26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For,
“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
38 but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”
39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. – Hebrews 10:26-39 ESV
Because of all that Jesus has done for us and made available to us, we should have confidence, a secure assurance that we have access into God’s presence because we have been right with God. But we must “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV). We have a part to play. Among all the distractions and difficulties of this world, we must keep our eyes focused on the hope to come: the return of Christ and our final glorification. As followers of Christ, we will find the going tough at times on this side of heaven. Living as a Christian requires faith because so much of what we have been promised in Christ is yet to be fulfilled. Chapter 11 will give a glimpse of what faith looked like for the Old Testament saints. Each of the ones mentioned is recognized for having had faith – “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).
This section of chapter 10 is difficult. There are many different interpretations as to what the author is saying and who he is referencing in these verses. There are those who use this passage to prove that Christians can lose their salvation. There are others who say it is referring to Christians who “fall away” from the faith (Hebrews 3:12) and risk losing their rewards at the judgment seat of Christ.
I am not sure either view is correct. The author is writing to a congregation made up primarily of Jews who have heard the good news of Jesus Christ and expressed faith in Him as their Messiah and Savior. Up until this point, the author has been diligently attempting to help his Jewish audience to understand the superior value of Jesus and His sacrifice on their behalf. He has spent nine chapters contrasting the old and new covenants, presenting Jesus and the new covenant in His blood as not only superior but singular in its effectiveness. Through His death on the cross, Jesus accomplished for man what the Law could never have done. His sacrifice provided a means by which sinful men could be made right with a holy God.
But there were evidently those in the author’s audience who were having second thoughts about the efficacy of the saving work of Jesus. They were having doubts as to whether His death was enough. So they were reverting back to their old habits of relying on the Law. Evidently, they had returned to offering sacrifices in an attempt to hedge their bets and “cover over” any sins they had committed. Perhaps they preferred the sacrificial system because they viewed it as an easy way to continue in sin and receive atonement. With Christianity, their behavior was expected to change.
It is likely that they had heard the words of the apostle John.
Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.…Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. – 1 John 3:6, 9 NLT
They were probably familiar with the words of the apostle Paul as well.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? – Romans 6:1 ESV
But unwilling or unable to change their behavior, they had decided to use the sacrificial system as a stopgap; an easy alternative that allowed them to sin and receive atonement at any time. That’s why the author begins this section with a warning against deliberate sinfulness.
…if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. – Hebrews 10:26 NLT
What he has in mind are those sins that are willful and planned, not those that are committed out of ignorance or weakness. It would seem that there were those who were sinning on purpose, and relying on the old sacrificial system to atone for those sins. The author accuses them of having “trampled underfoot the Son of God” and having “profaned the blood of the covenant” (Hebrews 10:29 ESV).
In falling back to the old covenant as an alternative source of atonement, they were saying the sacrifice of Jesus had not been enough. They were essentially rejecting His offering as insufficient and not having fully appeased the wrath of God. The author warns them that if they reject Christ’s sacrifice, there “no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26 ESV). In other words, if the sacrifice of the sinless Son of god was not enough, then all that remains is judgment. A return to the old covenant was not an option.
So to whom is the author referring? Is he warning Christians from falling away from the faith and losing their salvation? That interpretation would contradict a host of other passages that promise believers the assurance of their salvation. Jesus Himself made several unambiguous promises regarding the believer’s assurance of salvation.
“And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day.” – John 6:39 NLT
“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.” – John 10:28-29 NLT
The apostle Paul wrote with unwavering confidence: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).
Jesus’ sacrifice was fully sufficient and completely effective. It accomplished the will of the Father by fully satisfying the debt that was owed as a result of humanity’s sin. Jesus died once and no other sacrifice was needed. The problem the author is warning about is the very real possibility of someone hearing the good news regarding Christ’s sacrificial death, seemingly accepting it, but then later determining it was not enough. The issue is one of confidence. The author uses this word two times in chapter ten.
Therefore brothers, since we have this confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…” – Hebrews 10:19, 22 ESV
Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward…” – Hebrews 10:35 ESV
Saving faith is an enduring faith. It lasts. But there have always been those who seem to express faith in Jesus and then, when the troubles and trials come, they turn away. They reject the truth. They determine that Jesus is not enough and the promise of salvation is not sufficient. Unwilling to wait for the final fulfillment of God’s promise they seek their satisfaction and security in this life. They refuse to believe that their sins are forgiven and revert back to a life of works and self-righteousness. Some simply reject the idea that they can be made right with God at all.
The author warns that these individuals face the judgment of God. He gives the very sobering warning, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31 ESV). It would seem that his talk of God’s vengeance and judgment has nothing to do with believers, but with those who never fully believed in the first place. He makes this clear when he reminds his readers of the days immediately after their salvation.
Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. – Hebrews 10:32-33 NLT
They had experienced difficulty in the past and were able to endure and remain faithful because they believed in the hope of eternal life.
You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. – Hebrews 10:34 NLT
These people had not rejected the saving work of Jesus at the first sign of trouble. Why? Because their faith was real. Their hope was in something greater than a trouble-free life. Their confidence was in the promise of God of a great reward to come, not their best life now. So the author encourages them not to throw away their confident trust in the Lord. They didn’t need the safety and security of the sacrificial system; they needed endurance.
Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. – Hebrews 10:36 NLT
The one who “shrinks back” will receive no reward. God takes no pleasure in those who hear the good news of the gospel but then refuse to believe it. But the author makes it clear that true believers “are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction,” but instead, they “are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved” (Hebrews 10:39 NLT).
True believers hold on to the truth and faithfully endure. They place their confidence in the once-for-all-time sacrifice of Jesus and continue to persevere even in the midst of temptations, trials, and tests. Even their sins don’t derail them because they believe in the reality of the promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV).
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.