The Study of Salvation

By James T. Bartsch,

"This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." ( Hebrews 6:19-20)

What Hope Do We Have?

This is the ninth installment of a larger treatise entitled,

Does Hebrews 6:1-8 Teach Us We Can Lose Our Salvation?

by James T. Bartsch


    In this series of articles, we have argued that the audience of the writer of Hebrews consisted of Hebrew Christians who were being tempted to revert to Judaism. If they do so, he affirms that it will be impossible for them to repent of their failure to trust in Christ alone. Moreover, they will be like unproductive land choked out with thorns and thistles, and fit only for burning. I do not believe he was talking about burning in hell. Rather, he was describing what happens to land that is unproductive and choked with noxious weeds. It is burned, not to ruin it forever, but to make it more productive. But in the process, these Christians will miss out on ministry they might otherwise have enjoyed, and for which they would have been rewarded in the next life. This purging is described, I believe, in 1 Cor. 3:10-15. But the writer is convinced of a better end for his readers than being burned. He believes their end, their outcome will be that which accompanies salvation. He based his conviction on their love for the name of Christ as exhibited in their past and present serving of other Christians.

In the section just preceding this one (Heb. 6:11-12), the writer fervently desired for his readers that they will exhibit the same level of diligence as they once did in their Christian lives. He wanted them to gain the full assurance of their Christian hope clear to its completion. He wanted them to avoid slothfulness, but rather to imitate those who, through faith and perseverance, inherit the promises we Christians have been given.

The writer spoke of the Christian hope that we believers in Christ possess (Heb. 6:11). In this section he will flesh out the means of firmly grasping that hope that is set before us (Heb. 6:18). That hope is an anchor for the soul (Heb. 6:19). And that hope boldly enters inside the veil of the Holy of Holies, wherein Jesus Christ has entered as a forerunner, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 6:20).

The Hope of the Christian: The writer urges his readers to rely on God's inviolable commitment to help them (Heb. 6:13-20).

  • The Example of Abraham. Heb. 6:13-16
    • God's Promise to Abraham (Heb. 6:13a): "For when God made the promise to Abraham" – "made the promise" translates the Aorist Middle Deponent Participle of the verb epangéllomai (1861). It is used "as a divine or human declaration, offering to do something (make a) promise, offer (James 1:12)" (excerpted from Friberg). A literal translation is, "God, having promised to Abraham, ...." When humans promise something, the fulfillment is not inevitable. Not so with God. His promises are guaranteed (Acts 7:5; Rom. 4:21; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:13; 10:23; 11:11; 12:26; Jas. 1:12; 2:5; 1 John 2:25). The context indicates that the particular incident the writer of Hebrews had in mind was God’s promise to Abraham recorded in Gen. 22:17-18. The promise included (1) that Yahweh would greatly bless Abraham; (2) that He would greatly multiply Abraham’s seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand upon the seashore; (3) that Abraham’s seed would possess the gate of his enemies; (4) and that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. The last of the four components is fulfilled, at least partially, in the Church of Christ, but also in the believing Gentiles who will inhabit New Earth. The other three refer, primarily, to Abraham and to his physical, believing seed, believing Israel. There is, however, an added dimension. All who belong to Christ are also Abraham's seed (Gal. 3:29). But there are limits. It is the believing seed of Abraham who are also his physical descendants who will inherit eternally the land of Israel God promised to him (Gen. 13:14-15). Ultimately that "forever land" will be located on New Earth.
    • God's Greatest Oath – Swearing by Himself (Heb. 6:13-14):
      • "since He could swear by no one greater," literally, "since He was having no one greater by whom to swear" – "He was having"  is the Imperfect Indicative Active of  the verb échō (2192), meaning "possessing" or "having at one's disposal." "No one" is the Genitive of the adjective oudeís (3762). "Greater" is the Genitive of the Comparative adjective mégas (3173), with the basic meaning of "great," meaning, "a more important or powerful person." "By whom to swear" – "By whom" is the Genitive of the preposition katá (2596), here used figuratively with a verb of oath-taking, means "by" or, in more grammatical English, "by whom." "To swear" is the Aorist Infinitive of the verb omnúō (3660) "from a basic meaning grasp a sacred object; thus, swear affirm, confirm by oath" (excerpted from Friberg).
      • God’s swearing an oath is recorded in Gen. 22:16. The whole context is Gen. 22:15-18. In this context, because Abraham obediently proceeded to sacrifice his son Isaac, the angel of the LORD stopped him (Gen. 22:11-12), provided an alternative ram for sacrifice (Gen. 22:13-14), and swore an oath to Abraham (Gen. 22:15-16) that Yahweh would bless him and multiply his seed, that his seed would be victorious over his enemies (Gen. 22:17), and that in Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18).
      • Blessing, I will bless you (Heb. 6:14a, quoting Gen. 22:17): {14} saying, "I WILL SURELY BLESS YOU The writer is quoting Gen. 22:17, which reads, more literally, “Truly, blessing, I will bless you ....” In Gen. 22:17 the verb barak (1288) is doubled for emphasis. It appears first as a Piel Infinitive absolute, and second, as a Piel Imperfect. “Blessing” is included in the theme of Genesis – “Blessed Beginnings.” The word appears more frequently here than in any other OT book except the book of Psalms.
        • Multiplying, I will multiply your seed (Heb. 6:14b, quoting Gen. 22:17): "AND I WILL SURELY MULTIPLY YOU." The writer continues his quote of Gen. 22:17, which reads, more literally, “...and multiplying, I will multiply your seed ....” The verb rabah (7235) appears first as a Hifil Infinitive absolute and second, as a Hifil Imperfect. The meaning here is that Yahweh emphatically promised Abraham He would cause his seed (offspring) (zera‛, 2233) to become very numerous.
    • Abraham's Realization of the Promise (Heb. 6:15): "And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise." I.e., “having patiently waited” through the trial of offering up Isaac, his only son of promise, Abraham received the promise of God through the angel of the Lord as specified in Gen. 22:15-18. The promise thus given to Abraham was not substantially different than that first given by God as recorded in Gen. 12:1-3, and amplified in Gen. 13:14-17; 15:1-7, 18-21; 17:1-8, 15-21. The possible exception is the specific statement that Abraham’s seed (singular) would possess the gate of his (singular) enemies (Gen. 22:17). I take this to mean, first of all, that believing Israel will one day so dominate her enemies (or former enemies) that Israel will control access in and out of those countries. There will be complete peace in the land. This will take place, first, during the Millennium and, second, during the Eternal State. Second, I take the angel’s statement in Gen. 22:17 to mean also that Abraham’s singular seed, the Messiah, will possess the gates of His enemies (Gal. 3:16). This fulfillment aligns substantially with the prototypical promise of the Messiah as recorded in Gen. 3:15, and as alluded to in John 12:31; 16:11.
    • The Nature of Oath-Making (Heb. 6:16).
      • Always by the greater: "For men swear by one greater than themselves,"
        • "men" is the Masculine Plural of the noun ánthrōpos (444), here used "as a generic term human being, person (Acts 10:26); plural people, mankind, one's fellow men (Matt. 23:5)" (excerpted from Friberg). The sense is, "this is what humans do."
        • "swear" is the Present Indicative Active of the verb omnúō (3660), "from a basic meaning grasp a sacred object; thus, swear affirm, confirm by oath, with the accusative of person or object by which the oath is taken" (Friberg). This is a "Customary Present," i.e. men who swear an oath customarily swear by someone greater than themselves.
        • "by" – the Genitive of katá (2596), in this context, "by" or "according to"
        • "the one greater" translates the Genitive Comparative of the adjective mégas (3173), with the basic meaning of "great," here preceded by the article, meaning, "the more important person." The point is that, when men swear an oath, they customarily swear by someone who is greater than themselves. In the extended context, since God could swear by no one greater than Himself, He swore by Himself!
        • "than themselves" does not appear in the Greek text. It is supplied by the NASB to make the meaning clearer in English.
      • The finality of an oath for confirmation: "and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute."
        • "oath" is hórkos (3727), "a formal and binding statement oath" (excerpted from Friberg).
        • "confirmation" is bebaíōsis (951), "strictly, a legal technical term for furnishing a decree legally valid confirmation; hence, as an action confirmation, verification, making sure (Heb. 6:16)" (Friberg).
        • "dispute" is antilogía (485), "as a statement of opposite opinion contradiction, dispute (Heb. 6:16)" (excerpted from Friberg).
  • God's Oath as It Applies to the Readers. Heb. 6:17-18
    • His Desire – to Show His Immutability (Heb. 6:17a): "In the same way God, desiring even more to show"
      • "to the heirs of the promise" – The original heirs of the promise were Abraham and Isaac, and later, Jacob and his descendants. If my supposition is correct that the readers of this letter were also Jewish Christians, they, too, would be heirs of the promise. But the writer makes an application (in Heb. 6:18) to “we who have taken refuge.” Though his audience may have been strictly Jewish, there is a broader application even to us Gentiles. For part of the promise to Abraham was that in his “seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 22:18).
      • "the unchangeableness of His purpose," – God promised Abraham certain blessings to His physical seed. That can never be changed, despite the determined efforts of Replacement Theology to do so. But God’s promise to Abraham also included from the very beginning that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him. So we believing Gentiles are also beneficiaries of the unchangeableness of God’s purpose. As Paul stated, “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29).
    • His Method – Confirmation by Oath (Heb. 6:17b): "interposed with an oath, – Referring to Gen. 22:16 – “‘By Myself I have sworn,’ declares the LORD ....”
    • His Goal: Our Possession of a Strong Consolation (Heb. 6:18)
      • The sureness of the consolation (Heb. 6:18)
        • The promise by two immutable things: "so that by two unchangeable things" (I.e., God's promise and God's oath)
        • The impossibility of God's lying: "in which it is impossible for God to lie"
          • God, because of His fixed righteous character, cannot possibly falsify the truth. This truth is stated in Num. 23:19 and Tit. 1:2. By way of contrast, the devil is the father of deceit (John 8:44). It is inevitable that he will lie.
          • Theologians debate whether Jesus was able not to sin, or unable to sin. I maintain the latter. Jesus has the same character as God. If it is possible for Jesus to sin, it is possible for God to sin. The Scriptures state otherwise.
      • The recipients of the consolation – those appropriating the hope (Heb. 6:18)
        • Preservation: "we who have taken refuge" – The writer includes both himself and his readers in this statement. Both have taken refuge in the prospect of inheriting the promises, reinforced with an oath, that God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their physical descendants (Gen. 22:15-17). We today who are among the nations (Gentiles), and not Jewish, can also take refuge in the portion of the promises that deal with Gentiles – “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed ....” (Gen. 22:18).
        • Inspiration: "would have strong encouragement"
          • "strong" – the adjective ischurós (2478), meaning "strong, powerful, mighty; ... (4) of things, with the meaning fitting the context: ... strong (encouragement) (Heb. 6:18)" (excerpted from Friberg).
          • "encouragement" – the noun paráklēsis (3874), "from a basic meaning calling someone to oneself ... (2) as an authoritative presentation of privileges and requirements exhortation, encouragement (1 Cor. 14:3); (3) as an offer of consoling help consolation, comfort (2 Cor. 1:4) (excerpted from Friberg). Probably both meanings (2) and (3) are in view. These readers, undergoing pressure from Judaizers (cf. Gal. 2:14), needed both exhortation and comfort.
        • Appropriation: "to take hold of the hope set before us"
          • "to “take hold of” (the Aorist Infinitive of kratéô, 2902) is used twice in this letter – Heb. 4:14; 6:18. It means to follow “a doctrine, creedal confession, or course of life,” and can be translated, “hold fast to, keep hold of, continue firmly in” (Friberg). The Aorist tense implies the necessity of taking decisive action. The readers are challenged to appropriate this hope for themselves.
          • “the hope” – "the hope" is the Genitive of the noun elpís (1680), Friberg's meaning (3) "as expectation of a divinely provided future (the) hope (Col. 1:27)." The noun "hope" is used by the writer of Hebrews in Heb. 3:6; 6:11, 18; 7:19; 10:23.
          • "set before us" – the Genitive Present Participle of the verb prókeimai (4295), here used "figuratively, of a prescribed goal or prospect lie ahead, be set before (Heb. 12:1)" (excerpted from Friberg). The writer used this rare verb in Heb. 6:18; 12:1, 2).
  • The Hope Reinforced by the Oath. Heb. 6:19-20
    • The Possession of the Hope (Heb. 6:19a): "This hope we have" – i.e., the hope of participating fully in the Messiah's kingdom. The word "hope" elpís (1680) does not appear in the Greek text in Heb. 6:19. Rather, the writer used the Accusative case of the relative pronoun hós (3739), "which," referring back to the noun "hope" elpís (1680) immediately preceding. The writer continues to describe this hope, next as ...
    • The Description of the Hope (Heb. 6:19b)
      • Foundational: "as an anchor of the soul" – The hope of participating fully in the Messiah’s kingdom provides an anchor (ánkura, 45), i.e. a ship anchor (Acts 27:29, 30, 40) for one’s soul (psuché, 5590), one’s innermost being.
        • "The author is not saying simply that hope secures the 'spiritual' aspect of man. He is affirming that hope forms an anchor for the whole of life. The person with a living hope has a steadying anchor in all he does."[370] (Constable).
      • Reliable: "a hope both sure and steadfast" – Again, the word "hope" does not appear here (thus the NASB's italics), but it remains the topic. This hope is both sure (asphalḗs, 804) "(1) literally firm, secure (Heb. 6:19)" (excerpted from Friberg) and steadfast (bébaios, 949), "steadfast, firm, sure; (1) literally, of an anchor secure, firm (Heb. 6:19)" (excerpted from Friberg). The latter adjective is used more often in Hebrews than in any other NT book: Heb. 2:2; 3:6, 14; 6:19; 9:17).
      • Access-Granting: "and one which enters within the veil"
        • "enters" is the Present Participle of the verb eisérchomai (1525), here used "(1) literally, in a local sense go or come into, enter (Matt. 2:21);" (excerpted from Friberg). The Present tense indicates this hope is continually entering...
        • "within" is the Genitive of the preposition esṓteros (2082) "(2) neuter accusative as an improper preposition with the genitive, indicating relative position between two areas, one more inward beyond, farther in (Heb. 6:19)" (excerpted from Friberg).
        • “veil” is the Genitive Neuter of the noun katapétasma (2665), "strictly what is spread out downward; hence, veil, curtain, cloth, drape (Matt. 27:51);" (excerpted from Friberg). This veil refers to the heavy fabric which separated the “Holy” place from the “Holy of Holies” in the earthly tabernacle / temple (Heb. 9:3). When Jesus died, God tore the veil separating the two (Matt. 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). This signified that he who places his faith in the crucified, risen Christ, can continually enjoy bold access into the very presence of God (Heb. 4:16)!
        • There is a sense in which the writer of Hebrews views the “heavens” as the veil through which Christ passed into the very presence of God (Heb. 4:14; 7:26). But there is another sense in which the writer acknowledges that there is a true sanctuary (hágion, 39) or tabernacle (skēnḗ, 4633) up in heaven, one which God, not man built (Heb. 8:1-2; 9:11; cf. Rev. 15:5).
    • Christ's Entrance within the Veil (Heb. 6:20): "where Jesus has entered" – the Aorist Indicative of eisérchomai (1525), here used "(1) literally, in a local sense go or come into, enter (Matt. 2:21);" (excerpted from Friberg). In Heb. 6:19, our hope continually enters within the veil into the very presence of God. But Jesus does not continually enter God's presence. When He ascended into heaven to enter into God's presence He did so at a point in time (Heb. 6:20). And there He remains, sitting at the right hand of the Father, waiting until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet (Psalm 110:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 10:12, 13).
      • Under the Old Covenant: Under the Mosaic Covenant, only the high priest was to enter beyond the veil into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle / Temple (Lev. 16:1-34). He was to do this only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27-28). He was to offer a bull for a sin offering for himself and his household (Lev. 16:6, 11) and two goats for a sin offering for the people (Lev. 16:5). He was to sprinkle the blood from the bull (Lev. 16:14) and, subsequently, the blood from the goat on the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies (Lev. 16:15, 16). Thus he was to make an atonement for his own sins and the sins of the people. He was to offer incense which was to shroud the mercy seat, protecting himself from the presence of the LORD so that he would not die (Lev. 16:12, 13). The sins of the people would be transmitted to the live scapegoat, which would be led off into the wilderness (Lev. 16:20-22). Perhaps this signified spatially God's removal of the peoples' sins (Psa. 103:12). This ceremony, however, was to be repeated year after year, indicating that the sacrifices atoned for (covered), but did not actually pay for or remove any sins.
      • Under the New Covenant: By contrast, Jesus, under the New Covenant, has entered directly through the veil (Heb. 6:19) into the very presence of God Himself up in heaven within the true temple. He only had to do so once (Heb. 7:27; 10:10, 12), and, unlike the earthly high priest, He remained there (Heb. 10:12)! His sacrifice actually paid for our sins and effectively removed the guilt from our sins! Praise be to God!
      • As a Forerunner: "as a forerunner for us" – the adjective used as a noun pródromos (4274), speaking "of one who goes on ahead to prepare the way going before; substantivally forerunner; metaphorically of Jesus in his high priestly work in entering God's presence after his resurrection, ahead of his followers and on their behalf (Heb. 6:20)" (Friberg). This is the only use of this term in the entire NT.
        •  Jesus, as our great high priest, entered the very presence of God, paving the way for us so that we could follow Him there directly into God’s presence! The once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus was supremely effective!
        • "The Greek word for forerunner was used in the second century A.D. of the smaller boats sent into the harbor by larger ships unable to enter due to the buffeting of the weather. These smaller boats carried the anchor through the breakers inside the harbor and dropped it there, securing the larger ship." (Constable, quoting The Nelson Study Bible, pp. 2085-86.)
        • "In the same way, the "hope" that Jesus Christ has planted firmly in heaven should serve as an "anchor" for our storm-tossed souls. It should keep us from drifting away from God (cf. Heb. 2:1). The anchor was a symbol of hope in the ancient world.[368] Our anchor rests firmly in the Holy of Holies ("within the veil"), in God's presence in heaven, with Jesus. According to Wiersbe, at least 66 pictures of anchors appear in the catacombs under Rome, indicating its popularity as a Christian symbol of Jesus Christ."[369](Constable).
      • Made a High Priest: "having become a high priest"
        • "having become" is the Nominative Aorist Participle of the verb gínomai (1096), here, Friberg's meaning "(4) of persons or things that enter into a new condition become something (Matt. 5:45)." At a point in time, His ascension into heaven into the heavenly temple to sit at the right hand of God, Jesus became High Priest.
          • Throughout his ministry on earth He served primarily as Prophet, though He presented Himself as King.  At His death He served both as Priest and Sacrifice, offering His body as a once-for-all sacrifice (Heb. 7:27). At His ascension, He passed through the veil of the heavens into the very presence of God as the Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14; 7:26; 8:1). Human high priests stood to do their work. Jesus, the Great High Priest had only one sacrifice to offer for all time. He is now seated at the right hand of God as the eternal Great High Priest after the classification of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4; Heb. 5:6; 6:20). He continues to serve as priest forever (Heb. 7:24); "Therefore He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25). Meanwhile, as He sits at the right hand of the Father, He is waiting for His enemies to be made a footstool for His feet (Psalm 110:1). When He returns to earth He will serve primarily as King from Zion over Israel and over the entire world (Psalm 110:2-3, 5-7; Zech. 14:9).
