May We Never Shrink Back to Destruction!
“We are not the sort that shrink back to destruction.”—HEBREWS 10:39.
1. What circumstances led to the apostle Peter’s giving in to fear?
THE apostles must have been shocked when their beloved Master, Jesus, told them that they would all scatter and abandon him. How could such a thing be—in this, his hour of greatest need? Peter insisted: “Even if all the others are stumbled, yet I will not be.” In truth, Peter was a brave, bold man. But when Jesus was betrayed and arrested, the apostles—including Peter—scattered. Later, while Jesus was being interrogated in the house of High Priest Caiaphas, Peter lingered anxiously in the courtyard. As the cold night wore on, Peter likely came to fear that Jesus and anyone associated with him might be executed. When some bystanders recognized Peter as one of Jesus’ close associates, panic seized him. Three times he disavowed his connection with Jesus. Peter denied even knowing him!—Mark 14:27-31, 66-72.
2. (a) Why would Peter’s fearful course on the night of Jesus’ arrest not make him of “the sort that shrink back”? (b) What should be our determination?
2 That was a low point in Peter’s life, a moment he no doubt regretted for the rest of his days. But did Peter’s course that night make him a coward? Did it make him one of “the sort” that the apostle Paul later described when he wrote: “Now we are not the sort that shrink back to destruction”? (Hebrews 10:39) Most of us would likely agree that Paul’s words do not apply to Peter. Why? Because Peter’s fear was temporary, a brief lapse in a life marked by outstanding courage and faith. Similarly, many of us have moments in our past that we recall with some degree of shame, moments when fear caught us by surprise and kept us from standing as boldly for the truth as we would have liked. (Compare Romans 7:21-23.) We can be assured that such momentary lapses do not make us the sort that shrink back to destruction. Still, we need to be determined never to become of that sort. Why? And how can we avoid becoming such a person?
What It Means to Shrink Back to Destruction
3. How did the prophets Elijah and Jonah give in to fear?
3 When Paul wrote of “the sort that shrink back,” he did not mean those who may suffer a momentary lapse of courage. Paul surely knew of Peter’s experience and of other similar cases. Elijah, a bold and outspoken prophet, once gave in to fear and fled for his life because of a death threat from wicked Queen Jezebel. (1 Kings 19:1-4) The prophet Jonah had a more serious bout with fear. Jehovah assigned him to travel to the notoriously violent, wicked city of Nineveh. Jonah promptly boarded a boat headed for Tarshish—2,200 miles [3,500 km] in the opposite direction! (Jonah 1:1-3) Yet, neither of these faithful prophets nor the apostle Peter could rightly be described as the sort that shrink back. Why not?
4, 5. (a) How does the context help us to determine what Paul meant by “destruction” at Hebrews 10:39? (b) What did Paul mean when he said: “We are not the sort that shrink back to destruction”?
4 Note the full phrase that Paul used: “Now we are not the sort that shrink back to destruction.” What did he mean by “destruction”? The Greek word he used refers at times to eternal destruction. This definition fits the context. Paul had just warned: “If we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment and there is a fiery jealousy that is going to consume those in opposition.”—Hebrews 10:26, 27.
5 So when Paul said to his fellow believers, “We are not the sort that shrink back to destruction,” he meant that he and his faithful Christian readers were determined never to turn away from Jehovah and stop serving him. To do so could lead only to eternal destruction. Judas Iscariot was one who shrank back to such destruction, as did other enemies of the truth who willfully worked against Jehovah’s spirit. (John 17:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:3) Such individuals are among “the cowards” who suffer eternal destruction in the symbolic lake of fire. (Revelation 21:8) No, we do not ever want to be of that sort!
6. What course does Satan the Devil want us to take?
6 Satan the Devil wants us to shrink back to destruction. A master of “crafty acts,” he knows that such a ruinous course often starts in small ways. (Ephesians 6:11, footnote) If direct persecution fails to achieve his ends, he seeks to erode the faith of true Christians through subtler means. He wants to see bold, zealous Witnesses of Jehovah silenced. Let us see what tactics he used against the Hebrew Christians to whom Paul wrote.
How Christians Were Pressured to Shrink Back
7. (a) What was the history of the congregation in Jerusalem? (b) What spiritual circumstances existed in the case of some of Paul’s readers?
7 The evidence indicates that Paul wrote his letter to the Hebrews about 61 C.E. The congregation in Jerusalem had a tumultuous history. After the death of Jesus, a wave of vicious persecution struck, forcing many Christians in the city to scatter. A period of peace ensued, however, allowing the number of Christians to multiply. (Acts 8:4; 9:31) As the years passed, other persecutions and hardships came and went. It seems that by the time Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews, the congregation was once again enjoying a period of comparative peace. Still, there were pressures. Nearly three decades had passed since Jesus had foretold the destruction of Jerusalem. There were likely some who felt that the end had delayed beyond reason and might not come in their lifetime. Others, especially those newer in the faith, had not yet been tested by severe persecution and knew little of the need for endurance under trial. (Hebrews 12:4) Satan surely sought to take advantage of such circumstances. What “crafty acts” did he use?
8. What attitude did many Jews have toward the fledgling Christian congregation?
8 The Jewish community in Jerusalem and Judea viewed the fledgling Christian congregation with contempt. Judging from the content of Paul’s letter, we get some idea of the taunts that the arrogant Jewish religious leaders and their followers directed at the Christians. They may, in effect, have said: ‘We have the great temple in Jerusalem, standing for centuries! We have a noble high priest officiating there, along with his underpriests. Sacrifices are offered daily. We have the Law, transmitted by angels to Moses and established with great signs upon Mount Sinai. This upstart sect, these Christians, who have apostatized from Judaism, they have none of these things!’ Did such scorn find its mark? Some Hebrew Christians were evidently troubled by the attacks. Paul’s letter came to their aid at just the right time.
Why They Should Never Shrink Back to Destruction
9. (a) What theme pervades the letter to the Hebrews? (b) In what sense did Christians serve in a better temple than the one in Jerusalem?
9 Let us examine two reasons that Paul gave his brothers and sisters there in Judea for never shrinking back to destruction. The first—the superiority of the Christian system of worship—pervades the letter to the Hebrews. Throughout his letter, Paul developed this theme. The temple in Jerusalem was merely a copy of a far greater reality, Jehovah’s spiritual temple, a building “not made with hands.” (Hebrews 9:11) Those Christians had the privilege of serving in that spiritual arrangement for pure worship. They served under a better covenant, the long-promised new covenant, which had a Mediator superior to Moses, Jesus Christ.—Jeremiah 31:31-34.
10, 11. (a) Why did Jesus’ lineage not disqualify his serving as High Priest in the spiritual temple? (b) In what ways was Jesus a High Priest superior to the one serving at the temple in Jerusalem?
10 Those Christians also had a far better High Priest, Jesus Christ. No, he had not descended from Aaron. Rather, he was a High Priest “according to the manner of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4) Melchizedek, whose lineage was unrecorded, was king of ancient Salem as well as its high priest. He thus made a fitting prophetic type of Jesus, whose priesthood depended, not on any imperfect human ancestry, but on something far greater—Jehovah God’s own oath. Like Melchizedek, Jesus serves not only as High Priest but also as King, one who will never die.—Hebrews 7:11-21.
11 Furthermore, unlike the high priest at the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus did not have to offer sacrifices year after year. His sacrifice was his own perfect life, which he offered once for all time. (Hebrews 7:27) All those sacrifices offered at the temple were only shadows, pictures of what Jesus offered. His perfect sacrifice provided for real forgiveness of the sins of all who exercised faith. Heartwarming, too, are Paul’s comments showing that this High Priest is the same unchanging Jesus whom the Christians in Jerusalem had known. He was humble, kind, and one who can “sympathize with our weaknesses.” (Hebrews 4:15; 13:8) Those anointed Christians had the prospect of serving as Christ’s underpriests! How could they even think of shrinking back to “the weak and beggarly” things of corrupt Judaism?—Galatians 4:9.
12, 13. (a) What second reason never to shrink back did Paul provide? (b) Why would their past record of endurance encourage the Hebrew Christians never to shrink back to destruction?
12 As if that were not enough, Paul gave the Hebrews a second reason never to shrink back to destruction—their own record of endurance. He wrote: “Keep on remembering the former days in which, after you were enlightened, you endured a great contest under sufferings.” Paul reminded them that they had been “exposed as in a theater” to reproaches and tribulations. Some had suffered imprisonment; others had sympathized with and supported those in prison. Yes, they had shown exemplary faith and perseverance. (Hebrews 10:32-34) Yet, why did Paul ask them to “keep on remembering” such painful experiences? Would that not prove discouraging?
13 On the contrary, “remembering the former days” would remind the Hebrews of how Jehovah had sustained them under trial. With his help, they had already resisted many of Satan’s attacks. Paul wrote: “God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name.” (Hebrews 6:10) Yes, Jehovah remembered all their faithful works, storing them in his limitless memory. We are reminded of Jesus’ exhortation to store up treasures in heaven. No thief can steal these treasures; no moth or rust can consume them. (Matthew 6:19-21) In fact, these treasures can be destroyed only if a Christian shrinks back to destruction. That would squander any treasures he had stored up in heaven. What a powerful reason Paul gave the Hebrew Christians for never pursuing such a course! Why waste all their years of faithful service? It would be right and far better to keep on enduring.
