“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.”
This passage was originally addressed to those who were believers in the Lord Jesus Christ in the city of Jerusalem in 67 AD. The problem with these people was that they had started to make the advance with doctrinal teaching from men like Peter who were great in communicating doctrine. But they had failed along the way because they could not stay positive toward Bible doctrine.
The Greek word for enlightened is “photizo,” which means to be illuminated. Here it means to be illuminated with Bible doctrine. There was a time in the life of these believers when they were positive toward doctrine, when they wanted to take in doctrine and learn something about the Lord so that they could advance. They had started out in the right way; something caused them to stop advancing. While they were advancing they were advancing into pressure; they were advancing in suffering. They endured in the midst of the pressure and did not run away, they stood their ground, and they did not retreat when pressure came their way. So the writer of Hebrews was encouraging them to recall the earlier times when they were advancing spiritually.
In verse 33 public spectacle means to be put to shame, to be publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, to be in the amphitheater, or to be embarrassed. By reproaches means verbal insults or visual insults. People can insult you by the way they look at you. By tribulations means by pressures. These believers were Jews who had accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah and had placed their faith in Him for salvation. You can imagine how they were being treated by other family members, their friends and especially the religious leaders. Just like Christ, I’m sure they were jeered at, laughed at, shunned by their family and friends for not continuing in the religion of their forefathers.
Sharers with those who were so treated, refers to other believers who were also advancing and being ridiculed by others as a result. I’m sure these believers had been taught the importance of surrounding yourself with those of like mind, and had done so. They had originally rejected Temple worship and embraced the Royal Family of God in their local church in Jerusalem. We know this is true because of the next verse.
“For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has great reward.”
Showed sympathy means that when these people started their spiritual advance they started in a very positive way. They were not ashamed of Jesus Christ and they were not ashamed of other believers. They had demonstrated compassion to those who were in the embarrassing position of being prisoners, but weren’t embarrassed.
And, they joyfully accepted the seizure of their property which was a testimony to their faith and growth. They understood the doctrine of a personal sense of destiny. A personal sense of destiny gives a believer capacity for life by producing spiritual self-esteem. Spiritual self-esteem means that you have discovered who you are in Christ. God never gives us more blessing than we have the capacity to receive. (James 4:1-8, Isaiah 30:18) God also never gives us more testing than we are able to endure.(I Corinthians 10:12-13; Romans 14:10-13) Capacity for life replaces the temporary pleasures of the world with the eternal happiness of God. (Galatians 6:6-10) Capacity is increased by spending a maximum amount of time in fellowship with God, consistent intake and application of Bible doctrine and using Divine Viewpoint Thinking.
A personal sense of destiny takes you from spiritual babyhood to the beginning stages of spiritual adulthood. You begin to grow up in Christ and realize all the wonderful things that God has done for you, is doing for you and is going to do for you. You begin to see His work in your past, your present and your future. This causes you to put aside anything in your life that is a distraction to your spiritual life. And it causes you to keep looking to Jesus as your only real hope (confidence) for lasting peace and happiness. Finally, a personal sense of destiny will cause you to live your life in light of eternity. This is what these believers in Jerusalem had experienced. They understood that the material possessions of this life are nothing compared to the eternal rewards that awaited them in Heaven. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Verse 35 emphasis the importance of not throwing away your personal sense of destiny (confidence). These believers in Jerusalem had thrown away as worthless all the Bible doctrine they had learned, which included a personal sense of destiny. Confidence is the Greek word “parrhesia,” which means assurance, boldness, outspokenness or openly. These believers had been confident in their decision to believe in Christ and to execute the Christian Way of Life. They had advanced to some point spiritually by means of the intake and application of Bible doctrine. They had boldness, outspokenness and openly proclaimed their faith in Christ; all of which is consistent within our context.
Great reward is the Greek word “misthapodosia,” which is made up of two words, “misthos” meaning wages, and “apodidomi” meaning expectation (expected payment). This tells us that we should anticipate blessing from God. As we stay with doctrine we know blessing is coming. Blessing from God is what is at stake in the Christian life, and failure to execute God’s plan, purpose blocks greater divine blessing from coming our way (we all have blessing from God in some way). There is coming a time when every believer will stand before Jesus Christ to be evaluated. This evaluation, as we will see, is not based on our sins or human works. It is based, instead, on our response to God’s plan for us to learn and apply His Word and to grow-up spiritually. The Judgment Seat of Christ is for believers only and takes place shortly after the Rapture of the Church. Before the Lord can reveal all that will be ours for eternity, we must all be evaluated at the Judgment Seat of Christ. It is during our evaluation that we will suffer shame for those failed opportunities to fulfill our spiritual lives. (John 14:1-3; II Corinthians 5:8-10; Romans 14:11-12)
So, how are you and I going to meet our Savior? Will we have fulfilled the mandates of Scripture to advance to spiritual maturity, which has led us into a life of purpose? At the Judgment Seat of Christ, it will be too late to do anything about our failure; the time is now, today! We must all take the initiative to study and apply God’s Word, immediately, if we want to hear, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” Upon hearing this from our Lord Jesus Christ, rewards beyond anything we can imagine will be ours for all eternity. (Matthew 25:21; James 1:25)
“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. ‘For yet in a little while, He Who is coming will come and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.’”
So, now we have the admonishment from the writer of Hebrews to persevere in the advance to spiritual maturity. For these believers and for us as well, the will of God was the execution of the Christian Way of Life. He has encouraged them to stop their practice of ritual worship in the Temple and to embrace the new covenant of grace and spiritual freedom in Christ. Once they persevered in the intake and application of Bible doctrine, which is the execution of the Christian Way of Life, they would receive what God had promised them.
Two promises are mentioned here by way of quotes from the Old Testament. The first is the return of Jesus Christ at the Rapture which guarantees these believers a resurrection body, followed by an eternal inheritance beyond their imaginations. The second promise is a life on earth lived by faith which guarantees a believer happiness, peace and prosperity. This type of life for a believer is one in which they live life in light of eternity. In other words, they will have a personal sense of destiny. Failure to persevere in these attitudes and this way of thinking displeases God.
“But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.”
Shrinking back to destruction speaks of the various stages of reversionism and the destruction of the spiritual life of a believer. The opposite of reversionism is the advance to spiritual maturity. Reversionism is the condition of a believer who is negative toward Bible doctrine and as a result has stopped growing spiritually. It is failure to follow God’s plan of executing the Christian Way of Life. The reversionist is a believer in perpetual carnality, out of fellowship with God and controlled by his sin nature. (If you are not advancing toward spiritual maturity as a Christian, you are retreating into reversionism).
The reversionist is said to be an enemy of God, an enemy of the Cross, double-minded and unstable in all his ways. He does not abide in the teaching of Christ, he deludes himself, he lacks faith, he faints in his mind, he is a prisoner to sin, he has come short of the grace of God, his soul is tortured and he is subject to divine discipline. The reversionist has left his first love, fallen away from his spiritual life and has become a lukewarm believer. We will delve into these various descriptions of the reversionist as we get further into our study. (James 4:4; Philippians 3:18-19; I John 3:10; James 1:8, 4:8; II John 9; James 1:22-24; Romans 7:23; Hebrews 12:3-15; II Peter 2:7-8; Revelation 2)
Some believers start their Christian lives very well, under sound, accurate doctrinal teaching from their pastor-teacher. Others wander off immediately after salvation, and remain in a state of carnality until they die (often the sin unto death). Then we have the reversionist who begins well but finishes poorly.
Paul gives us the recovery process beginning in Ephesians 4:20. First the believer is to recall the Bible doctrine that he has learned in the past. The Greek word for “learned” indicates a process of study, which is not the same as simply listening to Bible teaching or reading your Bible. The connotation is not to simply learn the doctrine of Christ academically, rather get to know the Person of Christ. In learning “Christ,” application is made that will cause a believer to walk in a different manner than the rest of the Gentiles. In Ephesians 4:21 the word for “taught” indicates that a pastor-teacher is involved in this learning process and the last phrase is an indication that all Bible doctrine is the thinking of Christ. Therefore, the first step to recovery is to make the study and application of Bible doctrine number one priority.
In Ephesians 4:23 we have the resumption of the spiritual life that had previously been abandoned. How do we do this? We do this by renewing our minds, not by attempting to change our behavior, which comes as a result of the renewed mind. The mind of the believer is renewed by the consistent intake and application of Bible doctrine. Therefore, the believer involved in reversionism must renew his mind, not “change his ways.” Right thinking leads to right actions. Removal of scar tissue on the soul takes time and patience… patience with ourselves and/or other believers who might be going through this recovery process. (Romans 12:1-2)