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. Otherwise, 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. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
The author of Hebrews is now wrapping up this central core section of the letter, and he is doing so by once again focusing on the superior sacrifice that Jesus brought to establish a superior covenant with superior promises. Again, he states that the Law is merely a shadow of a reality to come, stating again that its sacrifices cannot take away sin. In fact, he seems to have found three ways to restate this in just a few short sentences here. I’ve never actually gone through these chapters and counted the number of times he’s made this same point… why? It might just be that this point takes a lot of repetition before we comprehend it. The Law was not sufficient to complete God’s purposes, so it has been replaced by a better system, a perfect one, that takes our sins away entirely, after all, the Law was but an illustration of what was to come, and what was to come was the reality of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, my God.’
After the restatement of the Law’s inadequacy in the first 4 verses, this quotation from Psalm 40 shows the attitude of Christ, the real sacrifice, who gave up His life as the sacrifice that would end the problem of sin once for all.
First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Acting as commentator, the author restates another of his themes: The first covenant was set aside to make room for the second, and by that second covenant, the New Covenant, we have been made holy by the removal of our sins in Christ.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
You’ve probably noticed that the mere fact of the repetition of the old sacrifices has been used by the author to make the point that they could never take away sins, and here that is one more time, set beside the contrasting one time sacrifice that Jesus made. This fact alone, repetition of the same sacrifices, day after day, year after year, is proof enough that this system is finished… yet so many miss it even now! Jesus, after making His sacrifice has sat down on high and awaits his enemies being made His footstool which is some interesting imagery, for sure. His enemies are defeated, and upon His return, their activities will cease once and for all time, becoming as a footstool for His feet.
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”
Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”
And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
Once again, we see the verses from Jeremiah 31 foretelling of the New Covenant that was to come, and now has come, and notice the final sentence, the author’s summation of these chapters. Sin has been forgiven, and further sacrifices are no longer necessary: The Old Covenant is over.
When the same things are repeated over and over again, it is incumbent upon us to take notice of them. This repetition isn’t simply poor writing style, if anything, the letter to the Hebrews of Rome is one of the best written of all the New Testament books; some of the phrasing is nothing less than brilliant. No, the repetition is a literary device to underscore these points, to highlight them; the author really wants the people to remember them, and hopefully we will remember.