In his commentary on Hebrews, R. Kent Hughes gives a wonderful illustration of what the author is seeking to accomplish in this epistle. He reminds us that there is a world of difference between having a photo of your fiancée and actually being married to her. When you are separated from each other, a photo captures your attention and will help you as you anticipate the day of your marriage. However, once you are married there would be something very abnormal if you left your wife for her photo!
Essentially that is what many in the early church were being tempted to do. They were tempted to leave the fulfilment for the picture. And the results would not only be strange, but eternally tragic.
The author has been making this point for several chapters, and now in chapter 10 he is bringing his theological argument to a close. The rest of the epistle will be a strong and urgent appeal based on the doctrine of these ten chapters.
One of the dangers in our study of the old covenant in the book of Hebrews is to denigrate what God had designed. The apostle Paul said that the “law is … holy, just and good” (Romans 7:12). And this includes the sacrificial, Levitical system as revealed in the law books of Exodus and Leviticus. The old covenant was revealed by God and was a wonderful gift to His people (Deuteronomy 4:1–8). The old covenant was God’s gracious provision so that He would be able to dwell with the nation of Israel, be their God and they His people. You cannot study the laws of the tabernacle system without being amazed at God’s loving condescension to sinners. The old covenant was indeed amazing. But it was not sufficient to provide salvation for the repentant. In fact, it was never designed to. Rather, God gave the old covenant as a shadow of “good things to come.”
The tabernacle system with its elaborate sacrificial system was the shadow resulting from the heavenly light shining on the image there. Edgar Andrews describes this well: “Just as a solid object casts a … shadow, so the new covenant is the solid eternal reality and the old covenant is the shadow that it casts.”1
But as our passage reveals, the new covenant is not a prescription but rather a person. Therefore, we might say that the light of heaven shined on the body of Christ resulting in the shadow that we call the old covenant. It is his final doctrinal appeal to his readers to move out of the shadows and into the light of the Son of God.
Though there was nothing wrong with the old covenant religion, most “worshippers” (v. 2) had corrupted it into a heartless and therefore meaningless and legalistic ritual. In the words of Isaiah, quoted by both Jesus and the apostle Paul, they drew near with their lips but their heart was far from the Lord (Isaiah 29:13). And sadly, there are multitudes in our day who do the same under the new covenant. It is for this reason that the book of Hebrews is so relevant for the church in our day. We need a new appreciation for the body of Christ, both literally and metaphorically. That is, both concerning the person of Christ as well as the people of Christ.
Hebrews is an antidote to the disease of nominalism plaguing the church in our land. This epistle calls us to real faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is for this reason that the writer goes to great and biblically logical lengths to show us the superiority of Jesus Christ over all other revelations from God, over all other mediators that have been appointed by God throughout history, and over every other God-appointed means of temporary redemption and atonement. Jesus is the magnussummonbonum of God’s determination to save sinners. But, unfortunately, many who profess the name of Christ just don’t get this. They have an intellectual apprehension of who Jesus is, but they do not have a heart trust in nor a heart affection for Him. The body of Christ as symbolised in Communion is therefore neglected; the Body of Christ as a congregation therefore is not prioritised. The fundamental problem is that the body of Christ—His person—is not adored.
A Spirit-illumined understanding of these verses in Hebrews 10 will go a long way towards reversing an otherwise religiously dead-end course. As we listen to the Spirit as He tells us about Christ, His goal will be achieved of Jesus being exalted in the eyes of those who profess to worship Him. May this be our experience in thus study.
We will approach this study under three major headings.
The Picture of the Body of Christ
The chapter begins by pointing to the old covenant sacrifices as a mere picture of the body of Christ.
For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.
“For” obviously connects what has been said with what will be said. In essence, we have a repetition of the familiar theme that the old covenant was merely a shadow of the real. Therefore, by its nature it was powerless to solve man’s sin problem. The problem is too deep, the soul too stained, the conscienceis too burdened, the guilt too damning and the will too polluted for the blood of mere bulls and goats to atone. That blood could never save our souls.
The word “perfect” is with respect to “completion.” In the context, it conveys the inability of the old covenant to provide sinners with complete redemption. And this has special reference to our conscience (v. 2). Lane points out that “this expression connotes the Hebrew sense of a burdened, smitten heart…. As long as this sense of sin and transgression with respect to God remained, there could be no effective service to God.”2
As we have learned, the sacrificial rituals of the Day of Atonement could provide temporary relief—even nationally—for the people under the old covenant. They could be assured that their past sins were atoned for. But what about their future sins? This is the issue our writer is driving home. These sacrifices could not “take away” sins (v. 4).
This is an interesting word. It is used with reference to Peter who cut off the earof the soldier (Matthew 26:51). It therefore “signifies the complete removal of sin so that it is no longer a factor in the situation.” And, of course,“that is what is needed and that is what the sacrifices could not provide.”3
New Year Anticipation
The Day of Atonement, though solemn, was much like a New Year celebration. According to Leviticus 23, the day was accompanied with fasting and “affliction of the soul” (vv. 26–32). It was to be a time of self-examination. They would consider their sinfailures over the past year. All the nation held their breath, as it were, until the highpriest reappeared after offering the blood on the mercy seat. Once he appeared, great relief with attendant celebration burst forth. Their sacrifice had been accepted and their sins covered. It was a day of new beginnings. It was probably a time of new resolutions.
Significantly, five days after Yom Kippur the nation was to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33ff). The people were to make booths out of sticks and palm fronds as a means of reenacting their initial release from Egypt. The purpose was to remind them of God’s grace and how they were initially amazed at His powerful deliverance. But more so, they were to remember their new beginning as the people of God. They had experienced the exodus from bondage, and a sense of gratitude and servitude to God was the result.
Thisremembrance through reenactment no doubt led to “new year’s resolutions.” “This year I will love God and not sin against Him.” But unfortunately, as with our resolutions, they would fail. They would break covenant. They would sin. And so again, on the tenth day of the seventh month the next year they would come to the Day of Atonement with a heavy heart because of a burdened conscience. Those serious about the Lord would lament, “Will there ever be a continual relief from this failure?” It was precisely this question that the old covenant was intended to raise. Desperation, not relief, was the ultimate goal. The relief they needed could only come by the one to whom the old covenant pointed. The old covenant pictured the person and work of Jesus. It was the shadow cast by the body of Christ.
A shadow is ephemeral. It reflects a reality but it is not the reality itself. Some body is in a position initially which light has shone on it, creating the shadow. In the case before us Jesus, is the “image” (eikon) which creates the “shadow” (skian). Again, God, who is light, has shown on His Son and the shadow was cast for some 1,500 years. But there came a day when the reality arrived and then God“shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). As John wrote, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The shadow has been dispelled by the body. The reflection has been replaced with the Real. The picture has been replaced with the person.
The good news therefore is that the body and blood of Christ has removed forever the blood of bulls and goats. Believing sinners can really experience a purged conscience because Jesus, to whom the sacrifices pointed, has really come. No picture could do that, but a person could. And He did.
We need this reminder. We need the reminder that God does not remember. We need the regular remembrance that God has no remembrance.
Prone to Wander
Hebrews has much repetition. It includes repetitive themes of the Day of Atonement, the old covenant priesthood and Jesus Christ as the one and only,once-for-all sufficient sacrifice to take away sins. We are exhorted repeatedly that we cannot be redeemed by the blood of bulls and goats but only by the blood of the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. So why all the repetition? Because we are “prone to wander … prone to leave the God [we] love.”4 We are all too easily tempted to go through the motions of our Christianity without actually giving due devotion to our Saviour. We can be in the right place while at the same time missing the point. This is precisely what many in the early days of the new covenant were experiencing. As the book of Acts makes clear, the early Jewish Christians continued to go to the temple at the appointed hours of prayer. This was good and fine. But unfortunately, some who went there lost the plot and became engrossed again with the animal sacrifices and the cleansing rituals as a means of salvation. They were in the right place but had the wrong mindset. They were worshippers who in fact were guilty of false worship. They needed these repetitive gospel reminders—andso do you and I.
Have you ever felt that you are being punished for your sins? Then be reminded that Christ suffered for your sins. Have you ever felt that you cannot “forgive yourself”? Then know that you do not need to forgive yourself; you need to embrace Christ’s forgiveness. Worship Christ alone.
The Provision of the Body of Christ
The old covenant sacrificed pictured, in shadow form, Christ’s body, but the day came when the actual body was provided.
Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—in the volume of the book it is written of Me—to do Your will, O God.’”
Having made the point that the old covenant was merely a shadow of the true (that is, of the new covenant), and having intimated that it is Jesus who casts the shadow, the writer now nails this truth by quoting Psalm 40.
