the holy temple
was the center of Jewish religious life.
The temple was the place where animal sacrifices were carried out and worship according to the Law of Moses was followed faithfully. Hebrews 9:1-9 tells us that in the temple a veil separated the Holy of Holies—the earthly dwelling place of God’s presence—from the rest of the temple where men dwelt. This signified that man was separated from God by sin (Isaiah 59:1-2). Only the high priest was permitted to pass beyond this veil once each year (Exodus 30:10; Hebrews 9:7) to enter into God’s presence for all of Israel and make atonement for their sins (Leviticus 16).
Solomon’s temple was 30 cubits high (1 Kings 6:2), but Herod had increased the height to 40 cubits, according to the writings of Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian. There is uncertainty as to the exact measurement of a cubit, but it is safe to assume that this veil was somewhere near 60 feet high. An early Jewish tradition says that the veil was about four inches thick, but the Bible does not confirm that measurement. The book of Exodus teaches that this thick veil was fashioned from blue, purple, and scarlet material and fine twisted linen.
The size and thickness of the veil make the events occurring at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross so much more momentous. “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:50-51a).
So, what do we make of this? What significance does this torn veil have for us today? Above all, the tearing of the veil at the moment of Jesus’ death dramatically symbolized that His sacrifice, the shedding of His own blood, was a sufficient atonement for sins. It signified that now the way into the Holy of Holies was open for all people, for all time, both Jew and Gentile.
When Jesus died, the veil was torn, and God moved out of that place never again to dwell in a temple made with human hands (Acts 17:24). God was through with that temple and its religious system, and the temple and Jerusalem were left “desolate” (destroyed by the Romans) in A.D. 70, just as Jesus prophesied in Luke 13:35. As long as the temple stood, it signified the continuation of the Old Covenant. Hebrews 9:8-9 refers to the age that was passing away as the new covenant was being established (Hebrews 8:13).
In a sense, the veil was symbolic of Christ Himself as the only way to the Father (John 14:6). This is indicated by the fact that the high priest had to enter the Holy of Holies through the veil. Now Christ is our superior High Priest, and as believers in His finished work, we partake of His better priesthood. We can now enter the Holy of Holies through Him. Hebrews 10:19-20 says, “We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body.” Here we see the image of Jesus’ flesh being torn for us just as He was tearing the veil for us.
The profound significance of the tearing of the veil is explained in glorious detail in Hebrews. The things of the temple were shadows of things to come, and they all ultimately point us to Jesus Christ. He was the veil to the Holy of Holies, and through His death the faithful now have free access to God.
The veil in the temple was a constant reminder that sin renders humanity unfit for the presence of God. The fact that the sin offering was offered annually and countless other sacrifices repeated daily showed graphically that sin could not truly be atoned for or erased by mere animal sacrifices. Jesus Christ, through His death, has removed the barriers between God and man, and now we may approach Him with confidence and boldness (Hebrews 4:14-16).
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 Old Covenant (the law) was a mere shadow of the substance that is the New Covenant (also in Colossians 2:17 and Hebrews 8:5). Shadow means that the law communicated the outline and the figure of the fulfillment to come 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.
ii. Newell notes that here the law is called a shadow and not the very image of the things – it is not an eikon. “An image, or eikon, like a good statue or a photograph, reveals features and facts accurately. This a shadow cannot do… Now The Law had only shadows.” (Newell)
iii. “For example, you need a load of wood: you go to the wood man, and he takes you to a large oak tree in the far corner of the lot. Pointing to the long shadow it casts, he offers to sell you this shadow. Will you take it? Now, if God says that in the Law there was a shadow, not even the very image of the things – and of course, not the things themselves, why will you hold to the shadow?” (Newell)
iv. “When the sun is behind, the shadow is before; when the sun is before, the shadow is behind. So was it in Christ to them of old. The Sun was behind, and therefore the law or shadow was before; to us under grace the Sun is before, and now the ceremonies of the law, these shadows, are behind you, vanished away.” (Trapp)
v. “In effect he is saying: ‘Without Christ you cannot get beyond the shadows of God.’” (Barclay) The very image: The ancient Greek word eikon “Suggests what is in itself substantial and also gives a true representation of that which it images.” (Dods)
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 sacrifices had solved the sin problem, then they could have ceased to be offered.
c. 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!
i. “All they are is a reminder of sin. So far from purifying a man, they remind him that he is not purified and that his sins still stand between him and God.” (Barclay)
ii. “An atonement that needs constant repetition does not really atone; a conscience which has to be cleansed once a year has never been truly cleansed.” (Robinson)
d. 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.” Yet animal sacrifice could never take away sins. Only Jesus, the Perfect Sacrifice of the New Covenant, takes sins away.
i. “There was a kind of priestly tread-mill of sacrifice…There was no end to this process and it left men still conscious of their sin and alienated from God.” (Barclay)
ii. “‘Take away’ (aphaireo) is used of a literal taking off, as in Peter’s cutting off the ear of the high priest’s slave (Luke 22:50), or metaphorically as of the removal of reproach (Luke 1:25). It signifies the complete removal of sin so that it is no longer a factor in the situation. That is what is needed and that is what the sacrifices could not provide.” (Morris)
iii. “Hering, for example, points out that this distinguishes Christianity from the mystery religions, where the sacrifice of the god was repeated annually. In fact, there is no other religion in which one great happening brings salvation through the centuries and throughout the world. This is the distinctive doctrine of Christianity.” (Morris)
2. (5-10) Psalm 40:6-8 gives 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 ancient 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. “The text of the LXX is followed in the main which differs from the Hebrew chiefly in having sōma (body) rather than ōtia (ears).” (Robertson)
b. Sacrifice and offering You did not desire: More animal sacrifices, made under the law, would not please God. Repeatedly in the Old Testament God expressed His desire for obedience rather than sacrifice.
i. Sacrifice and offering… burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin: “It is probable that the four terms which the psalmist uses for sacrifice are intended to cover all the main types of offering prescribed in the Levitical ritual.” (Bruce)
c. But a body You have prepared for Me: Instead, what pleased God could only come through Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. In the incarnation the body of Jesus was perfectly prepared and suited to live as fully man and fully God.
i. “There is no question that the author is convinced about the reality of the pre-existence of Christ.” (Guthrie)
ii. “His incarnation itself is viewed as an act of submission to God’s will and, as such, an anticipation of His supreme submission to that will in death.” (Bruce)
d. 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) and fulfilled at the cross.
i. “To do thy will, O God is the aim of the perfect man. It has only partially been fulfilled by even the most pious of men, except by Jesus. What was seen as the most desirable aim by the psalmist, becomes an expression of fact on the lips of Jesus.” (Guthrie)
e. 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). Yet it was still an act of His will to submit to the incarnation and the cross at the appointed time; 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.
f. 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.
i. “The one sacrifice does the work that the many failed to do. One wonders how priests who claim that the ‘mass’ is the sacrifice of Christ’s body repeated explain this verse.” (Robertson)
ii. “The heavenly high priest has indeed a continual ministry to discharge on His people’s behalf at the Father’s right hand; but that is the ministry of intercession on the basis of the sacrifice presented and accepted once and for all, it is not the constant or repeated offering of His sacrifice. This last misconception has no doubt been fostered in the Western Church by a defective Vulgate rendering which springs from a well-known inadequacy of the Latin verb.” (Bruce)
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! In contrast, Jesus sat down at the right hand of God, having finished His work of sacrificing for sin.
i. But this Man: “Opposed to the plurality of Levitical priests. One sacrifice, and once for ever, not many and often, as they.” (Trapp)
ii. The sacrifices under the Old Covenant could never cure the sin problem, left us as a patient who continually needed the medicine, or like a weed that only has its head plucked out, not the root.
iii. In contrast, 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.
iv. Spurgeon pointed out that the comma can be placed differently in the sentence, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. It is possible to translate, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down at the right hand of God. Either one is permitted and either one is correct, though the common translation is probably preferred.
v. When Jesus claimed the place at the right hand of God, the high priest regarded it as blasphemy – as Jesus claiming to be God Himself (Mark 14:62-63).
