Wednesday, September 7, 2022

A Refutation of Compassion Church

On the website of a church that’s located a short distance from where I live, we read the following concerning some of their ”core beliefs”:


Christians are people who have invited the Lord Jesus Christ to come and live inside them by His Holy Spirit. They relinquish the authority of their lives over to him thus making Jesus the Lord of their life as well as Savior. They put their trust in what Jesus accomplished for them when He died, was buried, and rose again from the dead.


We go on to read the following concerning Compassion Church’s doctrinal position regarding the destiny of Christians and the rest of mankind:


We believe that Heaven and Hell are both very real. It can be scary to think about what will happen after we die. However, we know that those who put their faith and trust in Jesus and make Him the Lord of their life will spend eternity together with Him in Heaven. Unfortunately, for those who do not choose Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they will spend eternity separated from God in Hell.


Heaven - Luke 24:16, 36, 39; John 2:19-21, 20:26-28, 21:4; Acts 24:15; I Corinthians 15:42, 44; Philippians 1:21-23, 3:21


Hell - Matthew 25:41; Mark 9:43-48; Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 14:9-11, 20:12-15, 21:8


In the above doctrinal statement we read that it is those who make [Jesus] the Lord of their life” who will “spend eternity together with Him in Heaven.” The idea that we have to “make Jesus the Lord of our life” is not scriptural. According to Scripture, Jesus is already the Lord of everyoneregardless of whether or not one realizes it (or is presently submitted to him as Lord). When God roused his Son from among the dead he gave him all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18), and thus made him Lord of all (Acts 2:36; 10:36; Rom. 10:9, 12; cf. 1 Cor. 11:3). In Romans 14:8-9 we read that the reason “Christ died and lives” is to “be Lord of the dead as well as of the living.” Since every human being is either alive or dead, Christ is necessarily Lord of the entire human race. And this, of course, includes everyone who has died (or who will die) in unbelief.


But what does it mean for Jesus to be “Lord?” According to the New American Standard Greek Lexicon, the title “lord” refers to someone “to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has power of deciding,” and “the possessor and disposer of a thing.” Such is the case with Christ. Jesus’ status as “Lord” means that he has power and authority over others, and can make decisions concerning those over whom he has authority. It also implies that he is responsible for the welfare of those of whom he is Lord.


Because God made his Son “Lord of all,” it necessarily follows that Jesus has power and authority over all, whether living or dead. And this means that, if it’s Christ’s intent to ultimately save all sinners and reconcile them to God (and it is, as is evidenced by the fact that he died for all), then he has the power and authority to bring this about. And this means that dying in unbelief is no obstacle at all to being saved by Christ. 


Christ can just as easily resurrect unbelievers and then transform them into loyal, obedient servants of God as he was able to save Paul on the road to Damascus. No prior “willingness” on the part of those yet to be saved by Christ is required in order for Christ to save them. As was so clearly manifested in the dramatic calling of the apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-22), Christ can exercise his authority to bring about the salvation of any of the sinners he came into the world to save without the sinner doing or believing anything beforehand to “qualify” for salvation. It is completely within Christ’s power to eradicate unbelief from the heart of even the most stubborn of sinners, and to produce within them the unfeigned love and heartfelt obedience by which God is glorified.[1]


Since no one who is in need of being saved is their own Lord, their salvation is not up to them. It is, instead, up to the One who is their Lord. And this simple fact completely destroys the position that anyone will spend “eternity separated from God in Hell.” Having received all authority in heaven and on earth from God, there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can prevent Christ from accomplishing the salvation of every single sinner for whom he died. As Lord of all, Christ is able to subject all to himself by the same operation that will result in the vivification of believers (Phil. 3:21). And, at the consummation of his reign, Christ is ultimately going to use his God-given authority to bring about this universal state of affairs so that God may be “All in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).


Notice, also, that in the above doctrinal statement we’re told that it is those who put their faith and trust in Jesus and make Him the Lord of their life” who will spend eternity together with Him in Heaven. The implication is that it is only those who do so who will be saved, and that one must do this before one dies. However, most Christians also believe that every human who dies in infancy and early childhood (as well as many who die in a mentally handicapped condition) will be saved despite not having “put their faith and trust in Jesus” before they died. Thus, most Christians (including the leadership of Compassion Church) have either not thought through what they believe very carefully, or – if they have – are simply being inconsistent here. For the exception that most Christians are willing to make for infants/young children (and many mentally handicapped people) completely invalidates their belief that only “those who put their faith and trust in Jesus” before they die will ever be saved, and that everyone else will “spend eternity separated from God in Hell.”


Notice, also, the words, ”[Christians] put their trust in what Jesus accomplished for them when He died, was buried, and rose again from the dead.” This statement raises the following question: What, exactly, did Jesus accomplish for those on whose behalf he died? As I’ve argued in greater depth elsewhere (click here), when Christ died he secured the salvation of every sinner for whom he died. In fact, it’s this very truth that’s being communicated in the words “Christ died for our sins” (as found in 1 Corinthians 15:3, where Paul reminded his readers of the gospel that he’d heralded to them). That is, to believe that “Christ died for our sins” is to believe that Christ died to secure the removal of our sins (i.e., so that our sins would be eliminated as a source of condemnation). And this means that everyone for whom Christ died – which is all mankind – shall be justified (as we find affirmed by Paul in Romans 5:18-19).


Thus, in contrast with what’s being implied in the above doctrinal statement, it is not at all the case that only those who “put their faith and trust in Jesus” before they die will be saved. The gospel itself contradicts this idea. Moreover, those who believe that the majority of sinners are never going to be saved (and that only “Christians” are going to “spend eternity together with Jesus in heaven”) are not actually putting their trust in what Jesus accomplished. Instead of trusting in what Jesus accomplished (i.e., the securing of every sinner’s salvation), most Christians are, instead, believing the false idea that Jesus merely made our salvation possible when he died, and didn’t actually secure the salvation of anyone. For those who believe this false gospel, it’s not what Jesus did (or will do) that actually secures the salvation of sinners. Rather, according to what most Christians believe, it’s their own decision (i.e., their decision to repent and to “believe on Christ”) that actually secures their salvation. 


Instead of revealing that only “Christians” will be saved, Paul wrote that God is “the Savior of all mankind, especially of believers” (1 Tim. 4:10). For God to be the Savior of any group of people means that they will be saved. And since the word “especially” doesn’t mean “exclusively,” we can conclude that all mankind – and not just believers – will be saved by God. Although believers are being saved first (hence Paul’s use of the word “especially”), God remains the Savior of the rest of those who constitute “all mankind.” And since Paul made a distinction between believers and the rest of “all mankind,” we can conclude that the rest of “all mankind” consists entirely of unbelievers. Since, therefore, God is the Savior of all unbelievers, it follows that all who die in unbelief will ultimately be saved by God (otherwise, God wouldn’t be “the Savior of all mankind, especially of believers”; he would instead be the Savior of believers only).


Moreover (and as I’ve argued in greater depth elsewhere; see, for example, the following two-part article), the salvation that Paul had in mind as being “especially” for believers – i.e., for those to whom God has given the faith to believe on Christ in this lifetime – is a salvation that will be enjoyed during the future period of time that Paul referred to as “the oncoming eons” (Ephesians 2:7-9; cf. Eph. 1:13-14), and will involve being alive throughout the duration of these future eons and enjoying an allotment in the kingdom of God. It is this salvation that is referred to elsewhere as (literally) “life eonian” (Luke 18:30; John 3:15-16; Acts 13:48; Rom. 6:23; 1 Tim. 1:16; Titus 1:1-2; 3:4-7). This is the salvation from which unbelievers will be excluded. 


But the exclusion of unbelievers from this salvation is perfectly consistent with their being eventually saved, for “the oncoming eons” during which they'll remain unsaved are the eons of Christ’s future reign. And it's evident from what Paul revealed in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 that Christ’s reign is not going to continue without end. In this passage we read that Christ is eventually going to be “giving up the kingdom to His God and Father,” and that Christ ”must be reigning until He should be placing all His enemies under His feet.” The word “until” expresses the idea that, when all of Christ’s enemies have been subjected to him, he will cease to reign (for there will no longer be a need for him to continue reigning). This idea is also being expressed in the words, “then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him Who subjects all to Him…” Christ’s subjection to his God and Father at this time will consist of his giving up the kingdom to his God and Father.


A consideration of Compassion Church’s “Hell” verses 


Of the verses referenced by Compassion Church in support of the doctrine of “Hell,” the only passage in which the word “hell” actually occurs (at least, in most modern English Bibles) is Mark 9:43-48. However, the Greek word used in these verses (i.e., géenna or “Gehenna”) is a transliteration of the Hebrew term Gêhinnōm, and literally means “Valley of Hinnom” (or “Hinnom Valley”). Rather than referring to a subterranean or otherworldly place of “eternal torment,” the location that Christ had in mind when he spoke of “Gehenna” is a literal valley in Israel that forms the western and southern border of the old city of Jerusalem.


After Christ returns to earth at the end of this eon to restore the kingdom to Israel, this valley will be used for the disposal (and incineration) of the corpses of those who rebel against God. This will fulfill the following words of Isaiah’s closing prophecy:


“They will go out and observe the corpses of those who rebelled against me, for the maggots that eat them will not die, and the fire that consumes them will not die out. All people will find the sight abhorrent.”


It is this future state of affairs described in Isaiah 66:24 that Christ was referring to whenever he spoke of “Gehenna” during his public ministry. Thus, although “Gehenna” (i.e., Hinnom Valley) will be a place of future judgment during the eon to come, it will not be a place where anyone will “spend eternity separated from God” (for a more in-depth defense of this understanding of “Gehenna,” click the following link for part one of my study on this subject: The “hell” of which Jesus Christ spoke).


With regard to Matthew 25:41, a more accurate translation of the expression used in this verse to refer to the fate of those of whom Christ was speaking (i.e., the “goats”) is “fire eonian” (and not “eternal fire”). The Greek word translated “eternal” in the most commonly-read Bibles doesn't actually mean “without end” (for a more in-depth defense of this point, see part two of my article on John 3:16: http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2021/09/why-john-316-is-not-about-your-eternal_29.html). Moreover, the expression “fire eonian” is simply a figurative way of describing what Christ went on to refer to as “chastening eonian” (v. 46). Those who will be going into the “chastening eonian” of which Christ spoke will be people from among the nations who will be alive on the earth during the future time of Israel’s “great affliction” (as referred to by Christ in Matt. 24:15-25) – specifically, those who refuse to bless the persecuted saints during this time (as Christ makes clear in Matt. 25:42-43).


Moreover, the “chastening eonian” into which these “cursed” Gentiles will be going has nothing to do with anyone’s existence beyond this mortal lifetime. Instead, the “chastening eonian” that Christ had in view will be taking place on this earth during the eon to come, when the saints will be exercising authority over the nations and “shepherding them with an iron club, as vessels of pottery are being crushed” (Rev. 2:26-27). The reason why the “chastening eonian” of the nations during this time is said to be “made ready for the Adversary and his messengers” is because Satan is going to be taking advantage of this future state of affairs as soon as his thousand-year-long imprisonment is over (Rev. 20:7-9). For a more in-depth examination of what the eonian destiny of the “goats” will involve, click here for part six of my study on Matthew 25:31-46.


With regard to Hebrews 9:27, we’re not told that the “judgment” referred to here is one that involves (or will involve) anyone being eternally separated from God. In fact, this verse need not even be understood as having anything to do with the “post-mortem destiny” of mankind in general. Instead of having all mankind in view, the author of the letter to the Hebrews most likely had in view a specific category of men – i.e., the high priests of Israel (with whom the author had been comparing and contrasting Christ in the context in which this verse is found). In the Concordant Literal New Testament this verse begins as follows:


“And, in as much as it is reserved to the men [tois anthropois] to be dying once, yet after this a judging…”[2]


Since the author had the high priests in view in chapter 9 (see verses 7 and 25) as well as in the previous chapters (even referring to them elsewhere as “men” and “mortal men”; see 7:8, 27-28), it would be natural for the author to refer to them again in 9:27 by using the expression “tois anthropois” (an expression which can just as validly be translated as “the men” as it can be translated simply “men”).


But what, then, did the author have in mind when he referred to “a judging” that follows the death of the high priest? The following remarks by A.E. Knoch on this verse express what I believe to be the most likely view:


“This is not a general statement concerning all men, but the men who have been in view continually, that is, the Levitical priests. The word judgment has no reference to the judgment of mankind for sin, but the setting to rights of those cases in Israel which continued until the death of the high priest. The innocent man-slayer lived in the city of refuge until the death of the great priest (Nu.35:22-29). Then he might return to his patrimony. This was his “judgment”. The parallel demands that this judgment correspond with the salvation which will come to those who are awaiting Christ. He, the great Chief Priest, has died, and in due time Israel, the man-slayer, shall return to the land of his possession.”


Knoch went on to say, “Just as the high priest entered the holy of holies on the great day of atonement and came out to bless the waiting throng, so Christ has entered the heavenly sanctuary and will bring a benediction when He comes.”


With regard to the judgments described in the verses referenced from Revelation, I’ve argued elsewhere that these judgments will also be taking place before Christ’s reign ends, and will thus not continue beyond the time when Christ abolishes death and delivers the kingdom to God (see my article Why Revelation doesn’t support the doctrine of “eternal conscious torment” for a more in-depth defense of this understanding). Even the longest-lasting of all the judgments referred to in Revelation (i.e., that which is associated with being “cast into the lake of fire”) will ultimately be temporary in duration, and has nothing to do with anyone’s “final destiny.” Since Christ died for the sins of those who are to be cast into the lake of fire, it necessarily follows that their salvation from the second death was secured. 


Thus, in accord with the fact that the One who died for our sins is also our Lord, the verses referenced by Compassion Church in support of their doctrinal position concerning “Hell” do not actually support the view that anyone will “spend eternity separated from God.” And not only this, but three of the verses referenced by Compassion Church in support of their doctrine of “Heaven” (i.e., 1 Cor. 15:42, 44 and Phil. 3:21) actually support the truth that everyone for whom Christ died will ultimately be saved.


Here is how 1 Cor. 15:42-44 reads in the CLNT:


Thus also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is roused in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor; it is roused in glory. It is sown in infirmity; it is roused in power. It is sown a soulish body; it is roused a spiritual body.


Notice that the body associated with the resurrection Paul had in mind in v. 42 is a body that will be incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual. We can therefore conclude that the kind of resurrection to which Paul was referring in v. 42 is not the kind of resurrection that people underwent prior to Christ’s resurrection (such as the resurrection of Lazarus, or of Jairus’ daughter). Everyone besides Christ who was resurrected in the past eventually died again, since their resurrection involved being restored to a mortal existence. In contrast, the resurrection that Christ underwent involved being introduced into an immortal, incorruptible state that’s beyond the reach of death.


However, contrary to what most Christians believe, the kind of resurrection to which Paul was referring in v. 42 is not going to be limited to believers. In 1 Cor. 15:20-22 we read the following:


“Yet now Christ has been roused from among the dead, the Firstfruit of those who are reposing. For since, in fact, through a man came death, through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead. For even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified.”


Most Christians seem to believe that it was Paul’s intent to express the following idea in this verse: Just as all who are “in Adam” are dying, so all who are “in Christ” shall be vivified (or “made alive”). According to this interpretation, Paul was merely revealing the destiny of all who are presently “in Christ” (i.e., believers), and was not revealing the destiny of all who, in Adam, are dying. However, this interpretation fails to take into account what Paul actually wrote.


The parallelism of 1 Cor. 15:22 clearly indicates that the same individuals who are included within the first “all” (i.e., all who, in Adam, are dying) are included within the second “all.” That is, the individuals referred to by the two uses of the word “all” are identical, and the scope of the first “all” thus determines the scope of the second “all.” And since the first “all” is comprised of all descendants of Adam (all of whom can be referred to as dying “in Adam”), it necessarily follows that all mankind shall be vivified “in Christ.”


One cannot, therefore, appeal to the fact that all are not presently “in Christ” in order to support the view that all won’t be vivified; according to what Paul wrote, the vivification of all who are dying in Adam is a future certainty. All who are dying in Adam shall be vivified, and this future vivification shall occur “in Christ” (i.e., through, or by means of, Christ). Being vivified in Christ is by no means restricted to the relatively small number of humans who are later referred to as “those who are Christ’s in his presence” (i.e., believers). Rather, it embraces the same individuals who, in 1 Tim. 2:4, we’re told God wills to save (i.e., “all mankind”).


And because all mankind will ultimately be vivified in Christ, it follows that all mankind will ultimately receive the same “power of an indissoluble life” which, in Heb. 7:16, is said to be possessed by Christ. And this must include those over whom the “second death” will be having jurisdiction during the final eon of Christ’s reign (for these will be the only people who will still be dead when the consummation arrives). 


