Christ’s Sufficient Sacrifice Hebrews 10:1–18
Hebrews 10 culminates the central exposition on Christ’s eternal priesthood. In his closing argument, the author contrasted the imperfect, insufficient, and ineffective Levitical sacrificial system with Christ’s once-for-all, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice (cf. 7:27; 9:12, 26, 28).
The deficient Levitical system was unable to remove sin or rid sinners from guilt and provide peace. In contrast, Christ’s sacrifice was perfect, eternal, efficacious, and sufficient to remove sin, provide eternal redemption, cleanse the guilty conscience, and supply peace.
In this section, the author wanted to convince Jewish believers who were wavering in their faith that the Levitical system was unable to do what Christ did for them.
The Sacrificial System
The Mosaic Law was only “a shadow [outline] of the good things to come, and not the very image [perfect likeness] of the things” (v. 1). At best, it was merely a pale outline and did not provide a true, detailed picture of the sacrifice God would provide through Christ. The Law’s sacrifices, offered year after year, could never make the worshipers perfect or righteous in their standing before God.
First, if the worshipers had been perfected (made complete) by a sacrificial offering, then repeated sacrifices for sin would “have ceased to be offered” long ago (v. 2).
Second, if the sacrifices had truly purged (cleansed and kept clean) the Israelites of their sins, the worshipers would have had “no more consciousness [sense] of sins” (v. 2); but these offerings and sacrifices could not take away the consciousness of sin (cf. Heb. 9:9). Therefore, the Israelites never felt free from condemnation. In fact, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), they continually remembered sin “every year” (v. 3) by offering sacrifices. Thus repetitious offering of animal sacrifices under the Levitical system proved the sacrifices’ inability to cleanse from sin.
Israel’s sins remained because “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (v. 4). Animal blood had no power to remove sin or provide redemption. It could only cover the Israelites’ sin, which then gave them the ceremonial cleansing they needed to approach God in worship (9:13). It was utterly impossible for animals, ignorant of the human moral dilemma and with no control over their own destinies, to remove mankind’s sins through their shed blood.
Why then did God establish the elaborate sacrificial system if animal sacrifices could not remove sin? He did so for a number of reasons:
- Blood sacrifices made the Israelites acknowledge their need for atonement before God (cf. Lev. 17:11).
- The sacrifices forced them to admit another must make substitutionary atonement for them; they could not atone for their own sins. Sacrifices were vicarious, substitutionary expiation for their sins, which were symbolically transferred to animals to make atonement and propitiate God’s wrath against the sinners. The Old Testament consistently presents God’s purpose for sacrifices.
- Sacrifice, which originated in the mind of God, enabled people to have their sins covered before approaching Him in worship.
- The sacrifices pointed to the day when Christ would, once and for all, atone for sin.
In bold contrast to the animal sacrifices that could not remove sin, God’s new provision supplies true redemption for mankind. The Son of God came into the world to mediate a New Covenant through the sacrifice of Himself. Not only was the Son involved, but the Father and Holy Spirit also played major roles. Animal sacrifices could never accomplish what the blood of Christ could.
First, it was never God the Father’s will for animal sacrifices to remove sin. Two verses make this fact clear: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire” (v. 5). “In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure” (v. 6).(See also verse 8.) God’s displeasure must be understood in a relative rather than an absolute sense. He had commanded Israel to offer sacrifices, and they were to be offered from the heart (1 Sam. 15:22; Ps. 51:16; Isa. 1:11–14). God was pleased Israel offered sacrifices in obedience to His will, but He derived no ultimate pleasure from them because they were unable to remove sin. In contrast, the Son, in dialogue with the Father, stated the means by which He would offer sacrifice for sin: “a body You have prepared for Me” (Heb. 10:5). Through the virgin birth, the Son became flesh with the express purpose of providing redemption for mankind.
Second, it was always the Father’s will that the Son become the true sacrifice for sin. The Son Himself said, “Behold, I have come—in the volume of the book it is written of Me—to do Your will, O God” (v. 7; cf. Ps. 40:7). The Hebrew Scriptures are full of Messianic prophecies concerning His First Advent. After His resurrection, Christ said, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Lk. 24:44). (See Luke 24:27 and John 5:39.) The Father had foreordained “from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8) that His Son would come into the world to remove sin through His death.
Third, Christ was willing to do all of the Father’s will: “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God” (Heb. 10:9; cf. v. 7; Ps. 40:8). With full involvement rather than passive endurance, He actively entered into the work set before Him. He was willing to come as a lowly Babe in Bethlehem, live perfectly under the Law, and suffer the humiliation of a criminal’s death on the cross. Christ’s own words sum up His commitment: “as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do” (Jn. 14:31). The conclusion is self-evident: “He takes away the first [animal sacrifices] that He may establish the second [Christ’s sacrifice]” (Heb. 10:9). Christ’s sacrifice was complete, bringing about the demise of the Levitical system.
In obedience to the Father’s will, He offered His body as a once-for-all sacrifice, making it possible for mankind to be “sanctified” (v. 10). However, sanctification does not become efficacious until a person puts faith in Him. Sanctification means “set apart for God.” The concept does not speak of progressive sanctification, which takes place as believers mature, but rather their position in Christ at the moment of salvation. The phrase we have been sanctified (v. 10) speaks of a permanent, continuous state believers will enjoy forever.
The Son’s Sacrifice
Removal of sin must be implemented through the priesthood. The first covenant priests continually worked: “And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices which can never take away sins” (v. 11). Every day, hundreds monotonously offered ineffectual sacrifices that reminded them of sin but could never utterly remove it. No seat was provided for the ministering priests in either the Tabernacle or Temple, symbolizing that their work was never completed.
In contrast, Christ completed His work as the New Covenant Priest: “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (v. 12). Levitical sacrifices were continual; Christ sacrificed once for all. Levitical priests sacrificed animals; Christ offered Himself. Levitical sacrifices only covered sin; Christ’s sacrifice removed it. Levitical sacrifices ceased; Christ’s sacrifice is efficacious forever.
Today Christ is seated “at the right hand of God” (v. 12; cf. 1:3; 8:1; 12:2), indicating He has completed His work and has been elevated to a position of power and honor. Today He rules with the Father in heaven, “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:25; cf. Ps. 110:1). The “all enemies” are the Devil (Heb. 2:14), the Antichrist (2 Th. 2:8), the False Prophet (Rev. 19:20), and every-one through the centuries who has rejected Christ (Rev. 20:11–15). The expression “till His enemies are made His footstool” (Heb. 10:13) pictures a king standing with one foot on the neck of a vanquished foe, as kings did centuries ago, to show total victory over their enemies. Joshua had his captains do this to the five kings he defeated (Josh. 10:23–24).
Christ is a greater Joshua; He will triumph over the powers of darkness and deliver the Kingdom to the Father at the end of His 1,000-year reign (1 Cor. 15:24–28). Hebrews 10:14 sums up Christ’s sacrificial ministry: “For by one offering [i.e., Himself] He has perfected [brought to completion] forever those who are being sanctified” (v. 14). The completeness of His expiatory ministry punctuates the book of Hebrews (2:10; 5:9; 7:19, 28; 10:14; 11:40; 12:23) and stands forever.
The Spirit’s Surety
The Holy Spirit witnesses “to us” (10:15) the effectiveness and completeness of Christ’s sacrifice in fulfilling the provisions and promises prophesied in the New Covenant (8:8–12; cf. Jer. 31:33–34). First, with the establishment of the New Covenant through Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, the outward legal code now is written on the heart through an inward change via the new nature of the believer. The Holy Spirit gives believers the capacity to know God’s righteousness and live in holiness (Heb. 10:16).
Second, the New Covenant provides complete forgiveness and removal of sin: “their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more [no, never, not under any condition]” (v. 17). God purges His memory of believers’ sins, making it possible for believers to have a relationship with Him. The Holy Spirit witnesses this fact to believers, thus providing the inner surety of a relationship with God.
One short verse presents the irrefutable conclusion: “Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin” (v. 18). Those who have been redeemed no longer need to offer animal sacrifices. To offer sacrifices for sin would be unscriptural and would show a lack of faith in Christ’s finished work. Believers are justified by Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for sin, and they need nothing more.