Hebrews 12:17 – Esau Was Rejected for He Found No Place of Repentance…EXPLAINED
In this video, I thought I would answer a question that someone emailed to me, asking about the meaning of Hebrews 12:17, where Esau was rejected because he “found no place of repentance.” The person who wrote me wanted to know if that meant that Esau could no longer repent or perhaps, he wasn’t repenting in the right way. Well, neither of these is the correct interpretation. So, I wanted to spend a few minutes on this verse to clarify exactly what the author meant, looking at the verse in the context of chapter 12, and also note the stern warning that he’s giving and its implication for salvation, namely, that God has imposed a time limit for people to get saved, after which it will be too late. Let’s get into it.
Here’s the verse, Hebrews 12:17:
“For ye know how that afterward, when he (Esau) would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” (Hebrews 12:17 KJV)
The reason this is such a confusing verse to many people and the reason why so many end up with wrong interpretations of it, is that they try to interpret the verse in isolation, totally separating it from all the verses before it and after it. If you do that with any Scripture, you are bound to get wrong interpretations. So, let’s look at this verse in the context of chapter 12 and then the meaning of verse 17 will become abundantly clear.
Hebrews chapter 12 is a continuation of Hebrews chapter 11, where the author listed example after example of heroes of the faith. These were people who came before us, who not only had faith in God, but also demonstrated that faith in the way they lived their lives, even if it meant giving up their lives for their faith.
Here are the heroes of the faith from chapter 11:
- Abel, who offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain (11:4)
- Enoch, who pleased God in the way he lived (11:5)
- Noah, who obeyed God in preparing an ark (11:6)
- Abraham, who left his home country to follow and obey God (11:8)
- Sarah, who walked in faith, believing God would give her a child (11:11)
- Abraham, who obeyed God and offered up his son, Isaac (11:17)
- Isaac, who believed God and blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come (11:20)
- Jacob, who in faith blessed the sons of Joseph (11:21)
- Joseph, who in faith commanded that his bones be taken back to Israel (11:22)
- Moses’ parents, who disobeyed Pharaoh at the risk of their lives and hid the baby Moses (11:23)
- Moses, who forsook Egypt and kept the Passover to follow God (11:22)
- By faith they crossed the Red Sea and the walls of Jerico fell down (11:29-30)
- Rahab, who by faith hid the spies at the risk of her life (11:31)
- Gedeon, Barak, Samson, Jephthae, David, Samuel, and the prophets – who carried out great exploits and many were killed because of their faith (11:32-38)
All of these lived their lives as a witness to the faithfulness and sovereignty of God. They were saved by faith, but then they faithfully lived their faith. They weren’t saved by their good deeds, but they were saved by faith and they demonstrated that their faith was real by doing those good deeds. As it says in Ephesians 2:8-10:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV)
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10 KJV)
Verses 8-9 speak of salvation, that we are saved by faith in Christ alone, not by any works that we do. A “work” would be anything you do to try to earn favor with God, to show yourself worthy of salvation. No one is worthy because God is a PERFECT God, and we can never meet His standard of perfection. You can never be good enough for God to save you. Our works don’t save us or keep us saved. We are saved only by the free gift of God’s grace, which means unmerited favor. Notice that it says salvation is a “gift.” We don’t earn a gift.
But then verse 10 speaks of discipleship that FOLLOWS salvation, how you should live your life AFTER you are saved. Notice that verse 10 says that we are “His workmanship, created IN CHRIST.” That phrase “in Christ” means already saved. Only a saved person is “in Christ.” So, verse 10 is describing the good works that should follow salvation, which is by faith alone. We are saved (past tense) by faith alone UNTO good works that should follow salvation. We were saved in the past so that we can now do the good works that God has prepared for us to do.
The book of James says:
“Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (James 2:17 KJV)
Faith and works go together. True saving faith will produce something. If all you have is head knowledge of the truth of God’s Word, the truth of the Gospel and Who Jesus is, and nothing ever changes in your life, so that you still live like the unsaved world, are you saved? Likely no. Salvation changes a person because the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us. We are saved BY faith UNTO good works. The works don’t save us, but they validate and give evidence to us and those around us that we are in fact saved.
All of these heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 were saved by faith alone. Like Abraham, they believed God and it was credited to them as righteousness. They were saved by faith. But their saving faith led them unto good works to the point where many even sacrificed their lives to obey God.
This entire chapter 11 is a setup for chapter 12, where the author describes what it means to live day-to-day life as a Christian child of God.
Hebrews Chapter 12
So, with chapter 11 as background, the writer addresses the church in Hebrews chapter 12. His topic is living for Christ, not just believing in Him, but also living for Him as a child of God, just as these heroes of the faith did for our example.
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” (Hebrews 12:1-3 KJV)
In these first three verses of chapter 12, the writer is clearly speaking to the church. He says that in light of all these faithful witnesses that have come before us, all the ones he cited in chapter 11 who set for us an example to follow, we should do the same. He gives us a charge, a command that we should obey, namely:
“…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1 KJV)
Having faith in Christ for salvation is wonderful. But let’s not forget Ephesians 2:10, that we are saved “UNTO good works, which God hath prepared…” God has saved us for a purpose, that we might do the good works that He has prepared for us to do. They are not our works. We don’t make up the works and try to invent good things to do for God. We are to do the works that He has prepared for us to do. This requires communication and closeness to God so that you can understand what those works are that He wants you do to.
To have that kind of closeness to God to where we can hear Him speak to us concerning works that He wants us to do, we need to lay aside “every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” How can we hear God if, as saved believers, we are entangled in sin. We can’t. Sin in the life of a saved believer interrupts that communication with God to where we will miss doing the good works that God has prepared for us to do. It’s that simple.
Therefore, lay aside every weight and any sin that besets you, and instead “run with patience the race set before you.” This life is a race to the finish line. This word “patience” is sometimes translated as “endurance,” which implies that this race is not a sprint but a marathon. We are each running our course to the end of our lives, during which God has prepared good works for us to do. We need to be faithful to do those good works, to lay aside sin so that we can hear God when He points those good works out to us that He wants us to do.
That’s what chapter 12 is about: Running this marathon race called life as a faithful, saved believer in Christ, obeying God so that we do the good works He as prepared for us to do. If we do that, we too can join the list of heroes of the faith.
When we run this race as children of God, we should expect a Father’s discipline.
“Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him: For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” (Hebrews 12:4-8 KJV)
The very moment we place our faith in Jesus for salvation and are saved, we are right then adopted into God’s family. God’s Holy Spirit comes to live inside us forever, sealed until the day or redemption (Ephesians 1:12-13). We become sons and daughters of God. As with any son or daughter, the Father will chasten or discipline us. This is a good thing, though it doesn’t feel good when you go through it. If He is not chastening you when you do wrong, that’s a bad sign that maybe you are not His son or daughter, for God chastens EVERY son and daughter.
“Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” (Hebrews 12:9-11 KJV)
Here, we see the reason God chastens every one of His children: “that we might be partakers of His holiness.” God has asked us to lay aside any sin that besets us. But if we don’t do that, He is ready to help us do it, and that may not feel good when it happens.
God’s objective in chastening us is never to condemn us for sin, for all sin has already been paid for on the cross. Instead, we see here that His objective is to lead us unto holiness, “that we might share in His holiness.” God wants His children to be like Him. He is perfectly holy. And He wants us to be holy, too.
The result of this holiness is “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” Again, we see here that we don’t just have faith by itself. As saved Christians, we are expected to produce righteous fruit unto God. This means that we are to do the good works that He has prepared for us to do. It’s not up to us to invent the fruit. He’s already prepared the works for us that will yield fruit. We just have to be obedient and do those good works He has prepared for us.
We are saved by faith alone, but then what? Then comes good works. Salvation is followed by good works. Faith without works is dead. The works don’t save us or keep us saved. But genuine faith will change a person’s life to where he or she changes direction. That direction is always leading us to God’s holiness that we may do the good works He has prepared for us to do.
God will chasten us to lead us to greater levels of holiness. God does NOT chasten us to condemn us. Never think that God is chastening you to condemn you. Your sin has already been paid for on the cross. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:32:
“But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” (1 Corinthians 11:32 KJV)
Notice that it says “when we are judged,” not “if we are judged.” God judges and chastens ALL of His children. He does this to lead us to holiness. No matter how good you are, you’re still not living up to His standard of perfect holiness. So, God chastens ALL of His children, even the best ones. Notice also that it says we are chastened so that we should NOT be condemned with the world. Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those in Christ. By being “in Christ,” we have been freed forever from the threat of eternal condemnation. Therefore, chastening is not God condemning us, so we should not fear His chastening as if it were condemnation. Instead, it is God correcting us and leading us so that, more and more, we become partakers of His holiness.
How you hold up under God’s chastening matters!
“Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:12-13 KJV)
Here, the writer is encouraging believers to strengthen themselves and not fold under God’s chastening, to not give up. “Lift up your hands!” Strengthen your feeble knees! Stop going off in some strange direction and instead, “make straight paths for your feet!” Follow God in a straight path and be obedient to Him.
“Lest that which is lame be turned out of the way…” This phrase is not talking about losing salvation. This is talking about others in the body of Christ that are weaker than you. How you hold up under pressure has a big influence on those around you! As much as you may be suffering, as much as you may be chastened, there are others in the body of Christ who are worse off and who are weaker than you.
You have feeble knees, the writer writes. Well, there’s someone weaker than you that is completely lame. How you respond to God can affect that weaker brother or sister.
If they see you fold under pressure, they may just fold as well. You may be hurt and shaky, but they are lame (even worse than you). If you fold under pressure and fall away from the path of following Christ, then they also may “be turned out of the way.” This isn’t talking about loss of salvation. It’s talking about being “turned out of the way” of following Christ in the way you live your life. Remember, the topic up to now hasn’t been salvation. Salvation has not been the topic at all in chapter 12. The topic has been daily Christian living, how we are to live in obedience and holiness so that we can do the good works God has prepared for us to do, so that we can become heroes of the faith. This isn’t a reference to someone being “turned out of the way” for salvation. It’s saying that if you fold under pressure, then a weaker brother or sister may just follow you and be “turned out of the way” of walking in holiness and obedience.
How you live your life matters to those around you!
Instead, when you stand up under pressure and follow Christ, that also has a healing effect on those around you. “Let the lame rather be healed.” Rather than providing a bad example to a weaker brother or sister, be strong instead. Hold up under God’s chastening. Submit to His will. In doing so, not only will you be better off because you are now start to walk in His righteousness and holiness in your daily life, but you also bring healing to that lame brother or sister who sees you as an example.
By you standing strong for Christ, even under God’s chastening, you can bring healing to someone weaker than you. Therefore, be strong.
Continuing in how we should live our daily lives for Christ.
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:” (Hebrews 12:14 KJV)
I’ve seen so many people pull this verse out of context and use this verse to try to change the Gospel of grace into a false gospel of works. They’ll say: “See, if you don’t walk in holiness, then God won’t save you and you will never see Him for all eternity. You have to believe in Christ AND walk in holiness to be saved.” They add walking in holiness as a requirement to the Gospel. This is a horrible misinterpretation that violates so many other verses throughout the New Testament. Nowhere in the Bible does it say we are saved by pursuing holiness or that we will lose our salvation by not pursuing holiness.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV)
Holiness required for salvation is imputed to us the moment we place our faith in Christ. We are declared holy, justified, sanctified, redeemed, because we have placed our faith for salvation in Christ and His finished work on the cross. From that moment on, we are holy in God’s sight. We walk in His holiness, not our own. Positionally, from a salvation perspective, we are forever perfectly holy in God’s sight because of Christ.
But remember, the topic in chapter 12 up to now hasn’t been salvation. The topic has been daily Christian living.
For salvation, we are positionally holy before God forever on account of Christ. But practically, in terms of our daily walk, we are still learning to be like Jesus. We are still learning to walk in holiness as a matter of practice, as a matter of our daily conduct. Up to this point in the chapter, the author has been talking about daily Christian living, how we should live our lives now that we ARE SAVED. We are to walk in holiness so that we can do the good works God has prepared for us to do. This verse is not in any way about salvation. Holiness for salvation was settled the moment we placed our faith in Christ. He has made us holy with His holiness. Now that we’re saved, though, we need to learn to walk in holiness as a matter of practice.
When we do, we will see God at work in our lives. That’s what this verse is saying. We can see and experience His grace each day. When we don’t pursue holiness, such as when we indulge in sin, we won’t see God at that moment in our daily lives. Instead of blessing us with His presence and grace, He may have to start chastening us. If we don’t pursue holiness and righteousness, we’re not going to see God at work in our lives. That’s all this verse is saying. Do you want to see God at work in your life? Then pursue holiness and you will.
Notice that the first word is “follow.” The word means, “to diligently pursue,” “to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing.” As saved Christians, we are to diligently pursue the things of God and two of those things are mentioned here: peace with all men and holiness. As believers who are ALREADY SAVED, we are to be peaceful people. We are to be holy people. The word “holy” means “set apart for a consecrated purpose.” As saved believers, we are to be set apart for a consecrated purpose.
What is your holy, set apart, consecrated purpose for being here?
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light:” (1 Peter 2:9 KJV)
This is who you are in Christ. This is your new identity, your new purpose for being here on this earth. Why didn’t God just take you home to be with Him the moment you placed your faith in Christ? Because He has this consecrated purpose for you: “that ye should shew forth the praises of Him Who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” to a lost and dying world.
This is the same purpose that all of the heroes of the faith had in chapter 11. Their purpose was to be a faithful witness of God to those who are in darkness. God does not want to send even one person to hell. So, He left you and me here with this same purpose: to show forth the praises of Him Who has called us out of darkness.
“Show forth” – that sounds a lot like doing the good works that God has prepared for us to do. When we pursue holiness and do those good works, we show forth the praise of God to those in darkness. When we don’t do those good works, when we don’t walk in holiness, we won’t see God at work in our lives because we’re not living for Him. That’s what this verse is saying. This verse is not about salvation. We don’t pursue holiness for salvation. We pursue holiness for service, to be used of God to do good works, to become a disciple of Christ, to become like Him.
Finally, the example of Esau.
“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” (Hebrews 12:15-17 KJV)
Here, the writer is bringing up another possible reason who someone who calls himself or herself a Christian but may not be living for Christ day-to-day: Maybe that person is not really saved.
First, the writer strongly urges everyone in the church to “look diligently” at themselves, which means to carefully examine themselves, “lest any man fail the grace of God.” What does it mean to “fail the grace of God.” It means to not be saved.
I’ve seen some commentators try to get around this to say that it just means falling short of God’s grace working in your life day-to-day. But that doesn’t fit with the use of Esau as an example. As we’ll see in a minute, Esau turned out to be an unsaved person.
No, this is talking about failing the test for salvation. The writer is now bringing up another possibility for those who call themselves Christians but who are not pursing holiness, not living for Christ day-to-day, and not giving evidence of salvation by doing good works. What if such a person is not really saved to begin with?
There are people in churches today who attend regularly, who tithe their money to the church, who’ve been baptized, to love hearing the Bible, but who have never been saved. They think that God will save them because they are basically good people who are trying to do the right thing, instead of realizing that they are sinners before a perfectly holy God Who demands perfect justice, and that they are hopelessly lost without Christ.
To that possibility, the writer gives a stern warning. It is a warning against apostasy, not believing in Christ for salvation.
“Looking diligently lest any man fail the grace of God…”
A Warning Against Apostasy
The central issue in that Hebrew church, the entire reason for this letter to the Hebrews, was that of apostasy – the willful sin of rejecting faith in Christ for salvation.
Over and over the writer warns of this throughout the entire letter. There were Jewish people in that church who had left the Temple; who were now attending church; who were hearing and understanding the Gospel; who were witnessing the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those around them; and who understood the message of salvation… but they were not saved. They had gathered all the facts, they knew the truth of God’s Word, but they hadn’t placed their trust in Christ to save them. They didn’t believe.
And some of them were deciding to leave the church, deciding to reject Christ, and return to Temple worship along with its animal sacrifices. That’s why the entire letter of Hebrews up to this point addresses only one sin: apostasy, the sin of rejecting Christ.
The writer therefore makes this urgent plea to the entire congregation for them to “look diligently” to make sure they are saved, to make sure they have not failed the grace of God, that they haven’t failed the test. Then it says:
“…lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled…”
Jesus said a tree will be known by its fruit. This phrase “root of bitterness” is one word in the Greek that means “bitter gall,” “extreme wickedness,” “bitter root that produces bitter fruit,” even “bitter hatred.” An unsaved person who pretends to be a saved believer in the church can only produce bad fruit, bitter fruit.
“…and thereby many be defiled;”
How many believers have been hurt by people in the church? Sometimes, it’s because the offending person is immature in their faith. But other times, it can be that the offending person is not really saved to begin with, and they are producing bitter fruit that affects those around them. And sometimes, weaker believers can even follow someone whom they think is saved but is really not saved. As a result, many are defiled by being led into this root of bitterness that produces only bitter fruit.
This is a stern warning against apostasy, not believing in Christ for salvation. It results in failing the grace of God for salvation by not believing in Christ, and it produces only bitter fruit in the unsaved person as well as affecting those around that person.
The writer now uses Esau as an example.
So, let’s start by looking at who Esau was, what he did that was so terrible and then why he could later find no place of repentance, and what that phrase means. Then let’s look at what this teaching means to us.
First, who was Esau?
Let’s go back to Genesis chapter 25:
“And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham begat Isaac: And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife … And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob…And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. … And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint… And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. … And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.” (Genesis 25:19-20, 24-27, 29-31, 33-34 KJV)
Esau was the first born of Isaac. As the firstborn, he owned the birthright, which under Jewish law meant that he would inherit the majority of Isaac’s estate. In those days, the majority of an estate went to the firstborn. Esau was that firstborn. Jacob, who was born after Isaac, did not have the birthright and would not inherit the majority of Isaac’s estate.
What did Esau do that was so terrible?
Esau came in from the field one day extremely hungry and begged his younger brother Jacob for some food. Jacob told Esau that he would only give him the food on one condition: Esau had to sell Jacob his birthright for the food. Esau did this. He sold the rights to all that he was to inherit to Jacob for a plate of food. Thus, it says, Esau despised his birthright. The birthright and all of that blessing that should have been Esau’s went instead to Jacob.
How does this relate to the use of Esau in Hebrews 12?
Let’s now go back to Hebrews chapter 12, where we see the outcome of Esau’s decision.
“Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” (Hebrews 12:16-17 KJV)
Esau sold his birthright for a plate of food and then wanted to get his birthright back. But it was too late. The birthright now belonged to Jacob and Esau could not get it back. It says that Esau even sought it carefully with tears. Esau went to Isaac, his father, and begged with tears to get his birthright back. But Isaac refused and Esau was rejected. It was too late.
“for he found no place of repentance”
What does this phrase mean? The important thing to understanding this phrase is that it’s not talking about Esau repenting. It’s talking about his father, Isaac, repenting.
The word, “repentance,” is the Greek word “metanoia.” It simply means “a change of mind.” A lot of people incorrectly think that repentance means “to turn from sin.” It doesn’t. It means having “a change of mind” about something.
So, when we see a verse like 2 Peter 3:9 say:
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 KJV)
This verse is not saying that all should turn from sin to be saved. It’s saying that all should come to a change of mind. A change of mind about what? This verse in 2 Peter is talking about salvation. It’s talking about having a change of mind about Jesus, changing from unbelief to belief. As a person goes from unbelief to belief in Jesus, that person is born again. That person is saved, and God’s Holy Spirit comes to live inside that person. From that point on, as a new saved believer, a new creation, the result should be that the person starts turning from sin. But turning from sin is the result of repentance. It is not repentance itself. Repentance means “a change of mind,” and for salvation that means going from unbelief to belief in Jesus. The result of repentance then, becomes a changed life, as we learn to walk in discipleship, becoming like Jesus. That should result in turning from sin, but the turning from sin happens later, after salvation, in discipleship.
We don’t turn from sin to get saved. We get saved so that we can then turn from sin, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit Who now lives inside us.
How does that affect our understanding of Hebrews 12:17?
“For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” (Hebrews 12:17 KJV)
Repentance means “a change of mind.” He, Esau, found no place of “a change of mind.” It’s not talking about Esau repenting. It’s talking about his father Isaac. Esau found no repentance (“no change of mind”) from his father. Isaac did not repent or change his mind about giving the birthright to Jacob. Isaac, Esau’s father, would not change his mind (or repent) and give it back to Esau, even though Esau sought it with tears.
This confusion over who is doing the repenting in this story has caused a lot of anxiety in the body of Christ. For example, the person who wrote to me was worried that he might be repenting in a wrong way like Esau, which would hold back forgiveness. No. Esau wasn’t repenting. It says he found no repentance in Isaac. This has nothing to do with repenting from sin. It’s simply saying that Isaac would not change his mind, would not repent, and give the birthright back to Esau.
What is the meaning of this story in Hebrews 12?
This is a warning against apostasy, the same warning that was given multiple times throughout the letter of Hebrews.
The writer of Hebrews is warning the congregation that they must not turn away from believing in Jesus, that they must not trade faith in Christ, believing in Jesus for salvation, for anything this world has to offer. It’s a stern warning to not reject the Gospel, because there’s coming a time when they won’t be able to get that offer of salvation back. It will be too late.
This is a stern warning to both the unsaved people in the church and the saved people in the church. The writer wrote this to the entire congregation. What does this warning mean to each group – the unsaved and the saved? Let’s look at each.
First, this is a warning to the UNSAVED people in the church.
How do we know that this warning is a warning to unbelievers, the unsaved? Because of what the verse says about Esau:
“Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” (Hebrews 12:16 KJV)
It says Esau was a fornicator and he was profane. This word, “profane,” is the Greek word, “bebēlos,” (beb’-ay-los) which literally means “ungodly, godless” but more specifically at that time, it referred to a common area outside the Temple, not belonging to God. Esau was a godless, common person who lived for this world, not belonging to God.
In today’s language, we would call him an unbeliever, unsaved. This is a warning to an unsaved person, someone who lives for this world and does not belong to God. The descendants of Esau became the nation of Edom, a completely godless nation. The writer in this case is writing to unbelievers in the church who were still on the fence. They had heard the Gospel and were attending church, but they hadn’t committed themselves to it yet. And some were deciding to reject Christ and leave.
The writer is warning these unbelievers in the church to not turn back, to not trade the salvation that they could have, the inheritance of being with Christ, for whatever this world has to offer. It’s a warning to them to not be like Esau and trade the glorious inheritance that they could possibly have for a mere plate of food. It’s a warning not to reject the Gospel.
The severity of the warning: Time’s Up!
Verse 17 says Esau was rejected,
“…though he sought it carefully with tears.” (Hebrews 12:17 KJV)
It was too late. The decision about the inheritance had already been made and there was no going back. There would be no change of mind, no repentance from his father Isaac.
This is a warning that God’s patience in allowing unbelievers time to turn to Christ for salvation has a time limit to it. When that time limit is up, it will be too late. There will be no going back, no change of mind, no repentance (change of mind) from God.
We currently live in what is called, “the age of Grace.” That is a period of time between Christ’s first coming and His second coming. During this period of time, God will forgive sin based on you placing your faith in His Son Jesus, so that whosoever believes on Jesus will be forgiven of all sin and be saved. But that offer of forgiveness and salvation has an expiration date, after which the offer will be withdrawn and will no longer exist. It will be too late.
When will the offer of salvation expire?
It will expire either at the return of Christ or at the time that that unbeliever physically dies. Until then, God is allowing all unbelievers time to repent, time to change their mind about Jesus and be saved. All sin will be forgiven. They will be adopted into God’s family with all of the rights of inheritance, eternal life.
But for those who persist in living for this world, rejecting Christ, in effect despising God’s promise of salvation just as Esau despised his inheritance, there’s coming a day when it will be too late.
When Christ returns or when someone dies as an unbeliever, there will be no more chance for salvation.
Jesus described hell as a place of judgment for sinners, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those people will beg God for mercy with tears, as Esau begged with tears, but God will not at that point change His mind and it will be too late.
Oh, the loving and patient mercy of God and the utter severity of His judgments.
Esau had rejected his inheritance for a plate of food. And later, when he wanted his inheritance back, it was too late. His father Isaac would not change his mind and give Esau the blessing he could have had.
On the day of the Great White Throne Judgment, when unbelievers will be judged by God, every single one of those judged will appeal to God with tears, but it will be too late. And if you are an unbeliever in Christ and you think I’m just trying to scare you with this, you’re right. You should be scared, because the threat and God’s judgment that’s coming is real. Take it seriously.
So, what do you do to not end up like Esau?
Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:
“… now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2 KJV)
The way to not end up like Esau is to turn to Christ NOW. If you don’t know Christ as your Saviour or if you are unsure, don’t put it off even one day longer. You may not get another chance. Once that offer of salvation is withdrawn, it’ll be too late to change your fate, even if you beg God with tears. Don’t let that happen. Act now. Now is the day of salvation. Don’t risk missing it. Turn to Christ now and ask Him to save you while the offer is still there. You will never regret it if you do.
Second, this is a warning to the SAVED people in the church.
The writer gave warnings against apostasy to the entire church. That includes saved believers. Saved believers were also warned not to head down the path toward apostasy. As some of those unsaved people in the church were deciding to leave the church to return to the Temple, part of their “bitter fruit” that they produced was that their unfaithfulness affected saved believers, tempting them to also give up the faith. The writer therefore warned these saved believers as well to not give up faith in Christ, to not drift toward apostasy.
Does that mean a saved believer could become apostate and lose salvation?
If a saved believer truly lost all faith in Jesus and became a permanent apostate, then yes, that person would not be saved. That person would lose salvation. The real question is: Will that ever happen? And the answer is NO!
How do we know it will never happen?
Because the Apostle John wrote about this. He wrote about people who appeared to be saved but then left the church:
“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.” (1 John 2:19 KJV)
John was asked about people who appeared to be saved Christians, who then abandoned the faith and left the church. He said that they were never saved: “they went out from us, but they were not of us.” Further, he said “if they had been of us” (if they had been truly saved), “they would NO DOUBT have continued with us.” There was no doubt in John’s mind that a saved believer will remain in the faith.
So, why did the writer of Hebrews warn saved Christians to not go give up the faith?
Just because a warning is given, doesn’t mean the outcome will happen. God uses warning in His Word as one of many ways or “means” by which He keeps His children saved. The warnings and the dangers are real. God warns us to keep us from ever falling victim to those negative outcomes.
Why does God need to warn people who are already saved?
When we are saved, God doesn’t eliminate our free will. As saved believers, we have free will to still drive off a cliff into apostasy or sin. What prevents that? God prevents it. God is the one Who keeps us saved, and He does it in a way that does not violate our free will.
Specifically, God has a number of “means” that He uses to keep His children saved. These include:
- The leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit that is sealed inside a believer the moment he or she believes in Christ.
- Blessings and Rewards
- Intercessory prayer – Christ praying for us that our faith would not fail.
- The body of Christ working in your life
Angels working in our lives
Warnings in His Word – That’s why those warnings are there, to pull us back when we start to drift away.
Warnings and encouragement from other believers
God’s discipline and chastisement – Just as He said He would do in the first part of this chapter 12.
Allowing consequences of sin to happen
Allowing sickness or disease
Lifting God’s protection, allowing spiritual oppression in our lives
Early death – “There is a sin unto death:” 1 John 5:16 – I did a video on this verse. It’s not about eternal death. It’s about physical death. If a believer persists in sin, God can reach a point where He simply says, “Enough!” and takes that believer home early. We see this in Acts 5 with Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit, in 1 Corinthians 11 with believers who were partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. None of these lost their salvation but they did lose their physical lives.
God uses these and many other “means” to keep us saved, and He knows how to do that without violating our free will. So, these warning against apostasy and other warnings are real. But that doesn’t mean they are going to happen. Why?
Because it is God Who keep us saved!
“Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25 KJV)
“… waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:7-8 KJV)
“For thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not Thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?” (Psalm 56:13 KJV)
“To the end He may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.” (1 Thessalonians 3:13 KJV)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively (living) hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5 KJV)
Over and over, Scripture teaches that we are kept saved by the power of God. He keeps us saved. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a role to play in it. But ultimately, it’s His responsibility to keep us saved. Over and over Scripture tells us this. If He is the One keeping us saved, will He not be successful?
God knows how we’re respond. He knows how to turn us around so that we don’t become lost. And He knows how to do it without violating our free will. If God is the One taking responsibility to keep us saved, will there even be one soul, one wayward Christian, who slips through His hand into the fires of hell? God will not lose even one.
So, this warning against apostasy is to both unbelievers and believers.
- To unbelievers who have heard the Gospel, it is a dire warning to not turn back from believing in Christ, thereby giving up a salvation that could be theirs, because there’s coming a time when they won’t be able to get that opportunity to be saved back again, even if they beg God with tears.
- To saved believers, it is a warning to not turn back from believing in Christ but to stay firm in the faith, knowing that God will protect you and chasten you as sons and daughters, so that you will not be condemned with this world.
For the rest of chapter 12, the writer is expressing assurance of salvation.
“For ye are NOT come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)” (Hebrews 12:18-21 KJV)
First, the writer is saying that we have NOT come into the presence of God as Israel did in the Old Testament, a God Who could not be touched, Who burned with blazing fire. If one even touched the mountain where God descended, that person or animal was to be killed. The writer says we have NOT come unto such a God.
“But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:22-24 KJV)
Instead of coming to a God that cannot be touched like Israel did, we have come into the city of the living God, where we will live with Him forever. How different this is from Old Testament Israel, where you would be put to death for getting anywhere near God. Instead, we will live in heavenly Jerusalem with God. All this is because of Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, because His offering of His own blood paid for all of our sins, making us holy in God’s sight so that we could live with Him forever.
“See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven: Whose voice then shook the earth: but now He hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” (Hebrews 12:25-27 KJV)
Again, the writer repeats this warning against apostasy, warning both the unsaved and the saved not to give up and turn away from Christ. To the unsaved, it is a dire warning that God will come and remove “those things that are shaken.”
But to the saved, who are kept saved by the power of God, they are the ones that are referred to as “those things which cannot be shaken” which “may remain.” God Himself will use all the “means” at His disposal to keep all saved Christians saved, and He knows how to do this without violating our free will. Therefore, we have eternal security in Christ even though warnings against apostacy are real.
“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29 KJV)
The writer says we are to “serve God.” That’s not talking about salvation but daily Christian living, the same topic he wrote about at the start of the chapter. That’s what this chapter is about. We are to serve God every day “acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”
Why fear? It doesn’t say “fear” but “godly fear.” We are not to be afraid of God, as in being terrified of Him. Instead, “godly fear” means we hold Him in reverence. Because, as he said earlier, God will chasten us, sometimes severely, if He thinks we need it to bring us into His holiness. So, don’t tempt God by sinning, knowing that He is faithful and will chasten us when we need it.
“For our God is a consuming fire.”
We are to live our daily Christian lives holding God in great reverence, knowing that He is a consuming fire, that He is perfectly holy and demands perfect justice. To unbelievers, this means they will perish forever. To believers, we need to walk obediently in humility, knowing that it is only by His grace through faith in Christ that we don’t suffer the same fate. Yet, through His grace, we will not be consumed. Because of Jesus we will instead live with God forever. That should affect how we live our lives today.
But no matter what, know that God will never abandon you. Just a few verses after this one about God being a consuming fire, the writer wrote in chapter 13 this promise from God:
“… I will NEVER leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5 KJV)
That’s why I believe in eternal securing, Once Saved, Always Saved. It is promise that God will never leave us. He will never forsake us. There are no conditions attached to that verse.
So, in conclusion, let me end with this:
If you are a saved Christian, don’t take God for granted. Don’t play with Him when it comes to holiness in your life. You will not lose your salvation if you sin, for all sin was nailed to the cross and salvation is a gift of God through faith in Christ. But God is still a consuming fire. He will chasten. He may even chasten severely, even ending your physical life early if you become set in a pattern of sin. God’s chastening is to be respected. It is not condemnation. It is Him trying to correct you so that you become holy as He is holy, so that you may walk unto good works that He has prepared for you to do. If you are engaging in sin, give it up. It’s not worth it. Heed the warnings in God’s Word so that He doesn’t have to discipline you.
If you are not a Christian or you are unsure if you are saved, time is running out. Esau desperately wanted to get back the inheritance that he could have had and even begged for it with tears, but it was too late. God has set a fixed amount of time for you to make a decision regarding Christ. Either He will be your Savior, or you will pay for your sins yourself before a perfectly holy God Who demands perfect justice. If you keep putting off a commitment to believe in Christ, there’s coming a day when the offer of salvation will be withdrawn, and it will be too late. Don’t wait. Instead:
CHOOSE TODAY to believe in Christ to save you, believing that He died on the cross to pay for all your sins and rose from the dead to give you eternal life, and that He will not only save you but will keep you saved forever.
Whatever you may have done, and no matter how badly you may have blown it in the past, don’t think for a second that God has given up on you.
The Lord’s Desire is to Save You!
He is For You, Not Against You.
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 KJV)
It is not the Lord’s desire that even one person should perish. It is not too late. If you think that, that’s just the enemy talking, trying to get you to give up on God. Don’t give in to that negative thought. God is for you, not against you, and He desires you with an everlasting love. He longs to pour out blessings upon you. Let Him.
So, if you are not 100% sure of your salvation, my closing wish for you is this:
Make Sure You Are Saved Right Now! Don’t put it off.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life.” (John 6:47 KJV)
So, believe on Him and let Him set you free!
Salvation = God’s Grace Alone Through Faith Alone on Christ Alone
Believing the Gospel means placing your entire trust on Christ for your salvation, believing that Christ:
- Died for your sins
- Was buried
- Rose from the dead
As it says in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.
Nothing more. Nothing less. There are no other requirements to be saved than to believe on Jesus. Once you place your faith in Christ for your salvation, you are born again, and you are forever a child of God. Our Father is a good Father Who will never abandon you but will preserve you in the faith and never let you go.
If you are not certain about your salvation, time is getting very late. Don’t take the chance of missing out on God.
Making Sure You Are Saved Is As Easy As ABC
Admit to God that you have sinned.
Believe that Jesus, God’s Son, died to pay for
your sins 100%, was buried and rose from the dead.
Call upon Jesus and ask Him to forgive you and save you.
If you make that decision to call upon Him, God gives you this assurance:
“For whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13 KJV)
Thank you for watching.