The author of Hebrews has been exalting Jesus. We have a high priest who has accomplished the necessary work. He has fulfilled the requirements, made the sacrifice, and entered his heavenly holy place. He has purchased the church with his blood (Acts 20:28). With that shed blood, he parted the sea of our sin to make a path to the Father. Chapters 7-10 are the heart of this book, and we have now approached the final point.
1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
In 10:1-18, the author focuses on the benefits of Christ’s work. Under the Old Covenant, the worshipers would draw near to God through imperfect sacrifices. Under the New Covenant, Jesus invites to draw near to God through his perfect sacrifice. The law was insufficient to save sinners. It was only the shadow, not the substance. This was an important point for this original audience tempted to retreat into Judaism. Perfection could not be attained by the law (7:11). It took a perfect sacrifice from the perfect priest to make sinful people perfect.
Our sins create in us a desire for forgiveness. We don’t want to live under the consequences of our sin anymore. We need someone to save us from the mess that we have made of our lives. God provided the Day of Atonement as an annual event to forgive the sins of the people, including unintentional sins. It was cleansing, but not an eternal cleansing. It was more a reminder of sins than a remover of sins. That it was repeated annually was proof that it was insufficient. If we are to have our conscience purified, we need more than the blood of goats and bulls. We need human blood to atone for human sin.
We tend think that some sort of sacrifice or offering on our part is sufficient to take away our guilt. “I sinned? Fine, let me just make up for it by this good deed.” But in verses 5-7, the author uses Psalm 40:6-8 to show us that it’s not the sin offering or the burnt offering that removes guilt. Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 9:13, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” God doesn’t want our acts without our heart. He wants our heart, and he’ll grant the acts. When we realize we’re sinners, we realize the separation is too far. We need a savior. We need a new body. One with a new heart prepared to do the will of God.
Jesus understood that the Old Testament sacrificial system was not the call of God upon his life. He was not to make sacrifices of bulls or goats but to offer his own life. Jesus gave his heart fully to God. That’s what he wants: obedience born out of a Godward heart.
God prepared a body for Jesus so that he could fulfill the new covenant promises. The eternally begotten Son of God entered human flesh to perfect sinners lost in this world. Since Jesus has accomplished God’s will (and delighted to do it!), he was perfect for the offering God always wanted: a single, sinless offering of an obedient body from a willing heart out of love for him. We could never do that. We needed a forerunner. We needed a savior. We needed someone to come and do the will of God so that we could be restored.
Jesus is the savior and high priest that we need. He stepped out of the shadow of the law and in his perfection willingly laid his life down as payment for our sins. By his work, we are saved once for all. No more sacrifices. His was enough. The will of God provided the body of Christ who was obedient to the point of death on the cross for us. Jesus changed the rules in his sacrifice. He cleansed our consciences. He brought us near. He made us holy. He saved us.
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Under the Old Covenant, if you sinned, you had to make a sacrifice. You had to bring an offering to the priest, and he had to spill the blood of the animal to cleanse you before God. No matter how many times you did this, it never stopped. You never stopped needing a sacrifice because you could never have a clean conscience. So, the priest was there, standing ready to perform his duties, day after day. No Levitical priest ever sat down in God’s presence. There was too much work to do.
But when Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. The work had ended. The blood of goats and bulls was never able to qualify God’s people for complete fellowship. But through the offering of his body as a willing sacrifice, Jesus qualified us. We no longer visit a standing priest at a temple because we have a sitting priest in heaven. He took away our sin forever.
We must realize that we have a real problem. Our sin has created separation between God and us. We are active rebels who have waged war against God. That sin leads to guilt. That sin and guilt can’t just be overlooked. It must be dealt with completely if we are to be near God. The blood of goats and bulls can’t take away our sin because they aren’t sufficient to do so. They are not a replacement for us. They don’t willingly give their lives. They’re forced to die. Furthermore, our sacrifices toward God are never going to be sufficient to please him. Why? Because what sinners do to atone for their sins is never good enough. A murderer can never give back the life he stole, no matter how deeply he apologizes.
What we need is not a simple removal of guilt. We don’t need our guilty slate wiped clean but a new slate altogether. Our problem is not one of degree, with some being more guilty than others. Our problem is one of kind. We have the wrong kind of heart. We need a new one. But how do we get one?
Here’s where the good news shines. Being a Christian is not about what you do. It’s not about your effort. You will never make the necessary sacrifice, no matter how long you try. Only your blood would satisfy the wrath of God that your sin invoked. But Jesus willingly sacrificed himself on our behalf. He lived the perfect life so that he could offer the perfect sacrifice. He was a sufficient replacement for us because his blood was human yet without sin. Therefore, by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
This changes everything. In the perfect sacrifice of himself, Jesus brought us something that the law could never bring. He completely satisfied the wrath of God, and he changed our hearts. Jeremiah 31:33-34, which the author quotes in verses 16-17, shows us how. There are two primary blessings. First, we will obey the law because it will be put within our hearts rather than forced upon us from outside via the law. Our heart will be transformed to obey God out of love for him in response to his love to us. Second, all the sin separating us from God has been removed and the only person still remembering them as a barrier to God is us. In God’s sight, our sin is dealt with. It is removed. We can come to him unhindered, without sacrifice, because Jesus has paid it all. He no longer holds it against us. We are free.
“Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” The Old Covenant sacrifices have been shattered. It’s gone because it has been completed in Christ. The constant flow of blood in the sacrifices was a visible display of our brokenness. Jesus ended the constant flow. The sacrifice of Christ offers an eternal forgiveness of sins. His sacrifice was a visible display of our restoration. By his wounds, we have been healed.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
“Therefore” in verse 19 means we need to consider the entirety of chapters 7-10. Considering what the author has said, we come to this conclusion. Jesus is superior in both his person and his work. He’s changed the rules. He’s completed the work. We can stop obeying God ritually. We can start obeying him out of love. We can stop trying to impress God by our sacrifices and start being impressed by God for his.
The Old Covenant provided for proximity to God without nearness to him. The New Covenant, with all its blessings, allows us to draw near to God continually because the price for our sin has been paid in full. These Hebrew Christians wanted to worship God, but they were looking for a way to do it without controversy and danger. Abandoning Christianity and retreating into Judaism may have removed them from earthly danger, but it would have entered them into eternal danger. How we worship God matters. What we do with sacrifices matters. Under the Old Covenant sacrificial system, we determined the sins we atoned for. Under the New Covenant, Jesus atones for all our sins for all time. Do we control the forgiveness God grants or do we accept the forgiveness Jesus grants?
In Christ, we have the authorization to draw near to God the Father. We don’t get this by our achievement. We receive this by God’s grace. The temporary sacrifices have ended. Jesus paid it all. The blood of goats and bulls will never do, not when the blood of Christ speaks a better word.
Do you remember what happened when Jesus died on the cross? Matthew 27:51 tells us, “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” The curtain was constructed to separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. One person was allowed inside once a year and not without taking blood. The curtain represented the distance between God and man. But the moment Jesus died on the cross, the curtain was torn in two. It was not torn by man. It was torn by God, “from top to bottom.” The way to God has been opened by the torn flesh of Jesus. There is no distance, no need for any more blood, nothing separating you and God. Jesus has brought you near.
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Hebrews 10:26-31 provides another warning. Considering the person and work of Christ, what happens to those who refuse to believe Jesus?
The author reminds us that we aren’t dealing with earthly adversaries. We are dealing with the one who “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (1:3). Jesus is waiting from the time of his ascension until the end of time when his enemies shall be made a footstool for his feet (10:13).
But we don’t have to be his enemies anymore. He has done the will of the Father. He has obeyed perfectly, fulfilling the law for us, and died to pay the penalty for our sin. He’s ascended into heaven, and he’s there now, at the right hand of the Father, sitting, ruling, reigning, and serving us as our great high priest. He has accomplished all the work to bring us near. If just listen to him, we will find in him a friend, one made like us to help us in our need.
If we refuse him, the Bible is clear. There no longer remains a sacrifice for sin (v. 26). There is a fearful expectation of judgment (v. 27). There is a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries (v. 27). There is a worse punishment than there was under the law (v. 28-29). The Holy Spirit is outraged (v. 29). “For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” There is one way to God– through the blood of Jesus Christ. Every other way is not only a dead end but an offense to the One who gave his life for you.
The author wants his readers to not only hear his words and heed them but to press these words into one another. In verses 24 and 25 he says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
The word used for “stir up” is the same word Luke uses in Acts 15:39 when talking about the strong disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. That’s the negative connotation. Here in Hebrews is the positive connotation. What he’s calling us to is not a “don’t be hard on yourself,” “give yourself some grace,” “life gets busy, I understand,” “we miss you, it’d be great to have you back when you are able” kind of encouragement. He’s calling us to a robust, durable encouragement that has a bite to it. What you and I need is not merely a pep talk or to get off the hook. We need an exhortation. We need a warning as if we’re on the edge of a cliff that we can’t see. We need to look one another in the eye and communicate that no less than the glory of God is at stake. We need strong words because we are weak people. We need strong words from one another because the glory of Jesus is too wonderful to miss out on. That can’t happen if we isolate ourselves. It can only happen when we intentionally meet together. If you want more of the assurance of God in your life, you must be in regular community with other believers.
Therefore, let’s not let one another miss out on the grace of God. Let’s not let one another fail to draw near to God. Let’s not let one another sin in secret. Let’s not let one another fail to stand for Christ. Let’s encourage one another all the more as the Day draws near.
32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
Christians have need of endurance. The Christian life is not easy. To stay faithful to Jesus is not easy. It demands that we put ourselves aside for God’s greater glory. In a world at war with God, sometimes it is costly to side with God. But we are not alone and our inheritance is coming. When hard times come, remembering the former days of God’s faithfulness gives us strength. The author constantly calls us to look forward to our better and abiding possession of Jesus Christ. He will restore everything one day. Today might be hard, but heaven is coming. Hold fast. You have been brought near to the only One who ultimately matters. “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay”