In Conan Doyle’s book, The History of the Boer War, Doyle described one of the skirmishes that the British soldiers had with an overpowering South African Boer (farmer) regiment during the Anglo-Boer War. The occasion was that a British regiment of soldiers was surprised at one time by a Boer regiment that was twice their number. Under fire, the British troops were able to retreat to their camp. However, many of their wounded lie in the field between the two armies, dying of their wounds. Among the British soldiers was a corporal of the Ceylon Mounted Infantry. He later reported that the British troops needed something to stop the fighting in order to help their wounded. He later recounted, “We had a pillow, but no red paint.” He recalled that some British soldiers took their own blood and made a cross on the white pillow, and held it high on a pole. They knew that the African farmers (Boers) were a God-fearing men after the spirituality of their leader, Paul Kruger. The result was that the attack was terminated by the Boers and the British were allowed to retrieve and administer to their wounded.
Hebrews 10:19-23 is a conclusion to the writer’s arguments that Jesus and His blood sacrifice are far superior to that which was only a shadow of good things to come. It was His blood that was held high on the cross in order to stop the impending annihilation of all those who sought healing from their wounds of sin.
The writer uses the conjunction “therefore” in 10:19 to lead his readers, and us, into his final conclusions. His arguments have been so strong that he will make a final statement at the end of chapter 10 that “we are not of those who draw back to destruction, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.”10:39 We will not fall back into the futility of the insufficient sacrifices of high priests who died one after another under the Sinai law. If we do, that fall is to destruction, not life. In the preceding dissertation, the writer is confident that he has proved his point. If one would leave Jesus Christ, the Son of God, then he has gone back into that which will only lead to destruction (See 2 Th 1:6-9). The writer concludes that his readers must find a pillow and blood at the foot of the cross in order to stop the impending destruction. Jesus only can supply the blood.
“Therefore,” the writer pleads, we must have “boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus.”10:19 Our acceptance of the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God is sufficient to bring us boldly unto the throne of God. “For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Ep 2:18). Our boldness, therefore, is not based on our meritorious works that we would presume to be sacrificial offerings for our sins. Our boldness is based totally on the blood that flows from the cross. Our right to enter into the holy place is guaranteed only by the blood of the One who has passed through the heavens to the right hand of God.8:1 Those who do not live under the sanctifying shield of His blood, therefore, have no right to enter into His presence.
Under the Sinai law, only the high priest was allowed to enter into the holy place. He could enter only if He came with the blood of animals. It would be unthinkable for the high priest to enter without sacrificial blood. If there were no sacrifices, then there could have been no entrance into the holy place.
The Hebrew writer now places us in the position of the priest who would enter the holy place. We are the holy priesthood of God (1 Pt 2:5,9). We now have the privilege of entering into the holy place “by the blood of Jesus.”10:19 If there is no blood of Jesus with us, then we cannot enter. Since Jesus has offered us His blood, then by His blood we have the right to enter. Therefore, it is necessary to determine how one would appropriate the blood of Jesus to his own soul in order to have the right to enter the holy place. If we would enter with boldness, then we must access the blood of the Son of God.
We not only enter into the holy place, but we can go beyond the veil into the holy of holies with the blood of Jesus. This is the “new and living way that He has consecrated for us.”10:20 It is “new” because it is not as the priests of the Sinai law who entered the holy place on behalf of the people with the blood of animals. As priests of God ourselves, we cannot personally enter on our own behalf. It is a “living” way because we have applied to ourselves the blood of the One who is the way. Jesus affirmed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn 14:6). To think that there are other ways to the Father except through Jesus, is to be detoured by our own ignorance of the sanctifying power of the blood sacrifice of Jesus (See At 4:12). We must never forget that it is only by the cleansing blood of Jesus that we are allowed into the presence of God.
By pouring out His blood on the cross, He went before us into the place He has now allowed us to go. Jesus is thus our “high priest over the house of God,” which house we are in Christ (1 Tm 3:15). When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” He essentially said, “Follow Me and I will take you where no high priest on earth can take you.” He also meant that we not be detoured by man-made faiths that suppose to lead us into the eternal realm of God without the appropriation of the blood of the Lamb of God.
The Hebrew writer is so confident with these conclusions that the Spirit moved his hand to write a note of assurance. He adds that with “full assurance” we can draw near “with a sincere heart.”10:22 We now have “a better hope, through which we draw near to God.”7:19 We are able to draw near through the blood and the water. Moses sprinkled the blood of animals on the tabernacle and priests in order to sanctify (set apart) that which was to function in service to God (Ex 24; 29). With the background of this historical illustration, the Spirit directed the hand of Peter to word it differently in reference to the time when he knew that we had contacted the blood of Jesus:
The like figure whereunto even baptism does also now save us—not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the appeal of a good conscience to God—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pt 3:21).
We can boldly draw near to God “in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from the evil conscience ….”10:22 That by which our hearts are sprinkled is the blood of Jesus. But the story is incomplete without “washing.” The writer asserts that we can “draw near with a sincere heart … having … our bodies washed with pure water.”10:22 The Hebrew writer reflects on Jesus’ words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). There is no drawing near unto God without passing through the waters of baptism, wherein one comes into contact with the sanctifying blood of Jesus. Ananias meant the same when he with urgency said to a sinner, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (At 22:16).
There is no cleansing power in water. There is no salvational result from a legal obedience to “being baptized.” It is only at the moment of baptism that we can have a good conscience toward God. It is only then that we know that we have done all that was required of Him to come into contact with the blood of His Son. It is then that we can have a good conscience before God, knowing that we have obediently completed all that He requires for our sins to be washed away. Sins are washed away by the blood, not by the waters of baptism. It is at the event of baptism that God appropriates the blood of Jesus in order that our sins be washed away. Our faith brings us to the water, but it is God’s work to wash us clean in the blood of His Son. No literal water will ever wash away one sin. However, there is no greater illustration to demonstrate the washing of the blood of Jesus than when one is literally immersed in water.
