In the book of Hebrews the author is showing Christ's superiority over the entire system of religion as embodied by the Jewish priesthood and sacrificial rituals in the Old Testament. In this final section of the first part of the book he reviews the necessity of Jesus' sacrifice and its effectiveness in comparison to the sacrificial death of animals in the Old Testament. Before, the author argued that Jesus was a greater high priest than Aaron because of His qualifications (God's Son), the place where He ministered (heaven), and the type of sacrifice He offered (Himself). Now he will close his case by demonstrating that the results of Jesus' ministry on behalf of the people was also superior than the results of the Jewish high priest's ministry for the Jewish people. This is the climax of his letter. If the results are better, it is proof that everything else is true.
The Results of Jewish High Priest's Work - Hebrews 10:1-4
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?
He begins by arguing that if the sacrifices offered in the Old Testament worked, they would have cleansed the consciences the priests who offered them (by authority and command of the Law). The proof of this would be that the people would have stopped offering them since they would no longer feel guilty and would be confident of salvation. The author argues that the shadow (outline, rough sketch) can never be greater than the finished work or form, and that the Old Testament sacrifices were just the shadow but not the real thing. A million shadows cannot equal one real thing. The Old Testament sacrifices were merely the shadow of the sacrifice of Christ, the real thing.
3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. 4For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
The author repeats the idea that the sacrifices in the Old Testament were to serve as a reminder/remembrance of sin, not as the actual offering for sin, that was to come later (In comparison to the sacrificial rituals of the Old Testament we note that the ritual of the Lord's Supper is a remembrance of the sacrifice that does take away sin, not sin itself). In fact, he says, the blood (life) of animals could not remove sins, no matter how many were sacrificed, and explains why this was so in the next verse.
Christ's Sacrifice - verses 5-10
God has always known that animal sacrifice could not remove sin, but now the author answers why Jesus' sacrifice does.
5Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,
"SACRIFICE AND OFFERING THOU HAST NOT DESIRED,
BUT A BODY THOU HAST PREPARED FOR ME;
6IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN THOU HAST TAKEN NO PLEASURE.
7THEN I SAID, 'BEHOLD, I HAVE COME
(IN THE ROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME)
TO DO THY WILL, O GOD.'"
The author explains this by using Psalm 40:6-8 which, in the original context as it was written by David, sees David expressing a pledge to do God's will rather than offering formal sacrifices. David understood the essential truth about spiritual life, that obedience to God's will (as he had learned it from the Scriptures) was what God wanted and what sustained man's soul, not animal sacrifices or any sort of ritual for that matter.
8After saying above, "SACRIFICES 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. 10By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
The author now takes this quote and this idea and applies them to Jesus and His sacrifice. What makes Jesus' sacrifice effective is that it involves the will of God. In verse 9 he says that Jesus was willing to offer Himself. The point here is that animals have no choice or will, therefore their value as sacrifice is basically their earthly value as animals.
He goes on to say in verse 10 that it was God's will that a perfect sacrifice be offered, and in doing so Jesus was doing God's will. What gives life and obtains forgiveness is the doing of God's will. The offering of Jesus' life would have accomplished nothing had it not been in accordance with God's will. Jesus knew God's will in what was needed to remove the guilt as a result of man's sin, and did it. In so doing, man's sins were removed forever.
Once God's will has been accomplished in this regard, there is no need to repeat it. It is done once for all time. Now, even if a mere human being knew that this was God's will, he could not accomplish it because he lacked the perfect life and divine nature required. On the other hand, Jesus, divine Son of God, given a human body, knowing God's will and living a sinless life was willing and, more importantly, able to do it.
Final Summary of Christ's Superiority - verses 11-18
The author makes a final comparison of the two kinds of priests: the Levitical priest and Jesus as priest.
11 And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;
He says that the Old Testament priest (still serving in this capacity at the time that the author wrote this letter) continued with his daily task of sacrificial offerings, and all for no results other than to remind one of sin (and since sin was ever present, the work was never ending).
12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, 13 waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
Jesus as high priest, however, offers His perfect sacrifice according to God's will in heaven, and only once. He then sits down at the right hand of God, never to offer the sacrifice again! His work is done and He sits at a place of exaltation, power and authority (unlike the Jewish priest whose work is never finished and accomplishes nothing in regards to salvation). Jesus has accomplished the purification of all men's souls thereby freeing them from guilt and condemnation. There is no need for any more sacrifices, His has accomplished God's will.
Note that in Matthew 27:50-51 where Jesus, on the cross, has breathed His last with the words, "It is finished..", Matthew records that at that moment the veil in the temple separating the holy place from the Holy of Holies was torn in two. This signified, among other things, that the need for sacrifice to approach God was over. The way to enter was now clear, and that way was through faith in Jesus Christ.
The author makes a final appeal to the Old Testament saying that this is what God promised all along. This is what He wanted, and the nature and results of Jesus' sacrifice shows that all of this was in accordance with the Scriptures.
15And 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."
Verses 15-17 are a quote from Jeremiah 31:33-ff where the prophet is revealing what the ultimate end of God's work among His people will be: they will have a new covenant (better promise), they will have an intimate knowledge of Him and His will. In other words, they will be able to know God subjectively and not only objectively. They will know Him personally and not just know about Him. Their sins will be forgiven and forgotten, not just exposed before them year after year. Some ask, "Will we remember our sins in heaven?" According to Hebrews it seems that if God does not remember them, we won't either.
18 Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.
The author finishes by stating that once forgiveness has appeared, it means that the old is gone and the promises spoken of by the prophets are now here.
In the last section of the first part of this epistle the author brings home the point that Jesus' work as high priest is superior to that of Aaron and his descendants.
- He shows that Old Testament sacrifices never accomplished the cleansing of the conscience from guilt, no matter how many were offered.
- He demonstrates that Christ's sacrifice was effective to remove guilt because it was offered according to God's will.
- He summarizes his own arguments by comparing Jesus and the Levitical priests one last time. He does this by stating that they (Jewish priests) have an endless task that does not achieve true sanctification, but Jesus, as High Priest offering Himself as sacrifice, accomplishes God's will which was His own exaltation and our redemption.
The author's purpose was to compare the Levitical religious system and Jesus Christ to demonstrate Jesus' superiority as a person and as a minister for our spiritual needs. We had to learn a lot about the Jewish religion in order to make sure of what the author was saying as he compared the two. He will draw his final conclusions in the last few chapters.
This epistle demonstrates Christ's superiority (or one could correctly say, fullfilment) to the Jewish religion which was the most developed religious system of the time since it was given by God as a forerunner to Christianity. However, with the Bible as a whole, we can also demonstrate how Christ is superior to any religious system, past, present or future. Of course, the author wasn't talking about systems, he was talking about Jesus Christ, the resurrected Son of God, who is the ruler of the universe and will judge all men and their religions.
Please do not feel ashamed, afraid or embarrassed to claim that Christ is the only way to come to God. The author eloquently argued this case to the Jews 2000 years ago, but we can/must also make this case today to Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others who have not received what only Jesus can give them, and that is forgiveness of sins. No other religion offers this, but all need it.