Moreover, we know that death is the penalty of which sin makes us deserving. In 1 Cor. 15:56, Paul went on to write: “Now the sting of Death is sin, yet the power of sin is the law.” The word translated “sting” denotes a pointed instrument used to injure and inflict pain (cf. Acts 26:14; Rev. 9:10). Paul was essentially saying that sin is what gives death the power to injure us. Apart from sin, death would have no power over us. And since the sting of death (sin) is going to be absent when one is vivified in Christ, it follows that, when all humanity has been vivified in Christ, they will have been justified and thus saved from their sins (which, of course, is what Christ died to accomplish).


We can therefore conclude that Paul had in mind every human being who has died (or will die) when he referred to “the dead” in 1 Cor. 15:42. And since the resurrection that Paul had in mind will involve a complete and permanent salvation from death, it follows that the resurrection that Paul had in mind will be a tremendously great blessing to everyone who will have a part in it. It also means that everyone who is going to be cast into the lake of fire is ultimately going to be saved from the lifeless state that this  judgment will result in (i.e. the “second death”), and will receive the same kind of incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual body that Christ presently has.


That all who have died or will die are going to be vivified in Christ (and thus saved from sin, “the sting of death”) is further supported by the second text referenced by Compassion Church in support of their understanding of heaven. In Phil. 3:19-21 we read the following:


For our realm is inherent in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Saviour also, the Lord, Jesus Christ, Who will transfigure the body of our humiliation, to conform it to the body of His glory, in accord with the operation which enables Him even to subject all to Himself.


Notice that we’re told that the “operation” which enables Christ to subject all to Himself is “in accord with” the operation by which believers will be vivified. This indicates that the final act of subjecting all who have not yet been subjected to Christ is going to occur by means of the same vivifying power through which Christ shall transfigure the mortal/corruptible body of the believer and conform it to Christ’s own glorious body. And this, in turn, means that the vivification of everyone else (i.e., everyone who will have not yet been made immortal) and the final subjection of all to Christ will occur at the same time.


But what, exactly, did Paul have in mind when he referred to everyone being subjected to Christ? What Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 15:25-28 can, I believe, shed further light on this subject. In this passage we read the following:


For [Christ] must be reigning until He should be placing all His enemies under His feetThe last enemy is being abolished: death. For He subjects all under His feet. Now whenever He may be saying that all is subject, it is evident that it is outside of Him Who subjects all to Him. Now, whenever all may be subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him Who subjects all to Him, that God may be All in all.


Notice that the same term translated “subjected” in v. 28 is used in reference to both the “all” who are to be subjected to Christ and to Christ himself. Christ (who, of course, has never been relationally estranged from God or disobedient to his will) will be subjected to his God and Father when he gives up the kingdom to God, and thereby becomes a subject of this kingdom. We can therefore conclude that being subjected to Christ will involve becoming a subject of the kingdom that he’ll be giving up to God.


Notice, also, that the “all” that will be subjected to Christ when he becomes subjected to God will be the same “all” in which God will be “All.” Consider the following argument:


1. Both Christ himself and the “all” who will be subjected to Christ will comprise the “all” in whom God is going to be “All” when Christ delivers up the kingdom to God.


2. The “all” who will be subjected to Christ when he delivers up the kingdom to God will include everyone who died in unbelief.


3. The “all” in whom God is going to be “All” will include everyone who died in unbelief.


When the kingdom is given up to God (in accord with what we read in v. 24), the Father alone will reign over the then-universal kingdom, and all other intelligent, moral beings – including Christ himself – will be his subjects. We can therefore conclude that all who are going to be subjected to Christ (which is all human beings) are not only going to be permanently saved from death, but they’re going to become subjects of the kingdom that Christ is going to be delivering up to God after he has abolished death and subjected all to himself.


Conclusion


The word “compassion” means “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” One who truly has compassion for those who are in need of being saved from something (and who has the ability to save them) would not, and could not, refuse to ever save them. Although one may have a good and valid reason for choosing not to save someone at a certain time, a refusal to ever save a person whom one could save would betray a lack of compassion.


However, according to the doctrinal position of Compassion Church – which is the position to which the majority of Christians hold – Christ is never going to use his God-given power and authority to save those who die in unbelief. Thus, the implication of the position of Compassion Church is that Christ is not going to show compassion to the vast majority of the human beings for whom he died.


Thankfully, Christ’s compassion for unbelieving sinners does not end when they die. The same compassion for sinners that led Christ to die on the cross will also lead him to ultimately save every sinner for whom he died.



[1] Concerning this fact, A.E. Knoch wrote the following: 

“The apostle Paul’s case is of surpassing significance in its bearing on the salvation of unbelievers. He was the foremost of sinners, and it cannot be denied that, among men, there was no case quite as desperate as his. All question as to God’s ability to save vanishes in the light of his call on the Damascus road. The miraculous means employed in his case surely would suffice for every one of God’s enemies.” (All in All, p. 93)

[2] It may be objected that “high priest” is singular in v. 25. However, in this verse the author was likely referring to the then-living high priest as representative of that class of men to whom he had previously referred in the plural (see 7:27-28). So it would have been natural for him to refer to this particular class of men as “the men” in v. 27 after referring to the living representative of this class in v. 25.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Why the letter to the Hebrews was not written to the saints in the body of Christ

Introduction


According to the arrangement referred to in Gal. 2:6-10, the apostle Paul and his co-laborer, Barnabas, were to be “for the nations” while James, Peter and John were to be “for the Circumcision.” “The nations” refers to those among mankind who belong to a nation besides the chosen nation of Israel. In contrast, “the Circumcision” refers to God’s covenant people, Israel – i.e., the twelve-tribed descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob whose covenantal relationship with God is signified by circumcision.


In accord with this arrangement, we find that the apostle Paul – who referred to himself as “the apostle of the nations” (Rom. 11:13) – is the only inspired writer who wrote to believers who could be referred to collectively as “the nations” (Rom. 1:13; 11:13, 25; 15:16, 18), and who belonged to what Paul referred to in Rom. 16:4 as ”all the ecclesias of the nations.” It is those who comprised these “ecclesias of the nations” that Paul (and Paul alone) referred to in his letters as “the body of Christ” (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 6:15-19; 10:16-17; 12:12-27; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4, 12-16; 5:23-24, 30; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15).


