FINALLY, THE WRITER DRAWS HIS CONCLUSION: ‘NOW WHERE THERE IS REMISSION OF THESE, THERE IS NO LONGER AN OFFERING FOR SIN’ (10:18). this can be viewed in two complementary ways. On the one hand, it tells us that Christ’s saving work, and the remission of our sins, is complete and final. since Christ will not die again (‘there is no longer an offering’) the deliverance of the believer from sin must, of necessity be total and absolute. Our sins, past, present, and future, have been forgiven for eternity. We have been delivered from the power of sin and death, and set apart (sanctified) for the praise of the glory of God (Eph. 1:6-7). All this is an accomplished fact, for Christ ‘became for us …righteousness, sanctification and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30, emphasis added).
ON THE OTHER HAND, WE CAN VIEW IT IN REVERSE. BECAUSE THE ELECT HAVE BEEN PERFECTED FOR EVER, AND THEIR SINS OBLITERATED BY THE DEATH OF CHRIST, THERE IS NO NEED OF ANY FURTHER OFFERING FOR SIN. Meritorious works, religious cleansing rituals, exorcisms, the so-called ‘sacrifice’ of the Roman Catholic Mass, and all similar devices are alike pointless and inadmissible. They are unnecessary for the believer and unavailing for the unbeliever.
SOME FEAR THAT SUCH A COMPLETE EXONERATION OF THE BELIEVER FROM SIN WILL ENCOURAGE LAWLESSNESS, BUT THE REVERSE IS TRUE. How am I, as a follower of Christ, to overcome ‘the sin that (still) dwells in me’? (Rom. 7:20). Let Paul supply the answer: ‘…reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts… present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace’ (Rom. 6:11-14).
AN ENTRY TO THE HOLIEST
HAVING UNVEILED THE TWIN PINNACLES OF HIS MESSAGE – THE NEW COVENANT AND THE ETERNAL PERFECTION OF THE BELIEVER – THE WRITER FEELS IT APPROPRIATE TO SUMMARIZE AND APPLY HIS CONCLUSIONS. These verses are therefore a watershed in the epistle, marking its transition from theology to practice.
THIS IS NOT TO SUGGEST THAT THE FIRST TEN CHAPTERS OF HEBREWS LACK PRACTICAL APPLICATION. An outstanding example is the exhortation in 4:14-16 that we should ‘come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and grace to help in time of need’… Again, in 5:12-6:12, the Writer chides his readers for their immaturity and sounds a solemn alarm against apostasy. Nevertheless, the previous chapters have been predominantly didactic or instructional, setting forth in great detail the doctrine of Christ and the new covenant. Now the time has come to apply these great truths to the life of the believer and the church – by way of warnings, examples and encouragements. In beginning to do so,, the Writer provides a brief but arresting summary of his message. We shall consider this summary in the present chapter and its application in the test.
IN SUMMARISING THE WORK OF REDEMPTION AND THE BENEFITS OF THE NEW COVENANT, THE WRITER HIGHLIGHTS THREE THINGS THAT THE BELIEVER POSSESSES IN CHRIST. The first is boldness, the second is access, and the third is representation. ‘Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, his flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God…’ (10-:9-21). We have boldness in the blood of Christ, access through the life of Christ and representation by the priesthood of Christ. Let us consider these in turn.
IT IS DIFFICULT FOR MODERN READERS TO GRASP THE RADICAL NATURE OF THE FIRST OF THESE DOCUMENTS: ( ‘HAVING BOLDNESS FOR AUTHORIZATION) TO ENTER THE HOLY PLACE. To the first century Jew, the idea that anyone other than the high priest might seek to enter the holiest of all – even in thought or imagination – would be profoundly shocking. As we see in 9:7-8, this awesome privilege was reserved for the high priest, and that but once a year. And even he would have entered fearfully, knowing the fate that awaited any who dared approach the presence of God with less than perfect obedience. How, then, can the Writer claim that all who believe in Christ may enter the inner sanctum boldly, without fear or trepidation? It is one thing to ‘come boldly to the throne of grace’ (4:16), amazing as that is. It is an entirely different matter to enter the presence of one who dwells ‘in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see’ (6:16). Yet, insists the Writer, believers have boldness to do exactly that.
THE SOLUTION TO THIS PARADOX IS THAT WE HAVE ‘BOLDNESS… BY THE BLOOD OF CHRIST’ (10:19). WHEN THE HIGH PRIEST OF OLD ENTERED THE HOLIEST HE DID SO UNDER THE PROTECTION OF THE CHED BLOOD OF ANIMAL SACRIFICES. The law taught him that God accepted their death in place of his own. But even so, since his conscience was not cleansed by these sacrifices, he must have entered with dread, and boldness. There was a further problem. He was only safe as long as he followed perfectly the detailed instructions God had given. How could he be sure that his obedience was perfect?
UNDER THE NEW COVENANT, EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT. FINALLY, THE BELIEVER ENTERS THE HOLIEST – THE PRESENCE OF THE LIVING GOD – NOT ALONE BUT ‘IN CHRIST’. WE ARE ACCEPTED, NOT IN AND OF OURSELVES, BUT ‘IN THE BELIEVED’ (EPH. 1:6). Secondly, and more objectively, we come authorized and protected by the blood of Christ, the eternal Son of God, whose perfect self-offering guarantees our acceptance in a way that animal sacrifices never could. Thirdly, and subjectively, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses our consciences, so that we come before God in the happy awareness of being truly clean in his sight. As we saw in 10:14, we have been ‘perfected for ever’ by the shedding of that blood, and perfection makes us bold. Fourthly, that confidence lives not in our own obedience but in Christ’s perfect conformity to the will of God (10:7). Our boldness, therefore, derives from our understanding of what Christ has achieved for his blood-bought people, and from our faith in the perfection of his offering.
IF THIS IS SO, THEN IT UNDERLINES THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE ATONING AND VICARIOUS DEATH OF CHRIST. TODAY, THAT DOCTRINE IS SELDOM TAUGHT IN ITS FULNESS BUT IS SADLY FUDGED, ROMANTICISED OR COMPROMISED. Yet unless we know, with crystal clarity, what is actually accomplished when Jesus dies and rose again, we cannot come with boldness before a holy God. Let us, then, both understand and teach the glorious doctrine of Christ’s atonement – how he dies for our sins, rose again for our justification, and perfected for ever those whom he has set apart in sovereign, electing grace (Rom. 4:25; Heb. 10:14; 2 Ti,. 1:9).
THE SECOND ELEMENT OF THE WRITER’S SUMMARY IS THAT WE HAVE ACCESS ‘BY A NEW AND LIVING WAY WHICH HE CONSECRATED FOR US, THROUGH THE VEIL, THAT IS, HIS FLESH’ (10-:20). WE LEARN HERE THAT OUR APPROACH IN ‘THE MAJESTY ON HIGH’ IS NOT ONLY THROUGH THE DEATH OF CHRIST, BUT ALSO THROUGH HIS LIFE – ‘BY A NEW AND LIVING WAY’. Owen expounds the significance of the ‘new’ way in the following terms: ‘It is new (1) because it was but newly made and prepared; (2) because it belongs into the new covenant, (3) because it admits of no decays but is always new, as unto its efficacy and use…’
IT IS A NEW WAY, FIRSTLY, BECAUSE IT DIFFERS PROFOUNDLY FROM THE WAY PEOPLE CAME TO GOD UNDER THE OLD COVENANT. THEY CAME TO AN EARTHLY TABERNACLE WITH DEAD AND INEFFECTIVE SACRIFICES (9:11-12). They came through a sinful human intermediary the high priest, who must atone for his own sins before he could account for theirs (9:7; cf. Lev. 16:11, 15). They came with consciences which had not been cleansed, and in their coming were reminded of their sin, not relieved of it (9:14; 10:3-4).
SADLY, THERE ARE MANY TODAY WHOSE COMING TO GOD IS EQUALLY MARRED. THEY TRUST IN EARTH-BOUND INSTITUTIONS, IN THEIR OWN WORKS RATHER THAN CHRIST’S. They rely on human priesthoods, not on his high-priestly office. They know little of the sanctifying work of the Spirit or the cleansing of the conscience by the blood of Christ. Consequently, they know little of that ‘access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God’ (Rom. 5:2).
SECONDLY, WE COME BY A LIVING WAY, FOR Jesus HIMSELF IS ‘THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE. NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH (HIM)’ (JOHN 14”6). WE OFTEN APPLY THESE WORDS TO THE UNSAVED, URGING THEM TO PUT THEIR TRUST IN CHRIST. But the statement applies equally to the believing soul. He does not just show us the way, or open the way – he is the way into communion with the Father. When we approach God we do so in Christ, that is, by virtue of our union with him in his death, resurrection and exaltation. We come also by virtue of his indwelling Spirit (John 17:23; Rom. 6:4-8, Gal. 2:20, Rom. 8:9-11).
THAT HE HAS ‘CONSECRATED’ (OR OPENED) THIS WAY ‘FOR US’ MEANS THAT HE HAS PLEDGED HIMSELF AND UNDERTAKEN TO BE OUR ETERNAL ACCESS TO THE FATHER. ‘HE IS ABLE TO SAVE TO THE UTTERMOST THOSE WHO COME TO GOD THROUGH HIM’, JUST BECAUSE ‘HE EVER LIVES TO MAKE INTERCESSION FOR THEM’ (7:25).
