Hebrews 10:19-39

Rev. David H. Linden  University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, NM USA (revised September 2011)

 

The core of Hebrews, concluding in 10:18, is its doctrine of Christ as our Great High Priest. Now follows urgent exhortation – an appeal to respond in faithfulness and perseverance to the truth established. It begins with access to God by Christ and calls for faith, hope and love in a series of “let us” appeals. 

 

Then comes one of the strongest warnings in the Bible. Those who reject Christ will have the unrestrained vengeance of God upon them. As in 6:9-12, such a warning of apostasy does not mean all are apostate, but all should fear denying Christ. This warning too, is followed by an approving review of their past faithfulness in enduring persecution. Their confidence in Christ is supported by their assurance that God is faithful to His promises. Christ will return and we must live by faith in such a promise.  

 

The long segment of Hebrews that fixes our thoughts on Christ (3:1), now calls us to trust Him in our particular settings of distress and temptation to shrink back for relief. Such preaching in chapter 10 is about to be fortified by the examples in chapter 11 of others who persevered because they lived by faith. In the end, they and we, if we hold fast our confession, will receive all that God has promised (11:39,40).

 

10:19-21   The writer turns from teaching to preaching. Every sermon has in it a call for a response; if a speech only informs and does nothing more, it is not a sermon.  However, making an appeal is irrational unless some truth from God has been given to respond to. The ‘therefore’ of 10:19 shows that the exhortation is directly connected to the preceding doctrine. Within the exhortation itself, he reviews the doctrine (10:19-21). We must not disconnect preaching from doctrine.  

 

The brief restatement of teaching that precedes the exhortations:

 

1)  Confidence to enter   This means we have certainty of access as a result of Christ’s sacrifice.  He has secured this access for us so that we may boldly enter.  (See 4:16.)    

 

2)  the Most Holy Place   The theme of Christ entering heaven and our access there are first joined together in 4:14-16: “We have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, … Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence…” 

 

3)  by the blood of Jesus   Jesus entered by His blood (9:12), which cleanses our consciences (9:14). Thus our confidence is not in our spiritual development. It is horrible to hear people affirm that by means of and because of their spirituality they have immediate access to God. This grossly underestimates the great holiness of God and the horribleness of our remaining sin. We have one reason only for a legitimate access to Him; it is that Jesus shed His blood for the removal of our sins. God is satisfied with that; He is not impressed with our spirituality, which is always defective and always a contrast to the purity of Christ. We need a true and humble appraisal of ourselves. Seeking to enter the Presence of God apart from the blood of Christ as our right-of-entrance, is as foolish as a priest offering his own blood. Our confidence in entering is not self-confidence but Christ-confidence.

 

4)  by a new and living way opened for us – having free access to the heavenly sanctuary is new. The restriction of only one priest, only once a year with animal blood is obsolete. This opened way leads to life. It is the opposite of the dead works (9:14) men invent.  It is living because we approach the living God, who does not kill us for an unauthorized entry. Since we are invited in Christ, we are welcome in Christ. Such drawing near to God brings transforming life and glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). In v.19 we enter; in v.20 it is He (Christ) Who has opened the way for us. 

 

5)  through the curtain – many Jews would immediately feel such a thought is a preposterous claim. They knew no one went through that curtain but the high priest. Other priests saw it and stayed back from it. They not only could not enter, they could not look in!  Now Hebrews says we, all the ‘brothers’ of v.19, may pass through that barrier to God’s holy presence! This we do when we pray and when we meet as believers for worship. We enter the presence of God authorized by God because of the sacrifice of Christ.   

 

6)  that is, his flesh   Earlier it was by His blood. But body and blood are closely tied together in Christ’s sacrifice. To speak of His body means that He as a Person was actually offered; to speak of His blood is to refer to the bloodshed that resulted in His death. These are both presented to us in the Lord’s Supper, and this is a paragraph that deals with life in the church. This could be the reason both the flesh and blood of Christ are referred to as our means of access. In 10:22 it will refer to baptism as the washing of our bodies.      

