Studies in Hebrews, 1 & 2 Peter

19. Hebrews 10:5-10 - Christ Is the Answer

The author begins verse 5 with the word “therefore,” meaning “because of what I have just said.” Here, we might paraphrase it like this: “Because the old covenant could not bring forgiveness, Christ came into the world and said…” and then follows a quote from the Greek version of Psalm 40:6-8: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am — it is written about me in the scroll — I have come to do your will, my God.’”

This is one of several Old Testament passages that foreshadow the end of the sacrificial system. Our author rephrases the psalm to emphasize his point, and he begins by giving the label “first” to a point that he will come back to shortly: “First he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them.’”

To make another point, he adds a comment: “though they were offered in accordance with the law.” He is making a contrast between what the law required, and what God ultimately wanted. (Jeremiah 7:22-23 has a similar contrast.) God gave the law not as a permanent ideal, but as a temporary system that would prepare the way for Christ, who brought the reality that the old rituals pictured. The old covenant law was not the final word on what God wanted.

What did he want? Verse 9 says, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” God wanted the people to obey him — but only Christ did it perfectly. The early church understood this psalm as a messianic psalm because Jesus fulfilled its words in a way that no psalm-writer could.

Then comes an important conclusion: “He sets aside the first to establish the second.” What is the “first”? In the immediate context, it is sacrifices and offerings, but our writer has also used the word “first” five times to refer to the old covenant. The covenant with its sacrifices and rituals has been set aside.

What has been established? The doing of God’s will. The word “establish” was also used for covenants, and the word “second” was also used for the new covenant (8:7). Our author is making a literary parallel here, using Psalm 40 as a miniature picture of the change in covenants. Because the old covenant could not bring forgiveness, Christ said, Out with the old, and in with the new! The new covenant been established by the obedience of Jesus Christ. He is the answer to the deficiency of the old covenant.

Verse 10 begins, “And by that will…” Whose will is this talking about — God’s will, or Christ’s willingness to obey it? It is not clear; perhaps our author left it ambiguous because both meanings are true. Since Christ conformed his will to God’s, they had the same will. It is by God’s choice, and by Christ’s obedience, that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

We have been made holy — this is another way of describing the results of the new covenant. Our sins are removed, our conscience is cleared, and we are made holy, so we can approach God to worship. How is it done? Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ — a sacrifice that involved both his will and his body, both his mind and his flesh. Further, we do God’s will when we accept this as our means of sanctification.

Jesus bridges the gap between heaven and earth, between spirit and matter, in a way that nothing else could. Only he could make an offering on earth that was acceptable in heaven. The flesh and blood of his body was no different than the flesh and blood of any other crucified man, but it was effective for our sanctification and our forgiveness because Jesus was perfectly obedient, willingly obedient.

Humans are both physical and spiritual, and we sin in the flesh and in the mind. The salvation that we have in Christ redeems our bodies and our minds, sanctifying both for true worship of God. We are not saved by a purely physical sacrifice, nor by a purely spiritual one. A physical body had to be willingly given, because the spiritual sacrifice had to be expressed in the physical world. In Christ, we have been completely redeemed. His will and his body were given for us, and it was fully effective, once for all time.

Author: Michael Morrison, PhD