No, I’m not talking about our security. It is the teaching of our Apostle Paul (Rom. 11:13) that members of the Body of Christ living in the dispensation of Grace are eternally secure in Him (Rom. 8:35-39; Phil. 1:6). But the question has long been asked if the Hebrew believers in the kingdom program enjoy the same assurance. This writer believes that the answer to this question is yes—and no! Let’s consider the evidence.
“But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13 cf. 10:22).
Our Lord’s words here suggest that any Hebrew believer who does not endure unto the end of the Tribulation without taking the mark of the beast will not be saved. We find the same thought in John 8:
“As He spake these words, many believed on Him” (John 8:30).
Here we are tempted to think that these people were immediately saved and eternally secure, since Paul later says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). But we mustn’t read our Lord’s later revelation to Paul into His earthly ministry. In the next verse we rather find Him saying something quite different:
“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, IF ye continue in My word, THEN are ye My disciples indeed” (John 8:31).
The ensuing conversation between our Lord and these believing Jews indicated clearly that they would not continue in His word, and He ends up calling “those Jews which believed on Him” children of the devil (v. 44).
And then there is the account of Simon in Acts 8:
“Then Simon himself believed also, and…was baptized” (Acts 8:13).
Since Mark 16:16 clearly states that “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” we would expect that Simon was saved. But when Simon revealed that his heart was “not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:21), Peter told him that he would “perish” (v. 20), and that he needed to “repent” and “be forgiven” (v. 22), concluding:
“For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (v. 23).
It would appear from this that even though Simon believed and was baptized, he was not eternally secure upon believing.
As we move to the Hebrew epistles, we see that the kingdom message of “he that endureth unto the end shall be saved” doesn’t change. Hebrews 3:6 says:
“But Christ as a son over His own house; whose house are we, IF we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.”
And Verse 14 echoes this thought:
“For we are made partakers of Christ, IF we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.”
The conditional nature of these statements suggests that Hebrew believers had only conditional security. Indeed, the writer of Hebrews goes on to use an illustration based on a case of conditional legal security from the Law of Moses.
Hebrew law, like our law, saw a difference between pre-meditated murder and accidental manslaughter. Under the Law, murderers had to die (Num. 35:16-18). Interestingly, the death penalty for murder in Israel was not inflicted by stoning; rather, capital punishment for murder was administered by a friend or relative of the murder victim, called “the revenger” (v. 19). This avenger was also allowed to pursue those guilty of manslaughter—but the manslayer had an option. He could flee to a city of refuge (v. 10,11), where he would be safe from the avenger—as long as he continued to “abide” within the confines of the city (Num. 35:25).
Many years later, God Himself used this clause in the Law to Israel’s advantage. When she demanded that the Romans execute her Messiah, Israel was surely guilty of murder. Even in our system of law, if you put someone else up to killing another, you yourself can be charged with murder. But in pronouncing the murder indictment against the nation (Acts 3:14,15), Peter added these strange and wonderful words:
“And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers” (v. 17).
On the authority of our Lord’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” Peter here reduced Israel’s charge from murder to manslaughter. While she should have known that He was their Messiah, and indeed could have known from the descriptions of the coming One found in their own prophets, the fact is that they did not know, and under their Law, any man who claimed to be God who was not God had to die (John 19:7).
On the basis of this new reduced charge, individuals in Israel could now flee to a city of refuge for protection from the avenging Antichrist that God was about to send. But the cities of refuge were only types of Christ, and mere types could not save them from deicide. But Christ Himself could! This is why Hebrews 6:18 speaks of Hebrews who had believed in Christ as those who had “fled for refuge” to Him. But like the type in Numbers 35, they could remain safe from the avenging Antichrist only if they continued to “abide” in Him. As the Lord Himself put it in John 15:6,
“If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
Our Apostle Paul also uses the word “abide,” but in a very different sense:
“If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself” (II Tim. 2:13).
Today believers in Christ are members of His Body, and “He cannot deny Himself.” Today the Lord abides faithful to us. But the responsibility for abiding faithful in the kingdom program lay squarely on the believer.