“Therefore” (v.5) leads to the conclusion that the one casting the shadow, like bulls and goats, required a body. He uses Psalm 40 to make his point. And he uses this Psalm because that is exactly why it was written! It prophesies Jesus Christ. “The psalm refers to a speaker who recognizes his body as the gift God has prepared to be the means by which the divine will may be accomplished.”5
What a Saviour!
The writer wonderfully connects these ideas by revealing that the one who for centuries cast this shadow came to earth one day to fully and finally replace the shadow with Himself. God provided Jesus with a body in which He would perfectly fulfil all to which the shadows pointed. Jesus would so live that everything that the sacrificial shadows represented would be perfectly fulfilled in Him. He would perfectly fulfil the picture of a sinless, spotless, substitutionary sacrifice for sinners. But to do so, He would need a body. A shadow requires a body.
There are several matters related to the body of Christ that we need to note in this passage.
The Body of Christ was Prophesied
Verse 7 reminds us that the “volume” of the Torah pointed to Jesus (see Luke 24:25–27, 44–45). His incarnation was prophesied.
Verse 5 informs us that, when Jesus came into this world, He came with Psalm 40 in His heart and on His lips. As Jones points out, “Psalm 40 does not describe what the writer to the Hebrews thought about his coming but what Jesus thought about it as he came.”6
The incarnation was not an accident, neither was it an afterthought. Rather it was planned before the foundation of the world.
This raises several issues, not the least which is the reality that, before God established and instituted the first covenant, He had already planned the new covenant. Again, this is precisely the point of this passage. The body of Christ, prophesied so long ago, cast the shadow of the old covenant. We should be encouraged by this that the Lord is sovereign and that He is working His plan in history. We can be certain that what He has promised will come to pass.
Christian, take comfort in God’s sovereignty. Your trials are no surprise to Him. God’s plan concerning the body of Christ gives us comfort as the Body of Christ.
The Body of Christ was Prepared
Jesus declared, “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body you have prepared for Me.” We will shortly look at the first part of this verse, but for now let’s focus on “a body…prepared.”
Why did Jesus require a body?
First, He needed a body because He needed to shed His blood. At the last Passover, He pointed to this reality by the words, “This is My body” and, “This is My blood” (Matthew 26:26–28).
The change from an emphasis upon the blood of Christ to that of the body of Christ is an important change of emphasis but that it is not a change of theme. That is, the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sins because, in His body, Jesus lived a sinless life. His blood is spotless because His life is spotless. The two go hand in hand. His blood cannot be separated from His body and His body cannot be separated from His blood. Jesus had to have a body “so that it might be obediently offered up in a blood-sacrifice to God.”7 Jesus was required to offer His body in a blood-shedding death for sinners to be saved. This is theologically and practically important.
Some teach that Jesus’ sinless life is all that is required for us to be saved. But that is only a partial truth. His sinless life had to be “offered up to God” for us to be saved. And the reason that there were blood-shedding sacrifices before Christ came was because Jesus was “slain before the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). The sacrifices were shadows cast by the bodyandblood of Jesus Christ. And what God has joined together, let us never put asunder!
Second, He needed a body because He had to obey the law of God as a human. As “the second Man … from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:47) and “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45), Jesus needed a body, just like the first man and the first Adam. But unlike Adam, in Jesus “intention and the commitment of the body were perfectly integrated.”8
Third, He needed a body because He is God. This is related to the first reason. Since Jesus is God, He could not die—not unless He had a human body. Jesus needed to be in a form that was capable of death. Think about that for a moment: The Son of God, very God of very God, had a body prepared by His Father for the ultimate earthly purpose of death (9:27–28). “Love so amazing so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.”
The Body of Christ was Pleasing
The crux of the matter, of course, is the crux—the cross. Jesus came to die for God. But first, Jesus had to live for God.
The text tells us that God did not desire sacrifice and offering (v. 5). In v. 6 Jesus declares, “In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.” This seems strange. After all, God is the one who prescribed sacrifices and offerings. How then can Jesus say to Him, “I know You do not desire these and they bring You no pleasure”? Consider the following.
Many times, Old Testament prophets made the point that God was not interested in mere externalism when it came to sacrifices. If the people were merely going through the motions when they brought sacrifices, especially if at the same time they were living in open disregard for God’s law, then God was not pleased with their sacrifices (Isaiah 1:11–17; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21–24; Micah 6:6–8; 1 Samuel 15:22).
In other words, the issue was not simply doing the prescribed thing but rather doing it from a heart devoted to the Lord (see 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 51:16–17). As Phillips comments, “What God desires from us is obedience, not sacrifices to cover our disobedience…. What gladdens God is heart-obedience from his people bought with his love.”9
Therefore, it is in this sense the Lord takes no pleasure “in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin.” In fact, with such estranged hearts, the offering of the sacrifices merely added to their sin problem! God cannot be bought. But you can be. And you need to be: bought with the blood of the Lamb.
But though this was true, and there is ample evidence that it was, I think that the main point being driven home is that offerings and sacrifices, even when offered with the best motives and the purest devotion, could not atone for sin. “The sacrifices pointed not to themselves as a solution, but away from themselves. Their main teaching was not what they could do but what they could not do.”10
In fact, even if Jesus brought such prescribed offerings, which of course would have come from a heart completely devoted to God, nevertheless the blood and bodies of the sacrificial animals would still not have availed to make sinners right with God.
The key interpretive phrase here is “I have come … to do Your will.” Jesus came to earth completely devoted to do nothing other than what the Father desired. He came to offer a life of complete obedience to Him. It is for this reason that He could say, “I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29). It was because Jesus always did the will of His Father in Heaven that His Father said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5). The ultimate declaration was when the Father raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 1:4). No animal sacrifice was ever resurrected.
Saved to Obey
One final observation needs to be made: God is pleased with obedience more than with repentance. He delighted in the perfect obedience of His Son. And He delights in the obedience of His children.
Sin is a failure to do the will of God. Sin is disobedience to the revealed will of God. Sin is therefore definable. And thank God for that, for since it is definable it is also “treatable.” We know when we have broken the rules, and so we know where we stand. That is good news, because we also know that we can repent and be forgiven. The knowledge of our condition puts us in a wonderful position to receive the cure.
And those who have been redeemed are now slaves to righteousness who worshipfully serve their Saviour (v. 2). The Christian life is one that pursues doing the will of God from the heart to the glory of God (see Ephesians 6:6).
The Body of Christ was Pierced
The next thing to notice from our text is that the body of Christ was pierced.
The word “prepared” in v. 5 is actually translated differently in the Hebrew (see Psalm 40:6). It has the idea of “to open.” It is translated in the NKJV as “my ears You have opened.” In the ESV it is translated as “you have given me an open ear.” What is the meaning of this?
It could refer to an open ear in the sense of an ear that is committed to hearing and obeying what is heard. If so, then there is a logical connection between this and a body prepared. That is, the Lord Jesus in His body carried out the instructions that He heard with an open ear. As Raymond Brown notes, “The ‘open ear’ and the ‘surrendered body’ amount to the same. Christ has opened his ear to God’s word and surrendered his body for God’s work.”11
Others have suggested that the term means literally “to dig out,” in the sense of the Lord preparing a body and literally digging out the place for the ears. This seems to be a strained interpretation.
There is, however, a third possibility—one that captures all of the issues involved.
In Exodus 21 we read of a case in which a Hebrew could become an indentured servant for a period of six years. In the seventh year he was permitted to make the declaration to his master that he desired to spend the rest of his life as his servant. As an abiding testimony to this, his ear was bored, pierced—“opened”—with an awl at the front door. It was a declaration that the man would lovingly and willingly serve his master forever. This, it seems to me, is the picture here.
The Lord Jesus was the willing, loving servant of His heavenly Father. He “delighted” to take this body upon Himself. As Bruce highlights, “While it was indeed His Father’s will, it was also His spontaneous choice. And therefore His undertaking and fulfilling it was a sacrifice utterly acceptable to God.”12
He was “pierced,” as it were, in the ear and proved His love and loyalty by giving His body in obedience to the Father—to the point of being obedient to death, even death on a cross. And it was this final act where the body of Christ was literally pierced.
The piercing of the provided body of Christ was essential if the eternal picture of the body of Christ would be perfected in space time history. It was this piercing that required the body of Christ. Because His body was pierced, ours need not be.
And yet we must recognise that, in a legitimate sense, we too must be pierced. We are to be “pierced” as His bondservants and to willingly and devotedly serve our Master.
The Power of the Body of Christ
Verses 8–10 highlight the power of the body of Christ.
Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
There are at least two consequences from the body of Christ described in this passage. Both of them reveal the incredible power of the body of Christ.
The Body of Christ Abolished the Old Covenant
We learn, in vv. 8–9, that the body of Christ abolished the old covenant. After all, if the old covenant was merely the shadow of the body of Christ, there is no reason why, once the body had come, the shadow needed to continue. The shadow gave way to the real.
