The author of Hebrews has been working to establish how much “better” the way of Christianity is than the old Judaism. It’s clear that there is a strong pull within the early church to move back towards the old ways, the ways of Judaism. Some have left the church entirely and are going back to the sacrifices, priests, and obedience to the law. Others are simply bringing those with them into the church, which is problematic in and of itself. Now, in chapter 10, we find two strong arguments seeking to motivate people to stay the course and not look back.
The first argument is that the old sacrifices and rituals happened over and over again because they weren’t complete. If any one of those sacrifices or rituals ever completely worked, then you obviously wouldn’t have to do it again. Because it happens regularly, it’s clear that they are partial and temporary. On the other hand, Jesus died once and was resurrected once for all time. You were baptized once and your sins were washed away for all time.
Hebrews then gives a specific example. To the first century Jewish reader they could easily read between the lines and hear something like this: “Remember the Day of Atonement you celebrated every year? Remember how every year the High Priest cleanses and purifies the Holy of Holies? And remember how they tied a chord to his foot in case he did any little thing wrong and was struck dead by God while behind the curtain and nobody wanted to go get him so they could pull him out by the rope? They of course do that because of what happened when fire consumed Nadab and Abihu…you remember that story, right? Remember how scared even the priest were to go behind the curtain…yeah…that’s what you are going back to.”
On the other hand (vs 19 and following), Christians have the confidence to enter the Most Holy Place! There is a living way through the curtain since our High Priest takes us into the very throne room of God and we enter it, not with fear and trepidation, but with confidence and full assurance as we DRAW NEAR TO GOD! We don’t need a Day of Atonement because we have been completely cleansed and atoned for already, once and for all. Jews were scared to the bone to come near God, but now we draw near to God with confidence and assurance to have a RELATIONSHIP with him! How could you consider…even consider going back to that?!
Dear writer of Hebrews, that’s a really good point. Would you like to add something to that? Oh you would…
Remember when you first became a Christian and suffered for the name of Christ? You were mocked, possibly beaten, exiled from family meals, stood beside those in prison (for their faith in Christ), allowed your stuff to be stolen and much more? Remember that? You prevailed. You came through it with your faith intact. And now you are considering giving it all up….for what? God will take no pleasure in those who shrink back.
“But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.”
Good point Hebrews author. Can you give me some examples of God’s people who refused to shrink back? Oh…fine…I’ll wait until next week. Also, great use of Jeremiah 31 throughout the first part of this chapter. I see what you did there.