The long didactic section of Hebrews ends in 10:18. There will be further teaching, but the chief doctrinal core of the book ends here. Unbroken exposition began with Melchizedek; only in 10:19 does the writer return to exhortation. Hebrews demonstrates that good preaching must supply truth to believe and then make an appeal for proper response.
Note the contrast: in 9:28 Christ was offered once, but other sacrifices are repeated (10:1). The repeated sacrifices the law required could not make the worshippers perfect, but what came in the new covenant did, with changed hearts and forgiveness. The new covenant makes the old one obsolete (8:13) and Jesus is the mediator/guarantor of the new one (7:22; 9:15). The teaching progresses from the accomplishment of Christ’s objective work to the new covenant benefits in the lives of His own. It would be a harmful oversimplification to say Hebrews turns now from Christ’s work on the cross to His work within us. Instead, it stresses the effects of His offering by joining His finished work to how His sacrifice affects those He is saving.
A variety of contrasts appear in Hebrews 7 – 10. Not all are repeated here, such as priests who die vs. One who lives forever, and what sanctuary they serve in, but many contrasts finish this passage:
10:1-4 Hebrews again presents shadows in contrast to realities (see 8:5). This is not a distinction of true versus false, but of real things that compare as complete and incomplete. The two have a connection but must not be confused. The shadow of a tree is real because the tree is real, but only one is real when it comes to chopping it down for firewood. A shadow of a tree is entirely inadequate for burning. The sacrifices the law required were real sacrifices; they were even made in connection with forgiveness, but they were only shadows of the one sacrifice that could take away sin and did.
The chief argument given here is that they were repeated endlessly. Anything that must be repeated over and over, like washing our hands, shows that a one-time event of that kind is inadequate. An OT sacrifice did not remove some sins and then a later one removed more. No, none of them removed any sin because all of them were shadows unable to take away sin. A bull or goat losing its life did not truly correspond to the seriousness of a man disobeying God. If it had to be repeated, it never accomplished the perfection of the sinner drawing near to God. If goat blood were adequate to the need, it would have stopped being offered. The law itself never commanded any sacrifice to be offered only once. All were repeated, because all were only shadows. If the law had given any sacrifice offered only once, it would have been an unreliable shadow, a sacrifice that drew attention to itself and its uniqueness rather than pointing to our need of Christ by its repetition.
Perfection is a term for all of God’s requirements having been met so fully by Christ that God finds the sinner fully acceptable in Him. Perfection is expressed also as being cleansed, not outwardly but in the conscience, and not repeatedly but once. Perfection equals the once-for-all-cleansing of salvation. The sinner, who by faith has Christ as His sacrifice, has in that purging blood what has already satisfied God concerning his sin. Nothing in all of life is needed more and is more valuable, yet in the gospel it is freely given to us without any role on our part in removing our guilt. When the believer knows this truth and rests in this Savior, he enjoys the peace attained by Christ (Romans 5:1), the total cleansing from all his sin that has been provided for him. Therefore he has a conscience that knows nothing more is needed than Christ. This motivates him to a life of active repentance. (See “Cleansing the Conscience” in the notes at 9:14, and Appendix I “The Present Perfection of Imperfect People” below.)
Sacrifices that had to be repeated did not bring peace to the conscience. On the Day of Atonement the people had this annual reminder that sins were not removed by the offerings of the previous year. They knew that the offerings of the following year would repeat the same message about the offerings being made that day.
The readers of Hebrews needed convincing that their hope for all eternity needed an offering of substance, not mere shadow. They needed a sacrifice so effective God will oppose every thought of it being repeated in any way. In the message of Christ they had a great salvation. They needed to pay careful attention that they not drift from it (2:1-4), for to drift from Christ is to face God without a sacrifice.
Words of Christ in Psalm 40 Psalm 40 was written by David. When it says, “My
sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see” in
v.12, such words cannot refer to Christ. We might approach such Psalms with a
rule that the Psalmist must speak of himself or Christ, and never words common
to both. If so, we apply a rule the Scripture does not use. Christ is the Son
of David, and when David spoke as king, he spoke of a throne that really
belonged to Christ. He and his sinful sons were each temporary and unworthy
occupants of the throne of Christ. The true king of
A number of prophets spoke against offerings made with disobedient hearts (Isaiah 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-27; plus Hosea 6:6, which was quoted by Christ twice). The OT did not set sacrifice against obedience; it insisted that they be joined. David repented with a contrite heart in Psalm 51:17 and then spoke of animal offerings on God’s altar (in v.19). It was God Who required them, so it would be a great evil to disregard His appointed shadows! Yet His special delight was in one offering that would be the epitome of sacrifice, the one to end all others, and the epitome of obedience, the perfect doing of His will by the one offering of Christ.
In Psalm 40, David wrote as a man whose heart had been moved to obey; he spoke words beyond himself. Ten centuries later the Holy Spirit would take David’s words in Psalm 40 and show how well they fit the entire mission of Christ. The words express perfectly Christ’s attitude and assignment from His Father, as well as the fullness of time when all the other offerings would cease. The old system was not God’s delight; He would set it aside when He brought in its fitting replacement. The incarnation of Christ is stated here as God preparing a human body for His Son, a body to be offered, a body that would replace the offering of all animal bodies. It would be used in a sacrifice that would delight, please, and satisfy God forever. This could be said of no other offering of any kind in all of history.
The body to be offered is only part of the picture. With Christ, unlike the offerings the OT protested, we do not have the evil of a correct sacrifice presented to God by an incorrect heart. Psalm 40 anticipated a better offering made by a fully obedient Man; i.e., by Christ doing God’s will.
At this point two strands meet: the obedience of Christ to come here on His Messianic mission, and His obedience as a man born under the law. Just as Jesus is both the Priest Who offers and the offering He made, He is the One obedient to God by assuming the body prepared for Him, and further, living obediently as a man. He was the unblemished sacrifice. Obedience from both angles was essential. He obeyed by coming, and when here He was perfected in human obedience in order to be the source of salvation (5:9).
10:8-10 The replacement that pleases God is already here. For this reason He sets aside the first to establish the second. The first is the entire system of blood sacrifices required in the law, plus the men who offer them. The second is the once-for-all-time, pleasing sacrifice of the body of Christ by Christ, the only Man in history to do God’s will. The second brings holiness the first could not produce. When God has set aside the first order, we should not seek to reestablish it. This was one error tempting some of the readers. To reverse God’s ‘first’ and ‘second’ is to gain blood but not cleansing when we have been given cleansing with no further need for blood.
10:11-14 Except for the Ark of the
Covenant as the Lord’s throne (Psalm 80:1), the tabernacle had no chair. Priests stood during the daily incense
offerings in the
With all that has been said about taking away sins, one wonders why it is repeated again in 10:11,12. The crucial contrast had to be held before the readers. Other priests had a temporary ministry, always unfinished, always in need of repetition, and thus never actually taking away sin forever. Repeated offerings that remind of sin (10:3) are the opposite of God remembering our sins no more (10:17) – a contrast pointed out in the text (vv. 3 & 17). The author had to make his point clear: a repeated offering means sin has not been removed; if the offering does not need to be repeated, it has finished its work. The finished work of Christ is shown in a negative and positive: it is not repeated, and He sat down. There He remains and does not leave to offer again. The finality shows God’s purpose had been attained.
10:13 Jesus is active in building His church (Matthew 16:18), but here it is the Father’s activity turning Christ’s enemies into His footstool (Psalm 110:1). The note of a reward for His work is behind this. When His enemies become His footstool, they can no longer shake their fists in His face. They are defeated. The coming of the Day of Judgment is certain; all will bow, either in advance allegiance or eventual submission. Christ is the key issue between God and man. We bow now by acknowledging Him in every role the Father gave Him, accepting Him as Lord and accepting also His mediation for His people. The first readers of Hebrews knew there were people tempted to reject the Priesthood of Christ in spite of all the OT taught about it. They may have known of wavering church members (3:12-14). The warnings of apostasy appear early and late in this book; another is about to appear in chapter 10. Anyone who rejects Christ’s work rejects Him.
10:14 Jesus waits (10:13) seated (10:12) because His sacrifice has made perfect those for whom it was offered. The beneficiaries are stated as those who are being made holy; it is not a universal atonement. If His sacrifice failed to make perfect, then it was in need of further work, and His being “all done” and seated would be a contradiction of unfinished business. His perfect work and the perfection delivered to those He represented form a tight connection.
10:15-17 We should not miss the way Hebrews speaks of Holy Scripture. The writer again takes words of David in Psalm 40 and says they are the Lord’s. This is a proper view of God’s Word. No matter how many human authors He used, it is still His word, with the same quality of truth and dependability of God’s character. 3:7 says the Holy Spirit says; here it is He witnesses. And that way of saying it joins two things together intentionally. 10:14 says God has made men perfect and also makes men holy. Now we learn that what the Holy Spirit said in Jeremiah 31 about the new covenant is the same content. Men made perfect and holy is what God promised in the new covenant, but when that covenant was promised in the OT, it spoke of benefits that were coming. Now Hebrews affirms that the change of heart and justification (forgiveness of sins) are new covenant benefits and explicitly connects them to the sacrifice of Christ.
Note the flow of thought in Hebrews 10:
Note 1) the “first He says” in v.15 – re God’s law in the hearts; and 2) “then He adds”, v.17 – re sins remembered no more. This first and second way of speaking highlights that justification and sanctification are not synonymous but are distinguished new covenant blessings.
10:18 In 10:1-4 offerings for sin were repeated; in 10:18 no longer needed. The provisions of the law were inadequate, but in the new covenant sin is taken away. Christ has done the will of God (10:7-10) in His body in life and in death; therefore new covenant blessing is fully secured. With no more sacrifice for sins, the priests may put away their knives, trust in the sacrifice that saves, and join the rest of the house of God (under our Great Priest 10:21) offering with all His church our sincere sacrifices of praise (13:15,16).
“made perfect” and “being made holy”
The apparent contradiction! If a person has been perfected, how is it possible that he is in the process of being made holy? 10:14 says, “… by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” This sounds like a contradiction, as if it meant that people are perfect and are not. We should not avoid this question because it will nag at the conscience of any person aware of his sin. Perfection is vital to the gospel. We rest on the perfection of the sacrifice made and the perfection granted.
Jesus makes people perfect; the verse says that. But when? Is it the time of the resurrection when Christians are perfected? (From the angle of our conduct, this is true.) However, 10:14 speaks of perfection in another sense. It is clear that Christ has already made perfect the ones He is currently sanctifying. A person might even wonder if Hebrews is giving people a puzzle to solve. It is not; it is simply stating, in the vocabulary of Hebrews, the same doctrine in other Scriptures that say the believer in Christ is righteous – even though he has sin in his conduct. If this is a great puzzle, it is not confined to Hebrews. What 10:14 is teaching is the absolute perfection of persons still very much imperfect. How can this be?
The simple answer is that we are perfect in Christ and imperfect in ourselves. We are righteous in status and yet not fully righteous in conduct. Sin remains in us, so the Christian is perfect in one sense and imperfect in another.
An illustration from our culture In our day we have passports. I am a Canadian citizen; my passport says I am a citizen, but it is not a statement of being a good citizen. Further, a passport never means that a person is a partial citizen, or that some citizens are more citizens than others. At least in my country there is no scale of citizenship; it is a status one has or does not have. A status does not have a matter of degree, even though conduct is subject to a scale of relatively good or bad. From the standpoint of status, Christ has made perfect by His sacrifice those for whom He died.
The perspective of perfection in Hebrews is the cleansing that allows approach to God. A variety of words are used to describe what is delivered to us as the effect of Christ’s sacrifice: cleanse (9:14; 10:2); set free from sins (9:15); do away with sin (9:26); take away sins (9:28); make perfect (10:1); have been made holy (10:10); and made perfect (10:14).
10:1,2 teach that if the sacrifices of the law had been effective, the worshipper would have been cleansed. This verse implies that what those sacrifices could not do is what the sacrifice of Christ does do. Likewise, 7:19 says the law made nothing perfect. The contrast would be nonsense if it were saying the law made nothing perfect and neither did the mediation of Christ. The whole point of 10:1,2 is that Christ’s sacrifice has done what the law cannot. 7:19 shows that in this perfection granted, one may draw near to God. This is a situation that demands purification of sinners.
The perfection attained for us by the sacrifice of Christ must be the same quality as that found in Christ. Since Jesus was made perfect (7:28), this cannot be His perfection as the Son of God (1:3) because He always had that. It was His human perfection that was developed in the days of His life on earth (5:7-10). It was the obedience learned in suffering and made perfect in time that qualified Him to be our Savior. If Christ then makes perfect, and He does, then His perfection is the kind mentioned in 10:14. The human righteousness of His obedience is the kind 10:14 has in mind. Our perfection is not possible unless there is the imputation of His righteousness.
Hebrews does not distinguish the human perfection developed in Christ (in 5:9 and 7:28) from the human perfection He grants to those He is making holy. Thus righteousness received as a gift (Romans 5:15,16,17) is the same righteousness that comes from God (Philippians 3:9) for those in Christ through faith in Him. The obedience acquired is the obedience of Christ (Romans 5:19). In this way we are made to be the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21); He is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). Just as the righteousness Abraham had was one he received by faith (Romans 4:13) – and a received righteousness cannot be a reference to his conduct – we too by faith are made perfect (10:14) by the righteousness God imputes to us entirely apart from our works (Romans 4:6). Thus Christ makes perfect the man who in himself was ungodly (Romans 4:5) with sin remaining in him (1 John 1:8-10), but in Christ that man has become righteous.
This appears to be an intolerable tension. It would be if it were an eternal situation; we must remember it is temporary. God does not allow us to be perfect in Christ in status while He does nothing to transform our conduct. No person who lacks holiness in life will see the Lord (12:14), because such a man has never been made perfect by Christ. If He had been, the Lord’s sanctifying work would have produced a harvest of righteounsess in him (10:14; 12:11). Making people holy in 10:14 is a work of God in every child of His so that all share in His holiness (12:4-12). It is never true that a believer may live in sin. (See Can a Christian Live in Sin? in the notes at 2:11.) Becoming holy is brought to us progressively. The gift of eternal life is ours now; the resurrection of the body is future. Jesus took away our sins in His first coming (9:28) yet still brings salvation in His second (9:28). Likewise, Christ has made perfect already (10:14) those He continues to make holy (10:14).
 It is not the point in Hebrews 10 how OT saints could be justified and sanctified. Romans 4 makes clear that Abraham and David were justified by faith apart from works, just as we are (Romans 3:28). It puzzles us how the new covenant blesses before it was ratified. It would be ratified only in the blood of Christ, yet since all salvation is in this covenant and no other, it was how God was saving in His covenant of grace in all ages. We are saved by a sacrifice made, and they were saved by a sacrifice that would be made. The foundation and means of salvation are identical. The way the gospel was manifested to their eyes differs.
 It is not a question that Hebrews
deals with to say when this perfection has occurred. I submit that one is justified when he
believes and not before, since even God’s elect were under God’s wrath before
they were made alive to God (Ephesians 2:1-5).
Since we are speaking of justification, I think the time factor is
resolved in this way. Christ in His life
and death had the obedience and death necessary for our justification. It was accomplished in Christ in His time on
earth. This benefit is applied to us in
our lifetime in calling, regeneration, faith, and justification.