David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
Hebrews 9:1-28 - THE OLD COVENANT AND THE NEW COVENANT COMPARED
A. Features of the Old Covenant described.
1. (Hebrews 9:1-5) The Old Covenant’s tabernacle and its furnishings.
Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
a. The earthly sanctuary: The tabernacle ordained by the Old Covenant was planned by God, but planned for an earthly service.
b. For a tabernacle was prepared: The tabernacle was a tent 45 feet long, 15 feet wide, and 15 feet high, divided into two rooms. The larger room (the first part) was a 15 foot by 30 foot “holy place.” Behind the second veil was the smaller room was a 15 foot by 15 foot, called the Holiest of All.
c. The lampstand with a middle stem and six branches stood in the first part and was of an unspecified size, made of pure gold; it provided the only light for the tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-40).
d. The table sat in the first part and was made of acacia wood covered with gold, 3 feet long, 1½ feet wide, and 2 feet 3 inches high. It held twelve loaves of showbread, each representing God’s fellowship with the twelve tribes of Israel (Exodus 25:23-30).
e. The sanctuary refers to the first part, known as the “holy place.” A veil (a thick curtain) separated the first part from the Holiest of All, also known as the “holy of holies” (Exodus 26:31-33).
f. The golden altar of incense was made of acacia wood covered with gold, 1½ feet square, and 3 feet high. It stood at the veil before the “holy of holies,” and was used to burn incense (Exodus 30:1-8).
g. The ark of the covenant stood inside the Holiest of All, and was a chest made of acacia wood covered with gold, 3¾ feet long, 2¼ feet wide, and 2¼ feet high, with rings for polls along it’s side by which it would be carried (Exodus 25:10-22).
i. Inside the ark was the golden pot that had the manna (Exodus 16:33), Aaron’s rod that budded (Numbers 17:6-11), and the tablets of the covenant (Exodus 25:16).
ii. The manna reminded Israel of God’s provision and their ungratefulness. Aaron’s rod reminded them of their rebellion against God’s authority. The tablets of the covenant reminded them of their failure to keep the Ten Commandments and rest of the law.
h. The mercy seat was the ornate “lid” for the ark of the covenant, made with the designs of cherubim upon it; the blood of sacrifice was sprinkled upon it for the forgiveness of Israel’s sin on the Day of Atonement (Exodus 25:17-22).
i. As God looked down into the ark, He saw the symbols of Israel’s sin, rebellion and failure. But when the blood of sacrifice was applied to the mercy seat, His sight of the sin of Israel was covered by the blood of sacrifice.
2. (Hebrews 9:6-7) Priestly service in the tabernacle under the Old Covenant.
Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance;
a. The priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services: The priests, as appointed, went daily into the “holy place” to perform priestly functions such as tending the lampstand and replacing the showbread.
b. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year: The “holy of holies” was entered only once a year by the high priest alone, on the Day of Atonement.
c. The high priest went alone once a year, not without blood: His entrance into the second part was not for fellowship, but only for atonement, first for his own sin, then for the sins of his people.
i. Access into the Holiest of All was thus severely restricted, and even when someone could enter, it wasn’t for real fellowship with God.
ii. The ancient Jewish Rabbis wrote of how the high priest would not prolong his prayer in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, because it might make the people think he had been killed. When he came out, he threw a party for all his friends, because he had emerged safely from the presence of God.
d. The people’s sins committed in ignorance: Sins of ignorance were the specific aim of the Day of Atonement. It was assumed that known sin would be taken care of through the regular sin offerings and the daily sacrifices.
i. In this respect, Jesus’ work is far greater than the work done on the Day of Atonement. Jesus’ work on the cross is sufficient to atone for both the sins we do in ignorance and sins that we know.
3. (Hebrews 9:8-10) The Holy Spirit gives understanding regarding the priestly service under the Old Covenant.
The Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience; concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.
a. The way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing: The old had to pass away before God’s new way could be revealed.
b. It was symbolic for the present time: Symbolic is the ancient Greek word parabole. The tabernacle itself and all that the Old Covenant represented were suggestive of deeper truths, parables of the New Covenant.
c. Cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience: The priestly service performed now (current at the writer’s time) does not make even the priests offering those sacrifices perfect and clean in regard to the conscience.
i. If the cleansing is incomplete for the priest, how much more for the person the priest worked on behalf of!
c. Fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation: The weakness of the priestly service under the Old Covenant was its inability to address the need for inner transformation in man; therefore it was only imposed until the time of reformation.
B. Features of the New Covenant described.
1. (Hebrews 9:11) The superior sanctuary of the New Covenant.
But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.
a. The greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands: Jesus, as our High Priest, ministers in a superior sanctuary - the very throne room of God, a place greater than anything human hands could make.
2. (Hebrews 9:12-15) The superior sacrifice of the New Covenant.
Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
a. The blood of goats and calves was sufficient for a temporary covering of sin; but only a perfect sacrifice could obtain eternal redemption.
i. Jesus’ sacrifice was superior in that it was perfect, voluntary, rational, and motivated by love.
b. For if the blood of bulls and goats . . . sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ: If these imperfect sacrifices were received as sufficient by Israel, how much more should they regard the ultimate sufficiency of the perfect sacrifice?
i. The ashes of a heifer refer to the remains of a burnt offering that was preserved, and sprinkled in the laver of washing to provide water suitable for ceremonial cleansing (Numbers 19:1-10).
ii. This was a shadow, fulfilled and done away with when Jesus offered a perfect cleansing; there is no value in “holy water” used by the Roman Catholic Church.
iii. Reportedly, there is a search for a “red heifer” that can be sacrificed, and its ashes used as part or a restoration of priestly functions for a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.
c. How much more shall the blood of Christ . . . cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? The sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient to even restore our damaged conscience.
i. Our conscience is a wonderful tool from God. But it isn’t perfect. Our conscience can be seared (1 Timothy 4:2). Our conscience can be defiled (Titus 1:15). Our conscience can be evil (Hebrews 10:22).
d. Cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God: Dead works probably has the thought of sin in general, in the sense of “works that bring death.” But it must also speak to the vain continuation of Old Covenant sacrifice, which is certainly a dead work - and the very type of thing these discouraged Jewish Christians were tempted to go back to.
e. He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death: Jesus’ work as a Mediator is fundamentally accomplished at His death. His heavenly work of mediation looks back to that perfect sacrifice.
f. For the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant: Jesus’ payment on the cross accomplished redemption for those under the first covenant. Every sacrifice for sin made in faith under the Mosaic command was an IOU cashed in at the cross.
3. (Hebrews 9:16-22) The necessity of Jesus’ death.
For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.” Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.
a. For a testament is in force after men are dead: A testament (in the sense of a “last will and testament”) only takes effect when the person making the testament dies. Therefore Jesus had to die for the testament - the covenant - to take effect.
b. Remember that the word that has been used for covenant is actually the word testament. The idea is essentially the same as a covenant, except that it is dictated by one party, not negotiated upon by two parties.
c. Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood: Clearly, death was necessary to the Old Covenant. Virtually every part of the sacrificial system under the Law of Moses was touched by blood in some way or another.
d. An important principle is stated: Without shedding of blood there is no remission [of sin].
i. Modern people think that sin is remitted (forgiven) by time, by our good works, by our decent lives, or by simply death.
ii. But there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood, and there is no perfect forgiveness without a perfect sacrifice.
4. (Hebrews 9:23-28) The perfect sanctuary receives a perfect sacrifice.
Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another; He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.
a. It was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these: It was acceptable for the copies of the things in the heavens in the earthly sanctuary to be “purified” with imperfect sacrifices. But the heavenly things themselves could only be purified with a perfect offering.
b. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands . . . but into heaven itself: Jesus’ sacrifice was made on earth, but it is the basis for His continuing work as our mediator and High Priest in heaven. The writer to the Hebrews proclaims it: now to appear in the presence of God for us. It’s not hard to believe that Jesus does appear in the presence of God. But to believe that He appears there for us is glorious!
c. Not that He should offer Himself often: Jesus’ ministry for us continues in heaven, but not in the sense of continuing to atone for our sin. His ministry continues for us in intercession and defending us against the accuser of God’s people (Revelation 12:10). But it does not continue in the sense that He should offer Himself often. His sacrifice was once-for-all, and perfectly satisfied God’s holy justice.
i. This passage and principle is a direct rebuke to the Roman Catholic practice and theology of the mass. In the mass, the Roman Catholic Church desires to repeat - not remember, but repeat - the atoning sacrifice of Jesus innumerable times. This is absolutely indefensible Scripturally, and denies the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. The Scriptures make it plain: not that He should offer Himself often.
d. He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world: If the sacrifice of Jesus were not perfect, then it would have to be continual and constant - even since the foundation of the world. Imperfect sacrifices must be repeated continually but a perfect sacrifice can be made once for all time, and genuinely put away sin (not just cover sin, as with sacrifice under the Old Covenant). The message is clear: He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
i. This principle of sacrifice explains why the suffering of hell must be eternal for those who reject the atoning work of Jesus. They are in hell to pay the penalty of their sin, but as imperfect beings they are unable to make a perfect payment. If the payment is not perfect, then it has to be continual and constant - indeed, for all eternity. A soul could be released from hell the moment its debt of sin was completely paid - which is another way of saying never.
e. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many: Just as certainly as we die once and then face judgment, so Jesus only had to die once (not repeatedly, not continually) to bear our sins.
i. It is not the intention of the writer to the Hebrews to discuss the issue of reincarnation. That is a side issue; he simply brings up the obvious point, it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment. Just as that is obvious, so it is plain that Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. For the writer to the Hebrews, the truth that it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment is an indisputable principle.
ii. Though it was not really the point of the writer to the Hebrews to discuss reincarnation, he certainly and completely denies it here. We do not die and live and die and live and some number of lives down the road face an eternal reckoning. This life is it, and then we face judgment. This means that there are no second chances beyond the grave. Now is the time to choose for Jesus Christ, because when we die, it is simply after this the judgment.
iii. It is important to note that the principle of it is appointed for men to die once is not an absolute principle. There are some unique, remarkable exceptions. Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) never died once. Several people in the Bible were raised from the dead (1 Kings 17:22, 2 Kings 13:20-21, Matthew 9:25, John 11:43-44, Acts 20:9-11), and therefore died twice. Those taken in the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:17) will never die once. Yet these remarkable, unique exceptions do not deny the principle of it is appointed for men to die once; they are exceptions that prove the rule.
f. He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation: The focus of Jesus’ first coming was to deal with the sin problem through His atoning sacrifice. But now, having dealt with the sin problem perfectly, He comes again apart from sin - for the salvation (in the sense of rescue) of His people.
i. To those who eagerly wait for Him: It is assumed that all believers will eagerly wait for Him. It’s a sad case that this assumption doesn’t always play out as true!
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