HEBREWS STUDY PART 3: CHRIST THE PERFECT SACRIFICE AND PRIEST
CHRIST, THE PERFECT SACRIFICE (10:1-18)
Christ crucified is the only hope of men, and that is the theme of Hebrews 10:1-18. Here we find the record of Jesus’ death from the theological, rather than the historical, standpoint. The first six verses lay the foundation by showing the ineffectiveness of the old sacrifices. We tread here some familiar ground in the study of this epistle.
THE FAILURE OF THE OLD SACRIFICES
“For the Law, since it has 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.” (10:1)
Under the Old Covenant, no matter how many sacrifices were made, or how often, they were ineffective. They failed in three ways: they could not bring access to God; they could not remove sin; and they were only external.
“Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (10:2-4)
If the old system could have removed sin or guilt, the sacrifices would have stopped and would no longer have been necessary. In those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. The sacrifices kept reminding the people that they were sinful. Consciousness are warning systems.
The more faithful and godlier the person was, the guiltier he was likely to feel, as he was torn between his knowledge of God’s law and his knowledge of his own breaking of that law.
The Christian should however also be conscious of his sin, but his conscience should no longer be unduly burdened by it. Proverbs 28:13 is true in every dispensation—”He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” The forgiven sinner is not insensitive to sin, but he knows he is forgiven in Christ and is thereby delivered from fear of judgment.
It was impossible for the blood of an amoral animal to bring forgiveness for a man’s moral offense against God. The old sacrifices only sanctified “for the cleansing of the flesh,” the external, but “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God” (9:13-14), cleanses our consciences, the internal.
“Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body Thou hast prepared for Me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast taken no pleasure.” (10:5-6)
The person who did not sacrifice out of an honest heart was not covered even externally or ceremonially (see Amos 4:4-5; 5:21-25). It is this sort of sacrifice that Thou hast not desired. God Himself had instituted the sacrificial system, but as a means for expressing obedience to Him, and to be a symbol of real faith and not to be used it as a substitute for faith. “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
Isaiah says, “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats…. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you, Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isa. 1:11, 15-18)
THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE NEW SACRIFICE
IT REFLECTS GOD’S ETERNAL WILL
“Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body Thou hast prepared for Me; . . . Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the roll of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God.’ 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 offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Thy will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second.” (10:5, 7-9)
In the mind of God, before the world was ever created, He knew that the old system would be ineffective and replaced by a second. From the beginning He had planned that Jesus would come and die. Christ acknowledged that His own body was to be the sacrifice that would please the Father. Jesus’ supreme mission on earth was to do His Father’s will. His was the perfect sacrifice because it was offered in perfect obedience to God.
In the garden, Jesus prayed, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt” (Mark 14:36).
IT SANCTIFIES THE BELIEVER
“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (10:10)
To be sanctified, or made holy, basically means to be set apart by God, for God. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3). This fulfils the desire of our Lord, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16; cf. Lev. 11:44). On the cross, one act, in one moment, provided permanent sanctification for everyone who places his trust in Jesus Christ (cf. Col. 2:10; 2 Pet. 1:3-4).
Many believers to whom Paul was speaking were positionally holy, but many of them were not practically holy. It is God’s will that our practices should match our position, that we really become in person who we are in Christ.
IT REMOVES SIN
“And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God.” (10:11-12)
The Levitical priests always stood because their ministry was never finished. Christ, after His sacrifice sat down at the right hand of God, because His work was finished.
These two verses include a series of contrasts—the many priests with the one Priest, the continual standing of the old priests with the sitting down of the new, the repeated offerings with the once-for-all offering, and the ineffective sacrifices that only covered sin with the effective sacrifice that completely removes sin. The Levitical sacrifices, with all their priests and all their repetition, could never take away sins. Christ’s sacrifice took away the sins of believers for all time.
IT DESTROYED HIS ENEMIES
“Waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.” (10:13)
When Jesus died on the cross, He dealt a deathblow to all His enemies. First of all, He conquered “him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Second, He also triumphed over all the other fallen angels (Col. 2:14-15). Third, He disarmed and triumphed over all rulers and authorities of all ages who have rejected and opposed God (Col. 2:15). He is now only waiting until all His enemies be made a footstool, that is, until they acknowledge His lordship by bowing at His feet (Phil. 2:10). He conquered death for all who ever have and ever will believe in God.
