THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWSFrom Comments and Notes Discussed in Bible Classes and Compiled by F. M. Perry, 1978 Through 1998.
With many thanks to James Burton Coffman for his "Commentary on Hebrews" from which these notes have borrowed liberally.
CHAPTERS 9 AND 10 - CHRIST PROVIDES A BETTER SACRIFICE.
"(1) Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. (2) For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in whi9ch were the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place. (3) And behind the second veil, there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, (4) having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron's rod which budded,. and the tables of the covenant. (5) And above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail." Hebrews 9:1-5. NASV.
Chapter 9, verses 1-5 describe in some detail the structure and the furniture of the Tabernacle which was made and erected by Moses according to the pattern which was shown to him by God on Mt. Sinai. The Tabernacle was portable and erected like a tent. It was used by the Israelites while they wandered through the wilderness of Sinai and for many, many years after entering the Promised Land of Canaan. It was obviously not intended to be a permanent worship place although it lasted a long, long time (perhaps as much as 500 years). It was eventually replaced by the Temple built by Solomon on Mt. Zion (Mt. Moriah) in Jerusalem. All of the articles in the Tabernacle, mentioned in these first five verses, were presumably in Solomon's Temple except, according to some commentators, the pot of Manna and Aaron's rod which budded. The Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the writing of the Hebrew letter (which Temple existed until sacked by the Romans in 70 AD) was Herod's Temple. It was built after the pattern of Solomon's Temple and, in certain basic ways, after the pattern of the Tabernacle. But, according to Josephus, a writer of the first century, some of the original furniture that was in the Tabernacle was not in Herod's Temple. Josephus states that there was nothing whatsoever in the Most Holy Place of Herod's Temple. This is a believable report for it is known that the Ark of the Covenant had been carried away by the Chaldeans many years earlier and had never been returned. So it was necessary for the Hebrew writer to refer to the original Tabernacle rather than the contemporary Temple in order to give a complete picture of this copy of heavenly things.
"(6) Now when these things have been prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle, performing the divine worship, (7) but into the second only the high priest enters, once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. (8) The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing, (9) which is a symbol of the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, (10) since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation." Hebrews 9:6-10. NASV.
In Chapter 9, verses 6-10 is described the services performed in the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place with special reference to their limitations. Note that (1) the priests went into the Holy Place every day. But, (2) the High Priest went alone into the Most Holy Place once a year to offer blood for his own sins and sins of the people. Through this Tabernacle and its services the Hebrew writer says the Holy Spirit signifies that these things are a symbol, for the time of the first covenant, of something which was not disclosed while the Tabernacle was still standing. Although the people could not know at that time all of the symbolism, these Tabernacle services taught the people that the gifts and sacrifices offered in the services could not make the worshiper perfect in "conscience" since they related only to material and fleshly things and had no connection with inner "conscience" cleansing at all. In other words, there was no obvious connection between the Tabernacle worship and the forgiveness of sins for the Israelites at that time. This was by express design of the Holy Spirit in order to signify to the Israelites that forgiveness of sins had not occurred and that the way into heaven had not yet been disclosed. Everything the priests did in and about the Tabernacle, and the structure of the Tabernacle itself in which they served, were obviously designed to be temporary, imposed only until a "time of reformation," or until a change of covenant should come about when sins would be forgiven and the way into heaven would be disclosed.
"(11) But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; (12) and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (13) For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, (14) how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" Hebrews 9:11-14. NASV.
In Chapter 9, verses 11-14 reference is made to the appearance of Christ as a different order of High Priest, which reminds us that the writer has already made the point that a different order of High Priest necessitates a change of the covenant (7:12). So the future change (or "time of reformation") to which the old Tabernacle worship pointed came about when Christ appeared as High Priest. When Christ appeared a number of things were then disclosed which had "not yet been disclosed" when the Tabernacle had been in use. The things now disclosed through Christ are:
1. The greater and more perfect Tabernacle which is not a material structure but heaven itself which Christ entered.
2. The greater sacrifice which could at last cleanse the conscience of man (instead of the blood of goats and calves) was Christ's own blood.
3. The way to really serve the living God is with a conscience fully cleansed from dead works.
"(15) And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (16) For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the once who made it. (17) For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. (18) Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. (19) For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, (20) saying, 'This is the blood of the co0venant which God commanded you.' (21) And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. (22) And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (23) Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. (24) For Christ did no0t enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear i8n the p0resence of God for us;" Hebrews 9:15-24. NASV.
In Chapter 9, verses 15-24 it is revealed that Christ, through His better sacrifice has secured full forgiveness of sins for all whom God has called, both those who lived under the first covenant and those who live under the new covenant; that is, the faithful under both covenants may now receive the eternal inheritance.
However, the writer stresses the fact that Christ had to die in order to secure this eternal inheritance. The death of Jesus was a big stumbling block to Jews. So the writer showed that the Messiah had to die. He makes this point clear by two arguments:
1. The first argument is that a will is of no force until after the death of the testator. This is a principle of the world that the Jews understood and observed. From this principle the writer indicates that it is clear that Christ had to die before anyone could realize a clear title to the eternal inheritance.
2. The second argument is that the first covenant (which the writer has already shown had to be changed) was inaugurated with blood of animals and it taught the Jews that without the shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness of sins. Now, as already shown, the blood of the first covenant, a mere copy of heavenly things, did not cleanse anyone from dead works. Therefore, it becomes clear that the offering of better blood was necessary. The sacrifice of the blood of Christ (the only worthy lamb) was necessary to the inauguration of the new and better heavenly covenant.
"(25) nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood not his own. (26) Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (27) And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, (28) so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him." Hebrews 9:25-28. NASV.
The writer of Hebrews has stated a number of similarities between the first covenant and the new and better covenant, and between human things and heavenly things. Now Chapter 9, verses 25-28 seem to caution against pressing analogies too far and points out a number of contrasts or differences between the first covenant and the new covenant. These differences illustrate how Christ's sacrifice is better than the sacrifices of the old covenant Tabernacle.
1. The high priest of old entered the Most Holy Place with blood not his own, but the blood of a clean innocent animal. Christ entered and offered His own blood.
2. The old priests made numerous offerings year by year. Christ made only one offering.
3. The high priest of old performed his duties on the day of atonement each year and emerged from the Most Holy Place still defiled by sin. Therefore, he had to repeat his actions every year. But Christ died once and only once in a sacrifice that was completely acceptable to God so that there was no need or even any possibility for the sacrifice ever to be repeated. After that He was recognized by God to have put away the sins of many.
Christ will appear a second time, but at this second time He will not bear sin any more (for sins have already been put away), and He will bring the ultimate reality of salvation to those who are eagerly awaiting Him.
"(1) For the Law, since it was 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 long have had consciousness 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." Hebrews 10:1-4. NASV.
In Chapter 10, verses 1-4, it is pointed out that the sacrifices of the first covenant were obviously ineffective in taking away sins or in making anyone perfect.
"(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.' (8) After 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 o9ffered 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. (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) 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. (15) And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, (16) 'This is the covenant that I will that I will make with them after these days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, and upon their mind I will write them.' He says then, (17) And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.' (18) Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin." Hebrews 10:5-18. NASV.
Chapter 10, verses 5-18 point out that the one sacrifice of Christ was completely effective in taking away sins and in making men perfect because:
1. It fulfills the will of God, and
2. It was offered once for all time and there is no longer any need for additional offerings for sin.
The Hebrew writer proves these points by references to Old Testament scriptures: Psalms 40:6-8, and Jeremiah 31:33-34.
"(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. (23) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; (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." Hebrews 10:19-25. NASV.
In the rest of Chapter 10 the writer turns to exhortation, warning, consolation, and encouragement of the Hebrew Christians to whom he is writing. Here is the writer's practical application of the great principles he has been so ably presenting. His purpose is to turn them back from apostasy into happy useful lives for the Lord. Each exhortation is coupled to one of the great principles which he has been expounding.
In Chapter 10, verses 19-22, the writer exhorts them (and us) to draw near to God because:
1. The way into the Most Holy Place is now disclosed. It is through the flesh of Jesus.
2. We have Christ as a great High Priest now in heaven through whom we have free access.
In verse 23 the readers are exhorted to hold fast to their now well grounded hope because it is based on God's promise and God is absolutely faithful to fulfill His promise.
In verses 23, 24 and 25 readers are exhorted to have mutual watch care over one another because the day of judgment is drawing near. It is interesting to note that the only means mentioned by which Christians are to watch over and stimulate one another is in "assembling together." This does not mean that there are not other ways for Christians to watch over one another, but it speaks volumes for the importance of the assembly. The Holy Spirit guided the writing of Hebrews. Is not the Holy Spirit commanding Christians for their own good to attend the assemblies - to go to church - as we say today.
"(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. (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? (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." Hebrews 10:26-31. NASV.
In Chapter 10, verses 26-31, the writer again warns against apostasy, this time making three specific points:
1. The better sacrifice of Christ is no longer available to those who have gained a knowledge of it, accepted it, but who later go back to the Old Covenant. The warning is pointedly made to any Jew who has become a Christian for a while but has forsaken the assembly of Christians and has then returned to Judaism. The sacrifice of Christ will no longer be available to him. The only thing he will have to look forward to under Judaism again is the day drawing near on which he will receive the judgment of fire. It does not mean he cannot repent and come home to Christ while he is still alive on earth. But it means no one can be saved outside of Christ, even one who embraces God's own former covenant.
2. The punishment contained in that judgment for a former Christian who has rejected Christianity will be more severe than the death which was pronounced on the Jews who presumptuously set aside the Law of Moses under the First Covenant. I don't know how one judgment will be more severe than another, but these verses say that the one who rejects Christianity after having once enjoyed it, will deserve a more severe punishment than the Jews of old who set aside the Law of Moses.
3. God has always made it clear in the Old Testament Scriptures that He will pronounce judgment upon His disobedient people and execute vengeance upon them. Now under the New Covenant, if one forsakes Christianity, be assured that he will fall into the hands of the living God without the assistance of the Great High Priest, without the benefit of Christ's sacrifice, without the benefit of the blood of the Better Covenant, without sanctification, without hope of any kind, but simply as one who has chosen to ally himself with God's adversary, and this is "a terrifying thing." The vengeance of God will fall on that person just as it will fall on the Devil!
"(32) But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of suffering, (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." Hebrews 10:32-34. NASV.
Verses 32-34 of chapter 10 reminded the Hebrew Christians of their former days when they had such confidence in their salvation that they endured great suffering under persecution from the enemies of Christianity; and reminded them of the time when they assisted each other and sympathized with suffering fellow Christians, accepting whatever hardship came to them because they knew they had a better and more abiding possession in heaven. The obvious intent of these verses is to spur them to be consistent now with their past conduct and to continue in the same course.
"(35) Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, wh9ich 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. (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. (39) But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul." Hebrews 10:35-39. NASV.
In verses 35-39 of chapter 10 the writer exhorts the Jewish Christians to maintain confidence because:
1. The final outcome promised by God justifies whatever one may have to endure in this life.
2. The coming of Christ to claim His righteous ones is only a little while away and will not be delayed. As he has done throughout this letter, the writer proves his point by reference to Old Testament scripture, this time Habakuk 2:3-4. The Hebrew writer truly speaks only where the Bible speaks and beginning from Old Testament scriptures, preaches unto us Jesus (Acts 8: 35) .
CHAPTERS 9 AND 10.
The Candlestick or The Lampstand, Chapter 9, verse 2.
The Candlestick was actually a holder with seven oil lamps. It stood approximately 6 feet tall and was made of a "talent" of gold (said to be worth $30,000 or $40,000). It was so heavy that it took three or four men to carry it. The Lampstand that was in Herod's Temple in 70 AD when the Temple was sacked by the Romans was taken back to Rome and carried through the streets in a triumphal procession. Then when the Arch of Titus was constructed in Rome to memorialize the victory of the Romans over the Jews, the likeness of the Lampstand was carved on the arch along with the likeness of the Table of Showbread. To this day the carvings of the Lampstand and the Table may be seen in Rome and plaster casts of the carvings may be seen in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
The Lampstand required constant care. Twice a day, or more often, the lamps had to be trimmed and re-supplied with pure olive oil. It was the only source of light in the Holy Place.
The commentator, Milligan, sees the Lampstand as a type of the Church as God's means for dispensing the light of the gospel. James Burton Coffman sees it as a symbol or type of the Bible, the entire Word of God. He cites Zechariah 4:1-6 when Zechariah saw a vision of just such a Lampstand. Zechariah asked the angel what the vision of the seven Lampstands meant. The Angel said the Lampstand was the "Word of God to Zerubbabel." James Burton Coffman suggests its seven branches stand for the seven divisions of the Bible. The three lamps on one side stand for the three divisions of the Old Testament which the Jews used and to which Jesus Himself referred in Luke 24:44: 1. The Law of Moses, 2. The Prophets, and 3. The Psalms. The center lamp stands for the four gospels (the section of God's Word which stands between the covenants), and the three lamps on the other side stand for 5. the book of Acts, 6. the Epistles, and 7. the Revelation.
The long arm of the Lampstand on the Old Testament side goes all the way back to creation, and the long arm on the New Testasment side goes all the way to the Judgment.
The constant care that had to be given to the lamps to keep them burning is thought to be symbolic of the constant care, meditation, reading and study that we must give to the Bible.
The Table and the Sacred Bread (Table of Showbread), Chapter 9, verse 2.
It was a regular table with four legs but unusual in that it was made of Acacia wood overlaid with pure good with four rings on the sides through which 2 staves could be passed to carry it from place to place (the entire Tabernacle and its furniture being portable). It was about 3 feet long, 1 1/2 feet wide, and 2 1/4 feet high. On this table were placed every Sabbath day by them High Priest twelve cakes or loaves of fine flour, arranged in stacks of 6 each. On top of each stack was a golden cup of frankincense. The cakes were eaten by all of the priests and it is suggested that the cakes were symbolical of the spiritual food of Christians, all of whom are made priests through Christ. James Burton Coffman suggests that the two stacks (or rows) of bread remind one of the two Israels, the fleshly Israel, and the Spiritual Israel. And he suggests that the table with its contents refers to the table of the Lord's Supper in the better covenant, the showbread being symbolical of the bread which came from God out of heaven, the bread of life, of which, if a man eat, he shall never die; and God shall raise him up at the last day.
The Golden Altar of Incense, Chapter 9, verse 4.
The Altar of Incense is associated with the Most Holy Place, but it stood just outside the Most Holy Place (actually in the Holy Place) just in front of the veil. It too was made of Acacia wood overlaid with pure gold. It was about 1 1/2 feet square and 3 feet high. It also had four rings through which staves (also of Acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold) could be passed to carry it around.
Incense was burned on the altar perpetually, tended every morning and evening by the priests. The sweet smell that arose from this burning incense suggests the prayers of the saints of God. The altar being placed just before the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat (although hidden from it by the veil) made each priest in offering incense draw near to the throne of grace. We, when we offer prayers today, draw near to the throne of God's grace. And now the veil is removed.
We should note the symbolism of the placement of the Altar of Incense. It was placed in the Holy Place which typified the Church, and not in the outer court which typified the world. Thus, prayer is a special privilege of Christians in the Church, and not a privilege pertaining to people outside the Church. Only Christians (those who are in Christ) can approach the throne of God, even in prayer, through the High Priest, the Christ. This does not deny that God may answer the prayer of any person if he should will to do so. But only those within the covenant relationship with God (those in the Body of Christ) have the privilege to actually approach the Mercy Seat and always be assured of being heard by God.
The Ark of the Covenant and The Mercy Seat, Chapter 9, verses 4-5.
Behind the veil within the Most Holy Place was the Ark of the Covenant. It was a sort of chest about 3 feet 9 inches long, 2 feet 3 inches wide, and 2 feet 3 inches high. It too was made of Acacia wood overlaid with pure gold. Around the upper edge was a cornice of gold and there were two gold rings on each side through which the staves were inserted to carry the Ark from place to place. Inside the Ark were placed 1. a golden vase containing manna [Ex. 16:32-34], 2. Aaron's rod which budded and bloomed blossoms and yielded almonds [Num. 17:1-11], and 3. the two stone tablets of the covenant hewn by Moses but inscribed with the ten commandments by God Himself on Mt. Sinai (Deut. 10:1-5).
Over the Ark was a cover of pure gold that fitted the top of the Ark perfectly, being the same length and width as the Ark. In Numbers 7:89 Moses calls this cover the Mercy Seat. On the ends of it, formed from the same piece of solid gold as the Mercy Seat itself, were two Cherubims with wings extended, having each his face turned toward the other, and looking down at the Mercy Seat as if anxious to look into the profound mysteries of the Ark. The word Cherub, from which the word Cherubim is taken, means keeper or guardian. Milligan suggests these Cherubim are symbolical of the angels who are sent to minister to the heirs of salvation (Heb. 1:14).
James Burton Coffman suggests that the location of the mercy seat being above the Ark of the Covenant is symbolical of the fact that God's mercy stands enthroned even above His law.
Generations of people beheld the wonder of God's mercy seat above God's law, but neither people nor angels understood it until Christ was crucified and raised again and His perfect sacrifice was recognized. People have difficulty understanding it today. Even in our so-called Christian nation most people cannot believe that salvation is only at the mercy of God and that they cannot earn it or merit it through law. And in the rest of the world where people follow other religions (which includes the majority of the people on earth), many people have not even heard of the mercy of God. Most other religions teach that one must earn his salvation if he is to get it, and many religions are quite pessimistic of the possibility of gaining salvation at all.
But from the time of the giving of the Law to the Israelites, and the construction of the Tabernacle, God has indicated through the symbolism of the Ark of the Covenant and the golden mercy seat over it that His mercy is offered to people and is elevated above His law.
The great significance of the Tabernacle, its furniture, and the elaborate ceremonies that took place there was simply to show that (chap. 9, verse 8) the way into the Most Holy Place was not revealed as long as the Tabernacle services should continue. The Jews should have recognized that the Tabernacle services were temporary until God's mercy seat should appear.
Verse 8 of Chapter 9 indicates that God through His Holy Spirit was the author of all the rites, ceremonies, and institutions of the Old Covenant, and that His purpose was to show dramatically the darkness of the Jewish institution. The people, even though they were God's chosen people, could not enter the Holy Place or the Most Holy Place where God's presence was symbolized. Only a relatively few priests could enter the Holy Place and only one of them, the high priest alone, could enter the Most Holy Place and then only upon the most limited circumstances one day a year. And even when the high priest entered, the Mercy Seat was first covered with the smoke of incense for God could not allow the high priest to look upon Him and He could not allow the high priest actually into His presence because of his unworthiness. Salvation was promised by the mercy seat but under the Old Covenant its "how" was not made clear. But (Heb. 10:20) Christ inaugurated for us a new and living way through the veil, that is, His flesh.
Concerning the Conscience.
Chapters 9 and 10 speak of one of the great advantages of the new covenant over the old, being the cleansing of the conscience of a person. Under the old covenant the worshiper of God was left with an unsatisfied conscience which continually reminded him that he was a law breaker and could not draw near to God. Chapter 9 verses 8, 9, and 10 open the discussion about the conscience: "The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly, both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation." The old covenant rituals performed in the tabernacle related only to the cleansing of the outer man, the flesh, or the body, and did not have any clear relationship to the cleansing of the inner man.
Under the new covenant one's conscience can become cleansed, and can actually assure one of his nearness to God to serve Him. Chapter 9 verses 13 and 14 make this clear: "For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" The blood of Christ cleanses the inner man, and especially that part of one's inner man called the conscience. It turns out that the cleansing and perfecting of one's conscience is of very great importance. Under the old covenant the blood of goats and bulls could not do it. Under the new and better covenant the blood of Christ can do it.
Chapter 10 verses 1 -3 say that the continual sacrifices under the old covenant Law could not "make perfect those who draw near." If the old covenant sacrifices could have made them perfect, the sacrifices could have been stopped and the worshipers would no longer have had a "consciousness of sins." That is, their consciences would have been satisfied that the sacrifices were effective and would have ceased to remind them of their need for an additional better sacrifice. But, under the old covenant law, one's conscience actually reminded one that his sins year by year remained unpropitiated (sins for which no sufficient sacrifice had been made) and of the fact that one could not actually draw near to God.
However, chapter 10, verses 19-22 tell us that under the new covenant and the blood of Jesus sacrifice, we
have confidence in the inner man to enter even the Most Holy Place, for we can "draw near with a sincere
heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience, and our body
washed with pure water." Whereas, under the old covenant the cleansing rituals pertained to the body
only, with no cleansing of the inner man; under the new covenant, the washing of the body with pure
water (baptism) is accompanied with the spiritual sprinkling of the inner man with the blood of Christ.
Thus, under the new covenant, for the first time, the inner man (including the heart and the conscience) is
cleansed and this allows one at last to draw near to God. With chapter 10 verse 22 in mind, we understand
more fully Peter's statement in 1 Peter 3:21, "baptism now saves you - not the removal of dirt from the
flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience -through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Baptism, the
immersion of one's body of flesh in water, saves that one because this is how God directs one to make
appeal to Him for the sprinkling of the blood of Christ on his inner man, and which results in the
remission of the sins of the inner man and the assurance of that remission by a good conscience.
Someone has said that "conscience is an urge to do right." Someone else has defined conscience as "that faculty of the inner man which perceives the difference between right and wrong, approving the one and condemning the other." If one had no conscience, he would have no motivation to judge between right and wrong and no urge to do that which he has judged to be right. We would not know what to expect from one who had no conscience since his moral actions would be out of control. A society of people with no consciences would be chaotic and self-destructive. So, for that reason alone, the conscience is important. We'll find, however, that it is even more important as a God given faculty to help lead us to salvation and to help direct us in our work for the Lord.
Now, conscience is not the source of truth as to what actually is right and wrong. It is not an infallible judge of what is actually right and wrong. The knowledge of right and wrong is stored elsewhere in the inner man, and that knowledge can be false or it can be true depending on where it came from. The conscience is simply the faculty that compares our current thoughts and our actions with our stored knowledge of what is supposed to be right and wrong, and urges us to follow the way that our mind has labeled right. Our stored impressions of right and wrong may be incorrect. But, whether correct or incorrect, our conscience urges us to follow the course we think is right. If we always follow the urging of our conscience we always will have a "clear" or a "good" conscience. That is, if the conscience has not been violated, it remains a "good" conscience and does not lose its function. But this does not mean that we will be doing right necessarily in the sight of God. We can have a "good conscience" and yet be wrong when it comes to God's absolute truths.
Saul, later to be known as Paul, is an example of one who kept a "good conscience," yet was wrong in God's sight. Saul was not saved at that time, even though his conscience was clear, because his knowledge was faulty. Paul said, in Acts 23:1, that he had lived all his life with a "good conscience." Yet, by his own admission in Acts 22:4 he said he persecuted Christians to the death, putting them in prison. And in Acts 22:9-11 he said he had done many things contrary to Christ. Yet he had done all these wrong things with a "good conscience."
Paul's conscience was not faulty. But his knowledge of right and wrong was faulty. His conscience urged the doing of what he thought in his mind was right, but it was actually wrong. So Paul in that condition was not saved. When his knowledge of right and wrong was corrected by Christ's appearance to him, and by Ananias' teaching of God's new covenant word, Paul's good conscience then urged him to action in his new knowledge from God. Paul was then baptized and God cleansed his inner man from sin. Paul's conscience had served him in the way that it was designed by God to serve.
See how important is the keeping of a "good conscience." If Paul had violated his conscience, even when he was persecuting Christians, it would have become "seared" and useless in performing its function. Then He would not have been as valuable to God. But Paul, even when he was a violent persecutor of the church, was seen by God as a potentially valuable and useful servant because he had not yet "seared" his conscience. Paul only had to be informed of the truth and his conscience urged him to follow it.
Paul later warned Timothy (1 Tim. 4:2) about the liars who had become seared in their consciences as with a branding iron. If we violate our conscience over and over again, it will eventually cease to function as though it has become seared with a hot branding iron. Paul in 1 Cor. 8:7-13 warns against violating the conscience even when our knowledge is faulty. He said in verse 7 that some men "eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience being weak, is defiled. But food will not commend us to God, we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you who have knowledge dining in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And thus by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ."
The point we want to get across right now is that a person's conscience is a precious gift from God. And anyone who wounds a conscience has committed a sin against Christ. Anytime we influence a person to violate his conscience in any way, we wound that person's conscience, and that is sin.
