Why do some disciples or followers of Jesus abandon Him? Part 3

“‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.” John 6:64

The third reason why some disciples or followers of Jesus abandon Him is because THEY DISBELIEVE JESUS (John 6:64-66) and have no capacity to understand and follow Him. “‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.” (John 6:64). Some of the people who had been following Jesus and listening to His instruction had not believed in Him for His gift of everlasting life. They were disciples, that is, they placed themselves under Jesus’s instruction, but they were unsaved.

“Many of His disciples” found His words difficult (John 6:60, 66) and “some” of them did not believe in Christ for salvation (John 6:64a). Both saved and unsaved disciples found Jesus’s words to be disturbing. If Jesus knew that some were unsaved, why did He let them start out on the pathway of discipleship? Because He loved them, even Judas.  Luke 19:10 says, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” If they wanted to sit under Jesus’s teaching day after day, why not? That way He could seek them day after day. God’s love is unlimited and is directed toward every person. It gets me excited to think we may have people who don’t know Christ coming to our Facebook page and website. God’s grace is available to everyone.

Then Jesus said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” (John 6:65).  Is Jesus teaching that only a small percent of people, the elect, are able to believe and be born again? Not at all, and here is why.

God never commands something to be done that the listener is unable to do. And God commands all people to believe in His Son for everlasting life (I John 3:23; cf. John 3:16; Acts 16:31). Since God is drawing all people (John 12:32; 16:8-11), including those who never believe, He has certainly given everyone the capacity to believe.

The unbelieving disciples He is talking to in this large group are being drawn to believe in Jesus. They should seek to understand Christ’s words because they give life (John 6:63). If they turn away from Christ’s teaching now because it is difficult for them to believe, then God may stop drawing them. Nowhere are we told how long God draws an unbeliever to Himself. God may draw someone for eighty years or eight days. But this drawing is resistible.

For example, Judas resisted God’s intense drawing for over three years. All who die without Christ have rejected God’s drawing in their life. It is possible that God may stop drawing an unbeliever who hardens his heart. But Jesus’ point in verse 65 is that it is impossible for lost people to come to Christ without the help of God. God must work in their hearts. God may be drawing some of you. Maybe you have started reading the Bible or going to church. Perhaps you are visiting Christian websites online. This is an indication that God is working in your heart to draw you to His Son.

“From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” (John 6:66). This is perhaps the most “unsuccessful” sermon Jesus ever preached. When John chapter 6 opens, Jesus had 12,000-20,000 people following Him and listening to Him speak (John 6:10; cf. Matthew 14:21). When this chapter closes, He only has twelve men with Him and one of them is not even saved (John 6:67). Unlike some preachers today, Jesus did not sugar coat His message. He was not trying to win a popularity contest by preaching what people wanted to hear. This is a significant turning point in Christ’s ministry. He is shifting from a public ministry of up to twenty thousand to a more private training of the Twelve. As a result of this sermon, many of Jesus’s followers withdrew and went back to the things they had left behind (i.e. families, work, old habits and ways of thinking).

When you compare verse 66 with verse 64, you can see that “some” of those who abandoned Christ were Christians. Some did “not believe,” but “many” withdrew from Jesus. It was more demanding than even some of the believers expected.

Throughout my time as a pastor and evangelist, I have witnessed “disciples” withdrawing from Jesus and walking with Him no more. Much like the people in this crowd with Jesus, they stopped placing themselves under the teaching of God’s Word. Why? The teaching may have been too difficult or too disturbing to them. They may have been offended by the message of salvation which says eternal life is a free gift that one receives by believing in Christ alone apart from any works or merit of our own (John 4:10-14; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). So they abandon Christ to follow a preacher who says what they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Others may drop off because they have not yet believed in Jesus so they don’t have God the Holy Spirit living inside them to give them the  capacity to understand and follow Christ’s teaching (cf. John 7:38-39; I Corinthians 2:10-16). Some believers may drop off because God is calling them to a deeper level of commitment and they still want to be in charge of their own lives so they pull away. Only the Lord knows for sure.

Where are you in relation to Jesus Christ? Are you following Him from a distance? Are you intrigued by His claims to be God? Have you noticed how loving and gracious He is with those who seek Him? Do you feel Jesus pulling you closer to Him as you listen to what He has to say? As you listen to Christ, do you find yourself having a difficult time understanding what He means? Do His words offend you? Is He demanding more of you and you do not want to place yourself under His control?

Wherever you find yourself in relation to Jesus Christ, please know that He loves you and He wants to spend time with you. Will you give Jesus a chance? Will you open your heart to what He has to say to you? Jesus loved Judas to the end of his life (John 13:1) even though Judas never believed in Christ for His gift of eternal life (John 6:64, 70-71; cf. 12:4; 13:2, 10-11, 21-30; 17:12; 18:2, 5). Please do not be like Judas and never believe or trust in Christ alone to save you from your sins and give you everlasting life.

We are also reminded by Judas Iscariot’s relationship with Jesus that what determines a person’s eternal destiny is not their works. Judas did many works for Jesus Christ as His disciple (Matthew 10:1ff; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6), but his unbelief toward Jesus condemned him to an eternity in the Lake of Fire (John 3:18; 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 16:7-11; 17:12). The Bible tells us that it is not our works that determine whether we go to heaven or hell (Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9), but our response to Jesus Christ. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36).

On Judgment Day there will be many false prophets (Matthew 7:15) who stand before Jesus and appeal to their words (“Lord, Lord”)  and to their good works (“prophesied…cast out demons…done many wonders”) that they have done “in His name” for His glory as the basis of their entrance into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-22). And Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23). Why does He say this? Because they had failed to do “the will of the Father in heaven” as it relates to entering the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21b). Jesus said, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40; cf. 3:5, 15-16). Until a person is rightly related to Jesus by believing in Him for everlasting life, all their good works, words, and thoughts are “lawlessness” before a holy God (Matthew 7:23; cf. Isaiah 64:6).

Do you “believe in the Son,” Jesus Christ, for “everlasting life”? If so, then God promises that you now have “everlasting life” and your name is written in the Book of Life so that you will enjoy a home in heaven (John 3:36a; Revelation 21:27). But if you reject Jesus Christ or “do not believe the Son,” you “shall not see life” in heaven, “but the wrath of God abides” on you both now and forever in the Lake of Fire (John 3:36b; Revelation 20:15). It does not matter how many good works you have done for Jesus, if you do not believe in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life, you will still suffer torment forever in the Lake of Fire (Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 20:10, 15).

Prayer: Almighty God and Savior, You know my heart better than anyone. You know every thought, feeling, and motive I have ever had. I can hide nothing from You. Although You know everything about me – the good, the bad, and the ugly – You love me and long to be in a personal relationship with me. Thank You for drawing me to Yourself through Your Word and the testimony of other Christians. Lord, please remove anything in my life that would hinder me from following You more closely. I do not want to be like those who abandoned You and walked with You no more because they found Your teaching to be difficult or disturbing. Knowing how much You love me and value me, motivates me to stay close to You. Precious Lord Jesus, please continue to draw those who do not believe in You yet to Yourself. Please send others to model Your grace and truth to them. Thank You my Lord and my God for hearing my prayer. In Jesus’s name. Amen.   

How can a holy God come into my life and cleanse me from all my sin?

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.” John 2:19, 21-22

We learned last time that the temple of God is located in every believer in Jesus Christ now (I Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). You may wonder, “How can a holy God come into my life and cleanse me from all my sin?” The next several verses in John 2 explain.

“Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.’” (John 2:17). Jesus’ zeal or enthusiasm for God would ultimately lead to His death. Do we have this kind of zeal for God’s kingdom? God’s work? Are we willing to risk our lives or reputations for the Lord? This kind of enthusiasm comes from a dynamic relationship with the Lord. We cannot manufacture this kind of zeal on our own. It comes from knowing and loving Jesus!

“So the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?’ ” (John 2:18). The Jews did not question Jesus’ actions, but they did question His authority. Who does He think He is by doing this? They demanded a miraculous sign to prove He has the right to take such action. I love Jesus’ response here. He confuses them even more. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” (John 2:19). He used this statement to stimulate the thinking of these Jews. “Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ ” (John 2:20). Such a massive and enduring structure was not likely to be destroyed and rebuilt in three days.

