Just as the writer, and this reader, got a bit testy with contemporary peers last Friday in chapter 5, we’re back in the same zone today in chapter 10. What makes the writer crazy is people in the community who got it and wasted it. Sure, we have the Sisyphean task of repetition, hopefully changing ourselves if not the world. But in what way was Christ’s death and resurrection ‘once for all’ and not just like ours?
The repeated appeal to Hebrew scripture relies on a form of rhetoric, a kind of argument unfamiliar to us and unconvincing for us. However, you might get a sense of what Calvinists through to Northrop Frye have called ‘typological’ reading: the word takes a familiar shape through scripture’s accounts of repeated human experiences of and responses to the divine.
Some folks call this ‘ethical monotheism’, the idea that the divine is not satisfied by ritual alone without ethical content. The metaphysics, ontology and ethics are inextricable. That is not simply rule-bound moralistic pietism, which is more common in MTD (moralistic therapeutic deism) or MTI (moralistic therapeutic innocence) glib liberalism’s diseases so much worse than STDs or STIs.
Christ’s death, bloody and sacrificial, puts us right with God, or opens or removes the curtain between where we’re at or where we aspire to be with God. All that remains is to live as if it were so, within an eschatological framework that affirms that we have already been given and have accepted being put right.
The writer is pretty angry at those who lose patience and persistence, and revert to their estranged existence like those never offered, and never accepting, the promise of gracious belonging. Why get lost again? We used to be living in solidarity with others, seeking right relations – why give up so easily?
Let’s leave vengeance and judgment to God in the ultimate frame, but meanwhile, why shrink back or get lost again? I don’t think that we have to read this threat of consequences as damnation to fiery hell. We do owe the text a sense of incentive and disincentive in a wider frame than ‘feeling good about ourselves’, or ‘coming to peace with our privilege’. Creative tension is in order.
I doubt that I can recover the semantic field of ‘saved’ by ‘faith’, but will keep trying to change the contours of our use of such diction in our wee circles of discourse, trusting that we can come closer to Iraneaus’ human beings alive.
1 Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach.
2Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshippers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin?
3But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year.
4For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
5Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me;
6 in burnt-offerings and sin-offerings you have taken no pleasure.
7 Then I said, “See, God, I have come to do your will, O God” (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).’
8When he said above, ‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt-offerings and sin-offerings’ (these are offered according to the law),
9then he added, ‘See, I have come to do your will.’ He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.
10And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.
12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God’,
13and since then has been waiting ‘until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.’
14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
15And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
16 ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds’,
17he also adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’
18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,
20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),
21and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,
25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
26 For if we wilfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
27but a fearful prospect of judgement, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
28Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy ‘on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
29How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?
30For we know the one who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’
31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
32 But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings,
33sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.
34For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting.
35Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.
36For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
37For yet ‘in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay;
38 but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.’
39But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.