Sinners in the hands of a living God
God’s not interested in sacrifices1 The law is just a sketchy shadow of the good things to come. It's not the good things themselves. We can grow closer to God because of the law. But the law’s required sacrifices—year after year—can’t make us perfect. 2 If the law could make us perfect, there wouldn’t be any more sacrifices. Why bother? Folks would have had the sin flushed out of them. People wouldn’t feel guilty anymore. 3 Actually, what these sacrifices do is just the opposite. Year after year, they remind us of our sins. 4 Blood of bulls and goats can’t take away our sins. 5 That’s why Jesus offered this prayer to God when he came to earth:
“Sacrifice and offerings don’t interest you.
What you want is me, the body you’ve given me.
burnt animal sacrifices
or any other offerings to atone for sin.” 7 So Jesus said,
‘Here I am, God.
I’ve come to do what you want.
Just as our Bible says I’ll do.’”
“You didn’t want sacrifices
and offerings and entire animals slaughtered and burned to atone for sins. You’ve never enjoyed them even though the law required them.”
“Here I am.
I’ve come to do whatever you want.”
Laws of the heart, not on stone15 The Holy Spirit has something to say about this.
“This is the agreement I’ll make with the people when the time comes.
I’m going to write my laws onto their hearts.
I’m going to embed them into their minds.”
“Whatever sins they’ve done or laws they’ve broken,
I’ll wipe them from my memory.”
God welcomes us19 Dear family, because of the sacrifice Jesus made, we can confidently go to God’s throne room, the Most Holy Place. 20 When Christ became human, he opened the curtain into God’s presence. It’s a new and real path to God. 21 And since we have a great priest leading worship in God’s house, 22 Let’s keep moving toward God with sincere and confident faith. We’re welcome in God’s presence because we’re clean inside and out. The priest has already sprinkled our hearts with his own blood. So, our conscience is clear, free of guilt. Our bodies are clean, too, washed with pure water. 23 Let’s hold tight to our hope. We’ve talked about what we believe, now let’s believe it all the way home—no wavering. The one who gave us hope is someone we can trust to keep his promise. 24 Let’s think about how we can encourage each other to be loving and to do kind things for others. 25 Let’s not skip out on church services. Some are doing that. I’m asking that you encourage each other to attend the services. It’s important now because Judgment Day is almost here.
Terror in the hands of a living God26 If we accept the truth about Christ but go back to sinning, his sacrifice for our sin doesn’t exist anymore. 27 All that’s left for us is the terror of judgment and the raging fire that will annihilate Christ’s enemies. 28 Breaking the law of Moses can get a person executed. Conviction requires the testimony of just two or three witnesses. 29 So tell me this. How much greater should the punishment be for someone who
- walked all over the Son of God,
- treated the blood as no big deal—the blood that made them holy, and on which God’s agreement is based,
- Insulted the Spirit of kindness?
- walked all over the Son of God,
“Revenge belongs to me. I own it.
Payback is mine, too. I deliver it.” 
“The Lord will judge his people.”31 I’ll tell you what terror is like. It’s like the person I’ve just described, falling into the hands of the living God.
Go the distance with Christ32 Instead of thinking about that, I’d like you to remember when you first heard the truth and believed it. Soon afterward, you weathered a terrible storm of hardship and suffering. 33 People publicly humiliated you with insults and other attacks. It became quite the spectacle. Later, when others were treated that way, you took their side and helped them through it. 34 It’s a fact. I know you suffered because you supported those among you who went to prison. You seemed joyful when people confiscated your property. It was a joy that came from knowing they couldn’t take your most important possession. It’s yours forever. 35 Don’t throw away this boldness of yours, which is earning a huge payday. 36 You’ve got to keep going. Go the distance. Then, when you’ve done what God wants you to do, you’ll get what you’ve been promised.
“Just a little longer.
The one who is coming will get here.
He’ll be on time.
lives by faith.
But if that person leaves me,
I’ll not like it one bit.” 39 We aren’t the kind of people who pull back from God and end up destroyed. We’ve got the faith, so we get to keep our souls alive. 40
The writer seems to imply that unless people are perfect, they can never feel perfectly comfortable with God. Spiritually speaking, they feel underdressed, if not naked.
The Greek word, diathēkē, is often translated as “covenant,” “testament,” “arrangement.” It’s a binding contract or agreement between two parties.
Jesus sat “at the right side of God,” which in ancient times was the seat of greatest honor beside a king.
See the related prophecy, Hebrews 1:13.
A more literal translation: Christ “forever perfected those who are holy.” The writer uses versions of the word “perfect” many times in this letter. When he does, some scholars say he usually seems to be talking about sins and guilt washed away. “Devoted to him” comes from the Greek word hagiazo, often translated as holiness or sanctification. Worship utensils such as lampstands were considered holy because they were reserved for sacred use, devoted to God. People, too, were considered holy when they devoted themselves to God.
In the past, God’s people were terrified in God’s presence. They trembled in fear when he appeared on Mount Sinai to Moses and the crowd of Jewish refugees headed back to their homeland. “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die’” (Exodus 20:18-19 New International Version).
Possibly a reference to baptism.
The writer simply says “the day is drawing near.” Many scholars say the writer was talking about Jesus returning and judging everyone.
The writer talks about becoming perfect, but he’s not clear about what he means. Which of the following do you think comes closest to what he might mean by “becoming perfect”? Feel free to add your own idea.
- More likely not to sin than to sin
- Perfectly forgiven and ready to meet God
- Free of guilt
The writer says he’s quoting Jesus in 10:5-9. But he seems to be quoting Psalm 40:6-8. How would you deal with that apparent inconsistency? Pick an option, or add one you like better.
- He’s just another preacher exaggerating to make a point.
- He’s presuming the song writer’s poetic lyrics report a conversation between Jesus and the Father.
- Who’s to say Jesus didn’t quote this passage to his disciples.
- The Bible says it. I believe it. Next question.
Jesus, apparently adopting some lyrics from Psalm 40, says God “didn’t want sacrifices and offerings and entire animals slaughtered and burned to atone for sins. You’ve never enjoyed them even though the law required them” (10:8). If God didn’t want the sacrifices, why did he order Jews to offer sacrifices? How’s that not like putting on your Christmas wish list a hyperlink to hunting boots, and then when you get them you say you didn’t want them? Fickle.
There’s a famous sermon called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The terrifying spirit of that sermon preached in 1741 by Jonathan Edwards feels a bit like Hebrews 10:26-31. Edwards built his sermon on 10 points, the first being, “God can throw wicked people into hell at any moment.” The Hebrews writer says terror is this: a backsliding Christian “falling into the hands of the living God” (10:31). Is that what God is like? Or are these two messages just a preacher-exaggeration thing?
“A good person lives by faith” (10:38). Martin Luther, a monk who broke from the Catholic Church and launched what became the Protestant Reformation, got his start with this message. He read it in Romans 1:17. But both Paul and the Hebrews writer where quoting an Old Testament prophet, “Only those who live by faith are acceptable to me” (Habakkuk 2:4 Contemporary English Version). How do you think this message differs from traditional Jewish teaching?
LIFE APPLICATION. Sacrifices intended to atone for the sins of people did the opposite of erasing guilt, the writer says. Instead, “Year after year, they remind us of our sins” (10:3). That’s because sacrifice was a regular worship ritual. Do Christians have any worship practices that remind us of our sins?
LIFE APPLICATION. Every autumn, Jews observe a national day of repentance, Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Imagine a national day of repentance for your nation. People of faith as well as those who don’t embrace religion could relate to the idea of making amends and trying to heal busted relationships. If we had a day like that and you had to sell citizens on the idea of practicing repentance on this day, how would you approach it.
LIFE APPLICATION. Let’s say you’re a Jew in the first century. You’ve spent your life worshiping God at the Jerusalem Temple by offering animal and grain sacrifices, as Jewish law requires. Then along comes this Hebrews writer saying “Jesus retires the first agreement with God to establish the second—replacing the old testament with a new testament” (10:9). The very idea seems to trash your religious tradition. And it does it to a religion already famous for its 2,000 years of tradition, from the time of Abraham. What would it take to convince you to jump from Judaism to the newborn Christian movement?
LIFE APPLICATION. Big claim: “With just one sacrifice, Christ made God’s holy people—those devoted to him—perfectly free of sin and guilt, forever” (10:14). Is that what it feels like to be a Christian?
LIFE APPLICATION. “I’m going to write my laws onto their hearts. I’m going to embed them into their minds” (10:16). That’s what the prophet Jeremiah predicted God would someday do (Jeremiah 31:33). The Hebrews writer draws on this to assure Jews that God’s laws are becoming part of us. His laws are now part of who we are. Do you think most people feel the laws of right and wrong?
LIFE APPLICATION. “Let’s not skip out on church services. Some are doing that. I’m asking that you encourage each other to attend the services” (10:25). What are the pluses and minuses of going to worship services each week, and perhaps other occasional meetings such as weekly Bible study?