Donald Guthrie writes, “To draw near to God is man’s highest exercise.”1
Since we are not clean, we can only do so by the grace of God in Christ. This is the burden of the author of Hebrews. His point is that you can engage in this highest exercise, both in time and in eternity. But there is only one way: through Jesus Christ our Lord. His sacrifice is all sufficient for all time. The Father is satisfied with His sacrifice and the proof is that Jesus is seated at His right hand. Those whom He represents are secure—forever. For sure! This assurance makes all the difference in the world as to how we live and how we die. As a church the song, “Jesus Christ, I think upon your sacrifice” is one of our favourites, because it is the Christians greatest theme.
No Excuses, No Exceptions
With this passage our anonymous author brings to a close his theological, Christological argument for the superiority of Jesus and His new covenant work. After exposure to his exposition there is no excuse for retreating to the old covenant as a means for securing salvation. To do so is to regress terribly and even perhaps damningly. Though the two are intimately related (after all, a shadow is related to the body casting it), the two covenants are mutually exclusive as a means of salvation. There can be no compromise between the two.
As we have come to appreciate (rather than to be irritated), this epistle thrives on repetition. But the repetition is constructive. As Hywel Jones helpfully comments,
It would … be a great mistake to regard these verses as repetition and so to pass over them. Holy Scripture does not contain any “padding,” that is, monotonous and purposeless repetition. When an “old” truth is being presented, some new light is always cast on it either by way of more detail being given about it or by means of a connection made between it and something else.2
This is true here. As Dods notes with reference to this passage, “it is now the action of the priest rather than the nature of the sacrifice that comes to the front.”3 And one of the prominent actions in this passage is that our Priest is seated rather than standing. In a sense,the greatest action of Jesus is His being passive!
The truth emphasised is that under the old covenant there was no rest; under the new covenant there is continual rest.
The picture is rich with meaning. Included in this treasure chest of truth is that Jesus Christ is seated because the Father is satisfied. And this assures Christians that we have been sanctified—for sure!
We will study this passage under four headings.
A Significant Contrast
Again, though there is some repetition in our text, there is also a variation in the theme. The writer now contrastsnot the sacrificial work but rather those who offered the sacrifices.
And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.
Under the old covenant,the priests were continually standing and busy. Deuteronomy 18:5 indicates this when it says, “For the Lord your God has chosen him [i.e. the Levites]out of all your tribes to stand to minister in the name of the Lord, him and his sons forever.”
Fatigue, Frustration, Futility
The priests were continually on their feet because sin was in continual need of forgiveness. There was no perpetual remission under the old covenant administration. This is why,with all of the furniture mentioned with reference to the tabernacle,God never designed a chair or couch. Sacrifices were continually being offered because sin was continually before the mind of God.
The words“take away sins” are significant. Dods says that this “means ‘to take away something round’ as … a garment…. The phrase therefore suggests that man is enwrapped in sin.”4
There was therefore no rest for the weary priests,for “despite all their activity, priests cannot deal with the basic problem—that of removing sin.”5
Pollution and Job Security
Man is so permeated and polluted with sin that the priests always had job security! Like mechanics or doctors in our day, there was always a need for the priest.
It is important that this point sinks deep into our consciousness.We must come to see the exceeding sinfulness of our sin. Only then will we see that there is no hope except in Christ alone. We will otherwise cling to our religious systems—like Naaman who thought that the “superior” rivers of Damascus would serve him better than the Jordan as Elisha instructed him (see 2 Kings 5:1–15)—and to our self-righteousness in an attempt to wipe away the filth of our lives and the stain on our souls.
In our text, there are several contrasts to note.
A Contrast of Persons
The first contrasts is highlighted by the words, “ but this Man” in v. 12. What a wonderful contrast! Rather than many priests,He is onePriest. What multitudes could not effect,Jesus Christ did—alone. MacArthur notes, “This system did not lack for priests, but it did lack effectiveness. All the priests together could not make an effective sacrifice for sin.”
But Jesus is different than any and all other priests. His name deserves, like none other, to be capitalised, for He alone can (and will) save His people from their sins (Matthew1:21).
A Contrast of Performance
As the ultimate High Priest, Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins forever.” This is a huge contrast, which highlights again that many sacrifices could never take away sins under the old covenant but that,under the new covenant,the one sacrifice by Jesus Christ is sufficient for all time and for all eternity. As we learned, the sacrificial offering by Jesus of Himself was even sufficient retroactively (9:15). Jesus’ performance review continues and it continues to be majestically sufficient. It will always be.
A Contrast of Posture
Jesus “sat down.” This is not the first time that our author has informed us of Jesus’ posture in heaven (1:3; 13) and it is not the last (12:2). This is obviously an important point, which is crucial to the argument of the epistle. As Bruce helpfully summarises, “A seated priest is the guarantee of a finished work and an accepted sacrifice.”6
Jesus sat down simply because He had, and continues to have, nothing to do!
I recently read the account of a man who approached an evangelist at the end of a tent meeting as the stakes were being pulled up. He asked what he must do to be saved. The evangelist answered,“I’m sorry,but it is too late.” The man,in great consternation asked, “Do you mean it is too late because the meeting here is over?” “No,” said the evangelist. “What I mean is that there is nothing that you can do because what needed to be done for you to be saved has been done by the Lord Jesus Christ.” He then shared the gospel.
The point is a great one, and one that you and I need to constantly preach to ourselves. Jesus is sitting and thereforeHe is saving.
This, by the way, is why the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation ought to be rejected. There is no need for Christ to be continually sacrificed for us. His work is finished.
If Jesus is resting after His finished work then you and I must also rest in His finished work. Let His posture determine yours (see Ephesians 2:6).
Let His posture determine your peace. You have peace with God,so enjoy the peace of God.
Let His posture determine your pursuit. He is seated and so you are saved and therefore you are privilege to seek Him and to serve Him. Be passionately and purposefully grateful!
A Contrast of Position
We know that Jesus is seated,and we know why Heis seated,but let us examine where He is seated. Of course,He is seated at the right hand of God the Father. In vv.12–13 our writer again references Psalm 110 (see 7:11ff). Why does he reference this again? For a couple of reasons.
First, we need to be reminded that Jesus is a transcendent HighPriest. He is a Priest after the order of Melchizedek, and therefore He is King-Priest. This,of course,is an unbridgeable contrast between the old covenant priest and Jesus.
Throughout this epistle,our writer has been concerned to show the superiority of Jesus. Ashe concludes his doctrinal argument,he drives home again that “thisMan” is not merely a man! Jesus is the God-Man. Heis Lord,and therefore we had better be very careful how we respond to Him. To reject the sacrificial offering of Jesus on your behalf is to trample underfoot the blood of the Son of God with serious consequences (vv. 29–31). This is made abundantly clear in v.13: “from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool” (or, “a footstool for His feet”).
Friend or Foe?
Second, those who reject the “one sacrifice for sins forever” are not His friends but are in fact His enemies. Andrews comments, “Christ’s ‘session’at his Father’s right hand not only denotes a finished work, but also anticipates a final victory.”7 This includes a victory over all His enemies. And his enemies are those who “resist the gracious redemptive purposes of God.”8
The enemies of Jesus, in other words, include those who know the truth but who refuse to accept and submit to the truth. They may in fact be very religious. They may be members of a church. They may say their prayers. They may have even been“soaked” for Jesus. Yet they continue to trust Christ alone for forgiveness of their sins; they continue to refuse to bow the knee to Him. Brown observes, “Instead of becoming his purified worshippers whose sins have been taken away, they choose to be his resistant enemies.”9 You see, the two go together.
If one does not humble himself to accept the finished work of Christ then this will be manifested in a lifestyle that disregards His lordship. If you don’t take Jesus as your Saviour then you do not have Him, obviously, as your Lord. And if you do not have Jesus as your Lord then you have not really and truly accepted Him as your Saviour. You may sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus,” but He looks at you and is even further offended,for you are in fact His enemy. Don’t be fooled. Those who have embraced Jesus as their Priest have also evidently bowed to Him as their King. You cannot have one of His “offices” without all of His offices.
Christ as Victor?
The posture and the position of Jesus are instructive. Among other lessons, we learn that Jesus Christ is indeed our Conqueror. The one who was crucified by those who wanted to throw off the restraints of God’s authority has overcome and now rules and reigns (seePsalm 2). As Guthrie notes, “The waiting period between the enthronement of Christ and his final triumph over his enemies is identical with the present era. There is no doubt about the ultimate outcome.”10 This truth should embolden us, like the early church,to trust in our sovereignGod—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Consider,for example,the early church and its response to engulfing trials.
When Peter and John were persecuted and their lives threatened (and by extension also the church), they responded in corporate prayer as recorded in Acts 4. Listen to the heart of their prayer,for in it we see the focus of their hearts:
For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.
Notice that they acknowledged God’s sovereignty in the crucifixion but they also acknowledged the present reign of Jesus. The result was boldness to witness to the truth of the gospel. And they turned the world upside down. Their conviction concerning Jesus Christ—His person, posture, performance and position—was not theoretical. It was real. As Andrews asks, “This sublime confidence in the sovereignty of God was characteristic of the early church. Should it not also characterize the church today?”11 Indeed. Jesus is seated and is sovereign and is saving. Of this we should be certain—for sure!
We do not have the time to develop this, but the text does point us to the reality that Jesus Christ is waiting for the day when history comes to an end and receives the fullness of His reward. Morris comments that the meaning of the words here “appears to be that Christ rests until in God’s good time all evil is overthrown.”12A major means toward this end is the proclamation of the gospel. Through the church wielding the sword of the Spirit, many will come to bow the knee and will kiss the Son before it is too late. And so, like the Moravians of the 1700s, we should be moved to be the means to seeing every one of Jesus’ ordained friends resting in Him. Many of these friends are currently behaving like enemies, but they will be conquered by His sovereign and saving grace.
Christian, be blessed with the revelation of this heavenly scene. Rest in the truth that “the Son is seated there, knowing that no more can be asked of him and his universal triumph is sure.” (Jones)Since Jesus is sure, you and I should be sure indeed!
A Sanctifying Conclusion
Verse 14 is the concluding word to this entire section (introduced in the opening verses of chapter 5): “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”
This is the basis on which the immediate verses are grounded. The certainty of vv. 12–13 is rooted in the certainty of v. 14. The word “for” indicates as much. Dods notes with reference to this verse:
Nothing further requires to be done to secure in perpetuity the fellowship of man with God. In the one sacrifice of Christ there is cleansing which fits men to draw near to God, to enter into covenant with Him, and there is also ground laid for their continuance in that fellowship. The future is provided for as well as the past.13
In other words, Jesus is seated because His work is “perfect.” And therefore, as Calvin says, “We shall only seek in vain if we look elsewhere for the grace of sanctification.”14
The word “perfected” is an important word to this writer. Here, he uses for the seventh out of the nine times it is used in this epistle.
In chapter 2, we are told that Jesus was made “perfect through sufferings” (v. 10).
In chapter 5, we read that Jesus “learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (vv. 8–9).
In chapter 6, we are exhorted to “go onto perfection” (v. 1).
In chapter 7, we are told that perfection did not come through the Levitical administration (v. 11) and that in fact the old covenant could not make anything “perfect” (v. 19) but that Jesus is the great High Priest because He has been “perfected forever” (v. 28).
In chapter 9, we are informed that the old covenant sacrifices could not make the sinner “perfect” in respect of his conscience (v. 9).
In 9:11 we are told that Jesus came to earth with the “more perfect tabernacle,” that is Himself, as the means to make man right with God, whereby their consciences would be perfectly purged.
This point is driven home in 10:1, where we are told again that the old covenant sacrifices could not “perfect” our consciences as Jesus can—and does! Because He perfectly did the will of God in His body we can, in the words of v. 14, be “perfected forever.” And “perfected” is even in the perfect tense! That is, to be “perfected forever,” notes Andrews, “relates to a never-to-be-repeated cleansing or purging from sin.”15 What was done in the past continues effectually into eternity.
The conclusion is irrefutable: Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law and thereby perfectly satisfied the justice of God. Jesus Christ, by His one offering—and that once for all—perfectly saves His people from their sins. We can have perfect certainty about this. And this certainty motivates us to pursue this promised and purchased perfection. That is a glorious conclusion, which spurs us to sanctified living. The conclusion is a sanctified one.
Perfected and Sanctified
The participle “are being sanctified” is debated. Is the sanctification with reference to the state of being sanctified, or is it a reference to the ongoing process of sanctification as a result of the state of being sanctified? It may also refer to those who are now being set apart by the gospel and are therefore brought into this state.
What is not debated, however, is that “the writer locates the decisive purging of believers in the past with respect to its accomplishment and in the present with respect to its enjoyment.”16 And this enjoyment due to accomplishment is true regardless of how you interpret it the phrase. Perhaps we should not be too dogmatic either way and so both apply. We can at the least conclude with Morris that “the process of salvation takes people who are far from perfect and makes them fit to be in God’s presence forever. It is not temporary improvement he is speaking of but improvement that is never ending.”12
Let’s look at both sides of the coin of this truth.
Perfected and Therefore Sanctified
First, we are Christians. That is, we have been set apart to God for service because, in Christ, we have been “perfected.” We have drawn near to God acceptably because God, in Christ, has perfectly done so. We are cleansed, purged and therefore in God’s presence. This is why we are presently “sanctified.” Such language would perhaps be more understandable to a Jew in the early days of the church. As Brown explains,
our author thinks about how man can be clean before God…. In the Jewish faith certain things, people and days were hegiasmenoi, purified, not just so that they would be clean, but “clean for God’s use,” “set apart” as “holy” and for his work alone. In these verses we are reminded that our sanctification has been achieved by Christ’s work and is attested by the Spirit’s word.18
There is no other way.
Let us never forget that, by the finished work of Jesus Christ, we have been saved—set apart from our sins and set apart to God. This setting apart is from a life of serving sin to an eternity to serving God. A non-serving Christian is a contradiction. It is like a bull loving a lion (in more ways than one, as South African rugby fans will appreciate!).
Sanctified and Therefore Being Perfected
Second, our state of being sanctified consequently leads us to progress in being sanctified. Perfected position drives progressive perfection. In other words, those who have been the recipients of Christ’s finished work love God. And those who love God live for God. In the words of Psalm 40, quoted earlier, the Christian increasingly becomes like Jesus who cried out, “I have come to do your will, O God.” This will culminate us being experientially perfected. We will increasingly be conformed to God’s revealed will, His Word. We will one day be like Jesus. Jesus progressively saves us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). We should have great expectations. Jesus does!
Like Jesus, the Christian, “perfected” by His work, seeks obedience rather than forgiveness. This is a huge truth.
Obedience is Better than Repentance
Jesus came into the world to obey His Father perfectly. He knew that God desired holiness rather than sacrifices. Sacrifices were a statement of failure and the need for forgiveness. Jesus lived a perfect life, and what a joy to the Father that He never needed a sacrifice on His behalf. This is the glory of the gospel: Jesus had no need to offer a sacrifice for Himself and therefore He could offer His life as a sacrifice for us!
We need to understand that, as much as God delights to forgive and to save sinners, He delights even more when no forgiveness is necessary. In other words, God delights in obedience far more than He delights in repentance. Think about that. This is why God has predestined those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to perfection; we have been predestined to be like Jesus Christ in His perfection (Romans 8:29–30).
Yes, our Father in heaven is pleased to forgive us when we sin (and this is a major theme in Hebrews), yet how much more He delights when we do not need forgiveness!
Yes, our Father loves us as we are, but how much more will He delight in us when there are no sins for which Jesus will need to atone. When we are like Him (1 John 3:1–3) then we, like Him, will do the Father’s will perfectly. And this Christlike living will bring great and glorious joy to Him. But let us note that we do not need to wait until glory to bring such joy to our Father. We can—and must—pursue holiness now.
The point I am simply trying to make is that those who have been “perfected”—those who are perfectly positioned in the perfect Christ—seek to obey God. Such obedience is what the Bible calls “sanctification.” And God delights in this. He is well pleased with such obedient living. He is happy to forgive but He is even “happier” to commend.
Christian, there are far too many “holes in our holiness.”19 It is time to close them up with obedience. Yes, you can please the Lord. Yes, you can obey the Lord. It is not true that all of the believer’s righteousnesses are as filthy rags; look again at the context of Isaiah 64:6–7. Pleasing God by obedience to God is not impossible!
Greater is He that is in you than he who is the world (1 John 4:4). We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37). We are crucified with Christ, yet Christ lives in us and the life that we now live we live by Christ (Galatians 2:20). We are new creations in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). We have access to the power of His resurrection and therefore we press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). We are connected to Christ and therefore there is every reason to expect that we will bear the fruit of His character (John 15:1–5).
Quit having such low expectations! Jesus is seated and the Father is satisfied; you and I can therefore be sure that sanctification is our birthright. Lay claim to this glorious inheritance—now!
Believer, you can overcome your sinful “addictions” by the power of the resurrection? In Christ, there is hope for selfish husbands and wives. Disrespectful, disobedient child can be transformed by the gospel. Do you struggle with a backbiting tongue or a critical, judgemental, self-righteous outlook? Do you battle with fear of man; are you an “approval junkie”? Do you feel as if your anger is uncontrollable?
It doesn’t matter what your particular sinful struggle is: If you have been perfected, then trust God for progress towards that perfection. “Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God” is not merely a motto for missionaries; it is the biblical outlook of those who have been sanctified by the once-for-all perfected offering of Jesus Christ!
A Scriptural Confirmation
As he has done so frequently in this epistle our author again quotes Scripture to undergird his argument.
But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
The author returns to Jeremiah 31:33–34 (see 8:7–13). By doing so, he confirms the hope revealed above. Since Jesus initiated the new covenant, since He ratified it, we know that it works.
In v. 16 he reminds us of the promised and glorious inward transformation. He reminds us of the new covenant relationship with God, where we now delight in the law of God in the inward man (7:22). We have this new and abiding desire to do the will of God, not to merely externally know it.
Fear of Failure
But the question may arise, what if I fail? What if, like the old covenant people, I blow it? What if, like them, I sin against God? Will I then, like them, be once again under condemnation with a guilty and a defiled conscience? Will I not, like them, be cut off from drawing near to God? Such questions are definitively answered in v. 17: “Then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’”
If you are concerned about this, don’t be. Why? Because “then He adds.” And what “He adds” is the promise of perpetual cleansing, perpetual forgiveness, perpetual perfection. You see, Jesus is seated because the Father is satisfied. It is settled. Christian, you are secure—for sure!
Yes, we are to pursue perfection; we are to pursue holiness; we are to pursue perfect obedience to the revealed will of God. Yet when we fail we can still draw near because we are near! In fact, we are seated with Christ. What a joy to know that, when we walk in the light as He is in the light, the blood of God’s dear Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). That is why we humbly yet confidently confess our sins, knowing that the one who is seated at the right hand of the Father intercedes for us and that God, in response, is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins (1 John 1:7–9; 2:1–2).
What an indescribable privilege to be His people and for Him to be our God!
A Sure Confidence
The section closes with a sure confidence: “Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin” (v. 18).
God Says So!
With this verse, the doctrinal argument comes to a close. The reason that we can rest in the truth of v. 17 is because of the truth of v. 18. That is, because our sins have been forgiven, we need no other sacrifice—ever! As Morris says, “Now that the new covenant spoken of by the prophet is a reality, the prophetic word itself rules out the possibility of any further sacrifice.”20 In other words, we can have the sure confidence that, because our sins are forgiven, we do not need another sacrifice. The one sufficient sacrifice is the ground of our once-for-all acceptance by God. We can draw near because, indeed, Jesus paid it all. According to v. 18, God said so. Jesus truly is God’s final Word (see 1:1–2).
No other way
Of course, this was of particular relevance to the original recipients of this letter. But it is no less relevant for so many in our day.
If you are looking for another way to be saved, then “you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4). That is, if you are looking for another way to be forgiven your sins then you will not be forgiven them. There is only one way.
Christian, let us look up, as it were, and see Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father. And, like Stephen, let us live and die motivated by this gospel assurance. As Lane notes, “Christ’s death was the effective sin offering that removed every obstacle to the service of God. The task of the [church] is to appropriate this truth and to act upon it in obedience.”21
Daily proclaim this truth to yourself. Exhort fellow Christians by this truth to pursue holiness and to rest in acceptance in Christ. Proclaim this to a lost and dying world. Those who carry a burdened conscience need to hear this message. And many who do not have one need one! They need one so that they will look to Christ alone.
When I Think Upon Your Sacrifice
Christian, continual reflection upon the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ has immense practical implications. In fact, “where such forgiveness is given, there is no need for further sacrifice and the worshipper knows it. The burdened sinner becomes a willing servant—for ever.” (Jones)
And so, as we are humbled by His mercy and broken inside, we will respond by saying thank you and, once again, laying down our lives.
Yes, Jesus is seated because the Father is satisfied. And that is for sure.
- Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983), 204. ↩
- Hywel R. Jones, Let’s Study Hebrews (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 107. ↩
- Marcus Dods, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 5 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 4:344. ↩
- Dods, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 4:345. ↩
- Leon Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 12:100. ↩
- F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 239. ↩
- Edgar Andrews, A Glorious High Throne: Hebrews Simply Explained (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2003), 196. ↩
- William L. Lane, Hebrews: Word Biblical Commentary, 2 vols. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 2:267. ↩
- Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews: The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000), 179. ↩
- Guthrie, Hebrews, 209. ↩
- Andrews, A Glorious High Throne, 297. ↩
- Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12:101. ↩
- Dods, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 344. ↩
- Andrews, A Glorious High Throne, 301. ↩
- Andrews, A Glorious High Throne, 299. ↩
- Lane, Hebrews, 2:267. ↩
- Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12:101. ↩
- Brown, The Message of Hebrews, 179. ↩
- Kevin de Young, The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Holiness (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014). ↩
- Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12:102. ↩
- Lane, Hebrews, 12:271. ↩