In chapter 8 the Hebrew writer began a detailed discussion of the priestly work of our High Priest, Jesus Christ. To discuss the priestly work of Jesus he develops three major ideas: tabernacle, covenant and sacrifice. The tabernacle was the place of the priests' work and the place where man had access to God, the covenant set forth the terms by which people could be acceptable to God and the sacrifices provided the means whereby people could approach God. The superiority of Christ's priesthood to that of Aaron was shown in chapter 8 by discussing the superior tabernacle and covenant involved in His priesthood. Beginning in chapter 9 the author discusses the superior sacrifice offered by our High Priest.
The writer of Hebrews begins chapter 9 with a description of the ancient tabernacle and of the utensils used in it. In the first tabernacle (in these verses the writer refers to the two rooms in the tabernacle calling each of them a "tabernacle"), which is called the Holy Place, was found the golden candlestick, or lampstand, which was used as a general source of light in the Holy Place (Ex.25:31-40). It was placed on the south side of the Holy Place, to the left when entering. It was kept burning continually by the priest with olive oil. Also in the Holy Place was the table and showbread. The table was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. It was placed on the north side of the Holy Place, to the right when entering. Upon the table were dishes, spoons, flagons, bowls and, of course, the showbread (Ex.25:23-30). The 12 cakes of showbread were placed on the table in 2 rows of 6 with pure frankincense put upon each row (Lev.24:5-9).
Through a second veil, the first being at the entrance of the Holy Place (Ex.26:36), lay the second, innermost compartment of the tabernacle. Our writer refers to this room as the "Holy of holies". This was the most holy place to the Jew, being the dwelling place of God itself. We are told this room had "a golden altar of incense". The King James Version refers to it as a "golden censer". It is unclear from the language used here whether the writer refers to the incense altar, upon which incense was to be burned both morning and evening (see Ex.30:1-10), or the censer used by the high priest to burn incense once a year with the coals from off the incense altar (see Lev.16:11-14). From Exodus 30 it seems clear that the incense altar itself was to be placed in the Holy Place near the entrance to the Most Holy Place. From Leviticus 16 it seems equally clear that the incense censer was stored outside the Most Holy Place and carried in with incense once in the year. It would seem to me that the author has reference to the incense altar itself since he is listing the pieces of furniture which was found in the tabernacle. By speaking of the Most Holy Place as "having a golden altar of incense" the writer may be saying the altar of incense had a special connection with the Holy of holies, as indeed it did (see Lev.16 and Ex.30).
Also in the Holy of holies was "the ark of the covenant" (see Ex.25:10-22). This "ark" was something like a chest with a lid on top. It also was made of acacia wood, overlaid with gold. It is referred to as "the ark of the covenant" because inside was stored the two stone tablets upon which were engraved the terms of the covenant (9:4; Ex.25:16,21). Also inside the ark was "a golden pot holding the manna". While the Israelites were wondering in the wilderness God miraculously fed them with quail and manna (Ex.16:13-20). God commanded Moses to set some of the manna aside for a memorial of the care God gave them in the wilderness (Ex.16:31-36). "Aaron's rod that budded" was also found in the ark. When God directed Moses to build the tabernacle, He also directed which tribe was to devote their lives to the service of God in the tabernacle. He told them to place twelve rods, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, "in the tent of meeting before the testimony". The next day the rod belonging to Aaron had budded, signifying God's choice for the priesthood (Lev.17). This rod was set aside in the ark. When "the ark of the covenant" was placed in the Holy of holies of Solomon's temple, "there was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone which Moses put there at Horeb.." (1 Kings 8:9).
Above the ark was the "cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat". Exodus 25:17-22 gives a thorough description of this part of the ark. The "mercy-seat" was a golden slab serving as the lid to the ark. In 4:16 our author referred to the "throne of grace" Christians can boldly go before to obtain mercy and find grace in time of need. The "mercy-seat" was the earthly counterpart of the "throne of grace". The "cherubim of glory" were two gold figures which faced each other and overshadowed the mercy-seat. They also served to support the invisible presence of the God of Israel (see 1 Sam.4:4; etc..).
The writer of Hebrews tells us, "of which things we cannot now speak severally". It is not the intent of our author to describe and discuss the rooms or furniture of the tabernacle at length. He wishes only to refresh their memory of these brief facts. Having done this, he now proceeds to briefly discuss the services performed in the "first" and "second" tabernacles.
