Hebrews 10:19 is a major turning point in the book. The theological arguments of the superiority of Christ are completed. As was often the case in the New Testament and early Christianity, theological truth provided the basis for exhortation about the right way to then live. The author of Hebrews has already inserted several brief sections of exhortation in Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:12-19; 4:11-16; and 5:11-6:3. In fact, some scholars simply treat Hebrews 10:19-39 as the final section of exhortation like the previous four.
However, there is a significant difference between this exhortation and the previous ones. The previous exhortations were brief and the author returned to his theological argument. The exhortation that begins in Hebrews 10:19 extends all the way through chapter 12. The author has finished his argument for the superiority of Christ. What remains is to urge his readers to stay true to the superior Christ.
Hebrews 10:19-39 provides a unit of exhortation in itself. It is clearly based on the theological argument of the first part of the book. The flow of thought in Hebrews 10:19-39 is very similar to that of Hebrews 5:11-6:12. William Lane (p. 138) has outlined that similarity in this way:
The flow of thought that Lane presents is a natural way for one to urge friends toward a certain behavior. Thus the similar sequence of ideas in the two sections probably did not happen by an intentional repetition by the author. Rather, he was intensely focused on convincing his readers to stay true to Christ and thus the same sequence of ideas flowed from his pen in both sections. Even so there was a different purpose in both sections. Hebrews 5:11-6:12 was primarily aimed at motivating the readers to accept the argument about Melchizedek. Hebrews 10:19-39 introduces the final exhortation of the whole work.
Call to Use our Access to God - Hebrews 10:19-25
Hebrews 10:19-25 is a single sentence in the Greek text. There is only one subject in the sentence, though there are three main verbs that are related to each other. Thus all the verses have a single idea in the mind of the author. The key to understanding the paragraph is to recognize that the main verbs appear in verses 22, 23, and 24. The central concept of these verses is "let us draw near to God," which appears in verse 22. The act of drawing near to God will enable the readers to hold fast the confession of their faith that is the message of verse 23. Verses 24-25 describe another consequence of drawing near to God which is the ability to encourage each other. Verses 19-21 summarize Hebrews 1:1-10:18 as the basis upon which the readers can draw near to God.
The transition from argument to exhortation is made by the first word of verse 19, therefore. The author expresses both his love for and closeness to the readers by addressing them as brothers. He is able to make his exhortation because they have confidence to enter the sanctuary. The Greek word for confidence speaks of boldness and freedom. Greek authors used it to describe the freedom of speech enjoyed in some cities and the confidence with which such freedom should be enjoyed. The author is contrasting the freedom and confidence for access to God that Christians enjoy with the restrictiveness of Judaism.
Christians enjoy freedom to enter the sanctuary. Here the author is drawing on the distinction he had developed in chapter 9. Christians are free to enter the heavenly sanctuary that is the presence of God where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. This contrasts with the earthly sanctuary of Judaism where the presence of God was to be found behind the veil and available to personal experience only once a year to the high priest. Since this free access was available through the blood of Jesus the author urges his readers to make use of it. The gift was too great and the price paid for it was too high to fail to follow through.
At this point the author was struggling with a very common problem among believers. All too often we fail to take advantage of the privileges that we have in Christ. God has provided spiritual power and maturity for us that we use because we fear what is new and different from the experiences of our lives in the past and of those whom we have known. We find it easy to criticize the readers of Hebrews for wanting to abandon all the benefits of Christ and to turn back to Judaism. Yet their motivation was to save their lives and the lives of their children.
We will often neglect the benefits of Christ's death and live at the level of cultural Christianity. Our only motivations are to maintain social respectability and to stay comfortable in a life of low spiritual demands. The author was struggling with a very common problem for Christian leaders. How do you motivate people to actually live up to the benefits that are available through Christ? The great faith chapter, Hebrews 11, will become part of his effort to help his readers understand what they must do.
The author further elaborates in verse 20. We have a new and living way. The word way was a powerful word in early Christianity. It described both the way of access to God provided by Christ and the Christian way of life (disciples were followers of the Way in Acts 9:2). That way was new in that Christ only made it available a few years before the writing of Hebrews. It was also new in that personal relationship with Christ offered a way of access to God that had never been known before.
It was a living way because it was through the living Christ that the access to God existed. It was also living because authentic life is the result of following the way and entering into the presence of God. This new and living way had been inaugurated or opened up by Christ. Jesus was both the trailblazer on the new way and the provider of the new way.
The author includes an interesting play on words in verse 20. Jesus inaugurated this way through the veil (or curtain). It seems quite clear that this expression refers to the curtain or veil in the temple that divided the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary. That curtain was split in two at the moment of Jesus' death according to Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; and Luke 23:45. It was the clearest symbol of restriction and lack of access to God in the worship system of the temple and tabernacle. The way of Christ available to believers has passed through that barrier.
