NOTES on Hebrews 10:1-18 (click here for study)

In chapter 9, the author of Hebrews reviewed the old covenant and explored how the blood of Jesus was superior to the Old Testament sanctuary service. In the first part of chapter 10, he emphasizes that Jesus' sacrifice was done once for all time and for all people.

"The law," he begins, "is only a shadow of the good things that are coming-not the realities themselves."

The law and the priesthood were inextricably linked in the old covenant. The law, according to Hebrews 7:11, was given on the basis of the priesthood. In other words, the nature of the priesthood (sinful, finite humans) determined the nature of the law (external, limited, unyielding). The whole Mosaic system was temporary (Galatians 3:17-19). The law, the ceremonies, and the priesthood were merely shadows of the reality that was coming: Jesus, his perfect atonement, and the "living way" reconnecting humanity to God.

The law and its ceremonies, however, weren't actually REAL. They existed, as a shadow exists, but they weren't the real thing. Just as a shadow of a building provides relief from the relentless heat of the sun but cannot provide literal relief in the building's air-conditioned rooms, so the Mosaic law provided a ritual promise of relief from sin without being able to provide literal atonement. The Mosaic system was only a shadow hinting at the reality of Jesus, his atonement, and humanity's restored connection to God. If the reality of Christ's atonement hadn't already existed from the creation of the world (Rev. 13:8), the Mosaic "shadow" could not have existed. A shadow does not exist without a reality to cast it.


Law and Worship

The law existed as a promise of a coming Redeemer, but it did more than promise. It also pointed-to mankind's sins. The sacrifices were an annual reminder of sins (Romans 3:20). The law caused mankind to become conscious of sin (Romans 5:20). The law defined sin; by identifying sinful behavior, it "produced every kind of covetous desire" (Romans 7:7-11).

"What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come." (Galatians 3:19)

The real purpose of the law was to keep Israel aware of its imperfections and its need of atonement. Before the law was given, people were not conscious of sin. They were spiritually dead, but they had no standard before them by which to judge their own performance. The law left no doubt: people were sinners, and their sin was intractable.

Humanity suffers in its separation from God. People long for connection with the eternal. They have always observed religious rituals in an attempt to fill the void caused by their dead souls inherited from Adam. When God formed the nation of Israel, its laws and religious ceremonies were a relief after the spiritual void and paganism it left behind. Just as standing in the shade of a large building provides immense relief to a person who has been sweltering under a broiling sun, so the Mosaic law provided relief for the Israelites. The relief, however, was limited. It could not actually change the environment in which the people lived. It could only provide a way to cope and a reason to hope.

People have drawn near to God for millennia in an attempt to be connected to him. Under the Old Covenant they became aware of the God whom they were approaching, but in the New Covenant our drawing near to worship results in literal connection with God, not just in a way to cope.

Today, living in the reality of Jesus' finished atonement, we can draw near to God in "full assurance of faith" having our hearts cleansed from a guilty conscience (Heb. 10:22). Although the law made nothing perfect, now we can literally draw near to God because he saves us "completely" by living to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25). Now we draw near not just to find hope but actually to receive mercy and to find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Now we can move out of the shade of the temple of God into its literal reality. We no longer have to wait in a shadow hoping for admission; we can enter fully into the presence of God himself-because God dwells in us.


A Body Instead of Burnt Offerings

The author of Hebrews puts the words of Psalm 40:6-8 into the mouth of Jesus. "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, 'Here I am-it is written about me in the scroll-I have come to do your will, O God.' " (v. 5-7)

The original Hebrew text translates, "but my ears you have pierced" (or opened) instead of "but a body you prepared for me," the translation found in the Septuagint. Both have similar meanings. The Hebrews version suggests that Christ had ears to hear God's will; the Septuagint version suggests that he had a body with which to obey God.

Jesus came with a human body and took the place of the sacrifices and offerings Israel had been offering for hundreds of years. He obeyed the will of his Father and sacrificed himself for our sins.

The Israelites had five different offerings they had to offer continually. The burnt offerings were offered daily. They were multi-purpose, signifying worship, atonement for unintentional sin, devotion and surrender to God. The grain offerings were offered in thanks for God's goodness and provision. Fellowship offerings were voluntary acts of worship and thanksgiving, and a fellowship offering always included a communal meal. The sin offering was mandatory for specific unintentional sin, for confession, and for cleansing. The guilt offering was mandatory for unintentional sin requiring restitution. It was also for cleansing. The accompanying restitution for sin was a 20% fine. (Details from the NIV Study Bible.)

God established these offerings for Israel, yet Psalm 40 and Hebrews 10 both say he did not desire sacrifices nor was he pleased with them. The sacrifices had always been intended to represent contrition and a plea for God's forgiveness. The deaths of animals had never been what God wanted. Rather, he wanted Israel to be driven to his mercy by the reality of sin and death. He wanted Israel to be so sensitized by their continual moral failure and physical uncleanness that they would cry out for Him to save them from themselves.

What God truly desired was obedience, justice, and mercy from his people. His desire was that the continual offerings, the continual reality of their failures, would drive Israel to seek the heart of God instead of only the shadow of his grace.

Jesus, in a human body, came and fulfilled God's will. He became the real sacrifice for sins, not merely the shadow. He broke the bonds of death. He lives to intercede for us.


Finished and Seated

By doing God's will, "he sets aside the first to establish the second." Jesus set aside the shadow of his salvation. He accomplished the reality of its symbols, and the law is no longer needed. His perfect sacrifice replaced the ceremonies of the Mosaic covenant.

His setting aside the past resulted in establishing the new covenant. In the new covenant, Jesus fulfills the requirements for atonement and perfection. He is the one who keeps the covenant with God, not we ourselves. Jesus takes our place, and he dies the death we should have died and lives the life we could not live. He becomes sin for us so that we can become the righteousness of God.

Jesus' death and resurrection make us holy. By taking our death on himself and giving us his Holy Spirit to reconnect us to God, Jesus gives us life. Our reconnection to God is possible only because Jesus has satisfied the curse of the law which demanded the death of sinners. He places his own death and resurrection between God and us and places his righteousness on us. He declares us perfect in him. He, the second Adam, the perfect human, places his perfection in us, and by the power of the Holy Spirit he makes us holy.

Being "made holy" means being set aside for God's purposes. When we accept Jesus, we no longer are dead in sin. We become alive because we are connected to the Source of Life. We no longer live under a curse of death; we enter eternal life. We belong to God, and instead of living vainly for ourselves, we begin to live for him. Our lives become dedicated to God, and we are set aside for holiness, for serving God and growing by the power of the Holy Spirit in us. We are no loner doomed to death; we are consecrated for life and for the glory of God.

The Israelite priests stood before the altar day after day, continually offering sacrifices for the sins of Israel. When Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to his Father, he sat down at the Father's right hand. His sacrificing was done. Never again would he or any other priest have to offer a sacrifice. Jesus himself had offered the once-for-all sacrifice, and he sat down. His work of atonement was finished for eternity.

Already the victor over evil and sin, Jesus waits merely for the day his enemies will become his "footstool". In Old Testament times a conquering king put his foot on the neck of a defeated king to show that the defeated one was subservient to the conqueror. The image of Jesus' enemies being made his footstool comes from this fact of ancient warfare. When Jesus comes to reign on earth, Satan will become Jesus' footstool. He will be prevented from deceiving the nations any longer. His claim on the earth, however arrogant, will be squashed, and Jesus will reign as king without interference from Satan's deceptions. Satan will be bound, and Jesus will be clearly seen and acclaimed as the rightful king over his people.


Holiness and Victory

When we accept Jesus, we receive a new identity. Even though we are still locked in our sinful flesh, we are seen in God's eyes as righteous because we have the gift of Jesus' life and righteousness. Our spirits come alive by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, and we are again one with God. Our standing before God is perfect. In God's eyes we are no longer sinners; we are saints. Because we have accepted Jesus' sacrifice, our sins are blotted out. We have no more guilt before God. Through the power of Jesus' love and sacrifice, death, and resurrection, we are forever considered perfect before God. We are filled with his Spirit, and his righteousness transforms us.

The indwelling Spirit not only reconnects us to God, but his power begins to bring life also to our mortal bodies. (Romans 8:11) We begin to live by the motivations of God instead of by the motivations of our own limits and sin. Our identity as saints becomes an accomplished fact the moment we accept Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to give us a new heart. It is our perfect standing before God that enables us, by the power of the indwelling Spirit, to begin to live without the sinful habits that defined us when we were sinners. Our choices and motives and behaviors begin to change because God has set us aside for holiness.

The Holy Spirit is the Living Law indwelling us and writing God's will and God's laws of perfection and life on our hearts. No longer are we under the law of sin and death; we are under the Law of Life. As Clay Peck says, we are now working FROM victory instead of TOWARD victory.

God calls us to accept our new identities as saints. As long as we continue to see ourselves as sinners, our sins control our behaviors. When we believe the miracle that we are new creatures in Christ, sin has no more power over us. The Holy Spirit is free to change our physical lives in the same way he changed our hearts.

When we accept the life and identity of Jesus, we cannot continue to call ourselves sinners and to identify ourselves by our areas of struggle. If we continue to call ourselves liars or deceivers or adulterers or power mongers or materialists, for example, we deny the reality of our new birth. In Christ we are no longer identified by our sins. We are identified by Christ.

When we accept our new identities, we let go of the claim of sin on our lives. Our previous sins and deeply ingrained habits no longer define or claim us. Jesus now claims us, and when we embrace Him and the miracle of his grace and salvation, we loosen our grip of control on our lives and allow the Holy Spirit to begin to change our motives and desires. Evil and sin no longer define us when we are in Christ. He is our new identity.

Jesus is calling you to let go of your identity as a sinner and instead to embrace him. He is asking you to allow his love to claim your heart and to transform your soul and your life. Jesus has committed himself eternally to loving you and to being your Savior. He asks that you accept what he has already done for you. He offers you his righteousness, and he asks you to accept your new identity as perfect in him.

Jesus is calling you to let go of your fear. Let him uncover the truth about your life and heal the deep wounds of shame you carry. Let Jesus be your Savior, and give in to his love. Let him transform you from the inside by letting go of the tight control you hold over your memories and circumstances. Let Jesus hold your past, and trust his sacrifice to cleanse you from your sins.

You no longer have to be ashamed. You are saved; you are a saint. In God's eyes you are perfect. Your sins no longer define you.

Praise God for his amazing gift.

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (1 Peter 2:24-25)

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