Grace Theological Journal 3.1 (Spring, 1982) 67-80.
Copyright © 1982 by Grace Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.
THE ESCHATOLOGY OF THE
WARNING PASSAGES IN THE
BOOK OF HEBREWS
The prophetic portions of the warning passages in the Epistle to
the Hebrews contain broad hints as to whom these admonitions are
addressed. The notices of .judgment and the warnings of failure do
not deal with rewards for Christians but with eternal judgment and
the missing of millennial blessing.
* * *
THE Book of Hebrews fairly bristles with a number of large and
perplexing problems, such as authorship, destination, the nature
of the work, and the writer's use of the OT. At or near the apex of
questions concerned with the interpretation of this work is a con-
sideration of the warning passages. Are they directed to believers,
advising that there may be a loss of reward, or do they warn
professing believers about the danger of apostasy? Even if the warn-
ings are only hypothetical, the reader ultimately is driven back to
these two alternatives. It is quite clear the book is addressed to a
specific readership in a particular location with a definite situation in
view (cf. -34; 12:4; 13:3, 23). Because the epistle is so specific it
can hardly be said that one warning passage is directed to one group
and another warning to a different group. It seems that the writer is
addressing all the warnings to the same readership.
One great aid in determining the target of the warning passages
is the eschatology in these passages. In other words, do the passages
threaten loss of reward or the missing of salvation? If the former is
correct, the paragraphs in question are addressed to believers; if on
the other hand the eschatology deals with eternal damnation or
eternal salvation, the passages are aimed at professing believers.
It is the thesis of this article that eschatology is a determinative
factor in coming to the conclusion that the passages in question are
68 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
concerned with the danger of apostasy. There were some in the
readership who had made a profession of faith in Christ but were
seriously considering returning to Judaism. It was not a case of the
Galatian heresy where some were attempting to unite Christianity
with Judaism; on the contrary, these people were about to abandon
Christianity to slip back to the works system of Judaism.
A crucial point in this section is the meaning of "salvation" in
v 3: ". . . how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" Does
it refer to believers' rewards or to ultimate salvation? For several
reasons, the word must be understood eschatologically and soterio-
First, the same noun is used in , where the writer says angels
are rendering service for the heirs of salvation. It is obvious that the
noun swthri<a is used in in the ultimate sense.
The salvation here spoken of lies in the future; it is yet to be
inherited, even if its blessings can already be enjoyed in anticipation.
That is to say, it is that eschatological salvation which, in Paul's words,
is now "nearer to us than when we first believed" (Rom. ) or, in
Peter's words, is "ready to be revealed in the last time" (I Pet. 1:5). Our
author does not need to explain to his readers what he means by this
salvation; the term and its meaning are familiar to them already. What
they do need to understand is the fearful danger to which they will be
exposed if they treat this salvation lightly.1
However, someone may object that the question is not the
meaning of "salvation" in but in 2:3. This criticism sounds valid,
but it must be noted that the author of Hebrews often uses "hook
words," i.e., vocabulary that is employed both at the end of one
paragraph and at the beginning of the next to link units of thought
together.2 It appears that "salvation" is one of those hook words.
(This is confirmed by the use of dia> tou?to in 2: 1.) The noun swthri<a
in 2:3 must then have the same meaning as it does in , that is,
eschatological deliverance. Buchanan agrees with this concept:
"Salvation" in the Old Testament usually refers either to deliver-
ance of a nation from the power of the enemy at war, or to receiving a
pardon or verdict of "not guilty" in a court case. For the author of
1 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT;
2 Neil R. Lightfoot, Jesus Christ Today: A Commentary on the Book of Hebrews
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976); 48-49.
TOUSSAINT: WARNING PASSAGES IN HEBREWS 69
Hebrews it refers to the deliverance that the Son provides when God
makes his "enemies a footstool for [his] feet" (), and the Son utilize
"the staff of justice" (1:8) to rule over his people.3
There is a second reason why the salvation must be eschatological;
v 5 clearly defines it in such a manner. In that passage the writer
refers to ". . . the world to come, concerning which we are speaking."
