THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS

Lesson 11: Chapter 10

Contrasting the Old Priesthood's Repeated Sacrifices with Christ's One Eternal Sacrifice

 

Father of the everlasting covenant,

You sent Your Son at the consummation of the Ages [Hebrews 9:26b].  It is not that He appeared at the time of fulfillment but that His coming in Salvation History made that the climax and fulfillment of time as we understand it.  You sent Him, Father, armed only with His human flesh and His human blood to do battle with Satan and his forces of evil for the souls of men.  In the Cross He raised His victory standard and in His consummate sacrifice and resurrection He defeated His foe, liberating mankind from enslavement to sin and eternal death.   Give us the hope and confidence in the promise of His return when He will come again to bring salvation from death itself and bodily resurrection to all men and women who are promised an inheritance in the new creation.  Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us in our study of Christ's one eternal sacrifice.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

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Our Lord did not enter yearly like their high priest.  After his coming he entered only once, not into the shrine which ceases, like their priesthood, but "into the Holy" of Holies of eternity, and he made a propitiation through his blood for all nations.

St. Ephraim, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

 

"The Jews said, 'It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?'"  They answered as they understood but least we too should perceive our Lord's spiritual word in a carnal way, the Evangelist subsequently explained what temple it was of which he was speaking...[..].  And because that temple made by human hands prefigured our Lord's most sacred body, which he took from the Virgin, and in like manner pointed to his body which is the church, and to the body and soul of each one of the faithful, as we find in quite a few places in the Scriptures.  The Venerable Bede, Homilies on the Gospels 2.1

 

How did he become mediator?  He brought words from God and brought them to us, conveying what came from the Father and adding his own death.  We had offended; we ought to have died.  He died for us and made us worthy of the covenant.  By this is the covenant secure, in that henceforward it is not made for the unworthy.  St. John Chrysostom, On the Epistle to the Hebrews 16.2

 

The Old Covenant Law was only a prefigurement of the good things to come in the New Covenant established in the precious blood of Jesus Christ.  Those circumcised under the Old Covenant sacrament possessed only a shadow of the Sacraments to come that would provide an abundance of grace in the new order.  Even the Scriptures, given by divine inspiration, could only be understood in part until the coming of the promised Messiah.  None of what was old could provide the gift of salvation and eternal life.  It was only thorough the perfect and single sacrifice of Jesus the Lamb of God that the spiritual benefits that were promised by the prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah would be realized: His perfect sacrifice atoning for the sins of man and the promise of eternal salvation given.

 

The contrasts between the Levitical sacrifices and Jesus' one perfect sacrifice that began in the last chapter are brought into sharper focus in 10:1-18.  The inspired writer will declare:

 

The main theme of the second section in Hebrews 10:19-39 is an appeal to remain faithful, to "hold unwaveringly to our confession" even when faced with persecution.

 

There are 10 Old Testament references in this chapter:

Hebrews 10

Old Testament References

1.  Hebrews 10:5-7

Psalm 40:6-8 [from the Septuagint 39:7-9]

2.  Hebrews 10:8-9

1 Samuel 15:22 [from the Septuagint]

3.  Hebrews 10:12-13

Psalm 110:1 [possibly from the Septuagint 109:1]*

4.  Hebrews 10:16-17

Jeremiah 31:33-34 [from the Septuagint]

5.  Hebrews 10:27

Isaiah 26:11 [from the Septuagint]

6.  Hebrews 10:28

Deuteronomy 17:6 [possibly from the Septuagint]*

7.  Hebrews10:29

Exodus 24:8 [possibly from the Septuagint]

8.  Hebrews10:30

Deuteronomy 32:35-42 [possibly from the Septuagint]*

9.  Hebrews 10:37a

Isaiah 26:20 [from the Septuagint]

10. Hebrews 10:37b

Habakkuk 2:3-4 [from the Septuagint]

* no variance between the Septuagint and Massoretic version in this passage

 

Hebrews 10:1-10: The Imperfection of Old Covenant Sacrifices

1 Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of them, it can never make perfect those who come to worship by the same sacrifices that they offer continually each year.  2 Otherwise, would not the sacrifices have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, once cleansed, would no longer have had any consciousness of sins?  3 But in those sacrifices there is only a yearly remembrance of sins, 4 for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins.  5 For this reason, when he came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 holocausts and sins offerings you took no delight in.  7 Then I said, 'As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.'" 8 First he says, "Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in."  9 These are offered according to the law.  Then he says, "Behold, I come to do your will."  He takes away the first to establish the second.  10 By this "will," we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 

Question: In which verse does the inspired writer identify the imperfection of the Old Covenant sacrifices?

Answer: With the rhetorical question in verse 2.  If the Old Covenant sacrifices were perfect and the worshipers were cleansed of sins there would be no necessity of continually repeating them.

 

The words "once cleansed" [hapax is "once" in the Greek text], indicates a single and definitive action'something the old law could not offer the worshiper because the Levitical sacrifices cleansed only the flesh and not the conscience [Hebrews 9:13-14] and therefore had to be repeated daily [Hebrews 7:27] and year after year [Hebrews 10:1] unlike Christ's perfect sacrifice which cleansed the conscience and purified the soul.

Question: Why does the inspired writer alternate between alluding to sacrifices offered once a year, as in the Feast of Atonement [Leviticus 16:34; Hebrews 9:7; 13:11], and to sacrifices offered daily as in the Tamid lambs of the daily sacrifice [Exodus 29:38-42; Hebrews 7:27]?

Answer: All the Old Covenant sacrifices were imperfect: the daily and the yearly sacrifices which included those offered on the 7 annual feasts of remembrance [see the chart "The Seven Sacred Annual Feasts of the Old Covenant"].  All these sacrifices needed to be repeated daily and yearly as the ordinances of the law required unlike Christ's body which has been offered once and for all in a blood sacrifice which is eternal.  Sacrifice like the Tamid [means "standing" as in "continual" or "perpetual" in Hebrew] only prefigured His one perfect sacrifice.  The Tamid was commanded to be a perpetual, eternal daily sacrifice [Exodus 29:38, 42; see the Jewish Mishnah and the section "Tamid"]'it ceased as a legitimate sacrifice for the Old Covenant Church when Christ died in union with the last Tamid lamb at 3PM on good Friday, Nisan the 15th .  From that moment on, Christ became the true Tamid or perpetual sacrifice which is why St. John saw Jesus as the Lamb "standing" as though slain in Revelation 5:6: Then I saw, in the middle of the throne with its four living creatures and the circle of elders, a Lamb standing that seemed to have been sacrificed.. [New Jerusalem Bible]. 

 

Jesus is both high priest "standing" to minister in the heavenly sanctuary and the "standing"/perpetual lamb of the eternal sacrifice before the throne of God.  The one true perpetual sacrifice of Jesus Christ takes place not only daily'since the Church is universal, His sacrifice is being offered continually across the face of the earth on the altars of Catholic churches around the world.

 

Question: What does the inspired writer say was the purpose of the repeated sin sacrifices?

Answer: They served as a continual reminder of the people's sins and the necessity of repentance and purification.

 

The inspired writer in verse 3 says, concerning sin sacrifices: But in those sacrifices there is only a yearly remembrance of sins...  There were more sin sacrifices than the communal sin sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, to which the inspired writer is referring.  There were individual sin sacrifices for the laity [Leviticus 4:27-35; 5:1-26], sin offerings for a leader of the community [Leviticus 4:22-26] and for the priests [Leviticus 4:1-12], and there were the daily sacrifices of two Tamid lambs as communal sin offerings [Exodus 29:38-42], as well as communal sin offerings outside of the Day of Atonement in the event the people as a whole sinned [Leviticus 4:13-31].  Throughout this discourse he has continually made references to the once a year sin sacrifices on the Day of Atonement to contrast these sacrifices with the one time sacrifice of Jesus on the altar of the Cross.

 

Question: In verse 4 the inspired writer makes the definitive statement that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins. Why?

Answer: It is unreasonable to assume that the blood of animals can remove human sin. The only remedy for human sin is the perfect blood sacrifice of a perfect man which offers a perfect spiritual cleansing of sin.

 

Question: Is this a new teaching or is there a similar teaching found among the writings of the prophets concerning the imperfection of animal sacrifice for forgiveness of sins?  See Psalm 51:1-16; Isaiah 1:11-13; Jeremiah 6:20; 11:15; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:2

Answer: God is not blood thirsty.  It is transformed lives and contrite hearts that He seeks. 

 

In Hebrews 10:5-7 the inspired writer says: For this reason, when he came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 holocausts and sins offerings you took no delight in.  7 Then I said, 'As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do you will, O God.'"

Question: Who is it who "came into the world" ?  Who is the implied speaker of this psalm?

Answer: It is Christ who is the implied speaker.  The inspired writer's argument concerning the imperfection of blood sacrifice is that God Himself rejected animal sacrifice as a means of atoning for sins. 

 

The inspired writer of Hebrews has already identified David as the inspired writer of the Psalms in Hebrews 4:7 and at the end of this quotation the inspired writer of Hebrews offers through the quotation that the Law of Sinai [Law of Moses], or what is "written in the scroll," predates the Psalms which comes centuries after the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai from the time of King David during the period of the United Monarchy.  It is likely that the Law is the subject of the scroll mentioned because "the Law" is also the scroll or book mentioned in Hebrews 9:19 and the inadequacy of the Law to bring salvation has been a major theme of the discourse.  If the regulations of the Law foreshadowed what has been accomplished in the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ, then Jesus is, according to the inspired writer of Hebrews, uniquely qualified to speak to us prophetically through His ancestor David concerning the imperfect and inadequacy of the Levitical sacrifices.

 

In Hebrews 10:5b-7 the inspired writer quotes directly from the Septuagint translation verses 7-9a [verses 6-8 in some translations] from Psalm 40 [in the Septuagint it is Psalm 39:7-9].   Please turn to Psalm 40. You will find that the Old Testament translation from your Bible may be different from the Hebrews chapter 10:5b-7 quotation which is from the Septuagint.  Most recent versions of Bible translations of the Old Testament are taken from the Jewish Massoretic [also spelled "Masoretic"] texts of the Middle Ages, an Old Testament translation into the Hebrew language based largely from several Greek Old Testament translations.  Significant differences are found in the phrase "but a body you prepared (fashioned) for me" which is missing from the Massoretic version.  This is a significant variation since the New Testament writer of Hebrews identifies this passage as a prophecy of the Incarnation and Christ's submission to the will of the Father in His self-sacrifice:

 

Massoretic

Septuagint

Hebrews (New American)

40:6-8 Sacrifice and offering you did not want, but you dug ears for me; whole burnt offerings (holocausts) and sin offerings you did not request.  Then I said, "Behold, I have come, it is written about me, in the scroll of the book.  To do your will, O my God, I delight."

39:7-9 Sacrifice and offering you did not want, but you fashioned a body for me; whole burnt offerings (holocausts) and sin offerings you did not request.  Then I said, "Behold, I have come, it is written about me in the head of the book.  To do your will, O my God, I intend.."

10:5b-7: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts (whole burnt offerings) and sin offerings you took no delight in.  Then I said, "As it written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do you will, O God.'"

 

Please read Psalm 40: Psalm 40 is a psalm attributed to King David which begins as a hymn of praise in verses 1-11, and is followed by a cry of distress in verses 13-17.  It is interesting that the cry of distress in verses 13-17 is repeated verbatim in Psalm 70:2-6.

Question: What is the theme of Psalm 40:6-9 in Hebrews and the Septuagint versions?

Answer: A body prepared for sacrifice in place of animal sin offerings and fulfilling prophecy in sacred Scripture concerning one who come to do the will of God.

Question: In whom was this prophecy fulfilled?  Is it fulfilled in David to whom the psalm is attributed?

Answer: No, but it is fulfilled in his descendant, Jesus of Nazareth.

 

Why do these 3 texts have different translations of Psalm 40? All modern translations of the Bible, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish come from a collection of ancient texts.  The three most important and reliable manuscripts are known as the Septuagint [LXX], the officially recognized Old Testament of the Catholic Church; the Massoretic Text [MT]; and the Samaritan Pentateuch [SP].  Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls [DDS] and the Old Testament Bible texts found among those ancient handwritten manuscripts [MSS], copies of these three versions were considered to be the oldest Bible texts in existence. 

 

The Septuagint Old Testament Translation

The Septuagint is the ancient Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures, a translation which pre-dates the New Testament Bible by several centuries.  The translation from the Hebrew sacred Scriptures to Greek became necessary following the conquests of Alexander the Great and the spread of Greek culture into Asia Minor, the Near East, and North Africa.  As time past and Hellenistic culture became the dominant culture, more and more Jews adopted Greek as the international language and Jews, especially those living outside Judah, became less fluent in Hebrew.  By the third century BC so few Jews living outside the Holy Land spoke or read Hebrews that it became necessary to translate the Hebrew texts into Greek so Jews could read and study sacred Scripture.  Eventually by the 1st century AD Hebrew became almost exclusively a liturgical language just as Latin is the liturgical language of the Catholic Church and understood by very few of the Catholic laity.  At the time Jesus lived, the Septuagint was the principle translation.  The vast majority of the Old Testament quotations in the New Testament are from this Greek translation. The oldest surviving copies of the Septuagint, which are complete or almost complete manuscripts, like the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus, date to the fourth century AD, while the codex Alexandrinus dates to the fifth century AD. 

 

The Septuagint translation is important to Scripture study for several reasons:

  1. Almost all the Bible books it contains were translated from much earlier Hebrew or Aramaic inspired texts that predate Jesus by centuries. This is significant because all other Old Testament translations used in Christian Bibles are copies from later period translations dated after the time of Jesus.

 

  1. The Septuagint translation in certain passages of text differs with the Jewish Massoretic texts in vocabulary and in content. Many of these changes are significant when referring to the promised Messiah.

 

  1. Since it was the sacred Scripture of the Old Covenant prior to the coming of Christ and the most commonly used translation during His ministry, it offers insights into how the Old Covenant people during this time understood and used Scripture.

 

  1. Since it is the most frequently quoted Old Testament text by New Testament inspired writers it constitutes the sacred Old Testament text of the early Christians and reveals the early Church's understanding of Old Testament prophecy.

 

  1. The arrangement of the books of the Septuagint reflect the same four-part arrangement that is found in modern Catholic Bibles: the Pentateuch [first 5 books of Moses], the historical books, the poetry and wisdom books, and the books of the prophets.  The Septuagint also includes the 7 books dropped from the Jewish canon in the Middle Ages and by Protestants in the 16th century AD.  Catholics refer to these 7 books as the deuterocanonical ["second canon"] texts and Protestants classify them with a group of other non-canonical ancient texts designated as "apocrypha", meaning "hidden".

 

 

The Massoretic Textual Tradition

In the first century AD Christians were effectively using the Septuagint Old Testament translation to prove that Jesus Christ was the promised Davidic Messiah.  For this reason the Septuagint Greek translation became an anathema to the Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah.  After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70AD, worship of Yahweh under the Law of the Old Covenant was no longer possible.  Worship expressed as sacrifice in atonement for sins and reestablishment of communion with God could only be offered at the Temple in Jerusalem.  The surviving Jewish scholars withdrew to the Holy Land towns of Jamnia (Jabneh) in the late 1st century-early 2nd century AD [circa 90-100AD] and later in the 3rd century AD to the city of Tiberius, establishing their own Sanhedrin without the representative character and national authority of the former legislative civil/religious body [Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, "Jamnia", ed. by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingston, Oxford University Press, page 861]. Both sites had become non-authoritative centers to reformulate a religion without a Temple and the result was that Rabbinic Judaism became the replacement for the Law of Moses and the Sinai Covenant.  The first goal of Rabbinic Judaism was to record the oral traditions not contained in Sacred Scripture and second, to produce a new Greek translation of Sacred Scripture which could not be used so effectively by Christians to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Davidic Messiah.  A new Greek translation was produced by Jewish rabbis of Jamnia circa 100AD which manipulated the Old Testament prophecies to change the wording and make the text less likely to be used as a proof of Jesus' fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.  You may recall the words of St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem to St. Paul in Acts 21:20 concerning the success of proselytizing Jews:  You see, brother, how thousands of Jews have now become believers, all of them staunch upholders of the Law...

 

In order to undermine the Christian claim that Jesus was the Messiah, a number of the prophetic texts that Christians used as proof of the Messiahship and divinity of Christ were re-written.  For example, a Jewish scholar named Aquila, removed the Greek word parthenos, which means "virgin" from Isaiah 7:14 and rewrote the passage as neanis = young woman, in the new Greek translation; therefore, the passage read "...a young woman shall conceive" instead of "the virgin shall conceive."  This deception allowed Jews to assert that the prophecy didn't match what the Christians were teaching about the very nature of Christ in Matthew 1:23 when the Apostle Matthew quoted this passage from the Greek Septuagint version and applied it to Jesus' virgin birth in Bethlehem.  This second Greek translation is known as the Jamnian-Palestinian version [see This Rock, September 2004, "The Council That Wasn't", Steve Ray, page 26].

 

Later, in Germany in the eighth century AD, a group of Jewish scholars who saw themselves as the successors of the Tiberian school of rabbis, using a number of Hebrew and Greek texts, including the revised Jamnian Greek version and other manuscripts of the Tiberian rabbis, began to put together a standardized Hebrew translation of Sacred Scripture.  Their purpose was to maintain traditions for copying the Biblical text for liturgical or scholarly purposed.  Scholars during the time of the Temple in Jerusalem who had maintained the accuracy of the sacred text were called Scribes, these scholars also saw themselves as the continuation of that tradition.  From the time of the destruction of the Temple in 70AD rabbinic scholars from established schools in Jamnia and Tiberius sought to standardize the text of the Hebrew Bible.  In the Middle Ages circa the late 8th century or early 9th century the group of German Jewish scholars known as the Massorites set out to establish a standardized Hebrew translation drawing on much of the work accomplished by rabbis of the Tiberian school.  Their work extended from the late 8th century until the end of the Middle Ages. Their standardized text also added vowel signs and accents, helps that were missing in the original Hebrew which was written in all consonants.  Most manuscripts also included marginal notes to aid in interpretation of passages. Their translation of the Bible books of what we call the Old Testament was completed at the end of the Middle Ages and became known as the Massoretic Old Testament version.  The authorized Jewish standard version of the Massoretic text is known as the textus receptus, a text compiled from medieval manuscripts and published in 1525 by Jacob ben Chayim.

 

With the exception of those older Catholic Bible translations which use the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, most modern English translations of the Old Testament, and Protestants translations exclusively, use the Massoretic version for their Old Testament Bible translations.  The oldest Massoretic manuscripts are the Leningrad Codex and the Aleppo Codex, which is the principle text used in the new edition of the Hebrew Tanach [Hebrew Old Testament].  Both these oldest existing Massoretic copies only date to the 10th century AD.  Modern Catholic translations of the Old Testament like the New American Catholic Bible and the New Jerusalem make use of both the Massoretic translation and the Septuagint, but Septuagint variants are only noted in the footnotes.

 

The Samaritan Pentateuch

The third ancient Old Testament text is known as the Samaritan Pentateuch.  In 1616 an Italian nobleman named Pietro della Valle acquired in his travels to the ancient Near East a copy of the Samaritan Pentateuch [he is also credited to introducing the Persian cat breed into Europe].  The Samaritan Pentateuch only includes in its canon the first 5 books of the Old Testament which are attributed to Moses and is the sacred book of the Samaritans, a group of forced immigrants to the Levant who intermarried with the remnants of Israelites who had not been exiled by the Assyrians.  This collection of 5 different tribal peoples adopted the worship of Yahweh sometime between the late 8th  and 6th century BC and built a Temple on Mt. Gerizim, near Shechem [modern Nablus] in Samaria [what had been the nation of Northern Israel; see 2 Kings 17:5-6, 24-41].  Della Valle's copy of the Samaritan Pentateuch is believed to date to the pre-Christian era and is used by the small but still existing branch of Samaritans who worshiped Yahweh.  Jesus rebuked the Samaritan woman in the Gospel of St. John 4:19-22 when He told her that she worshiped what she did not understand.  The Samaritan Pentateuch has passages that differ from the Massoretic translation.  Some of these differences reflect theological disputes; for example, the Hebrew Old Testament indicates that Jerusalem is the place chosen by God as a home for his name, and the Samaritan Pentateuch identifies Mt. Gerizim as the place God has chosen.

 

However, other variants found in the Samaritan Pentateuch which are at odds with the Massoretic text agree with the Septuagint [LXX].  To further complicate the issue of the which are the most reliable ancient texts of the Old Testament, the discovery and translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contains every book of the Old Testament in part or whole, with the exception of the Book of Esther, revealed that these texts of sacred Scripture, dating from 250BC to 68AD, are in some cases in more agreement with the Septuagint translation and the Samaritan Pentateuch than with the Massoretic version.  Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls [DSS], Biblical scholars regarded the Massoretic Text as the most reliable Old Testament text but evidence from the agreement between the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the DSS indicate that not only was the Septuagint based on much earlier Hebrew texts but that the Massoretic texts were indeed in some instances altered. To Biblical scholars this issue has challenged the perception that the Massoretic text was the hebraica veritas, the unchanging "Hebrew truth" it was believed to be.  Scholars began to consider that some of the variations in the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch may preserve a more ancient and more original Old Testament text. [see "The Most Original Bible Text", Ronald Hendel, Bible Review, August 2000, page 30]  The Jewish translation of the Old Testament, known as the Tanach has not made the changes to reflect the variations at odds between the Massoretic text and ancient Bible texts of the DSS, however, Protestant Bibles like the NIV, whose Old Testament text was taken from the Massoretic text, have made changes in the modern translations that reflect the older DSS variations by listing the variants in the footnotes.

 

Often the variants between different Bible book versions concern the interpretation of Hebrew idioms into the Greek or other such changes that reflect the changed meaning of words over time, but there are also significant differences between the Massoretic texts and the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible texts where a whole phrase or the concept of passages reflect differences, as in the Psalm 40 example.  Still these incidents are few and are mostly those like the variant in Psalm 40 which in the Septuagint points to the Incarnation of Christ.  On the whole, all the various translations show remarkable uniformity in content and concept of the One True God. The editors of the New American Catholic Study Bible commented on the Bible texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating between the 3rd century BC and the 1st century AD and other translations from a later date: The discovery of biblical texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls rolled back the age of extant biblical manuscripts several centuries.  Surprisingly, although some variants exist, there is still remarkable correspondence between the state of the biblical text in the first century BC and the third or fourth century AD, testimony to the accuracy and care with which ancient peoples handed on the biblical tradition.

 

It is unfortunate that I have not found a copy of Psalm 40 from the Dead Sea Scroll Psalm texts to compare to the Massoretic and Septuagint.  For more information please see the document "The Septuagint Old Testament Translation Verses the Jamnian and Massoretic Old Testament Translation."

 

Hebrews 10:7   Then I said, 'As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do you will, O God.'"

The literal translation of "as it written of me in the scroll" is "as it is written of me in the head of the scroll".  This may refer to the knob on the top of the wooden rod upon which was wound the leather scroll with the sacred words of God, in other words the "part" which is the stick upon which the whole text is wound may signify the "whole" of the entire text of Sacred Scripture.  Jesus taught the Apostles in Luke 24:25-27 and in 24:44-45 that everything written in the Scriptures was about Him, the inspired writer of Hebrews believes this includes Psalm 39 in the Septuagint.

Question: What is the significance of quoting this passage from the Psalm 39 in the Septuagint [40 in most modern Bibles]?

Answer: This passage points to the inadequacy of all the Old Covenant sacrifices and offerings.  It also makes it clear that from a time before the Incarnation of Christ, sacred Scripture pointed to the coming of the Messiah to fulfill the Law and to do God's will.  St. Paul wrote to the 1 Corinthians in 15:3-4 concerning Christ's death being the fulfillment of Sacred Scripture: For I handed on to you as of first importance which I also received: That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third  day in accordance with the Scriptures...  In connecting this particular passage from the psalms to Jesus, the inspired writer emphasizes not only the fulfillment of Scripture but Jesus' complete submission to the will of God as expressed by Jesus in Matthew 26:42: My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking, it, your will be done!"  And as St. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:8, Jesus completely submitted Himself to the will of the Father in that: ...he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. 

 

Assuming this psalm was written in King David's time the reference to Scripture may be referring to Deuteronomy 18:18: I shall raise up a prophet like yourself; I shall put my words into his mouth and he will tell them everything I command him. 

 

Psalm 39 from the Septuagint also emphasizes that the performance of the Law's external demands only pointed to what God truly required which was an inward change as expressed by the prophet Hosea in 6:6: For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts.  Jesus submitted to the will of God in order to transform hearts and bring about what the Law wasn't capable of achieving.  Only Jesus, through the purification of His atoning sacrifice, could fulfill what the Law was incapable of fulfilling. Jesus made statements to this effect in the Gospels:

 

Hebrews 10:8-10  8 First he says, "Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in."  9 These are offered according to the law.  Then he says, "Behold, I come to do your will."  He takes away the first to establish the second.  10 By this "will," we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 

The inspired writer offers a teaching on the passage from Psalm 39:7-9 from the Septuagint version of Sacred Scripture but he is also connecting that passage to the words of the Prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 15:22:

It was the Prophet Samuel who anointed David to be King of Israel [1 Samuel chapter 16].  It was Samuel who was David's first teacher and David, according to the psalm quoted earlier, certainly learned this lesson from Samuel, it is obedience and submission to His will that God wants and not the blood of animals.

 

Question: What does the inspired writer of Hebrews mean when he says God took away "the first to establish the second"?  What is the first; what is the second?

Answer: Under the Law of the Old Covenant sacrificial system there were various kinds of sacrifices.  The inspired writer mentions two different kinds of animal sacrifice:

  1. animal sacrifices where the whole animal was consumed in the fire on the altar were known as "holocaust"  or "whole burnt" offerings
  2. sin sacrifices in which the sinner confessed his sin over the animal and the animal then died in his place, its blood "covering" the sin of the repentant individual.  This sacrifice was eaten by the priests and their families

But  the first sacrifice, the animal's flesh and blood, was not what God desired, He wanted repentant and purified hearts that could be cleanse completely of sins: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, and so God provided the perfect sacrifice: but a body you prepared for me'the Incarnation of the Son.  In the self-sacrifice of the Son God has removed the necessity of animal sacrifice, offering instead the flesh and blood of the second, the Son who is the Lamb of God and who has established the perfect and eternal sacrifice for the consecration of mankind.  It was through the obedient "will" of Jesus to offer Himself up in sacrifice that we have been consecrated'the will of God, which Jesus fulfilled, abolished the Old imperfect sacrifices to establish the New for the sanctification of believers [Matthew 18:14; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 1:5, 9, 11] through the offering of body of Jesus Christ once and for all [Hebrews 10:10] to bring man to salvation:

·        Matthew 18:14: In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.

·        Galatians 1:3-4: ..grace and peace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins that he might rescue us from the present evil age in accord with the will of our God and Father...

·        Ephesians 1:5-6, 9-11: ..he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved. [..].  ..he has made know to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.  In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will...

 

Hebrews 10:11-18: The Efficacy of Jesus' One Perfect Sacrifice

11 Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins.  12 But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; 13 now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool.  14 For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.  15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying: 16 "This is the covenant I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord: 'I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them upon their minds,'" 17 he also says: "Their sins and their evildoing I will remember no more."  18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin.

 

Hebrews 10:11-13: 11 Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins.  12 But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; 13 now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool. 

Question: Why does the inspired writer alternate between alluding to sacrifices offered once a year as in the Day of Atonement sacrifices [9:7, 12], and sacrifices offered daily as in the Tamid sacrifices [see 7:27; 10:11]?  See CCC 1966; 608; 613-14; 616; 618.

Answer: His point is that they are all imperfect, daily or yearly, and need to be continually repeated unlike Christ's unique once and for all blood sacrifice which is perfect.  The Catechism teaches in #614: The sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices. First, it is a gift from God the Father himself, for the Father handed his Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with himself. At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered his life to his Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience.

 

Priests offered their ministerial service while standing, as our priests also minister standing in the Mass.  Old Covenant priests stood while sacrificing animals and offering grain and wine libations at the altar. They stood to lead the community in prayer and songs of praise. 

Question: If, as according to the inspired writer of Hebrews, Jesus stood until His one sacrifice offered for the sins of mankind was complete and then took His seat forever at the right hand of God, why did St. John see Jesus standing as a slain lamb in Revelation 5:5-6?

Answer: Jesus "sits" in His kingly role as ruler and judge of His kingdom, but according to St. John He also still "stands" in priestly service.  That Jesus is fulfills both the role of David King and High Priest is not a contradiction any more than Jesus' role as both High Priest and sacrificial victim is a contradiction.  The inspired writer would not disagree with the accuracy of the vision of St. John and its theological implications since he too stated that every High Priest must have "something" to offer in Hebrews 8:3.  See CCC# 663-64

 

Hebrews 10:13,  now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool..  This is another allusion to Psalm 110:1 which the inspired writer already quoted in Hebrews 1:13.  It is significant that each inspired writer of the Synoptic Gospels records Jesus quoting this line from Psalms 110:1 in Matthew 22:44; in Mark 12:36; and in Luke 20:43.  It is also quoted in St. Peter's Pentecost homily of Acts 2:35, as well in Hebrews 1:13 and 10:13.  Including the original quote in Psalms 110:1, this significant passage is found 7 times in the Scriptures; here are the passages from the Synoptic Gospels and Acts:

  1. Matthew 22:41-44: While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus questioned them, saying, "What is your opinion about the Messiah?  Whose son is he?"  They replied, "David's."  He said to them, "How, then, does David, inspired by the Spirit, call him 'lord,' saying: 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies under your feet"?
  2. Mark 12:35-36: As Jesus was teaching in the temple area he said, "How do the scribes claim that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, inspired by the holy Spirit, said: 'The Lord said to my lord, "sit at my right hand  until I place your enemies under your feet."'  David himself calls him 'lord'; so how is he his son?"  [The] great crowd heard this with delight.
  3. Luke 20:41-43: Then he said to them, "How do they claim that the Messiah is the Son of David?  For David himself in the book of Psalms says: 'The Lord said to my lord, "sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool."'  Now if David calls him 'lord,' how can he be his sons?"
  4. Acts 2:32-37: St. Peter in his homily to the Jews on Pentecost Sunday: God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you [both] see and see. For David did not go up into heaven, but he himself said: 'The Lord said to my Lord, "sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool."'  Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified." Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, "What are we to do, my brothers?"

 

Question: In Hebrews 10:13 the inspired writer says "now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool." How is Christ "waiting?"

Answer: He is "at rest" but vigilant, watching His enemies and interceding for His priestly people [Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:25; 9:24].

Question: Who are His enemies?

Answer: His enemies are Satan and his evil demons who seek to snatch away the souls of men and women by tempting them to renounce the Kingdom in favor of earthly pleasures which cannot bring true happiness, as well as humans who reject Christ and thereby becomes the sons and daughters of Satan instead of the sons and daughters of God . Christ's enemies desire to corrupt the innocent into denying sin and seeking sinful temporal satisfaction.  The time will come when He will crush the enemy under His feet.

 

Question: When was the promise made that the Messiah would crush His enemy?  See Genesis 3:14-15

Answer: After the fall of Adam and Eve God cursed the serpent and prophesized to him the coming of the Redeemer of mankind: Accursed be you of all animals wild and tame.  On your belly you will go and on dust you will feed as long as you live.  I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and hers [her seed]; it [or this indefinite pronoun can mean "he", meaning the "seed of the woman"] will bruise [crush] your head and you will strike its heel. New Jerusalem translation.  "To strike the heel" is a Semitism for "to do violence to."  In John 13:18 when speaking of His betrayal by Judas Jesus said: I am not speaking of all of you.  I know those whom I have chosen.  But so that the Scripture might be fulfilled, 'The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me."  "To crush the head" is a Semitism for "to strike a mortal blow".  Jesus will return to strike the mortal blow against Satan and his forces of evil.  St. Paul also promises that the faithful followers of Christ will see Satan crushed under their feet in Romans 16:17-20.

 

Hebrews 10:14-18 14 For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.  15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying: 16 "This is the covenant I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord: 'I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them upon their minds,'" 17 he also says: "Their sins and their evildoing I will remember no more."  18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin.

This is the 3rd time the inspired writer has used the verb "has made perfect" or "has made complete" in reference to Jesus' saving works.  He uses this verb in the perfect tense in Hebrews 2:10; 5:9; and 7:28.  He has also used the same verb 3 times, also in the perfect tense, alluding to the old law and its institutions in Hebrews 7:19; 9:9; and 10:1, but in the case of the old law he has used the verb in the negative sense.  In the past which is to the inspired writer and his audience the almost 40 years since Jesus' Ascension, the Christ was "made perfect in His sacrifice, but today He makes those who are sanctified by the gift of His sacrifice "perfect" and complete in their relationship to God.

 

Question: The inspired writer returned to the passage from Psalm 110:1 in Hebrews 10:13.  What Old Testament passage is he revisiting in Hebrews 10:15-17 and what is his point in quoting this Old Testament passage a second time?

Answer: He is returning to the prophecy of the New Covenant by Jeremiah in 31:31-34 and is quoting from verses 33-34.  The point is where there is complete forgiveness of sins there is no longer any need for animal sacrifices and offerings for sin.

 

Hebrews 10:19-25: Christian Entrance into the Heavenly Sanctuary

19 Therefore, brothers, since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary 20 by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, 21 and since we have "a great priest over the house of God," 22 let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.  23 Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy.  24 We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works.  25 We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.

The sins of the people separated them from the presence of God.  The visual representation of this separation was the "veil" that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the Temple [Exodus 26:31-33].  Once a year the High Priest entered through the veil into the Holy of Holies to make expiation for the sins of the people [Leviticus 16:16, 34]. 

Question: What event occurred at Jesus' death to show that His torn flesh and the shedding of His blood had opened the way to the presence of God for all men who accepted the cleansing power of His blood? See Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:45.

Answer: This "veil" was torn from top to bottom when Jesus gave up His life on the Cross, signifying that God had accepted His sacrifice and the way to eternal salvation was now opened.  CCC# 433; 1026.

 

Question: How is it that our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water?

Answer: Through the sacrament of Baptism, the visible sign of which was the water and blood that flowed from the side of Jesus on the Cross in John 19:34.  The application of that grace came to the Church when the Holy Spirit was received by the faithful at Pentecost.  The sprinkling of the nations with clean water was a prophecy of the gift of the Sacrament of Baptism to all the nations of the world given by God to His holy prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36:25.  Also see CCC 536-57; 715; 1287.

 

The inspired writer now gives an interesting warning: 23 Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy.  24 We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works.  25 We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Question: What does he mean by "hold unwaveringly to our confession"?

Answer: The confession of faith at Baptism of belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  It is this confession which identifies us as Christians and a confession we repeat in the Easter Sunday liturgy when the priest asks the congregation "Do you believe....?".

 

Question: What is the significance of "the day drawing near" and the importance of attending "our assembly"? 

Answer: "The Day" is usually a reference to the coming Day of Judgment when Christ returns.  In this case it could be a reference to the Day of Judgment on the city of Jerusalem which Jesus prophesized would take place in the lifetime of the Apostles in Matthew 23:33-39; 24:1-3, 15-25.  In the late 60's AD lawlessness was increasing.  Revolt was fermenting among the people of Judea who were ready to throw off the Roman yoke of oppression. Already revolt had broken out in the Roman Province of Britannia lead by a tribal queen named Boudicca.  If this letter is written prior to 64AD Jewish persecution of Christians has been intense in Judea but not as intense outside of the province.  Prior to 64AD the Roman authorities were more or less ambivalent to Christians, considering them to be just another sect of the Hebrew faith.  The ambivalence changed after the fire that almost destroyed Rome in 64AD when the Roman Emperor Nero made Christians the scapegoats for the devastating fire and official Roman persecution of Christians began.  The reference to being faithful to Christian assembly on the Lord's Day may point to more intense persecution which has caused some Jewish-Christians to turn away from Christian worship and back to the safety Old Covenant worship in the Temple.  From the time of the Sinai Covenant, "resting" in the Lord on the 7th day, the Old Covenant Sabbath, was a command of the Covenant [Exodus 20:8-11; 23:12; 31:15-17; 34:21; Leviticus 23:3-8].  With the Resurrection of Jesus Christ the new day of entering God's "rest" became the 1st day of the week, the Lord's Day [Mark 16:9; Luke 20:19; Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10]. Celebrating the risen Savior on the Lord's Day and entering into God's "rest" prefigures the hope of our "eternal rest" and our promise of worship in the heavenly Sanctuary.

Question: Is it a sin to purposely avoid the sacred assembly of Christ's faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist on the Lord's Day without a legitimate reason for failing to come together in union with the Church to worship God?  See CCC# 2180-81.

Answer: Yes.

 

Question: What does the inspired writer urge Christians to do in these difficult times?

Answer: He urges Christians to remain faithful and to encourage each other in good works.

 

Hebrews 10:26-39: A Warning of Apostasy and the Day of the Coming of the Lord

26 If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins 27 but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries.  28 Anyone who rejects the Law of Moses is put to death without pity on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  29 Do you not think that a much worse punishment is due the one who has contempt for the Son of God, considers unclean the covenant-blood by which he was consecrated, and insults the spirit of grace?  30 We know the one who said: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people."  31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." 

Question: What does the inspired writer mean when he says: 26 If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins?

Answer: To turn away from the "assembly" and the Eucharist on the Lord's Day is to reject Jesus as Lord and Savior.  To reject Jesus and the grace that is given through knowledge of the truth of Christ's sacrifice and the power of the Sacrament of the Eucharist would mean that there would be no opportunity for forgiveness of sins without the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus gave the Apostles as the representatives of His Church the power to forgive sins, the Old priesthood and animal sacrifice could not offer forgiveness.

 

Question: What three things await those who apostatize [the inspired writer is probably referring to those who forsake the assembly of Christians to return to Old Covenant worship], but his warning could be applied to those baptized into the faith who leave the Church, denying the vows of their baptism and the profession of faith.

Answer: Judgment, being declared an adversary of God, and eternal punishment:  Hebrews 10:27:  but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries.

 

Hebrews 10:27 contains a reference to Isaiah 26:11 from the Septuagint Greek translation: O Lord, thine arm is exalted, yet they knew it not: but when they know they shall be ashamed: jealousy shall seize upon an untaught nation, and now fire shall devour (consume) the adversaries (enemies).  The inspired writer will refer to this passage from Isaiah concerning God's divine judgment again in Hebrews 10:37

 

Hebrews 10:28: 28 Anyone who rejects the Law of Moses is put to death without pity on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  The inspired writer is referring to the section of the Old Law that legislated the correct use of witnesses found in Deuteronomy 17:6: A death sentence may be passed only on the word of two witnesses or three; and no one must be put to death on the word of one witness alone.

Question: Was this article of the law applied in the case of Jesus' trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin?

Answer: Yes, two false witnesses testified against Him in Matthew 26:60.

 

Hebrews 10:29 Do you not think that a much worse punishment is due the one who has contempt for the Son of God, considers unclean the covenant-blood by which he was consecrated, and insults the spirit of grace?  If rejection of the Law of Moses, which is inferior to the Law of Jesus Christ, should result in a sentence of death, how much more serious would it be from God's point of view for someone to reject and insult His gift of salvation through His Son?

Question: When did Jesus refer to the "blood-covenant" by which he was consecrated?

Answer: At the Last Supper.  See Matthew 26:28 and Luke 22:20.

 

Hebrews 10:30,  We know the one who said: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people."  31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." 

The inspired writer is referring to Deuteronomy 32:35-43, a passage that is called the "Song of Witness" or the "Song of Moses and Joshua" which is a warning of judgment against Israel if she fails in her covenant faithfulness:  Against the Day of vengeance and requital, against the time they lose their footing?  Close at hand is the day of their disaster, and their doom is rushing upon them!  Surely, the LORD shall do justice [will judge] for his people; on his servants he shall have pity.  When he sees their strength failing and their protected unprotected alike disappearing...  The song ends with this final dire warning in verses 42-43: With vengeance I will repay my foes and requite those who hate me.  I will make my arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall gorge itself with flesh, with the blood of the slain and the captured, flesh from the heads of the enemy leaders.  Exult with him, you heavens, glorify him, all you angels of God; for he avenges the blood of his servants and purges his people's land.

Question: Does this promise to avenge the blood of God's servants recall a dire warning God's servant Jesus gave to His generation of Jerusalemites?  See Matthew 23:33-36

Answer:  Jesus promises Jerusalem a "day of vengeance" for the murder of God's prophets, Jesus' death is also one of a holy prophet of God and a rejection of Israel's legitimate king, the people cried at Jesus trial "We have no king but Caesar!"  Is the inspired writer of Hebrews giving a warning of this same "day of vengeance?"  He concludes this warning with the terrifying statement:  31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." 

 

Hebrews 10:32-39: A Reminder of Past Faithfulness

32 Remember the days past when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a great contest of suffering.  33 At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction; at other times you associated yourselves with those so treated.  34 You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession.  35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence; it will have great recompense.  36 You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised.  37 "For, after just a brief moment, he who is to come shall come; he shall not delay.  38 But my just one shall live by faith, and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him."  39 We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life.

 

In verse 32 the inspired writer reminds his Christian audience of their past faithfulness and endurance in time of suffering.  He is undoubtedly referring to Jewish persecution of the fledgling Church.  What has changed to make their suffering so much worse unless it is the increased suffering under Roman persecution?  The Jews did not have the power to condemn Christians to death without Roman approval.  In Jesus case they were successful but in St. Paul's case the Roman authorities protected Paul.  Perhaps at the time this address is being delivered Roman persecution is causing much suffering and some have lost their faith.  Persecution of Christians by the Roman state began in 64AD.  The inspired writer alludes to the coming of Christ in verse 37 and by quoting from Isaiah chapter 26 a second time [see 10:27] he alludes to Isaiah's prophecies of judgment. 

 

Question: In Hebrews 10:36-37 the inspired writer warns that Christians need to persevere and to endure hardship to do the will of God and to be ready for the return of Jesus Christ.  36 You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised.  37 "For, after just a brief moment, he who is to come shall come; he shall not delay.  What instructions did Jesus send to the 7 Churches of Revelation concerning this subject?  See Revelation 2:3, 7; 2:9-11; 2:19, 25-26; 3:4-5; 3:8, 10-12; 3:15-16, 20-21.

Answer: Jesus passes judgment on each church, acknowledging their strengths and weaknesses and promises victory to those who endure in faithfulness.

 

Let's examine the context of the Isaiah passages the inspired writer has referred to in this section of his address:  Please turn to the book of the Prophet Isaiah and read Isaiah 24:1-27:13.

This passage was written, according to the Biblical text, in the 9th century BC [Isaiah 1:1].  At God's command Isaiah prophesized the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians, a prophecy of judgment and destruction which took place in 722BC.  Catastrophe for the Southern Kingdom of Judah was temporarily averted by the call for national repentance by the Judahite King Hezekiah, a descendant of King David.  However, Isaiah prophesized that this condition of averted judgment was only temporary and judgment would eventually fall upon the Southern Kingdom of Judah [see Isaiah 39:5-7].  Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled when the Babylonian army destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple and took the people of Judah into 70 years of exile in the 6th century BC [2 Kings 25:1-12; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21; Jeremiah 52:12-30]. 

 

Chapter 24 describes the destruction of a city which transgressed the laws, violated the decree, broken the everlasting covenant, a city upon which God's terrible judgment fallsIt is unclear whether the city in chapters 24-25 is the ancient pagan city of Tyre which is mentioned in the previous chapter or if this city which transgressed the laws and broke the everlasting covenant is the city of Samaria, capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel which was destroyed in 722BC or the city of Jerusalem which will be destroyed by the Babylonians in 587/6BC.  Tyre was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 332BC, Babylon was destroyed by Persian king Xerxes I in 485BC, and Samaria was conquered and destroyed again in 110BC by Judean King John Hyrcanus.  

 

Isaiah chapter 25 begins with a hymn of praise to Yahweh who destroyed the "fortress city" which God intended as a refuge for the righteous'only Jerusalem is described in Scripture as a refuge for the righteous [Psalm 102:18-22] and it was a city fortified with three walls according to the 1st century AD Jewish historian Josephus [Jewish Wars 5.4.1 (136)].  In Isaiah 25:6-12 the prophet proclaims that in the future Yahweh will prepare a Messianic banquet: On this mountain, for all peoples, Yahweh Sabaoth is preparing a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines, of succulent food, of well-strained wines.  On this mountain, he has destroyed the veil which used to veil all peoples, the pall enveloping all nations; he has destroyed death for ever.  Lord Yahweh has wiped away the tears from every cheek; he has taken his people's shame away everywhere on earth, for Yahweh has spoken.  This day will herald the conversion of the Gentile nations who will join with God covenant people.

 

Isaiah's oracle is unclear.  Is this great fortified city the walled city of Jerusalem located on the ridges of Mount Moriah? There seems to be a definite connection to Jerusalem when the unidentified city is described as the site of the Messianic banquet and then later the people of this city are described like a woman who awaits the birth of a child, laboring in distress: As a pregnant woman near her time of delivery writhes and cries out in her pangs, so have we been, Yahweh, in your eyes: we have been pregnant, we have writhed but we have given birth only to wind: we have not given salvation to the earth, no inhabitants for the world have been brought to birth.  Your dead will come back to life; your corpses will rise again. Isaiah 26:17-19

Question: The Fathers of the Church saw this passage describing Judah's birth pangs as symbolic of Israel tribulations associated with awaiting the coming of the Messiah.  Isaiah 26:19 speaks of a resurrection event when the "dead will come back to life" and "corpses will rise again." Was this prophecy fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth? See Matthew 27:51-54; 28:5-7.

Answer: Yes, not only did Jesus arise bodily from the dead but Matthew records that at the time Jesus died certain "holy people" rose bodily from the dead and after Jesus' resurrection came out of their tombs, entered Jerusalem and appeared to a number of people, fulfilling Isaiah 26:19.

 

In Isaiah 26:20, the verse quoted in Hebrews 10:37, and in the next verse of Isaiah 26:21, Isaiah prophesizes God's divine judgment on the fortress city but He invites the faithful to take shelter while He executes divine judgment on the wicked: Go, my people, enter into thy closets, shut thy door, hide thyself for a little season, until the anger of the Lord has passed away. For, behold, the Lord is bringing wrath from his holy place upon the dwellers on the earth: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall not cover her slain. [Septuagint].

 

There appears to be a connection between what the inspired writer is warning in Hebrews 10:26-39 and the future events Isaiah was writing about which were fulfilled to a certain extend in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 587/6BC, but perhaps that was not the only fulfillment?  The next verse quoted from Habakkuk 2:3-4 may provide an answer.  In wording this quotation is almost identical with the text of the Alexandrinus Codex of the Septuagint except that the first and second lines of verse 4 are inverted.  In the Book of Habakkuk, the prophet questions God about the justice of using an unrighteous people like the Babylonians to bring judgment on Judah.  Yahweh's answer is "yes", the Babylonians are an unrighteous people, and after they have brought judgment upon Judah, God will bring judgment upon them.  But, God promises, the righteous of Judah need not fear for "the just will live by faith."  This is a teaching St. Paul will repeat in Romans 1:17 and in Galatians 3:11'and which the inspired writer, who may be Paul, quotes in Hebrews 10:38.

 

In 66AD the Jews revolted against the Romans and on the 9th of Ab, 70AD, the same day Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in the Babylonian conquest of 586/7BC, Jerusalem fell to the Romans, and the Temple of Yahweh was destroyed.  Flavius Josephus, who witnessed the destruction, estimated that eleven hundred thousand perished in the siege and capture of Jerusalem while of the ninety-seven thousand taken captive by the Romans during the years of the Jewish Revolt, many died and the survivors were sold into slavery [The Jewish War, 6.9.3].  It was literally the end of the world for the Old Covenant Jews without a Temple the prescribed sacrifices and rituals of the Sinai covenant could not be obeyed.  Survivors were rounded up by the Romans and sold into slavery.  The treasures of Judea built the Roman Flavian Coliseum, a monument dedicated to pagan gods and unspeakable cruelty.  However, there is no record of a single Christian community perishing in the judgment which fell upon Judea, Samaria, and the Galilee, the just were preserved by their faith. 

 

But if the faithful and persevering Christian does fall victim to injustice or even bloodshed he/she has the promise that what hurts the body cannot hurt the soul of the righteous:  God himself has said: 'I shall not fail you or desert you,' and so we can say with confidence: 'With the Lord on my side, I fear nothing: what can human beings do to me?' [Hebrews 13:5-6].   St. Ephraim wrote concerning Hebrews10:26-39:  The just one lives when endurance and faith are found in that one.  But if somebody is oppressed by doubts and scruples, because the rewarder did not appear, "my soul has no pleasure in him" on that day.  But we are not victims of scruples, which destroy our path to heaven and "bring us to perdition"' we have faith instead, through which we obtain "the salvation of our soul" [Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, St. Ephraim].

 

This hope of the believer is echoed in Romans 8:31-39 where Paul quotes from Psalm 44:22 concerning the tension between God's promised blessings and the earthly persecution those called into covenant with God are likely to face.  St. Paul assures the faithful and enduring Christians of the Father's unfailing promises: What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God's chosen ones?  It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn?  It is Christ [Jesus] who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.  What will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?  As it is written: "For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, no angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!  

 

Questions for group discussion:

Question: What connection can there be between the warning in this last section of Hebrews chapter 10 and the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem on the 9th of Ab in 587/6 BC by the prophets Isaiah and Habakkuk?  Summarize the events of the destruction of 587/6BC and compare those events with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD.  What were the similarities and what were the differences?

Answer: The events of 587/6BC were replayed almost without exception in the destruction of 70AD, including the exact day of the disaster, the 9th of Ab; only the foreign armies bringing the destruction were different.  Perhaps the references the inspired writer is making is to the past event of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple are connected to an event that is about to take place, the impending judgment about to fall upon Judea and Jerusalem in 70AD which will result in the destruction of the Temple and will be a replay of the events of the disaster in the 6th century BC when Solomon's Temple was destroyed.  The judgment Yahweh brought down upon Judah and Jerusalem in 587/6BC was for the failure of the Old Covenant people to keep the commands and obligations of the covenant and for oppressing the innocent [Jeremiah 1:16; 5:28-31; 11:1-4]. 

 

In Hebrews 10:29 the inspired writer asks the significant question:  Do you not think that a much worse punishment is due the one who has contempt for the Son of God, considers unclean the covenant-blood by which he was consecrated, and insults the spirit of grace? During His last week in Jerusalem, Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple: Jesus left the Temple, and as he was going away his disciples came up to draw his attention to the Temple buildings.  He said to them in reply, 'You see all these?  In truth I tell you, not a single stone here will be left on another: everything will be pulled down.'" Matthew 24:1-2.  This prophecy was literally fulfilled on the 9th of Ab, 70AD.  Perhaps this is additional evidence that the Temple is still standing when this address was given.  If the Temple had already been destroyed how could the inspired writer have resisted declaring the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy of judgment on the Old Covenant Jews who persecuted the Christians and denied the saving power of the blood-covenant of Jesus Christ? 

 

However, as in all Godly judgments, the punishment of the Babylonia conquest is meant to be redemptive.  The Babylonian captivity was meant to bring a "faithful remnant" back to Judah to reestablish the covenant people of God just as the judgment in 70AD scattered the Old Covenant people across the face of the Roman world with the opportunity to be brought back into the New Covenant with the conversion of the Gentile nations [Ezekiel 6:8-9].  God's plan for mankind is that all come to redemption and eternal life, however, the choice to accept or reject that gift is entirely each individual's free-will choice. In the 1st century AD it was to be as the late 6th century post-exile prophet Zechariah prophesized in 8:6-23 with the establishment of the New Israel [the Universal Church established by the faithful remnant of Israel] and the New Jerusalem [Rome] as the center of the New Covenant people of God: In those days ten men from nations of every language will take a Jew [covenant believer] by the sleeve and say: We want to go with you, since we have learnt that God is with you , and as Isaiah prophesized after his account of the suffering Servant of Yahweh and the judgment on Jerusalem in Isaiah 66:18-19a [the words of Yahweh] I am coming to gather every nation and every language.  They will come to witness my glory.  I shall give them a sign and send some of their survivors to the nations.  We who are Christians today are the fruits sown by the Apostles and disciples, the faithful remnant of Israel who carried the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations.  Today we carry the commission first entrusted to them [Matthew 28:19-20] to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every last man and woman upon the face of the earth before He comes again to bring about the Resurrection and the Final Judgment!  CCC# 1038-41.

 

Question: Is it possible that these two similar events of divine judgment on the Old Covenant people in 587/6BC and 70AD there may be the blueprint for the Second Coming of the King of Kings in judgment upon His Kingdom?  What prophecies did Jesus make concerning the Second Coming and the Final Judgment and why does He merge the promise of His Second Coming with His prophecy concerning the coming destruction of Jerusalem within the lifetime of the Apostles and disciples in Matthew 23:36-24:22 and in the other Gospels? See Matthew 24:29-51 for the prophecies of His Second Coming at the end of the age.

 

Question: The inspired writer of Hebrews warns the Christian: "The Lord will judge his people."  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."  It is wrong to "fear" the Lord or is there such a thing as "spiritually healthy fear"?

 

Catechism References for Hebrews chapter 10 [* indicates Scripture quoted in reference]

10:1-4

1540*

10:16

64*

10:1

128*

10:19-21

1137*

10:5-10

606

10:19

2778*

10:5-7

462; 516*; 2568

10:23

1817

10:5

488*

10:25

2178*

10:7

2824

10:26-31

679*

10:10

614*; 2824

10:32

1216

10:14

1544

10:36

2826

 

Resources used in this Lesson:

  1. The Navarre Bible: Hebrews, Four Courts Press, 1991.
  2. Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine's Press, South Bend, Indiana 2006
  3. Hebrews, St. John Chrysostom, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, first series, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.
  4. Kinship by Covenant: A Biblical Theological Study of Covenant Types and Texts in the Old and New Testaments, Dr. Scott Hahn
  5. The Anchor Bible Commentary: To the Hebrews, George Wesley Buchanan, Doubleday, New York, 1972.
  6. The Anchor Bible Commentary: Hebrews, Craig R. Koester, Doubleday, New York, 2001.
  7. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Hebrews, [from the Panarion by Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis; on Melchizedek, pages 98-100], InterVarsity Press
  8. The Jewish Tanach
  9. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
  10. Catholic Dictionary
  11. Church History, Father Laux
  12. Our Priest is Christ: The Doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Fr. Alfred Vanhoye
  13. The Works of Josephus, Flavius Josephus
  14. The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4: Massoretic Text.
  15. The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, James VanderKam and Peter Flint, Harper-San Francisco, 2002, pages 91-95 [Samaritan Pentateuch]; 87-91, 160-62 [Massoretic Texts]; 96-101 [Septuagint].

16.  "The Most Original Bible Text", Bible Review, August 2000, pages 28-49.

17.  "Qumran and a New Edition of the Hebrew Bible," The Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls, editor James Charlesworth (N. Richland Hills, TX: Biblia, 2000), vol. I, pages 197-217.

18.  Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah, Israel Yeivin, (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1980).

19.  The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5: "Samaritan Pentateuch", "Samaritans," pages 932-947; "Septuagint," pages 1093-1104.

  1. The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol.3, "Jamnia", pages 634-637.
  2. This Rock, September 2004, "The Council That Wasn't", Steve Ray, pages 22-27.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.