Recently I wrote a blog answering a question about “eternal salvation” by obedience in Heb 5:9. You can see the blog here. I suggested that eternal salvation in Heb 5:9 refers to ruling with Christ in the life to come, that is, being His partners (cf. Heb 1:9).
I received follow-up questions about Heb 1:14 and Heb 10:26. One reader simply quoted Heb 1:14 and wondered what it meant. Another asked, “Is Hebrews 10:26 talking about the same context of salvation as Hebrews 5:9? How do you properly interpret Hebrews 10:26?”
Hebrews 1:14. The author of Hebrews says concerning angels, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?”
Whenever everlasting life or salvation is a possible future experience, as here, then eternal rewards are in view. God does not send out His angels to minister to believers who are in the spiritual far country (e.g., Luke 15:11-24). He sends out His angels to minister to those who are walking with Christ, which is those who “will inherit salvation” if they persevere in their current walk.
Do you recall that God the Father sent angels to minister to Jesus? After He fasted for forty days and then was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, “Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him” (Matt 4:11). Those walking in fellowship with Him receive similar ministry.
This future salvation is described in Heb 1:9, “God, Your God, has anointed You [= Jesus] with the oil of gladness more than your companions [metochoi = partners]”. Compare Heb 3:14, “For we have become partners [metochoi] of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.”
Here is what J. Paul Tanner says about Heb 1:14:
1:14. In contrast to the Son ruling at God’s right hand, the angels are ministering spirits. Unlike the Son whose destiny is King over an eternal throne-kingdom, the role of the angels is to minister, not reign. In fact, they minister to those who will inherit salvation. By salvation, our author is thinking not of our Lord’s saving work on the Cross, but a future salvation associated with His Second Coming (emphasized in chap. 1). This is quite clear in light of his use of “salvation” in 9:28, as well as his explicit mention in 2:5 of “the world to come.” Although there is a salvation for believers to inherit, this can be jeopardized by their neglect (2:3). Thus before continuing the author will pause in 2:1-4 to warn his readers (The Grace NT Commentary, Vol. 2, s.v., Hebrews, pp. 1036-37).
Hebrews 10:26-31. In the fourth warning passage in Hebrews, we read, “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Any who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace. For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Some Calvinists think that the author is warning professing believers that they might fail to persevere and hence will end up being eternally condemned. Arminians think that the author is warning actual believers that they might fail to persevere and hence will end up being eternally condemned. On a practical level those views are identical.
The context is clear that actual believers in Christ are in view.
Those in view are Jewish believers, hence the title of the book. Earlier in this chapter the author reminded that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10; compare Heb 10:14).
In the warning itself the readers are called His people (verse 30).
What the readers were tempted to do was to return to Judaism and to turn their backs on the blood of Christ: “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace” (verse 29). The readers had been positionally sanctified, set apart into God’s forever family.
There is no hint of eternal condemnation here. None of the words related to eternal condemnation are used (condemnation, Hades, Lake of Fire, unending fire, darkness forever, second death). Everything in this warning concerns judgment in this life. Note that verse 29 compares this judgment with the death penalty under the Law of Moses. What is worse than death and yet still judgment in this life? Lots of things. Being tormented by pain and suffering is worse than death for a believer.
The word salvation does not occur in this warning until verse 39. The author is confident that the readers “are not of those who draw back to perdition [destruction], but of those who believe to the saving of the soul [life].” The author is thinking of the salvation first spoken of in Heb 1:14, being Christ’s partners in the life to come.
Here is how Kem Oberholtzer summarizes the fourth warning:
The warning in Hebrews 10:26-39 has a severe and ominous tone. The readers are called to live in obedience to the will of God in a number of areas—drawing near to their High Priest, holding fast their confession, considering how to stimulate each other to love and good deeds, and not forsaking assembling together (10:22-25). These exhortations are given in light of the imminency of the eschatological “day” (i.e., the return of the Messiah).
From this background the warning is given to avoid “willful sin” (i.e., abandoning their assembling and Christian confidence). Sinning willfully results in being in a position in which experiential forgiveness of sin is no longer possible. The result of this position is an expectation of temporal discipline on the defecting believer.
The antidote against willful sin is to recall former days of endurance and future eschatological rewards for obedience. Their past confidence in future possessions was the key for enduring their present difficult situation. Present perseverance will result in receiving God’s future rewards.
The author closed this warning passage with a free citation of Isaiah 26:20 and Habakkuk 2:3-4 to emphasize the need to persevere in view of the coming of the millennium. The writer warned his readers not to “shrink back to destruction” (i.e., temporal physical discipline) as some seem to have done. He closed with a note of encouragement that his readers were those who walk by faith with a life-preserving quality (“The Danger of Willful Sin in Hebrews 10:26-39,” BibSac, October-December 1988, pp. 418-19).
We cannot simply assume that the word salvation means deliverance from eternal condemnation. Seventy percent of the time in the NT it refers to some other deliverance. Such is the case in the book of Hebrews, where it refers to those who will be chosen to rule with Christ in the life to come.