A. The once for all sacrifice of Jesus.
1. (1-4) Sacrifice under the Old Covenant could not truly take away sin.
For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.
a. Having a shadow of the good things to come: The idea that the Old Covenant (the law) is a mere shadow of the substance that is the New Covenant is also communicated in Colossians 2:17 and Hebrews 8:5. Shadow means that the law communicated the outline and the figure of the fulfillment in Jesus, but was not the very image of the things.
i. Shadow isn't a bad thing. Sometimes a shadow can tell you a lot. But the shadow is not the substance. The Old Covenant and its law were not themselves bad or evil, they are only incomplete and insufficient to bring total cleansing from sin, and to save. The shadow . . . can never . . . make those who approach perfect.
b. Would they not have ceased to be offered? The writer to the Hebrews repeats a familiar argument: the repetition of sacrifice shows its inherent weakness. If animal sacrifice had "fixed" the sin problem, then they could have ceased to be offered.
i. For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year: Every repeated sacrifice was a reminder of sins. It brought the consciousness of sins to the people again and again. But the work of Jesus on the cross takes away sin!
c. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins: Animal sacrifice under the Old Covenant could cover sin. The Hebrew word for atonement is kophar, which literally means "to cover." But animal sacrifice could never take away sins. Only Jesus, the Perfect Sacrifice of the New Covenant, takes sins away.
2. (5-10) A prophetic foundation for Jesus' perfect sacrifice under the New Covenant.
Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come; in the volume of the book it is written of Me; to do Your will, O God.'" Previously saying, "Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them" (which are offered according to the law), then He said, "Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God." He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
a. He said: This quotation is taken from the Septuagint version of Psalm 40:6-8 (the Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was the most commonly used Bible in the first century). It shows that prophetically Jesus declared the insufficient character of Old Covenant sacrifice and declared His willingness to offer a perfect sacrifice under the New Covenant.
i. Sacrifice and offering You did not desire: More animal sacrifices, made under the law, would not please God.
ii. But a body You have prepared for Me: Instead, what pleased God could only come through Jesus, the incarnate Son of God.
iii. Behold, I have come . . . to do Your will, O God: Jesus' submission to God's the Father's will had its ultimate fulfillment in His obedience to the cross. This desire to do God's will was shown in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-44).
b. Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God: The sacrifice of Jesus was determined before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). But it was still an act of His will to submit to the cross at the appointed time and by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.
i. Our sanctification - our being set apart to God - is founded on the will of Jesus, not our own will. It is founded on the offering of Jesus, not on our own offering or sacrifices for God.
c. Once for all: These are the important words of this passage, and the writer to the Hebrews repeats the theme over and over again: once for all.
3. (11-18) The finished work of Jesus Christ.
And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them," then He adds, "Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.
a. Every priest stands ministering daily: The priests had to stand continually in their work. Their work continued daily and sacrifices had to be repeatedly offered. The priests could never sit down! But Jesus sat down at the right hand of God, having finished His work of sacrificing for sin.
i. The seated posture of Jesus is important. It shows that His work is finished. He doesn't need to stand ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices as priests under the Old Covenant had to. Jesus still ministers in heaven - He has a ministry of intercession for His people. But that ministry flows from His completed work, so He can adopt a posture of rest - He sat down at the right hand of God.
b. He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified: This makes it plain that the work of Jesus is effective only for those who are being sanctified. The work of Jesus is capable of saving every human being, but it is only effective in saving those who are being sanctified (set apart to God).
c. The Holy Spirit also witnesses to us . . . says the LORD: In this passage, the writer to the Hebrews clearly identifies the Holy Spirit is equated as the LORD, Yahweh of the Old Testament. When the Holy Spirit speaks, the Lord speaks.
d. This is the covenant: In the passage quoted from Jeremiah, the writer to the Hebrews makes note of the promises of the new covenant, instituted by the Messiah.
i. I will make with them after those days: The new covenant is new. It comes after those days.
ii. I will put My laws into their hearts: The new covenant has to do with an inner transformation. God changes the heart of man, and writes His law into their hearts.
iii. Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more: The new covenant offers complete forgiveness. The forgiveness is so complete that God can say that doesn't even remember our sins in light of the new covenant!
iv. The Christian must endeavor to do with their sin exactly what God has done: forget about it. As well, this reminds us that the believer is in no way on probation. Before God, his past sin has no bearing on God's present dealing.
e. Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin: Where sins are really forgiven and forgotten (remission of these), there no longer must be an offering for sin.
B. Encouraging the discouraged in light of Jesus' perfect sacrifice.
1. (19-22) Knowing Jesus has opened the way, let us draw near to God.
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
a. Having boldness: Access has been given to us for a bold approach to God. The point is simple: we must take advantage of this access, and take it with boldness. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the holiest place of all with fear and trembling, but we can enter the Holiest with boldness.
i. We can have boldness because we enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus. If we entered as the Old Testament high priest did, with the blood of animals, we wouldn't have boldness. But with the blood of Jesus providing a new and living way which He consecrated with us, we really can come into the presence of God with boldness.
b. Through the veil: The veil separated the Holiest from the holy place. To enter into the Holiest, you had to pass through the veil. But this veil separating man from God's intimate presence is forever opened wide, being torn into two from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51)
i. That is, His flesh: The writer to the Hebrews makes an analogy between the veil that stood between God and man and the body of Jesus. Jesus' body was "torn," and so was the veil, each indicating that now, we can come to God boldly.
c. Having a High Priest over the house of God: We have a High Priest who presides over the heavenly courts to make certain the believer has total access.
d. Let us draw near: With the perfect cleansing available to us, cleansing both the inner man (hearts sprinkled) and the outer man (bodies washed) we can draw near to God in a way never available to someone under the Old Covenant. The work of Jesus makes us able to draw near in a full assurance of faith.
e. So, several issues have been settled. The problem of access to God has been settled. The problem of a perfect High Priest has been settled. The problem of moral and spiritual pollution has been settled. So now, let us draw near!
i. The encouragement to draw near wouldn't be given unless it was necessary. These discouraged Christians had a problem in drawing near. This was their real problem: they lost their intimate relationship with Jesus, and nothing else is going right.
ii. They may have thought that they had many, many problems - persecution, difficult relationships, hard times with culture or economy. But the real problem was their relationship with God wasn't on track. They didn't draw near to God on the basis of what Jesus had done.
iii. Are you in a tough time? Many people have gone through worse times and have had a better attitude, and more joy, than you do now. What is the difference? They knew how to draw near!
iv. Just as importantly, they are reminded that they will never regain that intimacy coming through the institutions of the Old Covenant.
2. (23) Let us hold fast to the truth.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
a. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering: Discouragement made them waver from the truth. A renewed confidence in the greatness of Jesus and in the New Covenant will make them stand strong in the faith.
b. For He who promised is faithful: The reason we can stand strong is because He who promised is faithful. It is far better to trust in His faithfulness instead of ours!
3. (24-25) Let us pursue the community of God's people.
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
a. Let us consider one another: Discouragement has made them avoid community at the very time they needed it most. Jesus meets us in one another to stir up love and good works.
b. Forsaking the assembling of ourselves together: Forsaking fellowship is a sure way to give place to discouragement. This discouragement festers where God's people are not exhorting one another.
i. Many people go to church if they feel they "need it" at the time. But our motivation for fellowship must be to obey God and to give to others. We can go to church looking to encourage someone who needs to hang in there against a tide of discouragement.
c. So much the more as you see the Day approaching: As the Day of Jesus' return draws nearer, we should be more committed to the fellowship of God's people, the assembling of ourselves together.
C. Another warning to endure.
1. (26-31) The danger of a willful rejection of Jesus' perfect sacrifice for us.
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. And again, "The LORD will judge His people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
a. For if we sin willfully: To sin willfully is defined in Hebrews 10:29. It speaks of someone who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace. It is a knowing, deliberate rejection of Jesus' great work for us on the cross.
i. Sin willfully: In a sense, every sin is a "willful sin." But here, the writer to the Hebrews speaks of something much more severe and relevant to these discouraged Jewish Christians who contemplated a retreat from a distinctive Christianity and a return to Judaism with its sacrificial system. This is turning your back on Jesus.
b. There no longer remains a sacrifice for sins: If Jesus' sacrifice for sin is rejected, there remains no other sacrifice that can cleanse.
c. How much worse punishment: If someone does reject Jesus' sacrifice, fearful judgment is certain, even more certain than it was under the Old Covenant.
d. When we sin willfully by rejecting Jesus' work on the cross as sufficient, we have:
i. Trampled the Son of God underfoot: We have disgraced Him by rejecting His greatest work. We devalue Him by devaluing what He did.
ii. Counted the blood of the covenant . . . a common thing: We have considered that Jesus' blood was of no greater importance than the countless animals that had been sacrificed under the Old Covenant.
iii. Insulted the Spirit of grace: We offend the Holy Spirit, whose purpose it is to present Jesus and His work to us (John 16:8-15) when we reject Jesus and His finished work on our behalf. When we reject God's free gift of grace and seek to be justified by law.
e. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God: It is fearful indeed to one-day face the God you have rejected and offended so greatly!
2. (32-34) Take heart in your discouragement, and remember how you have stood for God in tough times before.
But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.
a. But recall the former days: These Christians had suffered for Jesus, being rejected from their Jewish community, and perhaps being counted as dead. This came after they trusted in Jesus (after you were illuminated).
b. The persecution came in many different ways, but it was a great struggle with sufferings. They were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations. They were companions of those who were so treated - including the writer to the Hebrews himself (you had compassion on me in chains). They also had faced economic persecution (the plundering of your goods). But the point is that they had faced these things, and had endured them. They could take a look at their past endurance, and be encouraged to keep standing strong in the future.
c. Knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven: They made it through the time of persecution by keeping a heavenly perspective. The writer to the Hebrews' point is clear: you can make it through this present time of discouragement as well.
3. (35-39) Draw on your past experience to gain strength to endure for the future.
Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: "For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him." But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
a. Therefore do not cast away your confidence: These discouraged Christians were in danger of casting away their confidence in Jesus, and relapsing into an Old Covenant relationship with God.
b. You have need of endurance: They, and we, have need of endurance to receive the promise of God after we have done the will of God. The toughest and most discouraging trials are when we are called to obey God's will when the fulfillment of His promise seems so far away. This is why we need endurance. Faithfulness during the time when the promise seems unfulfilled is the measure of your obedience and spiritual maturity.
i. This endurance is built through trials, the testing of our faith (James 1:2-4).
c. Now the just shall live by faith: We need to follow in the footsteps of the just who will live by faith, and endure to see the promise fulfilled.
i. Every word in Habakkuk 2:4 is important, and the Lord quotes it three times in the New Testament just to bring out the fullness of the meaning!
ii. In Romans 1:17, when Paul quotes this same passage from Habakkuk 2:4, the emphasis is on faith: "The just shall live by faith."
iii. In Galatians 3:11, when Paul quotes this passage from Habakkuk 2:4, the emphasis is on just: "The just shall live by faith."
iv. Here in Hebrews 10:38, when the writer to the Hebrews quotes this same passage from Habakkuk 2:4, the emphasis is on live: "The just shall live by faith."
d. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul: This is a confident conclusion. We will be those who endure on and gain the promise of God. We will not draw back into old traditions or into an Old Covenant relationship with God - or any other replacement for Jesus!