The final phrase of verse 20 is perplexing. Does that is, through his flesh connect to the veil or to the new and living way? It is true that the flesh of Jesus and thus his ability to die provided the new and living way of access to God. The New English Bible adopted this interpretation in its translation but most scholars and translations connect the flesh to the veil. Jesus' flesh or human life was a veil that kept people from entering the heavenly sanctuary. But Christ's death and resurrection pierced that veil and now there is access to God presence available for all. This leads the author to call Christ our great high priest in verse 21. This is also a reference to the preceding arguments in Hebrews 7:1-10:18 about the superior priesthood of Christ. The house of God is an expression for the community of God's people similar to the expression used in Hebrews 3:6.
Because all the benefits of Christ described in verses 19-21 are available, the author begins his exhortation in verse 22, let us draw near to God. The exhortation is to use the way of access to God made available in Christ. Drawing near to God must be done with a true heart in full assurance of faith. A true heart reflects the author's Old Testament background. He is not speaking primarily of what is factual. Rather the true heart is the genuine or authentic heart. The exhortation is to draw near to God with genuineness of intention. That authenticity in personal relationship to God will be characterized by full assurance of faith. Authentic relationship is not plagued by doubt about the relationship. When the relationship is healthy and strong, there is a sense of confidence and certainty in that relationship.
Another way of describing this true heart with full assurance of faith is given in the phrase with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. The language of sprinkling clean with water here reflects a Jewish way of thinking. The author is speaking metaphorically. The combination of hearts and bodies speaks of the whole person understood both in the inner and outer life. The inner person is cleansed of an evil conscience and the outer person is washed with pure water. Most interpreters of Hebrews believe that the washing of the body with water is a reference to Christian baptism. The author of Hebrews understood that obedience to Christ's command to baptize, inner cleansing, and authentic right relationship with God would all be true for a believer drawing near to God.
The main verb of verse 23, let us hold fast, is constructed in parallel to the call to draw near in verse 22. Drawing near to God enables one to hold fast. It is also true that drawing near to God requires one to hold fast to the confession of hope. In difficult times drawing near to God requires an act of obedient faith. The verb hold fast is the same word that the author used in Hebrews 3:6 where the author stated that we are God's house if we hold fast. This is the crucial issue for the original readers of Hebrews. Will they stay true and remain a part of the household of God? Or will they give up under the pressure and abandon all the benefits provided by Christ? Will they keep pace with the new unfolding will of God for them? Or will they settle for reliving the memories of what God had done in the past?
The call is to hold fast the confession of hope. Some scholars have argued that confession is a technical term for "baptismal confession," the affirmation of Jesus as Lord that took place at baptism. However, it is more likely that "confession" is being used in a general sense to describe the profession of Christian faith. The important term here is hope. The readers of Hebrews were being exhorted to hold fast to their commitment to the Christian hope. If, in fact, Christ had been raised from the dead and that his resurrection power was unleashed to raise believers, then persecution held no lasting threat.
In fact, if Christ has been raised from the dead then we can hold fast to the Christian hope without wavering. The first readers of Hebrews were wavering. Shall we or shall we not stay true to Christ? The reason for staying true - for us and for the original readers - is that he who promised is faithful. God is faithful, reliable, and dependable. Because of that obedience and faithfulness to him in the midst of difficult times is not risky or foolish. It is the wisest and safest way to live. To fail to trust and obey is, in the final analysis, to deny the faithfulness of God. When I choose my way instead of God's it is a clear statement that I believe that my way is better than God's way or that I do not believe God is capable of doing it his way.
The final main verb in verses 19-25 appears in verse 24, let us consider each other. It is important that we understand that the author of Hebrews did not see drawing near to God as totally unconnected with human relationships. Love of God must be matched by love of neighbor if either love is to be authentic. So drawing near to God and holding fast the confession of hope must be accompanied by considering each other. The word consider actually means to think or to use one's mind. The thought is to be directed to the task of how to provoke one another to love and good deeds. When times are difficult each believer needs the help of other believers to maintain their motivation. Love of God and others is difficult when one's life is on the line. It is hard to stay on track on good deeds when the pressure is great. The author of Hebrews was keenly aware of the fact that the encouragement of others is critical to perseverance under pressure.
Such encouragement cannot happen if believers neglect meeting together. Encouragement requires a personal touch. In the first century when telephones did not exist and letters were difficult and expensive to write, face to face contact was the only way encouragement could be given. It is still the most effective way. Christian worship has understood from the first century that being together is a vital part of worship; encouragement of each other is as necessary as adoration of God. And the closer we come to the end of time the more important that being together and encouraging each other becomes.
Warning Against Apostasy - Hebrews 10:26-31
From the positive exhortation of verses 19-25 the author turns to a stern warning of the dangerous price of deliberate turning away from God in verses 26-31. Verse 26 when we are sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth there is no longer a sacrifice for sins sounds the same harsh note as Hebrews 6:4-6. Again the Greek construction of the verb sinning indicates a persistent and continual pattern rather than a momentary slip. The use of the word willfully reflects the Old Testament message of Numbers 15:27-31. There, the sacrifice atoned for unwitting sins or inadvertent violations of the Law, but no sacrifice was available for the sin with a high hand. Numbers 15:31 states that such a sin was indication that the sinner despised the word of the Lord. Such a person is cut off from the people of God and thus the avenue of salvation is closed.
This background is important for understanding Hebrews 10:26-31. The question was whether readers of this book would stay true to Christ or not. If they did not and returned to Judaism they were abandoning the fellowship of believers, the people of God, where the way of access to God was available. If one rejects Christ as the way of salvation there is no other way made available. Since there is no other way of salvation the only option available to those who reject Christ is the fearful prospect of judgment according to verse 27. The author of Hebrews did not view the judgment with any sense of satisfaction. It was a horrible fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. This author was well versed in the Old Testament. He knew the provision of the Mosaic Law (see Deuteronomy 17:2-6 for an example) to execute those who violated that Law.
Verse 29 is a typical rabbinic argument from lesser to greater. If execution without mercy was the judgment meted out to those who violated some small portion of the Mosaic Law, how much more severe should be the judgment of those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified and outraged the Spirit of grace? F. F. Bruce notes:
The author of Hebrews did not try to spin out a frightening description of judgment. He just knew it would be a fearful thing because radical rejection of the provision God made through Christ was unthinkable defiance of God. Perhaps the author is a helpful model for us. Speculations about the details of judgment are of small concern for Christians. A bit of mystery might even be helpful. We don't know what it will be like, but it must be horrible because it is the punishment for rejecting the best that God ever did for us. The author's desire is not to know about final judgment, but simply to motivate his readers to avoid it. That should also be our goal.
The author concludes his warning about the danger of apostasy (deliberate rejection of God) by quoting two phrases from the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32. Vengeance is mine, I will repay is from Deuteronomy 32:35. It is best known to most Christian from Paul's quotation of the same verse in Romans 12:19. The Lord will judge his people comes from Deuteronomy 32:36. The Song of Moses contains both the promise of God's vengeance against Israel's enemies and his judgment on his own people for failing to live up to their covenant requirements and privileges. I
f God fiercely judged Israel's enemies, but considered Israel herself to be even more liable to judgment because of her special privilege, our author can only conclude that those privileged to receive the fulfillment of the all the promises of God, the "Yes" of God pronounced in Christ, will received devastating judgment if they reject Christ. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. The holiness of God is not to be trifled with. That is true for the ungodly. It is doubly true for those who have known by personal experience the best gift that God ever gave.
The Call to Perseverance - Hebrews 10:32-39
Lane described Hebrews 10:32-34 as encouragement based on past performance and verses 35-39 as an appeal focused on the future. The overarching theme is the call to persevere in the midst of difficulties. Both the past and the future offer motivation for doing so.
Verses 32-34 are of great interest for historians attempting to reconstruct the history of early Christianity and especially of the church at Rome. The author states that the readers had earlier suffered public abuse and persecution and that their possessions had been plundered. Knowing the date of that earlier persecution and of the pressure being experienced while the book of Hebrews was written would greatly increase our knowledge of the history of the early church in Rome. It would also enable us to date the writing of Hebrews with more confidence.
It is possible that both the persecution of the past and the present pressure were local disturbances that are unknown to secular history. If that is the case we have no way of dating these periods of persecution. Most scholars, however, now believe that the earlier persecution mentioned here refers to a time in AD 49 when Claudius evicted the Jews from Rome for rioting over a certain "Chrestus." If Chrestus is a misspelling of Christ, the rioting would be a Roman interpretation of Jewish persecution that would include the kind of public abuse and plundering described in these verses.
However, the author of Hebrews was not interested in providing the information that would enable us to place a date on the events described. He knew that his readers had suffered in the past for their faith in Christ. Therefore they should continue to be faithful and to not let the present persecution accomplish what the previous one had failed to do.
If the previous persecution had been in the time of Claudius following the "riots" of AD 49 and if the pressure present at the writing of Hebrews was under Nero in the mid-60's then at least 15 years had passed between the two times of persecution. The earlier persecution had come shortly after their conversion. They were full of enthusiasm for the change in their life that relationship with Christ had brought. They willingly endured the persecution and became partners with others who were abused and imprisoned. One can only wonder if 15 years of life in the church had cooled their commitment. Perhaps they had become comfortable cultural Christians who had no desire to pay any price for their faith. When the pressure of the mid-60's came they were less willing to endure.
The book of Hebrews was not necessarily written in A.D. 49 but 15 years later the author had to write to urge his readers not to abandon their faith in Christ. One of the great difficulties of any faith is how to maintain the commitment and enthusiasm of the early days. When the change that conversion brings is fresh and dramatic it is easier to be committed. The difference between the old and the new days is clear and thus worth paying a price for. After sufficient time passes the memories of the old life are less clear. The change brought about by conversion seems less dramatic. Real life problems of family, jobs, and health have come back. Friends in the body of Christ who were once refreshingly different are now disgustingly the same. The difference between the new life and the old is harder to remember and thus many find it harder to be motivated to pay a high price for the faith.
But that does not change the fact of the superiority of Christ and our author urges his readers to stay to true to their conversion to Christian faith because of who Christ is rather than because of how they feel about their Christian life. A similar strategy would be helpful to us. Regardless of whether others are hypocrites or genuine Christians; regardless of whether our problems are greater or smaller than when we believed; regardless of how we feel, Christ is superior to any other source of salvation. It would be the worst folly to abandon him because of our fluctuating feelings as we experience the pressures of life.
The author turns from the past to note that his readers will need patient endurance in the future. He quotes from Habakkuk 2:3-4 from the Greek translation of the Old Testament. That Greek translation speaks of an expected deliverer who will surely come if the reader will wait. The author knows that that expected deliverer is Christ and that he will certainly return to take his people to himself. In that confidence the righteous reader can live by his or her faith or faithfulness. Thus the Habakkuk quotation becomes the transition to the great treatment of faith and faithfulness in Hebrews 11.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you begin each day pray that the Lord would speak to you through his Holy Spirit as you open yourself to his word.
First Day: Read the notes on Hebrews 10:19-39. Look up the Scripture references given there.
1. Note and jot down one or two new thoughts that seemed important to you. Why were they important?
2. Select one or two spiritual insights that would apply to your own life. How do they apply to you?
3. What is the single most important thought for you from Hebrews 10:19-39? Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to imprint that concept on your heart and mind.
Second Day: Read Hebrews 11:1-22. Now focus in on Hebrews 11:1-3.
1. Carefully read verse 1. If you have several translations compare them. Now paraphrase the description of faith given in verse 1 in your own words.
2. Describe the relationship between seeing and faith according to your understanding of these verses.
3. What is the relationship of seeing and hope according to Romans 8:24-25? How would you compare and contrast faith and Christian hope? How are they similar and how are they different?
Third Day: Read Hebrews 11:1-22. Now focus on Hebrews 11:4-7.
1. Read Genesis 4:1-15. What do these verses in Genesis say about faith? How does Hebrews 11:6 help explain the interpretation of the Abel story in Hebrews 11:4?
2. Read Genesis 5:21-24. What information do they provide about the faith of Enoch? How does Hebrews 11:6 explain the way the author of Hebrews interprets Enoch in verse 5?
3. Read Genesis 6:13-22 in comparison with Hebrews 11:7. What is the relationship between faith and obedience in the life of Noah? What is the relationship of faith and obedience in your life?
Fourth Day: Read Hebrews 11:1-22. Turn your focus to Hebrews 11:8-12.
1. Read Genesis 12:1-8. What promises did God make to Abraham? What evidences of faithfulness do you see in the life of Abraham?
2. Read Acts 7:1-8 and Hebrews 11:9-10. How does the long delay in promised possession of the land relate to Abraham's faith? How does a delay in the fulfillment of God's promises affect your faith?
3. Read Romans 4:16-24 and compare those verses with Hebrews 11:11-12. What kind of faith did Abraham and Sarah have that led to God's granting the miraculous birth of Isaac? Is there an area of life that calls for that kind of faith from you? Write a brief prayer asking God to strengthen your ability to trust him.
Fifth Day: Read Hebrews 11:1-40. Focus your attention on Hebrews 11:13-16.
1. Write in your own words the key concept of verses 13-15.
2. Verse 16 states that God was not ashamed to be called their God. What changes in your life do you think might be necessary for God to not be ashamed to be called your God? What changes in your life would be necessary for you to be comfortable with God?
3. Read Jeremiah 31:31-34. What promise(s) does God make that enables him to be our God and us to be his people? Has that promise been fulfilled in your life?
Sixth Day: Read Hebrews 11:1-40. Now focus in on Hebrews 11:17-22.
1. Read Genesis 22:1-19. What elements of the story of the sacrifice of Isaac speak of faith to you? How would you have responded differently than Abraham? Why?
2. Read Genesis 27:27-40. Based on these verses why do you think that the author of Hebrews stated in verse 20 that it was by faith that Isaac made these blessings? What kind of faith led to pronouncing these blessings?
3. Verses 21 and 22 speak of faith at the point of death. What demonstration of faith would you like to have the opportunity to show at the time of your death?