Here at Easter, 2019, it is fitting that we come to Hebrews 10, the conclusion of the Hebrews author’s discussion of the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice. As we’ll see in Chapters 11-13, his argument will shift from that of bolstering the idea that Jesus is the great high priest to offering encouragement of perseverance to those believers who have accepted that Jesus is their long-awaited and all-sufficient Messiah. Last time, in chapter 9, the author finished with a reminder (Hebrews 9:27-28) that “just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” He returns once again to a comparison of the Old Testament worship stipulations to remind his readers that they were never intended to be complete in and of themselves.
1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
This is a powerful point. At no time in the Old Testament Law does God ever indicate that a sacrifice is sufficient to remove one’s sin forever. Instead, it was stipulated that these sacrifices were to be performed continually and repeatedly. As the author here points out, this served as a reminder that sin was always present and would not be permanently atoned for. He then turns to a quotation from Psalm 40:6-8 to further drive that point home.
5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” 8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second.
Note that verses 5-7 are attributed to Jesus as speaking them. This is because Psalm 40 was (and is) traditionally held to be a Messianic Psalm, or a psalm which describes the Messiah to us. Since Jesus is argued here as being the Messiah, and the Psalm is written as a first-person speech, it makes sense to attribute the words to the Messiah himself. Then, in verses 8 and 9 the author explains the necessity of the Messiah’s own willing sacrifice of himself as atonement for the sin of all people. This willingness and fulfillment alone was able to serve as a satisfactory and superior replacement for the Old Testament forms of animal sacrifice. He points at that the Messiah recognizes and honors the fact that this exchange was something willed by God himself. He continues…
10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
As I write this, it is Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter. On this day a dozen or so years less than 2000 years ago, Jesus lay in a rock tomb, dead and unmoving following his brutal scourging and crucifixion. On this day the hope of his disciples waned and the future seemed bleak. Yet tomorrow they would awake with the good news that Jesus had returned to life, conquering death and walked from the tomb resurrected! Good Friday was, and is, only “good” if Sunday’s resurrection happens. If it doesn’t, his death means nothing. His resurrection means that God has accepted his sacrifice on our behalf and has restored to him his rightful place at the right-hand of God!
15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
This is the continuation of the good news (which is what the word “gospel” means). The new covenant, instituted by Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection, replaces the old covenant. This new one is detailed in Jeremiah 31:33-34, and quoted by the author here. When Jesus died on the cross, he exclaimed “It is finished” in recognition that the requirements of the old covenant had finally been met once for all. His resurrection then shifts the focus from the sacrifice to the ongoing life and intercession he is able to provide in God’s eternal presence. Those who acknowledge the sufficiency of his work and agree with God will be forever forgiven of their sin.
Now comes the “therefore” statement for this passage. What is the reader to do with this information? And to whom is the author specifically writing? If you recall, we don’t know who the author of Hebrews is. I have offered my own theory that it is the apostle Paul, but that is just an opinion. I have also contended that Paul, or whomever the author is, is writing primarily to “seeking” Jews who have not yet committed to following Jesus as their Messiah, but who are at least open to considering the possibility. Here, the author calls his readers “brothers”. He does this three other times in the book of Hebrews:
- Hebrews 3:1 – Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession…
- Hebrews 3:12 – Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.
- Hebrews 13:22 – I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.
I believe that in Chapter 3, the “brothers” the author refers to are the Jews to whom he is writing, and brothers is a familial term to remind the readers that the author is Jewish as well. However, here in Chapter 10, I believe he switches a bit in referencing his “brothers” as not only fellow Jews, but Jews who are, hopefully, seeing the logic of the arguments presented thus far concerning Jesus and have begun to accept him as their Messiah. Given this interpretation, the “brothers” here are new believers and beginning followers of Christ.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
They, and all who are followers of Jesus, who have accepted his sacrifice on our behalf, can now be considered holy and able to enter the “holy places” because of our unity with him. Now, considering our lives are intimately bonded, through faith, with the assurance of the resurrected Jesus, the author begins here, and through the remainder of the book, to encourage us on what that confidence means as it plays out in the remaining life we live here on Earth.
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses is without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
He makes several practical points here.
- (vs. 23) – We need to continually remind ourselves of the confidence we can have in the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and the confidence that we can place in him to bring us into our eternal home with him once our life here is done. This is why we celebrate Easter – as a reminder of these very things.
- (vss. 24-25) – These verses suggest a purpose that we have with fellow believers, and the method we should use to achieve it. We are to “stir up one another to love and good works.” One of the things Jesus told his disciples (and their “spiritual descendants” – us) the night before he died (John 15:8-9, 17) is “by this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love…. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” The author of Hebrews says that we can help each other do this by “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” We need church attendance regularly not only to continue to remind us of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but also to help each other foster Christ-like love and behavior. We are not to live this called life alone.
- (vs. 26 and following) – The author immediately, after calling us to continually gather together, says that “if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment….”. This seems to indicate that isolation from other Christians enables us to continue in sin. A necessity of gathering together with other believers is to help provide accountability to ourselves to avoid sin. If we persist in “going it alone”, we are prone to choose paths which are not glorifying to God, which will ultimately lead to discipline and judgment from God. The author finishes with quotes from Deuteronomy 32:35-36: “‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
This final passage is problematic for my interpretation of the letter being addressed primarily to “seeker” but still non-Christian Jews because this concluding passage is definitely talking about believers who have suffered persecution. However, the persecutions described are consistent with those which would be suffered by Jews who are following Jesus, or even considering belief, and are being ostracized by family and friends who do not share their sympathies toward Christian faith. The bigger takeaway from this, though, is that those who are Christ-followers need to hold firmly to our faith and persevere through times of trouble. This is the theme of the entire next chapter, which I’ll write about in a week or two.