26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
sin willfully [emphatic]
The willful sin here is to not remain true to the exclusiveness of what the readers had believed. The sin here is a specific sin, not a lifestyle of sinning. Some were not holding fast to their confession (He 10:23). The word “sin” in the present tense does not mean “keep on” sinning but is a simple statement of fact in this context (see statement to scholars below). The context here indicates that a particular sin is in view rather than persistent sin. They needed to “hold fast” their profession of faith.
The main argument of the book of Hebrews is against defection from the finished work of Christ as over against reverting to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. It is a warning against reverting back to the Old economy. Thus, the thought is against reversion to the Old Testament ceremonial types. It is a willful sin to decide to go back to the type when the Antitype has come.
“Willfully” is to participate in an action with clear thinking. Willful sin is to commit a sin by knowing fully what a person is doing. The sin in this context is to disdain Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, rejecting the work of the Spirit and deeming the blood of the New Covenant to be ordinary. This is high-handed rebellion against revelation of the New Covenant. If a Christian dilutes the finished work of Christ on the cross and attempts to move back to Old Testament sacrifices, then he cannot operate under the finished work of Christ. He heads into an option where there is nothing to pay for his sin as a Christian. To “willfully” sin in this context is to go back on one’s testimony.
This may refer to the intentional sin of Numbers 15:22–31. The sin in Numbers is transgression of the Mosaic law, which was to revile the LORD. This person was cut off from the people of Israel. He had no further recourse to the sacrificial system of Israel. The issue of Numbers 15 was not persistent sin but a single sin that warranted death.
The counterpart in the book of Hebrews to the sin in Numbers 15 is willful sin. Thus, the sin here is a similar sin. Once a person stops operating under the umbrella of the blood of Christ, there is no more sacrifice of sin for that person. All this person can expect is physical death as discipline for violating the principle of forgiveness of sin based on the sacrificial blood of Christ. There is only one sacrifice for sin, no other (He 10:12). To commit this sin after receiving “the knowledge of the truth” is particularly grievous because these Christians were “enlightened” (He 10:32). “Knowledge of the truth” is used in the New Testament of genuine believers (1 Tm 2:4).
The Old Testament made provision for those who committed sin unintentionally. They made an animal sacrifice to atone for that sin (Lev 4:2–3, 13–14, 27–28). Those who sinned intentionally were cut off physically from Israel because they rejected God’s word (Nu 15:30–31).
Intentional sinners in Numbers 15 faced the temporal judgment of being cut off from God’s covenant people. They were disciplined for violating the Mosaic Covenant. This could include physical death (Lev 17:4, 9; Nu 9:13; 15:30–36). There was no sacrifice for this sin in the Old Testament. This was a parallel to violating the New Covenant.
The “sin willfully” refers to diluting the finished work of Christ. This is loss of the means whereby the believer can daily be cleansed of sin (1 Jn 1:9); this has nothing to do with loss of salvation. To align oneself with the Old Covenant meant rejection of what Christ did.
[For scholars. When the present participle is used with the present tense of the main verb, the idea is merely a statement of fact and rarely refers to persistent action. Compare Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, 614–16).]
after we have received the knowledge of the truth,
The Greek word for “knowledge” here is one of two words for knowledge. This word means full knowledge, discernment, or understanding. “Knowledge of the truth” here is truth about the provision of the New Covenant by the blood of Jesus. Receiving “the knowledge of the truth” indicates that these are people who believed the gospel message. This is knowledge by an authentic Christian; it is someone who dynamically assimilates God’s revelation.
The Jewish believers of Hebrews had “received” God’s truth. Reversion to the Mosaic law was very serious considering their previous understanding of the New Covenant.
The readers of Hebrews came to embrace Jesus fully—“received the knowledge of the truth.” They went beyond the type understanding of the Messiah to the reality of who He truly was. Having done this, they became culpable by their reversion to partial knowledge of the Old Testament. The unfinished sacrifices of the Old flies in the face of the finished work of Christ.
To not walk by faith is sin.
The “willful sin” of this verse is a counterpart to the willful sin of the Mosaic Covenant. It is the sin of intentionally minimizing the finished work of Christ.
If we reject Christ’s efficacious sacrifice, then there is no other sacrifice that can save us from our sin. His sacrifice is God’s exclusive means of salvation. To reject this crucifies Christ all over again (He 6:6, 8). It is impossible to fellowship with God on any other basis than the death of Christ for our sins (He 6:4).
The consequence of leaving the finished work of Christ to go back to an unfinished system is a willful sin. This is a sin against having received the truth. A return to a system where there is no longer a sacrifice for sin is a serious violation of faith (He 10:26). There is no benefit to return to a dead system.
Hebrews 10:32 indicates that Christians will suffer after they come to the point of “having been enlightened.” The sin in this verse has to do with authentic believers and not with professors of salvation. How God will deal with them is found in the next verse.