STUDIES IN HEBREWS

© Rosemary Bardsley, 2002

STUDY SEVEN: THE ONCE-FOR-ALL SACRIFICE OF CHRIST

Just as the writer has presented us with a description of Jesus Christ as the ultimate high priest far superior to the old priesthood, so he presents us with a description of the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ as far superior to the many sacrifices offered by the old priesthood. In this study we will look firstly at the sacrifices offered under the old covenant, then at the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ; we will then again set these side by side in a table for ease of comparison.

A. SACRIFICES UNDER THE OLD COVENANT (THE LAW)

  • 5:3 the high priest had to offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as the sins of the people
  • 7:11 did not and could not provide 'perfection'
  • 7:18 made nothing perfect
  • 7:27 needed to be offered day after day
    needed to be offered for the priest's sins as well as the people's
  • 8:13 made 'obsolete' by the implementation of the new covenant
  • 9:6 priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry
  • 9:7 only high priest entered the inner room, only once a year, only with blood, making an offering for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance
  • 9:9 these gifts and sacrifices were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper
  • 9:10 were temporary 'external regulations'
  • 9:11 were offered in a man-made tabernacle
  • 9:12 blood of goats and calves
  • 9:13 the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer could only 'sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean'.
  • 9:18 not put into effect without blood
  • 9:22 the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness
  • 9:24 they were offered in a man-made sanctuary, which was only a copy of the true one
  • 9:25 high priest enters the Most Holy Place again and again, year after year
    high priest enters with blood that is not his own
  • 10:1 the law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the realities themselves
  • therefore it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. (10:2: If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins)
  • 10:3 those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins
  • 10:4 it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
  • 10:5-8 God did not desire sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings and sin offerings, nor was he pleased with them
  • 10:9 are set aside by God
  • 10:11 the daily repeated sacrifices can never take away sins

In these statement about the sacrifices offered under the regulations of the old covenant there are two recurring themes: (1) the repetitiveness of these sacrifices and (2) their temporary and superficial effectiveness. By way of extreme contrast, consider what is said about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ:

B. THE SACRIFICE OF JESUS CHRIST

  • 7:27 not day after day
  • not for his own sins
  • he sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself
  • 9:9 (by inference) able to clear the conscience of the worshipper
  • 9:12 he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption
  • 9:14 the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanses our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God
  • 9:15 he died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant
  • 9:25 he does not have to enter heaven to offer himself again and again
  • 9:26 he appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself
  • 9:28 Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people;
  • 10:1 (by inference) makes perfect those who draw near to worship
  • 10:2 (by inference) worshippers cleansed once for all, and no longer feel guilty for their sins
  • 10:10 we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all
  • 10:12 Jesus offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, and sat down at the right hand of God
  • 10:14 by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy
  • 10:17 God no longer remembers our sins and lawless acts
  • 10:18 where these have been forgiven there is no longer any sacrifice for sin
  • 10:19 we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus
  • 10:20 we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by a new and living way opened for us through ... his body
  • 10:22 therefore ... let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water ..
  • 10:23 therefore ... let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he is faithful who promised

The two predominant qualities of the sacrifice of Christ are (1) its once-for-all-ness and related permanence, and (2) its comprehensive and radical effectiveness.

Let us now look at these two contrasting sacrifices in table form; again a a in the centre column indicates similarity, and a r indicates contrast; the comments in this colour are not made on the basis of a text from Hebrews but express either truth gained from the teaching of the Bible generally, or are the expressions of the essential logical opposite. In some instances truths are listed here which were also listed in the table relating to the high priestly roles, because the high priest and the sacrifices they offered are intimately connected.

Ref
Old sacrifices
 
Sacrifice of Jesus Christ
Ref

5:3; 7:27

9:7

Had to be offered for the sins of the priest as well as the sins of the people

r

No sacrifice necessary for his own sins

7:27

7:11,18-19

10:1-4

Could not make us perfect

r

Makes us perfect

10:14

7:27; 9:6,7,25; 10:1,11

Needed to be offered day after day, year after year

r

Once-for-all

7:27; 9:12

9:25-28

10:10,12

8:1-6

9:1-10

9:11

Were offered in the earthly tabernacle which is a copy of the real presence of God

Were offered in a man-made tabernacle

r

Was offered in the real sanctuary - the very presence of God - not made by man.

He entered heaven itself.

9:11, 24,

8:13

Belonged to an obsolete covenant

r

Belongs to the new covenant

8:8

9:7, 18-23

Blood offering required

a

Blood offering required

9:9; 10:2-4

Could not clear the conscience of the worshipper

r

Cleansed from a guilty conscience

10:22

9:13

Made the ceremonially unclean outwardly clean

r

Cleanses our consciences so that we may serve God

He died as a ransom to set them free form the sins committed under the first covenant.

9:14

9:15

9:10;

10:1-4,11

Were external, ceremonial regulations, pending the coming of the new order.

Were temporary and repetitive pending the coming of the new order

r

Obtained eternal redemption

Permanently effective - 'for all time'

9:12

10:12

9:12

9:25

Blood of goats and calves

Not their own blood

r

Christ's own blood

He sacrificed himself

9:12,

9:26

10:1

The law prescribing these sacrifices is a shadow

r

Is the reality itself

10:1

10:2,3

Continued guilt feelings for sin

Annual reminder of sins

r

Does away with sin

Sins remembered no more

9:26

10:17

10:4, 11

Impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins; can never take away sins.

r

We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ

10:10

10:9

Are set aside

r

Is established

10:9

10:11,12

Was never finished

r

Is finished and done

10:12,13

Many sacrifices

r

One sacrifice

10:12,14

10:1-4,11

Always more sacrifices needed

r

No longer any sacrifice for sin needed

10:18

No confidence

r

Produces confidence to enter 'the Most Holy Place', to enter the presence of God

10:19,22

Old and dead way

r

Is a new and living way

10:20

The implications of what the writer has taught us about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ are massive. He tells us of something that is complete and permanent, something that has happened once-for-all in the one act of Jesus Christ, something that never was and never could be done by the old sacrifices. Think again of the impact this one, once-for-all, never to be repeated, permanent in its effect, sacrifice of Christ has:

  1. The redemption it obtained is eternal (9:12).
  2. It cleanses our consciences (9:14).
  3. It liberates us to serve God (9:14).
  4. It sets us free from sins (9:15).
  5. It does away with sin (9:26).
  6. It is established (10:9).
  7. It makes us holy (10:10).
  8. It is permanently effective, finished and complete (10:12-14).
  9. It makes us perfect forever (10:14).
  10. God remembers our sins and lawless acts no more (10:17).
  11. It makes any further sacrifice for sin redundant and unnecessary (10:18).
  12. It means that we have confidence to enter the very presence of God without fear of judgement or condemnation (10:19).
  13. It means we can draw near to God with full assurance of faith (10:22).
  14. It means that our hearts are cleansed from a guilty conscience (10:22).

This must be the ultimate in salvation! Who would think of leaving this salvation for anything else - for anything else can only be less! Yet that is exactly what the original readers of this letter were on the brink of doing. Had they not really understood who Jesus actually was? Had they not really understood what Jesus actually did?

But we could ask similar questions today as we look at the widespread lack of assurance of salvation, as we look at the focus of many Christians on their own religious performance and the accompanying guilt in which they wallow. This salvation so powerfully described in this letter leaves us with no doubts as to the permanence and completeness of the salvation obtained by the death of Jesus Christ and lavished as sheer gift on everyone who believes in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

For your study: Think deeply about each of the points in the yellow box. Ask yourself: do I really believe each of these statements from Hebrews? Or am I still burdened with a guilty conscience? Am I still living as though God still remembers my sins? Am I depending totally on the one, once-for-all sacrifice of Christ, or do I believe that my spiritual successes increase my standing in the presence of God and my spiritual failures diminish my acceptance in the presence of God? Do I believe that because of the death of Christ I have been set free to serve God - or do I feel that I must be 'good enough' before I can serve him? Do I live with the joy of knowing that, in Christ, God sees me 'perfect' and 'holy', or do I still see him angry or distant because of my sin? Do I know the peace of perfect access to him, or am I in the mindset that still sees my relationship with him severed every time I sin? Do I have the confidence and full assurance of faith which this letter says I have? Grasp hold of these great and liberating truths, and rejoice!