With all the necessary preparations made, the priest "go in continually into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the services." The priest would enter both morning and evening to perform the duties of their office. They would trim the lampstands (Ex.27:20f) and at the same time burn incense on the incense altar (Ex.30:7f). Weekly the appointed priests entered into the Holy Place to put fresh loaves on the table of showbread (Lev.24:8f). These were the principle services which were to be performed in the Holy Place. Any member of the priesthood could discharge these duties.
Into the second tabernacle, the Holy of holies, only the high priest could enter. Even they were restricted from entering except on the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishri) of each year. They actually entered the Holy of holies twice on that special day. On the first occasion he carried the blood of the bullock which had been sacrificed as a sin-offering for himself and his household. The blood was sprinkled on and before the mercy- seat. Then, when a goat had been offered as a sin-offering for the people at large, he entered a second time to offer that blood on behalf of the people, again sprinkling the blood on and before the mercy-seat. Consider three brief thoughts from these verses: (1) except for this annual occasion, the way into the throne-room of God was barred for all Israelites, even for the high priest; (2) when the high priest did have permission to enter into the Holy of holies, his entry was safeguarded only if he had sacrificial blood to offer; (3) this sacrificial blood was not really effective, because fresh blood had to be shed and a fresh entry made yearly into the Holy of holies.
The Holy Spirit signifies, or makes plain, "that the way into the holy place hath not yet been made manifest". By "holy place" our writer refers to the true Holy of holies, or heaven. If the way into this holy place had been possible, then the high priest, and ALL Israelites, would have had free access to God. But since God dwelled among them in the Holy of holies and since only the high priest were permitted to enter therein, and that only once in the year, there was not true access to God under the priesthood of Aaron. Such lack of access to God would continue "while the first tabernacle is yet standing". Up to this point in chapter 9 the writer has been using "first tabernacle" to refer to the outer compartment of the sanctuary. Here, however, he uses it to refer to the sanctuary of the first covenant, comprised of the Holy Place and Holy of holies together. The phrase "while the first tabernacle is yet standing" raises the question of whether access to God was possible at the time the book of Hebrews was written. The present tense in this phrase is historic present, indicating present at the time of the revelation which is under consideration. The revelation of the Holy Spirit to signify that the way into the holy place was not yet manifest is the record of the tabernacle arrangements and the Levitical offerings found in the Old Testament. So long as that old tabernacle, and the other structures which replaced it from time to time, was yet standing, there could not be direct access to God. As long as it was in continued use, the people would have to go before God through the high priest. We will soon see that access to God was possible when the book was written.
The physical tabernacle in the wilderness was only a figure. It was a mere "copy and shadow of the heavenly things" (8:5), a prototype of the true sanctuary. The tabernacle of Christ's ministry is referred to as "the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation" (9:11). Further we read, "For Christ entered not into a holy place made with hands, like in pattern to the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us" (9:24). The tabernacle of Christ is the true tabernacle, heaven. It served as a pattern for the making of the physical tabernacle in the wilderness (see 8:5; Ex.25:9,40; 26:30).
"Gifts" and "sacrifices" were offered in the physical tabernacle, but they could not, "as touching the conscience, make the worshipper perfect". Notice the point of the writer. The sacrifices in the earthly sanctuary were not able to bring "perfection" to the worshiper because they did not have an effect on their conscience. The real barrier to man's free access to God is an inward and not a carnal one; it exists in his conscience. Only by attaining a pure conscience can man be set free to approach God without reservation. And the "gifts" and "sacrifices" of the earthly tabernacle were useless in accomplishing this, "being only...carnal ordinances".
Our writer speaks of Jesus as "having come a high priest of the good things to come". What "good things to come" has Jesus become High Priest of? It would seem to me the answer is found in the verses we just studied (9:8-10). They were looking forward to a time when "the way into the holy place" would be made manifest. This would be "a time of reformation". The realization of those hopes is found in Christ. He is the High Priest of "the good things that have come" (RSV).
He is High Priest of "the greater and more perfect tabernacle". As we have already noticed, this is heaven (see 9:24). Jesus is a High Priest which goes into heaven itself to offer to God the blood He has to offer. Having a greater place to serve as High Priest, His priesthood is superior to that of Aaron.
Under the Levitical Priesthood goats were offered for the sins of the people and calves for the sins of the High Priest himself (see Lev.16:3-15). Our High Priest has not made sacrifice of these animals but of Himself, a man who lived without sin (4:15; 1 Pet.1:18,19). Note three areas of difference between the Old Testament sacrifices and the sacrifice of Christ: (1) The Old Testament high priest had to make two sacrifices-- one for himself and one for the people. Christ, being sinless (4:15), needed to make only one sacrifice, for the sins of all men. (2) The Jewish priest offered the blood of perfect animals as a substitute for sinful man. Christ, being Himself perfect, offered Himself. (3) The animals used in the sacrifices of old had no choice in the matter. They were killed. Jesus, however, has "put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (9:26; also 9:14). His was a voluntary sacrifice.
Having offered Himself as our sacrifice He "entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption". After Christ shed His own blood on the cross He entered into heaven itself to offer the blood to God. In so doing He obtained "eternal redemption" for those who would obey Him (5:9). He entered "once for all" because by His sacrifice the conscience of men could be cleansed (9:14).
This sacrifice of the Son of God is not only effective in cleansing our conscience and allowing us, who will obey Him, to draw near to God, but it also provided eternal redemption for some who had lived under the first covenant (9:15). Those who lived faithful to the law God had for them never actually received forgiveness of sin or redemption because "it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins" (10:4). However, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross provided eternal redemption for them. The blood of Christ flowed backwards as well as forwards from the cross.
Since Jesus has made such a superior sacrifice to God, the way into the holy place has been opened. Now man can "draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace" (4:16; 7:25).
Having touched on the idea of an "eternal inheritance" in verse 15, our writer now speaks of the need for the death of the one who made the testament, or will, which provided this inheritance. A testament is of force ONLY after the testator has died. Therefore, Jesus, the testator, had to die before His promise of eternal redemption could be received by His followers.
Another reason Jesus had to die on the cross was to dedicate the new covenant with His blood. The Law of Moses was dedicated with the blood of calves and goats. The blood was sprinkled on "both the book itself and all the people" (9:19). The "tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry" were also sprinkled with blood to dedicate them to the Lord's service. The writer says, "I may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood" (9:22). God directed that blood be used to symbolically cleanse many things. [Some things were to be cleansed with water and fire and others with the ashes of a red heifer (9:13; Num.19:2-10)] He goes on to say, "apart from shedding of blood there is no remission". There is only one thing which can take care of the filth of sin, blood.
The blood of animals was only able to provide cleansing of "the copies of the things in the heavens" (9:23). The physical tabernacle and its utensils and even the people were cleansed and fitted for the worship of God by the sprinkling of animal blood. But these were but copies of the spiritual realities. The spiritual realities themselves would require a superior sacrifice to be cleansed and dedicated. What "heavenly things" needed to be cleansed? The context tells us. It is the defiled conscience of men and women (9:9,10,14). As the physical tabernacle was the dwelling place of God and had to be free from defilement for Him to be in their midst, so are we also a spiritual building unto Him (see Eph.2:22; 1 Pet.2:5) and thus we must also be cleansed from defilement for Him to dwell among us (1 Pet.1:19f). We are sanctified unto "obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet.1:2).
As we have already noted Christ "entered in once for all into the holy place" (9:12). The priest under the Levitical system had to continually enter the Holy of holies, yearly, to offer new blood because no remission of sins was obtained from the previous offering. But the sacrifice of Jesus is effective enough that it needed to be offered only once. Through the one offering of Himself He "put away sin" and "obtained eternal redemption" (9:12,26). Since sin is "put away" and redemption obtained, there is no need for our High Priest to continue making offerings for sins. All who will obey the Lord's will can have the blessings of this sacrifice (see 5:8,9).
It is appointed by God that all men die once, and then face judgment. Christ, being a man also had to die once. this He did in the offering of Himself on the cross "to bear the sins of many".
The Israelites who watched their high priest enter the Holy of holies would await his reappearance. His reappearance was a welcome sign to those waiting for him because it said God had accepted the high priest and the sacrifices he had offered on their behalf.
Christ, our High Priest, will also reappear one day. But, unlike the priest of old, He will appear "apart from sin". The priest of the earthly tabernacle reappeared having no true effect on sin. Christ will appear apart from sin in that sin was "put away" by the sacrifice of Himself during His first appearing. His reappearing will not be for the purpose of taking care of the problem of sin, but to usher those who had obeyed His will and were waiting for Him into the eternal home of heaven.
With the promise of this return, the Jewish Christians reading this book should have been encouraged to remain faithful to the Lord, not growing faint or weary but persevering in patience and faith.
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This page was last updated on Thursday, May 28, 1998.