Hebrews 10:4-10 – For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. Therefore when he comes into the world, he says, ‘You didn’t desire sacrifice and offering, but you prepared a body for me. You had no pleasure in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of me) to do your will, O God.’ Previously saying, ‘Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you didn’t desire, neither had pleasure in them’ (those which are offered according to the law), then he has said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will.’ He takes away the first, that he may establish the second, by which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
While most believers look to the book of Romans as the most theologically dense writing of the New Testament, in actuality, I believe the book of Hebrews provides the most depth of theology, and also provides us the perspective of how the early believers, who were all Jewish, viewed the work and ministry of Yeshua.
The book never names its author; many think it is Paul, some think it may have been Timothy. The individual carries many of the same long phrases and characteristic nuances of Paul. Regardless, throughout the book, a well-planned and graduated argument is laid out for the meaning and purpose of what Messiah came to do.
By chapter ten, the book is reaching a crescendo of thought and focuses on the work of Messiah contrasted with the sacrifices of the priests according to the law of Moses. Almost all commentators focus on Yeshua’s blood sacrifice against the animal sacrifices of the priests. But is that the true comparison or contrast being laid out here? I don’t believe so, and here is why.
First, it is established that animal sacrifices don’t take away sin. This was not a new concept to biblical thought, since Psalm 40 is then quoted to demonstrate this. The problem begins with the representation of Psalm 40 in this passage of Hebrews and it being mis-quoted (in our modern Bibles) in this passage where it says “you prepared a body for me.” If we actually go back to the text in the Psalms, we see that it reads:
Psalm 40:6-8 “Sacrifice and offering you didn’t desire. You have opened my ears. You have not required burnt offering and sin offering. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come. It is written about me in the book in the scroll. I delight to do your will, my God. Yes, your law is within my heart.’”
So the original text does not include a body being prepared for Messiah, but that his ears were opened. Opened to what? “Your law is within my heart.” Yes, the Messiah exemplified receptiveness to the law which is equated with the obedience of “delighting to do God’s will.”
The writer of Hebrews then states the crux of his argument: “He takes away the first (i.e., the animal sacrifices) that he may establish the second (the doing of God’s will in obedience from the heart). That is the contrast of thought in this passage, NOT the animal sacrifices vs. the sacrifice of Yeshua. The thought is concluded by saying “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Yeshua once for all.”
You see, Yeshua offered his body in obedience to God’s will, and THAT is the characteristic that sets believers apart: when we, in like fashion as our Lord and Messiah, are obedient to God’s will from the heart. THAT is the “second” (the doing of God’s will from the heart) that is being contrasted with the “first” (animal sacrifices).
This is what sanctifies or sets believers apart from the rest of the world. We have received God’s eternal torah or instruction written in our heart, and we are willing to obey it to the death, if needed. That is how Yeshua’s death “sanctifies” believers; he provided the ultimate example for us to follow.
The blood of the new covenant is not the physical sacrifice of a man in Judea two thousand years ago for some spiritual “blood debt,” because the writer tells us plainly that physical blood cannot take away any sins, and this was known throughout biblical history. But what the blood represents is what is important: this blood is the life of an individual who was willing to pay the ultimate price in obedience to his God. The “first” has been fulfilled with the “second.”
The Bible plainly teaches that the blood carries the life of the individual, which is why it is forbidden to eat or drink blood.
Leviticus 17:11 – ” For the life of the flesh is in the blood. I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life.”
The blood makes atonement by reason of the life not the death. This was the symbolic significance that God was attempting to teach his people to understand with every animal sacrifice. It was not the death of the animal that was the point, but the representative life that was being forfeited on behalf of another.
This passage in Hebrews is the culmination of all of those spiritual lessons that had led up this point; the law is the “schoolmaster that leads to Messiah,” (Galatians 3:24). This is the contrast that illustrates what the whole New Testament points to. This man Yeshua is who believers are called to follow; this is who we are called to imitate. This is the new covenant of having our “ears opened” to the instruction of God, and being willing to follow him wherever he leads, even to the ultimate act of giving our life on behalf of others, if needed.
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