HEBREWS 10:26-39 - Throwing It All Away

Christ And His Rivals  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  47:20
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Do not throw away the confidence you have in the perfect work of your Savior for you



Last week we worked our way through the first half of Hebrews 10, as the author continued building his case for the great confidence believers have in the perfected work of Christ on the cross:
Hebrews 10:19–22 (LSB)
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
The overarching theme of this letter is the confidence that believers have in the superiority of Christ over all His rivals—in particular, the last seven chapters have been a sustained demonstration that Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection are infinitely superior to any of the Old Covenant sacrifices or Levitical priests under the Law of Moses.
The reason for this detailed, airtight case for Christ’s superiority over Moses is because this letter was being written to a group of Jewish Christians who were beginning to seriously entertain the thought of abandoning their faith in Christ and returning to the Old Covenant sacrifices. When you look at the historical context of this book, some of the pressures that these Christians were living under become more understandable.
The Book of Hebrews was one of the later of the New Testament books to be written—probably somewhere between 64 and 68 A.D. This was a particularly volatile time in the Roman province of Judea (where Jerusalem was located, and where the core of the Jewish Christian church was located.) In A.D. 66 the long-simmering resentment and hatred of Roman occupation of Judea blew up into riots over taxes, that eventually spread to Jerusalem and resulted in the Roman army breaching the Temple complex and removing seventeen talents of gold from the treasury as “unpaid taxes”. The Judeans responded by attacking a Roman garrison and killing its soldiers, prompting the Roman governor Gessius Florus to carry out widespread arrests of city leaders, many of them flogged and crucified (despite the fact that they were Roman citizens.) Judean rebels eventually overran the Jerusalem garrison, lynching the Romans stationed there. A year later, Emperor Nero would send General Vespasian with fresh Roman troops to subdue the uprising; Vespasian began systematically putting down various rebellious cities in the Judean province until he reached Jerusalem itself in April of A.D. 70.
Place yourself in the shoes of a Jewish Christian in Jerusalem at this time—you have come to believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah, you have placed your faith in Him for salvation and have been baptized and have become part of a body of other believers in the city. You meet with them every Sunday night to worship Messiah Jesus through the apostles’ teaching, breaking bread and prayer. There is a love and joy and peace there like you have never known; as opposition to Christ has spread, you have faithfully stood side-by-side with other members of your body who have been ridiculed, thrown into jail, their homes looted—in spite of all of it you have stood faithfully by their side, even though it exposed you as a Christian and put you in danger of the same treatment. You love your church family, you love Christ, and you trust Him to bring you through.
But as this rebellion against Rome drags on and on, as your beloved Jerusalem is being torn apart by violence and treachery and bloodshed, that confidence you once had has been badly shaken. Doubts begin to creep into your heart—was Jesus really the Messiah? If He really is the Anointed One, then why is Jerusalem in such dire straits? If He really is Who He says He is, and you really are one of His children, then why is all of this happening? None of your family has joined you in your Christian faith; perhaps they have a point? In fact, ever since Jesus arrived on the scene, things in Judea have gone from bad to worse. On top of all of that—truth be told—sometimes you miss the ancient rituals of the blood sacrifices before YHWH in the Temple. The worship of your new Christian faith—while connected so closely to your Jewish heritage—still feels like it’s something foreign, something less than the rich heritage of a thousand years of your Jewish tradition.
After weeks of wrestling with this turmoil and doubt, you finally decide one Friday night that you are going to start going back to the synagogue with your family. So you arise early Saturday and make your way to the synagogue for worship. Your family is thrilled to see you, as are the rest of the members of the synagogue. You fall right back into the patterns of worship, reciting the Shema, hearing the Law and Prophets read, listening to the rabbis teach—it is all just like you never left. It is comforting, it is powerful, it is home. You leave that day with the sense that all of that faith in Jesus as Messiah was interesting while it lasted, but the teaching and work of that Galilean carpenter will never match the power and authority of Moses’ Law to make you righteous before YHWH.
For some reason, when you wake up the next morning, you sense a deep need for closure with your Christian friends. You decide to go to the assembly tonight, if only to say “goodbye” and try to explain the shift that has taken place in your heart. You will always love them, but you have lost your confidence in Christ as Messiah. You hope that they will understand that going back to the synagogue is just what you need to do.
And when you get to the place where the church meets, you hear that a letter has arrived, and it is going to be read during the worship service. It isn’t every day that a letter with apostolic authority behind it comes to the assembly, so you settle yourself to listen as it is read. And as you listen, you realize that this letter could have been written specifically to you:
Hebrews 2:1–3 (LSB)
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every trespass and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation…?
Hebrews 3:12–13 (LSB)
See to it brothers, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Hebrews 4:1 (LSB)
Therefore, let us fear, lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have fallen short of it.
Hebrews 4:11 (LSB)
Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall into the same example of disobedience.
Hebrews 6:4–6 (LSB)
For in the case of those once having been enlightened and having tasted of the heavenly gift and having become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and having tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and having fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
And as the elders continue to read this letter, the force of it lands on you with all the authority of the Almighty Spirit of the Living God—a command that rings as powerfully today as it did for those first century believers:
Do not ABANDON the CONFIDENCE you have found in CHRIST
In the first six verses of our text are the most urgent warning yet not to go fall away from the promises found in the superior sacrifice and priesthood of Christ our Savior:
Hebrews 10:26–31 (LSB)
For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy by the mouth of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as defiled the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
These verses, when taken out of context, have caused a great deal of confusion and strife in many Christans’ lives—this passage has been used to convince a believer that they can lose their salvation if they sin. But the reason that we took the time this morning to set the historical and biblical context for this passage is to demonstrate that this is not threatening a believer with damnation if they struggle with habitual sin—this is a warning to first-century Jews not to abandon the hope they have in Christ by going back to the Old Covenant! This is not a warning that “you better stop sinning or else”—these verses exhort you

