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Priestly work under the old covenant (9:1-10)
Before discussing Christ’s priestly work further, the writer describes the tabernacle and its furniture (see introductory notes). The golden altar of incense, though kept in the Holy Place, was connected with the ark of the covenant in the ritual of the Day of Atonement (see Exodus 30:6; Leviticus 16:12-14,Leviticus 16:18-19). This may be why the writer mentions it as belonging to the Most Holy Place. He also mentions the three objects kept in the ark and the glorious creatures of beaten gold who spread their wings over the mercy seat (9:1-5).
Only priests could go into the Holy Place, and only the high priest into the Most Holy Place. He did this only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, when he sprinkled the blood of the sacrificial animal and asked forgiveness for himself and the people. This ritual, arranged by God, showed that under the old covenant people could not enter freely into God’s presence (6-8).
Clearly, the sacrifices did not cleanse the worshippers of sin, because they were still kept at a distance from God. The sacrifices were a temporary arrangement for the era before Christ. They brought ceremonial cleansing, but not actual cleansing. Now that Christ has come and cleansed sin fully, they are of no more use (9-10).
Priestly work under the new covenant (9:11-14)
When the Jewish high priest entered the Most Holy Place, God’s symbolic presence, he took the blood of the sacrificial animal with him. This was a sign that an innocent substitute had died for the guilty sinner, so that the barrier to God’s presence through sin might be removed. Jesus Christ, the great high priest, offered himself as the sacrifice, and through his blood (i.e. by means of his sacrificial death) entered the presence of God, obtained eternal salvation from sin, and cleansed the sinner’s guilty conscience. Ceremonial cleansing through animal sacrifices is replaced by actual cleansing through Christ’s sacrifice (11-14).
Sacrifice under the old covenant (9:15-22)
Under the old covenant, repentant sinners offered sacrifices for their sins, but the sacrifices themselves could not bring forgiveness. They brought no more than ceremonial cleansing. The actual cleansing of those sins depended on the sacrifice of Christ. Whether sins were committed before the time of Christ or after, the death of Christ is the basis on which God forgives them. Through Christ, God has made a new covenant, and the inheritance he promises under this covenant is one of total and eternal forgiveness (15).
An inheritance can be received only after the death of the person who promised it. So also people can receive forgiveness of sins only through the death of Christ (16-17). Events at the making of the old covenant point to the necessity of Christ’s death for the making of the new covenant. The old covenant was established with sacrifices, though the ritual of killing animals and sprinkling blood was more than just a dramatic way of swearing to keep the covenant. It signified also the removal of past sin, so that Israel entered the covenant cleansed (18-21; cf. Exodus 24:3,Exodus 24:6-8). The principle of cleansing through sacrifice was basic to the old covenant (22).
Sacrifice under the new covenant (9:23-10:18)
Levitical sacrifices were part of a material order and brought symbolic cleansing. Christ’s death is concerned with the spiritual order and brings actual cleansing (23). The Levitical high priest entered the symbolic presence of God with the blood of a sacrificial animal, a ceremony that had to be repeated yearly. Christ entered God’s real presence on account of his own blood, and he did so only once. His death is sufficient to remove completely the sins of the whole world, past, present and future (24-26).
People die once and face judgment. Christ died once and gained eternal salvation for those who trust in him. By his death believers are forgiven; their sins are taken away. They will enjoy the fulness of their salvation when Christ reappears, coming out of the heavenly tabernacle to be with them for ever (27-28).
The repeated offering of the Levitical sacrifices showed that they were unable to bring complete cleansing. They indicated that there must have been something better yet to come (10:1-4). God’s plan was not that animal sacrifices be offered for ever, but that they prepare the way for Jesus Christ. As the man who came from God, Jesus spent his life doing God’s will, even though it led him to offer that life in sacrifice. His death puts an end to all the old sacrifices, for it cleanses people from sin once and for all (5-10).
Israelite priests stood offering sacrifices day after day. Their work was never finished, because animal sacrifices could not remove sin. The great high priest offered one sacrifice (himself), took away sin for ever, then sat down in God’s presence. His work of salvation is complete, and is available for those who want it. But there remains his work of judgment on those who refuse it (11-14). Under the new covenant a complete and permanent spiritual work is done in the lives of God’s people. There is no need for further sacrificial offerings. God’s work through Christ removes all sin and gives believers new life in the Spirit (15-18).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Hebrews 9". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter