Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All, 1-18
Heb 10:1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming-not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.
The law is only a shadow – The law, being given by God, had of course a positive function. But this function was severely limited. The law lit. ‘has a shadow’, the idea being that it enshrines or possesses the shadow in the form of the levitical ceremonies. The word translated ‘shadow’ can also mean an outline or a sketch, such as a carpenter or an artist might use.
Q. In what ways is the law a ‘shadow’ of the gospel?
The good things that are coming – Guthrie points out that some of the fathers thought that this expression refers to the sacraments. But the reference is obviously more general than that, and is to the gospel.
Q. What are the ‘good things’ that the gospel brings? Which of these are enjoyed now, and which do we still wait for?
The same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year – It is especially those associated with the Day of Atonement that are in mind here.
Those who draw near to worship – ‘To draw near to God is man’s highest exercise.’ (Guthrie)
In just a few short verses, vv1-4, the writer points out the inadequacies of the Jewish sacrificial system, with particular reference to the Day of Atonement:-
1. Its character is insubstantial, v1a. The law is the shadow, not the reality, the signpost, not the destination. Why settle for a prototype, when the fully-developed article is readily available?
2. Its nature is repetitive, v1b. The same sacrifices were repeated endlessly year after year (note how the writer heaps up the expressions, to make the point). The most the Day of Atonement could do was to achieve cleansing for the past year, and then the ritual had to be repeated all over again. The work of the high priests of Israel was never finished, 7:27; 9:25.
3. Its achievement is inadequate, v1c. ‘It can never…make perfect those who draw near to worship.’ The people have an annual reminder of their sins, v3; their consciences can never be quieted. ‘In fact, the whole Day of Atonement ritual, repeated annually, is like a sledgehammer to the human spirit, pounding away year after year with its constant battering away at the theme of sin. In other words, it doesn’t work to heal; it works only to drub it into us that we are sinful, sinful, sinful – guilty and unacceptable to God.’ (Thomas Long) ‘Sometimes…going to church can have exactly the same effect today. In reality, many preachers are better at reminding us that we are sinners than that God is gracious. They signal that people do not measure up. They don’t give enough, pray enough, witness enough, come enough, serve enough, care enough, praise enough, or whatever the pastor’s burden is. It’s never enough. And the worshippers are left to bring their flimsy “works” to God in the hope that they will be acceptable.’ (Tidball, The Message of the Cross, 269)
4. Its materials are invalid, v4. ‘It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.’ How could such possibly be adequate for human beings? As Hughes says, they have no volition, no rationality, not comprehension of what is happening to them. ‘A brute beast, by its very nature, is unqualified to serve as a substitute to man, the crown of God’s creation.’ It is not just that these former sacrifices were not numerous enough, not good enough, or not offered regularly enough. It was always ‘impossible’ that could ever serve as effective sacrifices for sinful human beings.
In these four ways, the writer demolishes any thoughts his readers might have had that the old sacrifices are more effective than the work of Christ.
Heb 10:2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.
Would they not have stopped being offered? – This argument suggests that the epistle was written before AD 70, when the destruction of the Temple led to the cessation of all sacrifices.
‘What the offerings did was to offer cleansing for sins committed since the last offering, but they could do nothing about sin, the root cause.’ (Guthrie)
Throughout this passage, the contrast between levitical sacrifices and the sacrifice of Jesus is either implicit or explicit. In this verse, is the the levitical system entailed an ever-repeated cycle of offerings, whereas Christ offered himself once for all, and the old system could not remove guilt, whereas Christ’s offering leads to the blotting out of sin, cf. Heb 9:26.
Heb 10:3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins,
Heb 10:4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
‘Although animal sacrifices formed part of the divine ordinance under the law, their intention was temporary, foreshadowing the perfect self-offering of a moral being.’ (Guthrie) Accordingly, those who had come to Christ from a background of Temple worship needed to learn the utter futility (‘it is impossible’) of that system. There needed to be a decisive turning away from it, just as pagans needed to turn from idolatry, 1 Thess 1:9.
Barclay illustrates: ‘A man is ill. A bottle of medicine is prescribed for him. If that medicine effects a cure, every time he looks at the bottle thereafter, he will say: “That is what gave me back my health.” On the other hand, if the medicine is ineffective, every time he looks at the bottle he will be reminded that he is ill and that the recommended cure was useless. So the writer to the Hebrews says with prophetic vehemence: “The sacrifice of animals is powerless to purify a man and give him access to God. All that such sacrifices can do is to remind a man that he is an uncured sinner and that the barrier of his sin is between himself and God.” So far from erasing his sin, they underline it.’ (DSB)
‘He here rejects not only the sacrificial system of Old Testament times as an adequate way of cleansing, but clearly, by implication, writes the same judgement, “impossible,” over every other religious system as a means of present forgiveness and eternal salvation…How does a Christian asks Raymond Brown reconcile the uncompromising message of Hebrews with the challenge of other faiths?’ Brown offers the following guidelines:-
1. Listen. Avoid rushing in, hastily condemning the treasured views of others. Seek to respect and understand, taking care not to grossly misunderstand or misinterpret the beliefs of others. Attempt to befriend and not simply to convert.
2. Commend whatever is good in the religion of others. ‘It will hardly compromise the distinctive qualities of Christianity if we acknowledge the positive qualities to found in other faiths.’ These qualities include ‘the Hindu’s reverence for life and search for peace, the Buddhist’s longing for enlightenment and moral excellence and the Sikh’s practical goodness to those in need.’ (R.W.F. Wootton) The author of Hebrews writes appreciately about Judaism even though he must exclude it as the way of salvation. ‘It’s laws expose our sin (10:2f), its history illustrates our dangers (chapters 3-4) and its heroes exemplify our faith (chapter 11). (Brown)
3. Dialogue may focus initially on basic problems such as guilt, fear, loneliness, moral failure, meaninglessness, insecurity and so on. Concern for these issues gives us common ground with other religions, even though the solutions they propose may be inadequate. Bridge can be built in much the same way that Paul did at Mars Hill, starting with the literary heritage and beliefs of the Athenians, before moving on to mention their frustrations and then God’s revelation in Christ.
4. Assert. Although the Christian will not want to rush insensitively into an assertion of the distinctive features of his faith, nor will he want to seem ashamed or embarrassed by them. ‘Other religions, with the possible exception of Buddhism, are just as definite and dogmatic.’ (Brown) we will need to come ultimately to the uniqueness of Christ, and that is, of course, the principal burden of this letter. ‘It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins and it is just as impossible for man to achieve his salvation by the five pillars of Islam, or by Hindu resolutions of renunciation, or by Buddhist ethics, or by Sikhism’s patterns of self-salvation…The religious pluralism fo contemporary society…must not be allowed to obscure the distinctiveness and assurance of the Christian gospel.’ (Brown)
Heb 10:5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me;”
- Incarnate – ‘A body you prepared for me’, v5.
- Obedient – ‘I have come to do your will’, v9.
- Enthroned – ‘He sat down at the right hand of God’, v12
- Atoning – ‘The blood of Jesus’, v19.
- Interceding – ‘A great High Priest over the house of God’, v21
- Returning – ‘In just a very little while’, v37.
- Triumphing – ‘His enemies to be made his footstool’, v13.
(Pickering, Subjects for Speakers and Students, adapted)
When Christ came into the world, he said… – ‘It is as if the writer conceives of Christ, following his incarnation, taking the words of this psalm upon his lips as the expression of his mission..’ Note the almost Johannine understanding of the incarnation: he (the word ‘Christ’ is not actually used, but is assumed) ‘came into the world’.
‘It is not as if Christ and not David speaks; but Christ, whose spirit already dwells and works in David, and who will hereafter receive from David his human nature, now already speaks in him.’ (Delizsch)
A body you prepared for me – The LXX (followed here) differs radically from the Hebrew of Ps 40:6, which says, ‘my ears you have pierced’ (NIV), or ‘my ears thou hast opened’ (NASB). The LXX presumably must be an extension and an interpretation of the Hebrew at this point. If the Hebrew says that Messiah was perfected by God in respect of one physical faculty (hearing), the LXX is saying that he was perfected by God is respect of all physical faculties (the whole body). It was as a man that Christ was fully obedient; it was in his body that he offered a perfect sacrifice.
It has been argued that this is one of several places where Calvin acknowledges the presence of ‘error’ in Scripture (or, at least, declines to affirm Scripture’s ‘inerrancy’). ‘[I]n Calvin’s commentary on Hebrews 10:6, he affirmed that the saving purpose of the biblical message is adequately communicated through an imperfect form of words: ‘They (the apostles) were not overscrupulous in quoting words provided that they did not misuse Scripture for their convenience. We must always look at the purpose for which quotations are made… but as far as the words are concerned, as in other things which are not relevant to the present purpose, they allow themselves some indulgence.’ (Rogers & McKim, Authority and Interpretation, p109). But it will be noted that something has been omitted from the quotation. Calvin’s words at this point read: ‘‘We must always have a regard to the end for which [the apostles] quote passages, for they are very careful as to the main object, so as not to turn Scripture to another meaning.’ (My emphasis)
‘It was Christ’s voluntary submission to the will of God which distinguished the offering of his body from the forced and non-rational offering of the bodies of beasts in sacrifice.’ (Wilson)
On the true manhood of Jesus, see also Jn 1:14; Lk 2:11.
‘Christ made the full payment to the justice of God for sin, when he poured out his blood to death upon the cross. All the precedaneous acts of his humiliation were but preparatory to this. He was born to die; he was sent into the world as a lamb bound with the bonds of an irreversible decree for a sacrifice. Christ himself when he came into the world understood this to be the errand he was sent on, Heb 10:5. ‘Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me;’ i.e. to be an expiatory sacrifice. Without this, all he had done would have been labour undone. No redemption but by his blood, ‘In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins,’ Eph 1:7. No church without his blood, ‘The church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood,’ Acts 20:28. E latere Christi morientis exstitit ecclesia – the church is taken out of dying Jesus’ side, as Eve out of sleeping Adam’s. Christ did not redeem and save poor souls by sitting in majesty on his heavenly throne, but by hanging on the shameful cross, under the tormenting hand of man’s fury and God’s just wrath. And therefore the poor soul, that would have pardon of sin, is directed to place his faith not only on Christ, but on bleeding Christ, Rom 3:25 “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.”‘ (Gurnall)
Following the fourfold critique of the old sacrificial system, the writer now offers a fourfold account of the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice. The inadequacy of the old, and the perfection of the new, are both foreshadowed in Ps 40:6-8.
1. How he lived – he offered an obedient life, vv5-9. The sacrifice of Christ was effective because what he offered on the cross was a life of complete moral obedience to God, which had embodied the fulfilment of the law. The (modified) quote from Ps 40:6-8 shows that the tension between sacrifice and obedience is resolved in Christ. ‘What had so often been an obstacle in the old covenant, as people offered sacrifice without the corresponding obedience was settled once and for all in him. He fulfilled to the letter the psalm’s vision of human vocation. His life was one of total obedience, which enabled him to be the perfect sacrifice. His incarnation issued in the logic of the cross, for it was the same total obedience he demonstrated in his life that led him to make his way to Calvary.’ (Tidball)
2. What he established – a new covenant, v9. The old order is abolished, and the new inaugurated. Christ did not come to bring more of the same, with perhaps a few improvements, but a radical new beginning. Christ’s followers, accordingly, cannot ‘pick and mix’ a little of the old with a little of the new. Either they belong to the old order or they have entered the new age of Christ.
3. Whom he affected – he creates a holy people, v10. The emphasis of the old covenant, as Hag 3:10-14 seems to illustrate, was negative. It sought to prevent what was defiled from spreading by isolating or destroying it; but it could not make the unclean clean. But, in contrast, ‘we have been made holy’ through Christ’s sacrifice. We have been cleansed from sin, santified in Christ, and set apart to serve God.
4. What characterised it – a completed, unrepeatable act, v10. Christ’s sacrifice was done ‘once for all’. There is no need to go back and repeat it. ‘The singular event of his death, on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, was to have universal and ongoing repercussions, but need never hapen again. Dorothy L. Sayers points out how extraordinary that claim is. “He is the only God,” she writes, “who has a date in history…the is no more astonishing collocation of phrases than that which, in the Nicene Creed, sets these two statements flatly side by side: ‘Very God of Very God…He suffered under Pontius Pilate.'”‘ (Tidball)
Ps 40:6-8. ‘They the apostles were not overscrupulous in quoting words provided that they did not misuse Scripture for their convenience. We must always look at the purpose for which quotations are made…but as far as the words are concerned, as in other things which are not relevant to the present purpose, they allow themselves some indulgence.’ (Calvin)
Heb 10:6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.
‘Although the sacrifices were commanded by God, it was the attitude of the worshippers which was his concern. The history of Israel had shown the tendency for the sacrificial system to be regarded as an end in itself, becoming a mere formality. The need for fulfilling of the will of God had been neglected, hence the pointedness of the psalmist’s words.’ (Guthrie)
Heb 10:7 “Then I said, ‘Here I am-it is written about me in the scroll-I have come to do your will, O God.'”
“It is written about me in the scroll” – This ‘apparently refers to some authoritative instruction which governed the behaviour and activities of the psalmist-king. It seems clear that for Jesus the book embraces all the written revelations of God’s purposes and therefore provides the perfect pattern for the divine will.’ (Guthrie)
“I have come to do your will, O God” – The aim of the perfect man, and a summary of the entire life of Christ. As for the rest of us, we have at best achieved it imperfectly. What for the psalmist was an aim, was for Christ an actual achievement. Php 2:8 shows the completeness of Christ’s obedience.
‘There is nothing of irresponsibility or adventure in Christ’s life and death. It is all obedience, and therefore it is all revelation. We see God in it because it is not his own will but the will of the Father which it accomplished. Even when we come to consider its relation to sin, this must be born in mind. Atonement is not something contrived, as it were, behind the Father’s back; it is the Father’s way of making it possible for the sinful to have fellowship with him.’ (Denney)
On the voluntariness of Christ’s death, see Jn 10:11,15,17,18.
Heb 10:8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made).
Heb 10:9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second.
He sets aside the first to establish the second – A summary statement of the argument at this point. The word for ‘sets aside’ (anairei) is a strong one, usually meaning ‘to kill’: it points to the radical finality of the passing of the old order, and reminds us of the equally strong word ‘impossible’ in v4.
Messiah is referred to as ‘my Servant’ in Mt 12:18.
Heb 10:10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
By that will – i.e. the will of God that has just been referred to.
We have been made holy – ‘The idea seems to be that those in Christ have so identified with him that in him they too have fulfilled the will of God.’ (Guthrie) The idea here seems to be that of ‘definitive sanctification’ which itself is analogous to Paul’s doctrine of justification.
- Past achievement, Heb 10:10.
- Present effort, Heb 12:14.
- Future expectancy, 1 Jn 3:2.
Through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ – ‘The will of God, with which we are here concerned, is not satisfied by an obedience which comes short of death. For it is not merely the preceptive will of God, his will that men should do right and live according to his holy law, which Christ came to fulfil; it is his gracious will, a will which has as tis aim that sinful men should be constituted into a people for himself, a will which has resolved that their sin should be so dealt with as no longer to keep them at a distance from him; a will, in short, that sinners should find a standing in his sight. And in that will we are sanctified, not merely by Christ’s fulfilment of the law of God as it is binding on man in general, but by his faithfulness of the law as it is binding on sinful men, by his obedient suffering of death as that which God’s mind in relation to sin finds its final fulfilment,.’ (Denney)
On the idea of being made holy by Christ’s bodily sacrifice, see Isa 53:5.
Heb 10:11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
The writer has exposed both the inadequacy of the Levitical sacrifice and the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice. How foolish, then, it would be for his readers to turn their backs on Christ and seek solutions to the problem of sin and guilt elsewhere.
Attention now shifts from the sacrifice offered to the priest who offers it. Jesus is, of course, both the perfect sacrifice and the ideal priest who offer that sacrifice. The writer is at this point briefly recapitulating the point made about Jesus’ priesthood in 7:1-28.
This verse emphasises three inadequacies of the Aaronic priesthood: (a) the position of the priests: every priest ‘stands’ (in contrast to Christ, who, having completed his work, ‘sat down’, v12); (b) the continuity of the sacrifices: they had to be offered again and again; (c) their ineffectiveness: they could not in any case remove sin; they could not achieve anything.
Of course, the old priesthood with its sacrifices did serve a purpose: ‘They pointed forward to the perfect sacrifice that was to come, and their symbolism had value in anticipating the sacrifice of Christ. But only the sacrifice of Christ could take away sins. Any value they possessed derived from the sacrifice he was one day to offer’ (Tidball).
Heb 10:12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.
Attention now turns from the priests of Levitical times to this priest.
Jesus has already be spoken of as a priest after the order of Melchisedek, Heb 7:17, which pre-dated the Aaronic priesthood and was superior to it: Abraham received a blessing from Melchisedek, and honoured him with a tithe, Heb 7:1f; he was appointed directly by God; he had neither predecessors nor successors, being the only member of the order; in all this Melchisedek prefigures Jesus, demonstrating that Jesus is in a class of his own, a class of one. He has divine status.
But Jesus has not only been characterised as a priest who is well-qualified to represent God to us, but also as a priest well able to represent us to God: for he has entered our humanity, being made ‘a little lower than the angels’, Heb 2:7,9; he was subject to temptation without succumbing to it, Heb 4:15; was exposed to weakness, Heb 5:2; he learned obedience through suffering, Heb 5:7f. He has proven humanity.
He sat down at the right hand of God – This not only confirms that Christ’s work of atonement is completed, but affirms that ‘Christ’s heavenly enthronement bears witness to the eternal validity of that one historic sacrifice.’ (Wilson)
The present verse underlines the unique and once-for-all nature of the sacrifice of Jesus. ‘The constant re-iteration of this central Christian idea may suggest that the writer knew that some of his readers were shaky about it and were perhaps wondering whether there was still the same inadequacy as with the old sacrifices.’ (Guthrie) This one sacrifice was able to sweep away the whole Levitical system at a stroke.
‘It is with care that he picks his words. The priests stand offering sacrifice; Christ sits at the right hand of God. Theirs is the position of a servant; his is the position of a monarch. Jesus is the King come home, his task accomplished and his victory won. There is a wholeness about the life of Jesus that perhaps we ought to give more thought. His life is incomplete without his death; his death is incomplete without his resurrection; his resurrection is incomplete without his return to glory. It is the same Jesus who lived and died and rose again and is at the right hand of God. He is not simply a saint who lived a lovely life; not simply a martyr who died an heroic death; not simply a risen figure who returned to company with his friends. He is the Lord of glory.’ (DSB)
Heb 10:13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool,
‘If he is exalted, why haven’t all his enemies immediately been subdued and placed under his feet? Why the wait? The wait, in Chrysostom’s words, is “for the sake of the faithful that would afterwards be born.” Christ waits, not because he is powerless to drive his victory through to its logical conclusion, but to prolong the day of grace so that in God’s mercy more might turn to him in repentance and benefit from his salvation.’ (Tidball) ‘The delay should be seen…as the prolongation of the day of grace, and therefore as a token of the mercy and longsuffering of God.’ (Hughes) See Peter’s argument in 2 Pet 3.
‘Three outstanding effects are thus ascribed to the sacrifice of Christ: by it his people have had their conscience cleansed from guilt; by it they have been fitted to approach God as accepted worshippers; by it they have experienced fulfilment of what was promised in earlier days, being brought into that perfect relation to God which is involved in the new covenant.’ (Bruce)
He waits for his enemies to be made his footstool – Yet another allusion to Ps 110:1, much-quoted in this epistle. The Melchizedek imagery is also in mind, for it is the priest-king of subdues his enemies.
Part of the writer’s motivation in this verse may be to warn his readers ‘not to let themselves be numbered among the enemies of the exalted Christ, but rather to be reckoned as his friends and companions by preserving their fidelity to the end.’ (Bruce)
‘Thus writes Marcus Loane on vv12f in Key-texts in the Epistle to the Hebrews) we have a splendid picture of Christ, once slain and now enthroned, waiting until the kingdoms of this world have learned to own his sway. No fresh duty, no new emergency, can now disturb his calm expectation: “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Heb 10:14). That one sufficient offering was his perfect life crowned by his voluntary self-sacrifice, for he bore the curse that sin had deserved and he fulfilled the true prophetic destiny of man. Thus the virtue of his work on the Cross remains as long as man’s own need remains, and it is now available for all them that will “come unto God by him” (Heb 7:25). We see Jesus, the Man of the Cross, now crowned with glory and from henceforth expecting, “for he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:25) But we see him at God’s right hand as our High Priest and Representative, for in him and with him, we are also seated in the heavenlies. (Eph 2:6) And we have his promise as we look on ahead to the day of ultimate victory: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne..’ (Rev 3:21)
There are, then, in this verse two vital teachings: (a) that Christ will finally put all his enemies to subjugation; (b) that there is an indefinite interval until he does so.
Note Barclay’s typical speculation: ‘it may be that this final subjugation will consist not in the extinction of his enemies but in their submission to his love. It is not so much the power but the love of God which must conquer in the end.’ But this is wishful thinking. This verse says nothing about Christ’s enemies becoming his friends; it speaks of them being made his footstool.
Heb 10:14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
By one sacrifice – This is emphatic – ‘by a single offering’. ‘It is but one offering; one not only specifically, but one numerically considered; but once offered, and never more to be repeated: for Christ dies no more, Rom 6:9. He also commends it from the efficacy of it; by it he has perfected it, i.e. not only purchased a possibility of salvation, but all that we need to our full perfection. It brings in a most entire, complete and perfect righteousness:all that remains to make us perfectly happy, is but the full application of the benefits procured by this oblation for us. Moreover, it is here commended from the extensiveness of it; not being restrained to a few, but applicable to all the saints, in all the ages and places of the world:for this indefinite, them that that sanctified, is equivalent to a universal, and is as much as if he had said, To all and every saint, from the beginning to the end of the world. Lastly, he commends it from its perpetuity; it perfects for ever, that is, it is of everlasting efficacy:it shall abide as fresh, vigorous and powerful to the end of the world, as it was the first moment it was offered up.’ (Flavel)
‘The death of Christ was a sacrifice. It was not an accident. It was not an act of divine malice (although that interpretation is a very plausible one because the cross looks malicious and malevolent). No, says the Bible, it was a sacrifice: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’; (Jn 1:29) ‘For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified’. (Heb 10:14) That is how the New Testament sees the death of Christ. As the apostles looked through the eyes of God’s Spirit at the event and the facts of Calvary they were led to say, ‘This is the fulfilment of the Old Testament sacrifices. This is the consummation of that instinct in the universal human heart that has led to sacrificial and piacular religion.’ This became for the apostles the master-concept of the atonement, the category under which they could subsume-, and through which they could understand, the death and suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)
He has made perfect forever – Regarded as already completed, although in an anticipatory sense, as ‘forever’ makes clear, as does the ‘those who are being made holy’ (present continuous). This latter phrase refers to ‘the continual succession of people who come under the effective application of the single offering.’ (Guthrie)
This verse draws attention to a very real tension in the Christian life. ‘On the one hand, we have been forgiven. Nothing else is needed. No further work of Christ is necessary. On the other hand, sanctification is a progressive action in the Christian life. We are not yet completely free from sin. Our past sins may have been forgiven; the power of sin in our lives may have been broken; but we keep sinning and God must continue to confront us and bring us to repentance over and over again. We are in the process of being made truly holy, not just forgiven for our failure to be holy.’ (HSB)
Heb 10:15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
We now learn how the cross of Jesus has created a new covenant. The theme of the new covenant has already been introduced in Heb 8:6-13 and Heb 9:15-22. In the latter passage, Christ is referred to as ‘the mediator of a new covenant’, and the ideas of ‘covenant’ and ‘will’ are used interchangeable. Exploring the use of diatheke as a ‘will’, the writer points out that it does not come into force until the testator has died. The new covenant comes into force because Christ has died. ‘The wirter thus moves from presenting the cross as a sacrifice of atonement, as set out in the early chapters of Leviticus, to presenting it as a sacrifice that inaugurates a covenant, as set out in Ex 24:5-8.’ (Tidball)
In 8:6-13, the writer had expounded the idea of the new covenant with reference to Jer 31:31-34. The prophet had spoken of a day when God’s covenant would bring about a decisive and inward change in people’s hearts. It is this aspect of the new covenant which the writer to the Hebrews takes up on v15.
Heb 10:16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
There first thing that is said here about the new covenant as spoken of through Jeremiah, is that it internalises the law.
Heb 10:17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”
The second thing that is said here about the new covenant is that in it God promises to remember sins no more.
“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more” – ‘The cross has dealt with them. They are forgiven. There is, then, no need for the sensitive conscience to be dragging them up again and again as if they continued to matter. Still less is there any need to offer further sacrifices for sin. The one offered has done all that was needed. Any more would not only be superfluous but, being nothing more than a cheap imitation of the real thing, would be an insult to the cross of Christ.’ (Tidball)
Heb 10:18 And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.
‘God’s promise to remember the sins of his people no more is the outstanding feature of the new covenant, for the continual remembrance of sins under the old economy showed the insufficiency of its constant sacrifices to atone for sin. But Christ blotted out the sins of his people beyond recall when he offered himself to God on their behalf. His death ratified the new covenant and abolished the old order. Thus there there is the full remission of sins, no possibility of any further offering for sin remains.’ (Wilson)
Here ends the main doctrinal part of the epistle.
A Call to Persevere, 19-39
Heb 10:19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,
Heb 10:20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,
There is a possible allusion here to the tearing of the curtain of the temple at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Whether that is the case or not, it is clear that the writer wants to assure us that the way into the Holy of holies has been made wide open through the death of Christ.
Heb 10:21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
Heb 10:22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
Heb 10:23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
- How we make this profession
- (a) With our words, Rom 10:9f, in prayer to God, and by the tongue (especially when gospel-truth is opposed, Mt 10:32f).
- (b) By deed, by attending on the outward means of grace, by our conversations in our families, by joining ourselves to the church of Christ, by our godly behaviour (Tit 2:10), and by dying in faith (Heb 11:13).
2. Why we must hold it fast
- (a) The honour of Christ calls for it, Mk 8:38.
- (b) The good of others calls for it, Mt 5:16.
- (c) Christ has a great concern about it.
- (d) It is the very nature of faith to make itself know in this way. ‘It is impossible to keep the fire of faith without the smoke of profession.’
Heb 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Heb 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Let us encourage one another – ‘The basic idea is that Christians should strengthen and stimulate one another. There is no doubt that immeasurable influence for good can come from the powerful example of right-minded people in association with others. The New Testament lends no support to the idea of lone Christians. Close and regular fellowship with other believers is not just a nice idea, but an absolute necessity for the encouragement of Christian values.’ (Guthrie)
Heb 10:26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left,
According to Wiersbe, this is the fourth of the five exhortations found in Hebrews. It is written to believers and follows in sequence with the other exhortations. The believer who begins to drift from the Word (Heb. 2:1–4) will soon start to doubt the Word (Heb. 3:7–4:13). Soon, he will become dull toward the Word (Heb. 5:11–6:20) and become “lazy” in his spiritual life. This will result in despising the Word, which is the theme of this exhortation.’
Verse 26f. Apostasy (a) obviates the work of Christ – ‘no sacrifice for sins is left’; (b) draws down the punishment of God – ‘judgement and raging fire’.
It is an apostasy, as Raymond Brown says, against the triune God, for they have (a) rejected God’s truth (26-28), spurned God’s Son (29a), and despised God’s Spirit (29b).
Deliberately – This word stands first in the Gk. for emphasis.
Keep on sinning – The two characteristics of apostasy are deliberateness and continuance.
‘The apostle describes as sinners not those who fall in any kind of sin, but those who forsake the Church and separate themselves from Christ.. There is a great difference between individual lapses and universal desertion of the kind which makes for a total falling away from the grace of Christ.’ (Calvin)
No sacrifice for sins is left – ‘The preacher is not saying that if believers persist in sinning deliberately, there will come a point where the effect of Christ’s sacrifice runs out, and Christ would say, “I have paid for your sins up to this point, but I’m not prepared to pay for them any further.” Rather, what the writer is describing is a graceless, reprobate state characterized by two things-deliberateness and continuance.’ (R. Kent Hughes)
‘The point Hebrews is making can best be seen by following the author’s progression of thought. Having noted the adequacy of Christ’s sacrifice in Heb 10:1-18, he urges the readers to draw near to God with confidence. (Heb 10:19-22) This is expressed in (1) holding on to the hope that we have in Christ, (2) encouraging each other to live the faith in practice and (3) gathering together. (Heb 10:23-25) The opposite of these would be to withdraw from the Christian gatherings, to stop doing public expressions of faith, and to give up commitment to Christ and hope in him. In other words, the opposite would be apostasy.’ (HSB)
‘There will be no escape. One might escape from a guarded city. (2 Cor 11:32-33) one might escape from prison. (Ac 12:1-19; 16:27) None will escape from an angry God who has been ignored (Heb 10:26-31; 12:29). Jesus told a parable of people who ignored a king’s invitation to a wedding banquet for his son. He did not take this insult lightly. (Mt 22:1-7)’ (College Press)
Heb 10:27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
A fearful expectation of judgement – ‘The point here is that those who have rejected Christ inherit a fearful expectation of judgment, whether or not they are aware of it. Some, of course, mask it, like Edward F. Prichard, a sometime politician and crook who used to say that when the last trumpet sounded, the Lord is not going to send people to Heaven or Hell. Rather, “He’s going to take away their inhibitions, and everybody’s going to go where he belongs.”
Interesting thoughts, even amusing, when one is in good health. But it has proven far different with hardened apostates at the time of death when there comes “only a fearful expectation of judgment.” Take Voltaire, for example. Of Christ, Voltaire said, “Curse the wretch!” He once boasted, “In twenty years Christianity will be no more. My single hand shall destroy the edifice it took twelve apostles to rear.” Ironically, shortly after his death the very house in which he printed his literature became the depot of the Geneva Bible Society. The nurse who attended Voltaire said, “For all the wealth in Europe I would not see another infidel die.” The physician Trochim, waiting with Voltaire at his death, said he cried out most desperately, “I am abandoned by God and man! I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months’ life. Then I shall go to hell and you will go with me.” Or consider Thomas Paine, the renowned American author and enemy of Christianity who exerted considerable influence against belief in God and the Scriptures. He came to his last hour in 1809, a disillusioned and unhappy man. During his final moments on earth he said:
(R. Kent Hughes)
‘It is commonly thought by those who have only a passing recognition of Jonathan Edwards that his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was preached with sadistic glee to his bewildered congregation. The supposition is that Edwards enjoyed afflicting his people and that the sermon was preached with pulpit-pounding vehemence.
Such thinking is wide of the mark. Shouting was not Edwards’s style. It is a matter of historical fact that Edwards quietly read his sermons from tiny pieces of paper he held up in front of him. Neither did Edwards enjoy such preaching. Rather, it was necessitated by the famous “halfway” covenant, an earlier Puritan attempt to keep as many people as possible under the influence of the church, though they were not professed believers. The church in Enfield contained baptized unbelievers who were barred from the Lord’s Table. Ultimately, Edwards was dismissed as pastor over the question of the admission of the unconverted to the Lord’s Supper. Edwards was preaching for their souls, and also against the follies of the “halfway” covenant.
Therefore, we must understand that Jonathan Edwards’s passionate love for God and his flock was the reason he employed every tool in his considerable stores of logic and metaphor to plead for his people’s souls in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” He was less concerned with God’s wrath than with his grace, which was freely extended to sinners who repented. Jonathan Edwards gave his people a whiff of the sulphurs of Hell that they might deeply inhale the fragrances of grace.