I. Do not be LURED by the PROMISES of your old LIFE

For the original recipients of this letter, this was a warning not to fall back into the old patterns of the shadow covenant; do not go back to the blood of bulls and goats, because there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins in them! (v. 26). The “willful sin” is not referring to a habitual sin that you struggle with (like lust or drunkenness or anger or anxiety or laziness)—it is referring to the deliberate turning away from Christ as your sacrifice.
Keeping this first-century context in mind also helps us understand the context of verse 27, which threatens
Hebrews 10:27 (LSB)
but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.
Remember, this book was written a few years before the fiery destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the final end of the Levitical sacrificial system. And remember that Jesus had specifically warned that His judgment of the Temple would fall within “one generation” (Matthew 24:34) (about 40 years.) So this warning is to those Jewish Christians who were beginning to abandon their faith in Christ and go back to the Temple—the writer is warning them here that
You will suffer DESTRUCTION when JUDGMENT falls (vv. 26-27; cp. Matt. 24)
Remember we saw that Christ as High Priest came to the Temple twice, according to Mosaic Law, and found the leprosy of sin staining it both times, rendering it condemned. The veil of the Temple had been ripped away by His sacrificial death, the shadows of the Old Covenant have been forever dispelled by the light of the New Covenant, inaugurated by Christ’s blood and declared with power in His resurrection. And so to go back to that condemned, powerless Temple was to place them directly under the fiery wrath of YHWH.
Do not be lured by the promises of your old life, the writer of Hebrews warns—you will suffer destruction when judgment falls on the generation of Jews that rejected Christ, and in verses 28-31 he further warns that
You will make an ENEMY of ALMIGHTY GOD
See verse 28:
Hebrews 10:28 (LSB)
Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy by the mouth of two or three witnesses.
The author is quoting from Deuteronomy 17 here, in the passage that we saw earlier in our study that warned that there was only one response in the Old Testament Law for those who deliberately turned their back on the Mosaic Covenant:
Deuteronomy 17:2–6 (LSB)
“If there is found in your midst, in any of your gates of the towns which Yahweh your God is giving you, a man or a woman who does what is evil in the sight of Yahweh your God, by trespassing against His covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host, which I have not commanded, and if it is told to you and you have heard of it, then you shall inquire thoroughly. Behold, if it is true and the matter is confirmed that this abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out that man or that woman who has done this evil deed to your gates, that is, the man or the woman, and you shall stone them, and they will die. “On the mouth of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the mouth of one witness.
If that is the fate of those who turned their back on the Old Covenant, the writer goes on, how much worse is it to deliberately turn your back on the salvation offered you in Christ?
Hebrews 10:29 (LSB)
How much worse punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as defiled the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
One of the sources of confusion over the intent of these verses is the reference to “the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified”. If someone has truly been sanctified by the blood of Christ, they are saved—so what does it mean that this one will suffer fiery judgment? There are at least three options here—one interpretation, favored by John MacArthur, is that the “he” in this verse refers not to the individual but to Christ—the blood of the covenant that set Christ apart. Another interpretation is to say that, like in Hebrews 6 where it is possible to receive some of the benefits of the Holy Spirit apart from being saved (as in the case of Judas Isacriot), this could refer to the blood of Christ setting apart a person to be numbered with believers even though he was never truly regenerated.
A third interpretation we could suggest is that the “fiery judgment” threatened by those who abandon their hope in Christ is referring to the fiery destruction of the Temple and not eternal torment in Hell. Under this interpretation it would refer to a regenerated, born-again believer in Christ who suffers tremendous judgment in this life for wandering away from his confidence in Christ—he will be caught up in the fiery destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem because he went back to the Old Covenant, but he does belong to God by faith and will suffer the consequences of His actions in this life even though he possesses eternal life. (Some support for this interpretation may be found in the quotation the author makes in verse 30 from Deuteronomy 32:36— “YHWH will judge His people”—as well as the extended discussion of God’s fatherly discipline of His children later in Hebrews 12.)
But however we take the meaning of “sanctified by the blood of the covenant” in verse 29, the point of these verses stand—do not make an enemy of almighty God by succumbing to the temptation to return to your old life before Christ. You do not want almighty God for your enemy; if you retreat to the Temple and its sacrifices now, you will be placing yourself under the imminent judgment of God in fiery destruction:
Hebrews 10:31 (LSB)
It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
These verses are an urgent, intense, and even shocking warning not to abandon the confidence that you have in Christ. In the remainder of the chapter, the author switches from dire warnings about the consequences of throwing away your confidence and begins building up his readers’ confidence in their faith. God’s Word does not just warn us of the consequences of turning away from Christ, it also strengthens us in our hope in Him!
So where verses 26-31 warn you not to be lured by the promises of your old life, verses 32-39 call you to

II. Be ENCOURAGED by the ENDURANCE of your new FAITH (Hebrews 10:32-39)

If you look closely at the text, you will see that there is a very telling shift in the grammar of these verses. In verses 28-31 the author uses third-person pronouns to describe the one wandering away from Christ: (“Anyone who sets aside the Law...” “How much worse punishment will he deserve...” “he has insulted the spirit of grace...”) The author is couching this discussion in terms of a hypothetical person who would throw away his confidence in Christ.
But then, starting in verse 32 he switches to second-person pronouns”
Hebrews 10:32 (LSB)
But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings,
That’s not coincidental—I think the author is making it very clear that he is confident that no one he is writing to would abandon their hope! He switches from describing the hypothetical actions of “someone” who would suffer judgment for throwing it all away, but then concludes the chapter by describing the actual faithfulness of his readers! He reinforces this statement at the end of the chapter:
Hebrews 10:39 (LSB)
But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.
In verses 32-24 he tells them, “You can have great confidence in their faith in Christ because...
Your JOYFUL HOPE makes you STEADFAST (vv. 32-34)
Look at the encouragement he gives his readers in verses 32-24:
Hebrews 10:32–34 (LSB)
But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and afflictions, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you also showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted with joy the seizure of your possessions, knowing that you have for yourselves a better and lasting possession.
After these believers were “enlightened”—after the shadows of the old covenant were banished by the brightness of Christ’s appearing to perfect their salvation by His blood—the writer points to the “great conflict of sufferings” that came upon them. They were publicly humiliated by reproach and afflictions, and they suffered by openly associating themselves with other Christians who had been attacked. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other believers, willingly embracing the shame that came with confessing Christ. The author points them back to that experience to demonstrate for them that that endurance is the mark of true confidence in Christ! That willingness to stand boldly for Christ in the middle of a culture that is falling apart, to be unashamed of Him even though their public stand as a Christian could cost them everything, that love for other believers that led them to take on their sufferings as their own—all of these things are a mark of great confidence in Jesus Christ.
This is what we find in verse 34:
Hebrews 10:34 (LSB)
For you also showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted with joy the seizure of your possessions, knowing that you have for yourselves a better and lasting possession.
That is confidence; that is a joyful hope in Christ: “Go ahead and ransack my house, go ahead and take away my livelihood, go ahead and destroy my good name and reputation in the public square. Because there is nothing you can take away from me that can compare to what I have in Christ Jesus my Lord! Take everything else from me, but you will never take away my dear Savior, or take anything from me that He has given me!
In the midst of all of their temptations to throw away their confidence in Christ and go back to the Old Covenant, the author of Hebrews is saying to them, “Look at all that you have been through for Christ! Look at the way He has sustained you and protected you, even in the midst of such suffering for His Name! This endurance you have is not your own; it is the gift of His Holy Spirit dwelling in you! The hope that you have in Christ has made you steadfast—therefore (v. 35):
Hebrews 10:35 (LSB)
Therefore, do not throw away that confidence of yours, which has a great reward.
Be encouraged by the endurance of your new faith, the author writes, because
Hebrews 10:36–39 (LSB)
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith, And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.
If you have a Bible that sets off Old Testament quotations in some way, you’ll notice that the author is quoting from the book of Habakkuk about the fulfillment of a prophecy of vengeance to come—this is another reference to the coming destruction of the Temple along with the city of Jerusalem in just a few short years. In verses 26-31 they are warned not to go back to the Temple and its sacrifices because the judgment of God is about to fall in fire and ruin on it. In verses 35-39 they are exhorted to hold on to their hope in Christ as they see the coming of Christ’s judgment on Jerusalem. Hold on, do not shrink back, do not let go, do not waver. Christ has seen you through all of the great conflict of sufferings you have already endured, and He is faithful to see you through what is coming.
And so what remains to you as you wait? Verse 36:
Hebrews 10:36 (LSB)
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.
Hold fast, do God’s will as revealed in His Word; do not succumb to the temptation to go back to that old life and all the false promises it offers; cling to your confidence in Christ and hope in Him to keep you through whatever the turmoil and uncertainty the future holds.
Beloved, you are not being tempted to go back to sacrificing the blood of bulls and goats through a fallen, dying priest in a temple of stone and gold. You are not toying with running back to the Law of Moses to make you right with God or give you a sense of security or familiarity in your life while the world seems to fall down around you.
But you live in a world where your confidence can be shaken just as much as in the first century. To default back to the way the world responds to upheaval or turmoil—by relying on your own efforts to do good or be good. To slip back into those old familiar paths of justifying yourself for your sinful behavior (or even denying your actions are sinful in the first place!) To put your trust in the same place this world does—in your financial statements, in your own good character, in your reputation or work ethic or upstanding moral standards.
In whatever way the temptation comes, let God’s Word here open your eyes to those small, seemingly unimportant compromises that the world wants you to make; the ways that your confidence in Christ alone for your life and salvation erodes over time. Is He really able to see me through the darkness of these days, or do I have to have a backup plan for my life in case He doesn’t come through? Can I really trust Him to see me through the opposition and ridicule of standing publicly as a Christian, or should I just keep my head down and not draw attention to my faith? Christian, there is great reward for your confidence in Christ; don’t throw it away! The One Who has sustained you through every trial; the One Who has seen you through every dark corner of your walk with Him; the One Who made perfect once for all your righteousness before God by the sacrifice of His blood; do not throw away the confidence you have in Him!
Don’t succumb to the fearmongering of this world—everyone wants you to be afraid; everyone wants you to hate and fear everyone that doesn’t agree with them. Do not become like them. Let your confidence in Christ radiate from you in joy and steadfast hope in the middle of a world descending into acrimony and hatred. Love your neighbor; love your family. Let your confidence in Christ and the better possession you have in Him free you to love those who hate you, to gladly “let goods and kindred go / this mortal life also / the body they may kill / God’s truth abideth still / His kingdom is forever!
Don’t succumb to the anxiety that pervades this world. Do not fret, do not gnaw at the “what-ifs” and uncertainties of this world like a hungry dog with a bone. Stop whining; be done complaining about how terrible things are becoming and “how will we ever get through?” Laugh loudly, feast often, stand firm in the confidence you have in your Savior, steadfast in hope while everything around you crumblesin short, live like a Christian.
And if you hear God’s living and active and powerful Word in these verses this morning and it reveals in you a heart that is ready to throw away your confidence in Christ—no one here would suspect it of you, but you have been entertaining serious questions about whether or not you want to continue even being a Christian. Your allegiance to Christ stands in the way of things you really want for yourself; you understand that “Jesus died on the cross for your sins”, but if someone were to ask you why you are a Christian you really don’t know what you would say. Your Christian identity is most important whenever you go to church or associate with other Christians, but other than that it’s nothing more than one of your personal preferences—like preferring Coke over Pepsi or supply side economics over socialism.
If you have heard the truth of the death of Christ that atones for your sin but it makes no difference in your life—your speech, your habits, your affections, your goals, your decisions—if you say you belong to Christ but in every measurable way you are living just the same as every non-Christian you know, then please hear the call that God is making to you through His Word: Stop treating the sacrifice of Christ as if it makes no difference in your life. Stop treating His blood as if it gives you an automatic mulligan on any sin that you feel like committing: “Gonna get the Good Lord to forgive a little sin, get the slate clean so you can dirty it again...”
As you love your never-dying soul: Stop despising the blood of Christ! You do not want Almighty God, the Ancient of Days, the One before Whom heaven and earth flee away until there is no more place for them—you do not want this God as your Enemy. Stop insulting the grace of God that invites you, stop treating the blood of Christ as a “get out of Hell free” card; stop living the double life that puts on all the Christian vibes whenever someone else from church is around but is otherwise filled with all of the rot and decay and self-righteousness of the world all around you. If you want to live in that world, then know that you will suffer the judgment that is coming on that world. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of a living God when you have slapped aside those hands when they offered you redemption in Jesus Christ.
Don’t throw away the confidence you have in Christ; don’t scorn the dying gasps of the Son of God on that Cross as He bled out in order to purchase your forgiveness. Escape from all of that pride and arrogance and self-reliance before it drags you down into inescapable destruction from God Himself as your enemy. Come in repentance and faith to the preserving of your soul from your one and only Savior, Jesus Christ!
Jude 24–25 (LSB)
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, might, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.


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