And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, and upon their mind I will write them,” He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (10:15–17)
Finally, the new sacrifice of Christ is effective because it fulfills the promise of a New Covenant. In other words, the new sacrifice had to be made and had to be effective because God promised that it would be. The new sacrifice was central to the New Covenant, which God said would put His laws upon their heart, and upon their mind, and which would cause Him to forget their sins and their lawless deeds. The new sacrifice was effective, therefore, because it had to accomplish these things (prophesied in Jeremiah 31:33–34) in order for God to fulfill His promises, which cannot be broken.
Though the New Covenant was new, it was not a new revelation, but the fulfillment of an old one. Now that it had arrived, Jews, more than any others, should have welcomed it with unbounded joy and relief. The promise was not Jeremiah’s, but was God’s—the very witness of the Holy Spirit.
The readers were being put on the horns of a great dilemma, which they could not escape. The Holy Spirit, through the writer of Hebrews, is saying, “You cannot accept the teaching of your own beloved prophet Jeremiah and yet reject the New Covenant he prophesied. You cannot accept one without the other.” To accept Jeremiah is to accept Jesus Christ. To reject Jesus Christ is to reject Jeremiah (not to mention the many other prophets who spoke of the Messiah) and to reject the Holy Spirit Himself.
The Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Heb. 10:15–18)
Some of the most memorable passages in all the Bible are those that serve as conclusions to great doctrinal portions of Scripture. Probably the two most famous come from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In chapter 8 Paul sums up his systematic exposition of the doctrine of salvation with a great and well-loved statement of Christian assurance: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39). From that high plateau Paul then goes upward into the doctrine of God and his sovereignty in chapters 9–11, climaxing with this great conclusion: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!… For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33–36).
Perhaps Hebrews 10 lacks the sheer eloquence of those great conclusions. In fact, the absence of that kind of rhetorical flourish is one of many indicators that the apostle Paul did not write Hebrews. Yet we have in this passage another great conclusion. If it is not great in its prose, then it is great in its ideas, great in terms of the magnitude and significance of the argument it brings to a close.
A Great Statement
The central doctrinal section of Hebrews began in chapter 7. In this lengthy exposition the writer has compared Christ and his priestly work to the whole sacrificial system of the old covenant. He showed that Christ is superior as priest to Aaron and his successors and better when compared to Melchizedek, who came before. He showed in chapter 8 that Christ’s covenant is better than the old one in Moses, and in chapter 9 that Christ’s blood is better than that of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament. John Calvin rightly observes: “There is, indeed, no book in Holy Scripture which speaks so clearly of the priesthood of Christ, which so highly exalts the virtue and dignity of that only true sacrifice which He offered by His death, which so abundantly deals with the use of ceremonies as well as their abrogation, and, in a word, so fully explains that Christ is the end of the Law.”
In concluding this great argument, our present verses drive home the lesson the writer has been hoping to teach, namely, that while the old covenant offered no real solution for sin, Christ’s priestly work in the new covenant successfully and sufficiently solves this great problem of all mankind:
Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Heb. 10:11–14)
These verses may not have all the eloquence of Romans 8, or the soaring prose of Paul’s doxology in Romans 11, but they deliver the most wonderful good news ever heard by the ears of men. Indeed, all of redemptive history, from the time when God clothed guilty Adam and Eve with the skins of the slain animal at the gate of the garden; to Abraham receiving a ram to be slain in the place of his son Isaac upon Mount Moriah; to the Israelites in the time of Moses, spreading the lamb’s blood on their doorposts lest the angel of death should come in; to generation after generation of Israel, with the priests slaying thousands and millions of lambs and goats and bulls, sacrifices the writer of Hebrews insists could never have atoned for one human sin—all of that history had craned its neck to hear words such as these, had waited with bated breath, had cried with bitter tears, “How long, O Lord, how long!” to hear words like these. Where is the lamb? Where is the true sacrifice? Where is the real atonement that will not merely place an ill-fitting lid on the boiling cauldron of sin, but actually exhaust the fury of God’s wrath and justice against it? Where is, as John the Baptist said upon spying the Lord Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)? Hebrews 10:11–14 proclaims the one true sacrifice that takes away our sins and makes us holy.
