The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Hebrews 10:1
The Mosaic Law refers to the laws God gave Moses on Mount Sinai after releasing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. They include the Ten Commandments, ordinances for living in society, and regulations for worship (requirements for priests, sacrifices, feasts, and the temple).
The sacrifices that were offered were only able to temporarily cover sin. The law revealed the numerous ways humans fail to live up to God’s standard and humanity’s need for a savior.
Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10: 2-4
It was 3,500 years ago, 1,500 before Christ when God instructed Moses to build the tabernacle. The Tabernacle (Hebrew: מִשְׁכַּן, mishkan, “residence” or “dwelling place”), was the portable earthly dwelling place of God amongst the children of Israel from the time of the Exodus from Egypt through the conquering of the land of Canaan. The First Temple was built in 957 BC by King Solomon as the sole place of Israelite sacrifice. The Temple replaced the Tabernacle constructed in the Sinai Desert. The Second Temple was authorized by Cyrus the Great and began in 538 BC, after the fall of the Babylonian Empire the year before. It was completed 23 years later. Around 20 BC, the building was renovated and expanded by Herod the Great, and became known as Herod’s Temple.
For a millennium and a half (except during the Babylonian captivity) sacrifices for sin were offered. This purification offering temporarily dealt with disruption in the relationship between the children of Israel and God. If the sacrifices offered were able to permanently cleanse the worshippers, they would have ceased to be offered.
On Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), there were sacrifices made corporately for the nation of Israel as a whole. This most sacred and solemn annual event served as a reminder for both the nation and the individual of their sins that only could temporarily be covered, but not taken away by the blood of animal sacrifices.
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’” Hebrews 10:5-7
What was written in the scroll concerning the coming Messiah is found in Psalm 40:6-8. This quote from David’s prophetic psalm is reminiscent of the words of Samuel to Saul (1 Samuel 15:22): “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying (literally, hearkening to) the LORD? To obey (literally, to hear) is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Hebrews 10:8
Why were sacrifices offered up according to the Mosaic Law not pleasing to the LORD? First of all, obedience is better than sacrifice. If the Israelites were capable of perfectly obeying God’s laws, there would be no need to offer up sacrifices in the first place.
The account of Cain and Able serves as an excellent example as to another reason why the LORD may reject (not desire) and be displeased with an offering.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. Genesis 4:2b
Abel was a shepherd while Cain cultivated the soil and became a farmer.
In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Genesis 4:3-5
The phrase, “in the course of time” (marginal note: “at the end of days” or understood as the end of the week) indicates that probably it was on the Sabbath that the two brothers presented their offerings to the LORD.
Some people have suggested that Cain’s offering was unacceptable because he offered plants while Abel offered animal sacrifices. Of course, without blood there is no remission of sin (Hebrews 9:22). While this passage foreshadows salvation by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God and that we cannot be saved by our “works,” I don’t think that necessarily this is the reason that the Cain’s sacrifice was unacceptable. Although the grain offering was a bloodless sacrifice, God not only accepted grain offerings when the sacrificial system was instituted but in some cases required them. In fact there was a time in Israel’s history that because of the rebellious attitude of the people that animal sacrifices were meaningless in the eyes of the LORD.
“The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals, I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. Isaiah 1:11
The passage does give us some insight into what made their sacrifices pleasing to the LORD or not. It says that Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn. He not only offered the “firstfruits” of his flock, he also offered the choicest parts. Abel was clearly giving the best of what he had to God. Cain, on the other hand, brought some of the fruits of the soil, and not the firstfruits. The portion he offered may have been damaged or what Cain considered “leftover.” Abel’s and Cain’s actions were a reflection of their attitudes towards God. Was the LORD God worthy to receive their very best offering or not?
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:6-7
When Cain’s sacrifice was rejected by the LORD, he became angry. He looked sad, depressed and dejected. He was obsessed with self. The LORD responded by saying, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” In other words, Cain’s unacceptable offering was a reflection of his unacceptable hard heart. Cain was told what was necessary to be accepted – to do what is right. Cain also was warned that if his anger was not mastered that he would be consumed by it.
Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 10:9-10
The author of the Book of Hebrews first illustrates that the tabernacle, and ordinances of the covenant of Sinai, were only symbols and types of the gospel. Then he concludes that the sacrifices the high priests offered continually could not make the worshippers perfect, could not blot out their sins, nor could their consciences be freed from guilt.
But when God manifested in the flesh, He became the ultimate sacrifice and his death upon the cross the payment for sin. Since the Lamb of God being of infinite worth, His atoning blood was of infinite value. His obedience to the will of the Father made His sacrifice both acceptable and pleasing to God.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10:11-14
Under the Old Covenant, there were continuous, perpetual offerings being made that never were capable of taking away sins. But under the New Covenant, the one-time atoning death of Jesus Christ was able to completely satisfy the sin debt of the sinner, who by grace through faith, has been imputed the righteousness of Christ.
So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. John 19:30
The three English words, “It is finished” are translated from the one Greek word, “Tetelestai.” The word tetelestai was also written on business documents or receipts in New Testament times to show indicating that a bill had been paid in full.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
The payment required for sin is death and when Christ said, “It is finished,” He was saying that the sin debt was “PAID IN FULL!” We owed a debt we could not pay. Jesus paid a debt He did not owe!
After His atoning death, burial, resurrection and ascension, Jesus Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the LORD. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary. Hebrews 10:15-18
Due to the infinite worth of the precious blood of the eternal Son of God being shed on the cross of Calvary, the “sin debt” has been pain in full and the blood sacrifices for sin prescribed in the Law of Moses are no longer necessary.
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, 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 10:19-22
The thick veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies) was torn from top to bottom at the moment Jesus died on the cross.
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split. Matthew 27:50-51
Of all the Israelites, only the High Priest could enter through the veil. He could only enter into the Most Holy Place once a year on the Day of Atonement to come before the divine presence (Shekinah glory) that hovered above the Mercy Seat. But that earthly veil was torn from top to bottom symbolizing that, through the atoning work of Jesus on the cross, all believers have direct access to God through the Son. Jesus is our great high priest who provided a new and living way so that we may draw near to God.
The earthly high priest would come through the veil and take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover and then he sprinkled some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover (Leviticus 16:14). We can draw near to God in confidence with a sincere heart because our hearts (souls) have been sprinkled with the blood of Christ. Our guilty consciences have been cleansed representing our inner purification. Our bodies have been baptized representing both our outer purity and our identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 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 10:23-25
In light of the persecution that the Hebrew Christians were facing, the author of this letter encourages his readers to be steadfast in their faith. The hope of their profession of faith is the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Christ.
God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Numbers 23:19
Believers can be assured that God will perform His word and is faithful to keep His covenant promises.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
Since each member of the body is given spiritual gifts for the common good, and no individual (except for Jesus) has all the gifts of the Spirit, it is essential that believers gather together on a regular basis. The purpose is to study God’s word, pray, worship corporately, and lovingly spur on one another to do the works of ministry each one using their spiritual gifts.
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. Hebrews 10:26-27
People who have heard the gospel have been made aware of the truth that they are sinners and in need of a savior. They have heard of the gracious gift of salvation that is available due to the finished work of Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. They have been offered the forgiveness of their sins and the promise of eternal life.
The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10
The reason that they deliberately continued to keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth is that, although they knew the truth, they refused to love the truth that would save them. By rejecting the atoning sacrifice of Jesus which takes away sins, there is no other sacrifice for sins left but only eternal punishment.
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? Hebrews 10:28-29
“Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses” is a reference is to Deuteronomy 17:2-7. The sin spoken there is that of one “who is found doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God in violation of his covenant, and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky.” The punishment was physical death.
The rhetorical question asked to the Hebrew believers in Jesus the Messiah is, “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 10:30-31
The warning is clear; the punishment is not merely physical death, but separation from God in outer darkness and eternal punishment suffering in unquenchable fire.
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
The believers who had endured through personal insult, persecution, and confiscation of their property are exhorted not to cast away their confidence in eternal life and reward, or to become timid, disheartened, and discouraged.
For this momentary light affliction is working for us a far more exceeding and everlasting weight of glory; 2 Corinthians 4:17
The details of the momentary light affliction the Apostle Paul refers to is found in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27:
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
The reason the Apostle Paul could exhort believers to always rejoice even when he was writing his prison epistles sitting in a dark, damp dungeon is that he had seen the third heaven – the paradise of God. He understood the brevity and difficulties of this life paled in comparison to the exceeding and everlasting weight of glory awaiting believers in Christ. In a similar fashion, the writer of Hebrews tells his readers, “… do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” Hebrews 10:36-37
These believers needed to see endurance as a necessity for persevering in the Christian life. The toughest and most discouraging trials are when we are called to obey God’s will when the fulfillment of His promise seems so far away. This is why we need endurance. Faithfulness during the time when the promise seems unfulfilled is the measure of your obedience and spiritual maturity. This endurance is built through trials, the testing of our faith (James 1:2, 3, 4).
And, “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. Hebrews 10:38-39
The writer now quotes the words of Habakkuk 2:4b, “The righteous will live by faith,” repeated by Paul in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11. The quote from Habakkuk emphasizes that not shrinking back even in persecution equates with saving faith and that the person who has been declared righteous by God lives and will survive the coming ordeal by faith.
Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Matthew 13:5-6
The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Matthew 13:20-21
In the “Parable of the Sower,” the “seed” represents the Word of God. The seed that fell on rocky ground (a stony heart), produced a plant that sprung up quickly but soon withered. When trouble or persecution comes, only a true born-again believer who is rooted and grounded because they have good soil (a softened heart) will not fall away but bear fruit. The Hebrew Christians to whom this letter has been written will not shrink back when faced with persecution because they have saving faith.