 

7)  and we have a great priest over the house of God   Christ is the Son over God’s house in 3:6. The house Christ is over is defined in 3:6 as those who hold on to their courage and the hope of which they boast. In 10:21 it is as priest that Christ is over the house of God; this shows the extent of His priestly service. These services are for those who are His house. So we may enter as He did, by His blood. The One Who shed His blood is there as the great living Priest over His church. He has represented us (5:1) so that we could approach God.  The invitation to draw near is consistent with His work.

 

 

Christ a Priest to Angels?   Christ is a king to angels; He rules over them, but not as the Son of David.  Surely God has spoken to them through Him, which would make Him a Prophet to them as well. But He could not be a priest to angels unless He became one of them to intervene on behalf of them for their sin. This grace God never extended to any rebellious angel. He has appointed a Priest only for us sinners, but since the Father has done so, and since Jesus is a Priest over the house of God, we must not depreciate His work. In Christ we may draw nigh to God (10:22) and enter the Most Holy Place (10:19), so we must; it is commanded.  It is the goal of His ministry for us His people. 

 

 

The parallel in 10:19,20:

 

free access (19)  …………………….      a way which is new and which leads to life (20)

 

to the heavenly sanctuary (19) …..… through the curtain (20)

 

by means of the blood of Jesus (19) …                 that is, by means of His flesh (20)

 

 

 

Three Exhortations:  A) Let us draw near to God;  B) Let us hold on to hope;  C) Let us care for each other.

 

A  10:22   Drawing near to God   We draw near with a sincere heart.  This is a clear reference to the new covenant benefit in which a new heart is the work and gift of God in 10:16. We are to draw near with a sprinkled heart, i.e., a heart cleansed by the blood of Christ. This is a reference to the new covenant benefit of forgiveness, lawless acts remembered no more (10:17). Both benefits are brought to us by Christ. We cannot generate new hearts, nor create our forgiveness. The necessary conditions of our approach to God have been fulfilled by Christ. It is true that the new heart and the sprinkled heart occur in our lifetime, but were secured in Jesus’ work long before.

 

The full assurance of faith   Assurance is always destroyed when we look within to gauge our righteousness. Anyone who does that and dares to give himself a good report has actually turned away from the work of Christ. Our full assurance rests on the quality and effectiveness of Jesus’ work.  We believe His intervention for us sinners on the cross is fully sufficient, because the Father told the Son to sit down never to make and offering again. Knowing, believing, and trusting in His Priestly mediation gives the heart assurance. This assurance comes by faith in Christ’s accomplishments. We do not have a cross-eyed faith with one eye on Christ and another on ourselves. We can only believe in Christ if we believe in His work.

 

Assurance from different angles:    In 1 John we have an aspect of assurance related to being aware of a transformation of life. 1 John 3:7-10 teaches we will know we are children of God by the presence of righteousness in us. Such assurance is a subsequent assurance. It rests on Christ’s work outside us (1 John 2:2). Note 1 John speaks of propitiation twice, stressing Christ’s cross as the root of salvation, with the Spirit giving life as a result. Faith is only in Christ’s work, then subjective assurance is brought by the Spirit.  We have absolute confidence in the work of Christ, and then we have evidence we are in Christ by the Spirit’s fruit (1 John 4:13). We must not confuse root and fruit.  One is a matter of perfection in which we boast, and the other a matter of unfinished work in us that brings gratitude and humility. The imperfect demonstrates a genuine union with Christ. Only Jesus’ finished work is perfection, and thus the ultimate basis of all assurance. It is this basis of assurance that Hebrews stresses in chapter 10. In chapter 12 the writer, like 1 John, will relate personal righteousness and Fatherly discipline to indicate our adoption as sons. Hebrews does not base our confidence in 10:19 on our sanctification!

 

The mention of clean water   Baptism is especially significant in such a paragraph as this.  10:19-25 reviews the reason to draw near; the appeal is to a group. Some of its exhortations can only be obeyed in the context of joint confession and the shared life in the church. Our right of approach is tied to the blood and flesh of Christ, the same things the cup and bread in the Lord’s Supper direct us to. Then v.22 adds bodies (our bodies) washed in clean water. In this way the unseen salvation of the heart – sprinkled with the blood of Christ at conversion – has an external and visible parallel in water baptism. Note the text does not refer to hearts washed, which could be a metaphor, but to bodies washed, which is not a metaphor. In this way the work of Christ on the cross, the salvation delivered to the believer, the two sacramental signs of salvation, and the life of believers in the church all come together. This paragraph stretches from the sacrifice of Christ in the past to His future coming, and all its exhortations are for diligence in the present.  

 

We draw nigh in faith (v.22), and we are to hold to hope (v.23), and find ways to love (v.24). These three: faith, hope, and love, (6:10-12) are the same as in 1 Corinthians 13:13.* This does not prove that Paul wrote Hebrews, but it is obviously parallel to his thought. The idea that Hebrews was written by someone associated with Paul, if not Paul himself, is strengthened by 13:22-23.    *(The three appear also in Romans 5:1-5; Galatians 5:5,6;  Colossians 1:4,5;  1 Thessalonians 1:3;  5:8;  1 Peter 1:21-22.)

 

B  10:23  Holding on to hope   The word hope has developed into a meaning very contrary to what Hebrews means. We may say of uncertainties that we ‘hope’ for some outcome. Thus a person may ‘hope’ to be married or ‘hope’ to find a good job. However, when we say we hope in the resurrection, we speak of a certainty, not a wish that could be disappointed. Hope is a word that has been burdened with a meaning that is its opposite! To say, “Let us hold to the hope we profess” is not a statement to build up our wishing or desire. We are to hold to this hope (the entire foundation of our salvation in the work of Christ) without wavering. There is no other way of salvation; there is no other Savior, and no other blood. His resurrection and entrance into heaven are facts of history.  We should be unmovable and unwavering in this. 

 

I am tempted to argue that we should be as unyielding in tenacious faith in the work of Christ as we are in our belief in arithmetic.  2+2=4, but the truth of mathematics is neither covenanted nor personal. The gospel is.  It is God Who personally reveals His gospel, even at times swearing by Himself.  Our hope also has the integrity of God as well as His action as its foundation.  “He Who promised is faithful.”  2+2=4 is true, but we do not have God telling us, “I promise you that this is so.” Nor do we have that this is “for us” in the way our Great High Priest died for His people (7:27). We hold firmly to our hope not just because it is factual, but because God is faithful.      

 

C  10:24,25  Caring for each other.   God has created us as communal beings. Humans were not meant to be solitary. Times of solitude may be beneficial, but worship that avoids fellow believers departs from what God desires (Psalm 35:18; 68:26) and is always unnatural. The exhortations here can only be obeyed in the context of a church, for whenever all the things commanded and implied in this one paragraph are done, we find a church. In their case it was a time of persecution (10:32-34). There was suffering and Christians are to help. The call is not for an attitude of love (which might not be expressed, and thus would not be love) but for an activity of love by taking the initiative in relief for those in need. The exhortation does not say we should respond to love with love, for it must begin somewhere.  If each one initiates good deeds, then all will be prompted by the love of brothers and sisters to respond in kind. Love is willing to “go first”. 

 

Meeting together is a dynamic of Christian life. One may become a Christian as an individual, but we cannot live a solitary life as Christians, refusing worship and fellowship with others. This text commands us to resist all cultural influences that would hinder meeting together. The communal life of the church requires: 

  • loving deeds, (10:24,25)
  • a shared confession of Christ (4:14),
    • confession public enough to provoke persecution (10:32-34)
    • confession that is as doctrinal as Hebrews, and  is taught in the church (13:7) 
  • a common calling (3:1), 
  • a common destiny (2:10), and
  • a setting where Jesus in the midst of the congregation leads us in praise (2:12), i.e., corporate worship.
  • the practice of baptism (10:22) – and thus both sacraments.
  • the practice of church discipline (12:15;  3:12,13)

 

10:26-31  The Warning of Apostasy   (The fourth of six warnings)

 

There is another reason for meeting. To stray from the group that confesses and worships is to stray from the Lord we confess and worship!  Absence from gathering together is a major step in the direction of apostasy. The writer knows some have the habit of not meeting. His appeal is not for mere attendance, but for the nurture that comes from within the church to others in the church. Any church so large that it cannot produce mutual encouragement is literally too large for its own good. Without encouragement we head into solitude, and when we are alone we are far more vulnerable to the deceptions of Satan, the pressures of the world, and the lusts of our flesh. God does not bring His grace to us individually as if He had not placed us in a family of believers. He works grace through the ministry of the Word by men called to such a role, and by sacraments which ought not to be practiced in isolation. To resist the means of edification is to resist the Lord Who appointed them for our profit. To resist God’s means is also to expose ourselves to the peril of apostasy!

 

A Missing Word in the NIV:   The warning section is connected to the preceding with a “for”. This conjunction is retained in the ESV & NKJV, but deleted in the NIV, which has a bad habit of dropping conjunctions! The NIV deprives readers of a connection in the text. (The “for” is also omitted at 12:18.) Thus in 10:26 apostasy is not a subject unrelated to what precedes it.  It is the opposite; apostasy is a sober issue connected to absence from the life and worship of the church.   

 

This stern warning follows the pattern of 6:4-8. Both warnings are about a) deserting Christ, b) in spite of early exposure to Christian truth, life, and fellowship. Both teach there is c) a point of no return, with d) the certainty of divine damnation. Both warnings are followed by statements of great comfort. [1]  

 

Apostasy is deliberate, persistent, and settled repudiation of the Lord without repentance. It is that kind of response to God after possession of genuine truth, the light of the gospel (10:32). This is very different from lapses into sin in our weakness. With such and yet in Christ, we approach the Throne of Grace with godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10,11) seeking help (4:16).  [See Appendix F: Sins Committed in Ignorance (9:7)]  When apostasy has set in; there is no help. 

 

Since this warning follows a long presentation of the Priestly work of Christ, apostasy is now shown to be sin without a sacrifice. To be without Christ is always to be without His mediation (10:26), and that means one faces God alone without the only Mediator Who can bring relief from judgment. To be without Christ in deliberate rejection of Him is to place oneself under a far greater wrath of God. The knowledge in 10:26 is not a minor exposure to the gospel. The Greek noun indicates a full knowledge of what was being rejected. 

 

Contempt for God brings on a reaction far greater than is possible from men. God defends the infinite value of His glory; He cannot allow His Name to be defamed (Isaiah 48:11).  In forgiving us, the only way He could protect His honor as God was to deal in justice, and thus wrath, with Christ taking our place. To reject the Substitute is to endure the full measure of God’s justice alone. 

 

Hellfire   There really is a hell, and its fire will only burn out when God stops hating sin. (Let him who reads understand.) I am convinced that fire is a metaphor to express the ferocity of God’s judgment. Many offerings were made by literal fire (Exodus 30:20).   Fire was a literal vengeance in Number 11:1-3 and 16:35, yet it often showed the Presence of God as in Deuteronomy 5:1-5, even part of His gracious provision (Deuteronomy 1:32,33). In Deuteronomy 9:1-4, a devouring fire is a metaphor for driving out Canaanites who died by a sword of metal not fire. Prior to the resurrection, men in hell are there as spirits not as bodies literally burning. The fire metaphor is retained throughout Scripture because it is such an apt figure of God’s awesome presence, of His purifying activity in both salvation and judgment (Matthew 3:11-12). No metaphor of judgment was used more by Christ in the Gospels.

 

The apostate knew of the priestly service of Christ; at one time he confessed Jesus in this world and identified himself as a believer, one of the covenant people. If that person falls away (6:4-8), he declares by apostasy that He really is an enemy of God (10:27) – the opposite of being God’s “friend” (James 2:23). He is recognized by God as an enemy; God will be ashamed of him (the reverse of 11:16) and Christ will disown him (Matthew 10:33) as one He never knew (Matthew 7:23). The apostate had exposure to the blessings of the new covenant but never received the new heart and the forgiveness held out in that covenant. The apostate entered into the new covenant to the same degree as the disobedient ones who died in the wilderness entered the promised land (3:7 – 4:14). They repudiated what they could have had by faith. They entered neither the land of promise, no matter how close they were, and they never entered life in the new covenant.  In wrath, God remembered their sins.  

