Hebrews 10:1-18 presents one basic lesson that the Jewish Christians of the first century urgently needed to understand (and it’s the same lesson that most of modern Christendom needs to grasp as well). That lesson, stated in vs. 1, is that “the Law” – the one delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the “ten commandments” law that had governed the people of Israel and Judah for ten centuries – was a figure, a “shadow” that had outlined what God planned to accomplish and all the blessings He intended to provide through the Messiah. Continuing the train of thought presented in chapter 9, we need to ask, “What were Jewish Christians supposed to learn by comparing the requirements of Moses’ law and Judaism with the gospel?”
- In verse 1, the covenant of Moses/“ten commandments law” could never accomplish what the gospel can – it’s sacrifices could never permanently remove the guilt of sins. Had those sacrifices been adequate by themselves, there would have been no reason for the ancient Jews to continue offering them year after year, but the fact that they did showed the temporary character of the whole old testament system, and implied all along that God would replace it with something more effective (the sacrifice of Jesus and the gospel of salvation).
- From verses 4 through 10, the Holy Spirit explains how the animal sacrifices required under that first covenant had never been more than “place-holders” that anticipated the coming sacrifice of Jesus Himself (vs. 4, cf. 10). The statement in verse 4 that they could not take away sins emphasizes the fact that those animal offerings were NOT “proportional” to the offenses for which they were offered. If the penalty for sin is the life of the sinner (cf. Ezekiel 18:4 & 20), then offering the life of a bull or goat simply doesn’t “measure up” in value to the soul of the sinner! Therefore, the sin sacrifices of the old testament era were never meant to be a “permanent” solution to the problem of sin!
- In contrast to those animal sacrifices, the offering made by Jesus – His own blood in place of ours, as payment for our sins, verses 10-18 – was both the perfect “once-for-all-time” sacrifice (vs. 12) and the “concluding act” of that old covenant (cf. Matthew 5:17, Colossians 2:14) that made it possible for Him to bring the promised new covenant into force (vv. 15- 17, cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34). The result for the Hebrew Christians who first received this letter and for all Christians is that there is no longer any “need” to continue offering sin sacrifices (bulls or goats), because sins are permanently forgiven in Christ (verse 18).