Thanks to John’s post-resurrection perspective we know that Jesus is not speaking of destroying the literal temple, but rather He is talking about His own body – that it will be destroyed and then raised back to life. “But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.” (John 2:21-22). It is not the Jerusalem temple but the human body of Jesus that represents the presence of God. Let me remind you of something. Christianity is not about buildings. It is not about a church building. It is not even about a philosophy of life. Christianity is about a relationship with the One who died and rose again for our sins so we can have eternal life.

So the reason a holy God can come into our contaminated lives full of sin is because of Christ’s death and resurrection. God’s holiness demands that sin be punished, but His heart desires that the sinner be pardoned. Hence, God sent His Son Jesus to take the punishment you and I deserved.

The United States was shocked in 1998 by the tragic news of two young boys who opened fire on schoolchildren as they ran from their building in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Four children and a teacher were killed and five others were injured. The teacher died when she stepped forward to shield one of her sixth graders. She saved the girl but lost her own life. The teacher became her substitute and died in her place.

Jesus Christ died as our Substitute. Just as the teacher took the bullets for the young girl, Christ took the punishment for our sin and died in our place. Jesus Christ did what our good works could never do. We are saved by Christ’s dying, not by our doing. Three days after His death Jesus came back to life. By rising from the grave on the third day He proved He had conquered sin and death and that He is God (Romans 1:3-4).

Christ’s death and resurrection make it possible for a holy God to live inside of us. Praise Jesus for laying down His life so we may enjoy fellowship with Him both now and forever! While going to heaven to live with Christ in the future is extremely important, it is also important to know that Jesus wants His disciples (followers) to take sin seriously in their lives now. He wants us to trust Him to cleanse our lives of all sin and corruption. He wants us to rely on His indwelling resurrection power to help us say “NO” to sin and “YES” to the Savior.

Prayer: Precious Savior and Lord, it is mind boggling to know that the holy God of the Bible indwells every believer in Jesus Christ, including me!!! Thank You, Lord Jesus, by making this possible through Your shed blood on the cross which not only paid the penalty for all of my sins (John 19:30), but also continues to cleanse me of my daily sins so I may enjoy closeness with You (I John 1:7). Thank You for Your resurrection power which is always available to help me to say “No” to sin and “Yes” to holy living. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

What happens to a Christian who rejects Christ’s sacrifice?

Some people believe that a Christian who rejects Christ’s sacrifice or falls away from the Lord, loses his salvation or was never saved in the first place. Is this true? A common Bible passage they refer to is in Hebrews 10:26-31. Let’s take a look at this.

The author of the book of Hebrews is writing to Christians who are being pressured to return to Judaism and give up on their Christian faith. These Christians were in danger of returning to animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins instead of holding fast to the all sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:1-18; 3:12; 7:11-28; 10:1-18).

After focusing on the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross to perfect them and give them total acceptance before God (10:1-18), the writer of Hebrews admonishes his readers to boldly “draw near” to God in a “new and living way” without unbelief or consciousness of sin or guilt (10:19-22). They are to persevere in the faith (10:23) and Christian fellowship till Christ’s return (10:24-25), when the promise of the eternal inheritance will be awarded to those who persevere (cf. Heb. 9:15; 10:35-37).

The warning in Hebrews 10:26-31 applies to genuine Christians as do all the other warnings in the book of Hebrews. If one honestly looks at all the times “we” is used in this book (2:1, 3; 3:6; 4:3, 13; 7:26; 10:10, 19, 39; 12:1, 25; 13:6; et al), he would conclude that the author of Hebrews is including himself and is therefore addressing Christians. Let’s look at verse 26: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. ” The author’s use of “we” (hēmōn) in verse 26, also means he does not exclude himself from potential apostasy. The word “For” (gar) connects this section with the previous one (10:19-25) which is explicitly addressed to Christians. They are to hold fast to their Christian confession and not forsake assembling together (10:24-25). So this connective gar introduces the danger of “willfully” (10:26) not holding fast to their Christian confession and forsaking their assembling together. This danger in Hebrews 10:26-31 is the reason why they should not apostatize i.e. reject Christ’s sacrifice (10:1-18) and forsake assembling together (10:24-25).  

Nothing in the transition from the encouragement section (10:19-25) to the warning section (10:26-31) suggests a change in audience. Both sections are to genuine Christians. Notice the phrase “the knowledge of the truth” (tēn epignōsin tēn alētheias) in verse 26 does not mean mere information here in light of the context, but a genuine and personal knowledge which only a believer in Jesus can possess. The only other usages of this phrase in the New Testament refer to believers (cf. I Tim. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1). Also, the phrase in Hebrews 10:30, “His people” (ton laon autou) alludes to the fact that those who are to be judged are God’s people. They have been redeemed by Him.

To substantiate the genuineness of their Christian faith further, the author of Hebrews has already described his readers as having been “enlightened” by the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 6:4a; cf. 10:32), which leads to “tasting” or receiving the gift of eternal life (Hebrews 6:4b; cf. John 4:10; Rom. 6:23; cf. Heb. 2:9), which makes possible partnership (Hebrews 6:4c; cf. 1:9; 3:1, 14) with the Holy Spirit, under Whom they feed on the Word and taste God’s power (Hebrews 6:5). Only a believer can “fall away” from the Lord. One cannot fall away from the Lord unless he HAS the Lord. These Christians were in danger of returning to animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins instead of holding fast to the all sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:1-18; 3:12; 7:11-28; 10:1-18).

Since these are genuine Christians, we know that they have everlasting life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). Jesus promises that those who hear and believe His promise of everlasting life “shall not come into judgment” for their sins (John 5:24), including the sin of apostasy or turning away from Christ’s sacrifice. Christ guarantees that those who believe in Him will “never be cast out” of God’s family (John 6:37) nor will they ever die spiritually (John 11:25-26). No one and nothing can separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). Believers in Jesus are sealed by the Holy Spirit after hearing and believing the gospel, so that they will be safely and securely delivered to heaven in the future (Ephesians 1:13-14). God’s Word does not contradict itself. So it is important to interpret Hebrews 10:26-31 in a way that harmonizes with the clear teaching of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:15-16; Romans 4:5; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 2:16; I John 5:1, 13).

In the background of this willful sin of apostasy (10:26), is the “presumptuous” sin in which no sacrifice was provided for (Numbers 15:29-31). So when a believer apostatizes, there is no place to turn to, to secure sacrificial protection against God’s temporal wrath and retribution. To turn one’s back on the only sacrifice that God accepts, is to fall under God’s temporal judgment. An apostate changes sides so to speak, and puts himself on the side of God’s enemies (James 4:4), and can therefore experience God’s fiery wrath (cf. Hebrews 6:4-8).

When Hebrews 10:27 says, “but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries,” it means that whereas no sacrifice for sins remains, there does remain a certain fearful expectation of judgment from God. Since fear is punishment (cf. I John 4:18), the fearful expectation is itself a part of God’s judgment on the Christian who departs from the Christian faith.

A more severe punishment is also in the mind of the author of Hebrews. “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Hebrews 10:28). A quick, sure death accompanied a severe infraction of the Old Covenant (e.g. blasphemy, Lev. 24:11-16; murder, Lev. 24:17; Numbers 35:30; false prophecy, Deut. 18:20; etc.). But especially in mind here is idolatry and the rejection of the decision of a priest or judge (cf. Deut. 17:2-13), since Hebrews 10:28 alludes to Deuteronomy 17:6.

Please keep in mind that Solomon died while steeped in idolatry (I Kings 11:1-43) and yet he was a believer in the coming Messiah. God declared that Solomon would be His son and He, God, will be Solomon’s Father (I Chronicles 28:6). Hence, Solomon is a believer in the coming Messiah because he is a child of God (cf. John 1:12). Also, God used Solomon to author three books of the Bible: Proverbs (Solomon was the principal author), Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes. The Bible says that the human authors of the Bible were “holy men of God” who “spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Even though Solomon was an idolater, the Bible says he was a “holy” man of God. How can this be? He is “holy” in God’s eyes because he has been set apart from his sin and shame by virtue of his faith in the coming Messiah who would die for all of his sins – including the sin of idolatry (cf. Isaiah 53; Colossians 2:13-14).

But a worse punishment awaits a New Covenant believer who apostatizes. By using the form of a question, the writer raises the level of fear with the uncertainty involved in Hebrews 10:29: “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” This more severe punishment is not spelled out. But it is conceivable that there are worse punishments than a sure, quick death in the Old Testament.

For example, King Saul suffered a worse punishment than death as he went though prolonged manic-depression and paranoia. He also was consumed by fear and hatred (I Samuel 13:8-28:25), yet he was genuinely saved since Samuel said he would be with him after death in Paradise (I Samuel 28:19; cf. Luke 16:22; 23:43). That Saul was a genuine believer is also substantiated by the following:

We must first understand that “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). Under the law of the Old Testament, good works have nothing to do with salvation from hell. Salvation is always (in Old and New Testaments) based on the sufficient sacrifice of Christ’s death on the Cross and is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone (cf. Gen. 3:15; 4:3-5; 15:6; John 3:14-18; Rom. 3:21-5:1; Gal. 2:16; Ephes. 2:8-9; Heb. 9:11-10:18; 11:4).  

After the prophet Samuel anointed Saul to be king over Israel, he informs Saul about various signs that will take place after he leaves Samuel’s presence (I Sam. 10:1-4). Samuel tells Saul that when he comes to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is, he “will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.” (I Sam. 10:5b-6). 

The events that Samuel predicted came to pass as he said (I Sam. 10:9-11). A summary statement of these events is given in verse 9: “As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day.” (I Sam. 10:9). Verses 6 and 9 clearly refer to Saul’s conversion because how else can a person be “changed into a different person” and God change their hearts? 

It is also significant that during this encounter a group of prophets were prophesying (I Sam. 10:5, 10). It is likely that they were prophesying about the coming Messiah of Israel. After all, the apostle Peter said, “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). When Saul joined in with the prophesying of the prophets, he did so as a result of believing what they were saying about the coming Messiah. The Holy Spirit’s saving work in Saul’s life is manifested by Saul joining their prophetic testimony. Even if Saul had not prophesied, he would still be a new man with a new heart because salvation is always based upon faith alone in Jesus the Messiah. 

This Messianic hope was also understood by Moses as revealed by the writer of Hebrews “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasure of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ [literally, “the Christ” or the Messiah] greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (Heb. 11:24-26). So Moses believed in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, but he also pursued Christ for eternal rewards just as Saul should have pursued them. But Saul did not pursue Christ as he should have, and therefore, he would forfeit eternal rewards that could have been his. 

Consider King David. He should have been killed for his sins of adultery and murder (cf. Deut. 22:22; Exodus 21:12-14), but instead he went through the prolonged agony of God’s discipline for almost a year (Psalm 32:3-5; 51:8). That included physical weakening and inward grief. His vitality was dried up and he was weighed down with guilt.

This more severe judgment may also have come upon the Corinthian believers who were “weak” and “sick” and eventually died because of their mistreatment of one another at the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11:29-32; cf. 10:1-13). The wrath of God is not limited to unbelievers, as believers can also experience God’s present-day wrath in which He gives the disobedient believer over to the consequences of his sin resulting in self-destruction (Romans 1:18-32; 5:9-10; 13:4-5). Believers can be saved from God’s present-day wrath through the life of Christ living through them (Romans 6-8). One might also think of prolonged illness, insanity, loss of loved ones or other things in regard to a more severe punishment than physical death.

The reasons for such a punishment are found in Hebrews 10:29: “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” He has “trampled the Son of God underfoot.” His apostasy is an unruly trampling on the dignity and claims of Christ (cf. Heb. 6:6). He regards the sanctifying blood of the New Covenant, which “sanctified” him, as impure or unholy. Notice the apostate has been “sanctified,” which in the author’s mind is the same as justification – it is a completed action (cf. Hebrews 2:11; 10:10, 14).

The phrase “by which he was sanctified” (en hō hēgiasthē)  contains a masculine or less likely neuter relative pronoun (hō) which cannot refer back to the word “covenant” (diathēkēs) because that word is feminine and a relative pronoun must agree with its antecedent in gender and number (see Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, 1955, pp. 125-126; and see Goetchius, The Language of the New Testament, 1965, p. 336, #308). Neither can this pronoun refer back to the “Son of God” because the logical sequence of words clearly refers the subject back to the one who has “counted the blood of the covenant a common thing.” Also in the book of Hebrews Christ is the Sanctifier, not the Sanctified (Heb. 2:11; 10, 14). So the most likely antecedent is the “blood” (haima), since it agrees with the pronoun in number (singular) and gender (neuter). The “by” (en) indicates that it is by means of the blood that the apostate is sanctified. Hence, it is the apostate who is sanctified by the blood of Christ. The apostate also outraged  or “insulted the Spirit of grace” by rejecting Christ’s sacrifice for all his sins.  

In Hebrews 10:30, the author quotes from Deuteronomy 32:35-36. “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ ” Deuteronomy 32:35-43 refers to God’s severe chastisement of “His people,” not His “professing” or “ungenuine” people, and to their restoration. The author’s selection of Deuteronomy 32 is most appropriate. The description of His wrath against His unfaithful people sounds much worse than execution by stoning (Deut. 32:19-27; cf. Lamentations 4:6, 9). Deuteronomy 32:38-33 describes Israel’s lack of wisdom and the bitter effects of their idolatrous practices. Notice Deut. 32:31, “For their rock [pagan gods] is not like our Rock [Israel’s God], even our enemies themselves being judges.” Israel acknowledges the difference between their idolatrous gods and the true God they had turned from. Deuteronomy 32:34-39 then speaks of God’s judgment upon His people, after which He will restore them. Verse 40-43 in Deuteronomy 32 speak of God’s judgment upon His enemies. After judging His people (Deut. 32:35-36a), He will have compassion on them and ask them about the pagan gods they had turned to (Deut. 32:36b-37). This assumes that they survive the judgment.

Therefore, in Hebrews 10:30, the writer of Hebrews is referring to God’s temporal judgment on those who abandon their Christian confession of Him (i.e. apostate Christians). He then concludes that it is terrible to come under God’s temporal judgment. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). If any of His Christian readers were tempted to abandon their Christian faith and some were, these words of temporal judgment would have been sobering. No doubt they would be more inhibited to think about doing such a heinous thing!

Conclusion: Rather than teach that a Christian who turns away from the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ and goes back to his old religion loses his salvation or was never saved in the first place, Hebrews 10:26-31 affirms that a person who believes in Jesus Christ for everlasting life is secure forever, but it also warns of the dangers of departing from our Savior.

What happens to a believer who falls away from the Lord?

“4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” Hebrews 6:4-8

The author of Hebrews is referring here to genuine Christians who have been “enlightened” by the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 10:32; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3-6), which leads to “tasting” or receiving the gift of eternal life (John 4:10; Rom. 6:23; cf. Hebrews 2:9), which makes possible partnership (Hebrews 1:9; 3:1, 14) with the Holy Spirit, under Whom they feed on the Word and taste God’s power (Hebrews 6:4-6). Only a believer can “fall away” from the Lord. One cannot fall away from the Lord unless he has the Lord. This “falling away” refers to casting away their Christian hope (2:1; 3:13-14; 10:26) or apostasy. These Christians were in danger of returning to animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins instead of holding fast to the all sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:1-18; 3:12; 7:11-28; 10:1-18).

It is humanly “impossible… to renew” a believer who has fallen away from the Lord to repentance or a change of mind so that they come back to the Lord. Why? Because they have approached Christ the same way His enemies did who crucified Him – they put Him to “open shame” by rejecting Him (6:6b). But what is impossible for people is not impossible for God (Jeremiah 32:17; Luke 18:27). The believer who falls away from the Lord is not in danger of damnation.

We have Jesus’ guarantee that if a person comes to Him for the bread of life he or she will never need that bread again: “And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst’ ” (John 6:35). Christ promises that those who come to Him in faith will never hunger or thirst for everlasting life because it is permanent and cannot be lost. 

