|So? (Hebrews 10:19-39)
Minister’s Summary: In Pauline style, this section begins with a “therefore” of spiritual implication from the great doctrinal foundation that has been laid through 10:18. For one who embraces the superiority of Jesus over all that has gone before, the writer/preacher begins driving home the practical implications of this great truth for the life that is lived by faith.
The argument is now complete. Jesus is a better priest, a better sacrifice, a better mediator of a better covenant who secures for us eternal redemption and an eternal inheritance by virtue of his eternal priesthood. Our postmodern minds respond with the question, “so what?”
In this section the preacher brings the point home and applies the significance of Jesus to the lives of his original hearers. In particular, he articulates the theological significance of the priesthood of Jesus for the life of the Christian community. Specifically, he encourages his hearers to persevere in their faith as a community because of the significance of what Jesus has done for us.
Our section begins with the confidence of entering the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus and ends with an appeal for perseverance in faith. This confidence enables perseverance. Faith draws strength for the journey through recognition of what Jesus has done and from the communal experience of faith in the past and present.
This section consists of four paragraphs. It moves the reader from the present situation of the community (10:19-25) with a warning about potential apostasy (10:26-31) to their past experience of faith (10:32-34) with an encouragement concerning their future (10:35-39).
1. Hebrews 10:19-25.
This is perhaps one of the theologically richest (which is quite a claim considering how many there are in Hebrews) and also most well known texts in Hebrews. It is well known because it contains a favorite proof-text about assembling, but it is rich because it calls for communal worship in the divine presence in the context of a life dedicated to God.
We have confidence (boldness; cf. 3:6; 4:16; 10:35) to enter the Most Holy Place. It is not only the high priest who now enters the Most Holy Place (divine presence), but believers enter it as well. The body of Christ (10:14) has opened a new way for us—it has opened the curtain that separated God from his people. Now, the people of God have immediate access to the Father through Jesus. We all enter the Most Holy Place.
Given this opening, this access, the preacher encourages his hearers to “draw near” to God. The term “draw near” is important (cf. Hebrews 4:16; 7:25; 10:1; 11:6; 12:18, 22). It is an OT liturgical term that refers to the coming of a worshipper. It means to come before God (cf. Lev. 9:5,7,8; 10:4,5; 21:17,18,21,23). We come into the presence of God through Jesus (Hebrews 7:25). To draw near is to experience divine presence as a worshipper.
This access is characterized by several phrases. Worshippers enter the presence of God with assured and sincere hearts as our hearts have been sprinkled with the blood of Christ and our bodies have been washed in baptism.
· A sincere (true; cf. Isaiah 38:3) heart, that is, no divided allegiance; we approach God with our hearts.
· In full assurance of faith, that is, without doubt but with confidence; it is an assurance that flows from faith.
· Hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience; a purged conscience (Hebrews 9:14; 10:2) through the sprinkled blood of Jesus (blood is sprinkled, not water; cf. 9:19-22; 12:24).
· Bodies washed with pure water; the term “washed” is used of OT priestly water immersions (cf. Lev. 8:6; 11:40; 14:8,9; 15:5-8, etc.) as on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:4,24,26,28). It “pure water” in that it is water that is cleansing—it cleanses the body just as the blood cleanses the soul. This is a reference to Christian baptism.
The preacher also encourages two other actions. Not only to draw “draw near,” but also to “hold unswervingly to our hope” and to “consider how we may spur one another to love and good works.” The encouragement is to remain a community—to hold together around the hope and love of the community in the light of the confidence we have in Jesus. These encouragements must be read in the light of the community’s apathy, neglect and discouragement. The preacher’s encouragement is rooted in what Jesus has done, and this is the demonstration of God’s faithfulness. Because God is faithful and because God has acted in Jesus, we hold onto our hope without wavering.
The preacher encourages his hearers to pay attention to each other—to consider each other, or fix our eyes on each other. We are to provoke—stir the pot—each other to love and good works. Thus, the community is a source of encouragement rather than discouragement. And encouragement comes in the context of assembling together.
Hebrews 10:25 is one of those favorite proof-texts for assembling, as if to miss any assembly of the saints is to violate the point here. However, what concerns the preacher is the “habit” of some—the continual rejection and neglect of those who no longer assemble with the saints. To “forsake” the assembly is to give up meeting with the church altogether. The term is a word for “apostasy” in Chronicles (cf. 2 Chr. 7:19,22; 12:1,5; 13:10,11; 15:2; 21:10; 24:18,20, 24,25; 29:6; 32:31; 34:25). The term is used in Hebrews 13:5 as a promise that God will not forsake (abandon) his people. The preacher is referring to apostates here, not those who occasionally miss an assembly or simply never come on Wednesday evening.
What the preacher is concerned about is that assembling is something saints should do more often because of the benefit of assembling together in the presence of God (as we draw near) is encouragement. I imagine the preacher would like daily assemblies (cf. Hebrews 3:13).
Interestingly, 10:22-24 contains the triad of faith, hope and love. We draw near with faith, persevere with hope and encourage each other with love. Thus, the community hangs together and gains strength for the journey.