        • "a high priest" – literally, "high priest" the article "a" does not appear in the Greek text. "High priest" is the Nominative case of the single noun archiereús (749) "high priest, chief priest; plural principal priests, most important priests (Matt. 2:4)" (Friberg). This plural reference to “the main priests” (“the chief priests”) is the predominant usage in the gospels. Generally, the singular usage refers to the “high priest.” Usage indicates the meaning in a particular passage. Archiereus (749) is used only in the Gospels, Acts, and Hebrews. It is used 25X in Matthew, 22X in Mark, 15X in Luke, 21X in John, 22X in Acts, and 17X in Hebrews, for a total of122X. Jesus has become high priest eternally after the order of Melchizedek.
        • "High priest" is an important term in Hebrews, appearing a surprising 17 times (Heb. 2:17; 3:1; 4:14, 15; 5:1, 5, 10; 6:20; 7:26, 27, 28; 8:1, 3; 9:7, 11, 25; 13:11).
        • The writer of Hebrews affirms that Jesus is "a merciful and faithful high priest" (Heb. 2:17); "a great high priest who has passed through the heavens" (Heb. 4:14); a high priest who is able to "sympathize with our weaknesses" (Heb. 4:15); a high priest "who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15); One who "was designated by God as a high priest" (Heb. 5:10); One who was designated by God as high priest "according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:10; 6:20); One who was designated high priest forever – an eternal high priesthood (Heb. 6:20); a high priest who was and is "holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners" (Heb.7:26); a high priest who is "exalted above the heavens" (Heb. 7:26); a high priest who offered up Himself for the sins of people "once for all" (Heb. 7:27); a high priest who is appointed as Son having been made perfect forever (Heb. 7:28); a high priest who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" (Heb. 8:1); One who appeared as high priest of the good things to come (Heb. 9:11).
        • Eternally: "forever" The Greek text is “into the ages” (eis ton aiôna, 165). There will never be a time when Jesus is not High Priest. More than any other book in the NT, Hebrews presents Jesus as “Priest” and “High Priest.” That is Jesus’ present capacity. He waits to serve as King when He returns to Earth.
        • According to a Superior Priesthood: "according to the order of Melchizedek." This is now the third time the writer states that Jesus is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. In Heb. 5:6 he was quoting Psalm 110:4. In Heb. 5:10 and now in Heb. 6:20 he alludes to Psalm 110:4, referring to Jesus as having become a high priest (archiereús, 749) into the ages (eis ton aiôna, 165) according to the order or classification (táxis, 5010) of Melchizedek. Beginning in the next verse, Heb. 7:1, the writer will draw some extensive parallels between Jesus and Melchizedek.
Summary – What hope do we Christians possess?
  • Let us remember that the author is writing to Hebrew Christians who, under duress, are considering reverting to Judaism. The author had warned them that, if they do so, it will be impossible for them to repent (Heb. 6:4-6).
  • He used Abraham as an example of someone who inherited the promises of God. He reminded them that God promised Abraham great blessing. This blessing was prior to, and independent of the giving of the Law to Moses and the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai (Heb. 6:13-16).
  • This blessing was assured by God's promise and God's oath. It is impossible for God to break His word (Heb. 6:17)!
  • The writer wants his readers, who have taken refuge in the prospect of inheriting those promises, to have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before them (Heb. 6:17-18).
  • This hope is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. It enters, along with Jesus, inside the veil into the very presence of God (Heb. 6:18-20).
  • This Melchizekan priesthood was antecedent to and superior to the Levitical priesthood.
  • So the readers, and we who are Gentiles have the hope of inheriting all the blessings promised in connection with the coming reign of Christ without having to revert to Judaism!

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(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB 1995.)

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Updated February 28, 2022