The primary purpose that motivated this letter was to warn the Hebrew Christians not to fall back into the ways of the old covenant. They were experiencing persecution—either from the Jewish community or the Roman authorities, or both—and the pressure made a denial of Christ in favor of Judaism a tempting option. But these verses sum up the whole of his revulsion at such a thought. What? he might say, return to a religion, a priesthood, a covenant, that despite all the labor, all the activity, all the blood and sweat and tears “can never take away sins” (Heb. 10:11)? It is unimaginable folly, despite the worldly pain of persecution for the sake of Christ, to go from forgiveness and peace and real access to God, back to the old situation of sin and its dreadful alienation. By his one and finished sacrifice, Christ has put away sin and made holy all who hold fast to him. No earthly prize is of such value; no worldly sacrifice is too great for such gain.
This was an overwhelming argument for the first-century Hebrew Christian, fretfully wondering if fidelity to Christ was worth the cost. But it speaks just as powerfully to people today, fretfully considering the claims of Christ and the cost of discipleship. Whether we are on the doorstep of faith or the exit ramp of unbelief, what we find in these verses is equally significant. What do verses 11–14 tell us, but that in Christ we have not mere religion, but salvation? We do not have ritual and tradition, but spiritual reality and power. We have not warm sentiments, not moral self-help, but the forgiveness of our sins by the work of the Savior, and power for holiness from a heavenly Lord.
Here is the great statement that makes this a great conclusion: Jesus Christ has done upon the cross what no priest of Israel could ever have done, and what no worldly religion can ever achieve today. For both the Hebrew Christian in danger of abandoning Christ and today’s fence-sitting doubter in danger of passing by the one and true salvation, these verses sound a clanging gospel bell: there are a true sacrifice for our forgiveness and a priest reigning in heaven to make us into what we were created to be. If we hear and believe, we gain the right to sing the gospel hymn with joy:
My God is reconciled;
his pardoning voice I hear;
he owns me for his child,
I can no longer fear;
with confidence I now draw nigh,
with confidence I now draw nigh,
and “Father, Abba, Father!” cry.
A Great Transition
Hebrews 10:11–18 is not only a conclusion, but also a transitional passage, setting the stage for the outstanding applications that follow in the rest of this epistle. It does this through the use of an expression we have encountered numerous times already, the phrase “made perfect.” This phrase occurs in verse 14 for the seventh out of nine times in the Book of Hebrews: “By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” In earlier chapters it mainly referred to Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 2:10 we read that “it was fitting that he … in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” As we observed at the time, the point is not that Jesus was ever less than perfect in his person, but rather that the experiences of his life and death perfected him—prepared him or qualified him—for his office and work as Redeemer. Hebrews 5:8–9 elaborates on this same point, stating, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”
These statements regarding the perfecting of Jesus Christ present the main doctrinal point of Hebrews, namely, his perfect and unique fitness to put away our sins, both as perfect sacrifice and as perfect priest. Once this point has been made, the writer of Hebrews then uses the same phrase, “made perfect,” in reference to what God intends for believers. Indeed, the last four uses of this expression, beginning in chapter 10, all refer to believers. Hebrews 10:1 complains that the old covenant “can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.” Verse 14 says that Christ, by his one sacrifice, “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Later on we will consider the great statement of Christian worship that is found in Hebrews 12:18–24, in which believers in heaven are described as “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:23).
This is what unfolds in the flow of Hebrews. Christ was made perfect in his role as Savior and High Priest for the church in order to sit at God’s right hand—this is the first half—so that we would be made perfect in him for our role as worshiping priests in heaven before the very throne of God—this is the second half. This is the macrostructure of redemption as taught in the Book of Hebrews.
A Great Reality
It is important that we understand the concepts and the terms in this passage. The Greek word translated as “made perfect” (teteleiōken) might also be rendered as “made complete,” “finished,” or “made fitting.” This is how it was used in reference to Jesus. When applied to us, it is used almost synonymously with the idea of sanctification. We see this conjunction of ideas in Hebrews 10:14, where believers are “made perfect” and “are being made holy.”
The basic meaning of holiness is “set apart.” Things that are made holy are taken out of a profane category and placed into a sacred or holy category. This was undoubtedly on the writer’s mind because of the priestly context. Just as the vessels of the temple were holy, set apart for sacred service, so too believers are set apart for the service of God.
In this sense, holiness emphasizes status or position. It is not our character, not our intrinsic holiness that sets us apart for God and to God. Far from it! Verse 10 emphasizes that we “have been sanctified” or “made holy” by the cross. We have received this status and holy position by the work of Christ.
But holiness also carries the idea of conformity to God’s character. Holy things are to be kept pure; their purity is fitting for their holy status. If we, therefore, have been made holy by Christ, God’s purpose is that we will now conform to his holy character. This is put very strikingly by the apostle Paul in Romans 8:29, where he states that we were saved, even predestined, “to be conformed to the image of [God’s] Son.”
Another way to get at this is to follow the tenses of the verbs in Hebrews 10. We have here the past, the present, and the future. First, there was a past completed action: “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12). The verbs “offered” and “sat down” occur in the past tense. They are in the Greek aorist tense, which here signifies a completed past action.
Verse 14 tells us the effect of Christ’s work and uses a different tense, the perfect tense: “By a single offering he has perfected” us. The perfect tense signifies a completed past action that has an ongoing effect into the present and future. Something of vital significance has happened, and its effects continue now and forever. Here the effect is that we have been made perfect. Finally, we have a present participle: “those who are being sanctified.” This signifies a present activity that continues into the future.
Putting these verbs together, we have an event that took place in the past, that is finished and completed—the sacrificial death of Christ, along with his subsequent resurrection and enthronement as heavenly high priest. This has implications and results that come forward to us—we have been made perfect in his perfection. Finally, there is a present process—we are therefore being made holy. That is to say, we are being transformed into what we have been made.
The key to all of this is the perfect tense and the statement “he has perfected” us. The perfect tense is vital to Christianity as to no other religion. No other faith rests upon the present power of past events, namely, the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is why Christianity alone is good news. It is a gospel because it presents news of great events that changed everything once and for all. What has happened to Christ makes our salvation possible and real. If Christ’s death has not happened, we are damned in our sins; but if it has happened—and it has!—we who believe are saved with great joy, secure in him forever.
This has important implications for our view of the Christian life. Our sanctification has a once-for-all as well as an ongoing sense. It is “already” as well as “not yet.” A popular Christian bumper sticker says, “I’m not perfect, just forgiven,” but in an important sense this is not true! In the eyes of God you have been made perfect because you are in Christ; you are a beneficiary of his perfection. Of course, there is a process that is not yet complete, but a Christian’s sanctification is so certain of achievement that it is now viewed as accomplished: “You have been made perfect.”
The present tense of Christianity is always linked to and rests upon the past tense of Christ’s finished work. Christianity says to believers, “Because he died you have died in him. Because he arose, you are alive in him. Because he is made perfect, you are made perfect in him.” As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).
These realities, however, are not abstracted from our present life. What we have been made in the heavenlies is not unrelated to what we must become on the earth. The Christian rule is this: we are to be what we are in Christ. Since we have been made perfect in Christ, we are now becoming holy in practical ways. Holiness is our established destiny, and so it is becoming our present reality. If this cannot be said of us as individuals, our claim to be in Christ at all is challenged.
To return to the thought world of Hebrews, we think of Israel’s high priest wearing a golden plate on his turban that read “Holy to the Lord.” That same designation has been applied to us by Jesus Christ. We are perfect, fit, complete. This is our identity, our destiny, our reality. It is the spiritual gravity of every Christian’s life to which we are being pulled and shaped and sometimes shoved by the Spirit of God living within us. We cannot escape it, and if we do, that simply bears testimony that we are not in Christ at all. Those who possess faith in Christ simply cannot go on living as they did before. We are different because of what has happened—not by a power that is from us, but a power that is from heaven, where Christ reigns for us and in us.
Hebrews 10:15–17 looks back on the new covenant, already examined in chapter 8, to highlight both the external and the internal, the objective and the subjective aspects of our salvation: “And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,’ then he adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more’ ” (Heb. 10:15–17). God has forgiven our sins (v. 17)—this relates to justification. It is external and objective. He has put his law in our hearts and written it upon our minds (v. 16)—this is sanctification, and it is internal and subjective. Salvation is a definitive act of God whereby he forgives our sins forever and accepts us in Christ. But it is also a lifelong process of deliverance from the power of sin and the coming of new life that is “after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
I can think of nothing more thrilling than this, that I will become perfect, “like God in true holiness.” I will become perfect as the creature God intended me to be. I will become perfect in the bearing of his image in conformity to Christ. I will be perfect in fruit, perfect in worship, and perfect in thought, word, and deed. It is staggering to my mind, so foreign is this to my actual present experience! And yet this, because of what Christ has done for me, is my reality, and not what is now seen in me. This is what is true and real for all believers in Christ. We will be perfect in glory—the glory that comes from him and reflects back to the praise of his name. The very thought of this should create in us a great appetite for practical holiness, with dread of and loathing for sin. If we have grasped only a portion of this truth, if we have laid hold of a fragment of our true identity in Christ, we will no longer live as we have.
A Great Comparison
These great truths are all focused on the one great comparison that is driven home in the Book of Hebrews. By now we are familiar with it: a comparison between Israel’s priests and the perfect high priest, Jesus Christ. There in all his futility stands the priest of the old covenant, day after day offering the same sacrifices over and over, reminding us of, but unable to repair, the terrible problem of sin. Hebrews 10:11 sounds the familiar refrain that the old priests and their sacrifices “can never take away sins.” The entire picture is one of futility, fatigue, and frustration. The greatest possible contrast is presented when we then consider the effectual work of the true high priest, Jesus Christ: “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:12–14).
One commentator puts the contrast in these striking terms:
The priest of the Old Testament stands timid and uneasy in the holy place, anxiously performing his awful service there, and hastening to depart when the service is done, as from a place where he has no free access, can never feel at home; whereas Christ sits down in everlasting rest and blessedness at the right hand of Majesty in the holy of holies, His work accomplished, and He awaiting its reward.
Christ’s sacrifice was not offered over and over, but once for all, and in this we see the sufficiency of his blood for the forgiveness of our sins. The resulting situation could not stand in greater contrast with that of the old covenant priests. William Barclay writes: “The priests stand offering sacrifice; Christ sits at the right hand of God. Theirs is the position of a servant; his is the position of a monarch. Jesus is the king come home, his task accomplished and his victory won.” And Andrew Murray rightly exclaims, “The once of Christ’s work is the secret of its being forever: the more clear the acceptance of that divine once for all, the more sure the experience of that divine forever.… His forever is one of victory, and of the blessed expectation of its full manifestation.”
Christ is seated in the heavens. His work is accomplished, established, inevitable. Our author is wrapping up all his great ideas, here returning to the theme in chapter 1, that Christ has been exalted with almighty power as he rules over history for the church.
Christ is seated and enthroned, in a position of rest like that of God on the seventh day of creation. It is a rest of sovereignty, of omnipotent rule, control, and confidence. This has the most horrible implications for Christ’s enemies: for the devil and the demons, and also for every sinner who rejects his claims. He is “waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (Heb. 10:13). Unbelievers may deny him, mock him, and exult in their apparent freedom from his lordly rule. But all the while he sits enthroned, with history racing toward the judgment over which he will reign supreme.
Meanwhile, this has wonderful and life-transforming implications for all who trust in him. Verse 12 tells us he is seated; verse 13 adds that he is waiting as this present age runs its course; and verse 14 tells us why he can afford to wait: “By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Verse 18 concludes our passage, indeed, the whole great doctrinal portion of the Book of Hebrews, with the same great idea. Where sins have been forgiven, “there is no longer any offering for sin.” There is no longer any labor for the Savior, and no longer any threat to the salvation of those who look to him in faith. Jesus can rest enthroned, waiting for the day of his final triumph; we, too, can rest through faith in him, as we await his return in glory.
A Great Conclusion
This is the great conclusion to the main doctrinal instruction of the Book of Hebrews. From here we will move forward to the wealth of applications in the final chapters, including the examples of faith in chapter 11. We are far from finished with the Book of Hebrews. Yet here we stand at the conclusion of this great doctrinal teaching. How then shall we conclude our own reflections on these matters?
There can be only one answer, and that is to draw our thoughts and our hearts, our whole spiritual orientation, upward to where Jesus Christ sits now enthroned, reigning with power for our salvation, having accomplished everything needed for us to be saved. He is at the center of it all, above it all; he is the meaning of everything we have considered in the Book of Hebrews. The tabernacle and temple were about him and his work. The priests and the rituals of the Old Testament served only to point to him. The blood that was shed year after year and day after day spoke only of his blood, shed once for all upon the cross. The veil that was torn invites our gaze into the heavens, where now our Savior sits at rest, reigning for his own, securing us for himself forever, and ruling our hearts by the Spirit he sends. Everything points to him; everything is found in and with him; everything for us comes from him and draws us to him as his people, his own reward for obedience to the will of the Father.
This is the great conclusion we must draw from the teaching of Hebrews. It must be the profession of our faith. And Christ must be the great affection of our hearts. To know him and serve him, to grow in his likeness, must become the great ambition of all our lives.
15–17 In returning to the key text of this section, the author does not feel the need to quote it in full, as he did in 8:8–12, but singles out what are for him the salient points in an abbreviated quotation (with some further variation in the wording) from Jeremiah 31:33–34. He signals his abbreviation by separating v. 33 (quoted in v. 16) from v. 34c (in v. 17) by his introductory formulae, which are literally (and awkwardly) “For after saying” and simply “and.” He seems to have lost track of the grammatical structure of his quotation formulae, with the result that there is in fact no main verb; but most English versions (and several later Greek manuscripts and versions) have helped him out by supplying one (or even two, as in the NIV’s “First he says.… Then he adds”!).
In 8:8 the quotation was introduced simply by “he says,” and we were left to assume (as the repeated “declares the Lord” within the quotation confirms) that the speaker was understood to be God. Here the author is more explicit, attributing this prophecy to the Holy Spirit, as he did with both Psalm 95 (3:7) and the Day of Atonement regulations (9:8). We noted in regard to the quotations in ch. 1 (see comments at Overview, 1:4–14; see also Introduction, p. 28), and have been reminded several times since, that our author regards God (or the Holy Spirit; it does not seem to matter which) as the real author of all Scripture, whether recorded as a divine utterance or not. In this case, that assumption is supported by the prophetic character of the passage and by the formula “says the Lord.” The words of Scripture are, as usual, spoken of not merely as a past revelation but as the continuing witness of the Spirit “to us” in the present.
The point of reintroducing Jeremiah’s prophecy here is to underline the nature of the “perfection” and “holiness” achieved by Christ’s unique sacrifice. The final solution for the problem of human sin, which had eluded the sacrificial system under which the old covenant operated, is in the inward transformation of God’s people and in a cleansing from sin that leaves them not merely “outwardly clean” (9:13) but inwardly restored to fellowship with God by having their sins not only forgiven but also forgotten, and thus finally “taken away” (v. 11).
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 256–257). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Phillips, R. D. (2006). Hebrews. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 343–353). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.
 France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 131–132). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.