Things like repentance, belief, cleanliness, resurrection, and eternal judgement—these are all basic, foundational aspects of Christianity. They are not signs of mature believers. There are deeper teachings to understand beyond them. Paul’s believing Hebrew friends have wandered from the path of maturity and need to repent and return to that path or risk losing blessings. The window of repentance does not stay open indefinitely.
*Paul intends to move on from the basic teachings about Jesus. He wants his audience to mature, to grow up as believers. He’s not concerned with their justification in the sight of God. He knows that is already secured. He is disappointed that they are acting like babies in their faith, rather than adults. He lists some aspects of elementary teaching about the Christ, which include repentance from dead works, faith toward God, instructions for washings, laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment.
Paul asserts these listed teachings are basic elements of Christianity. Paul calls these things a part of elementary teaching. Simply believing God’s promise is the starting point of faith. All that is necessary to be justified in the sight of God and receive the free gift of eternal life is to believe on Jesus. Paul will tell us in Hebrews 9:14 that when we repent in the presence of God, the blood of Christ also cleanses our conscience from dead works, to free us to serve the living God in our daily walk.
Washings likely refers to religious ceremony, such as Levitical priests who were to be perpetually clean. The laying on of hands possibly refers to putting one’s sin onto the animal sacrifice. It could also refer to appointment of leaders. Whatever the case, these things are elementary for believers under the New Covenant. The resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement—these both are easily understood starting places for a believers’ faith.
God’s eternal judgment awaits every human after death. Believers will gain entrance to heaven by the blood of Jesus, but will be judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ, where deeds are judged to determine rewards (2 Corinthians 5:10). Resurrection from death comes for every believer in Jesus who dies before Christ’s return.
All of these tenets are the foundation of living a faithful life toward God, and don’t need to be retaught to these believing Hebrews. The Hebrew audience should already understand all these things; Paul wants to move forward. However, they need to repent of their current path and begin anew. The time to repent is now, for the window of time to repent does not remain open indefinitely. Therefore, the desire to move on toward maturity will only occur if God permits.
What is a situation where God would not permit repentance? There are numerous instances in the Bible where God allows a period for repentance, then that period ends. There are examples for unbelievers and His children alike. Noah and his family were on the ark for a week, then God shut the door. It seems likely people tried to board the ark at some point, but it was too late, God had closed the opportunity for those who did not heed God’s warning to enter the ark and be saved. That window was open for 120 years, but it finally closed.
The window of repentance can also close for God’s elect children. When Israel refused to enter the promised land after the report of the twelve spies, Numbers 14 tells us the people longed to return to Egypt and refused to enter the promised land. So God judged them and told them they were no longer allowed to enter the land, and all above age twenty would die in the wilderness. The next generation would receive the blessing, this generation would lose it. After hearing God’s judgement the people tried then to obey the Lord, but their attempt failed, and Moses chastised them (Numbers 14:41-43). Their window of opportunity was closed. God did not permit repentance. God’s judgment was to give them the fruit of their disobedience and not allow them to enter the land.
Paul will now explain the circumstance of the Hebrew believers, and why their window of opportunity remains open. But Paul has already emphasized the importance of immediate action in chapters 3 and 4, emphasizing the need to repent “today” while God is calling.
1 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do, if God permits.
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