This lesson is a continuation of verses 1-25 of Hebrews chapter 10. Chapter 10 reminded us that the new covenant has come with Jesus who came to do God’s will. Therefore, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus and we have a great priest over the house of God. Because of these great blessings we have, we were commanded to draw near with a sincere heart sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. We were commanded to hold fast to the hope we confess because God who promised these things is faithful and trustworthy. Finally, we were commanded to think about how to spur love and good works in one another, not forsaking our meetings together. Now we will continue with the exhortation.
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, (ESV)
This begins the section of warning. Consider the following translations to help understand the picture:
For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth (NRSV)
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth (TNIV; NET)
Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth (NLT)
The writer of Hebrews is not saying that if you commit one sin, you have fallen from grace, are completely out of God’s favor, and are eternally lost. So what are we talking about? Most of the translations help us understand by using the word “deliberately.” He is issuing a warning to those who deliberately keeping on choosing to sin in their lives. As the NRSV reads, they choose to persist in sin. If we make that choice to keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge about what Jesus has done for us, here are the consequences.
…there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (ESV)
We must not think that we have the atoning blood of Jesus operating on our behalf when we stop seeking after God, but choose to turn to sin. A sacrifice for sins no longer remains when we willfully persist in sin. The book of Hebrews has been all about the good news about Jesus who has made purification for sins and sat down at the right hand of God. We have been told about the superior sacrifice for sins that Jesus offered through his body. Rather than expecting the perfect sacrifice for sins, we can expect something else — judgment. But this is not good judgment. This is the fearful expectation of judgment. The HCSB and NASB read a “terrifying expectation of judgment.” The penalty for our sins is no longer paid by Jesus, but is paid by us. In this judgment we can expect a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. The phrase “fury of fire” is probably the best way to understand this text. The Greek word translated into English as “fury” is a word that is commonly translated “zeal” throughout the New Testament. The fury, wrath, and zeal of God is going to be poured out against us. When that happens, the adversaries of God are consumed. Now the writer of Hebrews knows that we are not fully comprehending how severe this judgment is against us. The writer knows that this information is not enough to sink into our hearts so as to change our ways. So he amplifies this picture.
28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (10:28-29; ESV)
The writer of Hebrews asks a question. What happens when a person under the law of Moses set aside the law? What happened to those who rejected the law of Moses and refused to obey? The person died without mercy. There was no mercy to be obtained. There was no pardon. There was no forgiveness. There was no sacrifice for sins. The law demanded that the person who rejected the law was to be put to death.
Now, notice verse 29. “How much worse punishment will be deserved….” There is a worse punishment to be executed now. This is an argument from the lesser to the greater. If a person died without mercy for rejecting the law of Moses, how much worse do you think it will be if we set aside the law of Christ? Of course it will be far worse.
I would like for us to notice how God perceives our choosing to persist in sin. It is described as trampling the Son of God (or some translations “spurning the Son of God”), regarding the blood of covenant that makes us holy as common and unholy, and has outraged and insulted the Spirit of grace. We need to see the severity of what we are doing. “Since God provided an offering and that offering is disdained or repudiated, there is nothing more that God can, or will, do” (NLT Cornerstone Biblical Commentary). Why would we think that there remains any relationship with God? We have rejected God’s law and God sees this as trampling the Son of God, treating the blood of the covenant as unholy and common, and saying that the words of grace given by the Holy Spirit are nothing.
The Certainty of God’s Punishment
For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:30-31; ESV)
Therefore, God’s punishment toward someone who makes such a decision to turn away from God is certain. These quotations come from Deuteronomy 32:35-36. Moses said those words in his song just before his death as a reminder to the people concerning their obedience to the law. I think we carry the thought of this text through. Since “Vengeance is mine; I will repay” and “The Lord will judge his people” are statements about disobedience under the law of Moses, then this is certainly true, and more so, for the law of Christ. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. We ought to be terrified at the thought of rejecting God by continuing to persist in sin.
A Reminder To Continue (32-39)
32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (ESV)
The writer of Hebrews wraps up his warning by reminding his readers about how they endured in their past and their need to continue to endure. The writer reminds them of all they endured after they had come to the knowledge of the truth. They endured a hard struggle with sufferings. Sometimes they were being exposed to public mocking and afflictions. They were even willing to stand side by side with those who endured such hostility. They showed compassion on those who were imprisoned. They accepted the robbery of their property. In the face of all of these problems and suffering, they were able to endure because they knew they had a better possession and everlasting possession.
When we know that we have a better and lasting possession, we are not paralyzed by loss. We will not break and our faith thrown when we lose something. But notice, it is not that these Christians were not just paralyzed. They rejoiced at their loss. The possession we have is so much better and so long lasting that if we have things and lose it, it is okay. Our reward is so great that WE CAN ENDURE ANYTHING!
Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. Look at what you have already endured! Do not give up now! Don’t throw away the confidence that you have, which got you through previously, now that difficult times have returned. We have need of endurance. We need to build our faith and make ourselves spiritually strong in the Lord because we will endure life difficulties. Keep doing the will of God during these times of suffering because when you have done God’s will, you will receive the promised reward.
The writer takes two texts and quotes them together. The first part of the quotation comes from Isaiah 26:20, while the majority of the quotation comes from Habakkuk 2:3-4. The righteous live by faith. We are not putting our trust and confidence in the things of this world. Our faith is not supposed to be found in the physical, material things. If it is, then when we suffer tragedy and suffer loss, we will shrink back and give up. However, God has no pleasure in those who give up. Notice that verse 39 emphasizes that very point:
We are not those who shrink back and are destroyed. We will not be those people who make the mistake of giving up on God. We will not be the ones who reject the law of God. We will not be the people who lose heart and lose their faith. We are those who have faith and we will preserve ourselves through that faith. There are only two possibilities for us. Either we will shrink back under the weight of life’s difficulties and be destroyed or we will have endurance, place our faith in God, and preserve ourselves before the fury of fire. Don’t turn to the things of the world for your comfort. Do not turn away from God. Do not listen to the lies of Satan. A life in God is better than possessions, better than sex, and better than power. Jesus did not have possessions, did not have sex, and did not use the power of divinity that was within him. His life fulfillment was in the kingdom of God. We are in a world that thinks that we cannot do without these things. Yet true satisfaction comes from God not from physical, temporary things.