THE PRIEST: Christ the Superior Sacrifice
The sun was rising over the Mount of Olives, casting its golden glow on the Temple altar, as priests busied themselves preparing for the morning sacrifice. A priest, standing on the roof of a Temple building, announced that the first ray of light had reached Hebron. With the arrival of dawn, the priest cried out, “Priests, prepare for service, and Levites, for song!”
The sacrificial lamb had been examined thoroughly the night before, but it was reexamined just before being offered. Few worshipers witnessed the slaying of the lamb which took place with the opening of the great Temple gate. The priest, with a razor sharp knife, made one quick cut to the throat of the lamb causing instant death. Another priest caught the sacrificial blood in a golden bowl to be sprinkled on the altar. The offering of the morning sacrifice officially began the day of worship in the Temple.
Hundreds of Jewish people streamed into the Temple weighted down with their offering and sin. The rich man came with his costly sacrifice, and the poor man tightly gripping a pigeon or turtle dove. Daily the priests stood according to their chosen order receiving the sacrifices of the people, uttering the proper prayers, then quickly slaying and preparing the offering for the altar. Day after day, and year after year, they came following the prescribed order set forth in the law, hoping that God would accept the offering to atone for their sin. There needed to be a superior sacrifice which would once for all remove the individual’s sin. Only God could provide such a sacrifice, as we will see in this article.
The Sacrifice Offered (vv. 1-4)
The Mosaic Law, with its sacrifice, was only a “shadow [outline] of good things to come and not the very image [perfect likeness] of the things . . . ” (v. 1). In other words, the Mosaic system only pointed out the need and way to forgiveness, but at best it was an indefinite dark outline and did not provide a true detailed picture of the sacrifice God would give in Christ. These sacrifices “offered year by year” could “never” make the worshipers “perfect” (righteous in their standing before God) [v. 1 ].
The inability of the sacrifices to take away sin is illustrated in two ways. First, if the worshiper had been perfected by the one sacrificial offering, then it would have been needless to repeat the offering for sin – “For then would they not have ceased to be offered?” (v. 2). For example, if I break the law, I must pay the penalty. But the penalty once paid, there is no need to continually pay it.
Second, if the Israelite had really been purged (having once been cleansed and kept clean) from his sin through the sacrifice, there would have been “no more consciousness [sense] of sins” (v. 2). But the “gifts and sacrifices . . . could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience” (9:9). Therefore, the Israelite never felt free from the condemnation of past sins. In fact, “. . . there is a remembrance again made of sins every year (v. 3). On Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), sacrifice was offered up bringing to remembrance (a calling to mind) the sins which Israel had committed. Yet in his heart the individual knew these sacrifices could not remove sin. The repetitious offering of the Levitical sacrifice proved the inability to cleanse from sin.
There is an interesting contrast which can be made with the word “remembrance”. In the Lord’s Supper, Christ said, “this do . . . in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25). Each time the believer partakes of the Lord’s Supper, he remembers that Christ has removed his sins forever by means of His sacrificial death.
Why were Israel’s sins not removed? Simply because “. . . it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (v. 4). The blood of animals had no power to provide redemption. All that the ritual slayings could do was purify the flesh (provide ceremonial cleansing) [9:13]. It would be impossible for animals, ignorant of the human moral dilemma, with no control over their destiny, to remove the sin of mankind by their shed blood.
Then why did God demand that such an elaborate sacrificial system be established if it did not remove sin? For a number of reasons! First, by offering a blood sacrifice man was acknowledging that atonement must be made before God for sin. Second, he was admitting that another must make substitutionary atonement for him, thus he could not atone for his own sins. Third, the blood atonement which he offered did cover his sin before God making it possible for Him to withhold judgment. Fourth, his sacrifice pointed to the day when Christ would once for all atone for sin.
The Son’s Obedience (vv. 5-14)
We have already seen that animal sacrifices were imperfect and ineffective in their ability to remove sin. In bold contrast, the writer sets forth the “new way” in which God will provide true redemption for man. The Son will come into the world and mediate a new covenant through the sacrifice of Himself. Not only is the Son involved, but the Father and the Holy Spirit play major roles.
