Hebrews 10:1-39

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The law given to the Israelites “had a shadow of the good [things] to come, not the very image of the reality.” A shadow provides a limited representation of an actual object. Similarly, the law contained a sketchy forgleam of the grander reality that Jesus’ coming to the earth would reveal. The far greater reality relates to his sacrifice and what it and his priestly services accomplish. Under the law covenant, the priests who offered the same animal sacrifices from year to year for themselves and the people could not make themselves nor any of the other worshipers “perfect,” that is, persons completely cleansed from sins and having purified consciences. (10:1)

If the animal sacrifices had been able to effect complete and permanent cleansing from sin, the priests would not have needed to continue making offerings year after year. The worshipers would have been cleansed once and for all and so would no longer have had any consciousness of guilt on account of their sins. (10:2) This, however, was not the case. With their being repeated from year to year, the sacrifices reminded the priests and the people of their sins. (10:3)

The repetition of the sacrifices made it unmistakably clear that they could not produce lasting purification, “for the blood of bulls and of goats” did not and could not remove sins. Animal blood was not the means God had determined upon as the basis for declaring sinful humans guiltless and reconciling sinners to himself. (10:4)

Therefore, when Christ came into the world of mankind, he made known what his Father wanted. To highlight this aspect, the writer of Hebrews has Jesus Christ express himself in the words of Psalm 40:6-8(7-9) (39:7-9, LXX), “Sacrifice and offering you did not want, but you prepared a body for me. Holocausts and [offerings] for sin you did not take delight in. Then I said, ‘Look! I have come ([as] it is written about me in the scroll [literally, “little head”] of a book) to do your will, O God.’” (10:5-7; see the Notes section.)

According to its superscription, Psalm 40(39, LXX) relates to David and, on this basis, originally would have applied to him. As the promised “seed” of David, the Messiah or Christ, or David’s permanent royal heir, Jesus can rightly be represented as expressing himself in the psalmist’s words. God’s not desiring and not finding pleasure in sacrifice and offering are evidently to be understood as meaning that he did not need such sacrifices and that, in themselves, mere outward forms of worship brought no delight to him. As for his Son, the Father desired something of much greater value than animal sacrifices. He prepared a body for his unique Son, making it possible for him to live as a man on earth and to surrender his body as a sacrifice for the human family. Upon entering the world of humankind, Jesus fully submitted to doing his Father’s will, which included sacrificing his prepared body. (10:5-7)

In the case of David, it could be said that it was written about him in the “scroll of the book,” for the Torah (law) contained specific commands that applied uniquely to the king or the anointed of YHWH. (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) With reference to the Messiah or Christ, much more is found written in the Torah (the law) and the rest of the holy writings. (10:7)

The law required the offering of sacrifices and, yet, as the writer of Hebrews repeated with reference to Christ, “First he says, ‘Sacrifices and offerings and holocausts and [offerings] for sins you did not take delight in.’ Then Christ says, “Look! I have come to do your will.” In this way, he removed the “first” (the arrangement for animal sacrifices the levitical priests offered as the law commanded) and established the second (the offering of his body as the superior sacrifice that could take away sins, doing so in submission to his Father’s will). (10:8, 9)

It is by God’s will (as Christ carried it out) that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Believers are “sanctified,” made holy, or are purified through or on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice. He did not need to offer up his prepared body repeatedly, but the one offering effected the sanctification, setting believers apart as divinely approved persons because of their acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice for them. Forgiven of their sins, they are in a purified state. (10:10)

From day to day, levitical priests took their place to offer the same animal sacrifices. These sacrifices could not take away sins, as evident from their having to be repeated. (10:11)

Jesus Christ, on the other hand, offered one sacrifice for sins when he surrendered his prepared body and presented the value of his sacrifice to his Father in the heavenly sanctuary. Unlike the levitical priests who ministered in the sanctuary and then immediately departed after having completed their service there, Jesus Christ remained in the very presence of his Father (the location represented by the Most Holy of the sanctuary that only the high priest was authorized to enter just on the annual Day of Atonement). As a high priest far greater than those of the line of Aaron, Jesus Christ sat down perpetually at the right hand of God, representative of the most honorable, royal, and intimate position. Like Melchizedek of ancient Salem, he is both king and priest. God has granted him all authority in heaven and on earth, elevating him to the position of King of kings and Lord of lords. In his exalted state, he is waiting until his Father makes all his enemies a footstool for his feet (deprived of every vestige of power to interfere with Christ’s beneficent rule). The last of these enemies is death, and this confirms that Jesus’ one sacrifice is sufficient to accomplish everything, because the complete eradication of sin on the basis of his sacrifice brings an end to death, the condemnation to which sin leads. (10:12, 13; compare Luke 1:21; 1 Corinthians 15:25, 26.)

By means of his one sacrifice, Jesus Christ has perpetually “perfected” believers, the “sanctified ones.” They have been made perfect or complete by being forgiven of their sins, and thus they have ceased to be flawed and unacceptable in God’s sight. Their purified standing has been brought about once for all through Christ’s one sacrifice, which does not need to be repeated. So, as “sanctified ones,” or persons made holy or purified, they have forever been made perfect, with no additional sacrifices being needed to effect their cleansing from sin. (10:14)

The testimony of the holy spirit confirms that all those who are sanctified have been perpetually perfected or made clean once and for all through Jesus Christ’s one sacrifice. Through the operation of God’s spirit, the prophet Jeremiah received the revelation regarding a new covenant, with its provision for complete forgiveness of sins. Therefore, the writer of Hebrews, when quoting from verses 33 and 34 of Jeremiah 31 (38:33, 34, LXX), attributed them to the speaking of the holy spirit.

The writer first quoted from verse 33, but departed somewhat from the order of the words as found in his previous quotation (8:10) and in the extant text of the Septuagint. “‘This is the covenant I will conclude with them after those days,’ says the Lord [YHWH, Hebrew text], imparting my laws to their hearts, and on their mind I will write them.” After this expression of the holy spirit, the next words from Jeremiah 31:34 (38:34, LXX) establish the point about the perfecting through the forgiveness of sins, “And their sins and their lawlessness I will remember no more.” (10:16, 17; see the Notes section.) After sins were forgiven on the basis of Jesus Christ’s one sacrifice that put the new covenant in force, no additional offering for sin was needed. (10:18)

Believers (“brothers” in the family of God’s children) can have “boldness” or “confidence,” being able to enter the “holy [places]” (the heavenly sanctuary as the reality of the earthly tabernacle consisting of the Holy and the Most Holy). They can approach God in prayer with freeness of speech and without any fear, knowing that they have been forgiven of their sins. Their drawing near to God is made possible “in the blood of Jesus,” for his precious blood proved to be the means by which they were cleansed from their transgressions and came to have a divinely approved standing. (10:19)

Jesus Christ opened up a “new and living way” for believers to have approach to his Father “through the curtain, that is, his flesh.” It is a new way, for it is a direct approach in prayer and one that does not require the services of a priesthood. Unlike the entrance of the Aaronic high priest into the Most Holy of the sanctuary with the blood of sacrificial victims, Christ entered heaven itself with the value of his sacrifice. So the approach to his Father that he made possible is a “living way,” for he is eternally alive. In the tabernacle, the curtain separating the Holy from the Most Holy blocked direct access to the location of God’s representative presence. The “flesh” of Jesus, on the other hand, opened up the way of approach to his Father. On the basis of the flesh that he sacrificed, believers have unhindered access to God as approved persons forgiven of their sins. (10:20)

Jesus Christ is the “great” or high priest for all believers. He is over the household of the entire family of God’s children. (10:21)

With unhindered access having been opened up to them and with Jesus Christ functioning as their high priest, believers have every reason to approach God with a “true heart” in complete faith or trust. The “heart” designates the inner self, the real person. Accordingly, when drawing near to God in prayer, the believer’s inmost self would be revealed as being sincere and undivided in devotion and affection. A believer’s approach to God would be without fear. The “heart,” or inmost self, would not be plagued by guilt, giving rise to the kind of apprehension that would hinder the individual from freely drawing near to God in prayer. All approach to God would be made with the kind of trust a little child has when interacting with a loving and caring father. (10:22)

The hearts of believers are “sprinkled” (as if by cleansing water), and thus the inner person is purified or freed from an “evil” or guilt-ridden conscience. This cleansing occurred when believers, in faith, accepted the forgiveness of sins made possible through Jesus’ sacrificial death. With the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice having been applied to them, they can be spoken of as having been purified like persons sprinkled with his precious blood. Believers have also experienced a washing of the “body” with “clean water.” Seemingly, the “clean water” refers to the water of baptism, which is the tangible expression of the repentance and inner change in the life of the believer. Accordingly, the whole person, both inwardly and outwardly, has been cleansed. (10:22)

Fully purified and rendered acceptable to God, believers should keep a firm grip on the “confession of their hope,” never allowing themselves to be turned away from it. The hope centers on Christ and relates to being united with him in the sinless state and coming to enjoy all the privileges and blessings stemming from being members of God’s beloved family. This is the hope believers confess or acknowledge as belonging to them, and their acknowledgment can be made with complete assurance. This is because the one who has promised is their heavenly Father who is always faithful or trustworthy in carrying out his word. (10:23)

Being members of God’s family, believers should rightly be concerned about one another. They should manifest a sense of responsibility for the well-being of fellow children of God. This should prompt them to rouse one another to let love have its full expression in attitude, word, and deed, and to engage in good works, which would include all activities that promote the welfare of others and honor God and Christ. (10:24)

To be in a position to encourage fellow members of God’s family in this way requires associating with them. Therefore, believers were not to withdraw deliberately from meeting with fellow believers, as had become the habit for some. The writer of Hebrews did not explain why certain ones no longer associated with the community of believers. Perhaps opposition and ridicule from fellow Hebrews prompted them to distance themselves, and the small gatherings of believers in homes may have seemed insignificant and unimpressive when compared with the ceremonial services at the temple in Jerusalem. (10:25)

The “day” that was then drawing near probably applies to the foretold time of judgment that was to befall Jerusalem and the temple, thereafter culminating in Jesus Christ’s return in glory. On that day or at that time, the temple would be destroyed, bringing an end to the arrangement for worship that had been established centuries earlier. (Matthew 23:37, 38; 24:1, 2; Mark 13:1, 2; Luke 19:41-44; 21:5, 6) In relation to this time of judgment upon Jerusalem, believers did not know just when Jesus Christ would return in glory, which return would result in fulfilling their hope of being united with him. Therefore, as far as they were concerned, the day for both events was drawing near. The certainty of Christ’s return was not in doubt, and this day would arrive when many would least expect it. Consequently, believers could see or discern that the day was indeed approaching, and they needed to remain prepared for Christ’s return so as not then to be found in a disapproved state. Therefore, the Hebrews should have felt compelled to meet with fellow believers for the purpose of encouraging one another to remain devoted to God and his Son. (10:25; Matthew 24:30, 31, 36-44; Mark 13:26, 27, 32-37; Luke 21:34-36)

In the event the abandonment of association with fellow believers constituted an individual’s rejection of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness his sacrificial death had made possible, this would have had very serious consequences. There is no other sacrifice for sins available on the basis of which forgiveness can be divinely granted. So those who came to have a knowledge of the “truth” and thereafter willfully persisted in the sin of unbelief (rejecting the truth they had formerly embraced) would be without any provision to have their sin forgiven. Based on the context, the “truth” relates to Jesus Christ and all that his death accomplished. (10:26)

An individual’s rejection of the sole provision for being forgiven of sin only leaves the prospect of a fearful condemnatory judgment and an intense fire that will consume whatever or whoever stands in opposition to God’s will. The reference to an “intense fire” (literally, a “zealous fire”) appears to relate to the adverse judgment that does not spare anything or anyone against whom it is expressed. (10:27)

The “law of Moses” identified certain sins as meriting the death penalty. So anyone who deliberately violated the law was sentenced to death without mercy after two or three witnesses provided their testimony about the transgression. (10:28)

In view of the way lawbreakers were dealt with according to the law of Moses, the writer of Hebrews raised the question, “How much worse punishment do you think shall the man deserve who has trampled on the Son of God and regarded as profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and who has shown contempt for the spirit of favor?” To trample on the Son of God would mean to disown him, ceasing to acknowledge him as Lord and to further his interests. Jesus’ shed blood put the new covenant in force, and to reject him would have signified treating his precious blood as profane and, therefore, as having no more value than any other blood. Yet it was this priceless blood that made forgiveness of sins possible, sanctifying or purifying the one who had previously responded in faith. The Greek verb that can signify “showing contempt for” is enybrízo, which term can mean “insult,” “outrage,” “offend,” or “abuse.” God grants his spirit as an expression of his gracious favor, and this may be the reason for the expression “spirit of favor.” Upon becoming a believer, the individual had received God’s spirit, and thus had confirmatory evidence in his life that Jesus is indeed God’s unique Son. So rejecting Jesus Christ and his sacrifice would have meant treating the spirit with contempt or in an insulting, outrageous, offensive, or abusive manner. The former enlightenment of the person who rebelled against the truth made him deserving of a punishment that was more severe than the one administered under the law for deliberate transgression. (10:29)

The Hebrew believers knew God based on the revelation he had provided and which was preserved in their holy writings. They knew him as the one about whom it was said in Deuteronomy 32:35 , “Vengeance [is] mine; I will repay,” and then again in Deuteronomy 32:36 (LXX), “The Lord [YHWH, Hebrew text] will judge his people.” The thoughts expressed in Deuteronomy served to establish that those who deliberately chose to turn away from the truth relating to Christ would not escape God’s judgment. (10:30; see the Notes section.)

It would indeed be a fearful thing “to fall into the hands of the living God” as a person whom he disapproved. Whereas the nonexistent, lifeless deities cannot do anything, the living God will not fail to execute his judgment, and nothing will alter it. (10:31)

After being “enlightened,” or having come to know the truth about Jesus Christ and what his death for them accomplished, the Hebrew believers were subjected to distress from those who remained entrenched unbelievers. The writer to the Hebrews wanted them to recall those former days, evidently to remind them that they had highly valued their enlightenment and were willing to endure a “great contest” or a difficult struggle while submitted to sufferings. (10:32)

Hebrew believers had been publicly exposed to abuse and mistreatment. At other times, if not themselves the direct objects of reproach and tribulation, they were compassionate sharers with fellow believers who were so afflicted. (10:33) They sympathized with fellow believers who were imprisoned, doubtless visiting them and providing them with necessities. (Compare Matthew 25:36; Philippians 2:25-30; 2 Timothy 1:16-18.) “With joy,” or with the inner satisfaction of knowing that they had pursued a divinely approved course, the Hebrew believers submitted to having opposers plunder their possessions. They were willing to endure material loss because of recognizing that they had a better possession, one that could not be ripped away from them and which would last. This far better possession was their heavenly inheritance, the sure prospect of being united with Christ and sharing in his eternal inheritance as approved children of his Father. (10:34)

Considering what they had endured in the past, the Hebrew believers should have exerted themselves to maintain the faith that had made it possible for them to bear up under suffering. They were not to cast away their confidence, for continued faithful endurance would yield a “great reward.” This “great reward” would include all the priceless privileges and blessings that God, through Christ, would grant them as his beloved children. (10:35)

In the future, the Hebrew believers would continue to experience abuse and mistreatment, calling for endurance on their part as they remained firm in faith. Then, after having done God’s will, they would receive what had been promised to them, the heavenly inheritance of incomparable value. As God had promised, they would enter his rest, no longer having to bear hardships and distress. (10:36)