In contrast with the “ecclesias of the nations” to which Paul wrote his letters, the ecclesias to which Peter, James and John wrote were composed primarily, if not exclusively, of believers among God’s covenant people, Israel. For example, we read that James wrote his letter “to the twelve tribes in the dispersion” (James 1:1). Similarly, Peter wrote “to the chosen expatriates of the dispersion of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, the province of Asia, and Bithynia…” (1 Pet. 1:1). And in verse 7 of his third letter, John referred to “the nations” as a company of believers who were distinct from the saints on whose behalf he ministered.[1]


It’s further evident that the Jewish believers to whom Peter, James and John wrote were a continuation of the company of Jewish saints that predated the death and resurrection of Christ (and which Christ referred to as “the little flock” in Luke 12:32). As a continuation of this company of saints, the Jewish believers to whom Peter, James and John (as well as Jude) wrote had the same calling and expectation as that which will belong to the saints who will be on the earth during the future period of time when the events we find prophesied in Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation will be occurring (e.g., the “great affliction” of Israel that’s referred to in Matt. 24:21 and Rev. 7:14 [cf. Jer. 30:7, Dan. 12:1]).[2]


On the other hand, the company of saints that comprised “the ecclesias of the nations” in Paul’s day – i.e., the body of Christ – was (and is) distinct from the company of saints that began to be formed during Christ’s earthly ministry. For, in contrast with the company of saints that Christ referred to as “the little flock” (and of which the company of saints referred to by James in Acts 21:20-21 was a continuation), the body of Christ did not begin to be formed until the administration that was given to Paul for the nations – i.e., “the administration of the grace of God” or “administration of the secret” (Eph. 3:1, 9) – began. And this administration began at around the time when “the evangel of which [Paul] became the dispenser” – i.e., “the evangel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24) – began to be heralded by Paul among the nations (which was shortly after Paul and Barnabas were “severed” to God for the work to which God had called them; see Acts 13:2-3).


But what about the saints to whom the letter “To the Hebrews” (“Πρὸς Ἑβραίους”) was written? Would they have been included among the saints who comprised “all the ecclesias of the nations” in Paul’s day? Or did they belong to the company of primarily Jewish believers who comprised the ecclesias to which Peter, James and John wrote? Well, the very fact that this letter was written to people whom the author identified as “Hebrews” proves that he wrote to the same kind of believers to whom Peter, James and John wrote. We never once find the term “Hebrews” used in Scripture to refer to Gentiles. Nor do we find this term used to refer to Gentiles in any ancient, extra-biblical writings.


Instead, “Hebrews” is the original name of Judeans. Concerning this fact, the ancient Jewish historian Josephus wrote the following: “Sala was the son of Arphaxad; and his son was Heber, from whom they originally called the Jews Hebrews” (Josephus' Antiquities of Jews Book 1, Chapter 6, Paragraph 4). It was after the Hebrews came back to Judea from Babylon that they became known as “Judeans” (or “Jews”).


In accord with the historical meaning of the term “Hebrew,” Paul – when referring to his Jewish ethnicity in Philippians 3:5 – referred to himself as being ”of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.” And while there is a sense in which all who are in the body of Christ can be considered as being “of Abraham’s seed” (see my two-part study The Seed of Abraham for an explanation of Paul’s use of this terminology), Paul never once referred to those in the body of Christ as “Hebrews” in his letters (whether literally or figuratively).


The ethnic identity of the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews is further confirmed from the fact that the recipients of the letter are implied to be those who were descendants of “the fathers” to whom God spoke “in the prophets” (Heb. 1:1). This refers to Israel rather than the nations. We further read that the recipients of this letter belonged to “the people of God” (Heb. 4:9). What we read in Hebrews 10:28-30 (in which Deut. 32:36 is quoted) and 11:25 makes it clear that “the people of God” to whom the recipients of this letter belonged are the same “people of God” who are in view in Deut. 32:36, and with whom we’re told Moses preferred to be maltreated. Thus, when the author of the letter to the Hebrews referred to the recipients of his letter as belonging to “the people of God,” he was referring to the people to whom God was referring when he identified himself as “Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews” (Ex. 3:18; 5:1; 7:16).


The salvation of those in the body of Christ


Although Paul’s letters are filled with exhortations for those in the body of Christ regarding how we should live and act, Paul was also clear that our eonian salvation does not in any way depend on anything we must do, obey or live out. Because God’s grace “reigns” over every member of the body of Christ, we cannot “out-sin” God’s grace; the more that we sin, the more God’s grace “super-exceeds” for us, resulting in life eonian (Rom. 5:20-21).


In Romans 6:23 we read that the life eonian that every member of the body of Christ is destined to enjoy is “the gracious gift of God…in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” In accord with this truth, we’re told in 2 Thess. 2:16 that “God, our Father, Who loves us” is “giving us an eonian consolation and a good expectation in grace.” Notice that the “eonian consolation” and “good expectation” to which Paul was referring is given to us “in grace.”


The measure of divine grace that’s being given to those called to be members of the body of Christ is referred to in Eph. 1:7 as “the riches of [God’s] grace, which He lavishes on us,” and is such that works/acts have no part whatsoever in our salvation (Rom. 3:22; 4:4-5; 2 Tim. 1:8-11; Titus 3:3-7). According to what we read in Eph. 2:4-9, the salvation that every believer in the body of Christ will be enjoying (and which will involve God’s “displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus”) is not “out of” us. It is in no way dependent on or conditioned upon our will or effort. Rather, our salvation is said to be “in grace.” It is “God’s approach present” (or “gift”), and is thus “not of works, lest anyone should be boasting.”


