Hebrews: The Problem With Animal Sacrifices

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.  Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?  But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Hebrews 10:1-4

As we start our study of chapter 10 in this series of posts on the book of Hebrews, we see the divinely inspired author show another reason why Christ’s New Testament is superior to the Old Testament Law of Moses.  That reason would be the insufficiency of animal sacrifices to provide forgiveness of sins. 

He starts by pointing out that the Law of Moses “has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities” (v. 1).  This was something he had touched on earlier when he classified the gifts and sacrifices offered by the Old Testament Levitical priests as “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (8:4-5).  They were not designed to “perfect the conscience of the worshiper,” but rather were part of the Old Testament rituals which were designed to be “symbolic” and “imposed until the time of reformation” which would come with the coming of the New Testament (9:8-10).  They were meant to be “copies of the heavenly things” (9:23), symbolic foreshadowing of the sacrifice on Calvary which would in fact forgive man’s sins once for all time.

Being thus designed as temporary foreshadowing of the better things to come in the New Testament, the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament which were “continually offered every year” would never “make perfect” the worshipers “who draw near” (10:1-2).  When compared with Hebrews 9:9, we see that the concept of “perfect” refers to the consciences of those who had worshiped God via these animal sacrifices.  The fact that they found it necessary to continually make these animal sacrifices showed that they still had a “consciousness of sins” and were thus not actually “cleansed” (10:2).  Their consciences were not cleansed or purified.  They still bore their guilt.

This was due to the fact that the animal sacrifices which they had to have continually offered on an annual basis brought them nothing but “a reminder of sins every year” (10:3).  All of the sacrifices required by the Law of Moses – sacrifices for every day, sacrifices required every month, the annual sacrifices on the Day of Atonement – all of them constantly reminded the Israelites of the guilt they bore for their sin and their constant need for cleansing.  For these reasons, the Holy Spirit inspired the Hebrew writer to inform his first-century Jewish brethren who were being tempted to abandon Christianity and return to Judaism: “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (10:4).  He was pleading with them to recognize the wonderful gift they had in Christ and not throw it away for something that could give them no spiritual benefit.

To make this case, he then quotes from Psalm 40:6-8 when he writes, “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.  Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book”’” (10:5-7).  The Messianic prophecy found in this Old Testament psalm shows the wonderful mindset Christ possessed when he came to this earth.  Burnt offerings and animal sacrifices did not meet God’s standards, and so God provided the only things which could: himself in the form of “a body have you prepared for me”…his own Son in human form (cf. John 1:1, 14).

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:13)

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