The salvation certainly involves an eschatological age. In discussing
the phrase th>n oi]koume<nhn th>n me<llousan, Westcott states:
the phrase is not to be understood simply of 'the future life' or,
more generally, of 'heaven'. It describes, in relation to that which we
may call its constitution, the state of things which, in relation to its
development in time, is called 'the age to come' (o[ me<llwn ai]w<n), and,
in relation to its supreme Ruler and characteristics, 'the Kingdom of
God,' or 'the Kingdom of heaven,' even the order which corresponds
with the completed work of Christ.4
Michel in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says,
"Hb. 2:5 clearly represents the old apocalyptic phrase xBAha MlAOf.5
There is a third factor that enters into the understanding of
salvation in Heb 2:3. This is found in the clause of the same verse,
"After it was at the first spoken through the Lord. . . ." The Greek
text has h!tij a]rxh>n labou?sa lalei?sqai dia> tou? kuriou?. "This
singular made of expression suggests somewhat more than the simple
fact of having first been spoken, and implies that the teaching of the
Lord was the true origin of the Gospel."6 This can hardly be the
doctrine of justification by faith. That truth had been m effect SInce
man sinned (Heb 11:4; Gen 15:6; Ps 32:1; Hab 2:4). Nor can it refer
to rewards, for this doctrine also is found in the OT (Dan 12:3). The
salvation which received a beginning in the preaching of Christ was
the kingdom and its nearness. Bruce comments:
It had, of course, been proclaimed in advance by the prophets; but
not until the coming of Christ, when promise gave place to fulfillment,
could it be effectively brought near. The note of fulfilment was heard
when Jesus came into
"preaching the gospel of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the
1:14f), and when, as in the synagogue at
3 George Wesley Buchanan, To the Hebrews (AB; Garden City: Doubleday, 1972) 25.
4 Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (
5 TDNT, s.v. "oi]koume<nh," by Otto Michel, 5 (1967): 159.
6 Westcott, Hebrews 39.
70 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
of Isa. 61:1f. which announce "good tidings to the poor" and "release
to the captives", and proclaim "the acceptable year of the Lord", and
followed them with the declaration: "Today hath this scripture been
fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:18ff).7
The kingdom was based on the death and resurrection of the
Messiah, but it is not limited to that. The writer is looking beyond
forensic imputation to the age to come so graphically proclaimed by
the Lord Jesus. That is the salvation which is in view.
The fourth evidence in favor of seeing the salvation in this
passage as being eschatological is the usage of a(swthri<a in Hebrews.
It is found seven times in the book (; 2:3, 10; 5:9; 6:9; ; 11:7).
The occurrences in and 2:3 quite clearly are prophetic in nature.
The reference in is in the context of bringing sons to glory, an
obvious reference to the Christian's future life. In 5:9, the salvation is
described as "eternal." The meaning in 6:9 is not so clear; it may,
however, look at eternal salvation. The author expects the readers to
bear fruit in their lives as those who are heirs of salvation. In ,
swthri<a is the goal of Christ's second coming. In 11:7, it is used of
Noah's deliverance in the flood and therefore does not relate to the
subject at hand. Quite clearly then, the writer of Hebrews looks at
salvation as being eschatological. The occurrence in 11:7 does not
pertain to Christians. The only debatable uses are in 2:3 and 6:9, both
of. which probably refer to ultimate deliverance.
It should be noted that the salvation in view cannot refer to
believer's rewards. The context has retribution in view in contrast to
salvation. The argument is a fortiori. If disobedience to .the angelic
message brought just recompense, how much more will there be
judgment on those who disregard the good news of a salvation that
bears fruit in the coming age? At the judgment seat of Christ there
will be no remembrance of sin (Heb ; ; Jer 31:34; Ps 103:12).
The paragraph is looking at eschatological salvation and therefore is
a warning to the professing readers of Hebrews not to jettison
Christianity in favor of Judaism.
