Hebrews 10

Hebrews 10  •  20 min. read  •  grade level: 8
IN THE PASSAGE now before us both these contrasts reappear, but coupled with them is a third—the supreme glory of Him who became the sacrifice, as contrasted with both priests and offerings of old. We see Him stepping out of eternity that He might accomplish the will of God in the work that He did. The passage starts with the reminder that the law with its shadow sacrifices could NEVER make the worshippers perfect. It ends with the glorious statement that the offering of Christ has perfected them Forever.
It is not that the law sacrifices did not perfect anyone as to the conscience, but that they could not. Their very repetition showed this. Could they have availed to cleanse the conscience, so that the offerer got complete relief as to the whole question of sin, they would have ceased to be offered; inasmuch as we never go on doing what is done. In point of fact their effect was in just the opposite direction. Instead of removing sins from the conscience as no longer to be remembered, they were formally brought to remembrance at least once every year. The blood of sacrificial animals had no efficacy to take away sins. The thing was impossible, as verse 4 says.
The statement of that verse is clear enough. Some of us, however, remembering what is said as to the forgiveness of various sins, or as to cleansing from sin in Lev. 4:55And the priest that is anointed shall take of the bullock's blood, and bring it to the tabernacle of the congregation: (Leviticus 4:5) and 16, may feel that there is apparently a contradiction, and that a further word of explanation is needed. The solution of the difficulty is not far to seek, and we may reply by way of an illustration.
Here is a trader hard pressed by a creditor. He is short of cash in these hard times, though he knows well that in three months’ time he will have ample funds. What does he do? He offers his creditor a three months’ promissory note for £500, and his creditor well satisfied with his integrity, gladly accepts it. Now our question is this—What really has the creditor got?
That question may with equal truth be answered in two ways, apparently contradictory. Thinking of it as regards its intrinsic value, we should reply—He has got a small piece of paper, whereon certain words are traced in ink, and in the corner of which is embossed a red government stamp, and the total value of the whole thing would be less than a penny. Thinking of it in its relative value-that is, of what it will be worth at its due date in view of the character of the man who drew it, we should be quite right in replying, Five hundred pounds.
The sacrifices of old were like that promissory note. They had value, but it lay in that to which they pointed. They were but paper; the sacrifice of Christ alone is like fine gold. In Leviticus their relative value is pointed out. In Hebrews we find that their value is only relative and not intrinsic. They can never take away sins. Hence in them God had no pleasure, and the coming of Christ was a necessity.
Hence in verses 5 to 9 we have the quotation from Psa. 40 and its application. It is quoted as the very voice of the Son of God, as He enters into the world. The Psalm mentions, “Sacrifice and offering... burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin;” (ch. 10:8) that is, offerings of four kinds, just as there are four kinds of offerings mentioned in the early chapters of Leviticus. There was no pleasure for God in any of them, and when the Son of God came forth to do the will of God they were supplanted and taken away. In the body He took, the whole will of God was done, and by the offering of it up in sacrifice we have been set apart for God once for all.
The thing being accomplished what further need is there of the ineffectual shadows? The fine gold having appeared what use have we for the scrap of paper? That great word, “He taketh away the first, that He may establish the second,” (ch. 10:9) might almost be taken as the whole drift of the epistle to the Hebrews, stated in few words-put into a nutshell, as we speak.
Once more are we brought face to face with the contrast in verses 11 to 14. On the one hand, there are all the priests of Aaron’s race. On the other, “this Man” in His solitary dignity as the Son of God. There, the daily ministering, and the constant offering of the ineffectual sacrifices that can never take away sins. Here, the one perfect offering, which is perfectly efficacious, and the Offerer seated at the right hand of God. There, the priests were always standing. No chair or seat of any kind was provided amongst the furniture of the tabernacle. It was not needed for their work was never done. Here, the Offerer has by His one offering perfected forever the sanctified ones, and consequently He has taken His seat forever at God’s right hand.
The words, “forever,” occur in verses 12 and 14. In both cases they have the significance of, “as a perpetual thing,” or, more briefly, “in perpetuity.” Those set apart for God having been perfected as to their consciences in perpetuity, He has taken His seat at God’s right hand in perpetuity. For one thing only is He waiting, and that is for His enemies to be made His footstool.
We would like to think that all our readers have entered into the tremendous significance of all this. Oh, the blessing and establishment of soul that comes when we really lay hold of it! Its surpassing importance may be seen in the way that the Spirit of God dwells upon the subject, and elaborates it in its details. Note too, how again and again it is stated that the sacrifice of Christ is one, and offered once and forever. Six times over is this fact brought before us, in the passage beginning with 9:12, and ending with 10:14. Search that passage and see for yourselves.
And then may the truth contained in that passage enter all our hearts in its soul-subduing, conscience-cleansing power!
It has often been pointed out that in the early part of Heb. 10 we have mention of, firstly, the will of God; secondly the work of Christ; thirdly, the witness of the Holy Ghost. The work of Christ for us has laid the basis for the accomplishment of the will of God about us, and in order that we may have the assurance of both there is the witness of the Spirit to us. In verse 15 of our chapter this last is brought before us.
How may we know that, as believers who have been set apart for God, we have been perfected in perpetuity? Only by relying upon an unimpeachable witness. And where is such a witness to be found? Suppose we put our feelings in the witness box, and subject them to a little cross-examination on the point. Can we arrive at anything like assurance? By no means, for they hardly tell the same story twice running. If on certain occasions they would seem to testify to our being right with God, on other occasions their witness would be in exactly the opposite direction. We must dismiss them from the witness box as utterly unreliable.
But the Holy Spirit condescends to take the place of Witness, and He is utterly reliable. It is not here His witness in us as in Rom. 8:1616The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (Romans 8:16). In our passage He is viewed as testifying from without to us, and we are immediately referred to that which is written in Jer. 31 The words of Jeremiah were the words of the Spirit; his writings the writings of the Spirit. The witness of the Spirit to us is found in the written Word of God. The burden of His witness in favor of the believer is, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (ch. 8:12).
Is there some reader of these lines who lacks assurance? Are you a prey to doubts and fears as to your salvation? What you need is to receive the witness of the Spirit in “full assurance of faith,” (ch. 10:22) as verse 22 puts it. Could more reliable witness be presented to you than that of God, the Holy Ghost? No! Could His witness be presented to you in a more stable or more satisfactory form than in the Scriptures of truth, which He has inspired? We venture to say, it could not.
Supposing God dispatched an angel to you with tidings of your forgiveness. Would that settle everything? For a short time perhaps. Angels however appear for a moment and then they are gone, and you see them no more. The memory of his visit would soon grow faint, and doubt enter your mind as to what exactly he did say. If you were granted a wonderful inrush of joyful feeling; would that do? It would soon pass and be succeeded by a corresponding depression, for when waves run high you cannot always ride upon their crests. Bring forward any alternative you please, and our reply will be, that though more spectacular than the Scriptures they cannot be compared with them for reliability. If you cannot or will not receive the witness of the Holy Ghost in that form, you would not receive it in any form whatsoever.
The witness of the Spirit to us is, then, that our sins are completely remitted, and being forgiven there is no more offering for sin. In verse 2 The question was asked, “Would they not have ceased to be offered?” (ch. 10:2). —that is, had the Jewish sacrifices been able to make the worshippers perfect. In verse 18 we learn that Christ’s one sacrifice having perfected us, and the Holy Spirit bearing witness to it, there is no further offering for sin. When these words were penned Jewish sacrifices were still proceeding at Jerusalem but they were valueless as offerings for sin, and very shortly they were all swept away. The Roman armies under Titus, who destroyed Jerusalem and utterly scattered the Jews, were really God’s armies (see, Matt. 22:77But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. (Matthew 22:7)) used by Him in judgment to make their sacrifices impossible any longer. And yet a very large part of Christendom is continually bowing down before what they call, “the sacrifice of the mass.” How great the sin of this! Worse really than the sin of perpetuating the Jewish sacrifices, had that been possible.
Verse 19 brings before us the great result that follows from the one perfect sacrifice of Christ. We have “boldness to enter into the holiest” (ch. 10:19). No Jew, not even the high priest, had boldness to enter the holiest made with hands: we have boldness to enter the holiest not made with hands; in spirit now, and in actual presence when the Lord comes. The converted Hebrew reading this would at once say to himself-This must mean that we are constituted priests in a far higher sense than ever Aaron’s family were priests of old. He would be right! Though in this epistle we are not told that we are priests in so many words, the truth enunciated plainly infers it. In the first epistle of Peter, chapter 2., the truth of Christian priesthood is plainly stated, and that epistle is also addressed to converted Hebrews.
Our boldness is based upon the blood of Jesus, since through His flesh, by means of death, He has opened up for us a new and living way into God’s presence; but then we also have Himself as High Priest living in the presence of God. Verse 21 mentions this, but He is there really called, not an High Priest, but a “Great Priest over the house of God” (ch. 10:21). Earlier in the epistle we read of Him as both Priest and Son, and then it added, “Whose house are we” (ch. 3:6). We are God’s house, God’s priestly family, and over us is this Great Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, and we have full access to God. Verse 22 exhorts us to avail ourselves of our great privilege and draw near.
We are to draw near, “with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (ch. 10:22). These two things are what we may call the necessary moral qualifications which we ought to have. Converted we may be, but if there be not that simplicity of faith in the work of Christ, and in the witness of the Holy Ghost as to the complete settlement of the question of our sins, which produces full assurance in our minds, we cannot enjoy the presence of God. Nor can we, except our hearts be true; that is, marked by sincerity under the influence of the truth, and without guile.
The latter part of verse 22 reverts again to that which we have as the fruit of the grace of God—and not to that which we ought to have. We have boldness by the blood of Jesus: we have a Great Priest over the house of God: we have hearts sprinkled and bodies washed, as verse 22 Says.
These two things may present a little difficulty to our minds, but doubtless to the original Hebrew readers the allusions would have been quite clear. Aaron and his sons had their bodies completely washed with pure water, and they were also sprinkled with blood before they took up their priestly office and duties. Now we have the realities which were typified in this way. The truth of the death of Christ has been applied to our hearts, giving us a purged conscience, which is the opposite of an evil conscience. Also we have come under the cleansing action of the Word of God, which has renewed us in the deepest springs of our being. It was to this that the Lord Jesus alluded just before He instituted His supper in the upper chamber, when He said, “He that is washed (bathed) needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit” (John 13:1010Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. (John 13:10)). The word He used signifies to bathe all over, as the priests were bathed at their consecration. But even so they needed to wash hands and feet every time they entered the sanctuary.
We, thank God, have received that new birth which corresponds to the bathing with pure water. The “true heart” spoken of earlier in the verse would correspond pretty closely with the washing of hands and feet which was needed every time the priest entered the holy place.
But, having all, let us draw near. Let us take up and use and enjoy our great privilege of access to God. It is the great feature that should characterize us. We are people put into this nearness, having unrestricted liberty in approach to God, and that at all times; though doubtless there are occasions when we may specially enjoy the privilege, as for instance when we gather in assembly for the Lord’s supper or for worship. Still it is by no means restricted to such occasions, as is plain when we remember that this epistle is silent as to the assembly and its functions; to find instruction as to that we must turn to the first epistle to the Corinthians.
The presence of God should really be the home of our hearts, the place to which in spirit we continually resort. The point here is not that we resort there with our needs and present our prayers; that came before us at the end of chapter 4. It is rather that we draw near in the enjoyment of all that God is, as revealed to us in Jesus, in communion with Him, and in the spirit of worship. We draw near not to get any benefit out of Him, but because we find attraction in Himself.
The three exhortations of verses 22-25, are very closely connected. We are to hold fast the profession of our faith, (or, our hope, as it really is), without wavering, since it hangs upon One who is wholly faithful. We shall most certainly do this if we enter into our privilege and draw near. We shall also find there is much practical help in the companionship of our fellow-Christians, and in the exhortation and encouragement they give. When believers begin to waver and draw back, their failure is so frequently connected with these two, things. They neglect the twofold privilege of drawing near to God on the one hand, and of drawing near to their fellow-believers on the other.
It is a sad fact that today there are thousands of dear Christian folk attached to denominations in which the great truths we have been considering are very little mentioned. How could they be when things are so organized as to altogether obscure the truth in question? Services are so conducted that the individual saint is put at a distance, and he can only think of drawing near by proxy, as though he were a Jewish worshipper. Or perhaps the case is that he finds all the service conducted for him by a minister, and this of necessity tends to divert his thoughts from the supreme importance of his drawing near for himself, in the secret of his own soul.
Others of us have the inestimable privilege of gathering together according to the Scriptural form prescribed in 1 Cor. 11-14 This is indeed calculated to impress us with the necessity of drawing near to God in our hearts. But let us watch lest we lose our spiritual exercises and lapse into a frame of mind which would take us listlessly to the meetings, expecting to have everything done for us by “ministering brothers.” And perhaps we get quite annoyed with them because they do not perform their part as well as we think they ought to do! Then it is that, instead of holding fast, we begin to let go; the first symptom of it being very probably, that we begin to forsake the meetings and the society of our fellow-believers generally. We become very critical of both meetings and people, and consider we have very good grounds for our criticism!
If instead of holding fast we begin to let go, who can tell whereunto our drawing back will take us? Who indeed, but God Himself! He alone knows the heart. All too often this drawing back, which commenced, as far as human eye can see, with forsaking Christian company, never stops until utter apostasy is reached. This terrible sin was much before the mind of the writer of this epistle, as we saw when considering chapters 3. and 6. He greatly feared that some of the Hebrews to whom he wrote might fall into it. Hence he again refers to it here. The rest of our chapter is taken up with it. In verse 26 he speaks of sinning “willfully.” In the last verse he speaks of drawing back “unto perdition.”
To “sin willfully” is evidently to forsake the faith of Christ, with one’s eyes open. No true believer does this, but a professed believer may do so, and it is just this fact, that we have reached perfection and finality in Christ, which makes it so serious. There is no more sacrifice for sins. This fact which seemed so unspeakably blessed in verse 18, is seen in the light of verse 26, to have a side to it which is unspeakably serious. There is beyond nothing but judgment. And that judgment will be of a very fearful character, hot with indignation.
Some of us might feel inclined to remark, that such judgment seems to be rather inconsistent with the fact that we live in a day when the glad tidings of the grace of God is being preached. So we do, but it is just that fact that increases the severity of the judgment. Verses 28 to 31 emphasize this. Grace makes known to us things of such infinite magnitude that to despise them is a sin of infinite magnitude, a sin far graver than that of despising the law of Moses with its holy demands.
In the gospel there is presented to us, first, the Son of God; second, His precious blood, as the blood of the new covenant; third, the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of grace. Now what is it that the apostate does-especially the Jew, who having professed Christianity, abandons it, and reverts to Judaism. He treads under foot the first. The second he counts an unholy thing. The third he utterly despises. He treats with the utmost scorn and contempt the very things that bring salvation. There is nothing beyond them, nothing but judgment. He will deserve every bit of judgment he gets. All this, be it noted, is a vastly different thing from a true believer growing cold and unwatchful and consequently falling into sin.
In verse 32, we again see that, though for the sake of some these warnings were uttered, yet the writer had every confidence that the mass of those to whom he wrote were true believers. He remembered, and he called on them to remember, the earlier days when they suffered much persecution for their faith, and he appealed to them not to cast away their confidence at this late hour in their history. An abundant recompense was coming for any loss they had suffered here.
One thing only was necessary, that they should continue with endurance doing the will of God. Then without fail all that had been promised would be fulfilled to them. Their very position was that they had “fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us,” (ch. 6:18). That hope was abundantly sure, but its fulfillment can only be at the coming of the Lord, as is indicated in verse 37.
For the third time in the New Testament that striking word from Hab. 2 is quoted. That “the just shall live by faith,” (ch. 10:38) is quoted both in Rom. 1 and in Gal. 3 But only here is the preceding verse quoted. Take note of the alteration in the words made by the Spirit of God. In Habbakuk we read, “IT will surely come IT will not tarry;” (Hab. 2:33For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. (Habakkuk 2:3)) the “it” referring to the vision. But in our days things have become far clearer, and we have the definite knowledge of the Person to whom the indefinite vision pointed. Hence here it is, “HE that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (ch. 10:37).
It is a striking fact that the word faith only occurs twice in the Old Testament. Once in Deuteronomy Moses uses the word negatively, complaining of the people that they were “children in whom is no faith” (Deut. 32:2020And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith. (Deuteronomy 32:20)). In Habakkuk alone does the word occur, used in a positive way. It is equally striking that the New Testament seizes upon that one positive use of the word, and quotes it no less than three times. How this emphasizes the fact that we have now left behind the system of sight for the system of faith. Judaism is supplanted by Christianity.
The point of the quotation here is, however, not that we are justified by faith, but that by faith we LIVE. Faith is, as we may say, the motive force for Christian living. We either go on to the glorious recompense or we draw back to perdition. No middle ground is contemplated.
Do not miss the contrast presented in the last verse of our chapter. It lies between drawing back to perdition and believing to soul-salvation. This furnishes additional proof, were it needed, that the contrast in Hebrews is not between believers who do well and believers who do ill, and who consequently (as is supposed) may perish; but between those who really do believe unto salvation, and those, who being mere professors, draw back to their eternal ruin.
Thanks be to God for that living faith which carries the soul forward with patience to the glorious recompense which awaits us!
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