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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Hebrews 9

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-28

Chapter 9

THE GLORY OF THE TABERNACLE (Hebrews 9:1-5)

9:1-5 So, then, the first tabernacle, too, had its ordinances of worship and its holy place, which was an earthly symbol of the divine realities. For the first tabernacle was constructed and in it there was the lampstand and the table with the shewbread, and it was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain there was that part of the tabernacle which was called the Holy of Holies. It was approached by means of the golden altar of incense, and it had in it the ark of the covenant, which was covered all over with gold. In the ark there was the golden pot with the manna and Aaron's rod which budded and the tables of the covenant. Above it there were the cherubim of glory, overshadowing the mercy seat; but this is not the place to speak about all these things in detail.

The writer to the Hebrews has just been thinking of Jesus as the one who leads us into reality. He has been using the idea that in this world we have only pale copies of what is truly real. The worship that men can offer is only a ghost-like shadow of the real worship which Jesus, the real High Priest, alone can offer. But even as he thinks of that his mind goes back to the Tabernacle (the Tabernacle, remember, not the Temple). Lovingly he remembers its beauty; lovingly he lingers on its priceless possessions. And the thought in his mind is this--if earthly worship was as beautiful as this, what must the true worship be like? If all the loveliness of the Tabernacle was only a shadow of reality, how surpassingly lovely the reality must be. He does not tell of the Tabernacle in detail; he only alludes to certain of its treasures. This was all he needed to do because his readers knew its glories and had them printed on their memories. But we do not know them; therefore, let us see what the beauty of the earthly Tabernacle was like, always remembering that it was only a pale copy of reality.

The main description of the Tabernacle in the wilderness is in Exodus 25:1-40; Exodus 26:1-37; Exodus 27:1-21; Exodus 28:1-43; Exodus 29:1-46; Exodus 30:1-38; Exodus 31:1-18 and Exodus 35:1-35; Exodus 36:1-38; Exodus 37:1-29; Exodus 38:1-31; Exodus 39:1-43; Exodus 40:1-38. God said to Moses: "Make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst" (Exodus 25:8). It was constructed out of the freewill offerings of the people (Exodus 25:1-7), who gave with such lavish generosity that a halt had to be called to their giving (Exodus 36:5-7).

The Court of the Tabernacle was 150 feet long and 75 feet wide. It was surrounded by a curtain-like fence of fine, twined linen 7 1/2 feet high. The white linen stood for the wall of holiness that surrounds the presence of God. The curtain was supported by twenty pillars on the north and south sides, and by ten on the east and west sides; and the pillars were set in sockets of brass and had tops of silver. There was only one gate. It was on the east side and it was 30 feet wide and 7 1/2 feet high. It was made of fine, twined linen wrought with blue and purple and scarlet. In the court there were two things. There was the Brazen Altar, 7 1/2 feet square and 4 1/2 feet high and made of acacia wood sheathed in brass. Its top was a brazen grating on which the sacrifice was laid; and it had four horns to which the offering was bound. There was The Laver. The laver was made from the brass mirrors of the women (glass mirrors did not exist at that time) but its dimensions are not given. The priests bathed themselves in the water in it before they carried out their sacred duties.

The Tabernacle itself was constructed of forty-eight acacia beams, 15 feet high and 2 feet 3 inches wide. They were overlaid with pure gold and rested in sockets of silver. They were bound together by outside connecting rods and by a wooden tie-beam which ran through their centre. The Tabernacle was divided into two parts. The first--two-thirds of the whole--was The Holy Place; the inner part--one-third of the whole--a cube 15 feet on each side, was The Holy of Holies. The curtain which hung in front of The Holy Place was supported on five brass pillars and made of fine linen wrought in blue, purple and scarlet.

The Holy Place contained three things. (i) There was The Golden Lampstand. It stood on the south side; it was beaten out of a talent of solid gold; the lamps were fed with pure olive oil, and were always lit. (ii) On the north side stood The Table of the Shewbread. It was made of acacia wood covered with gold; it was 3 feet long, 1 1/2 feet wide and 2 feet 3 inches high. On it there were laid every Sabbath twelve loaves made of the finest flour, in two rows of six. Only the priests could eat these loaves when they were removed. They were changed every Sabbath. (iii) There was The Altar of Incense. It was of acacia wood sheathed in gold; it was 1 1/2 feet square and 3 feet high. On it incense, symbolising the prayers of the people rising to God, was burned every morning and evening.

In front of The Holy of Holies there was The Veil which was made of fine, twined linen, embroidered in scarlet and purple and blue, and with the cherubim upon it. Into The Holy of Holies no one but the High Priest might enter, and he only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, and only after the most elaborate preparations. Within The Holy of Holies stood The Ark of the Covenant. It contained three things--the golden pot of the manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the law. It was made of acacia wood sheathed outside and lined inside with gold. It was 3 feet 9 inches long, 2 feet 3 inches wide, and 2 feet 3 inches high. Its lid was called The Mercy Seat. On The Mercy Seat there were two cherubim of solid gold with overarching wings. It was there that the very presence of God rested, for he had said: "There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony" (Exodus 25:22).

It was of all this beauty that the writer to the Hebrews was thinking--and yet it was only a shadow of reality. In his mind there was another thing of which he was to speak again--the ordinary Israelite could come only to the gate of the Tabernacle court; the priests and the Levites might enter the court; the priests alone might enter the Holy Place; and none but the High Priest might enter the Holy of Holies. There was beauty but it was a beauty in which the common man was barred from the inner presence of God. Jesus Christ took the barrier away and opened wide the way to God's presence for every man.

THE ONLY ENTRY TO THE PRESENCE OF GOD (Hebrews 9:6-10)

9:6-10 Since these preparations have been made, the priests continually enter into the first tabernacle as they perform the various acts of worship. But into the second tabernacle the High Priest alone enters, and that once a year and not without blood, which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people. By this the Holy Spirit is showing that the way into the Holy Place was not yet opened up so long as the first tabernacle stood. Now the first tabernacle stands for this present age, and according to its services sacrifices are offered which cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper but which, since they are based on food and drink and various kinds of washings, are human regulations, laid down until the time of the new order should come.

Only the High Priest could enter into the Holy of Holies and that only on The Day of Atonement. It is of the ceremonies of that day that the writer to the Hebrews is here thinking. He did not need to describe them to his readers for they knew them. To them they were the most sacred religious ceremonies in all the world. If we are to understand the thought of the writer to the Hebrews we must have a picture of them in our minds. The main description is in Leviticus 16:1-34 .

First, we must ask, what was the idea behind The Day of Atonement? As we have seen, the relationship between Israel and God was a covenant relationship. Sin on Israel's part broke that relationship, and the whole system of sacrifice existed to make atonement for sin and to restore the broken relationship. But what if there were some sins still not atoned for? What if there were some sins of which a man was not conscious? What if by some chance the altar itself had become defiled? That is to say, what if the sacrificial system was not performing the function it should?

The summary of the Day of Atonement is given in Leviticus 16:33 :

And he shall make atonement for the sanctuary; and he shall

make atonement for the tent of meeting, and for the altar,

and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the

people of the assembly.

It was one great comprehensive act of atonement for all sin. It was one grand day in which all things and all people were cleansed, so that the relationship between Israel and God should continue unbroken. To that end it was a day of humiliation. "You shall afflict yourselves" (Leviticus 16:29). It was not a feast but a fast. The whole nation fasted all day, even the boys and girls; and the really devout Jew prepared himself for it by fasting for the ten days which went before. The Day of Atonement comes ten days after the opening of the Jewish New Year, about the beginning of September in our calendar. It was the greatest of all days in the life of the High Priest.

Let us then see what happened. Very early in the morning the High Priest cleansed himself by washing. He donned his gorgeous robes of office, worn only on that day. There were the white linen breeches and the long white undergarment reaching down to the feet, woven in one piece. There was The Robe of the Ephod. It was dark blue and was a long robe with at the foot a fringe of blue, purple and scarlet tassels made in the form of pomegranates, interspersed with an equal number of little golden bells. Over this robe he put The Ephod itself The Ephod was probably a kind of linen tunic, embroidered in scarlet and purple and gold, with an elaborate girdle. On its shoulders were two onyx stones. The names of six of the tribes were engraved on one and six on the other. On the tunic was The Breastplate, a span square. On it were twelve precious stones with the names of the twelve tribes engraved upon them. So the High Priest carried the people to God on his shoulders and on his heart. In the breastplate there was the Urim and the Thummim, which means lights and perfections (Exodus 28:30). What exactly the Urim and the Thummim was is not known. It is known that the High Priest consulted it when he wished to know the will of God. It may be that it was a precious diamond inscribed with the consonants Y-H-W-H which are the consonants of Yahweh (Hebrew #3068 and Hebrew #3069), the name of God. On his head the High Priest put the tall mitre, of fine linen; and on the mitre there was a gold plate bound by a band of blue ribbon, and on the plate were the words: "Holiness unto the Lord." It is easy to imagine what a dazzling figure the High Priest must have presented on this his greatest day.

The High Priest began by doing the things that were done every day. He burned the morning incense, made the morning sacrifice, and attended to the trimming of the lamps on the seven-branched lampstand. Then came the first part of the special ritual of the day. Still dressed in his gorgeous robes, he sacrificed a bullock and seven lambs and one ram (Numbers 29:7). Then he removed his gorgeous robes, cleansed himself again in water, and dressed himself in the simple purity of white linen. There was brought to him a bullock bought with his own resources. He placed his hands on its head and, standing there in the full sight of the people, confessed his own sin and the sin of his house:

"Ah, Lord God, I have committed iniquity: I have transgressed: I have sinned--I and my house. O Lord, I entreat thee, cover over (atone for) the iniquities, the transgressions, and the sins, which I have committed, transgressed, and sinned before thee, I and my house, even as it is written in the law of Moses, thy servant, 'For in that day, he will cover over (atone) for you to make you clean. From all your transgressions before the Lord you shall be cleansed.'"

For the moment the bullock was left before the altar. And then followed one of the unique ceremonies of the Day of Atonement. Two goats were standing by, and beside the goats an urn with two lots in it. One lot was marked For Jehovah; the other was marked For Azazel, which is the phrase the King James Version translates The Scapegoat. The lots were drawn and laid one on the head of each goat. A tongue-shaped piece of scarlet was tied to the horn of the scapegoat. And for the moment the goats were left. Then the High Priest turned to the bullock which was beside the altar and killed it. its throat was slit and the blood caught by a priest in a basin. The basin was kept in motion so that the blood would not coagulate for soon it was to be used. Then came the first of the great moments. The High Priest took coals from the altar and put them in a censer; he took incense and put it in a special dish; and then he walked into the Holy of Holies to burn incense in the very presence of God. It was laid down that he must not stay too long "lest he put Israel in terror." The people literally watched with bated breath; and when he came out from the presence of God still alive, there went up a sigh of relief like a gust of wind.

When the High Priest came out from the Holy of Holies, he took the basin of the bullock's blood, went back into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled it seven times up and seven times down. He came out, killed the goat that was marked For Jehovah, with its blood re-entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled again. Then he came out and mingled together the blood of the bullock and the goat and seven times sprinkled the horns of the altar of the incense and the altar itself. What remained of the blood was laid at the foot of the altar of the burnt offering. Thus the Holy of Holies and the altar were cleansed by blood from any defilement that might be on them.

Then came the most vivid ceremony. The scapegoat was brought forward. The High Priest laid his hands on it and confessed his own sin and the sin of the people; and the goat was led forth into the desert, "into a land not inhabited," laden with the sins of the people and there it was killed.

The priest turned to the slain bullock and goat and prepared them for sacrifice. Still in his linen garments he read scripture--Leviticus 16:1-34 ; Leviticus 23:27-32, and repeated by heart Numbers 29:7-11. He then prayed for the priesthood and the people. Once again he cleansed himself in water and rearrayed himself in his gorgeous robes. He sacrificed, first, a kid of the goats for the sins of the people; then he made the normal evening sacrifice; then he sacrificed the already prepared parts of the bullock and the goat. Then once again he cleansed himself, took off his robes, and put on the white linen; and for the fourth and last time he entered the Holy of Holies to remove the censer of incense which still burned there. Once again he cleansed himself in water; once again he put on his vivid robes; then he burned the evening offering of incense, trimmed the lamps on the golden lampstand, and his work was done. In the evening he held a feast because he had been in the presence of God and had come out alive.

Such was the ritual of the Day of Atonement, the day designed to cleanse all things and all people from sin. That was the picture in the mind of the writer to the Hebrews and he was to make much of it. But there were certain things of which he was thinking at the moment.

Every year this ceremony had to be gone through again. Everyone but the High Priest was barred from the presence and even he entered in terror. The cleansing was a purely external one by baths of water. The sacrifice was that of bulls and goats and animal blood. The whole thing failed because such things cannot atone for sin. In it all the writer to the Hebrews sees a pale copy of the reality, a ghostly pattern of the one true sacrifice--the sacrifice of Christ. It was a noble ritual, a thing of dignity and beauty; but it was only an unavailing shadow. The only priest and the only sacrifice which can open the way to God for all men is Jesus Christ.

THE SACRIFICE WHICH OPENS THE WAY TO GOD (Hebrews 9:11-14)

9:11-14 But when Christ arrived upon the scene, a high priest of the good things which are to come, by means of a tabernacle which was greater and better able to produce the results for which it was meant, a tabernacle not made by the hands of men--that is, a tabernacle which did not belong to this world order--and not by the blood of goats and bullocks but by his own blood, he entered once and for all into the Holy Place because he had secured for us an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could by sprinkling cleanse those that were unclean so that their bodies became pure, how much more will the blood of Christ who, through the eternal Spirit offered himself spotless to God, cleanse your conscience so that you will be able to leave the deeds that make for death in order to become the servants of the living God?

When we try to understand this passage, we must remember three things which are basic to the thought of the writer to the Hebrews. (i) Religion is access to God. Its function is to bring a man into God's presence. (ii) This is a world of pale shadows and imperfect copies; beyond is the world of realities. The function of all worship is to bring men into contact with the eternal realities. That was what the worship of the Tabernacle was meant to do; but the earthly Tabernacle and its worship are pale copies of the real Tabernacle and its worship; and only the real Tabernacle and the real worship can give access to reality. (iii) There can be no religion without sacrifice. Purity is a costly thing; access to God demands purity; somehow man's sin must be atoned for and his uncleanness cleansed. With these ideas in his mind the writer to the Hebrews goes on to show that Jesus is the only High Priest who brings a sacrifice that can open the way to God and that that sacrifice is himself.

To begin with, he refers to certain of the great sacrifices which the Jews were in the habit of making under the old covenant with God. (i) There was the sacrifice of bullocks and of goats. In this he is referring to two of the great sacrifices on The Day of Atonement--of the bullock which the High Priest offered for his own sins and of the scapegoat which was led away to the wilderness bearing the sins of the people (Leviticus 16:15; Leviticus 16:21-22). (ii) There was the sacrifice of the red heifer. This strange ritual is described in Numbers 19:1-22 . Under Jewish ceremonial law, if a man touched a dead body, he was unclean. He was barred from the worship of God, and everything and everyone he touched also became unclean. To deal with this there was a prescribed method of cleansing. A red heifer was slaughtered outside the camp. The priest sprinkled the blood of the heifer before the Tabernacle seven times. The body of the beast was then burned, together with cedar and hyssop and a piece of red cloth. The resulting ashes were laid up outside the camp in a clean place and constituted a purification for sin. This ritual must have been very ancient for both its origin and its meaning are wrapped in obscurity. The Jews themselves told that once a Gentile questioned Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai on the meaning of this rite, declaring that it sounded like pure superstition. The Rabbi's answer was that it had been appointed by the Holy One and that men must not enquire into his reasons but should leave the matter there without explanation. In any event, the fact remains that it was one of the great rites of the Jews.

The writer to the Hebrews tells of these sacrifices and then declares that the sacrifice that Jesus brings is far greater and far more effective. We must first ask what he means by the greater and more effective tabernacle not made with hands? That is a question to which no one can give an answer which is beyond dispute. But the ancient scholars nearly all took it in one way and said that this new tabernacle which brought men into the very presence of God was nothing else than the body of Jesus. It would be another way of saying what John said: "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). The worship of the ancient tabernacle was designed to bring men into the presence of God. That it could do only in the most shadowy and imperfect way. The coming of Jesus really brought men into the presence of God, because in him God entered this world of space and time in a human form and to see Jesus is to see what God is like.

The great superiority of the sacrifice Jesus brought lay in three things. (i) The ancient sacrifices cleansed a man's body from ceremonial uncleanness; the sacrifice of Jesus cleansed his soul. We must always remember this--in theory all sacrifice cleansed from transgressions of the ritual law; it did not cleanse from sins of the presumptuous heart and the high hand. Take the case of the red heifer. It was not moral uncleanness that its sacrifice wiped out but the ceremonial uncleanness consequent upon touching a dead body. A man's body might be clean ceremonially and yet his heart be torn with remorse. He might feel able to enter the tabernacle and yet far away from the presence of God. The sacrifice of Jesus takes the load of guilt from a man's conscience. The animal sacrifices of the old covenant might well leave a man in estrangement from God; the sacrifice of Jesus shows us a God whose arms are always outstretched and in whose heart is only love.

(ii) The sacrifice of Jesus brought eternal redemption. The idea was that men were under the dominion of sin; and just as the purchase price had to be paid to free a man from slavery, so the purchase price had to be paid to free a man from sin.

(iii) The sacrifice of Christ enabled a man to leave the deeds of death and to become the servant of the living God. That is to say, he did not only win forgiveness for a man's past sin, he enabled him in the future to live a godly life. The sacrifice of Jesus was not only the paying of a debt; it was the giving of a victory. What Jesus did puts a man right with God and what he does enables a man to stay right with God. The act of the Cross brings to men the love of God in a way that takes their terror of him away; the presence of the living Christ brings to them the power of God so that they can win a daily victory over sin.

Westcott outlines four ways in which Jesus' sacrifice of himself differs from the animal sacrifices of the old covenant.

(i) The sacrifice of Jesus was voluntary. The animal's life was taken from it; Jesus gave his life. He willingly laid it down for his friends.

(ii) The sacrifice of Jesus was spontaneous. Animal sacrifice was entirely the product of law; the sacrifice of Jesus was entirely the product of love. We pay our debts to a tradesman because we have to; we give a gift to our loved ones because we want to. It was not law but love that lay behind the sacrifice of Christ.

(iii) The sacrifice of Jesus was rational. The animal victim did not know what was happening; Jesus all the time knew what he was doing. He died, not as an ignorant victim caught up in circumstances over which he had no control and did not understand but with eyes wide open.

(iv) The sacrifice of Jesus was moral. Animal sacrifice was mechanical; but Jesus' sacrifice was made, through the eternal Spirit. This thing on Calvary was not a matter of prescribed ritual mechanically carried out; it was a matter of Jesus obeying the will of God for the sake of men. Behind it there was not the mechanism of law but the choice of love.

THE ONLY WAY IN WHICH SINS CAN BE FORGIVEN (Hebrews 9:15-22)

9:15-22 It is through him that there emerges a new covenant between God and man; and the purpose behind this new covenant is that those who have been called might receive the eternal inheritance which has been promised to them; but this could happen only after a death had taken place, the purpose of which was to rescue them from the consequences of the transgressions which had been committed under the conditions of the old covenant. For where there is a will, it is necessary that there should be evidence of the death of the testator before the will is valid. It is in the case of dead people that a will is confirmed, since surely it cannot be operative when the testator is still alive. That is why even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. For, after every commandment which the law lays down had been announced by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, together with water and scarlet and hyssop, and sprinkled the book itself and all the people. And as he did so, he said: "This is the blood of the covenant whose conditions God commanded you to observe." In like manner he sprinkled with blood the tabernacle also and all the instruments used in its worship. Under the conditions which the law lays down it is true to say that almost everything is cleansed by blood. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

This is one of the most difficult passages in the whole letter, although it would not be difficult to those who read the letter for the first time, for its methods of argument and expression and categories of thought would be familiar to them.

As we have seen, the idea of the covenant is basic to the thought of the writer, by which he meant a relationship between God and man. The first covenant was dependent on man's keeping of the law; as soon as he broke the law the covenant became ineffective. Let us remember that to our writer religion means access to God. Therefore, the basic meaning of the new covenant, which Jesus inaugurated, is that men should have access to God or, to put it another way, have fellowship with him. But here is the difficulty. Men come to the new covenant already stained with the sins committed under the old covenant, for which the old sacrificial system was powerless to atone. So, the writer to the Hebrews has a tremendous thought and says that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is retroactive. That is to say, it is effective to wipe out the sins of men committed under the old covenant and to inaugurate the fellowship promised under the new.

