“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity.” (Heb. 6:1)*
I recently spoke with a good friend, and fellow minister (who is laboring in a spiritually barren part of the country), about how things were going in ministry. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he had been meeting with the pastor of another church in town in order to talk about theology, pastoral ministry and preaching. My friend had mentioned to this man his commitment to continually preach Christ—in all His saving power and grace—so that God’s people would be established and grow in their union with Him. The pastor responded by saying, “But don’t you think the people will get bored hearing about Jesus all the time?” Appealing to Hebrews 6:1-3, he suggested that we need to move on from the doctrine of Christ to the more practical things of Christian living.
Hebrews 6:1-3 is one of the more difficult—and more easily misinterpreted—portions of Scripture. Like my friend, I have heard many pastors suggest that these verses teach us to move on from the Gospel to the deeper things of practical Christian living. I have even heard some suggest that we need the Gospel at the beginning of our Christian life, but that we do not need to return to it as we grow spiritually. A prima facia reading of the passage may seem to lend to this conclusion, but a closer consideration of the context actually supports an entirely different one. The purpose of the passage is to press us on from the “elementary” things of Christ to perfection. We are to press on in Christian living by pressing on in our knowledge of the deep things of Christ—especially as it regards His eternal Priesthood. It is only in this way that we will be able to “hold fast our confession” (Heb. 4:14).
Throughout the book, the writer of Hebrews has his sights set on one thing (or we may say, one Person)—Jesus, the Son of God. The central argument of the book is simple: Jesus is better than everyone and everything. He is better than every created being, and is better than every part of the Old Testament ceremonial system. The author shows, in the first five chapters, that Jesus is better than the Angels, better than Abraham (2:16), better than Moses (3:5-6), better than Joshua (4:8), and better than Aaron (5:3-5). In chapters 5-10 he explains that Jesus is a better High Priest, a better sacrifice and the better Mediator of a better covenant. The supremacy of Jesus Christ runs through this book in an unbroken and unparalleled manner.
Hebrews 6:1-3 comes on the heels of the rebuke found in Heb. 5:11-14. The rebuke is given immediately after the writer introduces Melchizedek—the mysterious figure from the book of Genesis—as being a type of Christ. Melchizedek appears unexpectedly in a book full of genealogies, but Moses makes no mention of his father or mother. He appears suddenly, blesses Abraham, and then disappears. His name means “King of Righteousness,” and Moses tells us that he was Priest of the Most High God. He was the King-Priest who blessed Abraham. He was “better” than Abraham, and therefore, his Priesthood was better than the Levitical priesthood—since the Levites came from Abraham. While there is great debate over who this figure actually was we can be sure that he, and his Priesthood, was a typical of the eternal High priest, Jesus Christ. Jesus had no “beginning of life or end of days.” He is “made a Priest forever.”
The author eagerly desired to go into the inner workings of how Melchizedek was a type of Christ, but sensed that the Christians to whom he was writing were not ready. This accounts for the wording of Hebrews 5:11, “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” The rebuke is essentially a warning against shallowness. The contrast is between a surface knowledge of the things of Christ and the depths of the Gospel. The truths contained in the typology of Melchizedek are necessary for the people of God to know if they are to grow spiritually. They belong to the “solid food” about which the writer has spoken (5:12). The “solid food” of the deep things of Christ, keeps believers clinging fast to the “good things” of Christ (5:14; 10:1). The writer will return to the many things he wishes to say about Melchizedek (6:20 ff), but must first prepare his readers by telling them that they have become “dull of hearing” about the deep things of Christ.
Whatever some may suggest about the meaning of Hebrews 6:1-3, we can be sure that we are not being told to take our eyes off of Jesus, and to put them onto self. To insure our growth and continuance in Christian living we are repeatedly exhorted to “see Him” (2:9), “fix our eyes” on Him (12:2), “consider Him” (12:3), and “go to Him” (13:13). We will spend eternity mining the depths of what Paul calls the “unsearchable riches of Christ.” May we never be content with only knowing the elementary doctrine.
*This post is a modified version of a May 2011 Weekend Devotional that I wrote for Tabletalk Magazine.