2. Hebrews 10:26-31.
The warning against apostasy should be heard in the context of the whole sermon. It is occasioned by the habit of some to forsake the assembly, that is, their willful rejection of the assembly of God’s people. The “sin” that the preacher has in mind is not one act of missing an assembly, or a single act of sin, but the persistent habit of sin that arises out of a willful rejection of God’s appointed one. This is the sin of one who has rejected the Christian faith as a whole. If one persists in this sin, then there is no other sacrifice; there is no hope.
The preacher uses the argument from lesser to greater to emphasize this point. If willful sinners did not escape punishment under the Mosaic law, then they will certainly not escape punishment if they have rejected God’s Son and Spirit. The words used here are quite vivid. They “trample” (cf. Isaiah 63:6,18) the Son of God, that is, they treat him with contempt (which is in contrast with how the Father has exalted him) and regard his blood as “unclean” (NIV reads “unholy”). They “insult” the Spirit of grace, that is, their rebellion constitutes an affront, an offence. They insult the graciousness of God by rejected the work of God in Christ.
The same context where God promises that he will not forsake his people in Deuteronomy 31:6 (quoted in Hebrews 13:5) is also the same context in which God says he will judge and punish his people in Deuteronomy 32:35-36 (quoted in Hebrews 10:30-31). Those who forsake God, God will forsake. If we abandon the Christian faith and sin deliberately, then God will judge his people for their sins. Judgment is certain, and thus the text constitutes a warning against apostasy.
3. Hebrews 10:32-34.
Strength for the journey not only arises from present confidence, but also from past experience. Consequently, the preacher reminds his hearers of their past perseverance. They have previously endured suffering (for the context of this suffering, see the first lesson in this series).
Indeed, their struggle began during the first days of their conversion (enlightenment). They were exposed to derision and they lost property. Some were imprisoned.
It was a time when the church endured this suffering joyfully. They were secure in their faith and hope. They persevered. However, times have changed. Now the church is weak and apathetic. Some have fallen away and no longer assemble with the saints. Some have hardened their hearts. Consequently, the preacher recalls the past in order to encourage the believers who remain.
4. Hebrews 10:35-39.
The preacher encourages endurance and perseverance on the basis of the future, that is, on the ground of what God has promised. Given the confidence we have in Christ (10:19), we should not give up what we have because the future will bring “reward”—it will bring the “Sabbath” (Hebrews 4) or the “city of God” (Hebrews 11). God has yet to fully work his will and we anticipate the future.
God has a work yet to do. The preacher quotes Habakkuk 2:3-4. Habakkuk experienced a time of tribulation, much like the preacher’s audience here. Habakkuk was told to wait for the destruction that would come upon evil (cf. Hab. 3:16-19). The preacher calls for the same patience in his hearers. They will have to wait for God’s full revelation of himself when Jesus returns. They must wait through faith.
The preacher calls for faith—a continued, persistent trust in the work of God. This is faith is not only in God’s past work in Jesus (cross, exaltation), but also God’s future work through Jesus (the second coming).
The basic exhortation is to continue to believe. Through faith, draw near to God and enter his presence with confidence. Through faith, wait for God to work his final work as he judges the wicked and redeems the righteous. Through faith, patiently endure the suffering of the present time in light of the hope that sustains us.
This faith, however, has a communal context (“let us”). It is faith within a faith community. The preacher—speaking to a group of assembled believers—urges them to approach God as a community with faith, hope and love. They should remember their past, claim their confidence in the present, and hope for the future work of God as a community. In the chapters to follow, the preacher will point to past examples of faith (11:1-40), understanding of the present experience of tribulation as discipline (12:1-14), and the presence of the future in kingdom of God (12:15-29). All of this, of course, is to give strength for the journey; to continue the journey of faith despite the hardships which community presently endures.
Their confidence, of course, is the very thing that preacher has sought to unfold up to this point in Hebrews. Their confidence is Jesus who, as high priest, pioneered their way into the presence of God. This is the ground of perseverance in the present and ground of their future hope.
The exhortations to draw near (approach God liturgically), hold fast and stir each other up are grounded in the work of Christ, both past (cross/resurrection), present (intercession; presence at the right hand of God) and future (his second coming).
The NaviPress book has some good suggestions as to how to discuss this text. Some good questions are part of the outline there.
The text moves in a nice progression: (1) the “let us” series based upon our confidence; (2) the warning; and (3) the exhortation to persevere. Each section is worth some considerable discussion.
In the first section, notice how the triad of faith, hope and love function. How do each relate to aspects of the Christian life, and Christian community? In the second section, discuss the severity of the warning. Is this disturbing? What “sin” is described in this section? How does this warning fit with the general encouragement of God’s grace throughout Hebrews? In the third section, past and future converge to strength us in the present journey. What past experiences continue to encourage us in the present? How does the future encourage us in the present?
Ultimately, the text is an encouragement to continue and a warning about apostasy. If we do not continue, there is no other alternative. If we continue, God is faithful and he will do what he promised.