Edwards’s intense concern joins him in heart with the preacher who wrote to the Hebrews some 1,700 years earlier. The stakes were identical-Heaven or Hell. And the symptoms, though not identical, were similar as well-a declining regard for the church’s authority, a willfulness to define one’s relationship to the church in one’s own terms, and, in some cases, quitting the church altogether. To such are addressed the thunderous warnings in verses 26-31, in which the brilliant writer summons his own prodigious logic and literary talents. To glimpse his passion, we can imagine ourselves as parents raising our children along a boulevard on which huge trucks regularly pass at great speed. Our warnings are couched in the most dramatic terms and lurid illustrations-“Do you know what happens to little children if.”-in the hope that somehow what we say will penetrate the imagination and thinking process of our children, so they will stay out of the deadly street!’ (R. Kent Hughes)
Heb 10:28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
Heb 10:29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
Grudem writes: ‘This…is a strong warning against falling away, but it should not be taken as proof that someone who has truly been born again can lose his or her salvation. When the author talks about the blood of the covenant “that sanctified him,” the word sanctified is used simply to refer to “external sanctification, like that of the ancient Israelites, by outward connection with God’s people.” The passage does not talk about someone who is genuinely saved, but someone who has received some beneficial moral influence through contact with the church.’ (Systematic Theology)
Heb 10:30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”
Heb 10:31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God – Dreadful = phoberos – fearful, terrible, dreadful.
Living God emphasises the dreadful reality entailed in this warning. He is not an imaginary being, but a reality. His promises and his threats are therefore real. And he lives (as Barnes reminds us) eternally, and so if the impenitent do not seem to suffer his judgment in this life, then they will certainly do so in the life to come.
Divine judgement is fearful and inescapable. The terrible reality of divine vengeance is accentuated by reference to God as ‘the living God’, Heb 3:12; 9:14; 12:22, and by the mention of his ‘hands’, symbolic of his power in action, 1 Pet 5:6. Note, those who fall, do not fall into nothingness, but into the hands of an omnipotent Judge.
Calvin comments: ‘Mortal man, however inimical he may be, cannot carry his enmity beyond death, but the power of God is not confined to such narrow limits. We often escape from men, we cannot escape the judgement of God.’
Matthew Henry: ‘Observe here, What will be the eternal misery of impenitent sinners and apostates: they shall fall into the hands of the living God; their punishment shall come from God’s own hand. He takes them into the hand of his justice; he will deal with them himself; their greatest misery will be the immediate impressions of divine wrath on the soul. When he punishes them by creatures, the instrument abates something of the force of the blow; but, when he does it by his own hand, it is infinite misery. This they shall have at God’s hand, they shall lie down in sorrow; their destruction shall come from his glorious powerful presence; when they make their woeful bed in hell, they will find that God is there, and his presence will be their greatest terror and torment. And he is a living God; he lives for ever, and will punish for ever.’
Barnes: ‘All men must, in one sense, fall into his hands. They must appear before him. They must be brought to his bar when they die. How unspeakably important it is then now to embrace his offers of salvation, that we may not fall into his hands as a righteous, avenging judge, and sink beneath his uplifted arm for ever!’
William Barclay (Daily Study Bible) is uncharacteristically forthright: ‘At the heart of Christianity there remains for ever a threat. To remove that threat is to emasculate the faith. At the end of the day it is not all one for the good and the bad man alike. No man can evade the fact that in the end judgment comes.’
Philip Hacking (Opening Up Hebrews): ‘We do need to be aware of over-sensitive souls who are all too easily self-condemning, but we may not, however, ignore the danger and the doom these verses portray.’
It is, even for God’s children, a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God: ‘A strained relationship with God is hard to endure. It quickly makes our religion joyless and lifeless and we lose all our spiritual drive, vision and energy. Under His correction and discipline we find ourselves walking in a darkness without light. Remember: the vast majority of the Bible’s references to the anger of God refer to His anger against His own people.’ (MacLeod, A Faith to Live By)
Heb 10:32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.
Heb 10:33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.
Heb 10:34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
Heb 10:35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
Heb 10:36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.
Heb 10:37 For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay.
In just a very little while – An echo of Isa 26:20. In Isaiah’s day God’s people had had to wait, but this did not mean that God had failed to honour is promise.
He who is coming will come and will not delay – introducing a modified quotation from Hab 2:3f (continued in v38). ‘Here the thought is of the certainty of God’s intervention, which was particularly significant for the church in a time of persecution. The assurance that the coming one would not tarry shows that any delay should be regarded as temporary.’ (Guthrie, TNTC)
Heb 10:38 But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”
My righteous one will live by faith – In Rom 1:17 and Gal 3:11 Paul cites Hab 2:4 to summarise his whole argument about justification by faith. Here, the emphasis is on the need for enduring faith if former confidence is not to be lost.
‘There is at least a hint here, though nothing more, that some of these Christians were discouraged because they had hoped and prayed for Christ’s return. Why was his coming so delayed? They wanted the reward (Heb 10:35) there and then. But this prophetic word from Isaiah and Habakkuk reminds them of his promise and insists that if they are to please him, then steadfastness is essential.’ (Brown, BST)
The writer is about to define and illustrate this faith.
Heb 10:39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.