Of course, the author has made this point frequently (e.g. 8:13), but here he conclusively says that the body of Christ—His person and work—decisively “cut off” the old covenant (see Daniel 9:27).
The term “takes away” connotes “to abolish.” It is a strong word used of putting something to death. In fact, it used often in the New Testament to speak of Jesus being put to death. We might say that when the body of Christ was put to death so was the old covenant. The old covenant truly was finished (see John 19:30).
Without going into detail, the context of this epistle makes it very clear that what was abolished was the sacrificial system of the old covenant. This does not mean that there is now a complete discontinuity between the old and the new covenants (see Matthew 5:17–20). What it does mean is that the centuries of looking forward to the coming of Christ are over. He has appeared, He is appearing and He will appear again (9:24, 26, 28). Old things have passed away now that “the good things” (v. 1) have come. The gospel renders useless any other approach to approaching God. “In the design of God, the two redemptive arrangements are irreconcilable; the one excludes the other.”8
But of course, by taking away the first Jesus did not leave a vacuum. Rather He “established the second.” He put into place the new covenant. And the particular word used tells us that the Body of Christ made the new covenant “stand firm.” It will do so throughout time and eternity.
This word is used in Jude 24 when speaking of the Lord’s promise to present us faultless before His glory with exceeding joy. The word “present” is the same used here for “establish.” The Christian, because of the Body of Christ, is established safe and sound in the presence of God. The shadow could never do what the Saviour has accomplished. Thank God for the Body of Christ!
The Body of Christ Actualises the New Covenant
The passage ends with a statement of assurance: “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (v. 10).
Those who have an interest (“inheritance,” 9:15) in the new covenant are “sanctified”—once for all—through “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.” The believer has been sanctified; his conscience cleansed and this “cleansing marks the beginning of the Christian life.”14 And as Morris observes, “The sanctification meant here is one brought about by the death of Christ. It has to do with making people Christian, not with developing Christian character.”15
Jesus accomplished what He came to accomplish. We can have assurance because of the body of Christ. The new covenant has been actualised in history and therefore you can be a Christian! Why not now?
Sanctified and Settled
The word “sanctified” is used seven times in Hebrews. It refers to God’s action of setting sinners apart to Himself by the blood of Jesus (see 1 Peter 1:2). We are set apart to draw near to Him. And as Guthrie comments, “To draw near to God is man’s highest exercise.”16
Remember that a major concern for the writer was the experience of having a cleansed conscience, one that is practically “sanctified.” But the one includes the other. That is, those whom God justifies and forgives are also those who are sanctified and brought near to Him. Only the new covenant could accomplish this.
“By that will” refers to the will of God perfectly obeyed by Jesus. And because of this obedience, His self-offering was accepted “once for all” by the Father. In other words, we have assurance of acceptance before God all because of the body of Christ. “So perfect a sacrifice was our Lord’s presentation of His life to God that no repetition of it is either necessary or possible; it was offered ‘once for all.’”17
What a joy to know that there is power in the blood, in the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb.18 And that is because of the perfect, pure and therefore powerful body of Christ.
So, what response is demanded to this glorious truth regarding the body of Christ? Simply: Confess your sin as you turn to embrace Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord.
Christian, reflect upon the gospel and be moved to worshipful service (v. 2). With our consciences purified, our lives should be mobilised so that God will be glorified.
Don’t disregard the Body of Christ. He is your only hope. What will you do with Jesus, right now?
- Edgar Andrews, A Glorious High Throne: Hebrews Simply Explained (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2003), 282. ↩
- William L. Lane, Hebrews: Word Biblical Commentary, 2 vols. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 2:261. ↩
- Leon Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 12:96. ↩
- Robert Robinson and John Wyeth, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, 1758. ↩
- Lane, Hebrews, 2:263. ↩
- Hywel R. Jones, Let’s Study Hebrews (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 110. ↩
- Jones, Let’s Study Hebrews, 110. ↩
- Lane, Hebrews, 2:265. ↩
- Richard D. Phillips, Hebrews: Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2006), 338. ↩
- Phillips, Hebrews, 336. ↩
- Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews: The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000), 178. ↩
- F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 235. ↩
- Lane, Hebrews, 2:265. ↩
- Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 228. ↩
- Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12:99. ↩
- Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983), 204. ↩
- Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 236. ↩
- Lewis E. Jones, Power in the Blood, 1899. ↩