Hebrews 10:14 in the Canon of Scripture
In my last post, the “fault” of the old covenant was made explicit. This fault was intended to make God’s old covenant people aware of their need for a new covenant. This is but one example of the type/antitype construction that is such a prominent theme in Hebrews. The book of Hebrews, in addition to explaining the overall contrast between the old and new covenants, points out several historical institutions under the old covenant, which institutions had some major lack of perfection or incompleteness about them that is made apparent only in “these last days,” in light of the work of Christ. As Dr. Barry Joslin notes,
For [the author of] Hebrews, the most direct route for understanding the work of Christ is to see him as the consummation and fulfillment of what the old [religious observances] represented and anticipated. Redemption, forgiveness and unimpeded access to the Divine, sanctification, purification, and perfection of conscience (etc.) all have the common denominator that they were foreshadowed long before the high priestly work of Christ was accomplished in the time of reformation (9:10).
The fact that these old religious observances were each crucially incomplete in some way was meant to demonstrate that they were all “types”– historical foreshadows– that needed to have an “antitype,” or fulfillment, sent by God. And so there was a mediator of the old covenant, Moses, but Christ is the perfect Mediator between God and Man, being the exact representation of God’s nature (cf. Heb. 1:3) and the exact representation of human nature (cf. Heb. 2:14-18), yet without sin (cf. Heb. 4:15). There were high priests under the old covenant, but these high priests had their own sins to atone for (cf. Heb. 5:3), they had to endlessly repeat their work (cf. Heb. 10:1-3), and they were prevented by death from continuing in their office (cf. Heb. 7:23). On the other hand, Christ as our ultimate high priest was sinless, He accomplished His work by “one sacrifice, ” and His intercession continues forever (cf. Heb. 7:25). By this contrast, it should be concluded that, “What the OC [old covenant] high priests were symbolically and temporarily, Christ is. They prefigured His ministry and its enduring effects.”
The final type/antitype that must be noted in this section concerns the offerings of the old covenant sacrificial system and the “one offering” of the new covenant. Covenant offerings, whether the many offerings of the old covenant or the singular offering of the new covenant, are seen by the author of Hebrews to have at least two major functions. First, offerings are required to inaugurate covenant (cf. Heb. 9:18). Second, offerings are required for those who have transgressed the covenant through sin, so that they may be restored to covenant fellowship. It is in regards to this second function that the offerings of the old covenant are most obviously imperfect or incomplete. The author of Hebrews demonstrates the fault of the old covenant offerings first by pointing out that if they had been perfect, they would not have needed repetition (cf. Heb. 10:1), and second by indicating the obvious (again, in the light of Christ’s work) disjuncture between the need people have for the forgiveness of sins and the attempt to satisfy this need by killing bulls and goats (cf. Heb. 10:4). The self-offering of Christ is proclaimed as the antitype or fulfillment of these old covenant offerings in that His “one offering” needs no repetition and He is a perfectly fitting sacrifice for sinful people, being (as was stated before), the exact representation of human nature (cf. Heb. 2:14-18), yet without sin (cf. Heb. 4:15).
A further observation is in order in regards to the type/antitype relationship between the offerings of the old covenant and the “one sacrifice” of the new covenant. It is made obvious in Hebrews that not all people who were members of the old covenant community had saving faith in the Word of God (cf. Heb. 3:16-17). The offerings of the old covenant were made on behalf of the sins of the entire community and yet only those who were faithful actually had their sins forgiven. This fact may lead some to make a false comparison. A person may be inclined to think that just as the offerings of the old covenant were made for the forgiveness of the sins of the entire old covenant community– national Israel– with only the faithful receiving actual forgiveness, in a similar way, the “one offering” of the new covenant may be presumed to be made for the entire world– commonly understood as signifying all individuals throughout history– with only the faithful benefiting from the potential forgiveness provided by Christ. Such a conclusion would miss the point of the biblical teaching concerning both the old covenant offerings and the “one offering” of the new covenant. For it must be realized that, on final analysis (taking a “last days” view of Scripture in light of the revelation of God provided by Christ), absolutely no one had their sins forgiven by the offerings of the old covenant. As the author of Hebrews makes very clear, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4 ESV). The offerings of the old covenant provided a constant reminder of sins and were intended to point forward to Christ, inciting members of the old covenant community to look in faith to God to provide for the ultimate forgiveness of sins. God provided this ultimate forgiveness of sins by means of the new covenant, brought into effect by the self-sacrifice of Christ. From this it should be concluded that all people who experience forgiveness of sins at any point of history only experience this forgiveness through God’s new covenant work.
So the “one offering” of the new covenant is very different from the offerings of the old covenant in that Christ’s offering of Himself actually accomplished the forgiveness of sins that the offerings of the old covenant merely foreshadowed. But we must also note that just as the typical offerings of the old covenant were made only in reference to members of the old covenant community, the one, effectual offering of the new covenant was made only on behalf of the new covenant community, those who have been perfected through the work of Christ and who “are being sanctified” because of the forgiveness of sins accomplished in Christ’s death on the cross. “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14 NKJV).