This section completes the explanation of Jesus as our perfect priest, who has offered the perfect sacrifice for sin. In our previous study (chapter 9)the writer spoke particularly about Jesus’ blood: the focus in chapter 10 is rather on his body, but of course both are ways of speaking of Jesus’ sacrifice of himself (cf. how the Lord’s Supper speaks of both his body and his blood).
A shadow points to a reality beyond itself, and it reveals something of the shape of that reality, but in itself it is ineffective – what can a shadow do to effect anything?! So the law was only a shadow that pointed forward to a reality yet to come, its ineffectiveness made plain by the endless repetition of the prescribed sacrifices.
The writer understands David’s words in Psalm 40 as being prophetic of the words of Christ. So it speaks of the truth that the will of God would be accomplished, not through animal sacrifices, but through the body of his anointed one – his body is the particular gift God had prepared for the accomplishment of the divine plan. So two points are made: (i) animal sacrifices were not the means of fulfilling God’s plan, but rather (ii) “the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” was the appointed means. What it accomplished (ie what God’s will was) was to make us holy, which here refers to a definite change of state, qualifying us (like priests under the old covenant) to draw near to God.
The contrast is again made between the many sacrifices offered under the old covenant and the “one sacrifice for sins” offered by Christ. The sufficiency of that one sacrifice is made clear by the fact that Christ has “sat down”, implying his work is completed, he merely waits now for what he has accomplished to be worked out both in terms of his enemies(v.13) and his people, for “he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy” (v.14). “Perfect” in the sense of everything that makes us unfit to draw near to God has been removed (in lots of ways we are still far from perfect, but we could not be more acceptable to God than we now are); “for ever” implies this cannot be undone or lost; and the present tense “being made perfect”, in contrast to v.10, would seem to imply an ongoing work being applied to us (though some commentators suggest one shouldn’t read too much into the change of tense here, and that it means the same as v.10).
Once again the Scriptures are quoted to establish his point – and do notice how the quotation is introduced: it is what the Holy Spirit says today, his Living Word. Again two points are being made from the quotation: the second we might expect, namely the forgiveness that is now ours, but the first is less clear. Why does he particularly remind them of the words in v.16? It is perhaps linked to the idea of being made perfect, such that not only is sin removed but we are positively changed on the inside, given new hearts so that now we might “serve the living God” (9:14).
The application of these great truths is what we get onto in the next study (see how it will begin with the word “Therefore” in v.19), but for now feed on the encouragement for our faith here.