Thus far, the author has stated several times that the Levitical system was insufficient to deal with man’s real problem: sin. Neither the Levitical priesthood or the Law could make man perfect (Hebrews 7.11,19) and while the blood of bulls and goats could “sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh” (Hebrews 9.13), they could not “make the worshiper perfect in conscience” (Hebrews 9.9). However, the blood of Christ has the power to “cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9.14). In Hebrews 10.1-18 the author gives a more detailed explanation of why the Levitical system could not make perfect, but Christ can.
Why The Law Could Not Take Away Sins (Hebrews 10.1-4,11)
The author does not mince words in this section as he points out the insufficiency of the Levitical system. First, he states that the Law is “only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form…” (vs. 1). The author had previously stated that the tabernacle was merely copy of the true dwelling of God (see Hebrews 8.3-5; 9.23-26) and now he states that the Law itself is only a foreshadowing of what was to come. But his strongest language is used in regards to the sacrificial system of the Levitical law:
- Those sacrifices “can never… make perfect” (vs. 1).
- “It is impossible” for those sacrifices “to take away sins” (vs. 4).
- Those sacrifices “can never take away sins” (vs. 11).
But what proof does the author offer for stating that the Levitical sacrifices so deficient? The fact that the worshipers still had a consciousness of their sins (vs. 2)! The fact that the same sacrifices had to be offered “continually year by year” (vs. 1), that the priests stood “daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices” (vs. 11) meant that those sacrifices contained “a reminder of sins year by year” (vs. 3). Remember, the Levitical sacrifices could only cleanse the flesh (9.13) but not the conscience (9.9). “The Day of Atonement was designated as a day for fasting (Lev 23:26–32) and the confession of sins (Lev 16:20–22). The elaborate ritual was intended to accentuate a consciousness of sins. The solemn entrance of the high priest into the Most Holy Place dramatized the fact that sin separates the congregation from God. From this perspective, the sacrifices really provided ἀνάμνησις ἁμαρτιῶν, “a reminder of sins,” which brought to the consciousness of the worshipers the reality of their sins as an obstacle to fellowship with God.” (William Lane, Word Biblical Commentary)
Sanctification Is Found In Christ (Hebrews 10.5-10 ,12-14)
It was “impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (vs. 4) because consciousness of sins remained in those sacrifices. So, what made Christ’s sacrifice so much better and able to sanctify? In short, it was His devotion!
The section opens with a quotation from Psalm 40.6-8. Two things stand out from the passage:
- A “body” was prepared for the Messiah (vs. 5). It was this “body” that was offered” (vs. 10). This sacrificial “body” was superior to the sacrificial offerings of the Law.
- The Messiah came not to make offerings, but “to do your will, O God” (vs. 7). God repeatedly stated that what He desired was the obedient hearts of His people (see 1Samuel 15.22; Psalm 51.16-17; Isaiah 66.2-4; Jeremiah 7.21-24; Hosea 6.6; etc.). And that is exactly what Jesus did, completely submitting to the Father’s will by offering His body (vss. 9-10; cf. Matthew 26.39). Furthermore, His submitting completely to the will of God is what fulfilled the first covenant and established the second (vs. 9)… a covenant that offers real sanctification because of the superiority of the sacrifice (vs. 10). “These are not complementary systems that may exist side by side. The one excludes the other. No compromise is possible between them.” (Leon Morris, Expositors Bible Commentary)
In vss. 11-14 the author brings our attention back to the priesthood, showing by contrast just how much superior Jesus’ work is to that of the Levitical system:
- They “stand daily” (vs. 11), but He “sat down at the right hand of God” (vs. 12).
- They offer the same sacrifices daily (vs. 11), but He offered “one sacrifice… for all time” (vs. 12).
- Their sacrifices “can never take away sins” (vs. 11), but His sacrifice was “for sins”(vs. 12) and has thus “perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (vs. 14).
- Furthermore, Christ now awaits the time when all of His enemies will be subjugated (vs. 13). “The session at the right hand puts Christ in a position where he may provide assistance to his people without having to offer sacrifices. The allusion to Ps 110:1 in vv 12–13 insists on the established firmness of his position. For the future he has only to wait for the complete subjugation of every power that resists the gracious redemptive purposes of God. Jesus’ place in the presence of God enables him to exercise in heaven the ministry of the new covenant. This is the basis of the assurance extended to the community that they possess now full access to God.” (William Lane, Word Biblical Commentary)
The Law Is No Longer Needed (Hebrews 10.15-18)
The author then returns to God’s promise of the new and better covenant which He made in Jeremiah 31.31-34. This quotation was given in full in Hebrews 8.7-12, but now the author uses a smaller portion to establish one point: now that sins are forgiven, no other offerings are needed (vs. 18). This takes us back to the how the author began the section, stating that the Law was “only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things” (vs. 1). Now that real sanctification is available through the sacrifice of Christ’s body (vss. 9,14), the sacrifices of the shadow system are not needed… they accomplish nothing. A better sacrifice has been made; sanctification is ours in the better covenant.
Leave a Reply