Last time we began to look at the finality and permanence of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, contrasting it with the transience of the animal sacrifices under the Law which did not provide true atonement for sin, but could only provide a temporary covering for sin. We saw that these animal sacrifices were never intended to provide salvation, but only pointed out our need for a Savior who would come and offer Himself for our salvation entirely by His own grace and mercy apart from any work of man. We concluded by noting that Jesus’ offering Himself in obedience to the will of the Father was His own choice, made willingly and even joyfully, thereby demonstrating for us the joy to be had through our own obedience.
Hebrews 10:8-25 – The End of Sacrifice
The writer now continues his contrast of Jesus’ sacrifice with the animal sacrifices noting that the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood has done away with the need for the covenants which went before. The writer concludes this passage by reiterating the finality and completeness of Jesus’ sacrifice. Before we move on, though we need to step back to review Hebrews 10:5-7.
5Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:Hebrews 10:5-7 – NKJV
“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.
6In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin
You had no pleasure.
7Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—
In the volume of the book it is written of Me—
To do Your will, O God.’ ”
We examined these verses in detail in our previous study, so there is no need to rehash them here. For our purposes in this study, it is important to review them just to establish a context for the study of verses 8-10.
8Previously 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), 9then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. 10By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.Hebrews 10:8-10 – NKJV
The wording of verse 8 in the NKJV is a bit problematic. The Greek word translated in the NKJV as “Previously” is ἀνώτερος anōteros which means higher or above. So when the NKJV says that God had previously said “Sacrifice and offering…” it is referring to the “quotation” in Hebrews 10:5, not to a previous place in the scripture or to an earlier time. Thus, the rendering of Hebrews 10:8-10 in the ESV and other English translations is a little clearer.
8When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Hebrews 10:8-10 – ESV
Once more, we need to guard against getting so wrapped up in analyzing the syntax of the passage, and trying to determine where the “quotation” came from, that we miss the essential truth found in these verses. The point of these three verses is to reiterate the fact that God never intended the animal sacrifices to provide salvation, but rather to point out our need for salvation from Him apart from our own works. God clearly spoke about this to the prophet Isaiah in which he compares the sinfulness of Judah to that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
10Hear the word of the LORD,
You rulers of Sodom;
Give ear to the law of our God,
You people of Gomorrah:
11“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?”
Says the LORD.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle.
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
Or of lambs or goats.
12“When you come to appear before Me,
Who has required this from your hand,
To trample My courts?
13Bring no more futile sacrifices;
Incense is an abomination to Me.
The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
14Your New Moons and your appointed feasts
My soul hates;
They are a trouble to Me,
I am weary of bearing them.
15When you spread out your hands,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Even though you make many prayers,
I will not hear.
Your hands are full of blood.
16“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
17Learn to do good;
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.
18“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the LORD,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.
19If you are willing and obedient,
You shall eat the good of the land;
20But if you refuse and rebel,
You shall be devoured by the sword”;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
Isaiah 1:10-20 – NKJV
Just as with ancient Judah, if we are embroiled in sin, God is so appalled at our sin, He can take no pleasure in our prayers or good works. Of ourselves, we are incapable of washing ourselves and putting away evil from us so that God may be pleased with our works. Since it is impossible for us to cleanse ourselves by our works, Jesus came in obedience to the will of God and gave Himself as an offering in our place, thus putting an end forever to the need for animal sacrifices or any other human work to bring about our salvation.
Aside – Before we move on, it is important that we briefly examine the work of The Temple Institute – an organization headquartered in Jerusalem that seeks to rebuild the temple on Mt. Moriah, and to re-institute the associated priesthood and system of feasts and sacrifices under the Mosaic Law. We have seen clearly from the passage we just studied that Jesus has done away forever with the need for animal sacrifices, and that these sacrifices were never adequate for salvation from sin in any case. What then could possibly be served if the folks at The Temple Institute do accomplish their goals. Certainly, the rebuilding of the temple, and the associated animal sacrifices (or any other human work) are powerless for salvation from sin. Nevertheless, they are essential to the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation. The prophet Daniel foretold that the prince who is to come (the so-called antichrist) will bring an end to the sacrifices.
26“And after the sixty-two weeks
Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself;
And the people of the prince who is to come
Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.
The end of it shall be with a flood,
And till the end of the war desolations are determined.
27Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week;
But in the middle of the week
He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering.
And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate,
Even until the consummation, which is determined,
Is poured out on the desolate.”
Daniel 9:26-27 – NKJV
Clearly there must be sacrifices and offerings taking place in order for the antichrist to bring an end to them. Thus the work of The Temple Institute is essential to the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation even though the rituals themselves are powerless to save. Indeed, the very coming of the antichrist will be essential to fulfillment of God’s covenant with Israel – currently a largely atheistic and hedonistic people – whom He chose as His own special people thousands of years ago. As Paul wrote to the Roman church…
25For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:Romans 11:25-26 – NKJV
“The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”
In concluding this passage comparing and contrasting the Mosaic covenant with the new covenant in Jesus’ blood the writer reiterates the continual, repetitive nature of the animal sacrifices and priestly ceremonies under the Mosaic law, and once more contrasts them with the singular and final sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for the perfect and permanent salvation from sin that mankind needs.
11And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.Hebrews 10:11-14 – NKJV
As we have seen in our last few studies, the Hebrews writer has devoted a great deal of his letter to comparing and contrasting the characteristics of the Mosaic covenant under the Old Testament Law with the New Covenant established by Jesus through the shedding of His own blood. The writer began by comparing the Levitical priesthood and priestly service with the eternal High Priesthood of Jesus. The writer then examined the earthly Tabernacle and Temple built by human hands under the direction of God given through Moses, which served as a temporary model of the eternal Heavenly Sanctuary not built by hands established by God before time began. Then the writer looked at the ceremonies and animal sacrifices under the Mosaic Law, which were powerless to cleanse mankind of our sins but served only to point up our need for our Savior – Jesus – who provides the final and eternal redemption from sin we need, by His own sacrifice of His own life on the cross. Now, before moving on the writer briefly considers the New Covenant itself. Whereas God established the Mosaic covenant by inscribing with His own hand the tablets of the Law, and establishing His written statutes through Moses – His chosen scribe, God invokes the New Covenant through His very Spirit by whom He writes His statutes on the tablets of our hearts.
15But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before,Hebrews 10:15-17 – NKJV
16“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,” [Jeremiah 31:31-33] 17then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”[Jeremiah 31:34] 18Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.
Recall that in verse 8, the NKJV translation was somewhat confusing in translating the Greek word ἀνώτερος anōteros which means higher or above into English as “previously” Here in verse 15 though, the Greek word translated a the end of the verse as “before” is προλέγω prolegō. It means to say before and is often used in connection with prophecies of future events as here in Hebrews 10:15. Also, Hebrews 10:5-7 which verse 8 refers back to is either a quotation of an oral teaching by Jesus of which we have no written scripture, or is a very loose quotation from Psalm 40. But the quotation we find in Hebrews 10:16-17 is taken directly from Jeremiah 31:31-34, as noted.
Once again though, we see the danger of becoming so embroiled in the form of the scripture here in Hebrews 10 that we lose sight of the point the Hebrews writer is trying to impart. In order to fully appreciate this passage, we should keep in mind that Hebrews is a letter to Jewish believers in Jesus as their Messiah. Of course, these Messianic Jews would have been very familiar with the passage the writer is quoting from Jeremiah, who prophesied during time of Israel’s captivity in Babylon – an event that is deeply ingrained into the Jewish consciousness just as their bondage in Egypt and God’s miraculous deliverance from it are. The specific context of Jeremiah 31 is the prophet’s encouragement to the people concerning their eventual redemption from the Babylonian captivity and restoration to the land of promise. By hearkening back to Jeremiah’s prophecy of Israel’s redemption, the Hebrews writer strikes a chord deeply within the hearts of all Christian believers. The redemption and restoration the prophet spoke of were pictures of the redemption of mankind from sin and our restoration into fellowship with God, purchased for all believers through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
Up to this point, we have seen that the letter to the Hebrews has really been the writer’s gospel apologetic to his selected audience – the Messianic Jewish congregation(s) to whom the letter was addressed. That the letter was intended for a Jewish audience is apparent from its contents despite its lack of a formal greeting such as those found in the other epistles of the New Testament. Recall that the author began the letter with a plain declaration of the deity of Jesus, and went on to encourage his readers not to harden their hearts to the Gospel when we hear God’s calling to us. Then, over the next several chapters, the Hebrews writer carefully and thoroughly compared and contrasted the Mosaic covenant under the Old Testament Law – in which his Hebrew audience had been trained since birth – with the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus brought about through Jesus’ incarnation, sinless life and ministry, death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension. The writer began this comparison by looking at the Levitical priesthood in contrast with the eternal priesthood of our Great High Priest – Jesus. He then moved on to compare the earthly tabernacle and temple with the eternal Heavenly Sanctuary of which the earthly tabernacle and temple were mere models. The writer concluded his apologetic by comparing the animal sacrifices under the Old Testament Law, which were powerless to provide lasting salvation from sin and had to be repeated continually, with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross which provides eternal and perfect salvation from mankind’s sin by the shedding of His own blood and His taking of God’s righteous judgement for sin – death – upon Himself in our place.
The Hebrews writer now turns from his declaration and explanation of the Gospel to exhorting his readers in how we should live our new lives in the LORD Jesus.
19Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22let 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. 23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.Hebrews 10:19-23 – NKJV
Speaking to Nicodemus – the Jewish leader who had come by night to ask Jesus about His Gospel,
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”John 3:3 – NKJV
Many words have been written and spoken since that evening about just exactly what Jesus meant by His answer to Nicodemus. On the one hand, Jesus was surely speaking of the indwelling of His Spirit within our hearts in the moment we first confess with our mouth His lordship over us, and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead. But in another sense, this spiritual rebirth represents the beginning of a new way of life in which the new believer continues from that moment forward. As the Hebrews writer points out here in these verses, this new life is marked by the assurance through the gift of faith that by His sacrifice on the cross Jesus has made the way for us to enter into eternal fellowship with Him, having been cleansed of our sins by the washing of His precious blood, so that we may indeed enter the Heavenly Sanctuary beyond the veil of death that came into the world through mankind’s sin. As we saw in an earlier study, the veil in the tabernacle and later in the temple, which barred the way into the most holy place in which the glory of God descended upon the ark of the covenant, was symbolic of death – the eternal separation from God that mankind brought into creation through our sin. When the veil of the temple in Jerusalem was torn from top to bottom on the afternoon of Jesus’ death on the cross (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23), it was symbolic of Jesus destroying forever by His own death on the cross, the barrier of death that had stood between God and us.
Those of us who have placed our trust in Jesus, have the “full assurance of faith” the writer speaks of in verse 22 that one day we will truly and finally enter into perfect fellowship with Him beyond the veil of death at the time of His own choosing when He calls us to Himself or returns for us in His glory. Yet in another sense, the new life in Christ of which Jesus spoke to Nicodemus is as much a journey as it is a transformation. In His sovereignty, God has chosen to leave us here in this earthly dwelling for His own good purposes and as long as He so chooses. In the meantime, God is working within our hearts by the power of His Spirit dwelling within us, and we in turn serve Him and His coming Kingdom through the spiritual gifts with which He has endowed all of His followers.
24Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.Matthew 16:24-27 – NKJV
We may truly rest assured in our salvation knowing that God has indeed washed us clean of our sins and remembers them no more, thereby removing forever the need for sacrifices for sin, just as He spoke through Jeremiah the prophet, which the Hebrews writer reiterated in Hebrews 10:15-17 above.
“No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”Jeremiah 31:34 – NKJV
Nevertheless, although our evil conscience has been sprinkled with Jesus’ blood as the Hebrews writer says in Hebrews 10:22, so that we may indeed boldly come before the throne of Grace to receive our salvation, the enemy of our souls continues to whisper reminders of our past sins, especially in moments of stress. He does so in the hope of destroying our Gospel witness to others, and the effective exercise of our spiritual gifts from God. We must be continually on guard against this “evil conscience” of which the Hebrews writer speaks, looking instead to scriptural encouragement such as that given by Paul to the Philippians.
12Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.Philippians 3:12-14 – NKJV
Sometimes reaching forward to those things which are ahead isn’t nearly so difficult as forgetting those things which are behind. Jesus – our Great High Priest – who took on humanity for our salvation is well aware of this, and has given us His Spirit by whom He guides and teaches us. As John wrote…
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.1 John 3:2 -NKJV
We can take further encouragement from the knowledge that our sanctification is not something we need to accomplish by our own works or power. It is Jesus who is accomplishing it day-by-day by the power of His Spirit dwelling within us. He has given us His promise of this, and as the Hebrews writer reminds us in Hebrews 10:23, “He who promised is faithful.” As Paul put it, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 1:6b]
In concluding this passage, the Hebrews writer reminds us that we have not only the promise of the Spirit of God dwelling within us, Who is working within our hearts to perfect us into the very image of God’s Son – Jesus, we also have God’s gift of fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not 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.Hebrews 10:24-25 – NKJV
Over the last two millennia, a great deal of evil has been perpetrated in the holy Name of Jesus, by evil people claiming to be Christians. We need not consider too deeply the storied history of the ostensible “christian” church to find revolting examples of evil done in the Name of Christ. One despicable example that springs immediately to my own mind is the so-called “Requerimiento” which was read (in Spanish) to Native Americans by the conquistadors, stating that the crown of Spain had laid claim to the land by the authority of God, and that the Natives were required to bow to the authority of Christ, and His “servants” – the conquistadors. It further stated that any who resisted the new “Christian” order would be killed or enslaved, and that such murder and enslavement were perfectly justified in the Name and authority of Christ. Of course the Crusades to the Holy Land in the Middle Ages, which were ostensibly to reclaim the promised land from the Muslims in the Name of Jesus, were actually adventures of plunder and conquest disguised as evangelism. Interestingly, despite the clear and repeated emphasis in Scripture that God had chosen the descendants of Jacob (Israel) as His special people, the Crusades were as much anti-Semitic as they were anti-Islam. When Martin Luther threatened the power of the Catholic church in Rome by nailing his ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517, it brought about a bloody war throughout Europe in which both sides claimed to be acting in God’s holy Name. Nor does one need to delve into “Christian” history to find people abusing the Name of Jesus for their own monetary gain and consolidation of political power. False healers and teachers abound today within the ostensible “Christian” church just as they have since Christ ascended from the Mount of Olives nearly two thousand years ago.
Knowing these things, I deeply distrusted the so-called “organized church” in any form. I was completely unable to discern the difference between true Christian believers, and those who confess His Name but don’t believe in His resurrection within the depths of their hearts. Consequently, when I first believed the Gospel of Jesus in my early twenties, I was reticent to involve myself in any sort of organized church. Praise God that He did not leave me in this miserable state – straddling the fence between outright unbelief and true Christianity. It took Him a quarter of a century of patiently whispering His truth into my heart before He could finally draw me into true fellowship with Him and with my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and thus begin to mold me into a faithful Christ follower, and not a mere believer.
The Word of God is clear that God uses the true Church to spread His Gospel, and to nurture His followers. The word “church” was first used by Jesus, speaking to His disciples at Caesarea Philippi.
13When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”Matthew 16:13-18 – NKJV
14So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
Much has been made of this statement of Jesus regarding Peter, with the Catholic church even asserting that Peter became the first “pope” who established the Catholic church as the only “true” church. I do not intend to enter into that debate at all except to say that I personally believe (in admitted abject ignorance of Greek grammar, and in the complete absence of the original Aramaic words of Jesus which were translated into Greek by Matthew) that the “rock” Jesus spoke of upon which He would build His church, wasn’t Peter himself, but Peter’s faith in Jesus as the Messiah (Hebrew – מָשִׁיחַ mashiyach meaining anointed) of Israel (Greek – Χριστός Christos meaning annointed). All of that discussion aside though, for our purposes in this Hebrews study, the key aspect of this passage is Jesus’ use of the word “church” – Greek ἐκκλησία ekklēsia meaning a gathering of people or an assembly. Notice that the word has nothing to do with the building or venue in which such a gathering takes place, but rather, the church is the gathering itself – the group of people who gather. This is significant. Furthermore, the church of Jesus is a gathering of people who come together in His Name for a united purpose – the fulfillment of His Great Commission to make Christian disciples among all the nations. Thus the only “true” Christian church is the so-called universal Church of all believers worldwide.
How are we to recognize our fellow members of this universal Church? Jesus gave the succinct answer to that essential question, speaking to His disciples at the Passover meal on the night of His betrayal.
34A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:34-35 – NKJV
Clearly then, Christian believers may recognize each other by the love shown to one another. Not only that, we are called to encourage, nurture, disciple, and above all to love our brothers and sisters in Christ.
4For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. 6Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.Romans 12:4-13 – NKJV
9Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
9And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. 10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.Galatians 6:9-10 – NKJV
Before we leave this passage in Hebrews, we need to consider “the Day” to which the writer refers in Hebrews 10:25. This is of course in reference to the imminent return of our LORD for which Christian believers have longed and patiently waited since His ascension to Heaven. On the day He returned to His Father, two angels appeared to His disciples.
Acts 1:10-11 – NKJV
10And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
Ever since that day, Christian believers have anxiously awaited Jesus’ return. Some have foolishly predicted the time of His reappearing despite Jesus’ own warning to the contrary.
26Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 27And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.Mark 13:26-32 – NKJV
28“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors! 30Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
32“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.
Next time we will continue to examine the Hebrew’s writer’s exhortation for us to continue in our faith as he builds his letter up to the amazing so-called “Hall of Faith” in chapter 11, through which we will be given a brief review of the history of Israel – God’s chosen people.