THE EARTHLY SANCTUARY WAS CLEANSED BY THE BLOOD OF ANIMAL SACRIFICES, BUT ‘THE HEAVENLY THINGS THEMSELVES’ HAD TO BE PURIFIED ‘WITH BETTER SACRIFICES’ (9:23). The verses to which we now come expand and elaborate this statement. The ‘better sacrifices’ refer to Christ’s atoning work; the superiority of this work over the shadows of the old covenant is now spelled out with the help (and on the authority) of Scripture (PS. 40:6-8).
IT IS INSTRUCTIVE THAT HEBREWS DRAWS SO HEAVILY ON OLD TESTAMENT SCRIPTURE TO SUBSTANTIATE ITS ARGUMENTS. THE WRITER IS NEVER CONTENT JUST TO STATE HIS CASE. HE WANTS US TO KNOW THAT HIS EXALTATION OF CHRIST AND HIS REJECTION OF THE OLD COVENANT REST FIRMLY ON THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS THEMSELVES. Thus this chapter and the next form a single unit, but they have been divided to keep each of them to a reasonable length.
A REMINDER OF SIN…
THE WRITER SUMMARIZES HIS CONCLUSIONS TO DATE: ‘FOR THE LAW, HAVING A SHADOW OF THE GOOD THINGS TO COME, AND NOT THE VERY IMAGE OF THE THINGS, CAN NEVER WITH THESE SAME SACRIFICES, WHICH THEY OFFER CONTINUALLY YEAR BY YEAR, MAKE THOSE WHO APPROACH PERFECT’ (10:1). These things have all been said before. The law is a shadow of heavenly things (8:5), whereas the new covenant brings ‘good things to come’ (9:11). the sacrifices of the law, though offered frequently, cannot make men ‘perfect’ in the sight of God (9:9). But the Writer is not afraid of repetition, for it a powerful means of driving home the truth. It also demonstrates the consistency of his argument throughout this long epistle.
NEITHER SHOULD WE FEAR TO REPEAT OURSELVES WHEN WE TEACH AND PREACH THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST. WHILE WE MUST ALWAYS STRIVE FOR FRESHNESS IN PRESENTING THE GOSPEL. THE BASIC TRUTHS REMAIN UNCHANGED. Freshness should never be confused with novelty which, in striving to interest the hearers, introduces doctrines and methods that have no scriptural warrant. Like Paul, we must be willing to ‘know nothing… except Jesus Christ and Him crucified”, for we shall never exhaust ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’ (1 Cor. 2:2, Eph. 3-8).
THE USE OF THE WORD ‘SHADOW’ IS SIGNIFICANT. KISTEMAKER SAYS, ‘WHAT THE WRITER ACTUALLY MEANS IS THIS: THESE (HEAVENLY) REALTIEIS BASK IN THE HEAVENLY LIGHT AND CAST A SHADOW UPON PRACTICES STIPULATED BY OLD TESTAMENT LAW’. Perhaps we can make it even more specific. Just as a solid object casts an insubstantial shadow, so the new covenant consisting of ‘good things to come’ projects a shadow backwards in time. The result? The old covenant itself!
LOOKED AT IN THIS WAY, THE NEW COVENANT IS THE SOLID ETERNAL REALITY AND THE OLD COVENANT IS THE SHADOW THAT IT CASTS. TAKE AWAY THE NEW AND THE OLD WOULD DISAPPEAR, JUST AS A SHADOW VANISHES IF THE SOLID OBJECT IS REMOVED. BECAUSE IN TIME, THE OLD COVENANT CAME BEFORE THE NEW (THOUGH NOT BEFORE THE PROMISE), WE TEND TO THINK OF IT AS HAVING SUBSTANCE IN ITSELF. Like the Hebrews, we may even give it precedence over the new. But this is an illusion. The Mosaic ‘shadow-covenant’ only existed because the new ‘substance-covenant’ was already in place (though ‘not made known’ until the appointed time – Eph. 3:3-5).
ONE CONSEQUENCE OF THIS IS, OF COURSE, THAT THE OLD COVENANT SACRIFICES WERE INEFFECTUAL. IF THEY COULD HAVE MADE MEN PERFECT, ‘WOULD THEY NOT HAVE CEASED TO BE OFFERED?’ ASKS THE WRITER. Of course, ‘for the worshippers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins’ (10:2). That is, they would have no remaining sense of guilt or defilement. Delitzsch declares, ‘The incapacity of the sacrifices of the day of atonement to perfect the worshippers is…proved…simply by the fact of their perpetual repetition.’
THE WRITER’S LOGIC IS IMPECCABLE, BUT WE SHOULD NOT MISS THE IMPLICATION. AFTER ALL, IT COULD BE ARGUED THAT THE ANIMAL SACRIFICES DID MAKE MEN ‘PERFECT’ AS REGARDS THEIR PAST SIN BUT HAD TO BE REPEATED BECAUSE THERE WERE ALWAYS NEW SINS TO DEAL WITH. But this is inadmissible. The Writer’s argument only makes sense if a perfect atonement is one that cleanses from all sins, past, present and future – one that deals with our sinfulness rather than our sins and requires no repetition.
CHRIST’S ATONING DEATH IS JUST SUCH AN OFFERING FOR, SAYS THE WRITER, IT CLEANSES US FROM THE VERY ‘CONSCIOUSNESS OF SINS’. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT BELIEVERS ARE NO LONGER AWARE OF ANY SINFUL BEHAVIOUR, FOR ‘IF WE SAY THAT WE HAVE NO SIN, WE DECEIVE OURSELVES’ (1 John 1:8). But it does mean that sin does not linger on the conscience of those who look to Jesus for cleansing, for ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9). the term ‘consciousness of sin’, says Lane, ‘connotes the Hebrew sense of a burdened, smitten heart, which became most pronounced on the day of atonement when it was necessary to confront the holiness of God’.
THE OLD COVENANT OFFERED NO RELIEF, SINCE ‘IN THOSE SACRIFICES THERE IS (NOT A REMOVAL OF SINE BUT RATHER) A REMINDER OF SINS EVERY YEAR. FOR IT IS NOT POSSIBLE THAT THE BLOOD OF BULLS AND GOATS COULD TAKE AWAY SINS’ (10:3-4). Sacrifices were offered in the tabernacle daily, of course, but the reference here is, once again, to the Day of Atonement. The epistle concentrates on this annual rite because it most perfectly pictures the work of Christ as our great High Priest.
THE ANNUAL REPETITION OF THE SACRIFICES ARGUES THE WRITER, IN NO WAY REMOVED – WHETHER IN RESPECT OF HIS GUILT OR ITS POWER. On the contrary, it exacerbated the problem of sin by reminding the people of their sinful condition.
THIS WAS (AND REMAINS) THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW; FOR ‘IT WAS ADDED’, DECLARES PAUL, ‘BECAUSE OF TRANSGRESSIONS, TILL THE SEED (I.E., CHRIST) SHOULD COME’ (GAL.3:19). Therefore, he concludes, ‘…the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor’ (Gal. 3:24-25). Ang aga, ‘… by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin’ (Rom. 3:20). Hebrews demonstrates that this oft-quoted statement applies not only to the moral aspect of the law, but also to its ceremonial aspects. The law in its entirety is designed to expose sin and point us to Christ as the only remedy. – Andrews
Professor Thomas A. Rohm