 

10:28 refers to Deuteronomy 17:2-7, where the covenant breaker was to die with no opportunity to avoid justice. (Compare Deuteronomy 12:17.) Mercy was not permitted (Deuteronomy 13:8). Such a person was to die at the city gate, a way to show one has been denied entrance as one of the people of God. The covenant breaker is an outsider. That poor soul in Deuteronomy was never exposed to the full light of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostate who rejects greater light deserves greater punishment (Matthew 11:24). 

 

10:29 The Three Descriptions of the Apostate’s Sin:

  • Trampling the Son of God under foot
  • Treating as unholy the blood of the covenant that sanctified him
  • Insulting the Spirit of Grace

 

Trampling the Son of God.   (See chapters 1&2.) We sinners often mistreat our fellow man. This is a crime against the Lord God Who made our neighbor in His image (Genesis 9:6).  The apostate treats with contempt the Son of God as if He were merely another man.  Son (from Psalm 2) is Hebrews’ choice word for the deity of Christ. Christ is the Creator Who upholds the universe; He is the full glory of His Father, meaning He too is Yahweh, the Great Lord God of Israel. Yet a man can dismiss Christ as unworthy of respect. Those who crucified the Lord of glory had no idea who He was (1 Corinthians 2:8). With the apostate it is different; he once sang with others the high praise of Christ; now he tramples under foot the One angels worship.

 

Treating Christ’s blood as common.   To grasp a verse like this requires the familiar principle that we must be aware of what part of the Bible we are reading. Hebrews tells us the blood of animals never took away sin, and only the blood of Christ does. The error attracting some was to reverse this, as if animal blood had saving power to satisfy God concerning our sins, and Jesus’ blood had none. This is the significance of the “falling away” of those in the church who repudiate Christ to return to sacrifices that were mere shadows. But they have a certain consistency in their error: if he is not the Son, then His blood really is common and it is no better than any man’s. One error leads to many: the contempt for Christ as a Person makes the rejection of His priestly work inevitable.

 

That blood had sanctified him!   There is a double problem; not only was Jesus’ blood considered to be not holy or as common as any other blood  – it was blood that had a special application to the apostate. The blood now being treated as unholy was the same blood that at one time had “sanctified” him. And further, it is the blood of the covenant that sanctified him. This implies the apostate had some covenantal bond to the Lord. We could take this statement in two ways: 

 

1)   We could adopt the view that the blood of the covenant had the same sanctifying effect on the apostate person (head for head) as it had on every other member of the covenant community. Then because of his apostasy, the man once genuinely sanctified by the blood of Christ, lost his place in the covenant when he repudiated Christ. This explanation means he was once as much a part of the covenant people and in covenant with the Lord as those who are saved.

 

If we had only one sentence in the Bible about this, this would seem to be what the text is saying.  This explanation however ought to be rejected. It is not true that the apostate had the same operation of the Holy Spirit in Him. Some shrink back but others believe (10:39). Those who shrink back and those who believe are different classes of people. Apostates were never born of God; “no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him,”  (1 John 3:6). Only the responsive land receives blessing (6:7,8).  Those with salvation have what always accompanies it (6:9) – endurance for the sake of Christ.  They [the apostates] went out from us, but they did not really belong to us [at any time]. For if they had belonged to us, [but they never did] they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them [ever] belonged to us” (1 John 2:19). That is an analysis of their past spiritual condition. This moving away from Christ did not cause them to lose the new covenant work of the Spirit sanctifying them; their apostasy revealed that they never had it. No apostate was ever united to Christ, ever given the Holy Spirit, or ever represented by Christ in His offering. Long before Judas’ apostasy was apparent to the disciples, Jesus said of him, “One of you is a devil!” (John 6:66-71). When the Lord said, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom,” (Luke 12:32).  He did not include Judas in the word “you”, even though Judas as one of the Twelve was present at the time Jesus said it. The Lord did not mean the man now in hell would be part of the eternal kingdom of Christ. Jesus could not predict something that turned out to be false. God cannot lie. Apostates, while they profess allegiance, are indeed (externally) part of the church, as it is visible to us, but not as the true Bride of Christ seen clearly by God. They can deny the Lord that bought them (2 Peter 2:1), because redemption is the heritage of the body of believers, which blessings the apostate has decided to trash. Only in the future, will all the weeds be identified and finally separated from the good grain (Matthew 13:36-43) and the bad fish from the good (Matthew 13:47-50).

 

2)   We could adopt the view (which I embrace) that the blood of the covenant sanctified the apostate person only in a certain sense. He once professed to be a believer in Christ. Others were convinced and treated his confession of Christ as genuine, thus he was a member (in good standing!) in the holy church that belongs to God. He was in that sense a “Christian” – just as an unbelieving Israelite was an Israelite but not one of God’s remnant people (Isaiah 10:20; Romans 11:5). The man who later trampled the Son of God at one time confessed with others the saving blood of Christ.  As “sanctified” he too drank the cup of the new covenant professing salvation in Jesus.

 

His confession was false. His evil heart of unbelief departed from the living God, (3:12). He lacked the new heart, which all in the new covenant have been given (8:10). Such a new covenant heart has the law of God impressed on it; this results in obedience. The multitude that left Egypt professed faithful allegiance till a crisis of faith and obedience came. Then their shallow covenant allegiance proved to be unbelief.  

 

When the apostate man drank the cup, he proclaimed that he benefited from the new covenant in Christ’s blood.  Then at some time he repudiated the blood of the covenant and all it implied. He no longer hoped for forgiveness in Christ. His new ‘confession’ was that the blood of Christ did nothing for him. To the apostate soul, Jesus’ blood was worthless and his former allegiance an embarrassment. The blood of the covenant at one time marked him as one who supposedly had God as his God. It was his professed hope for all eternity, but all he confessed about Christ he later treated as false. Jesus’ blood had no more significance than any other blood. In this way he treated as common the blood of the covenant that once identified him as a covenant member before all observers but God. He was never truly sanctified, though he had the right words and the outward signs.  He never had the Spirit writing the law of God in his mind. He never had the Lord as His God; he never was one of the true covenant people united to Christ. Clearly, “… not all who are the offspring of Israel are [truly] Israel (Romans 9:6). Some are Israelites in name only; believers are the remnant according to God’s election (Romans 11:5). The apostate was as much a forgiven participant in the new covenant (8:12) as the unforgiven souls in hell. Like Esau, he was never one of God’s chosen (Malachi 1:2,3). His relation to the new covenant was not in Christ (Romans 5:1,2); it was identical to the ‘people of God’ in Hosea 1:9, of whom God said, “… you are not my people, and I am not your God.” So the apostate of 10:29 was sanctified by the blood of the covenant in exactly the same sense that the apostates of 6:4-6 shared in the Holy Spirit. 

 

Insulting the Spirit   To trample the Son of God is to trample the One Who is the glory of His Father. Then the apostate profanes Christ’s blood, and insults the Spirit. The rejection is of the Father, Son and Spirit. In 2:4 we see the witness of the Spirit. The arrogant man can look at the miracles and the mighty works of God in Christ (John 10:24-29), and still not believe. He may even conclude that it is the work of demons (Matthew 12:22-37). Christ did all things by the Spirit (Matthew 12:28). The Father sent the Son to make Himself known to His own (John 17:25,26). God gave the Spirit to testify (John 15:26) to make us know the things of Christ (John 16:14,15), but the world, and the apostate in the church, cannot accept Him (John 14:17)! To the natural man the things of God are all foolishness (1 Corinthians 2:14). So the entire package, i.e., the Father’s spoken word and the Son offering Himself through the Spirit, are all rejected. In spiritual blindness, a man can look at all this light and prefer the darkness (John 3:19-21) because his deeds are evil and he prefers his sin and a religion without Christ. This is a blasphemous insult to the Spirit and His testimony (2:4). Apostasy turns against the very kindness of the Spirit of Grace Who delivers the gospel of grace with longsuffering to sinners. Men still choose to spit in the face of God and tell Him they are not interested in His mercy and do not want it. They shall not have it. 

 

We have been given enough reason for God to react. Hebrews 10 is back to the matter of judgment again.  This paragraph has moved from apostasy (v.26), to a lack of a remedy for it (v.26), to judgment against it (v.27), to judgment deserved (v.28), to the wickedness of the apostate (v.29), and back to judgment again.

 

10:30,31   God’s determination to save is shown in His oath to Abraham (6:13-20). He determined, also by oath, to damn those who profess to be His people but are unbelieving covenant breakers.  He swore in anger they would not enter His rest in the Promised Land (3:18).  We should tremble at His Word (Isaiah 66:2) and fear (4:1) lest there be in any one of us an unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God (3:12). If we know Him, then we know He is a God of Judgment. Note the tenderness mixed with the warning; he again speaks of his readers and himself as ‘we’. This has the power of saying, “But we know this of the Lord, don’t we?” 

 

Hebrews has shown that judgment is well deserved; next it shows that God’s vengeance has been revealed In Scripture.  Deuteronomy 32:35,36 speaks of personal vengeance as God’s prerogative alone. He vindicates His own in judgment, separates them from the ungodly, and punishes rebels at the same time.  Judgment is not a possible future, but a certainty. Apostates depart from the living God (3:12), and it is into the hands of the living God that they fall.  There is no horror that exceeds facing the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:16,17), being rejected from the glory of His presence (2 Thessalonians 1:9), and being cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). This horror happens to many who profess to be His people.

 

10:32-34   This section like 6:9-12 shows that the writer had specific knowledge of those receiving the letter.  Here he again recognizes grace in their lives. After their conversion to Christ (i.e., when the light of the gospel entered the heart), they had endured verbal insult, probably physical violence, loss of property and prison. They suffered with those who suffered (Romans 12:15). All of this love for others was an expression of love for God (6:10). They compared their losses with the better possessions they were assured of as believers in the resurrection (6:2) in the coming age (6:5) when Jesus will come (10:37). Earlier they saw their situation more clearly; earlier they recognized their trouble as temporary and their reward as eternal.  

 

The sad news behind all these repeated warnings is the evidence that weariness (12:3-12) was replacing their former joy. Dullness (5:11) threatened their boasting (3:6) in a clear confession (4:14). Some in the little church, especially those whose habit it was to stay away (10:25), might fit the Lord’s dire description in Matthew 13:21 of the hearer of the Word who endures only for a while.

 

Later the writer will maintain an analogy of running a race; the analogy of physical endurance begins in v.32. The weary runner may quit the race, and the discouraged Christian may withdraw from the struggle to seek whatever will relieve the persecution. The easiest way to do that would be to confess Christ no longer, and that is what the temptation was, and that is what apostasy is (Luke 11:23). In this paragraph they were being called back to their first love (Revelation 2:4) by the charge to remember their former courage. It is quite simple to see now how helpful it would be to be presented with examples of those who by faith endured in their lifelong race.  Hebrews 10 shows the reason for Hebrews 11. 

 

10:35-39   The reminder of past faithfulness comes to its climax, “Do not throw away your confidence.” They saw things clearly when they were comforted by the promise of better and eternal possessions. Their later weariness was not with work but with the kind of struggle (12:4) Christians have in a world hostile to their Lord and them. In the circumstances of the readers of Hebrews, this tension was increased by the presence and confession of all who say that Jesus is the Son above all angels; that Jesus is High Priest forever; that the former ritual is obsolete, and that access to God is confined to an approach to God only by blood of Christ. The world and the religious world react as one (Acts 4:27,28) to resist such proclamation and allegiance. The gospel of Christ is a threat to the kind of life the world prefers. The presence of Christians stirs the world’s hostility (John 14:17;  15:18-25; 16:1-3). It does not welcome its conscience being bothered with a message of repentance and the very different life the gospel will produce.  

 

Hebrews challenges us to do the will of God, just as Christ did (10:7-10), encourages with the coming of Christ and a rich reward, teaches that our trials are brief and warns that deserting Christ is so displeasing to God that He will destroy all who do it.  

 

10:37-38   The readers know their loss; they must think of what they will receive. Faith believes in the Person God had promised in Habakkuk 2:3,4. God had promised a coming revelation that would answer the question of Habakkuk – one coming with certainty. Now under the Holy Spirit we find Habakkuk 2:3,4 enlarged to include specific reference to the coming of Christ. In other words, not only is an answer coming, He is coming. By the time of Hebrews Christ had come, but just as 7:26-28 has two appearings, the promise in Habakkuk is that in a very little while the Coming One will come. (See also Isaiah 26:20,21.) That coming determines our view of all that happens now. By faith we believe it will be a little while without any delay in the time God has chosen.   

 

Just as we become righteous in Christ by faith – a Biblical teaching of obtaining a righteous status entirely apart from our conduct – we also live by this faith and thus believe in all God has promised. God has promised more than the gift of righteousness by faith (Romans 3-5 and Galatians 2 & 3). He has promised a city with foundations (11:10). 

 

10:39   The apostate shrinks back. At some point he sees no gain in maintaining his shallow profession any longer. His unregenerate heart never held to Christ, so when persecution comes he concludes that holding to Christ is an unnecessary burden. He finds no reward being associated with Christ and so shrinks back while the believer clings to Christ and is saved – not by his clinging, but by the Christ in Whom he trusts. 

 

This is the context of Hebrews 11.  Many Christians enjoy this chapter on faith and overlook the reason it was given. Faith sees clearly and in temporary trials chooses to respond to God’s word in obedience. The man justified by faith apart from his obedience to the law, is the man who by faith lives in obedience throughout his life. The man who shrinks back (i.e., turns away from or turns against Christ), is the man whose assessment of Christ is that He and His sacrifice are worthless. Jesus Christ is unworthy of his allegiance. The apostate will seek to save his life, but without faith in the One Who cannot break His promise, he loses it forever. Hebrews 11 shows how the man of faith lives under duress; he pleases God and is eternally rewarded (11:6). Faith obtains the life promised; the one who shrinks back, tramples the Son of God  (10:29) and ends up being trampled by Him (Isaiah 63:1-4). 

 

 

They must not throw away their confidence, it will be richly rewarded (10:35). Our confidence is in the value of Christ’s blood (10:19), a confidence produced by the Spirit Who impresses the heart with Christ and His work, resulting in saving faith – a faith that trusts for the future. Possibly 10:35 & 39 comprise the most concise way to state the heartfelt appeal of Hebrews: “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward”  “… We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”

 

 

 

 

Rewards   Our confidence will be rewarded (10:35). In every age the human heart assumes we gain from God what He owes to us for ‘goodness’ and performance. This reveals a different estimate of our sin from what God has. This error is also related to the idea of reward. The Bible must use some words for the good the Lord has stored up for His children; one it uses is reward (Matthew 5:12). Our work in every form of obedience will be rewarded.  It is not that good works merit, for all we are able to do is inadequate and stained with sin (1 John 1:8) so would justly merit stern rejection. Good works are always the result of God graciously equipping us (Philippians 2:13) to serve is some small way (Luke 17:10), so such undeserved credit cannot accrue to us for doing works that are His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). Yet the Bible encourages us with what is ahead.  It may be called an inheritance, but Christ is the heir and with Him we share it (Romans 8:17). Such an inheritance is a gift – with the pure definition of gift as something graciously given (Titus 3:7). We are not called to be passive but active in the pursuit of reward – looking forward to what we will yet receive on a path that has full possession of eternal life as its climax. So our confidence is not self-confidence but confidence in God and His promise. All we endure is ‘compensated’ in such a great outpouring it does not compare with what little we have suffered (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Every reward has been merited for us by Christ. As His adopted children we are overwhelmed with His kindness. With confidence in God’s faithfulness, we trust and suffer joyfully, knowing our life cannot be lost (John 12:25,26), that our labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58), for we will still enjoy all the good God has planned. Hebrews is very keen that those who waver should see that forsaking Christ does not bring relief; rather God will make those who fall away to be eternal losers, giving up an eternal reward that can be enjoyed only by having Christ.

 

 



[1] Lane’s valuable commentary shows the parallel in detail.