These notes (vv. 1-4 are from The ESV Study Bible and vv. 11-14 are from The Gospel Transformation Bible) provide a helpful introduction to the passage that serves as the foundation for tomorrow’s Creekstone message.
Heb. 10:1–2 The Mosaic law, with its priesthood, covenant, sacrifices, and tabernacle (cf. 7:11–9:28), can never make a person perfect since it is but a shadow of the true form, which is found in Christ and his final sacrifice. If the law could have made anyone perfect, then the sacrifices would have been discontinued, because those who had been coming to offer them would no longer have any consciousness of sins.
Heb. 10:3 reminder. Repetition in sacrifice demonstrates the ongoing grip of sin. The Mosaic law thus convinces people of their sinfulness.
Heb. 10:4 impossible … to take away sins. These animal sacrifices symbolized the payment for sin, but they did not accomplish it. No animal was worthy of paying the price for a human being’s sin before a holy God. The law assumes that atonement and forgiveness occur by means of the legislated sacrifices; however, last year’s sacrifice does not cover this year’s sins, thus leaving guilty consciences and a remaining sinful condition. A permanent sacrifice is needed to deal permanently with sin.
Heb. 10:11–14 Once more Hebrews sharply contrasts Old Testament priests and Christ, to show his superiority. While ministering, the priests stood, indicating that their work was never done. Christ “sat down at the right hand of God” (v. 12), indicating that his priestly work was completely finished. Old Testament priests offered “repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (v. 11). Christ’s unique self-offering is effective and perfects believers forever (v. 14). Old Testament sacrifices were plural; Christ’s was “a single sacrifice” (v. 12). All of this means that the former priests’ ministries were earthly, provisional, temporary, and thus not effective. Over against Old Testament offerings, Christ’s offering was heavenly (although accomplished on earth), final, permanent, and successful.
Because of the magnificence of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, “by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (v. 14). This verse wonderfully summarizes the biblical doctrine of salvation applied. The basis for believers’ acceptance by God is always and only Christ’s “single offering.” On good days and bad, in health and sickness, in wealth and poverty, in each and every circumstance, it is the unique Son of God’s atonement that perfects us “for all time.” But at the same time, God’s people are recognizable; you can pick them out. They are “those who are being sanctified.” They are not perfect and never will be in this life, but they are “on their way” to that eternal reality.
Those whom God has saved are not totally new in this life; their perfection awaits their resurrection and transformation on the last day. In the meantime, they are genuinely new—they are different than they were. They now love God and live for him, which includes confessing their sins every day and in a special communal way on Sundays (cf. 10:23–24; 1 John 1:8–10). God has not chosen to keep us in line by threatening to put us out of his family. But he expects us to show a family resemblance to our heavenly Father (Matt. 5:48; Eph. 4:32; 5:1; Heb. 10:16; 1 Pet. 1:15–17) and to Christ, our older Brother (John 15:12; Eph. 5:2; Phil. 2:5; 1 Pet. 2:21–23) by the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 22, 25).
Christ our triumphant High Priest waits from the time of his death and resurrection “until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (Heb. 10:13). His sacrifice should thus be viewed from both the past and the future. Seen from the past, his self-offering is the fulfillment and the completion and annulment of all of the Old Testament sacrifices (7:18–19; 8:13). Seen from the future, his death guarantees the defeat of his foes and ours and causes us to be “eagerly waiting” for his return (9:28). Some of us have been put off from biblical prophecy because of overly dogmatic opinions and date-setters. This is understandable but wrong. We are to be among those “who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8) and who regard his return as “our blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).
As the author has taught (in Heb. 9:15), Christ’s sacrifice was so great that it made the Old Testament sacrifices effective in their day. They truly brought forgiveness, not in themselves but as foreshadows of Christ, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, 36). Gratitude for such grace should transform us now into a people filled with love and mercy for others, both lost persons and wayward Christians (Matt. 18:21–35; Eph. 4:32).