IT PERFECTS THE SAINTS FOREVER
“For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (10:14)
Again, it must be emphasized that perfection is eternal salvation. “Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (10:18)
The forgiveness is permanent because the sacrifice is permanent.
IT FULFILLS THE PROMISE OF A NEW COVENANT
“And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws upon their heart, and upon their mind I will write them,” He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (10:15-17)
The new sacrifice was central to the New Covenant, which God said would put His laws upon their heart, and upon their mind, and which would cause Him to forget their sins and their lawless deeds. The new sacrifice was effective, therefore, because it had to accomplish these things (prophesied in Jeremiah 31:33-34) in order for God to fulfil His promises, which cannot be broken. The promise was not Jeremiah’s but was God’s—the very witness of the Holy Spirit.
OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST (4:14-16)
THE POSITIVE MESSAGE
Until now the appeal has largely been negative: if you do not believe, you will be doomed—forever apart from God and His rest. The message now turns to the positive side of the gospel. Salvation not only saves from spiritual death; it brings spiritual life. Coming into a living relationship with Him is the greatest experience a person can have, because He is also a merciful and faithful High Priest.
Three things make Jesus our great High Priest:
1 HIS PERFECT PRIESTHOOD
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” (4:14)
The priests of ancient Israel were appointed by God to be mediators between Himself and His people, but only the high priest could offer the highest sacrifice under the Old Covenant. He represented God before the people and the people before God.
Before the high priest could even enter the Holy of Holies, he had to make an offering for himself, since he, just as all those whom he represented, was a sinner. As soon as the sacrifice was made, he left and did not return for another year. Every year, year after year, another Yom Kippur was necessary. Between these yearly sacrifices—every day, thousands of other sacrifices were made, of produce and of animals.
But Jesus’ His sacrifice was made once for all time. The sacrifice was perfect, and the High Priest was perfect, and He sat down for all eternity at the Father’s right hand (Heb. 1:3). The work was completed when He entered heaven and presented Himself in the Holy Place (Heb. 9:12). True believers demonstrate that their confession is true possession by holding fast to Him as their Savior.
Peter refers to the church, that is to all believers, as a “holy priesthood” and “a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). We are responsible for bringing God to other men through preaching and teaching His Word and for bringing men to God through our witnessing. But no special order of priesthood or system of sacrifices is either taught or recognized in the New Testament. We have our perfect and great High Priest. By faith in Jesus Christ any person can enter directly into God’s presence.
2 HIS PERFECT PERSON
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (4:15)
God became man, He became Jesus, to share triumphantly the temptation and the testing and the suffering of men, in order that He might be a sympathetic and understanding High Priest. When we are troubled or hurt or despondent or strongly tempted, Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses. At the tomb of Lazarus Jesus’ body shook in grief. In the Garden of Gethsemane, just before His arrest, He sweat drops of blood.
This truth was especially amazing and unbelievable to Jews. Under the Old Covenant God’s dealings with His people were more indirect, more distant.
Weaknesses refers to all the natural limitations of humanity, which include liability to sin. In all of this struggle, however, Jesus was without sin, but He understands sin better than any man. He has seen it more clearly and fought it more diligently than any of us could ever be able to do.
3 HIS PERFECT PROVISION
“Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.” (4:16)
“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Jesus Christ knows our temptations and will lead us out of them.
Most ancient rulers were unapproachable by the common people. Yet any penitent person, no matter how sinful and undeserving, may approach God’s throne at any time for forgiveness and salvation-confident that he will be received with mercy and grace.
CHRIST THE PERFECT PRIEST (5:1-10)
The heart of the book of Hebrews (chaps. 5-9) focuses on Jesus’ high priesthood. His superior priesthood, more than anything else, makes the New Covenant better than the Old. He has done what all the priests together of the old economy did not do and could never have done.
The priests under the Old Covenant were bridge builders to God. Men could not come directly into God’s presence, and God therefore appointed certain men to be ushers, as it were, to bring men into His presence. The way to God was opened only as the priests offered sacrifices-day in and day out, year after year—presenting the blood of animals to God. With the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, need for the Temple and for the Levitical priesthood was ended. There was no longer a requirement for a high priest such as those who succeeded Aaron, or for any human priest at all.
THE QUALIFICATIONS FOR PRIEST
The first four verses state the three basic qualifications for a Jewish high priest.
1 APPOINTED BY GOD FROM AMONG MEN
“For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. And no one takes the honor to himself, but he receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.” (5:1,4)
He had to be a man, not an angel. Only a man could be subject to the temptations of men, could experience suffering like men, and thereby be able to minister to men in an understanding and merciful way. The problem the Jews had with Jesus was with His incarnation—God’s becoming a man.
Under the old economy, even after the covenants with Abraham and with Moses, God was unapproachable, as God was behind a veil in the Tabernacle and in the Temple and could be approached only through the high priest. But in sending His Son, Jesus Christ, God no longer kept Himself aloof, transcendent, and separate from men.
A true priest also had to be appointed on behalf of men but by God. “No one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was” (v. 4; cf. 8:3; Ex. 28:1).
2 SYMPATHETIC WITH MEN
“He can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness.” (5:2)
A high priest needed to live among men as a man, to feel with them in their highs and in their lows, so He could deal gently with them. He would be patient with the wrongdoer but not condone the wrong, be understanding but not indulgent. He can fully identify with the person having a problem without losing his perspective and judgment.
The ones with whom the priest is to deal gently are those who are ignorant and misguided, that is, those who sin through ignorance. “The priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven” (Num. 15:28). In all of the Old Testament economy, there is however, absolutely no provision made for the unrepentant, deliberate, and defiant lawbreaker. “But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people” (Num. 15:30).
Since the Jewish priest himself was a sinner, he had the natural capacity, and he ought to have had the sensitivity, to feel a little bit of what others were feeling.
3 SACRIFICING FOR MEN
“in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.” (5:1b)
In the broadest sense, gifts included all the money, jewellery, or other such valuables people gave to the Lord through the priests. But the references to gifts in Hebrews probably refer specifically to the grain, or meal, offering—the only bloodless offering prescribed under the Old Covenant. It was a thanksgiving and dedication offering for what God had done (see Lev. 2).
“And because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.” (5:3)
These offerings were made continually—day after day, year after year, for the forgiveness of particular sins. Since he himself sinned, he had to make sacrifices for himself as well as for the people.
THE PERFECTLY QUALIFIED PRIEST
Verses 5-10 show how Jesus met all the qualifications for high priest mentioned in verses 1-4, and more.
1 APPOINTED BY GOD
“So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee”; just as He says also in another passage, “Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (5:5-6)
Again, the writer chooses quotations from the Old Testament—”Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee” (Ps. 2:7) and “Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Mechizedek” (Ps. 110:4). The Jewish readers of Hebrews knew that both passages referred to the Messiah.
Jesus told the Jewish leaders who questioned Him, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’ ” (John 8:54).
Mechizedek will be discussed in some detail under Hebrews 7. He was a king-priest who lived in the time of Abraham. He was king of Salem (the ancient name for Jerusalem) and was a priest of the true God (Gen. 14:18). He lived many centuries before the Aaronic priesthood was established and his priesthood was unending (Heb. 7:3), unlike that of Aaron, which began in the time of Moses and ended in A.D. 70, when the Temple was destroyed. Melchizedek’s priesthood, therefore, is a better picture of Christ’s than even that of Aaron.
2 SYMPATHETIC WITH MEN
“In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” (5:7-8)
In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed and agonized so intensely that He sweat great drops of blood. He felt the power of sin and He felt temptation. He cried. He shed tears. He hurt. He grieved. He could not have been a fully sympathetic high priest had He not experienced what we experience and felt what we feel.
When Jesus prayed to “the One able to save Him from death,” He was not asking to avoid the cross but to be assured of the resurrection (cf. Ps. 16:8-11). The word, “piety,” carries the idea of being devoutly submissive. Jesus recognized God as sovereign and committed Himself to the Father.
Even though He was God’s Son, God in human flesh, He was called to suffer. He learned the full meaning of the cost of obedience, all the way to death, from the things which He suffered, and God therefore affirmed Him as a perfect High Priest. That is the kind of high priest we need—one who knows and understands what we are going through.
3 SACRIFICING FOR MEN
“And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.” (5:9)
Jesus offered the sacrifice of Himself and thereby became the perfect High Priest and the source of eternal salvation. Also, He did not have to make a sacrifice for Himself before He could offer it for others and His sacrifice was once-and for-all. It did not have to be repeated every day, or even every year or every century.
The obedience mentioned here of those who obey Him does not relate to commandments, rules, laws and regulations. It is “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5).
(MAIN SOURCE: MACARTHUR NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY – JOHN MACARTHUR)