It is a Fearful Thing
All Scripture profits us (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but there are some verses which have a profound effect on our daily lives when we consider their eternal implications.
One such verse is Hebrews 10:31: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." The New American Standard says "It is a terrifying thing." Friend, meditate on the significance of v. 31 and it will cause you to change your life if you have forsaken the Lord.
Throughout the Hebrew letter the inspired writer describes the superiority of Christ and the gospel over the obsolete old covenant. Certainly Christ, the only begotten Son of God, is superior to Moses and the old priesthood, His covenant excels the Old Testament law, and His sacrifice far outshines the animal sacrifices which could never take away sins.
Because of these facts, the Christian is urged to ". . . hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised)" (Heb. 10:23). Do not let salvation slip (Heb. 2:1-4), and do not allow yourself to drift back to Judaism and the Old Law (Heb. 8:6-13).
Remember the superiority of Christ and the new covenant, remain faithful in your service to Him, and do not allow yourself to become entangled in the old law-that is the theme of the Hebrew letter.
The immediate context just before Hebrews 10:31 is the tragic consequences of apostasy from our Savior once we have tasted the fruits of salvation. If one is baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3-4), has enjoyed fellowship with Him (I Jno. 1:6-7), and then rejects Jesus, what hope remains? Is there another sacrifice awaiting the individual who has hardened his heart against the Savior? Is there additional evidence coming which will convince him to return to God? Are there other plans of salvation and schemes of redemption? Will his faithfulness in the past atone for his apostasy in the present? Will God overlook his callous rejection of the gospel at the final day?
The Hebrew writer puts it this way: "For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" (Heb. 10:26-27).
To put it another way, the mercy of God is tempered by His justice. The two go hand-in-hand. The Christian who falls away and hardens his heart against the gospel, can only fear the final day of reckoning. No hope remains for him; he can contemplate no eternal rest with the Lord. Instead, he is faced with the awful reality of everlasting damnation. "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost... If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh... ." (Heb. 6:4-6).
V. 30 of Hebrews 10 reminds us that ultimate vengeance belongs to the Lord by quoting Deuteronomy 32:35-36: "... Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people." Judgment is certain, judgment is coming, and God's justice will be served. We are not going to be able to deceive Christ about our actions or our life: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7).
Which brings us to our verse: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." This statement really summarizes all that has gone before. Fearful in the Greek means "terrible" (Young's Analytical Concordance) and "causing fear, terrible" (Vine's Expository Dictionary). It means exactly what you think it means in context. The thought of facing God's judgment should terrify the apostate!
While we do not serve God out of sheer, stark terror regarding judgment, the man or woman who has apostatized has every right to be afraid! In fact, a healthy dose of fear regarding eternal punishment should be one factor which motivates the Christian to remain faithful. After all, Christ said, "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28). Sometimes we get that backwards and worry more about what MAN will do to us during our pilgrimage on this earth instead of remembering that it is GOD who holds the destiny of our souls in the palm of His hand. We become like Demas in 2 Timothy 4:10, who was faithful, but who cared more about the affairs of this present world than he did about eternity.
Other verses which admonish the Christian to remain faithful or face the certainty of God's punishment would include 2 Peter 2:20-22 (". . . For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment given unto them.")
Man has but two choices regarding eternity: rest in the Lord's presence or anguish in hell's fire. According to Hebrews 10:31, only one of those destinies awaits the those who fall.
By John N. Evans
From Expository Files 5.4; April 1998