Why We Should Never Shrink Back to Destruction
14. What challenges do we face that are similar to those faced by the first-century Christians?
14 True Christians today have equally powerful reasons for not shrinking back. First, let us remember what a blessing we have in the pure form of worship that Jehovah has given us. Like the first-century Christians, we live at a time when members of the more popular religions sneer at us and mock us, pointing proudly to their impressive religious edifices and the antiquity of their traditions. Jehovah assures us, though, that he approves of our form of worship. In fact, we enjoy blessings today that the first-century Christians did not have. You might wonder, ‘How can that be?’ After all, they lived when the spiritual temple came into operation. Christ became its High Priest upon his baptism in 29 C.E. Some of them had seen the miracle-working Son of God. Even after his death, there were more miracles. As foretold, though, such gifts eventually ceased.—1 Corinthians 13:8.
15. True Christians today live during the fulfillment of what prophecy, and what does that mean for us?
15 However, we live during a significant fulfillment of the extensive temple prophecy of Ezekiel chapters 40-48.* Thus, we have seen the restoration of God’s arrangement for pure worship. That spiritual temple has been cleansed of all forms of religious pollution and idolatry. (Ezekiel 43:9; Malachi 3:1-5) Think of the advantages that this cleansing has given us.
16. What discouraging trend did first-century Christians face?
16 During the first century, the future looked dark for the organized Christian congregation. Jesus had foretold that it would be as if a newly planted wheat field were oversown with weeds, making the wheat virtually indistinguishable from the weeds. (Matthew 13:24-30) And so it was. By the end of the first century, when the aged apostle John was acting as the final restraint against corruption, apostasy was already flourishing. (2 Thessalonians 2:6; 1 John 2:18) Not long after the death of the apostles, a separate clergy class arose, oppressing the flock and wearing distinctive garb. Apostasy spread like gangrene. How discouraging for faithful Christians! They saw the newly established arrangement for pure worship become overwhelmed by a corrupted form. This developed less than a century after Christ founded the congregation.
17. In what sense has the modern-day Christian congregation outlasted its first-century counterpart?
17 Now, consider a contrast. Today, pure worship has already lasted longer than the period until the apostles died. From the time of the publication of the first issue of this journal back in 1879, Jehovah has blessed us with increasingly purified worship. Jehovah and Christ Jesus entered the spiritual temple in 1918 for the purpose of cleansing it. (Malachi 3:1-5) Since 1919, the arrangement for worshiping Jehovah God has been progressively refined. Our understanding of Bible prophecies and principles has become clearer. (Proverbs 4:18) To whom does the credit go? Not to mere imperfect humans. Only Jehovah, with his Son as Head of the congregation, could protect His people from corruption during these corrupt times. Let us never fail, then, to thank Jehovah for allowing us to take part in pure worship today. And let us be firmly resolved never to shrink back to destruction!
18. What reason do we have for never shrinking back to destruction?
18 Like those Hebrew Christians, we have a second reason for rejecting a cowardly, shrinking course—our own record of endurance. Whether we have begun to serve Jehovah in recent years or have been doing so faithfully for decades, we have built up a record of Christian works. Many of us have suffered persecution, be it imprisonment, ban, brutality, or loss of property. Many more have faced family opposition, scorn, ridicule, and indifference. All of us have endured, continuing in our faithful service to Jehovah despite life’s challenges and tests. By doing so, we have built up a record of perseverance that Jehovah will not forget, a storehouse of treasures in heaven. Surely, then, this is no time to shrink back to the corrupt old system we left behind! Why render all our hard work worthless? Especially is this true today, when only “a very little while” is left before the end.—Hebrews 10:37.
19. What will be discussed in our next article?
19 Yes, let us be resolved that “we are not the sort that shrink back to destruction”! Let us, rather, be “the sort that have faith.” (Hebrews 10:39) How can we make sure that we fit that description, and how can we help fellow Christians to do the same? Our next article will consider this matter.
Do You Remember?
◻ What does it mean to shrink back to destruction?
◻ What pressures were bearing down on the Hebrew Christians to whom Paul wrote?
◻ What reasons for not shrinking back to destruction did Paul give the Hebrews?
◻ What reasons do we have for being resolved never to shrink back to destruction?
[Pictures on page 15]
Peter’s lapse into fear did not make him of “the sort that shrink back to destruction”