“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:19-25
For thousands of years, God’s people had been accustomed to following His prescribed ways of worship and ministry. The animal blood sacrifices, the special Sabbath laws, the many feasts of worship, and the dependency on the priests; all of these things were so ingrained in the minds and habits of the recipients of this epistle that, although they did believe in Jesus as the Messiah, they apparently often questioned whether or not it was sinful to discontinue these practices. It didn’t help that there were many false teachers who insisted that these old covenant laws must be kept for one’s salvation. This letter was written to these Jewish converts to Christianity to assure them that they have not given up the “truth” (Judaism) for a “lie” (Christianity), but rather a truth (old covenant) for a better truth (new covenant). How was this so?
Under the old covenant, no one was allowed to draw near to God in the Most Holy Place except for the high priest, and he only once a year. The conditions for his entrance into the Most Holy Place were three-fold (see Leviticus 16): he was to enter with the blood of the sacrifices, wearing the holy garments, and having washed his body in water. These detailed worship prescriptions were never meant to serve as a means by which sinful mankind could climb its way up to God. This is attested to by what the apostle wrote earlier in chapter 10: “For then would they not have ceased to be offered?” (see Hebrews 10:1-4) The animal sacrifices, putting on the holy garments, the washing with water – every year the high priest had to repeat these actions on behalf of the people and himself.
Now compare all of this with what we read in our text. We are given boldness to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus. We were washed with the pure water of our Baptism. And as a result of these things we have been covered by the holy garments of Christ’s righteousness! The instructional repetition of the old covenant has now ended as Jesus has indeed consecrated for us a new and living way!
A careful study of the Greek in these verses attests to this truth. We look specifically at the Greek in the phrases “having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (v. 22). First, we recognize that a passive voice verb is used here. Passive voice means the action is not done by the subject but rather to the subject. What are the subjects? “Our hearts” and “our bodies.” What are the actions? “Sprinkled from an evil conscience” and “washed with pure water.” Why is this meaningful? Because the passive voice means we’re not the ones performing these actions! It means God is! It is God Himself who sprinkles our hearts from an evil conscience by the righteous blood of Jesus, and He washes our bodies with the pure water of Baptism.
Secondly, the tense of these verbs is the perfect tense. In the Greek, the perfect tense has a special meaning: a completed action with abiding results. It is the perfect tense that was used when Jesus victoriously proclaimed “It is finished!” from the cross. Jesus was declaring that the payment for the world’s sins on the cross was a completed action with the abiding results of free forgiveness for all.
So too here in our text. When God sprinkles us with the atoning blood of Jesus and washes us in the pure water of Baptism, these completed actions have the abiding results of faith and salvation. No more repeating animal sacrifices. No more repeating of the putting on of holy garments. No more repeating of washing of water. The new covenant in which we now stand is all about God coming down to us in the person of Jesus Christ and leaving behind for us completed actions of salvation with abiding results that last into eternity.
Chad Seybt is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming.