Hebrews 10:26–39 . . .
“Warnings, Followed by Encouragement”
In Warren's previous commentary that helped reveal the meaning of 10:19–25, we saw the author's sincere and urgent exhortation that believers not throw their lives away but instead hold firmly to the promises that kept them going. It was his call to persecuted, saved Jewish Christians — his brothers and sisters — to persevere in faith and remain unswervingly hopeful.
But as we come to the closing verses of chapter 10, we see our author warning his readers that, just as there was no effective sacrifice under the old covenant to free believers from the penalty of their sins, in the same way, Christ’s sacrifice won't protect believers who willfully continue to sin; God's wrath will indeed be on them! However, if they'll devotedly persevere in their repentance, they'll be richly rewarded.
This letter will now present dire warnings against apostasy. Contextually, this passage should be understood similarly to earlier references of Israel's punishment in the wilderness (3:12–19), coupled with the dangers of a shallow faith (6:1–8). Here, there's no concern for a loss of salvation, only God's severe punishment of those who intentionally, deliberately, and continually rebel against his words and will.
Warning: The Old Covenant’s Punishment (10:26–28)
The author's warnings in today's text relate closely to the exhortations found in last week's verses. If Christ's work is complete and final, so that "sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary" (10:18), then to reject his supreme and ultimate one-time sacrifice is to leave oneself without forgiveness. Under the old covenant, the consequence for deliberate and continued sin is severe for those who've learned the truth about Jesus: "a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire."
26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses (10:26–28).
Interestingly at the start of this text, the author uses the "we" pronoun, including himself in his warning. Doing so makes it likely that he's directed his warning not only to unbelievers who've fallen short in their faith but also believers. This first warning is directed specifically to those who's sinful acts are willful, continual, and deliberate, despite of the fact that the sinner had "received the knowledge of the truth."
If we give up and turn our backs on the truth that we’ve learned and all that we’ve been given, we repudiate Christ’s sacrifice and are left on our own to face God's judgment — what a mighty fierce judgment that will be! Having been exhorted to act upon the certainty of what we've already learned about Christ, we find the first of many warnings that are sharp and terrifying because the threat of spiritual failure is genuine and never-ending. Clearly, the future hope we profess unswervingly is based on the Lord’s promised return and our receipt of eternal inheritance (10:23). Today our spiritual journey leads us toward the Promised Land, traversing a wasteland of temptation and suffering. In the end, it can lead to deciding to "deliberately keep on sinning" (v. 26).
The Greek text tells of a believer’s deliberate or preplanned decision to sin, despite knowing full well what he or she ought to do or not do. Here in v. 27, we find biblical precedents for the "fearful expectation of judgment" when one sins continually and deliberately. For example, those who violated the Laws of Moses, while enduring God’s liberating guidance during the exodus, died; independent public witnesses were needed for the charge to be valid (v. 28).
Contemplate this: If rebellious disregard for the old covenant warranted death, consider how much greater the penalty would be for those who intentionally defied Christ and his new covenant. The judgment that's spelled out here — "of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God" — relates specifically to external condemnation, namely the "raging fire" and fury of hell. The author's warning herein is clear and severe! The three judgments for rejecting Christ's new covenant are greater than mere death for rejecting the old covenant: (1) "raging fire that will consume the enemies of God" (v. 27); (2) "It is mine to avenge; I will repay" and "The Lord will judge his people" (v. 30); and (3) "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (v. 31).
Warning: The New Covenant’s Punishment (vv. 29–31)
Next, our author warns readers that punishment for denying Christ will be more severe than other offenses. Included is blasphemy (Leviticus 24:14–16), which is the evil act of profaning the vivid images of Jesus while insulting his most gracious Spirit (v. 29).
29How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” [quoted from Deut. 32:35], and again, “The Lord will judge his people” [from Deut. 32:36; Psalm 135:14]. 31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (10:29–31).
Now we're given three more characteristics of willful, continual, and deliberate sin: (1) disrespecting Father God's Son; (2) profaning Jesus' blood of the new covenant that sanctified him; and (3) insulting the most gracious Spirit. Such deliberate or defiant sinfulness takes no account of Jesus Christ, or his blood that he shed at Calvary, or for his new covenant that he established by his atoning once-for-all sacrifice. It therefore insults the Holy Spirit of grace who presents Christ to us in a glorifying manner.
The warning of the consequences of sinful defiance is declared in v. 29's question, which should cause the defiant sinner to pause. The verse refers specifically to the offending party being one who was "sanctified" by the blood of Jesus' new covenant. The New Testament (and "Hebrews") confirms that salvation cannot be lost (John 10:28–29). Those to whom this letter was written weren't Christians who were about to fall from grace into damnation. They were believers who, because they'd failed to obey God's Word, were destined to suffer severe consequences; of all people on earth, the Jewish Christians knew better and should have obeyed.
The three Old testament quotations in v. 30 overtly warn that there will be consequences for disobedience, even for God's chosen people, his saved believers. The prior verse pointed out that those Christians who knew most about the truth deserved punishment the most for violating that truth. You can see in v. 30 that Deut. 32:35–36, which is taken from "The Song of Moses," refers to God taking "vengeance" on Israel's enemies, punishing them for their aggression against his people. This "Hebrews" passage describes God's punishment of his own deliberately disobedient children. Since believers know (better than anyone) the importance and value of Christ's sacrifice, God will respond with painful judgment to those who profane his covenant and insult the Spirit of grace by their intentional, continual sin acts.
Encouragement, Thanks to a Promised Reward (vv. 32–35)
Our author next gives the harshest warning, reminding his Christian-Jewish audience of the "hard times" of persecution they'd endured, being abused in public. But suddenly and unexpectedly he'll stop warning and start encouraging them to persevere in confidence and godliness because God will reward those who don't give up.
32Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded (10:32–35).
Rick Renner, author of Sparkling Gems from the Greek, focuses on three Greek words in v. 32. "The first is 'great.' In Greek, it's the word mega, describing something very big. The second word, 'conflict' (Greek athlesis) refers to a committed athlete. This undoubtedly tells you that when you receive word from the Lord, it may throw you into one of the greatest challenges of your entire life! The third word, 'afflictions,' is the Greek pathema, usually referring to mental pressure or to suffering that affects the mind. It isn't talking about mental sickness but to a war in your soul or an attack on your mind."
Therefore, writes Renner, "Verse 32 could be taken to mean: 'After your were illuminated, you endured a mega-sized ordeal that threw you into the biggest fight you ever faced in your life. But the most critical part of the struggle resulted from the unremitting assaults that literally battered your mind.' We're to take a stand of faith in response to God's words for and about our lives. We're also to realize that Satan may try to use negative thoughts to war against your mind, but he cannot prevent God's plans from materializing."
Clearly, what Jesus' incarnation teaches us about God’s gift of salvation is this: Endurance, in the face of public exposure and abuse (v. 33), when possessions become lost and imprisonment occurs (v. 34), will bring measurable and eternal reward in the heavenly kingdom to come (v. 35). The believing readers were strongly urged not to throw away their confidence, since it enabled great reward — a true salvation that sustained them in their previous persecution (v. 34). Just as they'd persevered during the old covenant, they now had to push on and endure so that they'd act according to God’s will, entitling them to receive the blessings he'd promised to those who remained faithful. The Son — made perfect in his suffering — models very well this pattern of salvation.
If you've ever invested time, money, energy, and commitment into God's kingdom, you can be absolutely certain that the Lord has seen all that you've done and he plans to reimburse you in full (v. 35). The term "be richly rewarded" is from the Greek misthapodosia, meaning a recompense, reimbursement, settlement, or repatriation. That Greek word conveys or implies that God will surely remember the time, love, money, patience, and so on, that you've invested in your dedicated service to him. He'll see to it that you're fully recompensed, receiving reimbursement for all that you've spent to accomplish the assignment that he's given you; he'll make a settlement with you for your past expenses; and he'll make sure that you receive full reparations for any damage you've sustained because of the spiritual battles you've fought for him.
“To Those Who Have Faith and Are Saved” (vv. 36–39)
Thankfully, our doubt can certainly be overcome. And our dedication and conviction of what God has promised can be heightened, so long as we continue to effectively persevere at following God's plans and desires.
36You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay” [from Isaiah 26:20]. 38And, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back” [from Habakkuk 2:4].
39But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved (10:36–39).
We need to stick it out, staying with God’s plan so we’ll be there for the promised completion. It won’t be long now because Jesus is on his way and will show up shortly. Anyone who is right with God will thrive on loyal trust; but if he cuts and runs, God won’t be very happy. Those who become quitters will lose out. But those of us who’ll remain faithful and righteous will survive, trusting the Savior the entire way.
Verse 36's "when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised" is underpinned by the words of Minor Prophet Habakkuk: "But the person in right standing before God through loyal and steady believing is fully alive, really alive" (Habakkuk 2:4 MSG). He asked God to judge the wicked in Judah because they were apparently getting away with their sin. I n response, God answered Habakkuk’s prayer for judgment by assuring him that judgment would come soon, by the Babylonians who'd overcome the wicked Judaeans. The prophet went on (Hebrews 10:38) with his exhortation: The righteous must persevere, for God finds no pleasure in those who shrink back in times of adversity.
Our exploration and study of Christ's perfect and complete knowledge is essential in a believer's life. It enables us to not become one who "shrinks back" from persevering in faith; we're to remain faithful or risk the consequences that result from complacency, doubt, and apostasy (v. 38). Thus, thanks to "he who is coming" (v. 37), we become "those who have faith and are saved" (v. 39). The author again uses the "we" pronoun, thereby assuring everyone that they weren't among those who'd shrunk back to receive judgment's destruction. They, instead, were those who persevered persecution most faithfully. As a result, they'd surely preserve their souls.
Scripture has made it clear that Jesus is Father God's solution for our sinful state. Being confident in his return, we're obliged to maintain our faith in an unswerving manner. Those who lose faith and surrender themselves to doubt, sometimes followed by disobedience, will undoubtedly suffer perilous consequences without losing their gift of eternal salvation.
As we close our discussion of v. 39, we're to remember that those who succumb to fear and doubt, while not forfeiting their gift of eternal salvation, are inevitably destined to receive God's punishment and wrath. This verse speaks to its readers rather confidently. All who "persevere in faith" need not worry about the fiery judgment that God has in store for those who choose to rebel against his word and his will. Undoubtedly, Jesus is the remedy that God provides so he can completely forgive our every sin.
- Q. 1 In rejecting Christ, of what three grievous sins would readers of this text be guilty (v. 29)?… With what consequence (v. 31)?
- Q. 2 Can you recall the rewards that God has given you in the past for being faithful?… Are you due for another reward?
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— Listen to chapter 10, narrated by Max McLean.