9. Let Us Draw Near: Confidence of Faith (Hebrews 10:19-39)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (30:14)

Thomas Sully, Suffer the Little Children
Our access to God is as open as children's access was to Jesus. Detail from Thomas Sully (American painter, 1783-1872), "Suffer the Little Children" (n.d.), gouache on paper, 26.5 x 36.2 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Larger image.
Our passage today is by turns a warm invitation, a scathing warning, and a winsome reminder of past suffering and future promises. Parts of it also seethe with theological controversy that has scarcely subsided in 400 years. Our approach must not be to take sides ahead of time, but to seek to understand just what the author intended to say to his readers. Only when we understand his exhortation can we seek to work it into our own theological understanding.

Let Us Draw Near (10:19-25)

Our author begins this section by summarizing what he has established so far after pages of patient and detailed interpretation of Old Testament instruction on the tabernacle/temple, sacrifice for sin, and the role of the priesthood.

"19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God...." (10:19-21)

Just what is the "therefore" there for? He reminds his readers of several points:

  • We have confidence or boldness in our faith (parrhēsia, a keyword in this section),
  • We can enter the heavenly Holy of Holies, which in heaven corresponds to the absolute presence of God our Father,
  • We come by the blood of Jesus -- he is our sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins,
  • We come by a "new and living way," that is, a way made possible by our living Savior,
  • We come figuratively through the curtain that previously prevented entrance into the Holy of Holies -- which the writer interprets here as Jesus' body, and
  • Jesus is our great High Priest -- yes, he is the one who brings us to his Father by his own sacrifice of himself and his own strong hand to save us and usher us into the Father's presence.

When you think about it in those terms, our writer's message is remarkable, powerful, full of hope and assurance. Christ has made a way for us and fulfilled all of the types and shadows of Old Testament atonement. Jesus is the fulfillment in his own Person.

One note before we go on. Verse 20, the phrase, "through the curtain, that is his body..." is a bit obscure.

Diagram of the Tabernacle

The curtain, of course, is the heavy veil of the tabernacle that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place or the Holy of Holies, where the ark of the covenant, representing God's throne or dwelling place, was located (Exodus 26:31-34; Leviticus 16:12ff). You recall, of course, that each of the Synoptic Gospels records as an historical fact that when Jesus died, this heavy curtain in the Temple in Jerusalem was rent in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). This was an obvious sign to Christians that Christ's death had removed the separation between God and man.

But in what sense does our writer mean that this curtain "is his body"? Bruce concludes, "our author looked upon the veil as symbolizing our Lord's human life presented to God when 'he suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God' (1 Peter 3:18)."1

It is a "new and living way," new because it didn't exist for humans before Jesus opened up the way through his sacrifice for our sins, and living because he is not a mere martyr but a resurrected and living Savior, who "always lives to make intercession" (Hebrews 7:25) for us.

Q1. (Hebrews 10:19-21) How did the veil of the Tabernacle function in Old Testament worship? What is the significance of the veil being ripped in two at Jesus' crucifixion? Why is our access to God called a "new and living way"? In what sense is it new? In what sense is it living?
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Three Exhortations for Believers (10:22-25)

"22... 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. 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another -- and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (10:22-25)

Verses 22-25 include three exhortations,2 beginning in English with the words, "Let us...." These are three commands, in the first person plural "hortatory" subjunctive, urging readers to action:

  1. Let us draw near to God (10:22)
  2. Let us hold the hope unswervingly (10:23)
  3. Let us stir up one another to love and good deeds (10:24), and not neglect meeting together regularly (10:25)

The Exhortation to Draw Near to God (10:22)

The first of these exhortations is:

"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." (10:22)

In verse 22 we are called to "draw near" (NIV, KJV) or "approach" God.3 This is not a trivial statement. Consider how hard it would be to gain an audience with the CEO of a major corporation or a nation's president or king. In the ancient Near East the king's presence was inviolable. Even Queen Esther risked the death penalty for approaching her husband King Xerxes without being first summoned (Esther 4:11).

How much more is the presence of a Holy God off-limits to sinful humans? But that is the amazing truth that the writer of Hebrews expounds for us. He uses the same word earlier to invite us into God's presence:

"Let us then approach (proserchomai) the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (4:16)

Notice the basis of the author's exhortation in verse 22:

  • Sincerity, that is, a sincere (alēthinos, "true, genuine") heart
  • Faith. The word is plērophoria, "state of complete certainty, full assurance, certainty."4
  • Cleansing. The NRSV translates the word "sprinkled" as "sprinkled clean." The author is referring to the practice of the Old Testament priests of sprinkling blood on objects and persons to cleanse them ritually and set them apart to God (Hebrews 9:13,19, 21; 12:24; Exodus 24:6 and many times in Leviticus). By Christ we are cleansed of a guilty conscience and given assurance that we are indeed forgiven.
  • Baptism, literally "our bodies washed with pure water." Baptism is an outward symbol of the inner cleansing which we receive by faith.

