One thing I have learned when it comes to reading the Bible, context is an essential function when determining the meaning of a passage. Let’s look at a passage that has probably been used the most to turn the cross into a ladder—Hebrews 6:1-2.
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
As a believer who truly believes in the power of the cross and proclaiming the Gospel, I have a hard time saying, “I have to focus on other elements than just the cross.” I mean we have passages like:
“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
–1 Corinthians 2:2
And these were stated to believers. Many will say that the apostle Paul was preaching milk to this church because they were not ready for more. And this can be supported because the church of the Corinthians had serious issues, and the people in the book of Hebrews were also struggling. But I’d contend this church was clinging to the old principles of the Christ (things foreshadowed) and not resting in Christ and solely looking to his finished works. This passage in current times is used to say to a congregation, “We have to study X, Y, and Z (non-Jesus Christ centered things), to fully grow in the faith.” And after that statement is proclaimed, the focus tends to become works.
To have a solid contextual perspective on what is to be derived from Hebrews 6:1, I decided to re-read and briefly notate the key parts of the prior chapters:
Hebrews 1: Points to Christ’s deity and the proper perspective the audience should have of Jesus. Hebrews 1:3 is a great example if this.
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”
The writer points them to the cross (making purification for sins) and a correct understanding of Jesus’ position as deity.
Hebrews 2: This chapter emphasizes the need to focus on the cross and the Gospel. This point is established in Hebrews 2:1—
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
And Hebrews 2:3—
How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?
We must cling to this (Christ dying for our sin and him at the right hand of God) beauty of salvation. The writer continues to testify that everything is under rule of Jesus and points back to cross (Heb. 2:9-18).
The language used is to correlate Jesus to the system the Israelites understood as a means for forgiveness of sin, the role of High Priest. He establishes Jesus as High Priest—the old form of propitiation of sin.
Hebrews 3: This chapter continues with the proclamation of Jesus’ proper place in eyes of believers. In Hebrews 3:3, he draws a comparison to Moses, the mostly highly esteemed and regarded Jewish forefather/prophet. The writer issues warnings for them to keep God’s way, using the people of Moses’ day as an example. In view of the context of the previous chapters, he is continually pointing to Christ and the cross.
Hebrews 4: This chapter talks about the rest in Christ that is obtained through faith in the One God sent—his only begotten Son. The writer returns to description of Jesus as the High Priest. This language is particular to the context of the chapter, illustrating his comment that the audiences focus on old customs. We now have a High Priest that can relate to humanity, due to God taking on flesh and going to the cross—the suffering and temptation he experienced.
Hebrews 5: The writer continues with talk of the historic duty of the High Priest. How they offer sacrifice for the sin of the community as well as their own. Jesus was appointed High Priest, and became the perfect source of salvation (Heb. 5:9).
In Hebrews 5:11, the tone changes and the writer starts to rebuke the audience.
“About this we have much to say.” This is in direct reference to what was just spoken of…Christ as perfect High Priest and perfect sacrifice.
But people have become dull of hearing this. They are still valuing the old system (dead works). In verse 12, the question is, “Should be teachers of what?” I contend it’s stating they should be teachers of everything that he has mentioned prior. To list:
- Christ’s perfect life
- Christ’s forgiveness of sin
- Christ as perfect high priest
- The cross as propitiation of sin
Hebrews 6: In the previous five chapters, each chapter directly points the focus of the reader to Christ’s finished works on the cross—applying all of the Old Testament foreshadowing to our Lord and Savior.
“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
From my perspective, we have to acknowledge that before the coming of Jesus Christ, the Jewish community had its own preconceived expectations of the Christ and had systems in place that foreshadowed the eventual Christ. With this stated, when the verse says, “Leave elementary doctrine of Christ,” it does not automatically mean the cross. I contend that this is pointed to the pre-cross thoughts and foreshadowing. Nothing in the present definitely applies to the cross. If it is pointing to the cross, then we have to acknowledge that Christ’s dying for our sins is not the heart of the faith, but rather just the beginning.
In regards to the list, everything on the list relates to knowledge/beliefs and practices that were already grasped and understood by the Jewish community. The cross and understanding it is what is referred to as maturity. For instance the “not lay the foundation of repentance from dead works” is a reference to the High Priest’s ongoing sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins (Heb. 10:1-9, 26). The washing is a reference to customs before entering the holy place. The laying of hands was a custom that was used in the Old Testament that showed a blessing upon the recipient. (Num. 8:10, 27:16-23), (Deut. 34:9), (Ex. 29:10, Lev. 1:4; 3:2,8,13; 4:15), (Gen. 48:12-20), (Ps. 139:4-6). The resurrection of the dead for final judgment is a belief held by the Jewish custom that revolved around Abraham’s bosom. (You’re on the Internet if you’re reading this, so Google it. I’m tired of typing.)
Further in Chapter 6, Hebrews establishes examples to show that the writer is referencing old customs as milk, and the cross and knowledge of who Jesus Christ is as maturity (Heb. 6:4-5). Once born again, there is no need for more sacrifices because the ultimate price has already been paid. Every previous chapter points to this truth: that the focus of other faith is in Jesus and the cross. We should grow from the base revelations of a Savior who will come to save, to one who has come—and he is Jesus! Maturity in faith is summed up by Hebrews 6:19-20:
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
Rest in Christ and God Bless!