One proper function of a person's conscience is brought out in Romans 2:14-16: "When Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctive1y the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a Law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending themselves." In Romans 2 where this passage is located, Paul is writing of both Jews and Gentiles. Jews have the Law of Moses, and their knowledge of their performance under that Law is written in their hearts (in their inner man), and their consciences bear witness to their failure to keep the Law, and then their consciences accuse them and make them aware they are sinners. This is true also of Gentiles. Although the Gentiles do not have the Law of Moses, they do instinctively many things of the Law so that it may be said that the Gentiles too have a law. And their knowledge of their performance under that law is written in their inner man also, and their consciences bear witness to their failure to keep their law, and then their thoughts accuse them and make them aware that they are sinners. That is a proper function of conscience among non-Christians.
Without a properly functioning conscience, we would never be convicted in our inner man that we are sinners, and we would never feel any need for Christ. As it says in Hebrews 10:2, the conscience allows us to have a consciousness of sin. A properly functioning conscience is necessary for us to be led to Christ. God has given each of us a good functioning conscience. It is our job to keep it good so that it will function as it should.
The Hebrew letter has spoken of the tabernacle of Moses which had an outer court and two inner Holy Places. Now in chapters 9 and 10, the letter has spoken about the outer and inner man also. The sacrifices of the old covenant in the tabernacle, the "food and drink and various washings" were "regulations for the body," the outer man. The sacrifice of Christ which serves the new covenant cleanses the inner man, cleanses the conscience from dead works (Heb. 9:14), and sprinkles our hearts clean from an evil conscience with the blood of Christ (Heb. 10:22).
Chapter 10, verses 23, 24, and 25:
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 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."
Note that the only practical means suggested here whereby we can stimulate one another to love and good deeds is to "assemble together" and not forsake the continual periodic assembling together. The words "not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some," gives the impression of regular periodic fellowship of Christians in assembly, which we know from the book of Acts was the practice of the early church. So this scripture carries great weight and is very important to us. It tells us (in the language of our day) not to quit "going to church." It is in effect a command from the Holy Spirit to go to church regularly and not get in the habit of not going. Effectively we are told to make a habit of "going to church." The reason given is that we assemble to watch over each other and stimulate one another to continue steadfast in Christian living. Moreover, it indicates that this assembling together is necessary to our holding fast the confession of our hope without wavering. The Lord is absolutely unwavering and faithful. We are admonished to assemble together to show the results of our faithfulness.
There are many admonitions in the Hebrew letter. Chapters 1 and 2 tell us, "pay close attention to the word God has spoken to us in His Son" (1:2; 2:1). The 3rd chapter (verse 13) tells us "to encourage one another day after day." The 4th chapter (verse 14) tells us to "hold fast our confession." And chapter 4 (verse 16) tells us to "draw near to the throne of grace." Chapter 6 (verse 2) says "press on to maturity," and chapter 6 (verse 11) says "show diligence." None of these admonitions are completely definitive about how to manipulate one's arms and legs to actually do them.
But now in chapter 10 verse 25 a fully definitive action is admonished. "Let us not forsake our own assembling together," which anyone can see means to get up, get out of bed, or stop doing whatever else you are doing, get your feet to moving, and go to the assembly of Christians. Why? So that, in the context of our daily lives, we can consider with each other how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. It is a fully practical admonition. And I think we will find that it facilitates all the other admonitions which were not completely definitive in how to accomplish them.
The book of Hebrews was written to try to keep the Hebrew Christians in the early church from apostatizing - from leaving the Lord altogether. And the intimation is that if you forsake the assembling together, you are much more likely to leave the Lord altogether. And just look at our modern day evidence. Those who don't go to church are the ones who apostatize, not those who are regularly in attendance.
The Hebrew writer finishes his thoughts concerning the assembly with the words, "and all the more as you see the day drawing near." What day? We must find the answer in the context, I think. Just a few thoughts previous to this in chapter 9 verse 28, the writer said that "Christ ... shall appear a second time for salvation ... to those who eagerly await Him." And immediately after he refers to "the day" in Hebrews 10:25, he says in 10:27 that there is coming "a certain terrifying expectation of judgment." So I believe that "the day" that we are to see drawing near is the day of the coming of the Lord for salvation, which may also be "the day" of the coming judgment. We should want to assemble with the Lord's saints as we think of eagerly awaiting together for salvation, the coming of the Lord.
Chapter 10 verses 26 and 27:
"For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries."
Verse 26 seems to be a return to the warning of chapter 6 verses 4 to 8 regarding the final and total apostasy of persons who were once true Christians, concerning whom it was affirmed that it is "impossible" to renew them. Here the reason for that impossibility is stated in the fact that the rejection of Christ's one sacrifice can only result in the sinner's being left with none at all, "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins."
James Burton Coffman points out that it would be a mistake to construe every strong-hearted and presumptuous sin as "an eternal sin," although that it might become so should never be overlooked. And the impossibility of apostasy, sometimes called the final perseverance of the saints, which is taught by some denominations, is not a teaching of the New Testament. The acceptance of such a doctrine can quite easily lead to a presumptuous arrogance that actually could lead to eternal death.
Verse 27 sharply focuses on the fearful and inevitable results of rejecting the one and only sacrifice of Jesus Christ for man's sins. The result is the judgment with its eternal fires of punishment awaiting the wicked. The Hebrew writer calls it a "fearful expectation." People do not like to dwell upon such a thing as "fire" for the wicked. Yet it is a clear and plain Bible teaching. In the Old Testament the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by literal fire as from a volcano (Gen. 19:24). Korah and his company were consumed by fire (Num.16:35). It was by fire that God consumed the sacrifice and answered the prayers of Elijah (1 Kings 18:38). In Hebrews chapter 12 verse 29, God Himself is called "a consuming fire." Christ will appear the second time "in flaming fire" (2 Thess. 1:8). Peter consigned the entire present world to destruction by fire (2 Peter 3:14-18). John the Baptist spoke of the chaff which was to be burned up "with unquenchable fire" (Matt. 3:10), and even Jesus made frequent mention of it (Matt. 25:41). Can the reference to "fire" be a figure of speech? If so, that does not provide any relief from the severity of such thoughts about "fire." It is something so terrible that it demands a figure such as "fire!"
The "adversaries" mentioned in verse 21 are a grim reminder of the struggles identified with the Christians life. Paul knew the meaning of "many adversaries" (1 Cor. 16: 9) .
Chapter 10 verses 28 and 29:
"Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 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?"
The fact stated in verse 28, concerning people being put to death for violating the Law of Moses, has many examples in the history of Israel. One example was the case of the man picking up sticks on the Sabbath. He was stoned to death (Num. 15:36). And the fact that the Hebrew writer speaks of the practice in the present tense ("dies") indicates that the penalty was still being evoked in Jerusalem by the Jews at the time Hebrews was written. James Burton Coffman mentions the fact that Annas, the High Priest, was deposed by the Romans for putting a man to death as a lawbreaker; and it was precisely their readiness to execute such penalties that caused Rome to forbid their right to put men to death at all. It was this Roman law which forced the Jews to bring Jesus before the Procurator, Pilate, to seek permission to put him to death. This putting to death under the Law of Moses was done "without compassion." It shows the general concurrence of the Hebrew people in the opinion that the offender deserved no pity.
As we read verse 29 with its phrases like "trampled under foot the Son of God," "regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant," and "insulted the Spirit of grace," we may get the impression that only the most shameful and incorrigibly wicked are included in the author's thoughts, such as the people of chapter 6 verses 4-8 who willfully and persistently went into apostasy. However, we must not quickly dismiss this verse as applying only to one who has completely rejected Christ and the Christian system. Should we not look to the sins of the people to whom this letter was addressed in order to identify what the meaning is? What were those sins about which the writer has addressed the Jews? They were a neglect of Christian duty, lack of diligence in study, forsaking the assembly which included the forsaking of the Lord's Supper, and a tendency to revert to their old religion. These were the sins which were under consideration; and such sins, some say, are not the sins of reprobates, debauchers, or scoundrels, but the sins of "nice people!" At least that is the opinion of many modern day Christians. It is quite possible that the Jews viewed such sins as some of us do today, as trivial, especially since it violates no law, is in fact customary by large numbers of Christians, and hardy viewed as sinful at all by the majority.
But may God help Christians to remember that as custodians of the word of God which is to bless all nations, their utmost endeavor is the least required of them. The lives of Christians are held forfeit to the task of holding the word of truth aloft in the darkness of human sin and transgression. Any carelessness or preventable inattention, or conscious neglect of God's purpose in the lives of Christians is bound to bring upon Christians guiltiness concerning the blood of the covenant. The point of this exhortation in verse 29 is, namely, that neglecting the assembly, absence from the Lord's table, indifference and lack of regard for Christian worship, makes common the blood of Jesus, tramples Christ under foot, and insults the Holy Spirit. We are sometimes slow to assign the grave transgressions of this verse to merely neglectful Christians. The human mind seems to find it hard to believe that so-called respectable people will be lost.
The importance of the conduct of each Christian before that part of the world in which he lives was brought home to me very alarmingly when I and my family lived abroad in a non-Christian, an Islamic country. There were a number of Americans working in that country and, you know, they were all thought by the Muslim population to be Christians. Just to name one aspect of American conduct, especially among our diplomats and high government officials, was the favorite practice of holding cocktail parties where alcoholic drinks were very openly consumed. And this was done in an Islamic country, in the presence of Muslims who were invited to the party. And, of course, a very strong precept of the Muslim religion is that alcohol not be consumed in any form. The Muslims present at the party would not drink in front of other Muslims, even if they wanted to. I became very aware of a problem when a Muslim friend approached me and said that he wished he was a Christian so that he could drink with the Christian Americans. I wanted to cry out and say, these Americans are not Christians, although most of them considered themselves to be. This was just one practice that made me aware of the importance of the conduct of Christians. The scripture which often came to my mind at that time was Romans 2:23-24: "You who boast in the Law. through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." That latter quotation is from Isaiah and Ezekiel. It has been going on a long, long time, the fact that the conduct of God's people is a major factor in the blasphemy against God by the non-Christian world.
James Burton Coffman makes these additional comments. "What about the sinner who rather reluctantly turns away from the fountain of grace, as did the rich young ruler (in Mark 10)? How about him who is merely too busy with this life to concern himself with another? What about the man who simply never has time to think about it, after the first blush of conversion is past? What of the soul which merely drifts away from it? It is the solemn conclusion of this student that such conduct on the part of men, however good they may be in the ordinary sense, and however justified by the customs of a permissive society - that such conduct is not merely deplorable but guilty. The verse at hand calls such behavior by its proper labels; it is trampling under foot the Son of God, making the blood of Jesus common, and insulting the Spirit of grace."
Chapter 10 verses 30 and 31:
"For we know Him who said, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay.' And again, 'The Lord will judge His people.' It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
These quotations are from Deuteronomy 32:35, 36, although they are changed their form by the Hebrew writer. They are not changed in their meaning. It is especially interesting to know that Paul quoted exactly the same thing in the same form as the Hebrew writer in Romans 12:19. James Burton Coffman says that this is Paul quoting Deuteronomy in his own words and that this is evidence that Paul was the writer of the Hebrew letter.
These verses inform us that God's wrath is inherent in His holiness. God's wrath is not "out of character," but assures us that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament, and that He is angry with the wicked every day, sin will not stand in His presence, and that the utter and final destruction of everything evil is a part of God's eternal purpose.
Chapter 10 verses 32, 33, and 34:
"But remember the former days, when after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one."
Verse 32 possibility refers to the fidelity and endurance of the Hebrew Christians who passed through the tribulations that arose around the martyrdom of Stephen and the following persecutions. The martyrdom of Stephen may have occurred a full generation before the Hebrew letter was written. But the Hebrew writer asks them to remember the former days which may have been the days\ when the first persecutions started. But then he referred to the very recipients of the Hebrew letter who later "endured a great conflict of suffering." Over in chapter 12 verse 4 the writer tells the Hebrew Christians to whom he is writing, "You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin." But it is clear from verse 32 here that they have endured suffering.
These Hebrew Christians who received this letter were the very ones who were in danger of abandoning Christianity and going back to Judaism. So the writer is asking them to remember the former days, in verse 33, when they had been truly heroic and faithful in their endurance, and had at first stood against every persecution and insult. They had even identified themselves with other brethren who were being mistreated becoming sharers in others' persecutions.
Verse 34 helps us understand that many of the persecuted Christians had an other-worldly or spiritual emphasis in their thoughts showing that they had truly set their affections on things in heaven rather than things on earth. They undoubtedly knew the words of Jesus who said in the Sermon on the Mount, "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great" (Matt. 5:12). But now they are being addressed because they are in danger of falling away from the faith and going back to the Law of Moses.
Chapter 10 verses 35 and 36:
"Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised."
Verse 35 indicates that they had once had confidence and boldness which is necessary to keep a Christian in the good works that God has purposed for him to do. They were about to throwaway that confidence and boldness and the great reward that went with it.
A lesson for us as Christians is that we are to maintain at all times that confidence and boldness which must be exhibited under all circumstances, especially when under persecution and discouragement from the world.
Verse 36 stresses "patience," which may have been the opposite of the impatience that had developed in the hearts of many Hebrew Christians who were under stress. James Burton Coffman mentions the possibility that their impatience may have been due to an expectation that the Lord should have come already. If so, their expectations were due to a misinterpretation of the scriptures, but it was none the less a disappointment. There had been a problem in Thessalonica (2 Thess. 2:1-3) concerning the second coming of Jesus Christ. Some of the Thessalonicans were expecting Him very soon, and after awhile, some were saying that He had already come. Paul told them, "Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him, that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come." Their misapprehension may have been due partially to the purposeful ambiguity of the scriptures relating to the second coming of our Lord. One of the hardest things for the fleshly mind to realize, especially for first century Hebrew Christians, is that the victory of faith is not achieved by one brilliant campaign but by a lifetime of patient and faithful service. Perhaps it is this that the Hebrew writer is urging here.
Chapter 10 verses 37, 38 and 39:
"'For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay, but My righteous One shall live by faith, and if He shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in Him.' But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul."
Verse 37 is a partial quotation from Habakkuk 2:3 which reads, "For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; for it will surely come, it will not tarry." So the import of verse 37 is that whatever may seem to tarry, as viewed by men, is not really so at all. God's will moves inexorably to the fulfillment of His eternal purpose. Delay, from the human standpoint, is not delay at all from the viewpoint of God.
In verse 38 the answer for the Christian is given. The Christian must live by faith. The matter of "when" Christ will come, as well as countless other questions can be safely left with the Lord. The soul that shrinks back because of any consideration whatsoever shall confront the displeasure of God Himself.
In verse 39, the statement, "But we are not of those who shrink back," is an affirmation of the writer's confidence that his readers will, after all, continue in the path of faith and ultimately prevail. The mention of the importance of "faith" in these last two verses of this section of the Hebrew letter sets the stage for a following comprehensive discussion of faith in chapter 11.