Upon being given the faith to believe “the word of truth, the evangel of [our] salvation,” those called by God are then sealed with the holy spirit of promise,” which is “an earnest of the enjoyment of our allotment, to the deliverance of that which has been procured (Eph. 1:13-14). No precept-keeping obedience, acts of righteousness or Godly living is required for any member of the body of Christ to receive the “deliverance” of which Paul wrote in the above verses (and which, according to Eph. 2:4-7, will involve being vivified together and seated together “among the celestials in Christ Jesus”). This salvation is as certain to occur as anything else God has promised to do.


There is, therefore, nothing that anyone in the body of Christ could do (or fail to do) that could possibly result in our not receiving this eonian salvation. Although Paul exhorted believers to “walk worthily of the calling with which [we] were called,” a failure to do so will not jeopardize our eonian salvation. Our having been spiritually baptized into the body of Christ (and thus “sealed with the holy spirit of promise”) guarantees our inclusion in the future event that will involve the saints in the body of Christ being vivified in Christ and snatched away to meet the Lord in the air (Rom. 8:15-25; 1 Cor. 15:50-57; Phil. 3:20-21; Col. 3:1-4; 1 Thess. 4:14-18; 5:9-11; 2 Thess. 2:13-14).


In accord with the super-exceeding, super-abundant grace that characterizes the salvation of the saints in the body of Christ, Paul further revealed in his letters that the location in which we are going to be enjoying our eonian allotment is “the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1-2; Phil. 3:20; Col. 1:5). Heaven is, of course, where the Lord is presently located (Heb. 1:3; 4:14; 9:24), and it’s thus here that we will be “at home with the Lord” after we’ve become “celestials” (2 Cor. 5:4-8; 1 Cor. 15:47-49). In accord with this fact, it is “among the celestials” that we will be enjoying “every spiritual blessing” during “the oncoming eons” (Eph. 1:3; 2:6-7), and it is “[the Lord’s] celestial kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18) – i.e., the kingdom of God in which “flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment” (1 Cor. 15:50) – for which we are being saved (2 Tim. 4:18). For a more in-depth defense of this understanding of the location of the eonian allotment of the body of Christ, click here and here.


The salvation of those to whom the letter to the Hebrews was written


In contrast with what Paul revealed concerning the eonian allotment of the saints in the body of Christ, we know from Hebrews 2:5 that the salvation to which the recipients of this letter looked forward (i.e., the “allotment of salvation” referred to in Heb. 1:14) is a salvation that is going to be enjoyed on “the impending inhabited earth.” Their eonian salvation is, in other words, in accord with Israel’s prophesied expectation.


The very fact that there is a difference in the locations of the eonian allotment of those to whom Paul wrote and those to whom the letter to the Hebrews was written proves that the letter to the Hebrews was not written to believers in the body of Christ. But this isn’t the only difference between the salvation of those in the body of Christ and the salvation of those to whom the letter to the Hebrews was written.


In contrast with what Paul revealed concerning the nature of the salvation of those in the body of Christ, the eonian salvation of those to whom the letter to the Hebrews was written is not something that God was unconditionally bestowing on these believers as an expression of his super-abundant grace. Instead, the recipients of this letter had to meet certain conditions in order to qualify for the salvation that we find promised throughout the letter.


For example, in Hebrews 2:1-4 we read the following concerning what was expected of these Jewish believers with regard to their salvation:


“Therefore we must more exceedingly be heeding what is being heard, lest at some time we may be drifting by. For if the word spoken through messengers came to be confirmed, and every transgression and disobedience obtained a fair reward, how shall we be escaping when neglecting a salvation of such proportions which, obtaining a beginning through the speaking of the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who hear Him, God corroborating, both by signs and miracles and by various powerful deeds and partings of holy spirit, according to His will?” 


The “salvation of such proportions” of which we read in this passage was previously referred to as “the allotment of salvation” in Heb. 1:14. In Heb. 5:9 it’s referred to as an “eonian salvation” that will be received by “all who are obeying [Christ].” In order for those to whom this letter was written to not be “neglecting” this eonian salvation (and thus “drifting by”), it was necessary that they “more exceedingly be heeding” what they’d heard (the necessity of the “heeding” is evident from the author’s use of the word “must” in v. 1, above). And as is evident from Heb. 5:9, the “heeding” that the author had in mind necessarily involved obeying Christ.[3]


This is not to say that faith was unimportant or unnecessary for those to whom the letter to the Hebrews was written. Faith was absolutely essential to the salvation of these believers. However, the faith that the recipients of this letter needed to have in order to be saved could not be separated from, and fail to find its expression in, obedience. Even in the well-known part of this letter in which we find faith emphasized (i.e., chapter 11), the emphasis is not on “faith only” but on what certain notable people had done by faith.


Noah, for example, is said to have become “an enjoyer of the allotment of the righteousness which accords with faith” because of what he did by faith (Heb 11:7). Although Noah’s righteousness was “in accord with” faith, it wasn’t based on “faith only,” but on what he did as an expression of his faith (which was construct an ark). This faith-based obedience is the source of the righteousness of those to whom the author of Hebrews wrote, and it is the same sort of righteousness of which James wrote in his letter to the twelve tribes. Everything the author of Hebrews wrote is perfectly consistent with what James taught in his letter concerning the necessity of faith and works (both of which were required for the justification and salvation of those to whom these letters were written).


In Heb. 3:12-15 the author went on to warn the believing Israelites to whom he wrote as follows:


Beware, brethren, lest at some time there shall be in any one of you a wicked heart of unbelief, in withdrawing from the living God. But entreat yourselves each day, until what is called ‘today,’ lest anyone of you may be hardened by the seduction of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, that is, if we should be retaining the beginning of the assumption confirmed unto the consummation, while it is being said, ‘Today, if ever His voice you should be hearing, You should not be hardening your hearts as in the embitterment.’”


Notice that developing a “wicked heart of unbelief” and “withdrawing from the living God” was understood by the author as the result of being “hardened by the seduction of sin” (which is the opposite condition referred to by the words, “retaining the beginning of the assumption confirmed unto the consummation”). In accord with his warning against being “hardened by the seduction of sin,” we later read in Heb. 12:14 that “holiness” was something that the recipients of this letter had to “pursue” in order to be saved (for we’re told that “no one shall be seeing the Lord” apart from it).


Continuing with his exhortation and warning, the author went on to write the following in Hebrews 4:9-11:


Consequently a sabbatism is left for the people of God. For he who is entering into His stopping, he also stops from his works even as God from His own. We should be endeavoring, then, to be entering into that stopping, lest anyone should be falling into the same example of stubbornness.


The term translated “sabbatism” in v. 9 is the noun “sabbatismos,” and is derived from the cognate verb “sabbatizo.” This latter term is found in the Septuagint translation of several verses (e.g., Ex. 16:30; Lev. 23:32; 26:34; 2 Chron. 36:21), and means “to observe/keep the Sabbath.” Insofar as this is the case, the noun sabbatismos can be understood to mean, “a Sabbath-observance” or “a Sabbath-keeping period.” Since all Sabbaths are preceded by six equal periods of time (Ex. 20:8-11; 23:10-11; Lev. 25:4), it’s reasonable to believe that the “sabbatism” referred to in v. 9 is a future period of time that will also be preceded by six equal periods of time. But how long is the “sabbatism” that the author had in view going to last?


Answer: In Daniel 7:27 we read that, after Christ returns to earth and establishes the kingdom of God on the earth, the kingdom “shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High.” And in Revelation 5:10 and 20:4-6, it’s revealed that those who are going to be reigning on the earth with Christ will be reigning as kings and priests for “a thousand years.” Thus, the “sabbatism” referred to in Heb. 4:9 is going to be a thousand years in duration, and will be preceded by six equal periods of time (i.e., 6,000 years).


The “stopping” and “sabbatism” referred to in v. 9 was thus not a present, fulfilled reality for those to whom the letter to the Hebrews was written. Rather, it was something into which the recipients of this letter expected to enter at the time of Christ’s return to earth (Heb. 9:28; 10:25, 35-39), when the kingdom is restored to Israel (Heb. 12:28; cf. Luke 21:27-31; Acts 1:6). It is at this time that the new covenant will be concluded “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Heb. 8:1-13), and those constituting what Paul referred to as “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16) and “all Israel” (Rom. 11:26-27) will be receiving “eonian salvation” (Heb. 5:8-10), and “obtaining the promise of the eonian enjoyment of the allotment” (Heb. 9:15-17; cf. 11-12).


Concerning what was in store for those believers who became “hardened by the seduction of sin” and developed “a wicked heart of unbelief” (resulting in withdrawing from the living God), the author went on to write the following in Heb. 6:4-8:


“For it is impossible for those once enlightened, besides tasting the celestial gratuity and becoming partakers of holy spirit, and tasting the ideal declaration of God, besides the powerful deeds of the impending eon, and falling aside, to be renewing them again to repentance while crucifying for themselves the Son of God again and holding Him up to infamy. For land which is drinking the shower coming often on it, and bringing forth herbage fit for those because of whom it is being farmed also, is partaking of blessing from God; yet, bringing forth thorns and star thistles, it is disqualified and near a curse, whose consummation is burning.”


The author was not warning unbelievers against “falling aside” and the fearful consequences that would follow from this. Rather, he was warning believers – i.e., those who, we’re told, had been “enlightened” and became “partakers of holy spirit” (cf. Heb. 10:32). The author then balanced his warning with the following encouraging exhortation:


“Yet we are persuaded of better things concerning you, beloved, and those which have to do with salvation, even if we are speaking thus. For God is not unjust, to be forgetting [your faith? No, but rather] your work and the love which you display for His name when you serve the saints, and are serving. Now we are yearning for each one of you to be displaying the same diligence toward the assurance of the expectation until the consummation, that you may not be becoming dull. Now be imitators of those who through faith and patience are enjoying the allotment of the promises.”


Although the author followed his words of warning with words of hope, even his encouragement presupposed that the future salvation of the believers to whom he wrote depended on their “work and the love which [they] display for His name when [they] serve the saints, and are serving” (which is precisely the kind of faith-perfecting works of love that James had in mind in the second chapter of his letter). As if this doesn’t make it clear enough that their future salvation was conditional and involved their conduct, we find that their “assurance of the expectation” (i.e., enjoying the allotment of the promises) required “displaying the same diligence toward the assurance of the expectation until the consummation” (v. 11). And, from the context, it’s evident that this “diligence” involved doing the things which the author described in v. 10 (which, of course, involved works of love and not “faith only”).


In other words, those to whom the author wrote could have assurance that they would be saved at the consummation (i.e., at the return of Christ) if they faithfully continued doing what they had been doing – which meant being “imitators of those who through faith and patience are enjoying the allotment of the promises” (v. 12). But what was the author referring to by the word “patience” here (or, we might ask, patience doing what?)? Again, the context makes it clear what this “patience” referred to: “…displaying the same diligence toward the assurance of the expectation until the consummation.” If they were to be saved at the consummation, their faith required works just as their works required faith. Otherwise, they would find themselves facing the fearful fate described later, in Heb. 10:24-31. In these verses we read the following:


For at our sinning voluntarily after obtaining the recognition of the truth, it is no longer leaving a sacrifice concerned with sins, but a certain fearful waiting for judging and fiery jealousy, about to be eating the hostile. Anyone repudiating Moses' law is dying without pity on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, are you supposing, will he be counted worthy who tramples on the Son of God, and deems the blood of the covenant by which he is hallowed contaminating, and outrages the spirit of grace? For we are acquainted with Him Who is saying, Mine is vengeance! I will repay! the Lord is saying, and again, "The Lord will be judging His people." Fearful is it to be falling into the hands of the living God!”