We also have Jesus’ word that those who come to Him in faith will never be cast out of God’s family because Jesus is determined to do the will of the Father: “37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day” (John 6:37-39). The believer will never be cast out under any circumstances because Jesus is determined to do His Father’s will which is that He loses no one. Jesus has never lost a believer and He never will. 

But someone may say, “Well, I guess it really doesn’t matter what we do once we get saved. Throw your faith away and mock Chrstianity, and you will still go to heaven!” The writer of Hebrews is telling us, “Oh yes it does matter if you throw away your Christian faith!” The apostate believer may be safe from the fires of hell, but he or she is not safe from the fire of God’s discipline as verses 7-8 teach: 

7For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; 8but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.” Hebrews 6:7-8

The writer of Hebrews uses an illustration from nature to summarize the consequences of pressing on to maturity as opposed to denying Christ. The field that produces according to the intention of the farmer is blessed, but the field that produces thorns and thistles is burned. So when a Christian is properly fruitful, God blesses. But when a believer produces a bad harvest, he is disciplined. This idea of blessing obedience and cursing disobedience is seen in Deuteronomy 27-28 as well.

When we become Christians by believing in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life, we are a lot like a plot of ground that belongs to God. And God has poured out His grace upon us like rain from heaven. And He has a right to expect that our lives will be fruitful, productive, and useful to Him and to other people. And when they are, God blesses that life. But if after we have received the blessings of His matchless grace, we produce briars, thorns, and fruits of a sin-cursed world, then God rejects that kind of a life and it falls under His temporal curse. And its destiny is to suffer the fire of His discipline.

The “thorns and briars” have worthless results (and harmful ones) of departure from the faith. Such land is disapproved (cf. I Corinthians 9:27). In this ancient practice after the land was burned, it was replanted. So even though burning is a picture of temporal judgment of the apostate, it also offers hope because of the purifying effect of the land. Just as the burning of a field was temporal and did not destroy the ground, so God’s judgment on His people is temporal and its purpose is to destroy their fruits, not them, so they can be productive once again for the Lord (cf. I Timothy 1:18-20). Keep in mind, however, that this judgment could lead to physical death (cf. I Corinthians 5:5; 11:30; I John 5:16).

But the writer of Hebrews does remind us that there are worse punishments than a sure, quick physical death as in the Old Testament. 28Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (10:28-29).

For example, King Saul suffered a worse punishment than death as he went through prolonged manic-depression and paranoia. He also was consumed by fear and hatred (I Samuel 13:8-28:25), yet he was saved since Samuel said he would be with him after death (I Samuel 28:19). Also King David should have been killed for his adultery and murder (cf. Exodus 21:12-14; Deuteronomy 22:22), but instead he went through the prolonged agony of God’s discipline for almost a year (cf. Psalm 32:3-5; 51:8). This included physical weakening and inward grief. This “worse punishment” may also have come upon some of the Corinthians who were “weak”and “sick”and eventually died (I Corinthians 11:29-32; cf. 10:1-13). The wrath of God is not limited to non-Christians, as believers can also experience God’s present-day wrath (Romans 1:18-32; 5:9-10; 13:4-5) whereby He gives the disobedient over to the consequences of their sins resulting in self-destruction. Believers can be saved from this wrath through the life of Christ living through them (Romans 6-8).

The reasons for such a punishment are found in Hebrews 10:29 above. The apostate “has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” His apostasy is an unruly trampling on the dignity and claims of Christ (cf. 6:6). He regards the sanctifying blood of the New Covenant, which sanctified him, as impure or unholy. Notice this apostate has been “sanctified” by the blood of Christ which in the author’s mind is the same as justification (cf. 2:11; 10:10, 14).

The reason it is impossible for us to renew an apostate back to repentance is because God reserves that believer for the fire of His discipline (6:8). And if repentance is ever going to happen in this life, it will only happen after they have gone through the scorching heat of God’s temporal judgment. Hebrews 10:30 says, “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’” This verse does not say God will judge the unsaved. It says “The Lord will judge His people.”

Rather than teach that a Christian who falls away from the Lord loses his salvation or was never saved in the first place, Hebrews 6:4-8 affirms the eternal security of the believer but also warns of the dangers of departing from our Savior.