The Father’s Will (vv. 5-10)
In quoting from Psalm 40:6-8, the writer presents both the will of the Father and the Son. First, it was never the will of the Father that animal sacrifices should remove sin. Three verses make this clear: “. . . Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not . . .” (v. 5); “In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure” (v. 6; cp. v. 8). God’s displeasure must be understood in a relative, not absolute sense. For had He not commanded Israel to offer them up? Yes, He did, and they were to be offered from the heart (1 Sam. 15:22; Ps. 51:16; Isa. 1:11-14)! God was pleased that Israel offered the sacrifice in obedience to His will, but He derived no ultimate pleasure from them since they were unable to remove sin.
In contrast the Son, in dialogue with the Father, states the means by which He will offer sacrifice for sin – “. . . a body hast thou prepared me” (v. 5). The Son became incarnate through the virgin birth with the express purpose of providing redemption for man.
Second, it was always the Father’s will that the Son would be the true sacrifice for sin. For the Son himself has said, “. . . Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) . . .” (v. 7; cp. Ps. 40:7). The Old Testament Scriptures were full of messianic prophecies concerning His first advent. After His resurrection Christ said, “. . . These are the words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Lk. 24:44; see Lk. 24:27; Jn. 5:39). The Father had foreordained, “. . . from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8), that the Son would come into the world and through His death provide for the removal of sin.
Third, Christ was willing to do all of the Father’s will: “. . . Lo, I come to do thy will, O God . . .” (v. 9; cp. v. 7; Ps. 40:8). With full involvement, not passive endurance, He actively entered into the work set before Him. He was willing to come as a poor 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, even so I do . . .” (Jn. 14:31). The conclusion is self-evident: “He taketh away the first [animal sacrifices], that he may establish the second [Christ’s sacrifice]” (v. 9). Christ’s sacrifice was complete in every aspect for the removal of sin, bringing about the demise of the Levitical system.
Christ, obedient to the will of God, offered His body as a once-for-all sacrifice making it possible for God to sanctify man (v. 10). Even though the provision for sanctification was made by Christ, it does not become efficacious until the individual puts saving faith in Him. By sanctification we mean “set apart for God”. Here the concept is not speaking of “progressive sanctification”, which takes place as the believer matures, but his “position” in Christ at the moment of salvation. The phrase, “we are sanctified” (Lit. having been sanctified) [v. 10] speaks of a permanent, continuous state which the believer will enjoy forever.
The Son’s Work (vv. 11-14)
The Father’s will for the removal of sin must be implemented through the work of a priesthood. The first covenant priest continually worked: “And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering often the same sacrifices . . .” (v. 11). Hundreds of priests monotonously offered up the ineffectual sacrifices each day which only reminded them of sins, but never could “take away sins” (remove utterly) [v. 11], as we have already seen (vv. 1-4). There was no seat provided for the ministering priest in either the Tabernacle or Temple symbolizing that his work was never “completed”.*
Christ, who is the New Covenant Priest completed His work: “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God” (v. 12). The contrast between priests is significant. First, the Levitical sacrifice was continual; Christ sacrificed once for sin. Second, the Levitical priest sacrificed animals; Christ offered Himself. Third, the Levitical sacrifice only covered sin; Christ’s sacrifice removed sin. Fourth, the Levitical sacrifice ceased; Christ’s sacrifice is efficacious forever.
Christ is now seated at “the right hand of God” (v. 12; 1:3; 8:1; 12:2) showing that He has completed His work and has been elevated to a position of power and honor. Today, Christ is ruling with the Father in Heaven: “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:25; see Ps. 110:1).
Who are the enemies? They are the devil with “the power of death” (2:14), the antichrist and the false prophet (Rev. 19:20), and all those through the centuries who have rejected Christ (Rev. 20:11-15). The expression, “till his enemies be made his footstool” (v. 13) is the picture of a king who stands with one foot on the neck of a vanquished foe. Centuries ago a conquering king placed his foot on the neck of his defeated enemy to show total victory over him and his kingdom. Joshua had his captains do the same to five kings he defeated (Josh. 10:23-24).
Christ is a greater Joshua, whose coming will triumph over the powers of darkness and deliver the kingdom to the Father at the end of the Millennium (1 Cor. 15:24-28). In one brief statement Christ’s sacrificial ministry is summed up: “For by one offering [i.e. Himself] he hath perfected [brought to completion] forever them that are 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 Witness (vv. 15-18)
The Holy Spirit witnesses to the completed work of Christ through the Scriptures. The witness is not “within” the believer, but “to” him (v. 15) as the Spirit confirms the scriptural truth already stated in the New Covenant (8:8-12). Two main concepts from the New Covenant are reviewed to show what it means to be sanctified. First, at the time of regeneration God writes His law in the heart and mind (v. 16) of the believer by the Holy Spirit giving him the capacity to know righteousness and live in holiness. Second, the believer is justified: “. . . their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (v. 17). The believer’s position is based upon the efficacious sacrifice of Christ.
In one short verse the irrefutable conclusion is presented: “Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin” (v. 18). Since Christ’s one sacrifice took away God’s remembrance of sins for those who have been redeemed, there is no longer a need to repeat the offerings. Thus, to offer sacrifices for sin is unscriptural and shows a lack of faith in Christ’s finished work.
The Saint’s Opportunity (vv. 19-25)
Through His death, Jesus “inaugurated” (opened for the first time) a “new” (newly slain) and “living way” (life-giving way) for the individual to come with boldness (confidence) into God’s presence (vv. 19-20). Since the believer has this privilege, he is exhorted to exercise a fourfold commitment unto the Lord.
First, the believer is to be cleansed for worship. He is to “. . . draw near with a true heart [pure and true motives] in full assurance of faith” (v. 22), anticipating to appropriate all that God has promised to those who come in a right relationship before Him. He must approach having had his heart “sprinkled from an evil conscience” which gives him a bold confidence in worship.
Second, he is to have a confession before the world. He is not to waver in his faith (hope) under the fire of persecution (v. 23). The believer can take great comfort and encouragement in God’s precious promise not to abandon him under any circumstance (13:5). This will give him strength to stand with a consistent life before a world who opposes his faith.
Third, he is to exhort others to a life of commitment in the work. He is to have a continuous care for the spiritual welfare of his fellow Christian. The purpose of this care is to provoke (stimulate) him to a life of “love and good works” (v. 24) in his walk before the world and fellow believers. In love, believers are to “stir each other up” in the exercising of their spiritual gifts which God has bestowed upon them through the Holy Spirit.
Fourth, the believer is exhorted not to forsake corporate worship. He is not to abandon the local church in the latter days. On the contrary, believers are to exhort one another to continue attending especially when they know that the Lord’s coming is near (v. 25).
The Sinner’s Options (vv. 26-31)
Christ, the once-for-all superior sacrifice, is the only sacrifice left for sin! Those rejecting Christ’s sacrifice have three charges leveled against them: They despise Christ by trampling Him under their feet; they disregard the blood of Christ as worthless and unholy (a common thing); and they do despite (insult) unto the Holy Spirit who tried to draw them to Christ (v. 29). From such rejection the verdict is given and judgment proclaimed: “. . . Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord” (v. 30). Those rejecting Christ’s atoning sacrifice are considered adversaries. His adversaries under the Mosaic Covenant suffered “judgment . . . fiery indignation”, and “died without mercy” (vv. 27-28; cp. Dt. 17:6; 32:35-36). Those rejecting Christ await the fearful judgment of God! Knowing that “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (v. 31), let us reexamine our own commitment and then sound the warning to those who are not redeemed.
In 1873 Philip P. Bliss caught a vision of the believer’s exalted position through Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice on his behalf. He wrote:
Free from the law, O happy condition!
Jesus hath bled, and there is remission;
Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall,
Grace hath redeemed us once for all.
Now are we free, there’s no condemnation!
Jesus provides a perfect salvation;
“Come unto Me,” O hear His sweet call!
Come, and He saves us once for all.
Once for all, O sinner, receive it!
Once for all, O brother, believe it!
Cling to the cross, the burden will fall,
Christ hath redeemed us once for all!
*The sacrifice was still being offered in the Temple years after Christ’s crucifixion, proving that this epistle was written before 70 A.D., the year the Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem.