The most shocking verse in the Epistle to the Hebrews? No, I’m not referring to that verse near the end of the epistle where the author, apparently seriously, refers to having written “briefly.”
I’m referring to Hebrews 10:19, which says “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place.”
I don’t think that Christians today, familiar with the fact that the author referring to the celestial “Holy of Holies,” are likely to be as jolted by this phrase in the way that the earliest readers of this letter would have been.Especially if the temple still stood, but perhaps even if the letter was composed later, the fact remains that readers would have been familiar with the presence in the temple in Jerusalem of the Most Holy Place, where the high priest alone entered once a year on the Day of Atonement.
The high priest could scarcely be said to enter with confidence. It was, to be sure, a moment that was accompanied with awe and dread.
But even if the high priest did feel confident, they certainly didn’t take anyone else in with them. That was expressly prohibited.
And so, for those who knew the meaning of these words in reference to the earthly temple, the phrase would have been striking, even shocking, even if they knew it was a metaphor in this particular context.
And yet it failed to strike me just how shocking this statement would have sounded to first-century Jewish ears until very recently.