To encourage the Hebrew believers to endure, the writer drew on the words of the prophet Habakkuk (2:3). “For yet in a very little while, ‘the one coming will come and will not tarry.’” (10:37) It appears that, in its initial application, the words of Habakkuk refer to God’s coming for judgment. He would not delay but would execute this judgment at just the right time. In his quotation, the writer of Hebrews likely had in mind the return of Jesus Christ in glory, which would also signify the Father’s coming by means of his Son. This event was sure to occur, and the Hebrew believers needed to endure patiently as they looked forward to Jesus’ arrival and the blessings and relief from suffering in which they would then share. (10:37)

The writer of Hebrews continued the quotation from Habakkuk (2:4), “But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he should draw back, my soul [God himself] is not pleased in him.” For his development, the writer of Hebrews inverted the phrases, but the quoted words are basically the same as in the Septuagint. The Hebrews would have understood that, by reason of their having been reconciled to him through Jesus Christ, they belonged to God and were regarded as righteous ones on the basis of their faith in Christ. Their living by faith was more than a mere existence or a continuance of life. It was a meaningful living as God’s approved children who enjoyed his help, guidance, and approval despite the difficult circumstances they were facing. Their faith or trust in God and Christ proved to be the source of their living as persons having an enduring relationship with them. If, however, any of them were to draw back faithlessly from him, disowning his unique Son, God would reject them as disapproved. (10:38)

The writer did not feel that the Hebrew believers would suffer loss, but spoke confidently, saying, “But we are not [persons] drawing back to destruction, but [persons] of faith for the acquisition of the soul.” The Hebrews were not the kind of believers who would turn away from Jesus Christ for whom they had endured abuse and mistreatment and then end up losing out on everything upon having a condemnatory judgment expressed against them. They had faith or trust in God and Christ, and that faith would sustain them in all their hardships and afflictions. Their faith would not lead to loss, but they would gain their “soul” (the entire person from the standpoint of having the God-given right to live in permanent fellowship with him). (10:39)

Notes:

Rahlfs’ printed text, like the Masoretic Text, says “ears” (otía) in Psalm 39(40):6(7). The book of Hebrews (10:5), where these words are quoted, reads “body” (sóma), which (in this psalm) is also the word found in fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus and fifth century Codex Alexandrinus.

The quotation in Hebrews of Psalm 39(40):6-8(7-9) departs in minor ways from the reading of Septuagint manuscripts of the book of Psalms. In Hebrews 10:6, the reading holokautómata (holocausts; burnt offerings] agrees with Psalm 39:7 of fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, but other Septuagint manuscripts say holokaútoma (holocaust; burnt offering) in Psalm 39. The last two words of Hebrews 10:6 are ouk eudókesas (you were not pleased; you found no delight). Printed texts of the Septuagint (in Psalm 39:7) read ouk étesas (you did not require), whereas fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus read ouk ezétesas (you did not seek; you did not desire). In Hebrews 10:7, the position of “God” differs from the Septuagint reading in Psalm 39 and also lacks the pronoun “my” (my God).

Later manuscripts (in verse 9), add “O God,” when referring to the doing of his will.

Verse 16 reverses the order found in verse 10 of chapter 8 and in the Septuagint. The imparting or giving of the laws is said to be to (literally, “on”) the hearts, and God’s writing them would be on the mind. In Jeremiah and the earlier quotation in the book of Hebrews, the imparting or giving of the laws is to the mind, and the writing is on the hearts. Still, the basic thought is preserved, with both the mind and the heart (or the inmost self) being positively affected by the laws or guiding principles of the new covenant.

In verse 17, the quotation from Jeremiah 31:34 (38:34) differs from the extant text of the Septuagint, which does not contain the reference to “their lawlessness.” The word for “lawlessness” is plural in the Greek text, indicative of repeated lawless action. In the Greek text, there are two different words for “not,” serving to intensify the negation (not, never remember).

In verse 30, the wording of the quotation from Deuteronomy 32:35 differs from that of the extant Septuagint text, which reads, “In the day of vengeance, I will repay.” The quotation and the words from Deuteronomy 32:36 in the extant Septuagint text, however, are the same.