The Exhortation to Hold On (10:23)

The second exhortation is to perseverance:

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." (10:23)

Of course, perseverance in the face of the temptation to return to their old Judaism is one of the primary themes of the letter. We are told to "hold on" (3:6) and "hold firmly" (3:14; 4:14). The verb in verse 23 (as well as 3:6, 14) is katechō, "to adhere firmly to traditions, convictions, or beliefs, hold to, hold fast."5

Notice the how, the way in which they are to hold on: unswervingly. The adjective aklinēs is a compound word which means "not to lean," that is, "bending to neither side ... without wavering."6

And what are they to hold on to? "The hope we profess," that is, the firm expectation that Christ "will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him" (9:28).

Why should we believe this? Because "he who promised is faithful" (pistos), that is "pertaining to being worthy of belief or trust, trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring trust/faith."8

The Exhortation for Christian Fellowship (10:24-25)

The third exhortation is to Christian fellowship. The first two exhortations relate to our own relationship to God. The third commands attention to others' spiritual health:

"24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another -- and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (10:24-25)

The primary exhortation, considering the Greek sentence structure, is to "Consider8 ... one another." So often we consider ourselves first and foremost, but that is selfish. We must rather think about others' needs. This takes two forms:

A. Stimulating Other Believers (10:24)

The keyword is translated "spur on" (NIV) or "provoke" (KJV, NRSV). The word is paroxusmos (from which we get our English word "paroxysm," fit, attack, convulsion). It means "rousing to activity, stirring up, provoking."9 The verb means basically "to cause a state of inward arousal, urge on, stimulate." Often the word group refers to irritation or stirring to anger or of a severe fit of disease, but here the noun seems to carry the basic idea of the root verb, "urge, spur on, stimulate."10

Our goal for one another is to encourage towards "love and good deeds." Christianity is not designed as a hermit-oriented faith, but one with intense love and concern for one another. If we take seriously Jesus' primary command to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27), we can't isolate ourselves. We are commanded to "do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Galatians 6:10).

B. Meeting Regularly Together (10:25)

The second part of this third exhortation is to not "give up" (NIV), "neglect" (NRSV), or "forsake" (KJV) meeting together. The word engkataleipō is a strong one. It means, "to separate connection with someone or something, forsake, abandon, desert."11 It is the Greek word used in Jesus' prayer based on Psalm 22:2, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). It is the word used in the firm promise later in Hebrews, "I will never leave you or forsake you" (13:5b based on Deuteronomy 31:6).

So often people attend or don't attend church based on whether it meets their own needs. That attitude is grossly selfish and contrary to the direct command of scripture. Instead of going to church for our own sake, we should be attending to worship God and to encourage our Christian brothers and sisters. When we abandon regular Christian fellowship we hurt ourselves, but even more we deprive other believers of the gifts and ministries God has given to us on their behalf in a sacred trust!

It is this Christian encouragement that helps us stay on the path of Jesus. The verb is parakaleō, "to urge thoroughly, appeal to urge, exhort, encourage," literally "to call to one's side."12 The Holy Spirit is called our Paraclete or "Comforter, Counselor, Helper" (John 14-16) because he is the one God calls alongside us to encourage us and help us. When we deny our encouragement to one another by being absent from church or a small group meeting of believers, it is a serious thing. This is the second time our writer has urged us to encouragement. The first time was:

"But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." (3:13)

Our passage is:

" ... But let us encourage one another -- and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (10:25)

Both passages stress the need for mutual encouragement and both reflect on the urgency of doing so -- "as long as it is called Today" and "as you see the Day (of Judgment and Christ's coming) approaching." This is not an option but a command. It is because of widespread disobedience to this command that the Christian movement in Europe and the United States is weak and flabby.

Q2. According to Hebrews 3:13 and 10:24-25, what should be a prime motive for meeting together with other Christians? What is our usual motivation? Why do Christians so often get out of the habit of attending church or a small group? How can we help these individuals?
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Warning Against Deliberate Apostasy (10:26-31)

Now comes a stern, fearful warning intended to frighten the readers -- Jewish Christians who were flirting with the possibility of returning to their former Judaism. This is the fourth of the five warning passages in Hebrews. The passage has also has frightened many faithful Christians in our day who misunderstand its meaning and intent:

"26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' and again, 'The Lord will judge his people.' 31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (10:26-31)

Let's examine it carefully so we can find out what our author is actually referring to.

First, there are two qualifications to sin: (1) deliberately and (2) continually. "Deliberately" (NIV, RSV), "willfully" (KJV, NRSV) is hekousiōs, "willingly, without compulsion," that is "deliberately, intentionally." This is probably something like sinning "with a high hand" (Numbers 15:30), which we discussed above under 9:7b in chapter 7 of this study. The NIV ("keep on sinning") and NRSV ("persist in sin") interpret the present tense of the participle for sin (harmartanō) as a progressive present that "signifies action in progress or state in persistence...."14

Some Christians, thinking about sins and weaknesses of character that trip them up again and again, have read this verse with despair. In the ancient Church, some Christians (including Emperor Constantine) put off baptism as long as possible thinking that this way they could avoid go to hell for some post-baptismal sin.15 That is certainly not what our writer has in mind! He is not speaking of occasional or even persistent sins due to the weakness of our sinful nature such as lust, drunkenness, theft, anger, and the like. These kinds of sins, while serious before God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), are what the Apostle Paul refers to as being "caught in a sin" (NIV) or "overtaken in a fault" (KJV, Galatians 6:1). Elsewhere, our author rejoices in forgiveness of sins through the mercy and sympathies of our great High Priest (4:15-16). Praise God, there is full and complete forgiveness for our sins!

Rather, our author is referring to a sustained defiance towards God -- apostasy -- as he was in 6:4-8, that is, turning deliberately away from faith in Christ and returning to their former Judaism, as if Jesus were not the Messiah at all. This is not your garden-variety sin, but flagrant, deliberate apostasy. The reason we can be sure of this is the harsh way he describes the sin of apostasy in verse 29:

  • Trampled16 the Son of God under foot.
  • Treated as an unholy thing17 the blood of the covenant that sanctified him.
  • Insulted18 the Spirit of grace.

It's as if a benevolent aunt gave a beloved nephew a precious, expensive gift to meet his need, but rather than thanks he heaped upon her scorn, disdain, insult, and total lack of appreciation of the gift -- not just on a single occasion (a bad day), but as a sustained snubbing. Now substitute the benevolent aunt for the Living God as the Giver, and you get the picture.

The writer compares this deliberate, defiant sin to "rejecting the law of Moses" (10:28). In this case it is rejecting the Savior himself, so that there "no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" (10:26). If a person rejects the sacrifice of the Messiah himself for his sins, what sacrifice is there left that can save him? Can the blood of bulls and goats remove human sin (10:4)? No!

To such an apostate person our writer calls down God's terrible vengeance and judgment, and concludes: "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Why is it "fearful" or "dreadful" (phoberos19)? Because God is indeed Living. He cannot be trifled with!

My dear Christian friend, if you have struggled with this passage thinking that you have somehow committed the unforgivable sin, take heart. The writer of Hebrews isn't talking about your sins of weakness. Jesus died to forgive them. You call upon Jesus because you believe in and rely on his forgiveness. The writer of Hebrews is talking about those who reject Jesus and his forgiveness. For them, and for them only, there is no longer any forgiveness.

Q3. (Hebrews 10:26-31). (In your discussion, please resist the temptation to slam another Christian who might understand the security of the believer differently from you!) What kind of sin is expressed by the phrase, "deliberately keep on sinning" (10:26)? Is this talking about sins related to the weakness of our flesh or apostasy? What elements in 10:29 contribute to your understanding that this is indeed flagrant apostasy, not garden-variety sin?
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Remembering Former Persecution (10:32-34)

Now our writer changes his tone completely. From sharp threats of terrible judgment, he turns to reminding his readers that they have been persecuted for their faith and had borne up under it well.

"32Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions." (10:32-34)

Scholars have worked hard to try to match our author's description of early persecution and imprisonment with periods in history in various parts of the empire to try to pinpoint the time, place and identity of the readers. Bruce concludes that this period could be compared to events in Rome in 49 AD, but only because we have greater knowledge of history in that city than many others.20

The point is that the readers have undergone serious persecution in their earlier days as Christians and acquitted themselves well. The author is encouraging them to continue with the willingness to endure persecution that they have exhibited thus far -- in other words, not to give up in the face of further persecution. As Paul exhorted the Galatian Christians, "You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?" (Galatians 5:7, RSV).

Persevere in Christ (10:35-36)

Our writer returns to the main theme of the Letter -- hold on, hang on, don't quit, have patience, persevere:

"35So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised." (10:35-36)

He urges the readers not to "throw away" (NIV), "cast away" (KJV), or "abandon" (NRSV) their faith. The word is apoballō, literally, "to take off, shed" like leaves or a garment. It can also mean "lose" or "get rid of as undesirable or substandard, throw away, reject," as it does here.21

He calls them to hang on to their confidence (parrhēsia), a synonym for faith, that appears a number of other times in Hebrews as a significant theme (3:6, 14; 4:16; -17; 10:19; 13:16). The motivation he holds out to them is "great reward" (misthapodosia22) in heaven, the day when wages are finally paid and our treasure in heaven awarded.

Now he introduces another theme word, perseverance (hupomonē), "the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty, patience, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, perseverance."23 Both the noun and the verb appear several other times in Hebrews (10:32; 12:1-3). I think perseverance is a mental attitude towards problems, difficulties, and suffering. It is not cynicism or stoicism. It is a determination to continue on with eyes clearly focused on the goal. In chapter 12 our author develops this point further:

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (12:2)

There's an old African American spiritual that expresses it well:

"I shall not be, I shall not be moved,
"I shall not be, I shall not be moved,
Just like a tree planted by the water.
I shall not be moved."

This kind of attitude is necessary on our part to finish the race without giving up. We must cultivate perseverance in ourselves and encourage it in our Christian brothers and sisters.

Q4. (Hebrews 10:35-36) Why is perseverance in faith hard sometimes? Why is perseverance so important? How is Christian fellowship important in perseverance? (3:12-14)  What can we do to encourage other Christians in this sometimes difficult journey?
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Don't Shrink Back (10:37-29)

Our author concludes this section with an exhortation from the Septuagint version of the Prophet Habakkuk (2:3-4), that he sees coming to fulfillment soon:

"37For in just a very little while,
   'He who is coming will come and will not delay.
   38But my righteous one will live by faith.
   And if he shrinks back,
   I will not be pleased with him.'
39But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved." (Hebrews 10:35-39)

"Shrink back" is hupostellō, "to draw back, withdraw," then "to be hesitant in regard to something, shrink back."24 At the coming of Christ, our author argues, we don't want to be those who have failed to endure, who in timidity have withdrawn and hidden rather than persevered.

But he concludes with a word of assurance, that indeed he and his readers are not those who shrink back. He compares and contrasts the results of shrinking with faith:

Shrink back

Are destroyed

Believe

Are saved

Hebrews: Discipleship Lessons, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson (paperback and e-book formats)
Lessons are also available in e-book and paperback formats.

Dear Christian reader. You are one of those who believes and are saved. This isn't a matter of being good enough to be saved, of being sin-free enough to be saved. This is pure and simple a matter of believing, trusting Jesus Christ to save you from your sins. That's what the cross was about -- for you and me. Hallelujah!

Prayer

Lord, sometimes we are frightened by the passages we have studied when we realize how unworthy we are and how weak we sometimes find ourselves. I pray for the encouragement and comfort of the Spirit to bring assurance of faith and a continued trust in Christ -- our only Savior. In Jesus' holy name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"... 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." (Hebrews 10:22)

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." (Hebrews 10:24)

"Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25)

References

  1. Bruce, Hebrews, p. 253.
  2. In the NIV it looks like four exhortations, but in Greek the first three are in the subjunctive voice, while the fourth (verse 25) is a participle related to the exhortation in verse 24.
  3. Proserchomai, "approach or entry into a deity's presence" (BDAG 878, 1.b).
  4. Plērophoria, BDAG 827.
  5. Katechō, BDAG 532-533.
  6. Aklinēs, BDAG 36.
  7. Pistos, BDAG 820-821, 1.a.β.
  8. Katanoeō, "to think carefully about, envisage, think about, notice" (BDAG 522-523).
  9. Paroxusmos, BDAG 780. It is used of a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:39.
  10. Paroxunō, Liddell-Scott. The verb means literally, "to make sharp, to sharpen" (Thayer, in loc.).
  11. Engkataleipō, BDAG 273.
  12. Parakaleō, BDAG 764-765.
  13. Hekousiōs, BDAG 306.
  14. H.E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Macmillan, 1927, 1955), 173(1), p. 182.
  15. Discussed in Bruce, pp. 262-264.
  16. Katapateō, "trample under foot," then figuratively, "to look upon with scorn, treat with disdain" (BDAG 523).
  17. Koinos, "common, ordinary, profane" (BDAG 552) as opposed to "holy."
  18. Enhubrizō, "to insult, outrage" (BDAG 342). The root verb hubrizō (from which we get our English word "hubris") means "to treat in an insolent or spiteful manner, mistreat, scoff at, insult" (BDAG 1022).
  19. Phoberos, "causing fear, fearful, terrible, frightful," found in 10:27 and 10:31 (BDAG 1060).
  20. Bruce, Hebrews, pp. 267-270.
  21. Apoballō, BDAG 107.
  22. Misthapodosia means "recompense," whether favorable or unfavorable, literally, "payment of wages," used here and 2:2; 11:26.
  23. Hupomonē, BDAG 1039-1040.
  24. Hupostellō, BDAG 1041.
  25. "Destroyed" (NIV), "lost" (NRSV), "perdition" (KJV) is apōleia, originally, "loss." The meaning here is "annihilation," both complete and in process, "ruin" (BDAG 127).

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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