Hebrews 10 is a continuation of the ideas presented in chapter 9. One could argue that this is an unfortunate chapter break because the first verse of chapter 10 is connected to the last verse of chapter 9 with the word “for” or “since,” depending upon the translation. Chapter 9 concluded by teaching us that Jesus is going to return. He will save those who are eagerly waiting for him and judgment is certainly coming when Jesus returns.
The Law Was A Shadow (1-4)
The law of Moses was only a shadow of the good things to come. The law of Moses was not the ultimate reality. Since the law of Moses was just a shadow of the coming good things, it can never make perfect those who draw near by the sacrifices that are offered annually. It simply was not the purpose of the law of Moses to perfect the worshipers. The law was looking forward to the good things to come, that is, sacrifices that can bring the forgiveness of sins. If the law of Moses could perfect the worshiper, then the sacrificial system of the law of Moses would have never stopped. But the law of Moses could never make us complete. The law of Moses could not put us in a right relationship once we sinned. The law of Moses could not perfectly cleanse.
Verse 2 tells us that if the law of Moses perfected the people, they would no longer have a consciousness of sin. However, that is not what the law of Moses does. Rather than remove the guilt, the repeated sacrifices reminded the worshipers of the guilt of their sins. “The repetition in sacrifice demonstrates the ongoing grip of sin” (ESV Study Bible). Verse 3 has been often misunderstood. Many have read verse 3 to mean that God kept remembering the sins of the people year after year. I have heard it taught that every year God remembered the sins of the people. That is, that the sacrifice of atonement was made and God forgot their sins until the following year. But this is not at all what the writer of Hebrews is teaching. The writer is not telling us that God remembered the sins. Rather, the worshipers remembered their sins. The worshipers understood that the sacrifice of animals did not take away their sins. The sacrifices reminded them of their sins and did not cleanse their consciences. The writer made this point earlier in Hebrews 9:9 —
“According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper” (Hebrews 9:9; ESV)
Therefore, according to verse 4, the worshipers knew that it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. The law of Moses was a shadow of a coming sacrifice that would take away sins. If the law of Moses could take away sins and cleanse the consciences of the worshipers, then the sacrifices would still be offered. But the sacrifices simply reminded the worshipers of the guilt of their sins and did not take away sins.
One Sacrifice For Sins (5-18)
The writer nows proves the point that sacrifices were insufficient to deal with removing our sins. The illustration comes from Jesus and the quotation of Old Testament scripture. When Jesus came into the world, he said…. Verses 5-7 are a quotation from Psalm 40:6-8. Psalm 40 is a song of salvation and deliverance. Rather than quoting these words and attributing them to David, the writer of Hebrews attributes the words as spoken by Christ. This is a conversation between Christ and Father. When Christ was to come in the flesh, these are the words of the conversation. The Father did not want more animal sacrifices and offerings. The answer was in the body prepared for Christ. The sacrifice of Christ would be the answer for sins. God did not take pleasure in the burnt offerings and sin sacrifices. God took pleasure in the perfect obedience of Jesus. This has always been true concerning God and his desire.
And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22; ESV)
Jesus came to do the will of the Father, something no human had ever accomplished previously and would never accomplish later. Only Jesus was able to completely do the will of the Father. This leads to an important teaching in verses 9-10.
9 Then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (ESV)
Jesus came to do God’s will. What was God’s will? To take away the first covenant and establish a second covenant through which we can have true cleansing. The writer of Hebrews has spent a lengthy amount of time teaching us that Jesus is high priest, which means there must be a new law. Jesus completes God’s will and set aside the first covenant and brings the second covenant, fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy which the writer of Hebrews quoted in Hebrews 8. It is through the second covenant, the sacrifice of Jesus, that we are having sins removed and our consciences cleansed. This second covenant is what makes us holy. This sacrifice has been made once for all and takes care of sins.
By contrast, according to verse 11, the priests served daily, offering repeatedly the same sacrifice which could never take away sins. Jesus offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins. Then he sat down at the right hand of God. A clear contrast is being made. The priests stand daily for service but Jesus sits at the right hand of God. When we look into the earthly tabernacle, one would notice that there were no chairs in it. Priests did not sit down. There was work to be accomplished while in the tabernacle. With Jesus, however, the work has been done. There is no more work left to do. Jesus has sat down at the right hand of God. It is a place of honor and a place of power. What is Jesus doing sitting at the right hand of God? Jesus is waiting. He is waiting from that time until his enemies are put under his feet. Paul makes a similar point in 1 Corinthians 15:25-28,
25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (ESV)
There are enemies still against God. Everything has not yet been put into subjection under him. That is why there is evil in the world. That is why there is suffering. That is why the world is the way that it is. The enemies of God have not yet been brought into subjection yet. That day will come when every knee will bow. But that time is not now and has not arrived yet. But the work of Jesus is complete. So, according to verse 14, by his single offering, Jesus has perfected for all time those who are being made holy. Therefore, the words of Jeremiah’s prophecy have been fulfilled. Forgiveness of sins has come and there is no need for any offerings for sins.
Three Exhortations (19-25)
Allow the words of verse 19 to sink in: Since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus by the new and living way that he opened for us through the veil, that is, through his flesh…. We have the privilege of following Jesus, our trailblazer, into the heavenly tabernacle, into the presence of God. One of the most important things for us to see: the sacrifice of Jesus has opened the way to God. Jesus is our high priest and he has torn the veil so that we can approach God.
- Let us draw near (v. 22). Come to God with a sincere heart. Come to God desiring him. As we come into the presence of God, we are called upon to act faithfully. It took all of that work and foundational teaching by the writer of Hebrews so that we could understand this important teaching. Now we have our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience. The law of Moses could not do this. Our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean. We enter the covenant of Christ and have our consciences cleansed when are bodies are washed in water (baptism). This fits Peter’s teaching all the more: Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21; ESV) We are getting our guilty consciences cleansed through the sacrifice of Jesus.
- Let us hold fast (v. 23). Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise (NLT). This has been the theme of the sermon. Do not give up. Do not fall back. Do not waver. Do not quit. Do not neglect the salvation that you have received.
- Let us consider (v. 24). Finally, we need to think about how we can stir up one another to love and good work. We need to think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. How much time do we spend thinking about ways to motivate each other to do good things? It ought to be something that we actively consider for one another. One of the ways we do this is by taking advantage of every opportunity to meet together so that we can encourage one another.