A warning, some encouragement, and a choice
Be careful here. The author of Hebrews has an important warning to give his readers, but if these next 14 verses are taken out of context or read individually…not only would the reader miss the intended point, but it could cause significant confusion about God’s dealing with humanity. HOWEVER, since we have traveled through the author’s major points of the letter, we are less likely to have a misinterpretation. But we sill must approach the text with our thinking caps on and with the preceding context in mind…
Remember that the author is writing to eternally secure believers. Also remember his previous warnings about what happened to the Israelites that disregarded their generation’s messenger:
For if we deliberately go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries.
Anyone who disregarded the law of Moses died without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, who has regarded as profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know the One who has said,
Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay (Deuteronomy 32:35)
The Lord will judge His people. (Deuteronomy 32:36)
It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Like any of us who selfishly choose to go against our parents’ directions, those of us in the “Holy family” who purposely choose to continue a sin-filled life are going to have a very angry Heavenly Father to deal with. This is the same warning the author gave in Chapters 2 and 3 – the consequences of failing away, of having a sinful and unbelieving heart – but now we know the full ramifications of intentionally making sinful choices since we now understand the Greater Message that Jesus has delivered.
Recognizing the implication of their choices, the author then encourages his readers:
Remember the earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to taunts and afflictions, and at other times you were companions of those who were treated that way. For you sympathized with the prisoners and accepted with joy the confiscation of your possessions, because you know that you yourselves have a better and enduring possession.
So don’t throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you need endurance, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised.
What Jesus has promised is the opportunity to participate in His future kingdom. Just as they were confident in Christ’s authority to forgive their sin debt and bring them into the family, the author encourages them to put that same level of faith and trust in the future which Jesus has promised is available to them. To do so, the author relies again on an Old Testament passage:
For yet in a very little while,
the Coming One will come and not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith;
and if he draws back, I have no pleasure in him. (Habakkuk 2:3-4)
But we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and are saved.
These three verse require the most care. Do not read our modern-day assumption that the words “destroyed”, “have faith”, and “saved” always mean “sent to Hell”, “saving faith”, and “eternally secure, going to Heaven”. A look into the multiple Greek words that go into each of these three words reveals the following:
destroyed = into ruin, waste
have faith = trust, with implications that the one who is trusted will do actions because of that trust placed in them
saved = into gaining, sharing in life
Given that the author includes himself when he says “but we are not those who draw back” and also remembering the context of him encouraging believers, a good paraphrase of verse 39 would read:
But we are not of those who shrink back now into a wasted life, but we are those who trust and act upon the Greater Message now and will therefore gain the rewards in the next life that have been promised.
The same choice is available to us today…will we draw back rom the Greater Message, or will we trust Jesus and act on His word?