THE NEW AND LIVING WAY HAS BEEN CREATED ‘THROUGH THE VEIL, THAT IS, HIS FLESH’. THE VEIL REFERRED TO HERE IS THE CURTAIN THAT SEPARATED THE MOST HOLY PLACE – AND THE SHEKINAH GLORY – FROM THE REMAINDER OF THE TABERNACLE. Anyone entering the holiest-of-all must, of course, pass through the curtain. It was this same veil (albeit in the temple of Herod) that was ‘torn in two from top to bottom’ when Jesus dies, signifying that the way into the holiest had at last been laid open (Mark 15:38;cf. Heb. 9:8). All this rich symbolism is encapsulated in the Writer’s brief allusion.
THE TRADITIONAL INTERPRETATION OF 10:20 IS THAT THE VEIL REPRESENTS CHRIST’S FLESH. CALVIN WRITES, ‘HIS FLESH…CONCEALS LIKE A VEIL THE MAJESTY OF GOD.’ But many commentators reject this idea, maintaining that the words ‘his flesh’ relate back to ‘the new and living way’, in which case the veil is only mentioned to remind us that Christ has entered the holiest-of-all. We shall follow the traditional view.
THE VEIL REPRESENTS CHRIST’S FLESH IN SEVERAL WAYS. FIRSTLY, IT IS THE INCARNATE CHRIST WHO REVEALS THE FATHER WHILE YET HIDING OR VEILING THE SINNER FROM GOD’S BURNING HOLINESS. To look on the Shekinah as death, but to gaze upon God’s glory ‘in the face of Jesus Christ’ is life and health (2 Cor. 4:6).
SECONDLY, THE RENDING OF THE VEIL, GIVING ACCESS TO THE HOLIEST, PICTURES THE BREAKING OF CHRIST’S BODY (‘HIS FLESH’) ON THE CROSS. Delitzsch declares, ‘The veil which was rent by the Lord’s death in order to (permit) our entrance was that pierced body of humiliation. this is graphically portrayed every time we take the Lord’s Supper, reminding us that our access to God was (and is still) made possible only by the death of Christ (1 Cor. 11:24). Thirdly, although the veil was a barrier to man, it was also a doorway. The man Christ Jesus has, by the offering of his flesh, removed the barrier and opened the door.
NOT ONLY DO WE HAVE BOLDNESS AND ACCESS – WE ALSO HAVE REPRESENTATION IN THE FORM OF ‘A HIGH PRIEST OVER THE HOUSE OF GOD’ (10:21). The epistle has had so much to say about the high-priesthood of Christ that little more can, perhaps, be added. However, the Writer’s purpose here is not to augment what he has already told us, but to remind us of it. Our boldness and access can (and must) be traced back to the person of Christ and the priestly role he has graciously undertaken. We dare not enter the holy place alone.
AS HIGH PRIEST, CHRIST IS UNIQUELY PRIVILEGED TO ENTER THE PRESENCE OF GOD’S BURNING HOLINESS. If we also are to enter, it can only be ‘in him’ that we do so, as we have already seen. We are ‘accepted in the Beloved’, not on our own account. Even our election and predestination do not qualify us to meet with God. Christ alone is our means and right of access.
HE IS ALSO OUR REPRESENTATION BEFORE THE THRONE OF GOD – HE IS ‘OVER THE HOUSE OF GOD’. Although this expression can signify his rule and ownership over his household (3:6), its force here is probably that Jesus is the one who represents his people before God’s ineffable holiness. Either way, it is not just individual believers that are in view, but rather his people corporately—the church of the living God. This is the church for which he gave himself, ’that he might sanctify and cleanse it…(and) present it to himself a glorious church…holy and without blemish’ (Eph. 5:26-27).
UNDER THE OLD COVENANT, THE HIGH PRIEST ‘CARRIED’THE TRIBES OF ISRAEL INTO THE PRESENCE OF GOD. HOW? BY HEARING THEIR NAMES INSCRIBED ON GEMSTONES SEWN INTO THE BREASTPLATE AND EPAULETS OF HIS ROBES. These engraved stones served as ‘a memorial for the sons of Israel’ before the Lord (Exod. 39:6-7, 8:14). This gloriously pictures the way Christ represents his new-covenant people before the Father. As regards their weakness, he bears them on his shoulders. As regards their value in his sight, he carries them on his heart. As our great High Priest, he dwells in the presence of Almighty God with our names upon his shoulders and our needs upon his heart. Like the jewels in the ephod and the breastplate, we are precious in the eyes of God the Father and God the Son. – Andrews
Professor Thomas A. Rohm