By: Daniel Goepfrich
Jesus, the Final Sacrifice
Hebrews 9 continues the exposition of the Jeremiah text by describing the ancient Tabernacle that Moses had built in the desert. It is noteworthy that the writer continued to refer to the ancient Tabernacle, not the Temple in Jerusalem (either Solomon’s or Zerubbabel’s/Herod’s). This may be another indication that the original readers were not as familiar with the Temple because they lived outside the land of Israel.
Although he knew the details were not that important, the writer mentioned several of the articles and furniture from the Tabernacle (Heb. 9:1-10). The point was that Jesus’ better priesthood, better covenant, and better promises required a better sanctuary in which he could offer a better sacrifice. Instead of offering the blood of bulls and goats repeatedly, including to cleanse the sanctuary and the priests, Jesus entered Heaven with his own blood (Heb. 9:11-14). With this he mediates the new covenant and, unlike under the old system, he can“purify” even “our consciences.” His sacrificial death was so inclusive that it provides forgiveness even for those sins “committed under the first covenant,” which were only covered (but never fully cleansed) by animal blood (Heb. 9:15-28). This also makes his sacrifice better, because it was made “once for all” time and people. Unlike the old priests who made sacrifices repeatedly when they were on duty, when Jesus returns, it will be to “bring salvation” (in the sense of inheritance and rest in the Kingdom), “not to bear sin.”
Hebrews 10 begins with the note that, not only did the repeated sacrifices under the old system not truly purify anyone’s conscience from sin, these continual sacrifices actually served as “a reminder of sins”(Heb. 10:1-4). Thus, the old law system was unable to do what Jesus did, proving again that Jesus offered a better sacrifice. Quoting from Psalm 40, the writer argued that God never intended for “whole burnt offerings and sin-offerings” to be the final payment (Heb. 10:5-9).
Jesus provided further proof of his superior sacrifice when “he sat down at the right hand of God”(Heb. 10:10-18; cf. Heb. 1:3). The writer noted that the Levitical priests never sat down because their work was never done. However, because Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins for all time,” his sacrifice was perfect and complete, offering full forgiveness as the New Covenant promised.
Three Exhortations and a Fourth Warning
The second half of the chapter begins with three exhortations which parallel the final three chapters of the letter (Heb. 10:19-25). Chapter eleven will show us how to “draw near with…faith.”Chapter twelve will focus on “the hope that we confess.” Chapter thirteen will offer practical examples of how to “spur one another on to love and good works.” These are all possible because of the work of our great High Priest, who ministers for us day and night in Heaven. The famous triad of faith, hope, and love is also an obvious nod to Paul’s use of them in 1 Corinthians 13:13 and 1 Thessalonians 1:3, showing the Pauline influence on the writer of this letter.
The chapter ends with the fourth, and harshest, warning (Heb. 10:26-39). It is so strong that many have used it to support the possibility of loss of salvation. Even those convinced that a believer could never lose salvation have difficulty dealing with the strong language and often interpret it that those under this judgment are professing believers only but not true Christians.
However, if we understand “salvation” to refer to the full inheritance promised to those who persevere and stay firm in the faith, instead of just forgiveness of sin and eternity in heaven, then loss of reward and loss of eternal blessing satisfies even the harshest warning and can easily be applied to a true believer without requiring him to spend eternity in hell. This is the best understanding of the text in the context of the whole letter, and it has support throughout the New Testament. To think that our Heavenly Father cannot or does not punish his children when they sin or to think that punishment must equate to a loss of eternal salvation is naïve; indeed, chapter twelve insists that punishment of his children is exactly what we should expect from the Father.
It is the use of “fire” here and in the third warning (Heb. 6:1-8) that leads people to conclude the loss of eternal salvation, because they automatically interpret “fire” to mean “hell fire.” However, 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 is clear that believers will face a judgment of fire for their works, and even those who lose all reward will still “be saved, but only as through fire.” Thus, God’s holy judgment fire will apply to both believers and unbelievers, albeit with different results.
Each Thursday, DPH runs a Chapter-by-Chapter blog by Daniel Goepfrich, progressing readers chapter-by-chapter through the New Testament. This series is taken from New Testament Chapter-by-Chapter, published by Trust House Publishers, a division of DPH. Daniel serves as Pastor of Oak Tree Community Church in South Bend, Indiana, and blogs at www.TheologyIsForEveryone.com
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