In my previous three posts, it was pointed out that the author of Hebrews believed in the eternal security of the believer. A believer cannot lose or forfeit eternal life. But the author also recognized that a Christian is also capable of committing serious sins. The warning passages in Hebrews are therefore addressed to believers, but they do not deal with going to hell. Yet the unfaithful believer will experience great loss.
We see these things in the example of Esau. He was still the son of Isaac even thought he loved the temporary things of this world more than spiritual things. In chapter 10 we saw that a righteous child of God can “fall away” and earn God’s disapproval. In chapter 2:1-3 we saw that a believer can also experience another kind of “salvation” in the future. This salvation deals with living a life that pleases God and will result in rewards in the Kingdom of God.
When we understand these principles, and they are understood when we allow the text to speak for itself, it causes us to look at Scriptures in a fresh way. This happens when we accept what the text says, and not necessarily what a theological tradition might instruct us.
An example of this is found in Hebrews 12:22-23. Here, the author states:
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect…
In these verses, the author is comparing the earthly Mount Sinai of the Old Covenant, to the heavenly mountain involved in the New Covenant. Christ is seated in the heavens as our High Priest (4:14-16).
The author also speaks of people involved in the New Covenant. He refers to the “general assembly and church of the firstborn.” The names of such people are “written in heaven.” It is certainly possible that the author is describing all Christians with these words.
However, it is also possible that another group of people are being described. When we recall that Esau gave away his firstborn rights and is given in the same chapter as an example of what these Christian readers should not do (12:16-17), we can see this description in another light.
The words “general assembly” are only one word in the Greek. It means a joyful party. The word “church” can simply mean an assembly of people. It is used that way in both the New Testament and the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
In light of the example of Esau, the author may very well be talking about those believers who remain faithful to the Lord during times of difficulties. In the Kingdom they will form a separate group. They will be like “firstborn” sons, and will rule with Christ. On that day they will have a joyous celebration as they receive the approval of the Lord in how they lived their lives.
If so, such Christians have their names “written” in heaven in a special sense. The word is a rare one in the New Testament and means to be enrolled. It can refer to a list of names given a special honor. In the Pentagon in Washington, DC we see an example of that. There is a Hall of Honor. In this Hall there is a list of names of the greatest heroes in our nation’s military history. Not all soldiers, past and present, are on that wall. It is reserved for those who have faithfully served our nation in the most extreme of circumstances.
The evidence favors the idea that this is what the author is saying. Those believers who remain faithful to the Lord will be honored in a special way in the Kingdom of God. Christ will reward such believers.
Many Christians recoil at such thoughts. They simply cannot accept the idea that there will be “differences” in honor and positions in the Kingdom of God. But as we have seen throughout these last few blogs on the book of Hebrews, this is only because there are traditions with long histories that deny such differences will exist. The book of Hebrews, if we allow the words to teach us, tells us that God will indeed reward faithfulness. Unfaithfulness on the part of His children will result in the loss of those rewards.
The application is clear. As Christians we have eternal life. We cannot lose that, no matter what. However, we should desire that when we are with the Lord He will be honored by honoring us if we have been faithful to Him.