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A chapter by chapter examination of the Book of Hebrews; this book examines the ways in which God has moved towards a better covenant with man. The historical background of the Book of Hebrews as well as contextual discussions add insight and relevance to Hebrews.
Category - Bible Commentaries
The ninth chapter of Hebrews has already discussed the basic difference between the Old and New Covenants in terms of the two tabernacles—earthly and heavenly—as well as the importance of blood in the ratification of each covenant. We come now to chapter 10, which in many ways is a continuation of chapter 9.
1 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?
The author makes the point that the continual repetition of the sacrifices “year by year” show the inadequacy of each sacrifice. After all, if a sacrifice was only effective for one year (from the Day of Atonement to the same day in the following year), then at best it might only perfect a man temporarily—that is, for a single year.
Yet even then, it is plain that such blood sacrifices did not actually perfect anyone, not even temporarily, for if it had perfected the nation during the following year, there would have been no need to kill another goat the next year to cover the sins of the people.
The fact is, the Day of Atonement COVERED sin, but did not REMOVE sin. This is the meaning of Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement.” The Hebrew word Kippur means “covering,” not removal. In fact, here is the essential difference between the two goats that were chosen for the Day of Atonement ceremony.
The first goat was killed, and its blood sprinkled on the mercy seat of the Ark in the Most Holy Place. We learn the reason for the high priest entering the Most Holy Place once a year by reading Leviticus 16:17,
17 When he goes in to make atonement [COVER] in the holy place, no one shall be in the tent of meeting until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household and for all the assembly of Israel.
Then the high priest was to lay hands upon the head of the second goat, impute all of the iniquities of the people upon that goat, and send it into the wilderness alive to a solitary place not inhabited by people (Lev. 16:22). This second goat signified the REMOVAL of sin from the people. Its function was entirely different from the first goat, which merely covered sin.
To cover sin means to put it out of sight, much like putting a rug over the dirt in one’s house. To remove sin actually takes the dirt out of the house to make it actually clean.
These two ceremonies establish the distinction between two forms of righteousness. The first kind is IMPUTED righteousness, which is discussed at length in Romans 4, where the Greek word logizomai is used 15 times and is translated “impute, reckon, or account.” To impute righteousness does not actually make a person righteous, but makes a person legally righteous—that is, righteous in the eyes of God and His law.
The great example given in Romans 4:17 is the fact that God called Abraham “a father of many nations” when, in fact, he had no children at all at the time. The verse says that God “calls things not in being as though existing” (Emphatic Diaglott). The King James Version reads, “calleth those things which be not as though they were.”
By this definition of “impute,” we see that even though we are not ACTUALLY righteous, God calls what is NOT as though it were. In other words, even though we are not actually perfected today, yet God calls us righteous. He does so on the basis of the first Goat—Jesus Christ—whose blood has COVERED our sin.
Yet it will take a second Goat—a second coming of Christ—to actually remove the sin from our being. The two goats on the Day of Atonement prophesied of the two comings of Christ and the effect of each upon us insofar as perfection is concerned.
Even so, the fact that both of those goats in the Old Testament were animals and not Jesus Himself means that both animals were imperfect types of Christ. For this reason we read in Heb. 10:4,
4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
This is made plain by the fact that they had to go through the same ceremony every year on the Day of Atonement. But Jesus, who fulfilled the first goat in His first coming through His death on the cross, will never again need to die for sin. Yet He must also come again in order to fulfill the type of the second goat, who was sent into the wilderness to remove all sin from the people.
The wilderness is a type of the earth. In this case, Christ will be sent from the true tabernacle in heaven into the wilderness of the earth in order to remove sin. This second coming will be a living work. Whereas He came the first time to die to cover sin, He will come again fully alive to remove sin from us.
Another way of looking at this is to see that we are the true temple of God, wherein He now dwells. Not only, then, will He return from heaven itself, but He will also come forth from our innermost beings (our Most Holy Place). In this manner of speaking, He will be “manifested” in the sons of God. And in manifesting, or coming forth, He will remove sin from our hearts. This is the perfection of the sons of God who will inherit the first resurrection.
Getting back to our study in Hebrews, the author is telling us that the continual repetition of sacrifice year after year is a reminder that we are still sinners and that the sin has not yet been removed:
2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness [remembrance] of sins? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Thus, throughout the Old Testament period of animal sacrifice, the ceremonies had to be repeated continually, and this served as a reminder that those animal sacrifices were only an imperfect type and shadow of something greater yet to come. That greater Sacrifice has now come in the Person of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross. But because there were two goats, and not just one, Christ has yet to fulfill the rest of the law. For this reason, though we are indeed imputed righteous, we are not yet actually righteous. He has not yet manifested from our bodies—our temples—to carry our sins to a solitary place.
There are some who teach what is called “the finished work of Christ.” It is based upon Jesus’ statement on the cross, saying, “It is finished.” The problem is that Jesus did not define “it.” If He had meant to say that the entire law had been fulfilled, He would have been incorrect, for there yet remained much to be fulfilled. The most obvious fact is that He fulfilled Passover on the day that He died, but He did not fulfill the wave-sheaf offering until He was raised from the dead and had presented Himself to the Father.
Then it was another seven weeks before the feast of Pentecost was fulfilled, as recorded in Acts 2. And what shall we say about the Feast of Tabernacles, which has yet to be fulfilled? Likewise, the second goat on the Day of Atonement remains unfulfilled, along with the second dove in Leviticus 14, which also speaks of His second coming.
It is plain, then, that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” He meant that He had finished His first work and the purpose of His first advent. He finished the work of the first goat and the first dove. He finished the Passover work. But because more yet remained to be fulfilled, we cannot possibly take His statement as fulfilling all the types and shadows in the law. For this reason, we are now nearly 2,000 years past the cross but still do not see all things put under His feet (Heb. 2:8).
So we see that Jesus “finished” His work on the cross, but this did not mean that His entire work was finished. I am reminded of an earlier time when He finished His work of creation. Heb. 4:3 says, “His works were finished from the foundation of the world,” after which time He rested on the seventh day. However, when Jesus was accused of working on the Sabbath by healing people, He replied in John 5:17, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”
In other words, the fact that God finished His creation work did not mean that He had ceased to work altogether. So also it is with Jesus’ work on the cross. That death-work was finished, but that did not mean Jesus would retire from all labor. There was certainly a second work of Christ to be done, and for this reason there is a second advent.
Not knowing these foundational truths as revealed in the law, there are some Bible teachers who have misunderstood Heb. 10:2 in the matter of “consciousness of sins.” This ought to be taken in context, where it means that the yearly sacrifices were a reminder that the blood of animals could never bring man to perfection, and that it would take a greater Sacrifice to accomplish this work.
However, some have perverted the Scriptures to mean that the problem with man is not that he is a sinner, but that he THINKS he is a sinner. They say that as long as he thinks he is a sinner, then he is as he thinks. According to this view, sin is defined as ignorance, rather than as an offense against God and man. The solution, then, is for man to receive better teaching, rather than to obtain forgiveness through the blood of Christ.
This view says that the solution is to be found in a classroom for enlightenment, whereas the Bible brings us to the court of law where offenses are dealt with by blood.
This perverted view interprets Hebrews 10:2 to mean that man’s problem is that he is conscious of sin. The solution, then, is to erase from his mind all “false” ideas that man is a sinner in need of redemption. Man must stop saying that he is a sinner and begin confessing that he is righteous.
In other words, the problem is not the sin itself, but one’s recognition of it. Somehow the recognition creates the reality, and that nothing truly exists in itself, but derives its existence purely by man’s thought process. And, of course, the next logical step in this way of thinking is to say that man creates God in his own image. God only exists if men think He exists, for He derives His very existence from man.
If such a confession of righteousness is made on the basis of Christ’s death on the cross, there is no problem with doing so. Certainly, those whose sins have been covered should actually believe that His blood covers sin and get on with the business of learning to follow His leading. Those who cannot do this suffer from a basic lack of faith, for they do not truly believe that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). There is certainly a need to forgive one’s self, knowing that God has also forgiven us of our sin.
The perverted gospel, however, refuses to believe that man was ever a sinner. The problem, they say, is that man thinks he is a sinner and makes that confession, but in fact he was never a sinner at all. “Sin” is only ignorance, they say, and in this case, sin is ignorance of the fact that man has no sin except what he confesses about himself. But such perversion is unknown to the Apostle John, who wrote in 1 John 1:8-10,
8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
John says that sin is lawlessness, not ignorance (1 John 3:4). The solution is not to deny the existence of the sinful human condition, but to confess that it does indeed exist and that we are therefore in need of a Savior to pay the penalty for that sin. Yet it would surprise many people to learn that the largest and most successful “Christian” ministry in America, viewed by millions of people weekly, is led by a pastor who teaches this perversion of the gospel. He is so smooth, however, that most people do not even realize what he is doing. For this reason it is important that we understand the basis of our faith and the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross, so that we are not misled into a false gospel.
5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body Thou hast prepared for Me; 6 In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast taken no pleasure.” 7 Then I said, “Behold, I have come (in the roll of the Book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God.”
This is a quotation from the Septuagint version of Psalm 40:6-8, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament used extensively in the first century. David knew the mind of God in this matter of sacrifice. It is not that blood was unimportant and ineffective, but rather that the blood of animals was only an imperfect type and shadow. No amount of animal blood could bring any man into perfection. But David prophesied of a greater Sacrifice yet to come. It would take the form of “A BODY Thou hast prepared for Me.”
The author of Hebrews tells us that this was the body of Christ, which would be made the true Sacrifice for sin. In the incarnation at Bethlehem, God took upon Himself a body in the Person of Jesus Christ, as Exodus 15:2 also prophesied, saying,
2 Yahweh is my strength and song, and He has become my Yeshua; this is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will extol Him.
Yeshua was Jesus’ Hebrew name that means “Salvation.” Yeshua was the name of the “body” that Yahweh took. The deity of Christ is set forth here, as well as the mystery of the incarnation and how God took human form through Mary’s virgin birth.
The Septuagint rendering of Psalm 40 is quoted in the book of Hebrews, “a body Thou hast prepared for Me.” But the Hebrew text reads differently, as we see by looking at Psalm 40:6, where it says, “My ears Thou hast opened.”
It is unclear why there is a discrepancy between the Greek and Hebrew versions of Psalm 40:6. But the connection between the two indicates that the opening of the ears qualifies the “body” to do that which is necessary to fulfill the verse. Opening the ears has reference to the law of the voluntary (willing) servant in Exodus 21:5 and 6, as we explained in chapter three.
To open the ear in this way prophetically signified that the slave had “heard” his master’s voice. In the Hebrew language, the word shema means both to hear and to obey. In essence, as David tells us, this voluntary slave (Jesus) says, “My ears hast Thou opened . . . Behold, I have come to do Thy will, O God.”
Jesus came as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, and the book of Mark presents Him as the great Servant, even as Matthew presents Christ as the King. Slaves were generally forced by law to be obedient, often in order to pay restitution for sin. The intent of God in legislating this law of slavery was to put the sinner under the authority of a godly redeemer, who would teach him the ways of God by example. Thus, after six years of seeing Christ in his master, it may be that the slave would come to love him so much that he would never want to depart.
David uses this law to prophesy of Christ, and the book of Hebrews applies that passage to Jesus. He is the great Servant who willingly comes to do the will of the Father, not by compulsion but because He and His Father are one (that is, they are in agreement). That is the “body” that was prepared for Him. It was qualitatively different from the goats, which generally had to be dragged to the outer court and tied to the horns of the altar to prevent them from escaping. Jesus came voluntarily as a Lamb.
8 After saying above, “Sacrifice and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast not desired, nor hast Thou taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), 9 then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Thy will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. 10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
This voluntary body, which was willing to do the Father’s will and die on the cross, is what sanctifies us. It sets us apart for divine service in a way that neither a goat nor any other animal could ever do. This is why the first manner of sacrifice had to be taken away in order to establish the second.
11 And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 awaiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.
Here we see that the finished work of the cross resulted in His ascension to the throne in heaven, where He awaits the time when “His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.” What does this mean? What is a footstool?
A footstool is a foot rest for one’s feet so that the one’s feet would not have to hang down and swing around. To sit on a chair with one’s feet off the floor is uncomfortable. This is then used as a metaphor to show that the earth is His footstool. In Isaiah 66:1 God says, “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool.”
This does not indicate that God despises the earth or views matter as evil. The Greeks were of the opinion that spirit was good and matter was evil. They taught that matter was created by the Demiurge, that is, the devil. But Scripture teaches that the earth was created by God Himself, and that He then pronounced it all “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
So when God declares the earth to be His footstool, it is an indication that the earth is necessary for His “comfort.” Though He would sit upon His throne in heaven, the earth is the place for His feet. It hints at the very purpose of creation, which is to manifest His glory in the earth (Num. 14:21). It also hints at the meaning of the Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit that was sent to the earth (John 14:26). In a sense, a footstool is a comforter for one’s feet. It also foreshadows the fact that Jesus Christ would come to earth in the flesh, and that the Holy Spirit Comforter would indwell our flesh as a Temple of God.
Though it was incomprehensible to a Greek that a good God could dwell in “evil” flesh, the Scriptures teach clearly that we are the Temple of God in whom God dwells. God does not consider such material temples to be unworthy of His presence. He is not tainted by evil in dwelling in our hearts by faith. Thus, the Greek converts to Christ had to change the entire basis of their earlier view of God and His character.
14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
As I showed earlier, there are two works of Christ, but only “one offering.” That one offering was made in His first work, but the full implementation of this perfection, moving from an imputed righteousness to an actual righteousness, would have to take place by two comings of Christ, not just one.
15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord; I will put My laws upon their heart, and upon their mind I will write them,” He then says, 17 “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
This is obviously a reference to the New Covenant, since the Old merely imposed the righteous standard of the law upon the people against their will. The Old Covenant imposed the law to restrain their lawless hearts, while the New Covenant actually changes the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we come into agreement with Him. In that way, He writes His laws upon our hearts. The carnal mind that is at enmity with God is crucified with Christ. The New Man that has been begotten in us is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” That New Man is perfect and cannot sin, because it is begotten of God (1 John 3:9) by the same principle that Jesus Himself was begotten of God in Mary.
It is that New Creation Man in all believers that comes to the Father, even as Jesus did, saying, “Behold, I come to do Thy will.” That New Creation Man is as much one with its heavenly Father as Jesus was one with His heavenly Father. That New Man has the law of God written in his heart, and so he has no desire to sin, even if the old man continues to rise up with lawless desires.
18 Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.
In other words, Christ came to die as the perfect Sacrifice, “once for all,” to obtain forgiveness for us. Since He has done that, “there is no longer any offering for sin.” Recall from Heb. 6:6 that if a Christian believer reverts to Judaism, with its sacrificial system, there is no way that he can find a remedy for his sin in that old religion. The sacrifices of Judaism were no longer acceptable to God for sin, now that the true Sacrifice has come.
The only way to find forgiveness, then, is by the true Sacrifice of Christ. And where there is forgiveness, “there is no longer any offering for sin.” No believer in Christ needs to depend upon animal sacrifices in the carnal temple in Jerusalem, performed by Aaronic priests.
19 Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
With the old animal sacrifices rendered ineffective, we have “a new and living way” to approach God. It is by the blood of Jesus, and not by the blood of bulls and goats. And it is the ONLY way by which men may approach God, whether for Jew or Greek, bond or free. Jesus Himself said in John 14:6,
6 . . . I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
There are those who have perverted these passages to mean that if a Christian sins, there is no way that he can again be saved. If that were true, then I challenge anyone to show me a true believer who has not sinned after being saved. John himself tells us that believers ought to confess their sins in order to be forgiven of them (1 John 1:7-10). If forgiveness is not given to those who sin after becoming Christians, then how it that John offers them forgiveness by confession?
No, the only ones who would dare to believe such a doctrine are those who think themselves to be perfected. I pray that God in His mercy would cause them to stumble, thus revealing their hearts, so that they would learn some much-needed humility.
The truth is that we have a new and living way opened up to us by the blood of the perfect Sacrifice for sin, brought into the heavenly Sanctuary by the High Priest Himself. This is the foundation of our faith.
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
The book of Hebrews was most concerned about Christians—especially Hebrew Christians—falling back into the religion of Judaism with its dependence upon carnal sacrifices and temples and the old order of priests. He therefore exhorts them to hold fast to the New Covenant “without wavering.”
24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.
The believers—especially in Jerusalem—had continued to worship in the temple each Sabbath long after the time of Christ. But in the weeks after His resurrection, He had met with them each Sunday (eighth day) during the fifty days leading to Pentecost. Not all of these meetings were dated, of course, but those that were dated were always said to be on the eighth day (or first day of the week).
It began with the day of His resurrection (John 20:1, 19). The next appearance was “after eight days” again (John 20:26). This established the apostolic practice of meeting on the first day of the week, for He apparently explained to them the meaning of the feast of weeks and how it established a new Sabbath based upon His resurrection. We discussed this in a previous chapter.
The problem, however, was in the fact that the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were still tied to the old worship of the temple. James himself was called “James the Just” or “James the Righteous,” and was revered even by non-Christian Jews in the temple until his martyrdom there in 62 A.D. The Jerusalem Christians bent over backward trying to prove themselves law-abiding, and for this reason they met in the temple as Jews on the old Sabbath and then in homes as Christians on the new Sabbath.
During those transitional decades, the Jerusalem Church remained largely dependent upon the temple and continued to offer animal sacrifices. In effect, they merely added Jesus to Judaism. It is for this reason that the book of Hebrews was written. It was to break their dependence upon Judaism and its Old Covenant in favor of the new way with its New Covenant.
And so, the author of Hebrews encourages the Hebrew Christians not to forsake the assembling as Christians (10:25). Some no doubt felt that the Sabbatical rituals in the temple met their needs, and they felt no particular urgency about meeting as separate Christians the following day. This was part of the bigger problem addressed by this book.
26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.
Once again, we are brought back to the topic at hand, which is the purpose of the book of Hebrews. Those who thought that the temple rituals, sacrifices, priests, and Sabbaths were sufficient are reminded that the temple contained nothing by which a man could obtain a true sacrifice for sins. Anyone depending upon such animal sacrifices, and anyone continuing to identify with Judaism, could only expect to receive the judgments upon Jerusalem of which Jesus had prophesied. Jesus prophesied of Jerusalem and its destruction at the hands of the Romans in Matt. 22:7, saying,
7 But the king [i.e., God] was enraged and sent His armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire.
Again, Jesus said in Matt. 23:38, “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” These prophecies were only a continuation of similar words from Isaiah and Jeremiah and many other prophets, who spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem. By the time the book of Hebrews was written, these prophecies were at least close to being fulfilled. It was urgent, then, that Hebrews be written in order that the faith of the Hebrew Christians would not be shattered when the city and temple were destroyed.
28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of Grace?
Who are the ones who might be in danger of trampling upon the Son of God and despising His blood? It is obviously those Hebrew Christians who remain connected to the Old Covenant and its religious system in Jerusalem. They seemed to entertain the idea that the Old and New Covenant could be enjoyed simultaneously and without conflict.
But the book of Hebrews was written to refute that notion, saying that anyone who continues to depend upon animal sacrifices “has trampled under foot the Son of God.” Anyone who depends upon animal blood for his cleansing “has regarded as unclean the blood of the (new) covenant by which he was sanctified.” Furthermore, he “has insulted the Spirit of Grace.”
Those today who think that God intends to return to the Old Covenant, or to splice animal sacrifices to the New Covenant, is guilty of the same insult to the Spirit of Grace and needs to repent, lest the coming destruction of Jerusalem destroy his faith as well. In many ways, we are nearing the same crossroad as was seen when Hebrews was written.
30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
This quotation is from Deut. 32:35. It is particularly significant, because the context identifies the problem of the first century. Verses 37 and 38 read,
37 And He will say, “Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge? 38 Who ate the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their libation? Let them rise up and help you, let them be your hiding place!”
In other words, Moses spoke of judgment upon the people in the time that they would reject their God. Moses prophesied of Jesus Christ, who was the God of the Old Testament as well as the New. He foretold of the day when the religion itself would reject the true God and then, in the time of their calamity, would cry out to God for help. God tells them to cry out to their false gods for help. “Let them be your hiding place,” He says. But, of course, they would receive no answer and no help.
This was fulfilled in the time of Jeremiah when Jerusalem was first destroyed by the Babylonians. It was fulfilled again in 70 A.D. when the city was again destroyed by Rome. It will again be fulfilled in our day, in order to fulfill the word of Jeremiah, who tells us that the city would be broken in such a way that it would never again be rebuilt (Jer. 19:10, 11). Since the city was rebuilt after the first two destructions, there must yet remain a third destruction that will fulfill the Word.
Those Christians today who support the current Israeli state in its rejection of Jesus Christ, and who support the move back under the Old Covenant and animal sacrifices in a carnal temple in Jerusalem, are in danger of the judgment that is to come upon Jerusalem. The way to avoid such judgment is to fully adhere to the New Covenant and stop trying to merge Christ with the Old Testament religious system that was abolished long ago.
32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one.
What “great conflict of sufferings” is being referenced here? The story is told more fully in the book of Acts. The apostles were beaten in Acts 5:40. Stephen was stoned in Acts 7:59. Saul initiated a general persecution of the Church in Acts 8, and wrote about it years later in Gal. 1:13, 14, saying,
13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; 14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
James the Apostle was executed in Acts 12:2, and Peter was arrested with the intent to execute him as well, though the angel of the Lord delivered him. The entire ministry of the Apostle Paul saw trouble stirred up against him by the synagogues, and more than once he was saved by the Roman soldiers from certain death. If Paul indeed wrote the book of Hebrews, then we must see 1 Thess. 2:14-16 as a cross reference:
14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, 15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, 16 hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.
The persecution mentioned in Hebrews 10 is not the Roman persecution, which began only in 64 A.D. It is a reference to the persecution of Christians by the temple priests and rulers in Judea and in Jerusalem. The language used in First Thessalonians is similar to that used in Hebrews 10 and may perhaps be seen as evidence that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews. Certainly, Paul knew of this persecution first-hand, both as a persecutor under Judaism and later as one of the persecuted under Christ.
The intent of Hebrews 10:32-34 is to remind the Hebrew Christians that the very religion Judaism, which some of them continued to support, was hostile to Jesus Christ and which absolutely rejected the blood of the New Covenant that He freely offered. To remain in such a religion was to throw away their confidence in Christ, for we read in verses 35, 36,
35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
The clear implication here is that if they remained in Judaism, they were throwing away their confidence in Christ. They had, in effect, fallen back into Judaism, whose animal sacrifices no longer had any efficacy insofar as forgiveness of sin is concerned. Hence, they had “need of endurance” in order to receive the promise. Another way of putting it is this: If they remain in Judaism or put their trust in Old Covenant sacrifices, they will not receive the promise of God.
In other words, they are likened to those Israelites who died in the wilderness without having received the promises (Heb. 3). Like them, these Hebrew Christians were lacking in endurance. It does not mean they cannot be saved, but rather that they are disqualified as overcomers like Caleb and Joshua.
37 For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. 38 But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.
Verse 38 above is a quotation from the Septuagint translation of Habakkuk 2:4. It is the verse the Apostle Paul used to establish justification by faith alone in Rom. 1:17 and again in Gal. 3:11. The Hebrew text of Hab. 2:4 reads,
4 Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith.
The Septuagint text reads:
4 If he should draw back, my soul has no pleasure in him; but the just shall live by my faith.
This latter text is the one quoted in Hebrews 10:38. So this chapter ends with a warning to those Judaizers who attempt to subordinate Christ to the Old Covenant and who despise the blood of the true Sacrifice for sin by continuing to advocate the effectiveness of animal sacrifices.
This is really about the definition of true faith. Is true faith a matter of having faith in Christ but yet adhering to animal sacrifices? Not according to the author of Hebrews. This should serve as a warning to Christian Zionists and Dispensationalists today, who teach and support the return of the Old Covenant in the same manner. They should examine themselves to see if they have a true biblical faith.
39 But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction [apoleia, “loss, perdition”], but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.
The use of the Greek word apoleia in this verse brings us back to the situation with Judas in John 17:12, where Jesus said of him,
12 While I was with them, I was keeping them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me; and I guarded them, and not one of them perished [appolumi, “was lost”] but the son of perdition [apoleia, “loss”], that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
Apollumi is related to apoleia and apollyon. When Jesus spoke of the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” in Matt. 10:6, the Greek word for “lost” is apollumi. The related word, apollyon, is often translated “destroyer,” and is used in Rev. 9:11. But it really has to do with loss or causing loss. The spirit of Apollyon is the spirit that caused the house of Israel to become “lost.” In Heb. 10:39 the NASB translates the word apoleia to mean “destruction.” In John 17:12, however, they translate the word as “perdition.” Perdition is actually a Latin word meaning “to destroy or lose.”
Jesus called Judas “the son of perdition.” What did this mean? The meaning is made clear by the actual example of Judas, what he did, and what he represented. He was one of Jesus’ disciples whose faith proved to be false by his ultimate betrayal when he assisted the Jewish leaders in arresting and identifying Jesus. In this, Judas played the prophetic role of Ahithophel, who had been David’s friend that betrayed him in the revolt of Absalom.
So as the term “perdition” is used in Scripture, it refers to one who seems to have faith for a time, but that faith does not endure to the end. When faith does not stand the test of time, it is proven to be mere persuasion, rather than genuine faith. Persuasion is achieved by convincing someone of truth; faith comes by hearing the voice of God. The first is soulish; the second is spiritual.
When we look at the purpose of the book of Hebrews, we can see why 10:39 would speak of those who shrink back into apoleia, “perdition, or loss.” Even as the Israelites had “lost” the promise by their lack of faith, so also can believers lose the promise of the feast of Tabernacles.
Taking this a step further, Christian believers may also prove to be like Judas in that they end up siding with the usurpers in the attempt to force Jesus to do a miracle and prove Himself by manifesting His glory. No doubt Judas thought that by betraying Jesus, He would be forced to do a mighty miracle to deliver Himself from certain death. When this did not happen, he hanged himself (Matt. 27:5).
Essentially, Judas disagreed with Jesus’ method of establishing His Kingdom. He thought that he could help Jesus become the Messiah accepted by all, but his “help” only served to betray Him. Even as Judas betrayed Jesus by helping His enemies usurp His throne, so also today have many Christians betrayed Jesus by helping the Jewish leaders usurp His birthright. Such Christians desire so much to see the second coming of Christ that they are willing to try to force His return by encouraging the Israelis to adopt a hard-line policy against their neighbors. What they are really trying to do is to bring about Armageddon in order to force the Jews to recognize Jesus as the Messiah in their desperation, and to force the return of Jesus Christ to save the Jews from destruction.
As part of this betrayal, these “Christian Zionists” have adopted the very doctrines that the book of Hebrews seeks to refute. In essence, they have adopted the idea that New Covenant Christianity will cease at the second coming of Christ, and that Old Covenant Judaism will triumph in the end.
The book of Hebrews warns us not to go back into Judaism, because this would bring us back into “perdition.” To do so would be to “lose” something. We ought to endure to the end and be steadfast in our faith in the New Covenant, with its “better” things, its new priesthood, and its Perfect Sacrifice that has the power of salvation.