1 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.
The argument of the “cleansing from sin” aspect of the New Covenant continues into chapter 10. The contrast is between the temporal nature of the cleansing under the Law and the permanent cleansing resulting from Christ’s death (He 10:10, 12).
This chapter directly quotes the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31–32, emphasizing both aspects of permanent indwelling of God in the heart and forgiveness or the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant.
The old sacrificial system could never bring perfection, but the New Covenant did. The New Covenant through Christ’s one offering brought permanent cleansing from sin, permanent forgiveness. Christians have the confidence to enter the Holy Place by the blood of Jesus (He 10:19). The New Covenant automatically declared the Mosaic covenant temporary; it was not an everlasting covenant.
For the law,
The “law” here is the Mosaic law. The “for” gives the grounds for Hebrews 9:24–28; that is, the finality of Christ’s one sacrifice, not the law, is the only real payment for sin in God’s eyes.
having a shadow of the good things to come,
The law was a “shadow” of the coming sacrifice of Christ for sin. It demonstrated the need for a payment for sin, but it only illustrated the need and did not give the cure. Old sacrifices were a fading shadow of the cross of Christ. A shadow is not the real thing; it only gives a vague picture of the genuine thing.
and not the very image [form] of the things,
The “image” here is the archetype, the reality, which was Christ. Animal sacrifices were not anywhere near what Jesus’ sacrifice was. Christ is the “express image” of what the Father is (He 1:3). The shadow can never be the substance. There is a difference between an intimation and the real thing. An “image” is the very substance of a thing, not a mere likeness.
can never with these same sacrifices,
“Never” means that Old Testament sacrifices cannot pay the ultimate penalty for sin.
which they offer continually year by year,
The Mosaic sacrifices had to be repeated year after year, showing that they could not “perfect” the worshiper.
make those [worshipers] who approach perfect [complete].
“Perfect” here is not sinless perfection on the part of the believer. The issue in chapters 9 and 10 is the complete payment of the penalty for all sin by Christ. This payment gives Christians free access to God.
For then [otherwise] would they [sacrifices] not have ceased to be offered?
The words “for then” here carries the idea of since, indicating the consequence of something contrary to the fact. Old sacrifices involved repetition, not remission. If their sacrifices were sufficient, there would be no need for more. Constant repetition indicates insufficient sacrifice. The repetition of sacrifice demonstrated that sin was not completely forgiven. The consciousness of one’s sin remained within the person. There is no perfection in this.
For the worshipers,
The “worshipers” are those who bring their offerings as an act of devotion.
once purified [cleansed],
The offerings purified by expiatory sacrifice, but they were not final or complete.
would have had no more consciousness of sins.
If the readers had been truly cleansed, they would no longer have consciousness of sins. However, this was not the case. Our “conscience” is our innate awareness of violating God; it is a system of indicating objective guilt. It is a warning system to alert us to sin in our lives. The Old Testament believer was never free from a guilty conscience.
The New Testament believer is free from sin’s condemnation; the sin question is settled. Our standing with God is perfect. No more sacrifice for sin is needed.
But [strong contrast] in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.
“Every year” refers to the Day of Atonement. That event was a reminder of the need for an ultimate sacrifice for sin. The old system brought remembrance of sin, not its removal. Remembrance was a constant bringing to mind that one was not fully forgiven.
Christ’s sacrifice was so complete that God does not remember our sins anymore.
Repeated sacrifices are a reminder of the ongoing guilt of having committed sin. Christ’s sacrifice gave us the confidence that God remembers our sin no more (He 10:17). It is a sin to forget that Christ paid for our sin once for all (2 Pe 1:9).
No more conscience about sin does not infer that true believers are unaware of objective sin in their lives. The idea is that consciousness of the guilt of sin needed objective removal. Subjective consciousness of sin and spiritual faith needs to come to grips with the objective sacrifice for sins. That objective removal was done by Christ on the cross.