b. Till His enemies are made His footstool: This looks forward to the consummation of the work of Jesus, and every part connects. The incarnation leads to His perfect life; His perfect life leads to His atoning death; His atoning death leads to His resurrection; His resurrection leads to His ascension to glory; His ascension to glory leads to His return and triumph over every enemy.
c. 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).
i. “What a glorious word! Those for whom Christ has died were perfected by his death. It does not mean that he made them perfect in characters so that they are no longer sinners, but that he made those for whom he died perfectly free from the guilt of sin. When Christ took their sins upon himself, sin remained no longer upon them, for it could not be in two places at one and the same time.” (Spurgeon)
d. The Holy Spirit also witnesses to us… says the LORD: In this passage, the writer to the Hebrews clearly shows that the Holy Spirit is the LORD, Yahweh of the Old Testament. When the Holy Spirit speaks, the LORDspeaks.
i. “We have the threefold revelation of God in this passage, a very definite spiritual and practical exemplification of the Holy Trinity, in the will of God (Hebrews 10:9), the work of Christ (Hebrews 10:12), and the witness of the Spirit (Hebrews 10:15).” (Thomas)
e. 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.
v. “Forgiveness of sin is the characteristic of the new covenant. In Jeremiah complete pardon of sins is promised. If the pardon is complete, there is left no place for the Levitical sacrifices under the new covenant.” (Vincent)
f. 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.
i. “In the words, No more offering for sin, we reach the conclusion of the doctrinal part of this great epistle to the Hebrews.” (Newell) What follows after is mainly exhortation.
ii. “The Christ who died on Calvary’s cross, will not have to die again for my new sins, or to offer a fresh atonement for any transgressions that I may yet commit. No; but, once for all, gathering up the whole mass of his people’s sins into one colossal burden, he took it upon his shoulders, and flung the whole of it into the sepulcher wherein Once he slept, and there it is buried, never to be raised again to bear witness against the redeemed any more for ever.” (Spurgeon)
iii. The work of Jesus for atonement is finished. If it is not enough for us, then nothing will be. “God has set forth Christ for you as guilty sinners to rest on; and if that is not enough for you, what more would you have? Christ has offered himself, and died and suffered in our stead, and gone into his glory; and, if you cannot depend upon him, what more would you have him do? Shall he come and die again? You have rejected him once; you would reject him though he died twice.” (Spurgeon)
B. Encouraging the discouraged in light of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice.1. (19-21) A summary of what Jesus did for His people.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,
a. Having boldness: This is stated as a fact, not an exhortation. We have access 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.
ii. This boldness is a complete contrast to the way the High Priest entered the Holy Place under the Old Covenant. “He went with fear and trembling, because, if he had neglected the smallest item prescribed by the law, he could expect nothing but death. Genuine believers can come even to the throne of God with confidence, as they carry into the Divine presence the infinitely meritorious blood of the great atonement; and, being justified through that blood, they have a right to all the blessings of the eternal kingdom.” (Clarke)
iii. Having boldness to enter: “Special notice should be taken of the word ‘having,’ which, as elsewhere, always implies a present and conscious experience. It is impossible to exaggerate the ‘present tenses of the blessed life,’ of which this is one.” (Thomas)
b. A new and living way: This means that the sacrifice of Jesus is always fresh in the mind of God. Though it happened centuries ago it is not “stale.” It means that a living Jesus ushers us into the presence of God.
i. Newell on a new and living way: “It is eternally as if just now He had borne our sins in His own body on the Tree, as if just now He had said, ‘It is finished,’ and the soldier had pierced His side and there had come forth blood and water. He is evermore freshly-slain.”
ii. “This is evidently an allusion to the blood of the victim newly shed, uncoagulated, and consequently proper to be use for sprinkling. The blood of the Jewish victims was fit for sacrificial purposes only so long as it was warm and fluid.” (Clarke)
iii. It is a living way. Under the Old Covenant, the High Priest had access because of the blood of a dead animal. Now under the New Covenant we have access because of the perfect sacrifice of the sinless Son of God, and it is as if the living, resurrected Jesus ushers us into the throne room of God.
c. 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.
ii. “For believers the veil is not rolled up, but rent. The veil was not unhooked, and carefully folded up, and put away, so that it might be put in its place at some future time. Oh, no! But the divine hand took it and rent it front top to bottom. It can never be hung up again; that is impossible. Between those who are in Christ Jesus and the great God, there will never be another separation.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “What he does seem to suggest is that it was only when the body of Jesus was torn asunder on the Cross that His life-blood became available for its supreme purpose, the salvation of men.” (Robinson)
d. 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.
i. “The combination of the way and the Priest gives us confidence, frees us from fear and all other inhibitions, and makes it possible for us to come, as ourselves, into the presence of God.” (Robinson)
ii. “The ‘house of God’ over which He exercises His high priesthood is, of course, the community of God’s people.” (Bruce)
2. (22) In light of what Jesus did, let us draw near to 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. Let us draw near: With the perfect cleansing available to us, described in terms of promises of the New Covenant in the Hebrew Scriptures (hearts sprinkled) and the Christian practice of baptism (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.
i. “Therefore the appeal to me is not a call to prepare myself, or to make a way for myself to God. It is simply to come, to draw near, to enter in. This I do through my great High Priest, but this I may do through Him without faltering and without fear.” (Morgan)
ii. Bodies washed: “The thing that distinguished Christian baptism from the multiplicity of lustrations that were practiced in the religions of the ancient world was that it was more than an outward rite cleansing the body from ritual defilement. Baptism is the outward sign of an inward cleansing, and it was the latter that was the more important.” (Morris)
iii. Hearts sprinkled… bodies washed: “These participles express not conditions of approach to God which are not yet to be achieved, but conditions already possessed.” (Dods)
b. Let us draw near: We can draw near because several issues are 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.
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. When we are in tough times, we should remember that 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, the original readers of this letter are reminded that they will never regain that close relationship with God coming through the institutions of the Old Covenant.
3. (23) In light of what Jesus did, 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.
i. “That exhortation, ‘Let us hold fast,’ might well be written on the cover of every Christian’s Bible. We live in such a changeful age, that we need all to be exhorted to be rooted and grounded, confirmed and established, in the truth.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Without wavering: “The Greek word translated in this way is used only here in the New Testament and is based on the idea of an upright object not inclining at all from the true perpendicular. There is not place in the Christian experience for a hope that is firm at one time and shaky at another.” (Guthrie)
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!
4. (24-25) In light of what Jesus did, 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 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.
i. One another: “The is the only place where the author uses the expression ‘one another’ (allelous), though it is frequently found in the NT. He is speaking of a mutual activity, one in which believers encourage one another, not one where leaders direct the rest as to what they are to do.” (Morris)
ii. The wording of stir up is strong. “A striking term meaning ‘incitement’ and is either used, as here, in a good sense or, as in Acts 15:39, in a bad sense (i.e. contention). It seems to suggest that loving one another will not just happen.” (Guthrie)
iii. Love here is the ancient Greek word agape, filled with significance by the New Testament. “Love needs stimulation and society. Faith and hope can be practiced by a solitary, in a hermit’s cell or on a desert island. But the exercise of love is possible only in a community.” (Robinson)
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. Some only 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 and should gather with believers to encourage someone who needs to stand strong against a tide of discouragement.
· We gather to receive something from God.
· We gather to give something to God.
· We gather to encourage each other by our shared faith and values.
· We gather to bless one another.
· We gather to work together.
ii. “Any early Christian who attempted to live like a pious particle without the support of the community ran serious risks in an age when there was no public opinion to support him.” (Moffatt, cited in Morris)
iii. Because it is so important that Christians gather together, things that work against their gathering must be regarded as serious dangers. “Schism is the very putting asunder of the very veins and arteries of the mystical body of Christ. We may not separate, but in the sense of intolerable persecution, heresy, idolatry, and Antichristiansim.” (Trapp)
iv. “Dr. Mackintosh has well pointed out that the word saint never occurs in the singular, and that ‘inevitably it is plural.’” (Thomas)
v. Assembling: “The words, not neglecting to meet together, presumably refer to worship meetings, although this is not stated. It may purposely be left ambiguous so as to include other gatherings of a more informal kind, but the Greek word (episynagoge) suggests some official assembly.” (Guthrie)
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.
i. As you see the Day approaching: “It is worth noting in the present context that the verb is indicative and records an accomplished reality – you see – and is not as the preceding verbs, in the form of an exhortation. The immanence of the day was considered to be plain. It is not to be regarded as secret. Christians were to live as if the dawning of the day was so near that its arrival was only just beyond the horizon.” (Guthrie)
ii. “Each successive Christian generation is called upon to live as the generation of the end-time, if it is to live as a Christian generation.” (Bruce)
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 spoke 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.
ii. “It has nothing to do with backsliders in our common use of that term. A man may be overtaken in a fault, or he may deliberately go into sin, and yet neither renounce the Gospel, nor deny the Lord that bought him. His case is dreary and dangerous, but it is not hopeless.” (Clarke)
iii. “The thought seems to be closely connected with the preceding verse, suggesting that if we forsake our fellow-Christians, it may easily lead to our forsaking Christ.” (Thomas)
b. There no longer remains a sacrifice for sins: If Jesus’ sacrifice for sin is rejected, there remains no othersacrifice that can cleanse.
i. “If this great way of salvation, this mightiest sacrifice of all is refused, no other sacrifice remains.” (Morgan)
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. If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth: When we sin willfully by rejecting Jesus’ work on the cross as sufficient, we have:
i. Trampled the Son of God underfoot: We disgrace Him by rejecting His greatest work. We devalue Him by devaluing what He did. Of this phrase, Vincent notes: “Frequent in LXX for spoiling, defeating, treating contemptuously. The strong term is purposely selected in order to convey the sense of the fearful outrage involved in forsaking Christ and returning to Judaism.”
ii. Counted the blood of the covenant… a common thing: We consider Jesus’ blood of no greater importance than the countless animals sacrificed under the Old Covenant. Vincent: “Here the word admits of two explanations: (1) that Christ’s blood was counted common, having no more sacred character or specific worth than the blood of any ordinary person; (2) that in refusing to regard Christ’s blood as that of an atoner and redeemer, it was implied that his blood was unclean as being that of a transgressor.”
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.
iv. Vengeance: “An unfortunate translation, since it conveys the idea of vindictiveness which does not reside in the Greek word. It is the full meting out of justice to all parties.” (Vincent)
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.
i. “To fall into the hands of the Living God is, therefore, to have resisted His love, refused His salvation, despised the warnings of His Spirit, and to have persisted thus past the point where God can consistently show further grace.” (Newell)
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 already 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. A great struggle with sufferings: Their persecution was a struggle that came many different ways. 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.
i. Clarke on a great struggle with sufferings: “Here we have an allusion to the combats at the Grecian games, or to the exhibitions of gladiators at the public spectacles.”
ii. Made a spectacle: This uses the same ancient Greek word as in 1 Corinthians 4:9: For we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. The idea is to be made theater for a watching world. “Greek, set upon a theatre; take it either properly, or metaphorically, both befell Christians.” (Trapp)
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 also.
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.
i. Do not cast away your confidence: “Do not throw it away…neither men nor devils can take it from you, and God will never deprive you of it if you continue faithful. There is a reference here to cowardly soldiers, who throw away their shields, and run away from the battle. This is your shield, your faith in Christ, which gives you the knowledge of salvation; keep it, and it will keep you.” (Clarke)
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.
· In Romans 1:17 Paul quotes this same passage from Habakkuk 2:4 with the emphasis on faith: “The just shall live by faith.”
· In Galatians 3:11 Paul quotes this passage from Habakkuk 2:4 with the emphasis on just: “The just shall live by faith.”
· Here in Hebrews 10:38 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.
i. “Drawing back in the Christian life is sometimes due to disappointment, at other times to depression, at still others to discouragement, but always to distrust.” (Thomas)
ii. To the saving of the soul: “Greek, to the giving of the soul. A metaphor from merchants, who either get more or lose what they have; or else haply from gamesters, who keep stake in store, however the world go with them.” (Trapp)
iii. To the saving of the soul: “The word ‘saving’ does not refer to what is generally understood as salvation from sin, but is a word meaning ‘complete possession.’ Faith is first receptive in spreading its sails to catch the breeze of God’s revelation, and then it is responsive to His Word and grace.” (Thomas)