, flowing with "milk and honey"; but the inhabitants, which included the Nephilim, were strong and lived in walled cities (Numbers 13:26-29, 32, 33).
Caleb and Joshua, exhorting the people, said, "Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it." But the remaining spies said, "We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we" (Numbers 13:30, 31).
The people of Israel heard the report and both exhortations, but they believed the evil report of the ten spies rather than the true report of Caleb and Joshua. And their resulting actions said it all. They wept, began to murmur against Moses and Aaron, and then looked back to Egypt, wishing that they had never left. Then, to climax matters, they sought to appoint another leader and return to Egypt (Numbers 14:1-4).
They, in the words of the antitype, fell away. They fell away from that to which they had been called. They had turned their backs upon God, and God, correspondingly, turned His back upon them. Because of that which had transpired, the most severe judgment possible was pronounced upon the entire accountable generation. Every single individual comprising that unbelieving generation, twenty years old and above, save Caleb and Joshua, was to be overthrown in the wilderness.
And once this apostasy had occurred (with its corresponding pronounced judgment), there could be no renewal "again unto repentance" (as also seen in the antitype in Hebrews 6:4-6). And the reason, drawing again from the antitype ("crucify to themselves the Son of God"), is because they had brought shame and reproach upon the One (God) dwelling in their midst, Who was to have led them victoriously into the land.
("Repentance" simply means a change of mind. And in both the type and antitype, the change of mind is on the part of God, not on the part of the Israelites [type] or on the part of Christians [antitype].)
The Israelites, the very next day, repented (changed their minds). They "rose up early" and sought to "go up unto the place" which the Lord had promised. But the Lord didn't repent (He didn't change His mind). He was no longer with them relative to their entering the land and victoriously combating the enemy. And, consequently, the Israelites, trying to enter the land apart from the Lord's leadership, were smitten and driven back (Numbers 14:40-45).
And that's what Hebrews 6:4-6 is about. If God allows a Christian to come into a mature knowledge of His Son's coming reign as King-Priest, "after the order of Melchizedek," and that Christian apostatizes, the same thing will occur as that which occurred to the Israelites under Moses (it would have to, for the antitype must follow the type in exact detail).
That Christian would be cut off insofar as those things surrounding his calling were concerned. He would not be allowed to subsequently enter that heavenly land to which he had been called and victoriously combat the enemy therein. He could not be renewed "again unto repentance," which is to say, he could never be brought back to the position which he had previously occupied.
Though the Christian may later change his mind about the matter (as the Israelites did), God would not change His mind (as in the type). The Christian, like the Israelites, would be overthrown on the right side of the blood but on the wrong side of the goal of his calling.
And the reason for such severe judgment on God's part results from the fact that, through this act, such a Christian could only bring shame and reproach upon the name of Christ. Note the entire expression, "crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh ['afresh' is not in the Greek text, though implied], and put him to an open shame" (v. 6). The thought has to do with the shame and reproach surrounding Calvary, not with subjecting the Son to a second crucifixion, for such an act is impossible (Hebrews 7:27).
But subjecting the Son to this same type shame and reproach at the hands of the world is very possible today; and such shame and reproach can result from a Christian falling away in the antitype of the Israelites at Kadesh-Barnea.
A Christian though, to fall away after this fashion, would have to do two things: 1) He would first have to come into a mature knowledge and understanding of the things surrounding Christ's coming reign over the earth, and 2) he would then have to apostatize after the same fashion in which the Israelites apostatized (who, at this point, turned away from Moses and the land [an earthly land], back to Egypt; i.e., the Christian, at this point, would have to turn away from Christ and the land [a heavenly land], back to the world).
And doing this, a Christian would be subjecting God's Son to the same type humiliation and shame which He experienced at Calvary. The expression, "crucify to themselves," is actually explained by the remainder of the verse "put [expose] him to an open shame." It is subjecting the world's coming Ruler to humiliation and shame through the one "in Christ" turning from that which lies out ahead and focusing his attention back on the present world system under the incumbent ruler, Satan.
And this is something which God will not allow. Thus, the verse introducing Hebrews 6:4-6:
"And this will we do [we will go on to maturity in the things surrounding Christ's coming reign over the earth], if God permit [if God permits us to go on]."
©2002 Arlen L. Chitwood, The Lamp Broadcast.