Blood Sacrifice: Unpacking Hebrews 13:10–13 with Biblical Commentaries

Author: James D. Elgin

Hebrews 13 contains graphic, bloody images of sacrifice. The author of Hebrews instructs us not to be led astray by strange teachings (13:9), but it doesn’t seem to get stranger than this:

Heb 13:10–13 (ESV)

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.

Using a technical, a pastoral and a devotional commentary, let’s figure out why the author tells us about bloody animals and city gates.

TECHNICAL

Paul EllingworthThe Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text

New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1993), pgs. 712–14.

According to Ellingworth, the mention of the “Most Holy Place” (9:3) and the sprinkling of blood (9:21) confirms that the strange scene in Heb 13:10–13 is connected to the Day of Atonement. The high priest of Israel only entered the Most Holy Place in the Temple once a year, on the Day of Atonement. He would sprinkle the blood of a bull and a goat upon the mercy seat, which above God sat, as a sacrifice for the sins of Israel (Lev 16). Afterwards, the bull and goat’s bodies were taken outside the camp (or city), which was an impure place, to be burned to prevent their remains from being eaten (Lev 16:27). Likewise, Jesus’ body was offered in an impure place, outside the city.

But what about Jesus’ blood? In contrast to the blood of the animals offered in the “Most Holy Place,” Jesus’ blood was offered outside the city with his body. His bloody sacrifice is not just witnessed by the priest and God, but by ordinary, impure people; it is for all people. The author challenges us to go “to [Jesus] outside the camp [outside of the religious rituals of the temple] and bear the reproach he endured. For here [on this earth] we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come [in heaven].”

PASTORAL

John Owen An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews

Reprint of the 1850–53 edition (Bellingham: Logos Research Systems, Inc, 2009), pgs. 444–47.

The high priest of Israel was imperfect and so was his sacrifice. He had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins as well, which means the problem of sin was only temporarily fixed. But Jesus’ sacrifice was eternal because He gave “his own [pure and sinless] blood” (13:12). Owen tells us that Jesus’ blood can make us holy, set us apart for God. Not only does our high priest intercede for us, He bleeds for us. Our confession of Christ is more powerful than a religious system. It involves the purification of all people, and subsequent worship in all places.

DEVOTIONAL

Ray C. Stedman:  Hebrews

The IVP New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), pgs. 152–57.

 The strange sacrifices suddenly become applicable to our lives in 13:15–16: “Through [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb 13:15–16 ESV). Stedman says that although Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, God expects His people to live sacrificial lives of praise in word and deed.

Graphic imagery from the Old Testament drives home how great and meaningful Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf was. The imagery is unsettling, violent and bloody, but not gratuitous, since it reminds us why we are to live sacrificial lives for God.

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 5.