Why then does the author of Hebrews go on in Hebrews 6 to call their hope “an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast” (Heb. 6:19)? Well, Hebrew security can be illustrated by a story told by my uncle Jerald, a fighter pilot on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. He says that he never worried about being shot down, but he had nightmares about completing his mission—only to return and find that someone had sunk his landing strip! But this was not a concern for the Hebrew believer. He knew that if he could endure to the end and complete his mission, the kingdom of heaven would be there to offer him a safe and happy landing.
This is why Hebrews 6 warned the Pentecostal believers who “were made partakers of the Holy Ghost” that…
“…it is impossible for those who were once enlightened…if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance…” (Heb. 6:4-6).
These words “fall away” match the parable where our Lord warned that some would “for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13).
All of these passages, and others like them, have vexed many a Bible teacher who sought to harmonize these conditional statements with the unconditional security taught by the Apostle Paul. But the solution is not to try to harmonize God’s prophetic program with His mystery program, but to recognize the dispensational distinctions and then view these verses in their proper dispensational perspective. Security for kingdom saints works differently than it does for us.
Let’s go back to the very first Hebrew, Abraham. How was he saved? When God told Abraham that He would multiply his seed, Genesis 15:6 says,
“…he believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness.”
Clearly Abraham was saved by faith alone. Indeed, to prove that justification today is “to him that worketh not, but believeth,” Paul says of him,
“…if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
“For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:2-5).
But then James comes along and says,
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?”
“And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness…” (James 2:21,23).
Paul says that Abraham was justified by faith alone, but James insists he was justified by faith plus works. How can both statements be true?
The answer lies in the meaning of the word “fulfilled” (James 2:23). This word in Scripture often means to fill full. For example, the often significant first use of the Greek word for “fulfilled” is found in Matthew 1:22, where Matthew asserts that our Lord’s birth “fulfilled” the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. But we know from the context in Isaiah 7 that God was predicting the birth of a child who was born and lived in Isaiah’s day (7:15,16), probably Isaiah’s own son. But Matthew says that this prophecy was “fulfilled”, i.e., filled full, when our Lord was born.
Similarly, Matthew 2:16-18 affirms that Jeremiah 31:15 was “fulfilled” when Herod slew the babes in Israel under two years of age. Yet we know from the context in Jeremiah 31 that the prophet was speaking primarily of the children in Israel who—like Daniel—were taken captive by the Babylonians. We know this from the very next verse, where Jeremiah comforts the mothers in ancient Israel, assuring them that their captive children would “come again from the land of the enemy” (v. 16). Obviously, the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:15 was fulfilled centuries before Christ, but it was filled full with Herod’s slaughter of the innocents.
Now let’s transfer this thinking to Abraham’s justification. In a similar way, righteousness was imputed to Abraham by faith alone in Genesis 15:6, but not until he later offered up Isaac do we read:
“And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness…” (James 2:23).
When was the Scripture fulfilled that declared Abraham righteous? As with the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, the Scripture was fulfilled when Abraham passed the test of faith in Genesis 15, but it was filled full when he passed the test of faith plus works in Genesis 22.
But what if on his way to sacrificing Isaac, Abraham were to have dropped dead of a heart attack. Would he have been saved? Of course, for righteousness had been imputed to him! But since he lived, he had to offer up his son for the Scripture that pronounced him righteous to be “fulfilled.”
In all of this, Abraham was the prototype of Hebrew salvation. All subsequent Hebrew saints were justified by faith, but also by faith plus works. When God said, “Believe and bring a sacrifice,” what did believing Hebrews do? They believed and offered a sacrifice. When God said, “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16), believing Hebrews likewise believed and were baptized. If a Hebrew believed and refused to be baptized, he showed that he didn’t really believe God when He said you had to believe and be baptized to be saved.
But what if a Hebrew believer died suddenly of a heart attack while on his way to be baptized? Would he have been saved? Of course! Like Abraham, he was accounted righteous the moment he believed God. But also like Abraham, if he lived, he had to perform the work that God required and be baptized.
But Abraham was not only the prototype for Hebrew salvation, he was also the model for Hebrew security. Abraham was saved by simple faith in Genesis 15. But would his faith pass any test that God might give him? Only God could know, of course—and God did know! Abraham would still have to pass the test of offering up his son, but if God did not know in advance that he would pass this test, then it was presumptuous for Him to impute righteousness to Abraham in Genesis 15.
All subsequent Hebrew security worked the same way. When God said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” a man was saved the moment he believed. But would his faith pass the test of works and be baptized? Only God could know, of course, and God did know! If God did not know in advance that he would pass this test, then it would be presumptuous for Him to impute righteousness to the man by faith alone. But two incidents from Scripture show us that God did impute righteousness to believing Hebrews before they were baptized.
First, our Lord’s words to the dying thief (Luke 23:43) reveal that righteousness had been imputed to him by faith without baptism. Who can argue that the thief would have been baptized had he not been nailed to a cross! But the fact remains that God justified him by faith alone in a day when baptism was required for salvation. Still another incident in Acts 10 explains how.
When Peter told Cornelius and his friends to believe in Christ (Acts 10:43), he was about to tell them to be baptized to be saved, just as he had preached in Acts 2:38. But,
“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word” (Acts 10:44).
What had happened? Acts 2:38 mandated that men “be baptized…for the remission of sins” and then “receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” What happened here? We needn’t wonder. As Peter later explained,
“And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as He did unto us” (Acts 15:8).
Obviously, God knew that as true believers they would be baptized, and so gave them the remission of sins before they were baptized. We know from the earlier case of the thief on the cross that this is how “baptismal regeneration” always worked when it was a part of God’s program.
Of course, today God says to believe and do nothing. True believers rest in the finished work of Christ on Calvary, believing God when He says that salvation is “not of works” (Eph. 2:9), not even by “works of righteousness” (Titus 3:5). Any man who says that he believes in Christ’s death for our sins but also trusts in his own good works shows that he does not really believe God when He says that righteousness is imputed “to him that worketh not” (Rom. 4:5). But believers today do not have to pass any subsequent test of faith, as did Abraham and the Hebrew believers, because we passed all tests when we believed. We believed God when He said that there would be no subsequent tests of works, that salvation is “not of works.”
But during the Great Tribulation to come, salvation will again be by faith plus works, and the work that God will require for salvation is enduring faithful to the end. True believers will set their mind to do this. Some of them will die at the hands of the Antichrist before they can endure to the end of the Tribulation. But true believers will be reckoned righteous by faith, even if they die before completing the work that God required. But of Tribulation believers who live, true believers will endure to the end. We know this from what John says of some people in his day:
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (I John 2:19).
Similarly, Hebrews 10:38 warns all believers to be faithful:
“…if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him.”
But in the next verse, the writer assures true believers:
“But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (v. 39).
In the face of “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21), this writer has often asked himself if he would have the spiritual fortitude to endure to the end to be saved. But if you really believe God when he says that not enduring will doom your soul to hell, you will endure. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is quite out of place in this dispensation, but fits the Tribulation period perfectly.
Over and over the Hebrews are told to “endure” and patiently wait for the Lord to come at the conclusion of the Tribulation (James 5:8-11), lest impatience cause them to follow the Antichrist. Indeed, Abraham is cited as the prime example of one who had to “patiently” endure to receive what he was promised (Heb. 6:12-15). In addition to many other references to patience (Heb. 10:36; 12:1; Rev. 2:2,3,19; 3:10), the Lord Himself asserted:
“In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:19).
But in the face of such horrific persecution, where are Tribulation saints going to find such patience? Revelation 14:12 answers:
“HERE is the patience of the saints…”
Where is the patience of the saints? It lies in the terrifying description of eternal torment that precedes this statement (v. 9-11). If a Hebrew truly believes God when He says that not enduring faithful to the end will damn his soul to hell, he will patiently endure to the end and be saved. God knows that he will, and imputes righteousness to him the moment he believes. This is how it worked with Abraham, with Cornelius and the thief, and with Noah for that matter. We are told that “by faith Noah…prepared an ark…by the which he…became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Heb. 11:7). From the moment Noah began to prepare the ark, he had saving faith, for it says that he prepared the ark “by faith.” But only by actually preparing the ark do we read that he “became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”
This is why the same Hebrew Scriptures that present conditional security also give such wonderful assurances as:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).
So in conclusion, to answer our carefully worded opening question, not all Hebrew believers are secure, but true Hebrew believers are! Not all Tribulation believers will endure to the end, but true believers are immediately justified and as such will endure to the end.