Since God knew that we needed a point of reference in our lives where we could confidently affirm that our sins were gone, then He promised He would do His work of forgiveness when we manifested our faith in Him at the point of our obedience to the gospel through immersion.
If we “hold firm to the confession of our faith without wavering,”10:23 then we can have full assurance that He will deliver on His promises because our faith delivered us to obedience of the gospel. In fact, the text actually says that we should hold fast to our confession “for He is faithful who promised.”10:23 Because of the faithfulness of Jesus who went to the cross for us, we should be faithful to go through suffering for Him in order to reach our eternal redemption because of the blood of the cross.
“Morality may keep you out of jail,” Spurgeon wrote, “but it takes the blood of Jesus Christ to keep you out of hell.” The statement “Let us hold to the confession of our faith without wavering”10:23 is certainly an affirmation that one could possibly let go of the cross. But if he does, he has condemned himself to hell. The one who draws back from the blood of Jesus, is without hope. “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”10:26 One can surely fall from the faith, and thus, fall from the cleansing blood of Jesus. Those who “willfully” turn back to the Sinai law, or any religious invention of men, have no hope of entering into the holy place with the sacrificial blood of Jesus. They have thus, drawn “back to destruction.”10:39 If one becomes dull of hearing about the cross, then he will fall back into destruction. When the preaching of the corss becomes boring, then one knows he is gone. We are reminded of the sincere desire of Peter in reference to his message to his readers:
I will not be negligent to always remind you of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it right, as long as I am in this tent to stir you up by reminding you … (2 Pt 1:12,13).
The statement of Hebrews 10:37 is significant in view of what Jesus said in Luke 18:8. Verse 37 is not a quote from the Old Testament. It is a reference to the context of Jesus’ prophecy in the context of Luke 17:20 – 18:8 concerning the termination of national Israel. On the occasion of the prophecy, the Pharisees questioned Jesus concerning the coming of the kingdom of God (Lk 17:20). Contrary to their thinking concerning the kingdom, Jesus said to the Pharisees that the “the kingdom of God does not come with observation” (Lk 17:20). The kingdom of God is spiritual, not physical. The Pharisees’ physical kingdom of Israel was coming to an end, but the spiritual kingdom of God would continue forever.
In answer to the Pharisees’ misunderstanding of the kingdom of God, Jesus responded by saying that “the days will come when” they would yearn for the days of peace in which they lived while the Son of Man was with them on the earth (Lk 17:22). Jesus said of these days that were coming in their lives, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world to this time [of His ministry], nor ever will” (Mt 24:21).
Jesus then took the questioning Pharisees into an era when turmoil would engulf them because of their rejection of Him as the Son of Man. A time was coming as “the days of Noah” (Lk 17:26,27). “The flood came and destroyed” the wicked (Lk 17:27). The wicked were taken and the righteous Noah and his family were left. A time was coming when it would be like Sodom when “it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all” (Lk 17:29). The wicked were taken and righteous Lot was left. Jesus concluded, “In this way it will be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Lk 17:30).
Jesus was prophesying His coming in judgment on Jerusalem in A.D. 70. What the self-righteous Pharisees did not understand was that they were the spiritually dead body around which the Roman army would gather. Jesus said of them, “Wherever the body is, there will the vultures be gathered together” (Lk 17:37). The Roman army would gather around the dead body of national Israel in A.D. 70 in order to consume it.
After giving a parable of the pleas of the persecuted Christians—those who accepted Jesus as the Son of Man—Jesus concluded, “I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8). Reference in the context to what Jesus states is to the Pharisees and the destruction of Jerusalem. This is the event about which the Hebrew writer refers in Hebrews 10:37.
We affirm that the reason why some Jewish Christians were considering an apostasy to the Sinai law was that they were being intimidated by the radical Jewish zealots who were at the time rising up in insurrection against the Roman Empire. The insurrection became so great that Rome once and for all decided to terminate the Jewish problem. The Hebrew writer wanted to remind his readers of what Jesus had prophesied, and what was in their near future. Those to whom the Hebrew writer directs his warning were going into apostasy. If they continued on their course, they would be taken away in the destruction of the Jewish state in A.D. 70. They would be taken away just as the wicked in the days of both Noah and Lot. So the following translation of Hebrews 10:39 is appropriate: “But we are not of those who draw back to destruction ….” The writer was warning that if his readers went back to Judaism, they were going back to destruction, which future destruction they learned from Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem (See Mt 24; Lk 21).
Every judgment of God in time is an illustration of His judgment that will take place at the end of time. Those Jewish Christians who were contemplating a return to the Levitical faith of national Israel, were in danger of suffering the consequences of God’s judgment on national Israel in A.D. 70. It is not surprising, therefore, that after Jesus spoke of the judgment of God on Israel in time in the context of Matthew 24, that He would continue to warn everyone in Matthew 25 of God’s judgment that is coming at the end of time. For everyone on earth there is an impending judgment placed on the world that will come. In this judgment that is yet to come, the disobedient will be separated from the righteous. The disobedient will suffer the same fate as the devil and his angels (Mt 25:41). The righteous will go into eternal life (Mt 25:34,46). We give heed to the exhortations of Hebrews, therefore, as the readers to whom the writer initially directed the letter. If we turn from Jesus Christ, we too will be drawing back into destruction that will come at the end of time when Jesus comes again (2 Th 1:6-9).
[Next lecture: December 29]