The warning here is for readers to fear coming short of the
promised rest. The crux interpretum is the meaning of "rest." The
vocabulary used is kata<pausij (, 18; 4:1,3 [twice], 5, 10, 11),
katapau<w (4:4, 8, 10) and sabbatismo<j (4:9). The noun kata<pausij
was employed in classical Greek to mean "a putting to rest, causing to
cease," but in the LXX and NT it lost its causal sense and simply
7 Bruce, Hebrews. 29.
WARNING PASSAGES IN HEBREWS 71
meant "rest, repose.8 The verb katapau<w has a transitive meaning in
4:8, where the writer refers to Joshua's failure to give
In Heb 4:4 it takes an intransitive sense, where God is said to have
rested from his creative work. The noun sabbatismo<j is an NT
hapax legomenon and means "Sabbath rest, Sabbath observance.9
As one studies the passage he comes to the conclusion the writer
of Hebrews is looking at several facets of rest. First, there is the
seventh-day rest of God when he ceased from his creative work (4:4,
There is a second aspect of rest, the rest which involved
taking the promised land (, 18-19). That the conquest of the land
was viewed as a form of rest is seen in such passages as Deut 3:20;
12:9; 25: 19; Josh 11 :23; ; 22:4, and 23: 1. The third facet of rest in
Hebrews 3 and 4 is the promised rest. Here is the difficulty. What is
There are a number who take the promised rest to be eternal
bliss,10 and several factors support this position. First, the promise of
entering the rest (4: 1) implies that the blessing is a future one
(cf. ). Second, the heavenly estate described in refers to
Others say that the rest in view is the present Christian experience
of peace.11 Some who hold this position say that the existing rest for
the Christian finds its ultimate completion in eternity. Several lines of
evidence are used to support this interpretation. For one, the verb
ei]serxomeqa in 4:3 is present tense, which implies that this is to be
the present experience of believers who walk with God. However, this
may well be a futuristic present such as one finds in Matt ; John
14:3; and 1 Cor 16:5. Turner affirms that such Occurrences are ". . .
confident assertions intended to arrest attention with a vivid and
realistic tone or else with imminent fulfillment in mind. . . .12 Quite
8 G. Abbott Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the
New Testament (
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1937), 237.
9 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon C?f the New
Testament and Other Earl.v Christian Literature (
10 Representative of this group are Bruce, Hebrews, 77-79; Thomas Hewitt, The
Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 89; Philip Edgcumbe Hughes,
A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 161-
Homer A. Kent, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary (
Baker, I 972}, 86-87; Lightfoot, Hebrews, 96-97; Westcott, Hebrews, 98-99.
11 Representative are W. H. Griffith
Thomas, Let Us Go On (
Zondervan, n.d.), 45-50; Clarence S. Roddy, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1962), 46-48; Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible New
American Standard Translation (Chicago: Moody, 1976), 1841; R. B. Thieme, Jr., The
Faith-Rest Life (Houston: R. B. Thieme, Jr., 1961), 22-49.
12 Nigel Turner, Svntax, James Hope Moulton, ed., A Grammar of New Testament
Greek, Vol. 3 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963), 63.
72 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
obviously, this kind of use in Heb 4:3 would catch the reader's
There is a second line of support for taking this to be the peace
of God in one's heart as he walks with God. It may be that the
invitation of Christ Jesus in Matt 11:28-30 parallels this passage. Of
course, the Lord's solicitation in Matthew 11 is a call to rest, but does
that prove that this is the meaning in Hebrews? The idea of peace in
the Christian's walk is completely biblical, but this by no means
confirms that concept here.
The third support for taking this to be the Christian's present
experience is typology. Thus, the Exodus is said to portray redemp-
tion, the wilderness wanderings illustrate the pre-rest walk of the
believer, and being in the land looks to the faith-rest walk. This line
of evidence has its own seeds of destruction in it. The writer of
Hebrews specifically notes that neither Joshua nor David, who were
in the land, gave the people rest (Heb 4:7-8)! Not only does every
support for this view lose its force when fully considered; there are
formidable objections to it. For one, the words of Heb -13
oppose such an interpretation. These verses are not words of assurance
but warning. That they explain the preceding verse is obvious from
the yap with which v 12 is introduced. It is an admonition which
predicts judgment for those who do not enter rest. A second objection
rests on the instruction of . There the writer says that the readers
are to cease from works as God did. The clear implication of the
faith-rest view is that God's works were bad! In other words, the
viewpoint which takes this passage as referring to the Christian's
intimate walk with God and the peace which results from it enjoins
the Christian to cease from his law-works, his striving, his fleshly
labors, and simply to trust in God. If the parallel is carried out in
, then God's works were also carnal and fleshly strivings.
A third interpretation takes this rest of 3:7-4:13 to anticipate the
coming millennial kingdom age.13 A number of factors point to this
as the best interpretation.
