Hebrews 10 – what is abolished?

The passage in question is often used as a prooftext that the law was abolished in order to establish the new covenant. If it was so, what we call “new covenant” is not the new covenant of Jeremiah, which is the law in the heart, not the absence of the law.

Let us consider the passage in question.

Heb. 10:1 “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near.”

Indeed, if those who offered sacrifices were made perfect, there would have been no need for another sacrifice.

It is worth considering the meaning of the term “perfect”. We read the following concerning Jesus from the very same author:

Heb 5:7 “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”

So according to the writer Jesus, though he had the position of a son, learned obedience, that is, he learned something that he didn’t know. If he knew how to obey, there would have been no need to learn it.

Now, we need to clarify a few things here. Learning obedience does not mean Jesus was a disobedient child beforehand. The contrast is with Adam, who, though he was innocent, he should have learned obedience through the test God ordained – for if you did not know, it is God who ordains the tests, just look at Jesus’ when the Spirit draged him out into the wilderness to be tested – but Adam failed the test.

Jesus withstood it, and through the tests – and the victories – he learned obedience. Obedience is making the right choices.

Heb 4:15 “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Is it not something we all should also do? To resist temptation and thereby grow in our walk with God?

Now we find something else. Jesus was “being made perfect” by learning obedience. Thus, he gained something he did not have – perfection. Oh, does it mean he was not perfect? When Adam was tested, he was to prove that he was worthy to enjoy the blessings of the Garden of Eden and the company of God. He failed the test, so he did not satisfy the criteria, he was not perfect.

Don’t we have similar test? When we went for our driving test, we had to prove that we were qualified to drive cars. It doesn’t matter what we claim to be able to do, unless we are tested and proved, we don’t qualify. If we pass the test, perfect, we can drive. Perfect doesn’t refer to sinless perfection, but rather to satisfying the requirements.

Jesus learned obedience through the things he suffered – and withstood – and was made perfect. He was “being made perfect, and he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him“.

We notice that the condition is “obey”. It is about doing, not about head knowledge. Head knowledge surely helps one to choose right, but belief doesn’t replace deeds. Perhaps we should do a study to find out what we needed to do if we wanted to obey him. I suggest you do conduct such a study. You will find that he taught about what it meant to truly obey the laws of God. 1John is in agreement with this:

1John 2:3 “And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He who says “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: 6 he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

1John 5:2 “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

Surely, there is nothing burdensome about not stealing or not murdering.

So I contend that Jesus called for obeying God. Those who obey are the ones that heard his voice and follow him.

Now let us continue our discussion with Hebrews 10. We recall that the sacrifices could not make those who offered them perfect. Of course, not, because the sin sacrifice was the proof of failure, not the proof of victory. Sin sacrifices were given as crutches to restore what was lost, not as tools of victory. The one who lived right did not need to offer sacrifices.
Certainly, these sacrificial laws served as shadows of the real thing, for in the new covenant God gives his laws directly into the heart, and empowers his people to walk in his statutes. Then there is no need for sacrifices, for the lives of his people are characterised by victory, not failure.

Besides, the sacrificial system was not designed to deal with sin as a general condition, but with individual sinful acts. The person who sinned had to repent and bring a sacrifice to the LORD. Sacrifices were for particular sins, not for sin as a general condition. Thus, while those offenders who repented and offered up sacrifices gained forgiveness and were restored, they received no supernatural help from God to conquer the next sin around the corner.

Of course, God did give them help. He gave the law that told people what was sin, but it was their duty to put his laws into their hearts, so that they obeyed them habitually. Those who attained to this level were in a similar position that those who are in the new covenant of Jeremiah – they had the law of God in their heart, obedience was their nature.
Now we come to verse 5. Of course, God did not desire sacrifices and offerings, he desired obedience. Sacrifices were the proof of failure when offered for sin. God desired obedience, not failure. The victorious needed to offer no sacrifice.
The writer puts the words of Ps. 40 into Jesus’ mouth, so he wants us to study that particular passage, for we need to see it in context. The psalm is about David, and it is he who speaks. What is the reason the writer of Hebrews stops quoting Psalms 40 just before the solution is presented? I suggest his readers would have checked the context, so there was no need to quote it all.

I recommend we all read the psalm in whole, it is beautiful. Here is the relevant passage, I will not quote all of it:

Ps. 40:7 “Sacrifice and offering you do not desire; but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. 8 Then I said, “Look, I come; in the roll of the book it is written of me; 9 I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.””

Wow! Because God has given him an open ear he heard what God desired. And the result of having the law in his heart is the desire to do his will. Obedience. Hearing the Master and obeying him leads to victory. There is no need for sacrifices and offerings.

“He abolishes the first [i.e. the failure resulting in sacrifices and offerings] in order to establish the second [i.e. obedience through giving open ears and the law in the heart].”

The text says nothing about abolishing the law or the mosaic covenant. Indeed, the passage was true of David, who lived under the mosaic covenant. He was the man after God’s own heart. However, it deals with the power of the new covenant – the supernatural help.

Of course, the new covenant of Jeremiah is only different from that of Moses in the manner the law is given. In the mosaic covenant God gave the law through Moses and commanded the people to put it into their heart and teach their household how to obey the LORD. In the new covenant of Jeremiah the law is given directly into the heart, and thus, the learning process is eliminated. Receiving the law of God is receiving his spirit, which Paul calls the new nature that automatically obeys God.


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