All that seems very complicated but at the back of it there are two great eternal truths. First, the sacrifice of Jesus gains forgiveness for past sins. We ought to be punished for what we have done and shut out from God; but because of what Jesus did the debt is wiped out, the breach is forgiven and the barrier is taken away. Second, the sacrifice of Jesus opens a new life for the future. It opens the way to fellowship with God. The God whom our sins had made a stranger, the sacrifice of Christ has made a friend. Because of what he did the burden of the past is rolled away and life becomes life with God.

It is the next step in the argument which appears to us a fantastic way in which to argue. The question in the mind of the writer is why this new relationship with God should involve the death of Christ. He answers it in two ways.

(i) His first answer is--to us almost incredibly--founded on nothing other than a play on words. We have seen that the use of the word diatheke (Greek #1242) in the sense of covenant is characteristically Christian, and that its normal secular use was in the sense of will or testament. Up to Hebrews 9:16 the writer to the Hebrews has been using diatheke (Greek #1242) in the normal Christian sense of covenant; then, suddenly and without warning or explanation, he switches to the sense of will. Now a will does not become operative until the testator dies; so the writer to the Hebrews says that no diatheke (Greek #1242), will, can be operative until the death of the testator so that the new diatheke (Greek #1242), covenant, cannot become operative apart from the death of Christ. That is a merely verbal argument and is quite unconvincing to a modern mind; but it must be remembered that this founding of an argument on a play between two meanings of a word was a favourite method of the Alexandrian scholars in the time when this letter was written. In fact this very argument would have been considered in the days when the letter to the Hebrews was written an exceedingly clever piece of exposition.

(ii) His second answer goes back to the Hebrew sacrificial system and to Leviticus 17:11 : "The life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement." "Without the shedding of blood there can be no atonement for sin," was actually a well-known Hebrew principle. So the writer to the Hebrews goes back to the inauguration of the first covenant under Moses, the occasion when the people accepted the law as the condition of their special relationship with God. We are told how sacrifice was made and how Moses "took half of the blood and put it in basins; and half of the blood he threw against the altar." After the book of the law had been read and the people had signified their acceptance of it, Moses "took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, 'Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words'" (Exodus 24:1-8). It is true that the memory of the writer to the Hebrews of that passage is not strictly accurate. He introduces calves and goats and scarlet and hyssop which come from the ritual of The Day of Atonement and he talks about the sprinkling of the Tabernacle, which at that time had not yet been built; but the reason is that these things are so much in his mind. His basic idea is that there can be no cleansing and no ratification of any covenant without the shedding of blood. Why that should be so he does not need to know. Scripture says it is so and that is enough for him. The probable reason is that blood is life, as the Hebrew saw it, and life is the most precious thing in the world; and man must offer his most precious thing to God.

All that goes back to a ritual which is only of antiquarian interest. But behind it there is an eternal principle--Forgiveness is a costly thing. Human forgiveness is costly. A son or a daughter may go wrong and a father or a mother may forgive; but that forgiveness brings tears, whiteness to the hair, lines to the face, a cutting anguish and then a long dull ache to the heart. It does not cost nothing. Divine forgiveness is costly. God is love but he is also holiness. He least of all can break the great moral laws on which the universe is built. Sin must have its punishment or the very structure of life disintegrates. And God alone can pay the terrible price that is necessary before men can be forgiven. Forgiveness is never a case of saying: "It's all right; it doesn't matter." It is the most costly thing in the world. Without the shedding of heart's blood there can be no forgiveness of sins. Nothing brings a man to his senses with such arresting violence as to see the effect of his sin on someone who loves him in this world or on the God who loves him for ever, and to say to himself: "It cost that to forgive my sin." Where there is forgiveness someone must be crucified.

THE PERFECT PURIFICATION (Hebrews 9:23-28)

9:23-28 So, then, if it was necessary that the things which are copies of the heavenly realities should be cleansed by processes like these, it is necessary that the heavenly realities themselves should be cleansed by finer sacrifices than those of which we have been thinking. It is not into a man-made sanctuary that Christ has entered--that would be a mere symbol of the things which are real. It is into heaven itself that he entered, now to appear on our behalf before the presence of God. It is not that he has to offer himself repeatedly, as the High Priest year by year enters into the Holy Place with a blood that is not his own. Were that so he would have had to suffer again and again since the world was founded. But now, as things are, once and for all, at the end of the ages, he has appeared with his sacrifice of himself so that our sins should be cancelled. And just as it is laid down for men to die once and for kill and then to face the judgment, so Christ, after being once and for all sacrificed to bear the burden of the sins of many, will appear a second time, not this time to deal with sin, but for the salvation of those who are waiting for him.

The writer to the Hebrews, still thinking of the supreme efficacy of the sacrifice which Jesus made, begins with a flight of thought which, even for so adventurous a writer as he, is amazing. Let us remember again the letter's basic thought that the worship of this world is a pale copy of the real worship. The writer to the Hebrews says that in this world the Levitical sacrifices were designed to purify the means of worship. For instance, the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement purified the tabernacle and the altar and the Holy Place. Now he goes on to say that the work of Christ purifies not only earth but heaven. He has the tremendous thought of a kind of cosmic redemption that purified the whole universe, seen and unseen.

So he goes on to stress again the way in which the work and the sacrifice of Christ are supreme.

(i) Christ entered into no man-made Holy Place; he entered into the presence of God. We are to think of Christianity not in terms of Church membership but in terms of intimate fellowship with God.

(ii) Christ entered into the presence of God not only for his own sake but for ours. It was to open the way for us and plead our cause. In Christ there is the greatest paradox in the world, the paradox of the greatest glory and the greatest service, the paradox of one for whom the world exists and who exists for the world, the paradox of the eternal King and the eternal Servant.

(iii) The sacrifice of Christ never needs to be made again. Year after year the ritual of the Day of Atonement had to go on and the things that blocked the road to God had to be atoned for; but through Christ's sacrifice the road to God is for ever open. Men were always sinners and always will be but that does not mean that Christ must go on offering himself again and again. The road is open once and for all. We can have a faint analogy of that. For long a certain surgical operation may be impossible. Then some surgeon finds a way round the difficulties. From that day that same road is open to all surgeons. We may put it this way--nothing need ever be added to what Jesus Christ has done to keep open the way to God's love for sinning men.

Finally, the writer to the Hebrews draws a parallel between the life of man and the life of Christ.

(i) Man dies and then comes the judgment. That itself was a shock to the Greek for he tended to believe that death was final. "When earth once drinks the blood of a man," said Aeschylus, "there is death once and for all and there is no resurrection." Euripides says: "It cannot be the dead to light shall come." "For the one loss is this that never mortal maketh good again the life of man--though wealth may be re-won." Homer makes Achilles say when he reaches the shades: "Rather would I live upon the soil as the hireling of another, with a landless man whose livelihood was small, than bear sway among all the dead who are no more." Mimnermus writes with a kind of despair:

"O Golden love, what life, what joy but thine?

Come death, when thou art gone, and make an end!"

There is a simple Greek epitaph:

"Farewell, tomb of Melite; the best of women lies here, who loved

her loving husband, Onesimus; thou wert most excellent, wherefore

he longs for thee after thy death, for thou wert the best of

wives. Farewell thou too, dearest husband, only love my children."

As G. Lowes Dickinson points out, in the Greek, the first and the last word of that epitaph is "Farewell!" Death was the end. When Tacitus is writing the tribute of biography to the great Agricola all he can finish with is an "if."

"If there be any habitation for the spirits of just men, if, as the

sages will have it, great souls perish not with the body, mayest

thou rest in peace."

"If" is the only word. Marcus Aurelius can say that when a man dies and his spark goes back to be lost in God, all that is left is "dust, ashes, bones, and stench." The significant thing about this passage of Hebrews is its basic assumption that a man will rise again. That is part of the certainty of the Christian creed; and the basic warning is that he rises to judgment.

(ii) With Christ it is different--he dies and rises and comes again, and he comes not to be judged but to judge. The early Church never forgot the hope of the Second Coming. It throbbed through their belief. But for the unbeliever that was a day of terror. As Enoch had it of the Day of the Lord, before Christ came: "For all you who are sinners there is no salvation, but upon you all will come destruction and a curse." In some way the consummation must come. If in that day Christ comes as a friend, it can be only a day of glory; if he comes as a stranger or as one whom we have regarded as an enemy, it can be only a day of judgment. A man may look to the end of things with joyous expectation or with shuddering terror. What makes the difference is how his heart is with Christ.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/hebrews-9.html. 1956-1959.


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Sunday, July 23rd, 2017
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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