First, in Heb 4: 1, the promise to enter God's rest remains for
those who receive it. The promise implies that it is futuristic in
Second, Psalm 95, the basis for the entire warning section and
the source of the admonition concerning rest, is an enthronement
Psalm.14 Regarding this type of psalm Kaiser says, "Therefore, each
13 Representatives of this viewpoint are Buchanan, Hebrews, 64-74; G. H. Lang,
The Epistle to the Hebrews (London: Paternoster, 1951),75-80; Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.,
"The Promise Theme and the Theology of Rest," BSac 130 (1973), 138-50.
14 Christoph Barth, Introduction
to the Psalms (
Sons, 1966), 21.
TOUSSAINT: WARNING PASSAGES IN HEBREWS 73
of these psalms alike tells the story of a divine kingdom which is yet
to be set up on the earth.15 In other words, the theme of the
enthronement psalms is clearly eschatological and anticipates the rule
of the Lord on this planet (cf. Ps 93:1-2; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1). The "rest"
of Psalm 95 must therefore anticipate the millennium.
Third, the concept of sabbvatismo<j (Heb 4:9) was used in Jewish
literature to refer to the kingdom age. This has been noted by many.16
In the Jewish prayer after sabbath meals the petition is made, "May
the All-merciful let us inherit the day which shall be wholly a Sabbath
and rest in the life everlasting.17 Buchanan asserts that the Epistle to
the Hebrews is so steeped in the OT that the concept of rest cannot be
limited to a spiritual interpretation but must include national and
earthly concepts; in fact, he feels that any other interpretation is
Andreasen's view is an illustration of this.19 While he acknowl-
edges the OT expectation of a Jewish earthly kingdom in the term
"rest," he goes on to give the word a limited spiritual meaning in
Hebrews. Westcott does the same. He says, "The Jewish teachers
dwelt much upon the symbolical meaning of the Sabbath as pre-
figuring 'the world to come.20 But having said this he goes on to
take this to be eternity. It certainly is more logical to say that the NT
theology of rest is founded on OT doctrine.
A fourth factor supports the idea of a millennial rest as being in
the mind of the writer of Hebrews. The OT refers to the kingdom age
as being a time of rest (Ps 132:12-14; Isa ; 14:3; 32:18; 34:15).
Fifth, the "rest" spoken of in Psalm
95 clearly involved
dwelling in the land; therefore, the promised rest can scarcely be
divorced from settlement in the land.
Sixth, Heb 4:8 speaks of another prophetic "day." This clearly is
a period of time and is explained in 4:9 as the sabbath rest.
Seventh, the rest was prepared from the foundation of the world
(Heb 4:3-4) just as the kingdom was (Matt 25:34). This explains why
Christ was employed in healing on the Jewish sabbath in John 5. The
ultimate sabbath had not yet come so Christ with his Father was
working to bring in that ultimate sabbath or kingdom age. It should
15 Kaiser, "Promise Theme," 142.
16 Westcott, Hebrews, 98-99; cr. Bruce, Hebrews, 75; Buchanan, Hebrews, 73;
Hughes, Hebrews, 161.
17 Encyclopaedia of Religion
and Ethics, S.v. "Sabbath (Jewish)" by
18 Buchanan, Hebrews, 64-65, 72-74.
19 Neils-Erik Andreasen, Rest and
20 Westcott, Hebrews, 98.
74 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
be noted that this idea of a sabbath day being the millennial age is no
recent, innovative interpretation. It dates back at least to the Epistle
of Barnabas in the early second century.
By way of conclusion to this section it may be said that there are
three "rests" in these paragraphs of Hebrews. First, there is God's
cessation from His creation work. This rest will be manifested in the
kingdom age when redeemed mankind enters His inheritance. The
second rest was
under Joshua. This is a picture of the kingdom rest. The third rest is
the promised rest which actually is God's rest which comes to man in
Here then is the warning. If the readers were mere professors and
rejected Christ in order to go back to the works system of Judaism,
they would be excluded from the promised kingdom age or God's
This warning, infamous for its difficulty, has little to say eschato-
logically. The only prophetic statement is made by illustration and
implication in vv 7-8. There the writer warns, "For ground that
drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation
useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from
God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to
being cursed, and it ends up being burned.21
Obviously, some kind of judgment is in view here. But is it a
judgment to determine believers' rewards or is it the condemnation of
the lost? Those who claim the former position point to the consump-
tion of the Christian's works by flame in 1 Corinthians 3 as being
parallel with v 8 here. Is this, however, the best interpretation?
There is no solid evidence that the picture portrays the damnation
of the lost. No comfort can be derived from the clause "close to being
cursed" in v 7. The same vocabulary is employed in for a certain
and imminent doom. In other words, the worthless ground was
destined to be cursed soil, scarcely the kind of vocabulary to be used
of a Christian, even if he was carnal! Furthermore, the contrast
between the two verses seems to portray the condition of the earth
before the fall and after. In its Edenic state it was blessed and
productive; after the sin of Adam it was cursed and in need of
redemption.22 Bruce compares the analogy to the vineyard song of
5.23 In either case the figure graphically portrays
21 NASB. All extended quotations are from the NASB.
22 Buchanan, Hebrews, 110.
23 Bruce, Hebrews, 124-25.
TOUSSAINT: WARNING PASSAGES IN HEBREWS 75
received the blessings of promises, covenants, the law, the Scriptures,
and the name of Jehovah. If, however, the people failed to respond to
the Messiah, the only destiny was eternal
"The whole tenor of the passage demands retribution and destruction
as the emphatic point.24 Also, as Hewitt notes, "The context does
not favour the suggestion that the piece of ground should be burnt by
man to improve it. . . .25 The threefold progression in v 8 of
worthless, cursed, and burned hardly looks at the life of a believer in
Christ. Finally, the contrast with v 9 implies that a distinction is being
drawn between the future of the lost and saved. As was noted before,
swthri<a in Hebrews when used of Christians anticipates eschato-
logical salvation.26 This is the destiny of the redeemed; v 8 looks to
the future of the damned.
This fourth warning section has a great deal to do with future
judgment and some with the promise of future blessing. In this
paragraph the writer declares:
For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of
the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain
terrifying expectation of judgment, and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH
WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.
Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who
has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean
the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted
the Spirit of grace?
For we know Him who said, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY."
And again, "THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE."
It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you
endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly, by being made a public
spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming
sharers with those who were so treated.
For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully
the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a
better possession and an abiding one.
24 Kent, Hebrews, 115.
25 Hewitt, Hebrews, 109.
26 Cf. p. 68.
76 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Therefore, do not throwaway your confidence, which has a great
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the
will of God, you may receive what was promised.
FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING
WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY.
BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIFE BY FAITH; AND IF
HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM.
But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of
those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.
This paragraph is the most severe of the five warning sections.
Perhaps this is due to the degree of sin and the descriptions of the
rebellion committed by those who fall into the peril of the warning.
They are guilty of willful sin, outright defiance of God (v 26; cf. Num
-36). The disannulling of the law of Moses described in v 28
looks back to Deut 17:2-6. The context of that OT passage deals with
Israelites who abandoned the worship of Jehovah to go into idolatry
or the veneration of other gods. In v 29 the writer of Hebrews
describes the sins of those who apostatize as trampling under foot
(katapate<w) the Son of God, of regarding (h[ge<omai, a sin of the
intellect) as unclean the blood of the covenant, and of insulting the
Spirit of grace. In this last sin the verb is e]nubri<zw, a compounded
verb which describes the awesome violence of God's holy name by
insolence.27 It here parallels the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matt
; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10).
Sprinkled throughout these descriptions of sin and rebellion are
allusions to eschatology, particularly the coming of judgment and the
promise of blessing.
In several verses there is the prediction of judgment. The first
allusion to this judgment is found in the connective yap in v 26. Quite
clearly this particle introduces an explanation of the significance of
the approaching day referred to in the preceding verse. That day,
while it will be a time of vindication and deliverance for God's
people, will bring condemnation for the lost as is seen in this passage.
Westcott succinctly asserts, "The mention of 'the day' in v. 25 calls
out the sad severity of the warning which follows.28
The judgment is described more fully in Heb 10:27, the verse
which follows. The description is very interesting and significant. To
explain what the judgment involves the writer of Hebrews quotes
27 The only occurrence of e]nubri<zw in the LXX is in Lev 24:11 where it describes
28 Westcott, Hebrews, 327.
TOUSAINT: WARNING PASSAGES IN HEBREWS 77
from Isa 26:11, a passage which contrasts the righteous with the
wicked. Specifically, the lost are referred to as "enemies." The Greek
term u[penanti<oj describes what is "opposed to, opposite or contrary
to.29 This assize can hardly be a reference to believers' rewards! The
awesomeness of this judgment is emphasized by the vocabulary. "The
terror of the expectation is brought out by a more literal rendering of
the words, 'a certain fearful expectation of judgment' (ASY); the
indefinite 'a certain' leaves it somewhat open to the reader's imagina-
tion to fill in the gruesome details of that judgment.30 Certainly, as
Wescott puts it, "Such a judgment (c.ix.27) would be, for those whom
the Apostle describes, condemnation.31
This future judgment of the lost is further described in v 29
where the writer uses an a fortiori argument. The punishment inflicted
for highhanded or willful disobedience was death (Deut 17:2-6). If
this was true in the OT for defiance of the law, how much worse will
be God's judgment for scorning the Son of God (cf. 2:2)? What would
be worse than physical death but eternal perdition? "The judgment
awaiting those who will not trust for their salvation in the sacrifice of
Christ must consist of eternal loss in hell. It is pictured as a fire that is
almost personified and is possessed of zeal which is about to consume
the opponents of Christ.32
The quotations in v 30 taken from the Song of Moses in Deut
32:35-36 first sets forth the principle that God avenges his enemies.
This first quotation is not taken directly from the Hebrew or LXX
and may be a well-known proverb adapted from Deut 32:35.33 While
the objects of the warning in Deut 32:35 are Israelites, unbelieving
Jews are in view. As Hughes asserts, "This God whom they have
confessed as the God of grace and mercy is also the God of holiness
and justice: faithfulness to his covenant leads to blessing, but rebellion
means retribution.34 The second quotation from Deut 32:36 predicts
God's vindication of his people,
passages together describe the deliverance of
judgment of those who do not trust in Messiah. Bruce comments,
"This certainly means that He will execute judgment on their behalf,
vindicating their cause against their enemies, but also that, on the
same principles of impartial righteousness, He will execute judgment
against them when they forsake His covenant.35
29 The only other NT occurrence is in Col 2: 14.
30 Lightfoot, Hebrews, 194.
31 Westcott, 329.
32 Kent, Hebrews, 205.
33 The same saying is found in
34 Hughes, Hebrews. 425.
35 Bruce, Hebrews, 262-63.
78 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Further reference to judgment is found in v 31 of Hebrews 10.
While the verse parallels David's statement, "Let us now fall into the
hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great" (2 Sam 24:14), the context
is pointedly judgmental. For a believer it is a merciful thing to fall
into the hands of a loving God, but for apostates it is punitive and
Not until Heb 10:37-38 is the next reference to judgment given. It
is a quotation from Hab 2:3-4. In an article of this length it is quite
impossible to discuss the problems of quotation in this passage. It
may be summarized by saying that the writer of Hebrews introduces
the Habakkuk quotation by using Isa 26:20, "For yet in a very little
while." The passage from Habakkuk is a free citation of the LXX
text. In the use of the quotation, the NT writer refers to the one who
draws back. The nature of this failure is not spelled out; however, it is
quote clear that it refers to an apostate. In such a one God takes no
V 39 portrays the destiny of the one who "shrinks back." For
him the end is (i,7tWAEtav. Concerning this noun
. . . means destruction or ruin, and is commonly used in the New
Testament of eternal destruction. Such passages as Matthew 7:13;
Romans 9:22; Philippians ; ; and 1 Timothy 6:9 reveal this
aspect of the word. Both Judas and the Antichrist are called 'the son of
perdition' (John ; 2 Thess. 2:3), because of the eternal torment
and ruin which their heinous deeds will bring. The usage of apoleia
here makes it clear that the judgment described in this context is not
just a chastening of God's people but the final destruction of apostates.36
This fourth warning section not only contains eschatology antici-
pating judgment; it also looks ahead to promise. The first reference to
this blessing is found in where there is mention of a better and
abiding possession. As the Lord had promised in Matt 6:20, they had
laid up treasure in heaven. Peter also describes the imperishable
quality of the Christian's inheritance (1 Pet 1:4). The Hebrew believer's.
eschatology in this time of persecution would be a real source of
encouragement to him.
V 35 refers to the reward that comes from confidence. This is not
the same as the rewards given in I Corinthians 3 and 2 Corinthians 5.
Very interestingly, misqapodosi<a occcurs only in Hebrews (2:2; ;
). In 2:2 it is used of punishment and in the other two references it
has the positive idea of blessing. This noun, derived from misqo<j and
a]podi<dwmi, looks at a payment of wages. Quite clearly, this is the glory
TOUSSAINT: WARNING PASSAGES IN HEBREWS 79
which awaits God's child (Rom ). Hughes explains, "'The relation-
ship of the present pilgrimage to the future reward is the relationship of
faith to hope, as the quotation which follows teaches (vv 37 and 38)
and the next chapter so amply illustrates.37
What the reward involves is stated more clearly in . It
consists of receiving "what was promised." The Greek literally says
"the promise." The verb used in this verse, komi<cw, is used with the
promise in and 39. This can hardly be accidental. In both of the
occurrences in chap. 11 this vocabulary anticipates the millennium.
The promise then looks ahead to life in Christ's earthly kingdom.
V 39 explains this as "the preserving of the soul." Bruce interprets
the phrase ei]j peripoi<hsin yuxh?j ". . . a variant expression for
zh<setai in the Habakkuk quotation in v. 38.38 "To possess and
preserve one's soul is the essence of salvation.39
In summary of the eschatology of the fourth warning it may be
said that the promise of life is made and the warning of eternal
perdition is issued for apostates.
This fifth warning section is based on Hag 2:6, a passage which is
predictive and eschatological. The argument here is another a fortiori
one. The writer is looking back to
"on earth" as v 25 states. Today Christ who is in heaven warns
through his earthly messengers. If the voice on earth brought in-
escapable judgment, how much more the voice from heaven (cf.
2:2-3). From what those who were disobedient did not escape is left
unstated. It could be the judgment of death for flagrant disregard of
the law or it may be the failure to enter the promised land. Probably
it is the latter alternative since that entire generation failed in this
To make the point even more forceful and vivid Hag 2:6 is
quoted, "Yet once more I will shake not only earth, but also the
heaven." That passage looks back to the shaking of Sinai.40 The
primary problem here is how literal one is to take the future shaking
of earth and heaven.
Although some interpret the prophecy metaphorically as referring
to the upheavals accomplished by Christ's first coming in its effect
37 Hughes, Hebrews, 432.
38 Bruce, Hebrews, 275.
39 Kent, Hebrews, 215.
40 Cf. Exod 19:18; Judg 5:4-5; Ps 68:8; 77:18.
80 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
upon Jewish worship and politics, the parallelism with the former
shaking makes this view unlikely. The first shaking was physical and
geographical at Sinai. There is no good reason to take this second
shaking of the earth and the heavens above it in any less literal sense.41
The writer goes on to say that the only things which will remain
after this are those things which cannot be shaken. This is not looking
at the judgment seat of Christ where the believer's works and motives
are to be tried by fire. The contrast is between the saved and lost.
This fits with the conclusion in v 28. It is a kingdom which the
Christian will receive, not simply rewards in the kingdom.42
Finally, the concept of God as a consuming fire fits the idea of
the judgment of condemnation. Hewitt affirms, "At the second
advent of Jesus Christ, just as the material and transitory will
disappear and the eternal and permanent will remain, so what is false
and vile will be revealed in the fire of God's holiness and those whose
characters are such will be consumed by the fire of His judgment.43
In all five warning passages of Hebrews the thing to be avoided
by the original readers of that discourse was not loss of believers'
rewards but loss of salvation. Quite clearly the writer knew of a group
in that early congregation who had made professions of faith in Jesus
Christ but were in peril of jettisoning their confessions to apostatize
and lapse back into Judaism. The prophetic elements in the warnings
confirm this interpretation.
41 Kent, Hebrews, 275.
42 The present participle paralamba<nontej is both present and futuristic. The
kingdom is received in the present time by faith; its realization is future. Cf. II :39-40.
43 Hewitt, Hebrews, 204.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Grace Theological Seminary
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: email@example.com