If you are like me, you have likely wrestled with the meaning of the following verse:
“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26).
To understand Hebrews chapter 10, verse 26, we have to understand the intent of the letter as a whole. It was written to Jews who were converts from the Levitical system of worship and who likely had extensive knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures. Hebrews was written to stimulate these Jewish believers to recognize the specifics of Judaism pointing to Christ.
After His resurrection, Christ Himself also expounded these very same truths to two of His followers on the road to Emmaus. They did not understand why He did not lead Israel to national redemption.
They had hoped that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:21a, 25-27).
The author of Hebrews rebuked his audience for their lack of understanding of the same Scriptures that Jesus explained on the road to Emmaus about Himself. He warned his audience that their lack of progression should not lead to regression back to the dead works of the law.
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open sham” (Hebrews 6:4-6).
If the Hebrews returned to the dead works of the law, if they went back to animal sacrifices, then they would deny the fact that Christ had to die only once for their sins. Explained further: “He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:26, 28a).
Belief is the key
Many of the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness did not believe in God’s promises. Some in the group of Jews who received the letter to the Hebrews did not believe either. They are not the same Jews “who believe to the saving of the soul” but they are “of those who draw back to perdition.” (Hebrews 10:39)
Jesus tells us in Matthew chapter 13 that the field of this world is filled with wheat and tares. God speaks His Word to both.
“For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:7-8).
Rain falls on fertile soil and on infertile soil. God speaks His Word to those who will believe and to those who will not believe.
Back to the beginning
“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” (Hebrews 10:1).
When the verse above speaks of the priests as “those who approach,” what exactly are they approaching? “As the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own” (Hebrews 9:25b). The priests would approach the very presence of God Himself to present the blood of the sacrifice as atonement for the sins of the people.
Hebrews chapter ten explains that if “the blood of goats and calves” could set us apart from sin as perfect in the eyes of the Father, then they would not have to be offered continuously year after year. Only the blood of Jesus can make us perfect through our confession and His forgiveness.
“For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).
Further in chapter ten, the author reminds his readers of God’s new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah: “’This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’” (Hebrews 10:16-17).
Verse 18 refers to our current standing in this new covenant, “Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:18) There is no longer an offering for sin because Jesus died once for all and now all of our sins are forgiven through confession. “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).
Jesus cannot be crucified again. There will be no more sacrifice for sins. If someone were to “turn away” from approaching the “Holy of Holies” through the blood of Jesus, they would crucify Jesus again, but only to themselves. They would not crucify Him again to me or you or anyone else who believes. He cannot be crucified again but God will charge them with crucifying Him again in their own hearts.
The interpretation of Hebrews 10:26-27
In view of verse 18, “Now where there is forgiveness for these, there is no longer an offering for sin,” let’s look at verses 26 and 27:
“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.”
The writer is just stating the fact that when we willfully sin we cannot just run out and sacrifice a bull or a goat to atone for that sin since Christ has already been sacrificed for all sin. The only thing that remains to deal with that sin is the Lord’s punishment and He will judge His people.
Let’s consider Paul’s teachings about the Lord’s Supper in reference to the Lord’s judgment.
“Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).
What does Paul mean when he says whoever eats or drinks in an unworthy manner? He explains that when we eat and drink the Lord’s Supper we are to remember His body and blood that was sacrificed for our sins. If we are not acknowledging and confessing our sins during this time we are treating with contempt the very thing which we are symbolically ingesting: the body and blood of Jesus Christ. We are not worthy to partake in the Lord’s Supper. We are not judging ourselves. We are not standing with God against our own sin and condemning it and therefore we are not confessing it and asking God to forgive it.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:9-10).
Notice the similarities between 1 John 1:9 and Hebrews 10:22-23: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:22-23).
What is “the confession of our hope?” It is the confession of 1 John 1:9. It is our hope and our full assurance of faith, that when we draw near to Jesus in self-judgment and confession, He will forgive our sins and cleanse our evil conscience because He is faithful to do just that! Now we can approach the Most Holy Place through the sacrifice of Jesus where He is sitting down at the right hand of the Father. “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12).
Through your faith you have confidence to “draw near” to God, to “come to God.”
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
The writer of Hebrews was convinced of better things concerning his audience though he sometimes spoke in a manner that indicated otherwise (Hebrews 6:9).
In Hebrews 10:26-31, the writer is exhorting his readers not to draw back to the old system of sacrifice for any new sin(s) they may commit but to draw near to the blood of Christ through confession. He does not want his readers to be “chastened by the Lord, that (they) may not be condemned with the world”. Instead, he wants them to trust and rely on the blood of Christ for forgiveness and restitution back to fellowship with God.
But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:39).