PERSISTENT DELIBERATE SIN SHOWS CONTEMPT FOR CHRIST AND HIS SACRIFICE AND WILL BE JUDGED WITHOUT MERCY AS APOSTASY
The warning passages in Chapter 6 and here in Chapter 10 are especially difficult because the language seems to describe genuine believers and yet the punishment is definitely “hellish.” Since we believe in the eternal security of the believer, unlike, the Arminians, we are forced to wrestle with the tension of these passages. In keeping with the overall context of the epistle it seems reasonable to find the author addressing those who appear to be genuine believers on the surface, but who fall short and must either move forward to full saving faith or they will end up in a state of apostasy from which there is no recovery. The specific warning here relates to persisting in willful or deliberate sin.
Hewitt: the only persons the author of can conceive apostatizing are those who have received Christianity as a formulated system of beliefs, but without any personal experience of God in Christ. Such persons are typified in Balaam and Simon Magus.
I. (:26-27) NO REMEDY FOR APOSTASY UNDER THE NEW COVENANT – ONLY TERRIFYING JUDGMENT
A. (:26a) Condition of Apostasy
“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth,”
Hewitt: the deliberate and continual rejection of Christianity is a decision of the will which acts contrary to what one would have expected from the knowledge of the truth which has been received.
Leon Morris: It is clear that the writer has apostasy in mind. . . their acquaintance with Christian teaching is more than superficial. If, knowing this, they revert to an attitude of rejection . . . then there remains no sacrifice for sins. Such people have rejected the sacrifice of Christ, and the preceding argument has shown that there is no other. If they revert to the Jewish sacrificial system, they go back to sacrifices that their knowledge of Christianity teaches them cannot put away sin (v. 4).
Steven Cole: “Sinning willfully” refers to what Numbers 15:30 calls sins of defiance, for which there was no sacrifice available. Commentators compare such sins to the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, representing an unpardonable sin of “high treason and revolt against God” (Walter Kaiser, Toward Rediscovering the Old Testament, p. 132, cited by Ronald Allen, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank Gaebelein [Zondervan], 2:830). To go on sinning willfully means deliberately and knowingly to renounce the faith by repudiating Christ’s sacrifice for sins. It is a total defection from the faith in Christ as Savior.
B. (:26b-27) Certainty of Eternal Judgment
1. (:26a) No Escape
“there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,”
2. (:27) No Relief
a. Terrifying Expectation
“but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment,”
b. Consuming Fire
“and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”
John Piper: So here you have in verse 27 a picture of God’s wrath: there is legal picture, an emotional picture and a physical picture.
– The legal picture is that his wrath is “judgment.” It is the legal, just act of a judge.
– The emotional picture is that his wrath is “the fury of a fire.” Literally, “a zeal of fire,” or a fiery passion. God is not just a little bit angry, but passionate with fury.
– And third, there is the physical or material picture: the fire “consumes the adversaries.” It will swallow up the sinner in the flames of legal and passionate judgment. “Consume” doesn’t mean annihilate. Hell is not non-existence. “Consume” means swallow up into suffering forever. Justice will be done and holy anger will be satisfied.
II. (:28-29) NO LESSENING OF JUDGMENT UNDER THE NEW COVENANT — REJECTING CHRIST WORSE THAN REJECTING THE LAW OF MOSES
A. (:28) Severe Judgment Under the Old Covenant
1. Offense: Rejecting the Law of Moses
“Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses”
2. Judgment: Dies Without Mercy
“dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
Leon Morris: An argument form the greater to the lesser brings out the seriousness of the situation. . . The writer invites the readers to work out for themselves how much more serious is the punishment of the man who apostatizes from Christ. It must be more severe than under the old way because Jesus is greater than Moses (3:1ff.); the new covenant is better than the old, founded on better promises (8:6) and established by a better sacrifice (9:23).
B. (:29) More Severe Judgment Under the New Covenant
1. Clear Comparison
“How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve”
Kent: The argument is that if apostates from Israel’s worship suffered physical death as retribution for their deeds, how much greater would be the punishment for rejecters of the Son of God. These rejecters are described as guilty of three terrible deeds.
2. Three Charges of Apostasy:
a. First Charge – Contempt for Christ
“who has trampled under foot the Son of God,”
Kent: implies not only rejection but also contempt
Mohler: describes those who reject the identity of Christ. Jesus extrapolates this idea in John 14 when he says that if a person rejects the Son, he rejects the Father. . . and no longer has a sacrifice for sins.
b. Second Charge – Contempt for Christ’s Sacrifice as Accepted by the Father
“and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant
by which he was sanctified,”
Mohler: means not to believe that the blood of Christ can effect purification for sins. We have already seen the centrality and power of his blood throughout the letter (9:12, 14, 25-26; 10:19), and verse 29 is no different. We are told that the blood of the covenant sanctifies us. To disregard Christ’s blood is to spurn the purification it accomplishes.
John Piper: They regarded it as common, ordinary, nothing special, not sacred or precious.
John Piper: What is this fruitless sanctification? It seems to be the religious separation and outward purification that often happens when a person becomes part of the visible church. They come under the influence of truth in preaching and teaching. They come under the influence of love among the saints. They come under the influence of the ordinances and even eat and drink the sacred emblems of Christ’s body and blood. They feel the blowing of God’s Spirit of grace and taste his wooing and winning influences. And in all of this, they are visibly set apart from the world – sanctified the way the people of Israel was sanctified among the nations, even though many of them were faithless. And all of this gracious influence was purchased by the blood of Christ, so that verse 29 says, it was indeed “by the blood of the covenant” that these hypocrites were sanctified.
c. Third Charge – Contempt for the Holy Spirit
“and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”
Kent: It is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring men to Christ and to sanctify them. To apostatize is to reject all such activity. The divine Spirit is called the “Spirit of grace” in Zechariah 12:10. It is by the grace of God that the work of salvation was prepared and carried out. The action of the Spirit in convicting and regenerating is thus a demonstration of God’s grace to sinners in bringing them to salvation in Christ.
Mohler: equivalent to blaspheming against the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:31-32)
John Piper: They tasted the grace of God in their lives, were influenced by it in some measure, but then they began to turn it into license and used it to justify their love of sinning, and eventually threw it away as unnecessary.
III. (:30-31) NO SURPRISES SINCE THE JUDGE REMAINS THE SAME
A. (:30) Familiarity with the Judge
“For we know Him who said,”
Kent: The thought is that God who spoke those words through Moses was no stranger to these readers. They not only possessed the Scripture which revealed Him, but had seen countless evidences in history which demonstrated His absolute justice. . . When God finally moves in retribution, His judgment will not be forgetful of the enormity of men’s rejection of Christ’s perfect sacrifice.
2 OT Quotes with the same message:
1. You Can Count on God Judging
“Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” Deut. 32:35
2. You Can Count on God Judging
“And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’” Deut. 32:36; Ps. 135:4
Leon Morris: The quotation here emphasizes that vengeance is a divine prerogative. It is not for men to take it into their own hands. But the emphasis is not on that. It is rather on the certainty that the Lord will act. The wrongdoer cannot hope to go unpunished because avenging wrong is in the hands of none less than God. . . That a man claims to be a member of the people of God does not exempt him from judgment. God judges all. Let not the apostate think that he, of all people, can escape.
John Piper: Externally, he calls the church the “people of God.” He calls them brothers – even “holy brothers” – giving the benefit of the doubt to any who has professed faith in Christ. But he knows that the visible church and the true church of God’s elect are not the same. There are many hypocrites. And, as this text shows, many of these eventually become visible by “willfully sinning” and forsaking the gathered body (see verse 25).
B. (:31) Fear of the Judge
“It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
That’s the verse that inspired the line from Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
F. F. Bruce: The privileges which Israel enjoyed as God’s covenant-people meant that their responsibilities were the greater and that retribution would be the more severe in their case if they gave themselves up to unrighteousness (Amos 3:2). What was true then remains true for God’s dealings with His people now.