The author of Hebrews has gone to great lengths to persuade his audience that Jesus is a great high priest who is superior to the Levitical priesthood. And that he has offered a superior sacrifice than what the Levitical priesthood could. The sacrifice of himself. A sacrifice that does take away our sin and brings us into a relationship with God. Now he begins to look more fully at the response we should make to this sacrifice that Jesus has made for us. And included in this is his call to persevere, regardless of the challenges you face. Don’t give up.
Confidence to Enter
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since 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,Hebrews 10:19-20 NIV
The imagery for these verses comes directly from the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement as described in Leviticus 16. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would take the blood of a sacrifice through the separating curtain and into the Most Holy Place, offering it there to God. But Jesus, as our great high priest, has now done that for us, offering his own blood rather than the blood of a sacrificial animal.
And, because he has done that, we can have the confidence to follow Jesus into the presence of God. He has opened the way for us into God’s presence. Not through the dividing curtain that guarded the Most Holy Place in the temple. But through the curtain of his body. Jesus is the way to the Father. And all who come to the Father must come through him (John 14:6).
Drawing Near with Full Assurance
and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.Hebrews 10:21-22 NIV
We often use the term “house of God” to refer to the building that a church meets in. But that is not how that expression is used here. Instead, it is synonymous with the people of God, those who belong to him. In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul used it like this when he referred to “God’s household, which is the church of the living God.“
We, who are members of God’s house, have a great high priest. Jesus, as our high priest, has offered the sacrifice that can truly cleanse us of our sin. And because of that, we can have confidence in approaching God. As we approach God, it should be with sincere hearts. Hearts that are devoted to him. And we should approach God in faith. Having the assurance that he will receive us as we come to him.
While this certainly applies to our initial salvation, I believe it is much more than that. We should be continually coming before God, dwelling in his presence. And that should be with sincere hearts and the full assurance that comes from faith in the completed work of Jesus.
Sprinkling and Washing
This passage continues to make liberal use of Old Testament imagery. When a person was unclean, they could not approach God regardless of the reason. Only when their defilement was removed, the blood of a sacrifice sprinkled on them, and their bodies washed would they be declared clean.
But we have been sprinkled with the blood of Christ. Not on our physical bodies. But our hearts, the inner person. And that sprinkling has cleansed us from our sin and the guilty conscience that comes with it. And we have been washed and made clean. Baptism might be thought to picture this. But the washing that makes us clean is what Jesus does to us, not physical water.
Hold Unswervingly to Your Hope
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.Hebrews 10:23 NIV
The last few verses have been about the hope that we profess. The hope that we do have a great high priest who has entered into heaven on our behalf. And because of that, we have the confidence to draw near to God. And our hope extends beyond this life and into eternity. Since we have that hope, we need to hold firmly to it. We should allow nothing to draw us away from the great hope we have in Christ.
We have the promise God made to Abraham. A promise made with an oath. And the oath concerning Jesus’ eternal priesthood. And we can depend on them because God is faithful. What he promises, he will do.
Spur One Another On
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV
This idea of spurring one another on is an interesting one. It is reminiscent of spurring a horse to get it to move forward. And we all need that periodically. It is easy to become stagnant in our faith and practice. We each need someone with a cattle prod handy who will give us a gentle jolt occasionally, helping us to go forward in our faith. Specifically in acts of love and good deeds.
This encouragement is important in the best of times. But how much more so when faced with challenges and the temptation to turn our attention to what seems like more pressing matters. When it looks like the end is coming, that is a perfect time to encourage other believers around you. Encourage them to love and to demonstrate that love in what they do.
Continue Meeting Together
Even in the first decades after the church was formed, some believers chose not to meet together with their local community of believers. And that is just as true for us today. Even before COVID, there were those who felt no need to be a part of a local church. And COVID has only amplified that.
But we do need each other. It is crucial for us to be a part of a community of believers. We are called, not to be lone rangers, but members of the body of Christ. Together, we can encourage one another and grow together. But apart from a community of believers, that is exceedingly difficult.
The Consequences of Deliberate Sin
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.Hebrews 10:26-31 NIV
The author of Hebrews issues a warning here. And it is a warning to those who have received the knowledge of the truth. Who are those who have received this knowledge? He includes himself in this group, so it would seem to be believers. And, if that is the case, acquiring this knowledge of the truth would indicate more than mere head knowledge. Receiving this knowledge likely means incorporating it into your life. And knowledge of the truth would be what he had been talking about for the previous nine and a half chapters—the truth about Jesus. So the author’s warning here is to those who have come to faith in Jesus.
He is warning them here against deliberate sin. And likely not just a single instance. Rather an ongoing act of rebellion against the Lord. This is what kept Israel from entering into God’s rest, as discussed in chapter 3. They were not kept from entering Canaan because of a single act of disobedience, although turning back to Egypt was the final straw. But it was an ongoing rebellion, repeated over and over again, that led to disaster for them.
No Sacrifice for Sin
For the believer who has been cleansed by the blood of Jesus and then falls back into deliberate rebellion, there is no further sacrifice available. This is a similar warning as to what was given in Hebrews 6:4-12. There is no recovery for the believer who consciously and deliberately turns their back on Christ and walks away from the faith. There is no additional sacrifice that can be made for them.
Instead, they will be treated as enemies of God. What awaits them is judgment and a raging fire that consumes.
A Most Severe Punishment
The old covenant and its associated law punished disobedience without mercy. And depending on the severity of the transgression, it could end in death. If the punishment for disobeying the law was so severe, how much more for one who has trampled on the Son of God and the blood that he shed for us. As well as insulting the Spirit of grace, the Holy Spirit who indwells and guides the believer.
The punishment awaiting the believer who has turned his back on Christ and returned to their former way of life will be severe. And I think it is safe to say that their punishment will be greater than for the person who had not turned to Christ in the first place. Luke 12:47-48 tells us that punishment will be based, at least to some extent, on what we know. So, the one who has known Christ and then rejected him will be punished more severely than those who never knew him.
The Lord Will Judge
In Deuteronomy 32:35, God tells Israel that he will avenge and repay their enemies. That God himself will fight against those who stand against his people. And in the following verse, he says that he will vindicate, or punish, his people. The first of these quotations is directed against his enemies, while the second concerns God’s people. But the author of Hebrews here uses them to show that God is the ultimate judge.
Paul, in Romans 14:10, said that “we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” For those who belong to Christ, that time will be nothing to fear. For the unbeliever, it will be a time for judgment and punishment. But how much more terrible will it be for the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God and turned back to the former way of life. They will have no excuse for what they have done and will pay the ultimate price.
Remember Your Earlier Days
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.Hebrews 10:32-35 NIV
After his warning about falling away, the author reminds them of their earlier days in the faith. It is clear that the author was very familiar with his audience. And he may well have experienced some of these things himself while he was with them. But that cannot be certain.
A Great Conflict of Suffering
The earliest days of their faith journey were difficult ones. Many of them had suffered physical or emotional abuse at the hands of those around them. If this is the Jewish audience I believe it to be, then what they suffered was no different than what the early church experienced in Jerusalem, especially in the aftermath of Stephen’s martyrdom. As well as what we see happening to Paul in many of the places he went. Sometimes his suffering was at the hands of Gentiles. But the Jews seemed to be his most prominent opponents.
And, I suppose, that is to be expected. The Jewish believers were a threat to the faith long practiced by the other Jews. They were proclaiming that the long-awaited Messiah had come, although not in the way they were hoping for. And the believer’s proclamation of Jesus as Messiah and his kingdom was hardly compatible with what they had grown up believing.
In addition to insult and generic persecution, many believers had been thrown into prison. And others had lost their property. Being a believer had been costly for them in the beginning. That the author is reminding his hearers of this would seem to indicate that wave of persecution had passed, although it was likely never very far away.
While not all of them had suffered themselves, they did know those who had. And they had stood by them during their suffering. They were comforting those who suffered. They came to the aid of those who had lost everything. And they had cared for those who had been thrown into prison. They had been faithful to the Lord in those days, being like the sheep in Matthew 25:31-46.
At least a part of what enabled them to endure all of this was the knowledge that they had something much better awaiting them. And they were encouraged to remember that. To not turn back now. Their faithfulness would be richly rewarded if they continued to stand firm.
Don’t Shrink Back
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For,Hebrews 10:36-39 NIV
“In just a little while,
he who is coming will come
and will not delay.”
“But my righteous one will live by faith.
And I take no pleasure
in the one who shrinks back.”
But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.
The author here quotes Habakkuk 2:3-4 as a final encouragement to remain faithful. The Lord is coming soon. Nearly 2000 years later, we are still waiting. But that should still be our mindset. He is coming soon. While we wait, live by faith and experience his salvation. Do not turn back and face destruction.
- Hebrews: An Introduction
- Hebrews: The Supremacy of Christ (1:1-4)
- Hebrews: Superior to the Angels (1:5-14)
- Hebrews: A Warning to Pay Attention (2:1-4)
- Hebrews: We See Jesus, Crowned with Glory (2:5-9)
- Hebrews: Made Perfect Through Suffering (2:10-13)
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Fully Human in Every Way (2:14-18)
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Greater Than Moses (3:1-6)
- Hebrews: Failure to Enter God’s Rest (3:7-19)
- Hebrews: Enter God’s Rest (4:1-11)
- Hebrews: the Active Word of God (4:12-13)
- Hebrews: Our Great High Priest (4:14-16)
- Hebrews: Obedience Learned Through Suffering (5:1-10)
- Hebrews: Move Beyond Elementary Teachings (5:11-6:3)
- Hebrews: A Most Explicit Warning (6:4-12)
- Hebrews: An Anchor of Hope for the Soul (6:13-20)
- Hebrews: The Priesthood of Melchizedek (7:1-10)
- Hebrews: A New Priesthood (7:11-28)
- Hebrews: We Do Have Such a High Priest (8:1-6)
- Hebrews: A New Covenant (8:7-13)
- Hebrews: Worship in the Tabernacle (9:1-10)
- Hebrews: The Blood of the New Covenant (9:11-15)
- Hebrews: Entering the Heavenly Sanctuary (9:16-28)
- Hebrews: One Sacrifice for All Time (10:1-18)
- Hebrews: Enter the Most Holy Place (10:19-39)
- Hebrews: The Role Call of Faith (11:1-31)