Note that it is believing Israelites – i.e., those who’d obtained the “recognition of the truth” and had been hallowed by “the blood of the covenant” – who were being warned of the possibility of suffering an even worse punishment than that which was inflicted upon those who repudiated Moses’ law (compare this with the author’s warning in Heb. 12:25).


The author went on to refer to this “much worse punishment” as “destruction,” and contrasted it with the salvation (the “procuring of the soul”) that the Hebrew believers hoped to receive at Christ’s return (see Heb. 10:35-39 and compare with 1 Pet. 1:3-9). Given that the salvation in view is that which will be received when Christ arrives and “is seen a second time” (Heb. 9:28), and the “punishment” and “vengeance” of which the author wrote is contrasted with this salvation, we can reasonably conclude that the author had in view the vengeance of God that will be poured out on unbelieving Jews and Gentiles alike during the “day of the Lord.” 


It is simply not possible to reconcile these words of warning and exhortation with Paul’s words to the body of Christ in Romans 5:9 and 8:1, or with what he wrote in 1 Thess. 1:10 and 4:9-11. If the believing Israelites to whom the letter to the Hebrews was written were “in Christ” in the same sense in which every believer in the body of Christ is “in Christ,” it would not have been remotely possible for them to suffer the divine vengeance and judgment that unbelievers will suffer during the day of the Lord. No one who is a member of the body of Christ is appointed to God's indignation; rather, we are all destined to be rescued by Christ (via the event referred to in 1 Thess. 4:15-18 and elsewhere) from the very time of indignation through which the believers among God’s covenant people must endure in order for them to be saved at the time of Christ’s return to earth (Matt. 10:22; 24:13; Mark 13:13; cf. Rev. 12:17; 13:10; 14:12).


Echoing his warning from chapter 2, the author later warned the recipients of his letter as follows:


Beware! You should not be refusing Him Who is speaking! For if those escaped not, refusing the One apprizing on earth, much rather we, who are turning from the One from the heavens, Whose voice then shakes the earth. Yet now He has promised, saying, Still once more shall I be quaking, not only the earth, but heaven also. Now the ‘Still once more’ is making evident the transference of that which is being shaken, as of that having been made, that what is not being shaken should be remaining. Wherefore, accepting an unshakable kingdom, we may have grace through which we may be offering divine service in a way well pleasing to God, with piety and dread, for our God is also a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:25-29


In this passage (as in Heb. 2:1-4), that from which those being addressed were in need of escaping was the indignation of God that is going to come upon the wicked and unbelieving inhabitants of the earth during the “day of the Lord” (and which will prepare the earth and its inhabitants for the “unshakable kingdom” that is in view in v. 28). And the salvation that will be given to those who heed the warnings found throughout the letter to the Hebrews will involve the enjoyment of an allotment in this future kingdom.


In contrast with those who are members of the body of Christ (and whose justification and eonian salvation is not based on anything we do or don’t do), those to whom the author of Hebrews wrote were told that they comprised the “house” of Christ IF [they] should be retaining the boldness and the glorying of the expectation confirmed unto the consummation” (Heb. 3:6). Note the conditional “if” of this verse. The clear implication is that it was possible for the Jewish believers to whom this letter was written to fail to retain “the boldness and the glorying of the expectation confirmed unto the consummation” (which would result in them ceasing to be included among those who comprised the “house” of Christ). 


Conclusion


It is only when Christ “is seen a second time by those awaiting Him” (Heb. 9:28) that the exhortations and warnings with which the letter to the Hebrews abounds will no longer be needed for believers among God’s covenant people. For it is only at this time – i.e., at “the consummation” that we find referred to in this letter (Heb. 3:14; 6:11; cf. 10:35-39) – that their eonian salvation will be an experienced reality rather than an expectation that requires their continued obedience and endurance. It is only at this future time that their diligence and patience in avoiding and “contending against sin” (12:4) will no longer be necessary for salvation (since they will have been saved and will be enjoying their deserved “rest” or “stopping”). But until this time comes, the Jewish brethren to whom the author wrote had reason to Beware, lest…anyone of you may be hardened by the seduction of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, that is, IF we should be retaining the beginning of the assumption confirmed unto the consummation…” (Heb. 3:12-15). 



[1] It’s unlikely that John was referring to unbelieving Gentiles here, since there’s no good reason to think that John – or any of the Jewish believers to whom he wrote – would’ve expected unbelieving Gentiles to provide financial assistance to any of the Jewish ecclesias. On the other hand, we know for a fact that, in accord with the agreement referred to by Paul in Gal. 2:10, the “ecclesias of the nations” to which Paul wrote had been doing just that (Rom. 15:25-31; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-9:15). 

[2] Since John was also the writer of the prophetic work commonly known as “Revelation” (Rev. 1:1, 9), we can conclude that “the seven ecclesias” to which John was commanded to write (Rev. 1:4, 11) – and which will be in existence during the future “day of the Lord” or “Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10) – will be just as Jewish in composition as the first-century ecclesias to which Peter, James and John wrote (for a defense of the view that “the Lord’s day” in Rev. 1:10 most likely refers to the future period of time that we find referred to elsewhere as “the day of the Lord,” see the following study: Why the snatching away will precede “the Lord’s day”).

[3] Concerning what it meant for the believers among God’s covenant people to be “obeying Christ,” see my article “John’s expectation and doctrinal position concerning salvation.“ As noted earlier, John wrote to believers who belonged to the same company of saints as those to whom the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote.