God’s Will Was Always, Even From The Beginning, That Sin Would Be Dealt With Through The Offering of the Body of Jesus As The Perfect Sacrifice For The Perfecting Of Those Whom He Has Set Apart (Hebrews 10:1-18).
As we come to the close of this long section on Christ’s High Priesthood it is now made clear that the death of Jesus on the cross had always been the will and purpose of God. All that had come before had merely foreshadowed it. But in the end that was all that they were, shadows. The reality had come when Jesus came to do His will, and in accordance with that will He offered Himself on our behalf. And through that one once-for-all offering He was able to ‘sanctify’ us (make us ‘holy’ in Christ as fully set apart to Him and covered by His righteousness), and thus present us as perfect before Him in the perfection of Christ. It is a once-for-all change of situation and position for those who are in Christ.
The argument follows a clear pattern. It begins with the inadequacy of the old covenant, under which repeated sacrifices were necessary (Hebrews 10:1-4). It then stresses that the one voluntary sacrifice of Christ, supersedes the repeated sacrifices (Hebrews 10:5-10), and that the one priesthood of Christ, supersedes the Levitical priesthood (Hebrews 10:11-14), and concludes with the full adequacy of the New Covenant, because no more sacrifice for sins is necessary (Hebrews 10:15-18).
‘For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually (or ‘in perpetuity’), make perfect those who draw near.’
For the fact is that the old ceremonial Law could not make men perfect so that they could come openly and without restraint before God, because it dealt in shadows, in what were only partial representations of the full reality. The outward purpose of the full Law was to make men perfect before God, but it could only partially achieve it because it was not in itself sufficient. It served its purpose until men were more in a position to receive the full truth, the reality, ‘the very image (full and accurate representation) of the thing’.
And one reason why it could only partially succeed was that it only contained within it a shadow of the good things to come, a partial, clouded representation (as of God at Sinai) but not the full reality. The ‘good things’ include such good things as full forgiveness of sins, fullness of spiritual life, understanding of truth in the heart, and the ability to approach God directly and walk with Him. And these were to be introduced through the Coming One, through Jesus, and His perfect life and teaching, and through Who He is as made known to men, and through His equally perfect sacrifice of Himself. The Law could not contain a true image of those things. It simply portrayed shadows, a visible but vague outline of the real thing, which was partial and had no lasting substance and was therefore eventually to pass away as all shadows do when the sun comes to its height.
It did this through an earthly sanctuary, with its sacred furniture, and its continuously active priesthood, with its message of ‘come, but do not come too close’, and its ever continuing sacrificial system which endlessly and unceasingly made offerings for sin. All this brought home the holiness and mercy of God. But they were shadows of the truth (although far better than the nations around enjoyed). They could not accomplish the reality. They were like a vague dark shape resulting from a partially revealed light, a promise of what might be, without giving a full, true illumination. Rather than bringing men right into God’s presence they kept them at a safe distance from Him, (although this in itself revealed something about Him), while still allowing limited approach on the right terms. They said, ‘thus far and no further’. For they could never achieve the end of perfecting God’s people sufficiently for them to come directly under the searching eye of a holy God. They could never perfect them so that they could enjoy a perfect relationship with the Holy One. And this was because they failed to fully remove men’s sin or transform men and did not reveal the full true image, the heavenly reality. Thus they could not bring men fully to God. And this was especially true of the sacrifices which were offered continually year by year on the Day of Atonement.
It may be asked, in that case why did God introduce them to these sacrifices and this ritual? While we cannot enter fully into the mystery of God’s ways, for not all is known to us, the answer undoubtedly partly lies in their inability to grasp anything more at that time, and in their unfitness to receive it. Truth had to be revealed on the basis of what they could appreciate. And God clearly saw it as best to reveal it under conditions that they could understand because it was in some way related to what they saw around them.
At that stage they had no conception of Heaven, no real conception of the holiness of God, no deep conception of sin. (Many of them, the mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38) had no background at all in the things of Yahweh). It was through these very sacrifices and ritual, and the history that followed, that such conceptions were slowly built up. They were a preparation for what was to come. Indeed we must remember that when something of the greater reality was first revealed to them through the glory of God on the face of Moses, they pleaded for it to be hidden from them. They did not want to come too close to God.
Furthermore we must remember that they also had to be wooed from the worship of those round about them. Had they not had a ritual that was as good as, and even better than, that of others they would have been constantly tempted to stray as they saw what others seemed to have (as they in fact later did because they were unable to trust God). But at the same time as they seemingly shared the experience of those around them, they did so with the knowledge that their God was invisible, that He was not like any earthly parallel, that He was not a part of nature, and that He was God over all while having a personal interest in them. And they were made aware of the awfulness of sin, and that there was a God-provided way back to Him when they did sin. They were made aware of the moral dimension and that it was closely connected with Who and What their God was. It is doubtful whether at that stage and under those conditions they could have taken in any more.
We must consider how even today, when we have the greater truth, men still seek to depend on, and are led astray by, great buildings and a ritual that can blind men to the truth about God. They still seek after material rather than spiritual worship. How much more then in their day. If they had had nothing similar they would have seen the pagan temples, the pagan ceremonials, and in large numbers would have been drawn to them and away from God’s Law.
Furthermore the ritual that they were given did lead those whose hearts were right in the right way. Not for them idolatrous representations of gods that were no gods. Not for them gods who could be manipulated and controlled. Not for them gods which could be easily made, and as easily broken. Rather they knew God as One Who could not be too easily approached and manipulated. One Who was in control rather than being controlled by them. Thus it was for their good, and was certainly sufficient, for those whose hearts were right were enabled to find forgiveness (on the basis of what their offerings pointed forward to) and to come to a deeper knowledge of God than they had previously had. As with the Psalmists, there were those who knew God intimately in their hearts and who walked with Him daily. And that was why the prophets had to prophesy of heavenly things in earthly terms. Which is why those who even now cannot see this have invented a future Millennium. But the fuller perfection awaited a future day, the days of the Messiah, and now that age has come nothing further is required but the eternal kingdom in which our present experience comes to full fruition.
The Old Covenant (the Law) Could Not Do Make Men And Women Perfect. It Was a Failure As Far As Taking Away Sin Was Concerned (Hebrews 10:1-4).
‘Else would they not have ceased to be offered? because the worshippers, having been once cleansed, would have had no more consciousness of sins.’
And this lack must be true for if they had not been shadows, would they not have accomplished their end? If the worshippers had been truly cleansed, would the sacrifices not have ceased to be offered? Would the worshippers then not have ceased to be conscious of their sins because they had been truly atoned for? The very continuing repetition of the sacrifices, revealing a continuing consciousness of sin, also revealed the failure of their offerings and sacrifices to deal with sin. The necessity for continuing repairs is an evidence of continuing failure.
We should especially note here a very important point. What the writer has in mind is the final solution. What man needs is not just something to make his daily life possible in spite of his sin, but something which can once-for-all put man in such a state that he can continually approach God without fear for ever, something that can be finally effective.
‘But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance made of sins year by year, for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.’
But this was not so with ‘those sacrifices’. Indeed their continually being offered, rather than suggesting that they were a solution to the problem, was a continual reminder of the fact that they were not a solution but a temporary measure, something that must go on and on, but would never finally achieve their purpose. Year by year they drew attention to the failure of God’s people, and therefore to their own failure to make men perfect. And this was part of their purpose, to continually remind man that the wages of sin was death, to face men up with the awfulness of sin, to give a remembrance of sin, and to turn men to the One Who alone could deal with sin.
And it was inevitable that they could only be a reminder to men of sin, and their need for mercy, for, if they only thought about it they would realise that the blood of bulls and of goats could never take away sins. How could they be sufficient to do so? What power had they to do so? They were but sacrifices of dumb beasts which had no choice in the matter. How could the blood of such bulls and goats make men perfect? The whole idea was impossible. All they could be at their very best was the proof of repentance from a heart which had failed, but desired to be obedient to God. Although let that not be dismissed as unimportant.
For what was much more important to God than sacrifices was obedience (see 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalms 50:8-14; Psalms 51:16-17; Hosea 6:6; Isaiah 1:10-17; Jeremiah 7:21-23). It was only sacrifice that resulted from a desire to be obedient that was acceptable to God. It was surely therefore clear that these offerings must be insufficient in themselves but were portraying a greater reality than they themselves possessed. It should be clear that if man’s sin was to be taken away, and if man was to be made perfect, a far greater sacrifice and a far greater power than theirs would be required, a sacrifice both voluntary and tied up with full obedience, a sacrifice which was greater far than all of them.
‘That is the reason why when he comes into the world, he says, “Sacrifice and offering you would not, But a body did you prepare for me. In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you had no pleasure.” ’
So it was because of the failure of these offerings and sacrifices to finally achieve God’s purpose that they were to be put aside as not sufficient for God. That then explains why the Psalmist said that when Messiah comes into the world He will declare, ‘sacrifice and offering you would not, but a body did you prepare for Me.’ He is setting aside the offerings and sacrifices because in His coming a greater purpose was here. And while the Psalmist had merely been thinking of them being put in a secondary place (the emphasis is on insufficiency), pointing to the pre-eminence of an obedient ear and heart, the complete fulfilment of his words would set the sacrifices aside altogether, to be replaced by a something better. He had spoken better than he knew.
The quotation is taken from Psalms 40:6-8 LXX. There the Psalmist is speaking of obedience as being far more important to God than any sacrifices (compare 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalms 50:8-14; Psalms 51:16-17; Hosea 6:6; Isaiah 1:10-17; Jeremiah 7:21-23). For obedience was hard while partaking in ritual was easy. So the danger always with ritual was that it could become the be all and end all, as though it could work by itself regardless of the response of men’s hearts. That is not so, says the Psalmist. God looks first for the obedient heart without which all sacrifices are unacceptable and in vain.
The writer is here quoting from LXX. That was the main Greek version of the Old Testament which was largely used by the early church, who were initially Greek speaking. And in LXX ‘a body have you prepared for me’ replaces ‘ears have you dug (or pierced) for me’ which is found in the Hebrew Massoretic Text of Psalms 40 (on which our translations are mainly based). How then are these to be reconciled?
In the context of the Psalm the LXX rendering means that the body has been given to the subject in mind so that he might act obediently on God’s behalf rather than just trusting in the efficacy of outward ritual. He has been given a body so that he might walk with God and obey Him, so that he might do His will. The body here represents the whole living person, the one who hears and the one who does, in contrast to the ritual offering which neither hears nor does.
How then does this tie in with ‘ears have you dug (or pierced) for me’ in MT? It must be obvious that the Psalmist does not of course simply mean there that God has given him ears. We must ask what he means. And the obvious answer is that he means ears that hear and respond. Note the parallels in the verses (citing MT).
Sacrifice and offering, you have no delight in,
My ears have you dug into,
Burnt offering and sin offering, you have not required,
Then said I, Lo, I am come.’
Note how ‘my ears have you dug into’ parallels, ‘Lo I am come’ (to do your will O my God). The second is the response to the first. Thus the ears have been entered into in order that there might be response to the will of God.
So one explanation for these words is that the Psalmist means that he knows that God has provided the subject in mind with a hearing ear and a hearing heart so that he might do God’s will. In other words by providing him with the ‘ears to hear’ he has provided that which will make his whole being (his body) responsive to God’s will. This then confirms that in both renderings the idea of the obedience of the whole man is prominent with LXX referring it to the body and MT referring it to the ear. The LXX in this explanation is thus to be seen as simply an interpretation, seeing the hearing ears as representing the whole self, because the ear is the hearing part of the body and affects the behaviour of the whole body. It is saying, you have provided me with a hearing ear, that is with a hearing and responsive body. Compare how when we say, ‘you have my ear’, we mean ‘you have the attention of my whole being’, signifying that we are listening with our whole being in order to consider a possible response.
Others, however, see ‘ears have you dug into/pierced for me’ as referring to the ceremony where a Hebrew bondsman, having served his full term of servitude, wished to remain serving his master permanently and thus had a hole made in his ear with an awl and attached to the doorway of the master’s residence (Exodus 21:6). The idea in Exodus could be seen to be that, through the attachment of the hearing ear to the door, he was giving his body in obedience to his master’s house for ever. The ear there represents the hearing ear of the servant’s whole being. Thus ‘ears have you pierced for me’ in the plural might, in the light of this, refer to the giving of one’s own self in one’s own body entirely.
This being so the ‘body prepared’ and ready to hear and obey, and the ‘hearing ear’ (which presumes a body prepared to obey) are very similar, parallel thoughts. The truth being declared is therefore the same.
Furthermore in view of the fact that the Psalm is dedicated to the house of David the words are seen by the writer as clearly applicable to the sons of David who were to come following the writing of the Psalm, and especially therefore to great David’s greater son, the Messiah. We can then come to the conclusion that these words, which in the end ill applied to any other son of David, are here put by the writer in the mouth of the Messiah to Whom they applied absolutely.
So when ‘He’ (the Christ, the Messiah) comes into the world as David’s son and as God’s great High Priest He is seen as agreeing with God that dumb, unresponsive sacrifices and offerings are insufficient. That God no longer wishes for them. That God rather seeks a body yielded in obedience, in a true and responsive life, to be offered as a sacrifice. Indeed that it is that that is at the centre of all God’s requirements. God looks for a sacrifice which has fulfilled complete obedience to His will, one that is morally without blemish.
And Christ is then shown as pointing to ‘a body’, His own body (compare here John 2:19-22), a hearing, willing, obedient body, which God has prepared for Him, as being not only God’s requirement but also God’s solution, for it is a body through which He can reveal His obedience and willingness to do God’s will, even to the point of offering Himself in death as a sacrifice. Here was God’s great plan for the future, a willing and obedient body which represented a willing and obedient man, not the body of animals who had no option and were consumed in ritual sacrifices, but the body of the Messiah, a body that would be fully obedient to Him, and could then, as without blemish, be offered as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). This would more than adequately replace the burnt offerings and sacrifices and it would accomplish what they could not, for it would contain within it the essential requisite of total obedience to the will of God.
This emphasis on His earthly body in relation to His saving work comes out elsewhere in Colossians 1-2. It is in ‘the body of His flesh’ through death that we are to be presented holy, and without blemish and unreproveable before Him (Colossians 1:22 compare 1 Peter 2:24). And indeed in that body, declares Paul, dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). For the earthly rituals were but shadows, but the body, the reality, is of Christ (Colossians 2:17). The body then represents all that He is.
He knew that He had come to be offered up in the body as a sacrifice (Mark 10:45; Luke 22:37; compare Mark 8:31; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:33), to die for sins not His own. And all the offerings and sacrifices had been merely shadows pointing to this. If men were to be made perfect He must be offered up in His own willing, obedient body, paying the ransom for sin, and in that body rise again. For the wages of sin was death, and perfect and eternal life could therefore only be offered through the death of One Who was equivalent to all who sinned, and Who yet died undeservedly on behalf of those who deserved death, as their representative and substitute.
For this One Who was willing and obedient in offering Himself to death had not Himself sinned, and was therefore not subject to death. But He was offering Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of His own people, dying the death that they deserved, so that the death of His body would be of more significance than all the sacrifices and offerings, all put together, and was sufficient to deal with all the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), if they were only willing to respond, simply because of Who and What He was.
Lying under all references to His body is the recognition of One Who was fully obedient to His Father’s will. It was a body totally given up to Him.
The Once-For-All Nature of Christ’s Sacrifice For Us In The Body (Hebrews 10:5-18).
‘ “Then said I, Lo, I am come (In the roll of the book it is written of me) To do your will, O God.” ’
And recognising that it was written in the Scriptures that God required the offering up of His own body, of His own self, given willingly in full obedience, He set His face like a flint to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), where in Gethsemane at the final hour He bowed His head and said, ‘Your will be done’ (Mark 14:36 and parallels). For He knew that that was why He had come. He was here to do God’s will, as it was written in the Scriptures. He was here to be the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the suffering Son of Man of Daniel 7:25 with 13, the suffering Son of David of Psalms 22.
‘To do your will, O God.’ Compare John 4:34; John 8:29. And God’s will is our salvation and sanctification (see John 5:30; John 6:38-40; Ephesians 1:5; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Timothy 2:4).
‘Saying above, Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin were not your will, neither did you have pleasure in them (the which are offered according to the law),’
‘Saying above.’ In Hebrews 10:5-6.
‘Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin were not your will, neither did you have pleasure in them.’ For in the final analysis it was not a whole range of animal sacrifices that God wanted. They may have been many and varied, but they were a concession to human weakness, to meeting His people as they were, shaped by their environment. They were not His final will. Nor did He find any satisfaction in them when they were not offered from fully obedient hearts (this refers, the writer says, to those sacrifices made in accordance with ‘law’ - with legal requirements). What He required was obedience to His will, and what was therefore really necessary because of His holiness and purity, was an obedient and willing sacrifice, a sacrifice made by One Who knew all the truth and was fully submissive to His will at whatever cost.
‘Then has he said, “Lo, I am come to do your will.” He abrogates the first, that he may establish the second.’
And in particular what God wanted was that His will might be done in accordance with His eternal plan, and that will was the offering up of the body of His Son Jesus once for all. And that doing of God’s will was also what Jesus willed along with Him, and voluntarily entered into, as He demonstrated when He boldly stated, ‘See, I am come to do your will’.
‘He abrogates (cancels) the first, that he may establish the second.’ So by His act of obedience does He rid men of dependence on offerings and sacrifices, so that He might establish and make them dependent on His fully obedient, crucified and risen body of which they are to become ‘members’.
‘By which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.’
‘By which will.’ And thus it is by the will of God, as well as by His own will, that the body of Jesus the Messiah has been offered up, once for all, so that also by God’s will those whom He has chosen in eternity (Ephesians 1:4), and calls to Himself, might be ‘sanctified’ in Christ’s body. That is, that they might be set apart to Him, in union with Christ, being seen as perfect before Him (compare 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21), clothed in the righteousness and obedience and perfection of Christ. The idea of being ‘sanctified’ here is that they are made fully acceptable to God through participation in Christ’s once-for-all offering of Himself as the One Who was obedient in all things, a sanctification (a making holy, a separating in all things) the benefit of which continues to the present time.
‘We have been sanctified.’ Perfect tense, ‘have been and therefore are sanctified’. In God’s will they have been borne along (compare John 6:37-40; Ephesians 1:5; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 1:11) and made acceptable to a holy God religiously, being now seen as holy to God and pure before Him (see Hebrews 1:3). This is almost the priestly equivalent of being ‘justified’, which is a legal term signifying ‘accounted as righteous’ in the eyes of a judge. Both then result in continued sanctification (Hebrews 10:14).
‘Through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.’ The offering of the body of Jesus Christ, both representative Man (Jesus - Hebrews 2:9) and Messiah (Christ), the One Who always did the will of God, enables His obedience to be set to our account and be like a covering over us, enshrouding us in His purity and goodness, as it is applied to us through the sprinkling of His blood (Hebrews 13:12). We are sanctified by His Spirit resulting in obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:2)
‘And every priest indeed stands day by day ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, the which can never take away sins, but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God, henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet.’
For, says the writer, I want you to note the contrast. The priests minister day by day, standing and continually and regularly offering the same type of sacrifice over and over again, their service never ceasing. (He has in mind the priesthood as described in the Pentateuch, rather than the later multiplied priesthood). Yet they can never take away sins. But He in contrast, having offered one sacrifice of sins for ever, had accomplished once-for-all what was required for the taking away of sins, for He sat down at the right hand of God, complete proof that His priestly work was done and satisfactorily accomplished.
And now, His task being completed successfully, He reigns and encourages His people, and waits for all His enemies to be defeated and humbled at His feet. Success has been achieved, victory over all evil in the heavens and in earth has been accomplished. His work has been finalised. He could triumphantly say, ‘it is finished’. All that awaits is the final consummation.
Note the deliberate contrasts:
1) ‘Every priest’ emphasises multiplicity and anonymity, ‘but He’ stresses one Who was unique.
2) They minister ‘day by day’, He has offered ‘once for ever’.
3) They continue to minister ‘standing’, He has ‘taken His seat’ on the throne, having completed His ministry.
4) They offer repeated sacrifices, He has offered one sacrifice for sins for ever.
5) Their sacrifices are without power, His has resulted in supreme power.
‘Can never take away.’ Can never remove that which envelops (perielein). Man has woven his filthy garment of sin (Isaiah 64:6) which cannot be removed by priestly offerings. But through Christ it can be removed and we can instead be enveloped in His obedience (Hebrews 10:14). For the idea compare Psalms 109:19; Zechariah 3:4.
‘Sat down on the right hand of God, henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet.’ This further reference to Psalms 110 ties in with the continual references to this Psalm in the letter (Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 1:13; Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 7:21; Hebrews 8:1). His triumph as revealed in this Psalm was clearly central to his thinking. He has taken His seat because His redeeming work has been accomplished, and He awaits the final triumph that must result because it is all connected with the same purpose.
‘For by one offering he has perfected for ever those who are sanctified.’
For by one offering He has fully achieved His aim, He has perfected for ever (perfected in the past so that the benefit continues to the present day) those who are being sanctified (are in the process of having their sanctification, provided for them in Hebrews 10:10, made into a reality through and through). That is, He has made them be seen as continually perfect in the sight of God, clothing them with His own perfection, with a view to them being made perfect through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
‘Perfected for ever.’ Made perfect in Him once-for-all and in continuing fashion (perfect tense) with a view to the fact that one day, through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, they may be presented to Him without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that they might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27). Through His death He has wrought a perfect salvation for all who are His.
‘And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us. For after he has said,’
And this is borne witness to by the Holy Spirit in the words of the new covenant that follow, when He speaks of the transformation of their inner hearts and lives and the total and complete remission and ‘forgetting’ of their sins. Not again how the Scriptures are seen as the words of the Holy Spirit.
-17 ‘Then he says, “And their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” ’
And added to this will be the complete removal of their sinfulness. All their sins and iniquities, their outward failures (‘sins’) and their inward sinfulness (‘iniquities’), will be remembered no more. They will be deliberately obliterated from God’s memory. ‘Remembered no more’ is, of course, hyperbole to express the completeness of God’s forgiveness. Nothing that they have done or failed to do will be counted against them any longer.
So His covenant offers a new freedom to obey God, and a dealing with the spiritual death (Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5), bondage (Mark 10:45; 1 Corinthians 6:20; John 8:34-36; Romans 6:6; Romans 6:14; Romans 6:17-18), indebtedness (Colossians 2:14) and alienation (Colossians 1:21; Ephesians 4:18) caused by sin
‘Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.’
And all this being so no further offerings for sin will be required. For once sins are remitted, removed and sent away, there is no more an offering for sin. All offerings for sin have become redundant.
The inference behind all this is that once Christ’s work has been wrought in a man or woman the problem of their sin as a barrier or as a condemnation is dealt with for ever as far as God is concerned. It will nevermore be accounted to them. Thus no more sacrifices and offerings are required. What will be required of them is their obedience as children to their Father. And if that obedience fails there will be chastisement but never condemnation (Hebrews 12:5-13; Romans 8:1).
But the further inference is that now remission of all sins is available in Christ, there is nowhere else to turn in order to obtain remission of sins.
‘Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way through the veil, that is to say, his flesh,’
The first consequence of what He has done is that they can now have the boldness to enter into the Holiest of All (here ‘the holy place’ signifies the heavenly Holy of Holies), to enter the very heart of the spiritual realm where God is revealed, and to bask in His presence, which they do through the blood of Jesus. There is no longer the veil to separate us from Him and prevent our entry. This is ‘the high and holy place’ of Isaiah 57:15, in which dwells the High and Exalted One Whose Name is Holy, with him who is of a contrite spirit, in order to revive his spirit and heart.
So this ‘means of entering’ is now made overtly open for us because He dedicated it for us, by dying for us. For those who have been cleansed through the blood of Jesus have no barrier which prevents their approach to God. They are accepted as being in total purity.
It is a ‘new way and a living way’, for it is totally different from the old, barred way, and comes to us through the new life that He gives us in Himself. It is a ‘new’ way because it is in terms of the new covenant already described, thus opening up a new relationship to God, it is ‘living’ because it results from receiving life and being in union with the One Who is ‘the Life’ (John 11:25; John 14:6). It is the entrance of those who have received eternal life and have entered into a continual walk in the presence of the Eternal One. But it was provided at great cost. Our entry into His presence should never be glib, for we should ever remember the price that was paid to make that way open.
‘And living way.’ The whole emphasis on what Christ has brought is ‘life’. The life that flows from the resurrection is central to our understanding of what He came to bring. He is the ‘living bread that came down from Heaven -- that men might live and not die’ (John 6:50-51). He is the resurrection and the life Who provides endless life to men (John 11:25). He came bringing more abundant life (John 10:10). And life eternal is to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom He sent (John 17:3).
The expectancy of such a way in the future is constantly expressed in the Old Testament. It is variously referred to as the "way of life" (Proverbs 10:17), the "way of holiness" (Isaiah 35:8), the "good way" (Jeremiah 6:16). Compare the "way of peace" (Luke 1:79), the "way of salvation" (Acts 16:17). And that way is Jesus Who said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except by Me’ (John 14:6).
However, because of the price that was paid, and because we are in Him, we can enter boldly and without fear into the very presence of God, not cowering and afraid as Old Testament priests often were. And they did not even enter the Holiest of All.
‘Through the veil.’ The veil had ever stood as a bar to the approach to God. It was impassable. It said to even the priests, ‘thus far you may come (and even then with trembling) but no further’. But now there was a way through because of Christ’s flesh offered for us, a way of total boldness and confidence.
What a huge difference this makes for us. The message of the holy place in the Old Testament was, ‘you cannot enter’. The message in the New is, ‘The way is open, you have an unhindered way in’. There are now no barriers to our full approach to God, (apart from our own sin until it is properly dealt with).
‘That is to say, His flesh.’ Many connect this with the way made open for us, ‘the new and living way -- that is to say, His flesh’. And what has made that way in? It is because He came in the flesh and suffered for us in the flesh. It is because we can now be made one with Him in His flesh (Colossians 1:22). And through His flesh He has abolished that which was our enemy, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, making all who are His one new man (Ephesians 2:15). The way in is made open through His flesh sacrificed for us.
But others would link the words with the veil, assuming it to indicate that His flesh can be identified with the veil symbolically, so that they can now know that the veil is torn away because His body was torn. They argue that had he meant otherwise the writer would have written the order of the words differently, and that the current order of the words (as in the translation) attaches ‘in His flesh’ to the veil. And thus, they say, His flesh, broken for us, depicts the removal of the veil, and that the rending of the veil at the time of His crucifixion was a picture of the rending of His flesh as a way now open for us (Mark 15:38).
This idea is equally true in essence, and conveys a vivid picture. But the question must be as to how the veil, which had so long barred the way to God, can be likened to His flesh. He came in the flesh to remove the veil, not to be a veil. His life was a life of self-revelation of Himself, not a hiding of Himself. On the other hand it can be argued that we should never overpress illustrations, and that His very presence as man was in itself a veiling, ‘veiled in flesh the Godhead see’, a veil torn away by His death and resurrection.
The answer probably lies in the fact that ‘that is to say His flesh’ covers both ideas, without pressing the application too closely. Through the sacrifice of His flesh He has laid open the positive way and removed the barrier which was in the way. Through His flesh he has provided life and access, and through the sacrifice of His flesh He has destroyed the veil.
Whichever way it is the vital point is that through His flesh and His self-offering the way directly into the presence of God has been made ours, the way of constantly open access has been provided. Through His sacrifice of Himself the veil has been torn apart, and entry to God made possible.
‘Brothers.’ This way is open to all who are truly ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’, and therefore closely related to our Elder Brother (Hebrews 2:11-12).
The Practical Consequence of What He Has Done (Hebrews 10:19-25).
What He has done will now bring about a number of consequences. Firstly there is what we now have, boldness to enter into the very presence of God because all that can hinder it is removed (Hebrews 10:19-20), and a looking to our great priest (Hebrews 10:21) whose intercession is unfailing, resulting in a drawing near with a true heart and full faith as those who have been purified by the blood of Christ, transformed by the Holy Spirit, and have set their hearts to do what is right (Hebrews 10:22); secondly a firm holding fast to our confession (Hebrews 10:23); thirdly a provoking of each other to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24); and fourthly a continual gathering together to worship God and learn of Him (Hebrews 10:25). The test of a true faith is nearness to God, true witness, constant purity of life and a revealing of concern for others, and finally the fellowship of the Spirit with each other.
‘And having a great priest over the house of God,’
The second consequence of what He has done is that we have a ‘great priest’ over the house of God. Note that He is called ‘a great priest’ not ‘a High Priest’. There is an emphasis here on His true greatness. He is a super-priest. (While ‘great priest’ was an alternative for ‘High Priest’, there must be some reason for the writer’s change of term). And it is we who are the house of God (Hebrews 3:6). Thus is He our great priest, active in intercession for us with regard to all our spiritual needs (Hebrews 3:18; Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 5:9; Hebrews 7:25). Thus there is not only free entry, but also the guarantee of a great and successful Mediator and Intercessor as we approach, Who can meet all our needs. That has been the essence of much of what he has already said (Hebrews 2:17-18; Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 5:9; Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:25; Hebrews 9:11-12).
The result of ‘having’ this wondrous open way into God’s presence, and having this great Priest to act for us in all things, is a series of exhortations. The combination gives us great advantages and puts us under great obligations. Let us take full advantage of the advantages and ensure that we fulfil the obligations. They are as follows:
· ‘Let us draw near’. We are to live and walk in God’s presence, having ready access to Him through faith and the shedding of His blood.
· ‘Let us hold fast.’ We are to declare to all that we are in God’s presence, and our confident hope of one day knowing His presence even more fully.
· ‘Let us consider one another.’ We are to ensure that we all walk together as in His presence, having a true concern for one another.
‘Let us draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and having our body washed with pure (‘clean’) water.’
The first consequence of our new means of entry into God’s presence and of our new High Priest is that we can draw near to God. And it is something that we must do with a true heart and in fullness of faith. Then, putting it in a cultic way, we are to have our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed, with purified water. So having responded to our great High Priest we are to submit to His ministrations which will produce trueness of heart and fullness of faith.
We may see this from two angles.
· Firstly it is a description of what makes us acceptable to God. We come through faith and through the benefits of what Christ has done for us on the cross which has sanctified and cleansed heart, mind and body once for all. ‘Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Your cross I cling.’
· Secondly it is a reminder that we must maintain our situation before God daily. Having been ‘bathed’ once for all, we need continually to wash our feet (John 13:10). Having been perfected before Him once for all we must continue being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14).
In other words the practical result of Christ’s activity is that we can draw near continually (present tense), through Him as our great priest (Hebrews 10:21), and because He shed His blood on our behalf (Hebrews 10:20), doing so in fullness of faith, that is with a confident and full faith that has no doubts and fears. And we are beng exhorted to do so. This drawing near does not simply refer to prayer, it refers to our taking our firm stand in the spiritual realm, living in His light (1 John 1:5-7), recognising that we have been transferred into His kingsom (Colossians 1:13) and walking with God in the full confidence that we are His (Romans 8:4; Galatians 5:16; Galatians 5:25). It refers to our being aware of our privileges, and enjoying them to the full. It refers to our approach to God in the whole of our lives. We are to walk continually with Him in heavenly places (compare Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 2:6).
This drawing near is to be with ‘a true heart’ and ‘in fullness of faith’. This emphasises both that our hearts must be genuine and true, and that it is through unfeigned faith, and through faith alone, that we must approach Him. It is a reminder that there is no room for dissimulation or guile in our walk with God, while at the same tiome emphasising we can approach Him with continuing and ever growing confidence, as long as we maintain a genuine attitude towards Him. As Jesus said, ‘those who worship Him, must worship Him in Spirit and in truth’ (John 4:24). Faith and genuineness of heart is everything. Ritual is secondary. Thus our hearts having been transformed by Him when we were ‘perfected’ (Hebrews 10:14) and born from above (John 3:1-6), we are to allow ourselves to be continually prepared and made ready by His Spirit, approaching Him through our own spirits on the basis of the truth that He has revealed as established by the Scriptures (‘salvation is of the Jews’).
Thus if we approach Him it must be as those who walk in His light (compare 1 John 1:5-7), and any prevarication will hinder our entrance. All must be open to Him. On the other hand, once that is so, there are also no grounds for hesitancy. For we come by the guaranteed way through the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:23; 1 John 1:7). Here then we have what Christ has bought for us, and provided for us, confident access to, and certainty in, the presence of a holy God.
The contrast, of course, is with the difficulty of approach under the old ritual. Then the people could only enter the outer court, the priests only the Holy Place, while the High Priest’s entry into the Holy of Holies was limited to once a year and that on the most stringent terms. It was all in order to emphasise the holiness of God.
But now the way has been flung open. But let us not think that it means that God is less holy (as we will shortly learn). It is rather because of the all sufficiency of the sacrifice made on our behalf. No longer the need for continual offerings and sacrifices, becuse He as the One sufficient sacrifice for sin for all time has been offered on our behalf.
Fullness of faith then expresses our response as we respond to the wonder of what Christ has done for us. We do so with a confident faith that is without fear, a faith that overflows. But the expression may also contain within it the thought that we need to ensure that we move on to a maturer, a fuller faith (compare Hebrews 5:11-14). Our faith should be a faith that is continually expanding and growing. It needs to be filled to the full. This faith is the first element of the three Christian virtues, faith, hope and love. Thus here we have fullness of faith, in Hebrews 10:23 we have the confession of hope, and in Hebrews 10:24 we are to be spurred on to love. These are the three basic attitudes required in the Christian life (1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Romans 5:1-5; Galatians 5:5-6; Colossians 1:4-5; 1 Peter 1:21-22). And it is through faith that we enter into His presence.
These ideas are then expressed in terms of two Old Testament rituals, both of which are connected with water, and illustrate the true heart and fullness of faith which Christ will work in us. The first is the ‘sprinkling from an evil conscience --- with pure water’. This ‘sprinkling’ mentioned here is by some all to easily connected simply with ‘the sprinkling of the blood of sacrifices’. But hrantizo is never used in LXX of the sprinkling of the blood of sacrifices, and those commentators who maintain this generally mainly pass over briefly or ignore the reference in Hebrews 9:13 to the ashes of the red heifer. If, however, we do consult Hebrews 9:13-14 where such sprinkling is mentioned we find in Hebrews 10:13 that it is the ashes of the red heifer for the removal of uncleanness, (which contain sacrificial blood - Numbers 19:5), which are described as sprinkled and are then dealt with in more detail, for it is the ashes of the heifer alone, contained in the water of purification (Numbers 8:7; Numbers 19) that are sprinkled on people to remove uncleanness in the Old Testament ritual.
The blood of such sacrifices as are described briefly in Hebrews 9:12-13 were never sprinkled on the people in the Old Testament ritual in the tabernacle. They were applied to the altar, or before the veil, or on the Mercy Seat. Nor is the blood of Christ specifically spoken of as sprinkled on the people, certainly prior to this point in Hebrews. In Hebrews 9:14 ‘the blood of Christ’ sums up the totality of what is described in Hebrews 10:13, and in that sense it can be seen as both applied, as with the blood, and sprinkled, as with the ashes of the heifer in the water of purification. But it is the ashes of the heifer as contained in the water of purification that alone are sprinkled on the people.
‘The blood of sprinkling’ mentioned later in Hebrews 12:24 may be intended to be seen as sprinkled on the people in order to bind them into the covenant as in Exodus 24:8 but if so it is not as part of the tabernacle ritual, and is using a verb not used in LXX. As we have seen in the tabernacle ritual it is only the water of purifying that is said to be sprinkled (hrantismos) on the people. And as this verse here appears to suggest that the sprinkling is to be seen as on the people, in the same way as the water for washing is also applied to the people, it would appear that the idea in mind here is similarly of the sprinkling of the water of purification.
It is true that the blood was sprinkled (but not hrantizo in LXX) on the people in the covenant ceremony at Sinai in Exodus 24:8 but there is no reason for thinking that that that is in mind here or in Hebrews 9:13-14. It actually comes to play in Hebrews 9:15 onwards when the covenant comes into prominence.
It should further also be noted that ‘clean water’ meant a very different thing in those days than it does to us. To us ‘clean water’ contrasts with ‘dirty water’ hygienically. With clean water we wash and satisfy our thirst, and with dirty water we perform lesser tasks (if we use it at all). But in those days matters were a little different. To them ‘clean water’ was water that had been religiously cleansed by the use of the ashes of a sacrificed heifer, and was in contrast with water not so religiously cleansed. Such ‘clean’ water was useable for the removal of uncleanness (Hebrews 9:13; Ezekiel 36:25) and especially for the removal of the taint of death (Numbers 19).
For in general in fact their water was not clean unless they went to a spring. Their cysterns rather produced water that was only relatively clean, and their contrast would rather then be between drinkable or not drinkable water, neither of which were fully clean, the latter being used among other things for washing. And what they considered drinkable would be of a standard that we would reject totally. It is also doubtful whether they would actually call it clean water. Clean water would either be spring water (although that is usually described as ‘living water’) or water that had been made ‘clean’, that is ritually purified. Significantly therefore it was spring water (‘living water’) that was used along with the ashes of the heifer for the production of the water of purification (Numbers 19:17).
So ‘having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and having our body washed, with pure (‘clean’) water,’ must surely be considered in the light of this. It refers to thorough spiritual cleansing (2 Corinthians 7:1) as seen in terms of the water of purification which was sprinkled on the unclean, and in terms of water that was used to wash in order to remove ‘earthiness’ (it is never said to cleanse).
But washing in the Old Testament was not with ‘clean water’. The point therefore is that through what Christ has done for us we have a better cleansing. It really will cleanse because it is the equivalen of purified water.
There is not, of course, in mind the thought of the use of actual water. What is to be applied is spiritual ‘cleansed water’, made clean through the blood of Christ. In the words of 1 John 1:7, we are to walk in the light as He is in the light, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, will go on cleansing us from all sin.
So as in Hebrews 9:13-14 the connection is with the removing of the defilement within the conscience, which in Hebrews 9:13 was described in terms of the sprinkling of the ashes of the heifer, that is, of the sprinkling of the water of purification, which, as a parallel to the cleansing of the conscience in Hebrews 10:14, deals with the uncleanness of the flesh. To the Jewish Christians to whom this was written the idea of full cleansing from all defilement would be very significant.
The phrase ‘with clean (purified) water’ is here to be seen as connecting both with the sprinkling and the washing. That is, we may translate ‘having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience (with purified water) and our bodies washed with purified water.’ As a result the sprinkling of the conscience and the washing of the body are both connected with the water of purification (which contains the sacrificial blood), and therefore, in the light of Hebrews 9:13-14, with the blood of Christ. Those who are sprinkled and washed are seen as being made clean from the taint of death and given life by His blood. They are cleansed in both the spiritual side of their nature and in its fleshly side.
In one sense this occurs once for all when we come to Christ and are brought through faith into the sphere of His obedience and the sprinkling of His blood (Hebrews 13:12; 1 Peter 1:2). From then on it is to be experienced continually as we seek day to day cleansing.
We can compare the words of Paul. ‘Seeing then that we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of body and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God’ (2 Corinthians 7:1). Here then both ‘heart and body’ (body and spirit) are to be seen as effectively purified because of the shedding and sprinkling of the blood of Christ by our Great Priest, and are to be maintained in that state. And this is far removed from the literal sprinkling of water which merely made the flesh ‘clean’ and the literal washings which simply removed earthly defilement and never cleansed (those who were washed were never directly cleansed, they remained unclean ‘until the evening’), rituals to which some were thinking of returning.
Taking the sprinkling with clean water first the conscience is here seen as cleansed through this ‘sprinkling of clean (purified, cleansing) water’, removing the taint of spiritual death and bringing peace within. It is something that happens once for all when we first come to Him in faith, and are ‘perfected for ever’, and it is something that is to be applied continually as we ‘are being sanctified’ (Hebrews 10:14). We are both accounted righteous though His blood once for all (Romans 3:24-25), and we are to be continually cleansed by His blood from daily sin (1 John 1:7).
The implication is that the Spirit acts through His spiritual water of life (compare John 4:10; John 4:13-14; John 7:37) in response to our faith, which is the nore effective because it contains spiritual cleansing as a result of something that was superior even to the ashes of the heifer, the blood of Jesus. And as a result of that, it is ‘the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son’ which ‘cleanses us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7).
This idea of the ‘sprinkling of clean (purified) water’ (perfect tense, what has happened in the past and is presently effective) is also spoken of in Ezekiel 36:25-27 where it is also closely connected with the life transforming work of the Spirit. Whereas the other prophets depicted the Spirit’s activity in terms of rain, the priestly Ezekiel did so in terms of water of purification, with the sprinkling of ‘clean (because cleansed) water’ coming on them. It refers to the cleansing and renewing of the Spirit, through faith, by the application of the blood of sacrifice, which is here described as the blood of Christ (compare Isaiah 52:15).
This then takes us back again to Hebrews 9:13-14 where the cleansing of the conscience was through Christ’s sacrifice and the shedding of His blood (Hebrews 10:14), and was connected with ‘the eternal Spirit, and was closely connected in context, in Hebrews 10:13, with the application by the ‘sprinkling of the ashes of the heifer’, that is, of the water of purification. The same combination is at work, the blood of Christ illustrated by the sacrificial ashes of the heifer in the water of purification, which has cleansed us and will continually cleans, and the power and life of the Spirit ever at work within us. The sprinkling of the heart with ‘clean’ water is thus a brief way of saying the same thing as is said in Hebrews 9:14. We are purged, cleansed and renewed by the blood of Jesus through the Spirit of God in order to enter into His presence and serve the living God.
‘Our body washed with clean (purified) water.’ This again must not be interpreted too arbitrarily. We note that ‘the body’ here is in the singular in direct contrast with ‘our hearts’. This is not accidental. We are probably intended to make a comparison with Hebrews 10:5; Hebrews 10:10 and see the specific contrast between ‘the body’ and ‘His body’. For there we had already had cause to see that ‘His body’ had a special significance (Hebrews 10:5; Hebrews 10:10). It was a body fashioned for obedience. The whole emphasis of His ‘body’ prepared for Him was that it was prepared for Him that He might obey and do the will of God. But His ‘body’ did not need to be ‘washed’. He was clean in every part.
That therefore also surely compares with ‘the body’ here, as given to us, given so that we also can obey God, just as His body in Hebrews 10:5 was given to Him in order that He might fully obey God. Then the idea here is that not only is the conscience to be cleansed, but also the body, that body which was given to us that we might do His will, that was given to us in order that we might obey God, is to be washed with the same ‘purified water’ of the blood and of the Spirit so that it might fulfil its potential of obedience to God. Unlike His ‘body’, ‘the body’ given to us needs to be ‘washed’ in order that we might continually recommence obedience anew. We are to be cleansed in both flesh and spirit in order to perfect holiness in the fear of God (see 2 Corinthians 7:1). This kind of ‘washing’ is then to be seen as resulting, by a determined effort through faith as a result of the cleansing in the blood, to put away sin and obey God. This ties in exactly with Isaiah 1:16-18, where we read, ‘Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do well.’ In other words ‘wash yourselves’ refers to the commencing of a process which will result in doing right in the body. It is saying ‘do not wash yourselves in vain ritual (which has been condemned previously in Isaiah 1:11-14) but ‘wash yourselves by a positive attitude to righteous living’, which will result from His offered forgiveness (Isaiah 1:18).
Thus ‘washing’ with ‘purified water’ signifies responsive obedience in accordance with God’s word to us, and it is ‘the washing of water with the word’ which produces that obedience (Ephesians 5:26). It is only seen as possible through obedience combined with the sacrifice of Christ (1 Peter 1:2). Compare how ‘washing’ is also elsewhere closely connected with new life and the regenerating work of the Spirit (see Titus 3:5). So the reference here is not specifically to being baptised but to the deeper requirements of obedience as a result of cleansing.
These ideas of ‘sprinkling and washing with ‘clean’ (purified) water’ thus both have very much in mind Ezekiel 36:25-26 where the ‘sprinkling’ of ‘clean (purified) water’ is stressed and is directly connected with the promise of a new heart and a new Spirit, while the taking of the stony heart out of the flesh and the giving of a heart of flesh may well be seen as the ‘washing’ (purifying) of ‘the body’ to obedience by the Spirit (compare Titus 3:5). They refer to the life changing power of God through the blood and through the Spirit.
To conclude therefore, ‘Having our hearts sprinkled (with clean water) from an evil conscience, and having our body washed, with clean (purified) water’ must be seen as having in mind the shedding of Christ’s blood in the light of the waters of purification in Numbers 19, and as connecting with Hebrews 9:14 and with Ezekiel 36:25 onwards. Connection with Isaiah 1:16-18 is also probable. Intended here is thus a spiritual cleansing, both of the inner conscience and of the ‘physical’ (fleshly) man with his physical desires, through the blood of Christ and the work of the Spirit, with a view to obedience (compare 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:23 where Paul speaks of the same thing). It occurs once for all when a person receives Christ through faith, and is something that is to be then constantly renewed as we walk in His light.
That will mean that having in Hebrews 9:14 referred to the activity of the eternal ‘Spirit’ working through the blood of Christ and through Christ’s offering of Himself in order to ‘cleanse the conscience’ (as connected with the ashes of the red heifer in Hebrews 10:13), that ‘cleansing of the conscience’ is now here described as through ‘sprinkling from an evil conscience --- with clean (purified) water’, in other words with the spiritual equivalent of the water purified by the same ashes of the red heifer. In Hebrews 9:13-14 the idea of the cleansing of the conscience was compared in context with sacrifices, and especially and specifically with the ashes from the sacrifice of the red heifer, here it is connected with the water of purification which is from the same source and delivers from an evil conscience. And the idea is that the believer’s body, destined like Christ’s body to obedience, indeed as being part of Christ’s body (Hebrews 2:11; Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:14), is to be thoroughly purified so as to be obedient.
We may then see both as connecting with the work of Christ on their behalf as confirmed by Jesus’ words in the Upper Room. ‘He who is bathed (made acceptable to God through overall forgiveness and salvation) needs not save to wash his feet (seek daily forgiveness)’ because he is fully clean (John 13:10)
Others have connected the washing with purified water with the preparations of the High priest for the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:4), and of the priests for their priestly work generally (Exodus 29:4), but it should be carefully noted that that was never said to be with ‘pure water’. The emphasis on ‘pure’ water must be taken into account and indicates that any such idea is secondary. The sprinkling and the washing with purified water go together in his thoughts which suggests the close connection with Ezekiel 36 and Numbers 19.
‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not, for he is faithful who promised,’
The writer now applies this to his specific purpose in writing, to maintain their faith and testimony. Because of all this they are not to waver but to hold fast the confession of their hope (compare Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 6:11; Hebrews 6:18-19; Hebrews 7:19). The thought of ‘hope’ fixes their thoughts on their future hope, emphasised with regard to God’s true people in chapter 11, where it is constantly stressed that they endured because of the hope set before them. Yet here it is also in the light of their present experience of God. As a result of being purified by the blood and transformed by the Spirit, and of having full direct access to God, they must be faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ, and what He offers for the future, recognising that He who made the promises is Himself faithful and will not fail them. They must trust in the faithfulness of God (1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:24) and recognise the certainty of the fulfilment of His promises, and make that confidence apparent to others, confessing their confident hope. For ‘he who confesses Me before men, him will I confess before My Father in Heaven’ (Matthew 10:32).
‘And let us consider one another to provoke to love and good works, not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as you see the day drawing near.’
And equally important is that they have a concern for each other and stir each other to love and good works. They do this both by their own good example, and by showing concern for each other in exhortation, admonition, and encouragement. Fullness of faith results in confession of hope and in active Christian love. This is why they must not fail in gathering together constantly, so that they might thus encourage one another to confession of their faith and to activity in love. This is not just saying, ‘you must go to church’. It is saying, ‘You must gather together continuously so as to support and encourage one another’.
‘Good works.’ The words mean works of moral beauty, works which reveal to men of what kind of people these Christians are. They are not works of merit, but works that bear testimony (compare Matthew 5:16). If the church revealed more of Christ’s love to the world in ‘beautiful’ works, their confession of faith might be more heeded. And the closer the Day of Christ draws near, the more should they do it. Some have tended to take a position of being lone Christians, he says. It has become their custom. But it must not be so. Their faith will grow weak and they will be the first to fall when the testing comes, and will be the least ready for the coming of Christ. We are one body and need each other (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). As mentioned already, the thought is not just of ‘going to church’ but of gathering with His people so that we might stimulate and build up each other.
‘Not forsaking our own assembling together.’ Like the Jews, Christians were the people of the book. It was necessary for them to hear and understand the preaching of the word, and in the case of Christians to have proclaimed to them the Testimony of Jesus so that they could grow in knowledge and in the love of God. They must not survive on speculation like the pagans did. They must gain an understanding of truth. And in order to do this and encourage each other it was necessary to gather regularly.
The writer had earlier warned them of the need to encourage one another daily (Hebrews 3:15). But, as today, failure to do this appears to have been quite common. In the Didache (a late first century manual of instruction) Christians were exhorted to ‘be frequently gathered together, seeking the things which are profitable for your soul’, suggesting an awareness of a lack in doing so. And in the Epistle of Barnabas (ch.4) we read, ‘Do not, by retiring apart, live a solitary life, as if you were already [fully] justified; but coming together in one place, make common enquiry concerning what tends to your general welfare.’
We have here then, in these last three verses, three aspects of our Christian lives, drawing near to God in faith, confessing before men our hope, and revealing love and consideration for all. This will then result in our constant gathering together to learn the truth and to encourage one another in the faith. If we do these things we will never fail.
‘As you see the Day drawing near.’ The day of Christ’s second coming (Hebrews 9:28) is to be ever in the thoughts of the believer. It is the day when all will be made clear, when every heart will be examined, when His servants will give account (Romans 14:10-12; Matthew 12:26; Luke 16:2), and when those who have rejected Christ will be judged. It is the day when those who are His will be transformed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52). The thought of that day strengthens our faith, is our incentive and the content of our hope, and is the driving force towards love and morally beautiful works.
The use of ‘the Day’ in its starkness emphasises that all references to it, the day of Christ, the day of the Lord, the day of judgment, the great day, etc. all have in mind God’s final winding up of the old and introduction for ever of the new. They are all aspects of the one ‘Day’, God’s final summing up period. The night will be over and the Day will have begun (1 Thessalonians 5:4; Romans 13:12).
Warning Of The Consequences for Professing Believers If They Turn Away from Christ (Hebrews 10:26-31).
‘For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which will devour the adversaries.’
For they must note that now that Christ has come there remains no other sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:18). It is Christ or judgment. We cannot now turn back to the old ways and the old sacrifices. All a turning from Christ can do is result in fiery judgment. There is no other path to God.
‘If we are those who sin wilfully --.’ The verb means to do something willingly, without constraint. See its use in 1 Peter 5:2; Philemon 1:14. There are different ideas among commentators as to what these words signify. Some point out that all sins are wilful, and that it simply emphasises what sin is. The interpretation then is that having turned from Christ they have no One to turn to because they have deserted Him. Thus there is nowhere else that they can look for cleansing. They are doomed. Unless of course they repent and turn back to Christ.
This is, of course, true. Each sin of ours deserves God’s full judgment, and that judgment would be severe. We do need to take this lesson to heart. And we do need to repent and turn back to Christ (1 John 1:5-10). But such sin is nowhere else called ‘wilful sin’ and the verses that follow do seem to suggest a sinning which is of unusual severity. Furthermore the opposite of wilful (ekousios) sin, which is ‘akousios’ sin, sin done unwittingly or in error, is found in Leviticus 4:2; Leviticus 5:15; Numbers 15:24-29. Wilful sin is clearly more than just sin.
But finally the meaning of the phrase is surely made clear by the following verses, it means deliberately with considered forethought setting Christ at naught by continual, open rejection (Hebrews 10:28-29). It is a rejection after receiving the full knowledge of the truth. It is true that there is a sense in which all sin is wilful. But the Old Testament distinguished the sins of daily life from ‘sin with a high hand’, sins of deliberate defiance against God (Numbers 15:30 compare Deuteronomy 17:12-13). Such sins demanded an immediate death penalty. They included premeditated murder, the taking of a life which belonged to God (Exodus 21:12-14); idolatry, the setting aside of God for the worship of idols (Exodus 22:20, and especially in this context Deuteronomy 13:6-9; Deuteronomy 17:2-7), and being deeply involved with the occult (Exodus 22:18). In all these God was openly set at naught.
The present tense indicates a continual state. Such people have chosen this way of sin in which they are found and are intent on persevering in it. Note the ‘if’ which suggests his hope that it is not true of his readers, and the ‘we’ which includes himself as one who must himself take care that he does not do the same.
‘After that we have received the knowledge of the truth.’ The emphasis here is on the fact that the sin is in full knowledge or possibly a philosophical knowledge (epignosis) of the truth (on the other hand epignosis does not necessarily mean ‘spiritual knowledge’). It is not a sin done in ignorance or in a moment of weakness, or while in absolute darkness, it is a deliberate turning of the back on ‘the truth’, God’s revealed truth in Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:7; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:12; John 1:17; John 3:21; John 16:13; James 3:14; James 5:19; 1 Peter 1:22), as received from God and understood and outwardly lived under. It is a considered rejection of what it once professed.
‘There remains no more a sacrifice for sins.’ In Hebrews 10:18 it is said that where there is full forgiveness of sins there is ‘no more an offering for sin’. Through Christ the provisions of the old dispensation were no longer required. Sin offerings had become invalid. The same principle is in mind here. We cannot turn from God and reject His revealed truth about Jesus Christ, and find that the old sacrifices, or indeed anything else, will still suffice. Once the new covenant comes into focus the old has lost all efficacy.
‘But a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness (zelos) of fire (puros) which will devour the adversaries.’ Thus having lost any means of finding mercy by turning from Christ, only the expectation of judgment (compare Hebrews 10:13) awaits, and that a fearful one and a certain one, for it is dreadful and it comes from God. The wording is taken from Isaiah 26:11 LXX, (compare Psalms 79:5-6), ‘jealously (zelos) shall seize on an untaught nation, and now fire (puros) shall devour the adversaries’, and can be compared with the judgment on the adversaries of Elijah, those who rejected Elijah as God’s prophet, where fire came down on them and devoured them (2 Kings 1:10; 2 Kings 1:12), or God’s judgment on the sons of Korah who rejected Moses and Aaron and were consumed by fire because they had shown contempt for God (Numbers 16:35; Numbers 26:10), or that described in 2 Thessalonians 1:8, ‘in flaming fire rendering vengeance to those who do not know God’.
‘Certain.’ This does not actually mean ‘certain and sure’ but is an enclitic indefinite pronoun such as we use when we say ‘a certain man’, etc. It suggests something that is indefinable. Yet the judgment is certain, for it is the judgment of God.
‘The adversaries.’ By their turning from Christ they have become enemies of God.
‘A man who has set at naught Moses law dies without compassion on the word of two or three witnesses,’
The connection with sin with a high hand comes out here. They were the sins that ‘set at naught the Law of Moses’. It was only for such sins that the immediate death penalty was required. But when men did commit such a sin there was to be no compassion. All fellow feeling between them and the whole people was to be lost. Immediate death was called for. The community would carry out the sentence. Such sinners were to be cut off from the people. However such could only be carried out where there were valid witnesses. Justice had to be maintained.
‘Of how much sorer punishment, do you think, will he be judged worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant with which he was sanctified (or ‘by which there was sanctification’) an unholy thing, and has shown wanton arrogance to the Spirit of grace?’
How much sorer punishment then was deserved by the one who did even worse than that in that they set at naught the Son of God, and all God’s provision for salvation. Once again we have the contrast between the Son and Moses (compare Hebrews 3:1-6), with the Son exalted above Moses. This clearly has in mind those of whom he has spoken previously who were considering turning away from Christ in order to return to full Judaism (compare Hebrews 6:4-6). They would be guilty of three heinous crimes:
1) They would have ‘trodden under foot the Son of God’. This is similar to having crucified Him afresh (Hebrews 6:6). He is treated like salt that has lost its savour which is trodden under men’s feet (Matthew 5:13). He is like pearls which are tossed before swine and trodden under foot because the swine see them as meaningless rubbish (Matthew 7:6). It is to treat the very Son of God as a defeated foe, as a charlatan, as One Who is useless and worthless, worthy only to be humiliated and trodden down. They have basically denied that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and have rather said that ‘Jesus is accursed’ (1 Corinthians 12:3), for many non-Christian Jews saw Him as accursed because He died on the tree (Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23).
2) Each would have ‘counted the blood of the covenant with which he was sanctified (or ‘by which there was sanctification’) an unholy thing’. By this they will have rejected the new covenant bought and sealed by the blood of Christ and declared it not of God, thereby declaring Christ’s blood common if not debased.
‘By which he was sanctified (or ‘by which there was sanctification’).’ Under the old covenant the blood of the covenant was sprinkled on the people sanctifying them (setting them apart) to their part in the covenant. They were now outwardly God’s own people, although their genuineness would be proved by obedience, and many fell at that hurdle. The writer pictures this as also being true of the new covenant. Having been baptised and declared their commitment to Christ, and having claimed that they have been set apart for Him in that they partake of the symbol of the covenant in His blood by partaking of the wine at the Lord’s Table, thus declaring themselves as having been ‘set apart as Christ’s by His blood’ (and thus as being sanctified to Him), they now renounce that sanctification, declaring the means of it itself unholy and degraded. This exacerbates their crime. They renounce the very covenant blood which they had previously gloried in.
Alternately ‘by which there was sanctification’ may simply be a general statement of the effectiveness of the new covenant when properly entered into. It is the ‘sanctifying blood’ of the covenant that they are rejecting.
That this does not indicate that the apostates were once genuine Christians comes out in 1 John 2:16. ‘They went out from us but they were not of us. For if they had been of us they would have continued with us, but it was that it might be made manifest that they were not all of us.’
3) They would have shown wanton arrogance to the Spirit of grace. Their claim had been that the Spirit of grace had brought them to God though Christ, now they arrogantly reject Him and His ministry by denying that it was valid or genuine. Note the contrast between the graciousness of God and the arrogance of these rejecters. They have sinned against the love and graciousness of His Holy Spirit.
So having once confessed Him they now sin with a high hand against Christ Himself, against His blood and covenant and against the Holy Spirit, publicly repudiating them in the eyes of all. They have, outwardly at least, blasphemed against the Holy Spirit and committed the ‘sin unto death’ (Mark 3:29; 1 John 5:16). For such there can only be judgment.
‘For we know him who said, “Vengeance belongs to me, I will recompense.” And again, “The Lord shall judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’
And, he says, we can see this clearly for ourselves, for we know Him as He is and as He is revealed to be by the Scriptures which say, ‘Vengeance belongs to Me, I will repay’ (a translation and adaptation of Deuteronomy 32:35; compare Romans 12:9 which suggests it had taken on a standard form). The Hebrew says, ‘Vengeance is Mine, and recompense’ which indicates the same thought. Note both the fact and the warning. Vengeance is His, that is the fact. He will repay, that is the warning.
His second quotation is ‘The Lord will judge His people’ (Deuteronomy 32:36). This includes both beneficent ‘judging’ as with the ‘judges’, and condemning judgments as Judge of all the world. It is an assurance to those who are faithful to Him, that He will rule them and watch over them as they come under the Kingly Rule of God, and brings cold fear on those who sin with a high hand as the Day of Judgment draws near. Thus we know that He will certainly, in accordance with His own will, judge those who have called themselves His people and bring vengeance on those who rebel. It is telling them that the very words that declare their judgment are taken from the very Law to which they claim to be returning.
And he adds the solemn reminder, ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’ For ‘it is a fearful thing’ compare the ‘fearful looking for of judgment’ in Hebrews 10:28. God is not mocked, not to be treated lightly. For those who have returned to dead works and to a now invalid and dead ritual, to fall into the hands of ‘the living God’ can only be a fearful thing, for God will require it at their hands, especially in view of what they have rejected.
These words are not cited as a quotation. However, some of the wording, although not the direct idea, is taken from 2 Samuel 24:14; 1 Chronicles 21:13 in LXX, where the thought is that David prefers to fall into the hands of ‘the Lord’ because He at least is both just and compassionate. He trusts God and fears men. It is a very different for those who have permanently turned away from Him by rejecting His Son to shame and humiliation. For them facing up to Him is the most fearful thing that is possible
‘To fall into the hands of ‘the living God’.’ The fact of the ‘living’ God is emphasised to bring about the realisation that, because He is unlike the dead gods of other religions, they can be sure that the living God will undoubtedly exercise justice against them (compare the warning in Hebrews 3:12). They have previously declared themselves as servants of the living God (Hebrews 9:14). Now they are runaways from One Who is aware of all they do. He will not look lightly on their rejection of His Son.
‘But call to mind the former days, in which, after you were enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly, being continually made a gazingstock, both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, becoming partakers with those who were so used.’
He writes to remind them how they have already endured suffering for Christ’s sake. For these people to whom he was writing were not fly-by-nights, here today and gone tomorrow. They had previously suffered for Christ and had endured. So he acknowledges how they had suffered persecution, and how in the past they had been continually mocked and treated as a spectacle, as something for men to gaze at, and how at times they had willingly shared in the sufferings of some who were being so used. Indeed he draws their attention back to it, to ‘the former days’, those days that they had experienced in the past. This endurance had earned for them great recompense of reward (34-35). Let them now not lose it.
‘After you were enlightened.’ That is, after they heard of Jesus Christ and recognised His uniqueness and had come to recognise that He was One sent from God, that the light that enlightens every man had come into the world (John 1:9), and had thrown in their lot with those who followed Him, being baptised and becoming, at least outwardly, members of the church of Christ.
‘You endured a great conflict of sufferings.’ The response of Christians to Christ had resulted in intense persecution by the Jewish authorities (compare Acts 8:1-4; Acts 9:1). It had begun in Jerusalem and no doubt extended spasmodically throughout the world wherever there were strong gatherings of Jews. Communication between Jerusalem and other large cities was constant, and Christian Jews began to be seen as apostates by the Jews. The persecution of Christians by Jews is drawn attention to in some of the letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2:9; Revelation 3:9). Many of the Jews, although by no means all, showed no pity, and at times denounced Christians to the authorities, aware of the suffering that might result.
Jews had special protection in the Roman empire which exempted them from having to partake in emperor worship, because of their unique belief in the one God. Instaed they had to offer sacrifices for him in the temple. Christians, who were seen as a sect of the Jews, thus for a time enjoyed similar protection, but certain Jews were angry at this and out of malice sought to emphasise to the authorities that Christians were not true Jews, and to draw attention to them so that they would be tried for ‘blasphemy’ and condemned.
We do not know sufficient about these first readers to know where they lived, nor enough about their times to know what persecutions occurred in different places and situations. We do know from Suetonius that ‘Jews’ (which would include Christian Jews - Acts 18:1-2) were driven from Rome in the days of Claudius, and from Tacitus that Nero persecuted Christians severely at the time of the great fire in Rome in order to turn attention from himself. But local rulers would also have had a part in local, spasmodic persecutions, and both Petrine and Pauline letters, and Revelation 2-3, indicate times of tribulation for the churches. We know from Acts how local situations could so quickly produce such activity. And to refuse to acknowledge, by an offering, the divinity of the emperor and of Roma (deified Rome), could in times of local enthusiasm lead to trouble.
‘Partly, being made a gazingstock, both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, becoming partakers with those who were so used.’ Such persecution was partly the result of themselves being directly persecuted, becoming a spectacle in men’s eyes and having to face constant reproach and even actual physical affliction. This was sometimes the direct result of being arrested by the authorities and sometimes due to the fact of becoming hated for their beliefs (wrongly understood) and vilified by ordinary people, with all kinds of accusations being hurled at them. Did they not look forward to the end of the world with only Christians surviving, thus clearly intending the destruction of all who were not Christians? Did they not gather in secret meetings to engage in infamy and even, it was rumoured, to eat a son of the gods who had become a man (the Lord’s Supper)?
And they had not only faced it themselves, they had also at times stood alongside those who suffered worse than they did, sharing in their afflictions too, revealing thereby their love for their brothers and sisters. This would include visiting those who were left behind when their menfolk were dragged away, and supporting them physically and encouraging them, thus drawing attention on themselves as Christians, and also visiting in prison those arrested, taking them food and comfort. And they also no doubt assisted fellow-Christians who were particularly in danger and in hiding. They had clearly shown great courage and love in this regard, ‘things that accompany salvation’ (Hebrews 6:9).
A Call to His Readers So As To Ensure That They Will Not So Fail (Hebrews 10:32-39).
He now reminds them of what they had suffered for Christ’s sake in the past, and the compassion that they had revealed for fellow-sufferers in those persecutions. Now they must not give up heart but must patiently endure as they did then, recognising that Christ is coming again and that in the meantime God’s righteous ones must live by faith.
‘For you both had compassion on those who were in bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your possessions, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one.’
Indeed they had visited those who had been imprisoned, taking them food and offering encouragement, (prisoners were dependent on food brought in by friends and family), in spite of the danger to themselves, and had joyfully looked on in a state of exaltation while their own possessions were despoiled, for they had known that they looked forward to a better possession and one that would last for ever that nothing could touch. This better possession was ‘eternal life’, the life of Christ now presently enjoyed, which made them citizens of Heaven now, and would guarantee Heaven in the future.
Thus by their behaviour they had revealed something of what it meant to be a genuine Christian. This was why he could not believe that they would now desert Christ. For no genuine Christian who had been willing to face such things in triumph, could surely renege on Christ. These were things that accompanied God’s saving work in the heart (see on Hebrews 6:9-10), and that nothing could take away. As John said, ‘we know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers and sisters in Christ’ (1 John 3:14).
‘Do not therefore cast not away your boldness, which has great recompense of reward, for you have need of patient endurance, that, having done the will of God, you may receive the promise.’
So he begs them not to be moved by the present uncertainties, Not to toss away their boldness as previously revealed in how they had faced persecution, because now counting it as worthless. For their bold service will bring them great recompense of reward. And in order to do the will of God, as Christ had done before them (Hebrews 10:7-10), and to then receive the promise, they will require the same boldness in order to patiently endure. God’s inheritance and God’s rewards come through suffering and patient endurance in well-doing (2 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Peter 4:13; Romans 2:7).
‘The Promise.’ That is, the good things promised for the future, the coming of Christ (2 Peter 3:4), the heavenly resting place (John 14:2), the coming redemption, the crown of life (James 1:12), the eternal kingdom (James 2:5), eternal life (1 John 2:25; 2 Timothy 1:1), new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13).
‘ For yet a very little while, He who comes will come, and will not tarry.’
For it is to that future hope that they must look. There is now not long to go (speaking from Heaven’s point of view). ‘For yet a little while.’ (mikron oson oson means ‘little, how much, how much’, or ‘a little, a short distance’). These words are taken from Isaiah 26:20 LXX where the context is of anguish and suffering, and of final resurrection and God’s judgment on His enemies. So let them take heart. His time is coming.
‘He who comes will come, and will not tarry.’ Taken from Habakkuk 2:3 LXX with the article added to erchomenos to make it personal to Christ, so indicating ‘the coming one’, and another slight change to the final verb. MT has, ‘because it (the time of deliverance) will surely come, it will not delay’. The writer is adapting it to the present circumstances, not quoting it as Scripture, but indicating a Scriptural theme. Not only is deliverance coming, but the Deliverer Himself.
So in a little while He Who is coming will come (Hebrews 9:28) and will delay no longer. Then all will have been worthwhile and they will receive their recompense of reward. It was only later that Peter was to remind Christians that with God a ‘little while’ could be a thousand years or more (2 Peter 3:8-10).
‘But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrink back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’
Again taken almost exactly from Habakkuk 2:4 LXX (although ‘of me’ (mou) is moved in order to stress that His righteous ones are truly His), but with the phrases transposed to bring out his point. LXX has ‘If he should draw back, my soul has no pleasure in him, but the righteous one shall live by faith of me’. It is again not cited as a quotation but uses what he finds in LXX to express his point.
The Scripture does declare, he says, that ‘my righteous one will live by faith’. Thus if they would be numbered among the righteous, they must show evidence of true faith in Him. For He has no pleasure in those who shrink back from trusting Him, who thus reveal that they are not His righteous ones. Faith in the faithfulness of God is the essence of what a Christian is. Compare its use by Paul in Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11 where the emphasis is on being accounted righteous by faith. Here the emphasis is on faith in the faithfulness of God. Chapter 11 forms a commentary on these words.
‘But we are not of those who shrink back to perdition, but of those who have faith to the saving of the soul.’
The section is finally summed up in these words. It is a declaration of confidence in his readers. He is sure that like himself, they will not shrink back to destruction, for they have that faith in God and in Christ which results in the saving of the soul. Note the contrasts of ‘shrinking back’ with positive ‘faith’, and of ‘destruction’ with ‘salvation’. Positive response to Christ results in salvation, a final shrinking back from Him in destruction. For He is God’s provision for the salvation of men, as the whole of his letter has openly declared.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hebrews 10". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany