At this point of his letter the author will bring the lesson home to his readers. In the previous sections he has warned them about falling back and the terrible consequences for one who, after having known the Lord, abandons Him. Now, he exhorts them in a positive way by pointing out what they ought to be doing.
If Jesus is superior to the Jewish faith and its system, then His people, the church, are glorious as well. He tells them that as the church of the glorious Christ they must also be glorious. He will further explain that the two main ways that they can glorify Jesus are by being faithful and holy. In this chapter we will look at what he says about the glory of a faithful church.
The Glory of the Faithful Church - Hebrews 10:19-25
Previously, the author has explained that the Lord glorifies the church with all of His qualifications and service on its behalf. He will now show that the church returns that glory to its Lord through faithfulness to Him. This faithfulness, he will say, is expressed as confidence in Him.
19 Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh.
Christ has opened a new way to come before God (His perfect and eternal sacrifice). The old way (dead animal sacrifices) did not give men access to the throne of God, it only reminded them of their estrangement, weakness, condemnation and death. The new way gives those who approach confidence, not fear; brings all into the very presence of God, not the outer court; provides life, and not death. If we have confidence because of Jesus and what He has done, what should this confidence move us to do? In the next few verses the author will name three things in particular:
1. Draw Near to God with Faith
21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let 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.
Jesus is the priest that ministers for us so, unlike the Jews, Christians should draw near to God with a sincere heart free of fear, ignorance, guilt or sin because the Christian is free from the sins that cause these. Even the high priest could not enter the Holy of Holies this way because, even though he was clean ceremonially on the outside, his heart had not yet been cleansed by the blood of Christ. His water purification rites cleansed the outside, but the baptism of Jesus signaled the cleansing of the conscience (I Peter 3:21).
2. Hold Fast our Confession of Hope
23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;
The confession (their religious beliefs) is what gives them hope. He admonishes them not to doubt the reality of the promises made by God through Christ because God is faithful and able to fulfill His promises. The hope is that they would be resurrected and have eternal life. This hope was sure because it was based on God's promise, and they were not to doubt it (waver).
3. Consider One Another in Love
24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.
While they approach God faithfully, secure in their hope, they are to encourage each other with and toward good deeds and all with a loving regard. Some had drawn back from God, given up hope and abandoned the faith. This was evident because they had stopped coming to the assemblies (a barometer of spiritual health). He tells them to encourage one another, not only to attend church services regularly, but to encourage one another while they were actually at church assemblies so that weak Christians would not become discouraged and leave the church. (If people are not encouraged by loving attention, teaching, help, etc. while they are in the assembly, all the encouragement to return to the assembly will not bring them back.) He adds that they should all do this, as they see the "day" coming near. The "day" mentioned here could be a reference to several things:
- Day = Lord's Day
- Day = Destruction of Jerusalem
- Day = Return of Jesus
The author was probably referring to the return of Jesus since his readers were located outside of Palestine and could not witness the warning signs of the eventual destruction of that city by the Roman army after a long siege in 70 AD (Matthew 24). This may not refer to the Lord's Day either because the author is discussing what they ought to be doing within the assembly and not merely having to attend. And so, Christians should be confident because Christ has prepared a new life-giving way for them to come to God, and this new confidence should spurn them to express this boldness by:
- Drawing near to God in faith (without fear)
- Being strong in their hope (without doubt)
- Encouraging others in love (without hesitation)
The Unfaithful will be Punished - Hebrews 10:26-31
The author encourages the faithful to boldly go forward, and not to retreat because retreating will have terrible consequences.
26For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.
There is a sacrifice for those who sin and need forgiveness, but there is no sacrifice for those who know the truth, and despite this, willfully continue to sin. The only things left for them, he says, are judgment and punishment. Of course, there is a difference between the individual acts of sin which all, including Christians, are guilty of from time to time.
The Hebrew writer is describing the state of sin where one knows that what he does is sinful and, without any attempt at repentance or help from God, continues willfully to practice it. In this discussion of sin the author includes the sin of abandoning the assembly because it is the outward sign of a willful falling away from the faith (one cannot be faithful to Jesus, the head, without being faithful to the church, the body of Christ). Abandoning the assembly is merely the outward sign of the serious sin of falling away from the faith.
The Hebrew writer makes one final comparison between Jesus and the Jewish religion.
28Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How 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? 30For we know Him who said, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY." And again, "THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE."
The author states that since Jesus is greater than the Jewish religion, the sin of abandoning Him is greater than the sin of abandoning the Jewish faith, and so will the punishment. According to Judaism, a sinner was found guilty and punished without mercy based on the testimony of two or three human witnesses. Under the new covenant one who abandons Christ has:
- Held up to contempt God's own Son.
- Considered His blood or sacrifice no better than any other.
- Rejected the Holy Spirit.
Such sins were not even possible under the Law of Moses in the Old Testament period. This is why the author says that they are greater. The reasoning he makes is that if God punished men for lessor offenses, how much greater the punishment for one who is found guilty of such things, especially knowing that only a saved person could commit these sins.
31It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
He concludes by saying that for the faithful child of God it is a wonderful and reassuring thing to be in the hands of God, but for the rebel, the one who knowingly rejects Christ, that same position is terrifying because God has absolute power to destroy him forever.
The Faithful Church Endures - Hebrews 10:32-39
After warning them of the terrible consequences of falling away, the author gently encourages them to carry on and endure.
32But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 34For 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.
The writer reminds them of their attitude of endurance demonstrated when they first came to the Lord. They were ridiculed publicly. They continued to associate with other believers who were also badly treated. They ministered to Christians who were jailed (an obligation that the first century church took seriously - Matthew 25:35-36). They suffered the loss of their own property because of their faith. Christianity was an outlawed religion and had no protection of the state, consequently during religious persecution many Christian homes were looted or lost altogether with no legal recourse. The author reminds them that they endured these things joyfully at the time because their hope for a better "home" was strong.
35Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.
He tells them that he is aware that they faithfully endured these things at the beginning, and should not throw away their confidence now since the reward is still to come.
36For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
They must continue until the end in the same way that they started so that they can receive the promises made to them at the beginning. They need endurance because doing God's will is not always easy, and often creates conflicts.
37FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE,
HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY,
38BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH;
AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM.
He cites an Old Testament passage (Habakkuk 2:3-4) where the prophet was crying out to God asking why He allowed foreign oppressors to attack the Israelites. God's response was that no matter what happened He was still in charge, and that in time He would destroy the wicked. As for His people, they would survive and receive their reward if they remained faithful.
The author uses this passage as an encouragement to his readers who also had suffered persecution and discouragement. If they endured faithfully, God would rescue and reward them in the end as well. He also notes that God takes pleasure, not in the suffering of His people, but in their reaction to suffering (faithful endurance).
39But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.
He summarizes his thoughts by saying that Christians are not quitters who go back to the old ways or to destruction, but forward by faith towards complete redemption and eternal life.
The author has shown how glorious Jesus is. Now, he shows how Jesus' church can be glorious by:
- Drawing near to God with confidence now that Jesus has opened the way by His sacrifice.
- Holding on to its hope without wavering, since this hope is built on God's promise.
- Providing loving encouragement to each other as they grow in Christian fellowship.
He warns the church that abandoning Christ is a greater sin than abandoning Moses because Christ is greater, and finally, he encourages them to finish the race with the same zeal that they began with so they can receive the rewards.
These Christians, as well as every disciple until the end of time, were learning some of the most basic lessons about the Christian life:
- It is easy to begin in the Lord but hard to finish (Luke 14:25-34).
- Every day you have to renew the decision that you will not allow anything to stop you from finishing the race (no person, sin, thing - Luke 14:26).
- The rewards are only for those who finish (II Timothy 4:8).
In the Christian race it is not how fast you run, it is if you finish or not that's important. Many begin but few finish (Matthew 7:13).