In this new section, the writer of Hebrews transitions from the positive exhortations of the previous chapters to very negative warnings of judgment, beginning with the words, “For if we go on sinning willfully….” In the context of the book of Hebrews, the sin spoken of is to willfully return to the Judaism of their day, in spite of the fact that they had received “the knowledge of the truth.” In light of this apostasy, the writer of Hebrews says that “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” If a believer willfully returns to this first-century Judaism, thereby rejecting Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, there is nothing else that can protect him or her from God’s judgment. The judgment that is in view here is the judgment of believers, the judgment seat of Christ, not the great white throne judgment reserved for unbelievers. The result will be a loss of reward, rather than a loss of salvation. The idea of fire is reminiscent of Paul’s description of the judgment seat of Christ in 1 Corinthians 3:15: “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
The point of verses 28-29 is if an Israelite who spurned the Old Covenant suffered a severe penalty, believers will most certainly suffer an even more severe penalty if we reject the superior New Covenant. The sin of apostasy under the New Covenant has the effect of “trampling underfoot the Son of God,” or, in essence, treating Him with contempt. Also, it involves “regarding as unclean the blood of the covenant,” despising the superior blood of Jesus Christ, “by which he was sanctified.” This clearly describes the apostate as a Christian. In addition, the apostate insults “the Spirit of Grace,” or the Holy Spirit who graciously brought the believer to faith in the Messiah. In verses 30-31, the writer summarizes his message by quoting twice from the song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32), where Moses warns the Israelites against apostatizing. The writer of Hebrews, just like Moses, wants these believers, who were contemplating renouncing their faith in the Messiah, to understand just how terrifying a prospect that would be.
The tenor of the message changes beginning in Hebrews 10:32, as the writer encourages these believers to remember past experiences of trials and sufferings. These believers had proven themselves faithful to Messiah as they endured severe trials of their faith “partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated” (Hebrews 10:33). Despite these public spectacles of persecution and even enduring the seizure of their property, they stood firm in their faith. The implication is that they are now contemplating giving in to the persecution and returning to a life that dishonors Messiah. The writer exhorts them to stay strong with the words, “For you have need of endurance” (Hebrews 10:36). He then reminds them of their faith that the Lord is coming soon. He quotes Isaiah 26:21 from the Septuagint, “For yet in a very little while, he who is coming will come, and will not delay.” Lastly, also from the Septuagint, he quotes Habakkuk 2:3-4, “But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” “My Righteous One” is referring to a believer and “shrinks back” is speaking about falling away from the faith.
The writer of Hebrews concludes chapter ten with a statement of great hope for himself and for his fellow Jewish believers: “But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul” (Hebrew 10:39). From this statement of hope, the writer will transition next to the great hall of faith in Hebrews chapter eleven.