“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” (Heb 11:1-2)
Throughout the entire book, the author of Hebrews talks about the importance of faith. In situations where it was easy to lose their confidence, the readers were urged to have strong faith and live by it. Faith is important in Christian life because it enables Christians to see things in the world through God’s perspective.
Faith is like eyeglasses because it makes us see what’s unseen and spiritual so that we won’t be shaken by our circumstances but be victorious in every situation.
As 1 John 5:3 says,
“This is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith.” (1 Jn 5:3)
So, after proving Jesus’ superiority to the significant concepts in the Old Testament, the author starts to talk about faith in Hebrews 11 because that’s what’s most needed by those who are waiting for the return of Christ.
Hebrews chapter 11 is often called ‘the faith chapter.’ In this chapter, the word ‘faith’ appears 23 times. Here, the author not only defines what faith means, but also describes it with many examples.
Now let’s jump into the faith chapter. Let’s read Hebrews 11:1-2 together.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.” (Heb 11:1-2, NKJV)
Since faith is an abstract concept, it’s hard to fully grasp its meaning. But, here in this passage, the author defines what faith is in two ways.
1) The Substance of Things Hoped For
First, the author said, faith is confidence in what we hope for. Here, the Greek word for faith is πίστις (Pistis), which basically refers to trust or strong confidence in something.
But, this word also implies a certain way of life because our actions actually come from our faith. It means that what really determines our ways of life is what we truly believe in. In ancient Greek culture, faith and life can’t be separated but go hand in hand. That’s why the apostle James calls faith without action ‘dead faith.’
It also means that whatever you say you believe in means nothing unless it actually changes your thoughts, words, actions, and lifestyle. In every example the author listed in Hebrews 11, we can find the connection between faith and action.
Our ancestors of faith lived a certain way according to what they believed even though they were persecuted and put in dangerous situations because of their faith.
But their faith wasn’t blind trust. They were able to endure every hardship and difficulty because their faith wasn’t based on worldly things which were temporary, but on God’s eternal promises. Since their faith was deeply rooted in God’s promises which were guaranteed to come true, they were able to resist being moved by worldly things or suffering.
The author defines faith as the substance of what we hope for.
Here, substance doesn’t refer to something subjective that can be changed depending on how we think about it. Rather, it refers to something objective that is deeply rooted in facts and truth. In other words, Christian faith is not based on unsubstantial things, but on substantial things—God’s word and his promises that never fail.
So faith is the substance of what we hope for because by faith we can be confident that we will possess what God promised to give us.
It may seem like the words substance and hope don’t make sense together because substance is what belongs to the present, while hope is essentially what belongs to the future. If we already have something, we can’t hope for it. We hope for something because we don’t have it yet, but want to have it someday.
Then, how can substance and hope exist at the same time? The author is saying that that’s what faith does. Faith is the connection between substance and what we hope for.
By faith, we believe that we already have what is promised to us. We are still looking forward to it, but we are not nervous about not having it in the future because we know that the one who promised to give it to us is God and that he will achieve what he promised with his almighty power and faithfulness.
Even though we can’t see it yet, we don’t doubt the fact that what God promised will be accomplished someday. So, by faith, we actually see the substance of what we hope for and enjoy it now. By faith, the promised inheritance becomes a present possession.
We believe in confidence that everything God promised to give us will be achieved through Jesus Christ. So we partially experience what we hope for by faith.
Even though the kingdom of God hasn’t perfectly come true on earth, we can already see its substance and experience it by faith. Even though no one has been resurrected as Jesus was yet, we experience the power of resurrection and participate in his resurrection by faith.
Again, faith is what allows us to have the substance of what we hope for as Christians. And, if we really have faith and experience what God promised in our present lives, we won’t be shaken by temporary things in the world, but be victorious in every situation.
2) The Evidence of Things Not Seen
The author also said that faith is the evidence of things not seen. Here, things not seen don’t refer to spiritual things that we can’t see with our physical eyes but events that have not taken place yet but will happen in the future.
Faith is essentially future-oriented. It allows us to see the future based on God’s word and his promises. With the confidence that faith brings us, we boldly move toward the future, relying on God.
Faith allows us to see spiritual realities that we can’t see with our physical eyes. Faith is to acknowledge the fact that God is always good and true and that he is faithful to his promises.
So faith makes us love God’s will and do all things in accordance with it. Faith isn’t a mere thought or intellectual agreement, but a very practical thing because it makes us move in a certain direction and allows us to live life based on unseen things.
What’s most important about faith is that it isn’t an uncertain thing but a confidence in who God is and that he will achieve his promises.
This is the definition of faith. This is the faith we are to have. I think the reason those who only say they have faith in Jesus can’t really live a victorious life, but continue to stumble and fall is because they kind of misunderstand faith.
Those who have true faith can’t really fall down. Having faith in God doesn’t just mean that we agree on something about him.
It means that we actually see eternal things in God, have confidence in his promises, know what hope we have in Christ, and experience the substance of what we hope for at present in our daily lives.
Then, how can those who have true faith in Jesus be shaken by temporary and earthly things? How can they fail to keep their faith when faced with present suffering?
Hebrews 11:6 says,
“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6)
Without faith, we can’t follow God’s will. Unless we believe that God exists and that he will give us what we hope for in Christ, we will lose sight of eternal things and be easily shaken by worldly things.
I really hope and pray that we all have true faith in God so that we can perceive spiritual and eternal realities, enjoy what God promised in our daily lives, and be victorious over everything that keeps us away from him.
“And since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb 10:21-22)
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (Heb 10:19-20).
On the cross, Jesus’ body was nailed and speared to tear down the curtain that had separated us from God’s presence. By letting his body be torn, Jesus opened a new and living way beyond the curtain. And as our high priest, he entered the Most Holy Place first so that we could also enter it with him.
The confidence that allows us to boldly enter the Most Holy Place isn’t based on who we are or what we’ve done, but on Jesus’ perfect work of salvation. By the blood of Jesus, all our sins were forgiven. And only by the precious blood of Jesus, can we become God’s children and have direct access to him. These are the wonderful spiritual blessings we have in Christ Jesus who is our high priest forever.
How To Respond To The Truth
Today, I’d like to talk about how we should respond to this truth revealed to us in Jesus Christ through the remaining part of Hebrews 10.
What’s important in every teaching in the Bible is that it is always related to believers’ lives. All of the authors in the New Testament wrote to connect their doctrines to Christian life. When Jesus taught people, he always emphasized the importance of actually following his teachings.
Christianity is not a religion of knowledge and understanding, but a religion of experience and obedience. It means that simply knowing about Jesus can’t be considered true faith until that knowledge is actually lived out and shown through our lives.
Faith without actions is dead. No matter how much we know about the Bible and Christianity, it means nothing unless we try to live out the truth of Jesus we find in the Bible in our lives.
In Jesus Christ, many things were achieved for everyone. But it doesn’t mean that everyone could enjoy spiritual blessings without any effort on their part. That’s because they are only given to those who willingly and actively respond to the truth of Jesus with their lives. That’s what the author of Hebrews talks about in the latter part of Hebrews 10.
1. Let Us Draw Near to God (Heb 10:21-22)
First of all, we’re encouraged to draw nearer to God. Verses 21-22 say,
“Since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb 10:21-22)
In the previous passage, the author mentioned what Jesus achieved as our high priest. He tore down the curtain and made a new and living way. In Jesus, now we can have confidence to go into the Most Holy Place. Then, we should respond to this great truth by trying to draw nearer to God with a sincere heart and with confidence.
To have a sincere heart, we should have our hearts sprinkled. This brings up the image of priests in the Old Testament sprinkling blood to make atonement.
On the Day of Atonement, high priests entered the Most Holy Place with bulls’ and goats’ blood and sprinkled it on the altar 7 times with his finger to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites and make atonement for all the members of the community.
Likewise, Christians under the new covenantshould be sprinkled and covered by Jesus’ blood to cleanse us from a guilty conscience so that we can freely go to God.
Having our bodies washed with pure water, which refers to water baptism, is an outward mark that shows our inward holiness which was obtained by Jesus’ blood.
So, as Christians who received this spiritual blessing, we are to try to draw near to God with a sincere heart and full assurance. Full assurance means complete trust. It refers to the confidence to go before God’s throne of grace. Faith in Jesus brings us confidence and full assurance to stand before God because by believing in Jesus we completely rely on him for our salvation.
Again, the reason we can stand before God is not within us but through Jesus. Even though we’re still weak and sinful, we can still have full assurance of our salvation by relying on Jesus and putting our faith in him.
2. Let Us Hold Unswervingly to The Hope (Heb 10:23-25)
Second, we’re encouraged to hold firmly to the hope we have in Jesus.
Hebrews 10:23-25 says,
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:23-25)
In Hebrews 3:14, the author encouraged the readers to “hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” (Heb 3:14)
Here the readers are urged again to hold unswervingly to what they professed about Christ when they first believed in him. They had to make every effort to keep their faith in Jesus based on the hope he showed them.
At that time, Christianity wasn’t regarded as an official religion. Rather, since Christians refused emperor worship and professed that Jesus was the true king, they were persecuted because of their faith.
Jesus wasn’t respected in society, God’s word was disregarded, and Christian faith wasn’t regarded as valuable. Christians were often persecuted, and they had to live with all kinds of mistreatment.
In this difficult situation, they had to hold firmly to the hope they found in Christ so that they wouldn’t be shaken by their circumstances but keep their faith in Jesus.
And for that, they had to look after and encourage one another to continue to be devoted to love and good deeds. They needed to gather with other Christians and try to meet with as many as possible to share their faith in Jesus and stand strong together.
In fact, the author of Hebrews emphasized the importance of community many times. According to Hebrews, Christians are holy brothers and sisters in God’s family and they build God’s house together under Jesus who is the head of the house.
Because we’re so weak, we can’t stand firmly on our own. So God allows us to have a spiritual family to support, encourage, and help each other so that we won’t fall down. Regarding the importance of community, Ecclesiastes 4:12 says,
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ec 4:12)
We should know that the person next to us is God’s blessing he gives us to keep our faith. We can do things together that we can’t do alone. When Jesus sent his disciples to towns for evangelism, he didn’t send them alone but in pairs.
So, we really need each other to stand strong in faith. We should try to gather on a regular basis to praise God together, pray together, and listen to his word.
I know it might be a little bit awkward for you, but the reason I always want to take time to share our faith and our thoughts after sermons is because that’s how we challenge and encourage one another not to drift away from faith.
3. Do Not Throw Away Your Confidence (Heb 10:26-35)
Now, let’s move on to the third encouragement. After two positive appeals, now the author warns readers not to lose their confidence or fall back from their faith by telling them what not to do.
He said in verse 35, “So do not throw away your confidence” (Heb 10:35).
Here, confidence refers to the full assurance we have in Jesus. The readers were surrounded by difficult situations in which they could easily lose their faith. Nevertheless, they had to make every effort to remain faithful because if they lost their faith, the result would be much worse.
Hebrews 10:26-29 says,
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb 10:26-29)
Here, the author’s tone is quite strong. He is talking about ‘deliberately sinning.’ It doesn’t refer to general sins, but a specific sin—to trample down the Son of God, which means complete renunciation of Christ.
We can still stumble and sin even after we believe in Jesus because of our weaknesses and sinful nature that remains in us. It is not good, but it’s still okay because those sins can still be forgiven.
But, according to this passage, the sin of completely deliberate and intentional abandonment of faith in Christ can’t be forgiven and no sacrifice for the sin is left because it doesn’t come from our weaknesses and sinful nature, but from complete rejection of faith.
It is to trample the Son of God underfoot. It is to treat the blood of the covenant as an unholy thing. It is to insult the Spirit of grace. The author warns that if we deliberately commit this sin, there won’t be a second chance.
I think this is in line with what Jesus warned us about in Mark 3:28-29.
“Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” (Mk 3:28-29)
So, from these verses, we know that there is sin that can’t be forgiven. Even though we must be careful about all kinds of sins, we must be especially wary of the sin of rebellion against Jesus Christ.
We can also find a similar warning in Hebrews 6. Hebrews 6:4-6 says,
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Heb 6:4-6)
When writing this passage, the author likely had in mind some Jewish Christians who ended up abandoning their faith in Jesus and returned to Judaism to avoid suffering.
They had once believed in Jesus and admitted his divinity. But they no longer believed in him as the Son of God, but insulted the precious blood of Jesus that he had shed for them. And, if they deliberately continued to committhis sin, there would be no sacrifice left to atone for their sin of rebellion.
That’s why we should be careful not to throw away our confidence in Jesus, but try to remain in him no matter the circumstances.
4. Do Not Shrink Back (Heb 10:36-39)
Lastly, the author warns the readers not to shrink back from their faith. He said,
“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” And, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” (Heb 10:36-39)
Here, the author compares two results. First, if we throw away our confidence and shrink back from faith in Jesus, the result will be God’s wrath, judgment, and raging fire.
But if we persevere and hold firmly to our faith in Jesus and God’s promises in Christ, “It will be richly rewarded” (Heb 10:35), and we will be allowed to participate in God’s wonderful salvation in Christ.
Today, we talked about how we should respond to the things Jesus achieved for our salvation as our high priest. We’re encouraged to do two things. We should try to draw near to God day by day out of the confidence we have in Christ. And we should hold unswervingly to the hope we have in Christ Jesus by relying on him and by encouraging one another in God’s family.
The author also warns us not to throw away our confidence in Jesus by deliberately committing the sin of rebellion. We may stumble because of our weaknesses but we must never intentionally decide to abandon our faith in Jesus.
We should be careful not to shrink back from our faith, but to try to keep our faith with perseverance. Then we will be able to stand firmly in our faith in Jesus under all circumstances.
I hope that all of us here have stronger faith in Jesus and draw nearer to God day by day and year after year so that we all join in God’s wonderful salvation and his great reward for us in the end.
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, (Heb 10:19-20)
No one was able to go into the Most Holy Place beyond the curtain. Only a high priest could enter the inner room once a year on a day called the Day of Atonement. On that day, he entered the Most Holy Place with incense smoke and the blood of a bull and a goat to make atonement for his own sins and all of the Israelites’ sins.
But it had to be repeated every year because animal sacrifices couldn’t perfectly cleanse the people of Israel from within their hearts. Animal sacrifices had flaws because they weren’t valuable enough to make atonement for people since they didn’t share the same nature and they were killed by force.
But Jesus’ sacrifice was perfect and its result is eternal since he offered himself as an atoning sacrifice for all our sins. While he was a human like us, he was sinless and willingly laid down his life. His sacrifice was once for all and it was perfect enough to cleanse all our sins, make us holy and righteous from within our hearts, and perfect us.
That’s the reason the author of Hebrews talks about how we should rely on Jesus and fix our eyes only on him for our salvation.
Remember No More
The author of Hebrews explains the superiority of Jesus’ sacrifice by using the verb ‘remember.’ About animal sacrifices, he said, “But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Heb 10:3-4).
Countless bulls and goats were sacrificed year after year because they were imperfect. By keeping the Day of Atonement every year, the Israelites were reminded of their sins and their result—death.
But, about Jesus’ sacrifice, the author said, quoting Jeremiah’s prophecy in Jeremiah chapter 31, ““Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.” (Heb 10:17-18)
Jeremiah 31 is one of the most important chapters in the Old Testament because it talks about the new covenant God would make with his people.
All the regulations and laws were enacted based on the first covenant God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. But the Israelites were unfaithful to the covenant and often forgot about it. So, God promised through Jeremiah that he would make a new covenant with his people.
The essence of the new covenant is the reconciliation of the relationship between God and his people. For that to happen, we need to be cleansed not only of our outward sins, but from within the deepest parts of our hearts, which animal sacrifices could never achieve.
So, God sent Jesus to be the perfect sacrifice once for all through the death of his body so that all our sins can be forgiven, and our hearts can be perfectly cleansed and made pure enough to have a relationship with God.
And as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice, it became possible for God not to remember our sins. It doesn’t mean that God simply thinks we are not sinners or just forgets about our sins without any condition.
Since God is just and righteous, he never forgets about sins, but always remembers them and judges everyone according to them. So, God’s proclamation, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more,” was a very amazing and surprising thing because it was to say that he himself would pay for our sins.
And, as promised, God sent his one and only Son as our perfect atoning sacrifice to pay the ransom for our sins. Our sins are not remembered anymore because they were already paid in full on the cross.
It’s important to remember that all our sins were perfectly forgiven through Jesus’ sacrifice and thus God will not remember our sins. There are many obstacles that keep us from going to God’s presence, but the biggest one might be a sense of guilt.
When we remember our past sins and failures, we might think that we don’t deserve to stand before him. Sin is the most significant factor that separates us from God.
So, we should continue to remember that Jesus already paid the price of all our sins and thus God will not remember our sins anymore. When we find it hard to have a relationship with God because of our sin, we need to proclaim this truth, humbly laying down our thoughts and feelings at the cross and relying on God’s amazing love and sacrifice for us.
Isaiah 43:25 says, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, and remembers your sins no more.” (Is 43:25)
God says that he blots out our sins and remembers them no more. What’s interesting about this verse is that he doesn’t require the people to offer sacrifices as a condition for him to blot out their sins.
In the previous passage, God said,
“You have not called on me, Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for me, Israel. You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings, nor honored me with your sacrifices... But you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses.” (Is 43:22-24)
Even though the Israelites didn’t do anything, or offer sacrifices for their sins, but burdened and wearied God with their sins, God still said that he would blot out their sins and remember them no more.
It clearly shows that the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation don’t depend on what we do or what we offer God, but on what God does and what he sacrificed and gave us. We were forgiven not because we offered a lot of sacrifices to atone for our sins but because God sacrificed his Son to pay the price for our sins even though we don’t deserve it.
In Christ Jesus, all our sins are perfectly washed white, and God remembers them no more. And, we don’t have to remember the things that God doesn’t remember. The only thing we need to remember is Jesus’ amazing sacrifice and the eternal redemption obtained by it.
Tearing of the Curtain
Jesus’ sacrifice was the foundation of the new covenant. The biggest difference between the new covenant and the old covenant was that in the new covenant, God would put his words directly on his people’s hearts. It shows the new kind of relationship God would make with his people.
In the Old Testament, people could only have a relationship with God indirectly. Even though the tabernacle was the symbol of God’s presence, most people couldn’t enter it.
Only priests were allowed to enter and serve in the first room, which was called the Holy Place. And, the most sacred place, called the Most Holy Place, where the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat of God were, was blocked off by a curtain.
So, the tabernacle represents both God’s presence and our separation from him because of sin. However, this separation was abolished on the cross.
Hebrews 10:19-20 says,
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (Heb 10:19-20).
Under the first covenant, only high priests could enter the Most Holy Place, just one day a year, on the day of atonement. But under the new covenant, now all God’s people can enter the Most Holy Place and have a close direct relationship with God.
One of the amazing things that happened on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion was that the curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place was torn down.
Matthew 27:50-51 says,
“When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mt 27:50-51).
This symbolized the reconciliation of our relationship with God. We were separated from God because of our sins but Jesus completely removed the barrier by resolving the problem of sin through his sacrifice on the cross.
The author of Hebrews called the curtain Jesus’ body. Just as Jesus’ body was whipped, nailed, and speared, the curtain was completely torn from top to bottom. This shows the purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world—to break the barrier of sin that separated us from God.
By doing so, Jesus opened a new and living way beyond the ripped curtain through which we can enter the Most Holy Place with him.
No one dared to go into the Most Holy Place in the past, but we have ‘confidence’ to enter it. Again, this confidence is solely dependent on Jesus’ work on the cross, not our own works.
Even though we don’t deserve to stand before God’s throne of grace, we can still have ‘confidence’ to do so, because we believe in Jesus and accept all the things he did for us especially on the cross as truth.
The blood of Jesus gives us access to our heavenly Father. That’s the reason Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6)
As our perfect and eternal high priest, Jesus offered himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins and entered the Most Holy Place in the true tabernacle in heaven.
And, now, he invites all those who believe in him to join him. Even though we don’t deserve to enter the Most Holy Place, we can still have confidence to do so with Jesus Christ who cleanses all our sins, goes into the Most Holy Place before us, and is with us forever.
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever” (Heb 6:19-20)
God really wants us to be with him. To draw us nearer to him, God decided to sacrifice his only Son to save us. Now, no matter who we are or what we’ve done, we should know that we can have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place behind the curtain and have access to our heavenly Father not because of our righteousness, but through Christ Jesus in us.
he Day of Atonement
Hebrews 9:7 says,
“Only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance” (Heb 9:7).
Here, the author talks about what high priests did on the Day of Atonement. It was the day for the high priest to go into the Most Holy Place to make atonement for all the Israelites’ sins.
The Most Holy Place was separated from the rest of the tabernacle by a curtain, and no one could enter it. Even priests appointed to serve at the tabernacle could only enter the first room, the Holy Place. This shows the deep separation between God and people because of sin.
Only one person was allowed to go into the Most Holy Place—the high priest. The high priest could enter the Most Holy Place only one day a year on the day called the Day of Atonement.
We can find specific rules for the Day of Atonement in Leviticus chapter 16.
On that day, the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place three times: first with incense smoke, second with bull’s blood, and third with goat’s blood.
1) Incense Smoke
Lev 16:11-13 says,
“Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die.” (Lev 16:11-13)
Before entering the Most Holy Place, Aaron, the first high priest, had to kill a young bull to make atonement for his own sins first. After that, he entered the Most Holy Place with burning coals and fragrant incense, and he put the incense on the fire to make smoke until the smoke concealed the atonement cover.
The atonement cover had to be covered by the smoke because God sat on the mercy seat above the ark of the covenant, and if sinners saw God, they would have died right away because of their sins.
2) Bull’s blood
After that the high priest came out and entered the Most Holy Place for the second time with bull’s blood. Lev 16:14 said,
“He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover” (Lv 16:14)
He had to take the blood of the bull he killed and sprinkle it on the atonement cover with his finger seven times to consecrate it. Then, he came out of the room again.
3) Goat's blood
Lastly, he killed a goat and entered the Most Holy Place for the third time with its blood to make atonement for all of the Israelites’ sins. Lev 16:15-16 says,
“He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been.” (Lv 16:15-16)
This time, the high priest went into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled the blood of a goat on the atonement cover. This was the most important part because all the Israelites’ sins, uncleanness, and rebellion were forgiven this way.
This is what high priests did on the Day of Atonement. To offer sacrifices on that day was their most important job because all the Israelites’ sins were forgiven through these rituals.
God said to Moses,
“On this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins.” (Lev 16:30)
But even though all the Israelites’ sins were forgiven on the Day of Atonement, it had to be repeated every year. God continued,
“Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” (Lv 16:34)
The fact that the Day of Atonement had to be kept and high priests had to offer the blood of young bulls and goats annually shows that the sacrifices weren’t perfect.
After atonement was made and the Israelites’ sins were cleansed, they committed sins again, so atonement had to be made again the next year because it was only good for the sins that had been committed before the sacrifices were offered.
The Superiority of Jesus’ Sacrifice
That’s what the author of Hebrews points out in Hebrews chapter 10. Verses 1-4 say,
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Heb 10:1-4)
Here, the law refers to the law of the Day of Atonement that we just talked about. Even though it was the most important day for the Israelites, it also just served as ‘a shadow’ of the true, perfect, and eternal sacrifice to come.
Even though many high priests offered countless bulls and goats every year in the history of Israel, it could never perfectly cleanse the Israelites’ sins. Nevertheless, they offered the same sacrifices year after year because that was the only way for their sins to be forgiven even though it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Here, the author intentionally downgrades the importance of the Day of Atonement not because it wasn’t really important, but because a much better and more perfect sacrifice, which wasn’t just a shadow, but a reality, was offered by Jesus Christ.
The Day of Atonement was the best way God provided to forgive his people in the past, but it still just served as a shadow and copy of what would be made in the future by Jesus Christ. So, no matter how zealously the Israelites studied and kept the law, it meant nothing if they didn’t know Jesus Christ, the eternal high priest and perfect sacrifice.
There were fundamental flaws in animal sacrifices. First, the animals used for sacrifice didn’t share the same human nature, so their blood couldn’t perfectly cleanse human beings from within their hearts. They simply weren’t valuable enough to make atonement for people.
Second, the animals didn’t have any sense or discretion. They never willingly decided to be killed for people’s sins. They were just chosen by people. Since they didn’t voluntarily choose to offer themselves, but were killed by force regardless of their wills, the effect of their sacrifice couldn’t be perfect.
That’s the reason Jesus had to come to the world to give us perfect redemption once for all.
Heb 10:5 says,
“Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me… Here I am, I have come to do your will, my God” (Heb 10:5).
God didn’t desire the sacrifices and offerings of the past because of their flaws and imperfection. So, God prepared a body for his son. This refers to the incarnation of Jesus. The word through which all things were created “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (Jn 1:14)
God’s will was for Jesus to become a human being with a physical body so that he could offer the perfect sacrifice for us.
And, according to God’s will, Jesus came to the world to “set aside the first to establish the second” (Heb 10:9). Here, the first refers to the old laws about atonement and the second refers to Jesus’ sacrifice that was about to come.
I talked about two reasons why the sacrifices of bulls and goats were imperfect. First, they didn’t share the same nature as humans. And, second, they didn’t have the ability to willingly offer themselves for people’s sins.
But Jesus had both. Even though he was perfectly God, he was also perfectly human like us at the same time. And, we also know that Jesus willingly laid down his life for us out of his unconditional and everlasting love that we can’t even imagine. Only he can perfectly cleanse us, sanctify us, and perfect us.
Hebrews 10:11-12 says,
“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God...” (Heb 10:11-12)
Here, the author compares all the past sacrifices with Jesus’ sacrifice once again. They had to offer the same sacrifices again and again because their sacrifices could only cleanse their sins temporarily. But this priest, Jesus, offered one sacrifice which will be in effect for all time.
As I said before, the fact that priests should ‘stand’ and perform their duties shows that their sacrifices weren’t perfect and thus their duties needed to be done continually. By contrast, Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice and ‘sat down’ at the right hand of God, which implies that Jesus’ sacrifice was so perfect and eternal that it didn’t have to be offered again.
The old sacrifices only atoned for sins that had been committed in the past, but Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all, which means that it was so perfect that it could perfectly atone for all sins no matter when they are committed.
But, the effect of Jesus’ sacrifice doesn’t end there. Hebrews 10:10 and 14 say,
“And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all… For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Heb 10:10, 14)
Here, that will refers to God’s will to send his Son on earth in human form and have him die on the cross to obtain eternal redemption for our sins. And, the author says that by God’s will, we were made holy through Jesus’ sacrifice, which the animal sacrifices could never achieve.
One of the problems with animal sacrifices was that even though they could cleanse ‘outward’ sins, they couldn’t perfectly take away the root of sin deeply planted in our hearts. But Jesus’ sacrifice was perfect enough to take away not only our outward sins but also our internal sins hidden in our minds and souls.
Therefore, Jesus’ sacrifice can make us perfect and holy because it has the power to cleanse us and renew us from within the deepest parts of our hearts. To be cleansed and to be holy are related, yet they are different.
God’s purpose wasn’t only to purify us and save us from our sins. His ultimate plan that he wanted to achieve through the death of his only Son was for us to be holy and complete in him.
All the other priests couldn’t achieve this. Jesus is the only way to perfect redemption and holiness. There’s no other name given to mankind by which we can be saved. Only Jesus is the way, the truth and the life through which we can truly have access to our heavenly Father and become his holy children.
In this world, there are many things that tempt us, make us worry, and keep us from going to Jesus. There are things that we think might save us—power, fame, education, money and more. But we have to remember that all the things we see and feel in this world will pass away just as the leaves fall and the flowers wither so that we can fix our eyes on eternal things in Jesus Christ.