There have been preachers who used to teach that if believers no longer attend Christian worship services that they are committing ‘willful’ sin because of this ominous and dreadful-looking verse in the book of Hebrews. Since there is such a sense of perplexity and anxiety regarding the meaning of the anonymous author, once again it is prudent and necessary to first look at the context or try to determine who the recipients of this letter might be. One of the first things that come to mind is that this is perhaps one of the most Jewish writings in the entire Bible, and it places quite an emphasis on the priesthood and temple services, sacrificial system and the role of Jesus [Yeshua] in the purpose of God. It might be a good idea to look at a few passages which serve as an introduction and contextual backdrop to this intriguing study as in the following below.
Hebrews 2: 1
Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.
*Hebrews 6: 4-8*
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have been partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, if they [these ones] fall away, to renew them [“dead works”-Cp. Hebrews 6: 1b; 9: 14b] ‘again’ to repentance, since they crucify ‘again’ for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessings from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end it is to be burned.
Hebrews 7: 11-12, 14-16, 18-19, 22
Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it people received the Law [Torah]), what further need was there for another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the Law [Torah]. For it is evident that our LORD arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses said nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest, who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness. For the Law [Torah] made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God; by so much more Jesus [Yeshua] has become a guarantee of a better covenant [Cp. Hebrews 8: 7-11].
Hebrews 9: 8-9, 11-14, 22-24, 26b
The Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All (Holies) was not yet made manifest (revealed or known) while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the [this] present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him [High Priest] who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience. But Christ [Moshiach] came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place [Holy of Holiest] once and for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying (cleansing) of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ [Moshiach], who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot or blemish cleanse your conscience from dead works. And according to the Law [Torah] almost all things are purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no remission (forgiveness) of sins. Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these [vs. 10, 12-13], but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ [Moshiach] has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; but now at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
Hebrews 10: 1, 4, 11-12, 14, 18
For the Law [Torah], having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer year after year, make those who approach perfect. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats [Cp. Hebrews 9: 12-13] could take away sins. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. Now where there is remission of sins, there is no longer an offering for sin [“Sin Offering”].
Hebrews 10: 25a, 26
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. . . For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a [any other] sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries [Cp. Hebrews 6: 8].
COMMENTARY: It would seem from reading all the verses in this study that the target audience is Messianic Jews [Jews who accept Jesus as the Messiah], Jewish priests and possibly some Gentiles who worship the God of Israel. The heading addresses it to HEBREWS and the writer goes to great lengths to prove convincingly that Jesus [Yeshua] is greater than any angel and is the sin sacrifice that was symbolically portrayed in the animal sacrifices under the Law of Moses. The blood of animals could not purify our souls, cleanse our conscience from dead works [of the flesh], and remit our sins, but it is only by the sacrifice of Jesus [Yeshua] in shedding of His blood, only once, that redemption is available to anyone who lives by faith. These individuals, after receiving the benefits of those spiritual things mentioned in Hebrews 6: 4-8 rejected the truth that they had once believed and received but could not or did not have the perseverance to continue until the end, probably due to all the persecutions, struggles and suffering that they experienced (Cp. Hebrews 10: 23, 32-33, 35-39). The “forsaking the assembling” part, as I seem to think, has to do with people returning back into Judaism and offering up to God the blood sacrifices and burnt offerings again, thinking that He will accept their religious votives when they know better. This is why it says, again, in Hebrews 6: 6, “If they fall away, to renew [do over again] them [sacrifices and offerings] again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” The dead works are the works of the Law [Torah] because it is powerless to justify or make us perfect in the sight of God [Cp. Galatians 2: 16-17; Hebrews 10: 1-2]. Every time they go to the Temple to offer God a sacrifice, especially the “Sin Offering” there was no forgiveness [in the technical sense], only an outward repentance and their sins were rolled back for yet another year [Cp. Hebrews 10: 3]. When they do this they reject the “true” sacrifice for the remission of sins in His blood and as a result, recrucify Jesus [Yeshua] every time and in the sight of God it is something that brings about His wrath [Cp. Hebrews 10: 26-31]. There is no longer a [any/another] sacrifice for sins “because the price has already been paid” [Cp. Hebrews 10: 18]. To put a final stamp on this troublesome ‘forsaking’ part because it isn’t so much about being absent from the worship services and fellowship of the saints as it is turning your back on “grace” and seeking to be rejustified by performing the works of the Law. This is reminiscent of some Messianic Jewish rabbis who have taught Hebrew roots for years and then decide to go back [turn back], forsaking the assembly and congregation where they once taught from the Tanakh and Brit Chadasha [New Testament], proving to their fellow Jews that Jesus [Yeshua] is the Messiah [Moshiach] and Savior; just to later repudiate the doctrine and live under the Law [Torah] of Moses, which they previously rejected, in order to be pleasing to God once again; at least so they think.
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