Online Bible Commentary
Hebrews 10:1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (NIV)
Since the beginning of this letter the writer of the book of Hebrews has been proclaiming the superiority of Christ over all things of Judaism. I believe the writer is Paul, and that he is writing to the Hebrew Christians at the church in Jerusalem. I believe that this is Paul’s last writing, to his fellow Hebrews after being rejected by the churches of Asia Minor. Even through the writer is anonymous, he knows well those to whom he is writing, as do they him. The writer is making a case for the superiority of Christ so that his readers are not enticed to return to their roots, Judaism.
He begins this passage by writing that the law, the Old Testament regulations, is merely a “shadow of the good things that are coming” (v. 1a). This is a reference to the shadow of reality. The law was never intended to be the whole story. It was simply a harbinger of things to come. It was always pointing to the coming of Christ. Since it is not reality, but a shadow, its sacrificial system is powerless “to make perfect those who draw near to worship” (v. 1b).
Just the fact that the animal sacrifices to atone for sin had to be made every year proves that it had no power to make the worshipers perfect. If it had power, once would be enough (v. 2a). The word translated “make perfect” is the Greek word “teleioo” which means “complete”. We are never perfect this side of Heaven, but we can be made complete. When we are complete we no longer feel “guilty” for our sins (v. 2c). The guilt subsides when we are “cleansed” once and for all of our sin (v. 2b).
We can only be cleansed, made complete, when the sin itself is completely removed. Animal sacrifice only covers sin. It does not remove sin. Even worse those animal sacrifices “are an annual reminder of sins” (v.3), which leads to even more guilt. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (v.4). It is impossible for animal sacrifice to remove sin.
So what does this passage tell us about the nature of guilt? The root of all guilt is sin. When we are caught up in a lifestyle of sin, we repeat the same sins day after day after day. There is no respite from our sin because it is our lifestyle. It comes as naturally as breathing. Therefore, our soul is constantly being barraged with guilt. Satan piles on by constantly reminding us of our sin, just as the annual sacrifice constantly reminded the Israelites of their sin.
This is not what God wants for His people. This is why He did away with the sacrificial system and why he will someday do away with Satan. For now, He makes Satan powerless in the lives of Christians, those who have committed their lifestyle to following Jesus Christ. Satan has no power when we are near to God. The nearer we draw to God, the more Satan tries to pull us away. He does not want to lose his power.
Satan is called the great deceiver, and the one who comes to steal and destroy. He wants to steal our peace and joy, through guilt. He will lie to us. He will tell us that we are worthless, all the time renewing that guilt within our soul. He will tell us that we will never amount to anything, so that we never reach our full potential. Worse yet, he uses people, sometimes people we love, to tell us these things.
But Jesus Christ has defeated guilt, and the one who brings it, Satan. When we are in relationship with Jesus Christ He permanently removes our sin, and the guilt that goes with it. He wants us to live a life of victory, a life that He, and He alone, can give. “If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." (Ro. 10:9-11).