In the first eighteen verses of chapter 10 (Hebrews 10:1-18)the contrast between the sacrifices under the law and His one offering is brought out more clearly than ever. It is important to follow the argument carefully and notice the close reasoning of the apostle as he contrasts the one with the other. The Levitical economy was but a shadow of the coming good things. It was not an exact delineation of these things. It was therefore impossible that the sacrifices offered upon Jewish altars yearly to perpetuity could perfect those who presented them so far as their consciences were concerned. For if the bringing of a lamb or a bullock could have settled the sin question, what necessity would there have been ever to repeat such a sacrifice? The worshippers, if actually once purged, would have been freed from all conscience of sins. Note carefully, he does not say consciousness of sins but conscience of sins. The distinction is most important. Today I may be conscious of sin in thought, word, and deed, but confessing my sins, I look up into the face of my Father with confidence, knowing that for these very sins the blood of Christ has answered, and thus my conscience is freed from condemnation. This could never be under the former order. Every sin called for a new offering, and then on the great Day of Atonement there was an annual sacrifice for all Israel. Notice Hebrews 10:3 : “In those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.” Other translations have been suggested, all of which help to throw light on the meaning. The word translated “remembrance” might be rendered “recognition,” “calling to mind,” or “acknowledgment.” But why such an acknowledgment of sins if the sacrifice could not actually purge them away? The figure of a promissory note might help here. Let us suppose one is in debt for a certain sum of money. He gives a note to run for a year. At the end of the year he finds himself unable to pay. He renews the note. The note has no real value in itself. Nor did the sacrifices have any moral or spiritual value in the sight of God. But in that note there is an acknowledgment of the debt from year to year. Now let us suppose some one who is well able to pay, endorses the note, what then? When it becomes due, it is referred to him for settlement and he discharges the obligation.
The application is simple and clear. It was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins; but every time a believing Israelite brought his sacrifice to the altar, he was, so to speak, giving his note to God. He acknowledged his indebtedness, his sin, and accepted responsibility for the same. This was all he could do, but the pre-incarnate Christ endorsed every one of the notes and in the fulness of time came prepared to settle in full for all. “Wherefore when He cometh info the world, He saith, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared Me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me), to do Thy will, O God” (Hebrews 10:5-7). Here indeed is the divine Endorser who undertakes in grace to meet every claim that the throne of God has against penitent sinners. In this passage, which is quoted from Psalms 40:6-8, it is interesting to observe that all four of the offerings of Leviticus 1 to 7 are in view. The word “sacrifice” refers to the peace offering. The term “offering” is really the minchah, that is, the “meal” offering. The other two terms are too clearly designated to need any explanation. All of them were of no avail to put away sin, and consequently it could be said of them that God had no pleasure in them. But when His own blessed Son came into the world to fulfil all these types, and to pay in His own Person the redemption price, it is written: “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief: when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand” (Isaiah 53:10).
By the fulfilment of the declaration of Psalm 40 He actually wound up the old dispensation and brought in the new. “He taketh away the first that He may establish the second.”
When He said, “I come to do Thy will,” He spoke of course of the will of God in His coming to make expiation for iniquity; and by His accomplishment of that will, we who believe in Him are now eternally set apart to God on the basis, not of our promises or feelings or of our personal righteousness, but of the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. How slowly truths like these seem to seep into our souls and become part of our very beings. But one may safely say there is no lasting peace until this aspect of Christ’s work has been laid hold of in faith.
Continuing, the writer reminds his readers that in the sanctuary of old the high priests were constantly ministering and carrying on a work which was never completed, because of the fact that those offerings could not take away sins. The expression “every priest standeth” is in itself significant. We do not read of a chair or a settee in the tabernacle or temple, for the priest’s work was never done. But how different it is with our great High Priest above! He, after having offered His one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God, where He now waits until His enemies be made the footstool of His feet. Whether one connects the term “forever” with the expression “one sacrifice for sins” or with the sitting down, makes little difference. That sacrifice has eternal efficacy. On the other hand, as Priest-Victim, His work done, He sat down never to offer sacrifice again. His one offering is perfect and complete, and all who are linked with Him by faith appear before God in all the value of that finished work, perfected forever, because sanctified in Him.
Of this the Holy Spirit is a witness to us. He has come forth from the Father and the Son to bear testimony to the perfection of that finished work. And it is He who now opens up the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament, giving us to see in them what saints of old never realized was there. Witness the quotation from Jeremiah 31:33-34. What was promised to Israel and Judah through the New Covenant is now true of all who turn to Christ. By new birth God puts His laws in their hearts and writes them in their minds, and declares without any qualification, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” This is complete justification from all things. No charge can now be brought against the one for whom Christ has settled everything. Therefore the blessed conclusion, “Where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18).
This then entitles the “brethren” of Christ, the new priestly house, to enter with boldness as purged worshippers into the Holiest, the immediate presence of God, in all the infinite value of the blood of Jesus through that new and living way which He Himself opened for us when, by His death upon the cross, the veil was rent in twain, and God no longer was hidden, nor man in Christ shut out. So intimately are the redeemed and the Redeemer linked together, so truly are the High Priest and priestly house one before God, that we are urged to enter in spirit where He has gone, and to draw near to God with true hearts in the full assurance of that faith that is based upon the knowledge of an accomplished redemption; our hearts having been sprinkled by the blood of Christ from an evil conscience, and like the once-defiled Israelite, “our bodies having been washed with the water of purification.” It is to be regretted that so few Christians seem to apprehend all this today. It is safe to say that for thousands who have hope in Christ, the veil might just as well never have been rent. They do not have any conception of liberty for access into the Holiest, but think of themselves as a people on probation still, who, if only faithful to their profession will eventually be fitted for admission into the presence of God. How much is thus lost through failure to understand the true Christian position which has been beautifully expressed in the words of an old hymn:
“Now we see in Christ’s acceptance,
But the measure of our own;
He who lay beneath our sentence
Seated high upon the throne.”
God sees every believer in Him, and the feeblest saint has title to immediate access into the Holiest through the atoning blood. The exhortation and warning that follow were never intended by the Holy Spirit to becloud this blessed truth in the slightest degree, but rather to accentuate the importance of holding fast what is here revealed.
Section D. Hebrews 10:23-39
Warning Against Apostasy; Evidences of Reality
After the gracious invitation to enter into the Holiest comes the counter exhortation of Hebrews 10:23-25 : “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for He is faithful that promised); and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” In Hebrews 10:23 confession would be a better word than profession, as in A. V. We may profess what is not true. We confess that which is. The believer has declared his faith in a crucified, risen, and glorified Christ. He is exhorted to hold fast this great confession without turning either to the right or to the left, assured of the faithfulness of Him who gave the promises concerning His Son, and has in grace fulfilled them up to the present moment. One great promise remains to be confirmed at our Lord’s return, and we may be assured that He who has never failed in one respect in regard to the past and present work of Christ, will be equally faithful in regard to that which is to come.
Three times in this part of the chapter, we have the persuasive words, “let us.” First, “Let us draw near,” Hebrews 10:22; second, “Let us hold fast;” Hebrews 10:23; and now, “Let us consider one another,” Hebrews 10:24. The believer is not alone in his confession of Christ, nor is he to act in isolation. He is linked with others both by nature and grace, and he is called upon to seek to stir up his brethren unto love and to good works, assembling with fellow-saints for worship, prayer, and testimony, not coldly withdrawing himself as the manner of some, but remembering his responsibility toward his brethren is all the greater if some seem to have failed grievously and others are in danger of it. Nor is he to make special light on prophetic truth a reason for assuming a sectarian attitude toward his brethren. He needs them and they need him all the more as the day of Christ’s glorious return to this earth approaches.
In Hebrews 10:26-31 we have another side of things altogether. The warning, as in chap. 6, is against apostasy. We read: “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know Him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
The warning here is based upon the perfection of the one sacrifice of Christ, which has been opened up in such a marvelous way in the preceding part of the chapter; as that of chapter 6 was based upon the manifest power of the Holy Spirit working in the Christian company, which was designed of God to exalt the Person of Christ. To apostatize either from the truth as to His Person or His finished work, means eternal ruin. It is not mere failure in the life that is here contemplated. The wilful sin in this passage is the definite rejection of His atoning sacrifice. Nor is this simply the foolish and wicked determination of a moment, of which many have been guilty, but have afterwards been brought to sincere repentance. The apostle really says, “If we are sinning wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no other sacrifice for sins.” The verb is the present participle. It is what has become habitual. If, after fully examining what the Old Testament Scriptures teach concerning Christ and His work and comparing it with the New Testament presentation, thus having obtained the knowledge of the truth, one deliberately and persistently rejects it, God has nothing more to say to him. By so doing, he spurns the only means of salvation for Jew or Gentile. An apostate Hebrew might have reasoned within himself that the sacrifices still going on at the temple were all that he needed, and therefore, even though he had professed to be a follower of Christ, he would turn back to them; but this would be a fearful mistake. Those sacrifices no longer availed. Christ’s atonement alone met the claims of God in respect to sin. And so the apostate had nothing to look forward to but the certainty of divine judgment and flaming wrath. Of old, the despiser of the first covenant died without mercy upon the testimony of two or three witnesses. But what was his guilt compared to that of the man who had become acquainted with the gospel message, had at one time been intellectually convinced of the truth, but for selfish reasons had finally turned away from it and gone back to Judaism? To do this was to tread under foot the Son of God and count the blood of the new covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing. Manifestly this could never be true of one born of God, for the Holy Spirit abiding within would preserve from so terrible a step. Yet what is the meaning of the expression, “The blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified?” The answer surely is that sanctification is here positional. Just as all Israel was set apart by the blood of the old covenant at Sinai, and yet any Israelite lacking faith could turn from all the privileges that were his by virtue of that blood, so to-day the entire professing Church is set apart to God on earth in the value of the blood of the new covenant. But this does not preclude the possibility of abjuring this covenant sign and refusing the blessedness which it has purchased. The Holy Spirit delights to magnify Christ and to exalt His work. To refuse His testimony is to do despite unto the Spirit of grace. This expression, “the Spirit of grace,” occurs only here in the New Testament, and is found only once in the Old Testament, and that in Zechariah 12:10.
There is a very interesting suggestion in Hebrews 10:30 in corroboration of the position we have already taken as to the authorship of this Epistle. We read, “We know Him who hath said, Vengeance belongeth to Me; I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people.” These quotations are from Deuteronomy 32:35-36. The second one is an exact quotation from the Hebrew, but the first one is quoted neither from the Hebrew nor the LXX. It is the writer’s own rendering of the passage, and is exactly the same in the Greek as the quotation in Romans 12:19. We know who the author of Romans was. We may be certain that the same hand penned the Epistle to the Hebrews.
This word of warning closes for the moment with the solemn declaration, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” All who reject the testimony He has given concerning His Son must meet Him in judgment; and we read elsewhere, “In Thy sight shall no man living be justified” (Psalms 143:2). But “he who has died is justified from sin,” as a literal rendering of Romans 6:7 tells us.
Satan has used the passage we have been considering to trouble and perplex honest souls whose sensitive consciences accuse them of failure to walk with God as they should. Such have often been made to fear that they were guilty of the wilful sin here contemplated. But it is not the question of what is commonly called “backsliding” that is before us. Of this any real believer may often be guilty; but even when overwhelmed with failure, he clings more tenaciously than ever to the fact that Jesus is the only Saviour and His sacrifice the only means of deliverance from sin’s judgment. The apostate of this chapter has no such hope or consciousness. He has spurned utterly both the Christ and the cross. He holds the blood of Jesus in contempt, and hence for him there is nothing but doom ahead.
It is evident that from Hebrews 10:32 to the end of the chapter, the writer is seeking to assure the hearts of all who have really trusted Christ that his words do not apply to them, while on the other hand he would warn them of the danger of turning their back in the slightest degree upon any truth that God had revealed. He bids them remember the former days, the days when upon first being awakened by the Holy Spirit and enlightened by the truth, they turned from the world for His dear sake and were content to suffer for His name, enduring a great fight of afflictions, sometimes suffering personally both by reproach and persecution, and at other times bearing the contempt of their former co-religionists because of fellowship with those who were suffering for Christ’s sake. They had in this way manifested their love for him showing him every consideration possible after his imprisonment, even taking joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing on the authority of the Word of God that they had in Heaven a better and enduring treasure. Having begun so well, and up to the present time continued in the part of devoted separation to Christ, he exhorts them so to continue to the end. “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:35-36). Reward is distinguished from salvation. The latter is altogether by grace, and is ours from the moment we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but it is at His coming that we shall receive our reward. He says, “Behold, I come quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give unto every man according as his work shall be.” In view of this, how needful it is that we endure patiently, assured that when we have fulfilled the will of God concerning us, we shall receive in full the promised blessing at His return. For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (Hebrews 10:37). This is a paraphrase of Habakkuk 2:3, which in the LXX reads, “For the vision is for a time, and it shall shoot forth at the end, and not in vain: though He should tarry, wait for Him; for He will surely come and will not delay.” It is Christ Himself who is before the eye of the prophet. He will fulfil every promise made to His suffering people when He returns in power and glory. Nor is His coming to be long delayed, though it may seem so sometimes to His waiting people. But we need to remember that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,” so that not yet have two days gone by in God’s reckoning since Jesus went away. Who knows that ere this second day is past He may be back again.
In the meantime God has said, “The just shall live by faith, but if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him.” This also is a quotation from Habakkuk 2:4. It is remarkable the way a brief text from an obscure Old Testament writer is used by the Spirit of God in emphasizing the great truth that is characteristic of the present age, “The just shall live by faith.” We are justified by faith; we are maintained in a righteous life by faith; and by faith we live to God. If any, after making a profession such as this, turn back, they prove that there was no real faith in the soul, and God declares, He hath “no pleasure in them.” But how comforting the words with which the chapter closes. What assurance they are designed to impart to every trusting one. “But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” There is an intellectual believing that saves no one. One may accept Christianity as a system one day and give it up the next. But he who truly trusts in Christ is saved even now, and will never draw back unto eternal loss. Concerning all such our Lord has said, “Those that Thou gavest Me, I have kept, and none of them is lost.” And we are told that He who hath begun a good work in them will perform it unto the day of Christ. Therefore it should be plain that salvation is not in our keeping, but we ourselves are kept by the power of God. None can pluck us out of the hands of the Father and the Son. Eternal life would not be “eternal” if it were forfeitable and could ever be lost.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Hebrews 10". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany