I. The most important principle of interpretation is the context. The greatest context of any book of the Bible is the “argument of the book.” For example, the argument of Romans is “the righteousness of God.” In various forms the root dike (right) occurs 60 times. The book of Romans argues from God’s character/nature. God is absolutely righteous. Therefore, if a person is to live with God he must correspond to God’s absolute righteousness. How good does a person have to be to go to heaven? He has to be as right as God is right. Otherwise, God would compromise His own character. Therefore, a person has to be “declared righteous” (justified) forensically or legally, not made righteous. The suffix to justify ow (omicron and omega letters) are causative. God causes us (not we cause ourselves) to be as right as God is right (Romans chapters 3-5).
The argument of Hebrews is Christ is “greater than” or sometimes translated “better than.” This phrase is a refrain in the Greek (with different English translations) that runs that runs throughout the book. The book of Hebrews is also addressed to Christians (not non-Christians) so if anyone asserts that a passage in Hebrews is addressed to non-Christians, the onus of proof lies upon that person to prove it. The argument of “greater than” revolves around a contrast between the old covenant and the new covenant. The old covenant was a “type” and the new covenant was an “antitype” (that which against the type – in other words, the real thing, the reality). Jesus is greater than the Mosaic law, the Old Testament priesthood, the Old Testament sacrifices, greater than angels, etc. All Old Testament figures were “types,” not the “reality” (the antitype). By the way, the word “antitype” is a Greek word used in He 9:24.
The argument of the book of Hebrews argues against the turning back of a Christian who reverts back to the Old Testament types of the Mosaic Law, Mosaic sacrifices, etc. This is an indication that they did not truly understand the full implications of Christ and his work as the Antitype. Jesus is the reality, not the type. The type only illustrates the truth; it is not the truth. If a Christian were to revert to the types of the Old Testament, he would commit “reversioism” because he would minimize the person and work of Christ, especially the “finished” work of Christ. We need to be careful with the word “apostasy.” Christians use this term today only for theological liberalism, for seminaries or people that deny the truth, but the Bible uses this term for Christians who distort doctrine and distort the Christian life as well.
II. The more immediate context to Hebrews 10 deals with the person of Christ as the great High Priest of “good things to come by a greater and more perfect tabernacle” (He 9:11). The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins. They only anticipated by type the one who would finally and fully put away sins forever (He 9:12-14). “And for this cause he is the mediator [the High Priest] of the new testament [covenant], that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament they who are called might receive the promise of eternal life.” In other words, Jesus paid for the sins of Old Testament believers. The Old Testament sacrifices could never pay for sins; they could only illustrate the One who would.
Hebrews 9:23 gives one of those “better” phrases: “Therefore, it was necessary that the copies [types] of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.” He then proceeds to contrast Christ with the tabernacle of “type” in verses 24 and following. The “holy places” were types (copies) but Christ was the “true.” In this argument, he makes one of the most important principles of the book of Hebrews – the finished work of Christ (9:26ff). Note in 9:25 he did not have to offer himself “often” (also in 10:11). Jesus offered himself “once” (He 9:26, 28; 10:2, 10) and is “one” sacrifice (He 10:12, 14). Hebrews 10:18 says that there is “no longer any offering for sin.” This is important when we seek to understand the argument of the specific passage in Hebrews 10:26.
He 9: 23 Therefore it was necessary that the copies [types] of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices [note the major argument of the book emphasized here] than these [contrast].
The bath of the high priest when he consecrated himself for service does not compare with the priestly functions of Christ.
He 9:24 For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;
He 9:25 not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another—
He 9:26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
He 9:27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.
- Now that we understand both the argument of the book (the broadest contextual interpretation) and the more immediate section of the book (the next best contextual interpretation), we come to the specific passage of He 10:26.
III. The immediate context (which is the 3rd most important kind of contextual interpretation) presents Christ as the High Priest (He 10:21). This High Priest is “over the house of God.” This leads into a discussion on the subject of perseverance, especially to the family of God (He 10:23-25). This is obviously talking about the responsibility of Christians. This discussion leads into verse 26 with a “for.” This “for” explains what he has just presented – “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is.”
He 10: 26 For [This is the reason we should not abandon church assembly. This “for” introduces a particular form of reversionism, in the book of book of Hebrews – reverting to worship the types of the Old Testament. This also is the problem in Hebrews 6.]
“…if we sin willfully [after receiving full knowledge of Christ as the Antitype (the reality of whom the types were only shadows) and embrace Him as Savior] after we have received the knowledge of the truth [The word “knowledge” means full-knowledge so they knew Christ in the fullest sense of the word. After accepting Christ in the fullest sense of the word then with culpability revert back to Old Testament sacrifices], there no longer remains [as long as a believer operates under the unfinished work of the Old Testament sacrifices, he cannot have fellowship with the Lord because this flies in the face of His finished work on the cross], a sacrifice for sins [the word “sins” is literally a sin-offering in the Greek. The last phrase literally reads “no longer is there left behind a sacrifice for a sin-offering.]
If the believer goes into reversion about the one and final sacrifice of Christ, then he cannot remain in fellowship with the Lord.
Thus, the point of this verse is that some Jewish people came to embrace the finished work of the cross but abandoned that belief and reverted to the many sacrifices of the Old Testament. They abandoned the one sacrifice of the New Testament for the many of the Old Testament. The one sacrifice is the only sacrifice that can remove sin. It is either Christ’s sacrifice or none.
He 10:27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
The judgment in view will take place at the judgment seat of Christ [Bema Seat whereby Jesus evaluates the works of believers], not the great white throne. It is the judgment of believers (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10), not of unbelievers (cf. Rev. 20:11-15). It will result in loss of reward, not loss of salvation. The same fire (judgment) that will test believers will also consume unbelievers.”
He 10:28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?
The point of these verses is that since an Israelite who spurned the Old Covenant suffered a severe discipline, we will suffer a greater discipline if we spurn the superior New Covenant. Reversionism under the New Covenant has the effect of walking roughshod over the Son of God by despising Christ’s death. Also, it involves despising the superior blood of Jesus Christ that “sanctified” the reversionist (who is a Christian; cf. vv. 10, 14). Furthermore, the reversionist insults the Holy Spirit who graciously brought him or her to faith in Christ. These three parallel participial clauses in the Greek text stress the serious effect of distorting doctrine.
Willful rebels under the Old Covenant only lost their lives (cf. Deut. 17:2-7; 13:8), but willful rebels under the New Covenant lose an eternal reward. Not only so but God often begins to punish modern distorters of doctrie in this life.
He 10:30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
In Deuteronomy 32, which the writer quoted here twice (Deut. 32:35-36), Moses warned the Israelites against reversion. That was this writer’s point here as well. It is a terrifying prospect for a believer who has renounced his or her faith to fall under God’s hand of chastisement (not eternal damnation). Note that the writer addressed this warning to believers, though many interpreters have applied it to unbelievers.
He 10:32 But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated [they accepted the finished work of Christ personally], you endured a great struggle with sufferings: 33 partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; 34 for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven [they proved their true salvation experience by their works].
The writer concluded his warning by reminding his readers of their former faithfulness when tempted to encourage them to endure their present and future testings (cf. 4:12-16; 6:9-20).
In the past the original readers had proved faithful in severe trials of their faith. They had stood their ground when others had encouraged them to abandon it. They had withstood public shame and persecution for their faith. They had also unashamedly supported other believers who had undergone persecution in the same way.
They had also been willing to suffer material loss because they looked forward to a better inheritance in the future (cf. Luke 21:19). Moreover, they had done this joyfully, not grudgingly.
He 10:35 Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:
Now was no time to discard that confidence in a better reward (cf. 3:6; 4:16; 10:19). They needed to persevere, to keep on keeping on. By doing this they would do God’s will and eventually receive what He promised, namely an eternal reward (1:14; 3:14; 9:15).
If the writer’s concern had been the salvation of those readers who were unbelievers, this would have been an opportune time for him to exhort them to believe in Christ. He could have written, “For you have need of regeneration.” Instead he exhorted his readers to endure rather than distorting truth.
37 “For yet a little while,
And He who is coming will come and will not tarry.
38 Now the just shall live by faith;
But if anyone draws back,
My soul has no pleasure in him.”
After all, we will not have long to persevere. The Lord’s return is near (Rev. 22:20). In the meantime, we need to keep walking by faith. If we abandon that purpose, we will not please God.
“This observation [in v. 38b] is a figure of speech called litotes in which a positive idea is expressed by negating the opposite. As the larger context makes plain, he means, ‘God will be severely angered’ (see verse 27).”
The allusions in these verses are to Isaiah 26:21 and Habakkuk 2:3-4 in the Septuagint. The writer took all his Old Testament quotations from this version except the one in 10:30, which he took from the Hebrew Bible. “My righteous one” is a believer. “Shrinking back” refers to a believer distorting the finished work of Christ.
He 10:39 But we are not of those who draw back to perdition [ruin, not eternal damnation. The believer will ruin his life as a believer], but of those who believe to the saving of the soul [the Greek word for salvation has a wide range of meanings. It does not always refer to saving our soul eternally. This is one of those cases because the context is so abundantly clear. This is the saving of the believer’s soul from ruining his Christian life].
The writer assumed that his readers along with himself would not distort truth to the point of losing reward. “Destruction” (or ruin) could refer to either eternal damnation in hell or to temporal punishment. In view of what has preceded the latter alternative is in view (cf. Matt. 26:8; Mark 14:4; Acts 25:16). The writer did not want his readers to be the objects of God’s discipline. Likewise, the positive alternative set forth at the end of this verse is not a reference to conversion. It refers to the preservation of the faithful believer until he receives his full reward (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9). The “preserving of the soul” is equivalent to “saving the life.”
This meaning agrees well with the exposition of Hebrews 10:32-39. The readers were to live by faith in the midst of difficult times. The result of obedience to the Word of God would be a life-preserving walk instead of temporal discipline, the loss of physical life.