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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 10

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-18

The Once-for-All Aspect of the Son’s High-Priestly Work (10:1-18)

The author now sets out to justify what he terms the "once for all" nature of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (vs. 10; see 9:26). He does this first by pointing out that "the law," like the former Tabernacle, has merely "a shadow of the good things to come," that is, the realities to which it points forward (vs. 1; see 8:5). When he speaks of "the law" he undoubtedly has in mind the Mosaic ceremonial legislation with regard to sacrifice, as the entire argument clearly indicates. The words which he uses ("shadow" for the legal regulations and "true form" for the sacrifice of Christ) correspond to the fact that he has called the former Tabernacle merely "a copy and shadow" (Hebrews 8:5), whereas the heavenly sanctuary into which Christ as High Priest enters is the original "pattern" shown to Moses in the Mount. And he makes the point — only hinted at previously (Hebrews 9:25-26) — that the yearly sacrifices on the Day of Atonement offered by the Jewish high priest served as "a reminder of sin" (vs. 3), creating in the worshiper a "consciousness of sin" (vs. 2), and therefore a conviction that he had not been cleansed or saved by such legal sacrifices. He concludes this part of his discussion with the statement of his conviction that "it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins" (vs. 4). Essentially this argument amounts to what he has already said at 9:9-10 and 13 — that the animal sacrifices under the Law only served to maintain the ritual worship in functioning order.

It is clear from the statement of his case that the author’s major interest in this letter, as we have already had reason to note (Hebrews 2:11; Hebrews 9:14), relates to the sanctification or inner cleansing of the worshiper from a "consciousness of sin" (vs. 2). It is such inner cleansing that he equates with making perfect (vss. 1 and 14). This is not to say that the writer is not aware of the more objective side of salvation; indeed, he comes close to the Pauline teaching with regard to justification in several passages (Hebrews 10:38; Hebrews 11:4; Hebrews 11:7).

The author now indicates the "once for all" adequacy of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, using as a new approach a quotation from Psalms 40:6-8. This is admittedly neither a "royal" nor "suffering servant" Psalm. The quotation, however, is relevant to the needs of the writer at the moment, inasmuch as it affirms the valuelessness of the sacrifices prescribed under the Law. In the Hebrew original the psalmist contrasts such sacrificial offerings with the fact that, as he says of the Lord, "thou hast given me an open ear." The Greek translation of this last clause is rendered "a body hast thou prepared for me." The meaning is doubtless the same, and both Hebrew and Greek have the worshiper declare, "Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God." It is this doing of the divine will upon which Hebrews lays stress (vs. 9).

The author’s application of these verses to the Incarnation ("when Christ came into the world," vs. 5) has the general justification which attaches to the employment of another’s language to articulate one’s own thought. It is to be noted that the New Testament nowhere makes further use of this quotation from the Psalm. It is instructive to note, however, that verse 9 of the Psalm, which our author does not quote, contains the phrase "the glad news of deliverance," which the psalmist says he has announced "in the great congregation." It may be argued that the "glad news" referred to here is the gospel in embryo. In any case, the author of Hebrews fastened on the passage as one qualified to articulate his own thought that over against the many sacrifices of Judaism, which serve only as reminders of their inadequacy to cleanse man’s conscience, Jesus Christ’s self-offering ("a body hast thou prepared for me" and "I have come to do thy will, O God") is something new in the realm of sacrificial worship. Here is the self -giving of a Person on behalf of persons. It is a giving which functions in the realm of spirit, and accordingly the deduction may be drawn that "we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (vs. 10).

It should be noted that in both the Hebrew and the Greek (whose thought-frames in the New Testament spring from the Hebrew), "body" stands for the entire active person. In consequence, to give one’s body is the same as to give one’s self, as is intended in the saying at verse 7 — "Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God." The teaching of the passage is generally in accord with that of 2:10-18. As there, so here, the identification with mankind on Jesus’ part which was accomplished at the Incarnation had in view the final Atonement and the surrender of his body wholly to do the will of God. And once more, as at 9:11-14, the cogency of his argument resides in the spiritual difference observable between the offering of "the blood of bulls and goats" (Hebrews 10:4) and the offering of "the body of Jesus Christ" (Hebrews 10:10).

The third argument which our author at this point presents in favor of the once-for-allness of Christ’s sacrifice is found in the different postures of the priests under the two Covenants. The Levitical priests are compelled to stand daily in their service of sacrifice (vs. 11); but, as shown in the quotation from Psalms 110:1 (already employed in several contexts, see 1:3, 13; 8:1), Jesus Christ after making his "single sacrifice for sins" is able to sit down at the right hand of God (vs. 12). This is the act of one who knows that he has accomplished the task he was given to do and that God has accepted his work as final. Scripture, therefore, is justification for the conclusion that "by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (vs. 14).

Finally, the author again draws upon the passage from Jeremiah 31:33-34 relative to the New Covenant — a Covenant which he assumes his readers will now agree to be the one under which our Lord’s high priesthood may be said to function — as proof that in the work of Christ there is no longer a remembrance of sins, and that in consequence these have received forgiveness (vss. 17-18). There is, therefore, as he remarks, "no longer any offering for sin" required.

The argument of this passage once again suggests the possibility that Hebrews has in mind the teachings of the Qumran sect. This group had rejected the sacrifices of the Temple and held that "the offering of the lips" — presumably of prayer and praise — was more acceptable in the sight of God than all offerings and sacrifices. Hebrews also knows of the sacrifice which prayer entails, and it teaches a doctrine of a High Priest who "always lives to make intercession" for his people (Hebrews 7:25). But in the present passage the concern is to point out that intercession is an inadequate substitute for sacrifice, if man’s sins are to be forgiven. Forgiveness and purification require rather the substitution of human sacrifice for animal sacrifice, of a High Priest who offers himself for man’s sin in place of priests appointed to make offerings which do not intimately touch the human spirit.

Verses 19-31


Hebrews 10:19 to Hebrews 13:17

Summary Statement (10:19-31)

We come now to the last major section of the letter. There is a certain co-ordination between this section and the second major division beginning at Hebrews 3:1 and running through Hebrews 4:16. There the author was dealing with the gospel call to the sons to become "God’s house." That call was issued in view of the general testimony which had been given to the redemptive power and lordship of God’s Son. In the meantime the author has sketched out the nature of the Son’s high priesthood and the efficacy of his high-priestly work. Appropriately, therefore, he issues the gospel call again and this time on the foundation laid in the intervening sections from Hebrews 5:1 to Hebrews 10:18.

It is not surprising, then, to notice that the call is issued in almost identical language with that at Hebrews 4:14-16. The approximation of the language is far closer in the Greek than in the English translation. Note the similarities between Hebrews 4:14 and Hebrews 10:19-21 and between 4:16 and 10:22. Other similarities in thought if not in word are found in the two passages; for example, at 4:15 the author stresses Jesus’ ability to sympathize with our weaknesses in view of his own temptations, while at 10:20 reference is made to the "way . . . through his flesh," that is, to the Incarnation as the method adopted to prepare man’s approach to God.

It is clear that the author’s argument relative to the Son’s highpriestly work in the fourth major section of the letter (8:1-10:18) has carried him far beyond the analogy previously drawn between Christ as High Priest and Melchizedek (5:1-7:28). Though in their eternal character a real similarity is seen between the two priesthoods, Melchizedek never went so far as to offer himself as a living sacrifice to God on behalf of man. It is only "by the blood of Jesus" (vs. 19) that we may have "confidence to enter the sanctuary" and so enjoy eternal fellowship with God. Jesus’ "blood" is specified as the means of access to God, as has already been done at 9:12 and 14. But, as we have already seen, such mention is made there in deference to the comparison to the blood of "goats and calves" offered by the high priest on the Day of Atonement, and essentially the reference is to Christ’s offering of "himself" (9:14) or of his "body" (10:5-10).

The method of salvation is now described as "the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh" (vs. 20). The reference is undoubtedly to the method chosen by our Lord to redeem man, which was one of incarnation followed by atonement and resurrection. The adjective "new" applied to this way actually means "fresh" as opposed to decomposed and may be taken as the equivalent of "living." Probably verse 20 should read: "By the new and living way of his flesh which he opened for us through the curtain," rather than as in the Revised Standard Version. Interpreters differ on whether "flesh" here is to be taken with "way" or with "curtain." But the "curtain" which our author has in mind is that separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies and designed to indicate that "the way into the sanctuary is not yet opened as long as the outer tent is still standing" (9:8). It is impossible that, in the mind of any Christian writer of the first century, Jesus’ flesh should typify that curtain or vice versa. There is no evidence in the New Testament that Jesus’ flesh was thought of as an obscuring medium or one intended to hide his divinity. On the contrary, the only passage which makes reference to a veil or curtain obscuring God’s glory from man is 2 Corinthians 3:7-18. And there it is quite clear that the veil is man’s blindness which makes it impossible for him to behold God’s truth and that "only through Christ is it taken away" (2 Corinthians 3:14). Indeed, in the present verse the preposition "through" before the words "his flesh" is not found in the Greek, and if the author’s intention had been that we should read "through the curtain of his flesh," obviously the phrase "that is" would not have been required. It is through "the living way of his flesh" — that is, through the Incarnation and the resulting Atonement and Resurrection — that Jesus leads onward "through the curtain" which separates man from God.

There is a striking similarity between our author’s argument at this point and that of Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 relative to the nature of the Christian life. Paul there compares the Christian life to a continuous Passover festival from which "the leaven of malice and evil" has been removed so that Christians may live their lives upon "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Similarly, Hebrews conceives of the Christian way of life as a continuous Day of Atonement.

In the life of service three things particularly are of importance and should be practiced by every son of God. First, there is the coming to God "in full assurance of faith" (vs. 22). Such assurance is based upon the cleansing "from an evil conscience" which, as the author has already indicated, is possible only through the offering of Christ (9:14), that is, through the action of one person for another, the personal factor of faith or trust being the uniting spark between the two. The reference to "our bodies washed with pure water" is without doubt a reference to baptism which the Early Church considered the mark of saving witness (see Romans 6:1-8), and to which the author has already referred (Hebrews 6:2). Second, as before, he suggests that we must "hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering" (vs. 23; see 3:6, 14; 6:11). This "hope," as we have already seen, is by no means a weak one. Rather, it is as certain as anything may be in the spiritual realm. It is the "sure and steadfast anchor of the soul" which Jesus has affixed to the mercy seat within the curtain (Hebrews 6:19-20). Moreover, as our author now adds, the certainty of its fulfilment is based upon the promise of God who is above all else "faithful." Third, we are to "meet together" in corporate endeavor to fulfill the demands of worship on this continuous Day of Atonement. And our fellowship is to be one of stimulus "to love and good works" (vs. 24). Of this more will be said in succeeding sections.

Reference has previously been made to the fact that Christians are living in the eschatological time, or, as our author says, in "these last days" (Hebrews 1:2). Such was the common belief of the early Christian Church which produced the New Testament Scriptures (see Mark 1:15; Philippians 4:5; James 5:8-9). The end of this eschatological period would be the Day of Judgment or, to employ Amos’ phrase, "the day of the Lord" (Amos 5:18). There can be no doubt that it is this great Day which the author has in mind in verse 25, as the succeeding verses clearly indicate. This is the Day of Judgment for all men. Christians and pagans alike, and the author suggests that the Christian life should be lived in constant awareness of the demands of him who is the Judge of all men.

Verses 26 to 31 contain the author’s reason for suggesting that the Day of Judgment should stand for us as an incentive to right living. Essentially the argument is based upon his conception of the once-for-allness involved in every event in the series of righteous acts which together constitute God’s relation to his world and particularly to men. He has already asserted the once-for-all character of the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ as man’s High Priest (Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 9:12). Moreover, he has declared that this once-for-allness guarantees that "there is no longer any offering for sin" (vs. 18). The present passage, therefore, is a reminder that if this one sacrifice is spumed, "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" (vs. 26). And, indeed, what further consideration may Christians who have spumed "the truth" expect? For to deny the once-for-allness of the unique sacrifice of Jesus Christ is essentially to deny the Christian faith. This is the final apostasy.

Such persons have nothing save "a fearful prospect of judgment" to which they may look forward (vs. 27). Those who deny the validity of Christ’s sacrifice and so of the Christian faith have placed themselves alongside pagans, of whom our author has already written, "it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). And as in other places our author has adopted the argument from the less to the greater (see 9:13-14), in comparing the older revelation with the new, so here he argues for a "much worse punishment" for Christians who have denied the light they received in Jesus Christ than for those who have merely "violated the law of Moses" (vss. 28-29).

Hebrews’ analysis of this type of apostasy (vs. 29) includes three things: (1) spurning the Son of God and his sacrifice for man; (2) holding that "the blood of the covenant" is a common thing incapable of sanctifying, that is, of rendering the worshiper fit to approach God in fellowship; and (3) arrogantly spurning the offices of the gracious Spirit who has been present in the community (Hebrews 2:4; Hebrews 6:4; Hebrews 9:8) and in the work of Jesus Christ himself (Hebrews 9:14). The author assures his readers that the promises of judgment proclaimed by the Lord to his people are as certain as the promises of grace (compare 4:1-10 and Deuteronomy 32:35-36; Psalms 135:14). His argument here is the same as that running through the prophetic writings of the Old Testament and Jesus’ teachings (see, for example, Amos 3:2). Jesus summarizes this point of view in his words, "Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more" (Luke 12:48b). The argument then comes necessarily to the conclusion that God is as surely "the living God" to punish as "the living God" to bless and to save (vs. 31; see 3:12; 9:14).

Verses 32-39

Examples of Faith (Hope) (10:32-11:40)

The Readers (10:32-39)

Following the above section in which response to the gospel call is briefly developed along the lines of faith, hope, and love (the trilogy made famous by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13), stress is now laid upon "faith" as the expression of the sons’ response required in the present condition of the readers. Three things stand out in this passage as peculiarly noteworthy: first, the psychological value attaching to commendation of previous worthy action on the part of people with whom one is counseling; second, the historical detail involved in the presentation of the example; and third, the encouragement to be derived from the author’s eschatological views.

It is clear from the passage that shortly after the readers had been baptized ("enlightened," that is, awakened to spiritual apprehension by the Holy Spirit; see 6:4; Ephesians 1:18), they had been subjected to persecution involving "hard struggle with sufferings," public abuse, the imprisonment of some, the "plundering" of "property," and the courageous sharing of sufferings generally among the Christian community (vss. 32-34). There is considerable difference of opinion among New Testament interpreters as to the occasion referred to in this description (see Introduction). The persecution was apparently not as violent as those under the Roman emperors, when Christians were persecuted for the sacred name of Christ and wholesale slaughter was practiced in many cases. There is here no suggestion that any lost their lives. The statement at 12:4, "you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood," probably refers to the entire Christian experience of the readers. It may be, therefore, that this persecution is the one experienced by the Hellenistic-Jewish branch of the Church in the very early days in Jerusalem and the nearby vicinity (Acts 8:1-3). In any case, the author appeals to the readers’ conviction that they have "a better possession and an abiding one" (vs. 34). It is this "confidence" to which he had already referred in 3:14, a confidence leading to our "share in Christ" or, as here, "a great reward" (vs. 35). As throughout the letter, the stress is upon the "need of endurance" that his readers may "inherit the promises" (6:12). It is this endurance which lies within "the will of God" (vs. 36).

With a view to lightening the load to be placed upon his readers, the author now quotes from Habakkuk 2:3-4 to the effect that the endurance required is for only "a little while." The promised coming of Jesus Christ "a second time" (see 9:28) as High Priest is seen in the perspective of God’s eternal purpose to save mankind. Though no temporal span of an exact nature may be indicated nor a chronological scheme worked out, nonetheless, for any generation of Christians, endurance is for but "a little while." In the meantime, God’s righteous people must "live by faith" — not by sight but by perseverance in the Christian faith. And, as before at 6:9-12 so now, the readers are assured that they are "not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls" (vs. 39). The psychological value of this sort of argument is obvious, as well as Christian.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Hebrews 10". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/hebrews-10.html.
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