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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 9

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 1-5

The "first covenant" was the Mosaic Covenant. The writer compared it first to the New Covenant that replaced it. The outer tabernacle (lit. dwelling place) was the holy place (Hebrews 9:2), and the inner tabernacle was the holy of holies (Hebrews 9:3). "The table and the sacred bread" (Hebrews 9:2) is a hendiadys for "the table of sacred bread." A hendiadys is a figure of speech in which a writer expresses a single complex idea by joining two substantives with "and" rather than by using an adjective and a substantive.

Some readers have understood Hebrews 9:4 as saying that the altar of incense was in the holy of holies in the tabernacle. [Note: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 3:6:8, also believed that it was in the holy place.] This seems to contradict the Old Testament, which located this altar in the holy place (Exodus 30:6; Exodus 40:3-5; Exodus 40:21-27). The writer of Hebrews probably meant that the veil, not the holy of holies, had the altar of incense and the ark of the covenant connected with it (Hebrews 9:3; cf. 1 Kings 6:22). These pieces of furniture were on either side of the veil. Describing it this way clarified that the writer meant the veil that hung between the holy place and the holy of holies. "Having" (Gr. echousa) should be understood in the sense of "belonging to" rather than "standing within." [Note: Guthrie, p. 180.]

A second problem is that this writer described the ark as having a golden jar of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded in it. The Old Testament says that these items were beside the ark in the holy of holies (Exodus 16:32-34; Numbers 17:10-11).

"It would at least seem reasonable to suppose that if the urn and the rod were originally placed in front of the ark, yet subsequently, for the sake of convenience (for example, when carrying the ark from one place to another), they were placed inside it." [Note: Philip E. Hughes, A Commentary . . ., p. 315.]

"According to the rabbis, the ark disappeared at the time of the early prophets (Mishnah, Yoma Hebrews 5:2; Shekalim Hebrews 6:1 f.); and there was a tradition that Jeremiah hid it (2 Maccabees 2:4 ff.)." [Note: Morris, p. 82.]

The writer declined to speak of the tabernacle furnishings in more detail (Hebrews 9:5) because his main purpose was to contrast the two rituals and the two covenants.

Verses 1-10

The heavenly sanctuary 9:1-10

"In case any of the readers should think that the writer was underestimating the old, he now outlines some of the glories of the old tabernacle. He is impressed by the orderliness of the arrangements within the Levitical cultus, and aims to present this in order to demonstrate the greater glory of the new." [Note: Guthrie, p. 178.]

In this pericope the writer concentrated on the tabernacle and its provisions for cultic worship. "Cultic" refers to the rituals involved in religious service. The word "first" (Gr. prote) links this section with the former one (cf. Hebrews 8:13). The writer introduced two subjects in the first verse: regulations of divine worship, and the earthly sanctuary. He then proceeded to expound them in reverse order, as he often did in this homily (Hebrews 9:2-10).

"The writer is most concerned to stress that the disposition of the tabernacle and its cultic regulations expressed symbolically the imperfect and provisional character of the old Sinaitic covenant. His description emphasizes limited access and the inadequacy of the offerings." [Note: William L. Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 217.]

"The descriptions are based, not on the author’s personal involvement in worship at Jerusalem . . ., but on scripture." [Note: Ellingworth, p. 420.]

It was natural for the writer to use the tabernacle for his lesson rather than the temple because he proceeded to associate this sanctuary with the giving of the Old Covenant at Sinai (cf. Hebrews 8:5). Furthermore, he had been using Israel’s experiences in the wilderness to challenge his readers.

Verses 6-10

He passed on to the "regulations of divine service" (Hebrews 9:1) in the Old Covenant to show its inferiority further. The "outer tabernacle" is the holy place (Hebrews 9:6), and "the second" is the holy of holies (Hebrews 9:7). The high priest entered the holy of holies only once a year on the Day of Atonement to offer the special sacrifices for that day (Leviticus 16:2). His offering then covered those sins of the people that they committed ignorantly as opposed to those they committed in deliberate apostasy (cf. Leviticus 4:1-2; Leviticus 5:17-19). Some ignorance is culpable (blameworthy); sins of this kind do matter. In Israel the punishment for deliberate rebellion against the Mosaic Covenant was death. It is about this apostasy that the writer warned his audience. He also comforted them with the assurance that their High Priest would deal gently with the misguided who sin ignorantly (Hebrews 5:2).

The writer clarified that the Holy Spirit intended to communicate the fact that the Levitical system did not provide access into God’s presence for the ordinary believer. The "holy place" is God’s throne-room in heaven, and the "outer [lit. first] tabernacle" refers to the earthly tabernacle and its successors, namely, the temples in Israel (Hebrews 9:8).

"The ’front compartment’ (he prote skene) becomes a spatial metaphor for the time when the ’first covenant’ (he prote diatheke) was in force. As an illustration for the old age, which is now in process of dissolution (Hebrews 8:13), it symbolizes the total first covenant order with its daily and annual cultic ritual (Hebrews 9:6-7). Once the first has been invalidated, the second becomes operative (see Hebrews 10:9). In the figurative language of the writer, the front compartment of the tabernacle was symbolic of the present age (ton kaipon ton enestekota), which through the intrusion of the kairos diorthoseos, ’the time of correction’ (Hebrews 9:10), has been superseded . . ." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 224.]

The Old Covenant system of worship did not meet the deepest need of God’s people, namely, intimate personal relationship with God. Its rites and ceremonies extended mainly to external matters until God would provide a better system at "a time of reformation" (Hebrews 9:10).

This comparison helps us keep externals in their proper perspective as secondary to inward reality with God. Relationship with God purifies the conscience. It is possible to fulfill all the outward obligations of religion and still have a conscience that is not right with God (Hebrews 9:9). This is one of the tragic inadequacies of religion that does not involve relationship with God.

"The necessity of a cleansed conscience is insisted upon throughout the letter [Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:2; Hebrews 10:22; Hebrews 13:18]. A conscience stained with sin is the one effective barrier to man’s fellowship with God . . ." [Note: F. F. Bruce, "The Kerygma of Hebrews," Interpretation 23:1 (January 1969):12. See also Guthrie, p. 184.]

"The reason for detailing the arrangement of the tabernacle and its furnishings in Hebrews 9:2-5 is manifestly to show the lack of access to God under the old cultus. This, in turn, provides a framework for the development of certain deficiencies in the cultic regulations that had been imposed under the terms of the Sinaitic covenant in Hebrews 9:6-10." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 226.]

"The greatest festival of the Jewish year paradoxically shows most clearly the limitations of the old dispensation and its high priesthood." [Note: Ellingworth, p. 434.]

The Old Covenant sanctuary was inferior for five reasons. It was an earthly sanctuary (Hebrews 9:1), it was a type of something greater (its antitype; Hebrews 9:2-5), and it was inaccessible to the people (Hebrews 9:6-7). Furthermore it was only temporary (Hebrews 9:8) and its ministry was external rather than internal (Hebrews 9:9-10). [Note: Wiersbe, 2:308-10.] A type is a divinely intended illustration of something else, the antitype. A type may be a person (cf. Romans 5:14), a thing (cf. Hebrews 10:19-20), an event (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11), a ceremony (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7), or an institution, as here.

Verse 11

A better translation might be, "He entered in connection with the greater . . . tabernacle." Jesus Christ did not pass through heaven in the sense of going on to some other place after He arrived there. He is there now.

Verses 11-15

The superior priestly ministry 9:11-15

Verses 11-28

The final purging of sin 9:11-28

The writer now focused on the issue of sacrifice.

"The argument moves a stage further as the author turns specifically to what Christ has done. The sacrifices of the old covenant were ineffectual. But in strong contrast Christ made an offering that secures a redemption valid for all eternity. In the sacrifices, a good deal pertained to the use of blood. So in accord with this, the author considers the significance of the blood of animals and that of Christ." [Note: Morris, p. 85.]

"Blood" in Scripture is frequently a metonym (a figure of speech in which one thing stands for another) for "death," particularly violent death involving bloodshed. There was nothing magical about Jesus’ blood that made it a cleansing agent for sin. It was the death of Christ that saves us, not something special about His blood.

In Hebrews 9:11-14 the writer introduced Christ’s high priestly ministry, which climaxes in Hebrews 9:15. Hebrews 9:16-22 are parenthetical explaining Hebrews 9:15. Then Hebrews 9:23-28 resume the discussion of Jesus’ priestly ministry in heaven.

"The conception of Christ’s death as a liturgical high priestly action is developed as a major argument in Hebrews 9:11-28. Prior to this point in the homily, the high priesthood tended to be linked with Christ’s present activity as heavenly intercessor (cf. Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15-16; Hebrews 7:25; Hebrews 8:1-2)." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 235.]

Verse 12

Blood is also a symbol of life (Leviticus 17:11). The point is that the lives of innocent animal substitutes were sufficient only to atone for sin temporarily. However the life of Jesus Christ, because He was a perfect human substitute, adequately paid for the redemption of all people forever. Having died "once for all" (Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 10:10) He was able to enter God’s presence "once for all."

"There have been expositors who, pressing the analogy of the Day of Atonement beyond the limits observed by our author, have argued that the expiatory work of Christ was not completed on the cross-not completed, indeed, until He ascended from earth and ’made atonement "for us" in the heavenly holy of holies by the presentation of His efficacious blood’.

Footnote 82: "K. M. Monroe, EQ [Evangelical Quarterly] v (1933), p. 404 (in an article ’Time Element in the Atonement’, pp. 397ff., which was answered by T. Houghton, ’The Atonement’, EQ vi [1934], pp. 137ff.). Monroe argued that our Lord, after His resurrection, ascended immediately into heaven to sprinkle His blood on ’the heavenly capporeth [mercy seat]’ and therefore could not allow Mary Magdalene to hinder Him (John 20:17) until He had completed this essential stage of His atoning work. The ascension of John 20:17 is thus quite distinct from the ascension of Acts 1:9." [Note: Bruce, The Epistle . . ., pp. 200-201. Chafer, 4:118; 5:262-63; and 7:20 also held this view. See Philip E. Hughes, "The Blood . . .," 519:195-212, for refutation and further discussion.]

Verses 13-14

Old Covenant sacrifices for sin on the Day of Atonement only provided temporary cleansing, but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ provided permanent cleansing. The reference to "the eternal Spirit" is unique in Scripture. The Holy Spirit had empowered and sustained Jesus in His office.

"It seems that the writer has chosen this unusual way of referring to the Holy Spirit to bring out the truth that there is an eternal aspect to Christ’s saving work." [Note: Morris, p. 87.]

All three persons of the Trinity had a part in redemption (Hebrews 9:14). The "dead works" in view are evidently those of the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Hebrews 6:1), though some commentators take them as referring to works that result in spiritual defilement. [Note: E.g., Bruce, The Epistle . . ., pp. 206-7.] They are dead in that they did not impart spiritual life but only removed sin. Thus there is a contrast between ceremonial and conscience cleansing as well as between temporary and permanent cleansing in these verses. We should not feel conscience-bound to follow the Old Covenant in view of Jesus Christ’s perfect sacrifice but should serve God under the terms of the New Covenant.

". . . for the author of Hebrews syneidesis [conscience] is the internal faculty within man that causes him to be painfully aware of his sinfulness and, as a result, to experience a sense of guilt." [Note: Gary S. Selby, "The Meaning and Function of Syneidesis in Hebrews 9, 10," Restoration Quarterly 28:3 (Third Quarter 1985/86):148.]

"The sacrifice that inaugurated the new covenant achieved the cleansing of the conscience that all worshipers lacked under the former covenant and that all had sought through prescribed gifts and offerings (Hebrews 10:1-2 . . .). [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 241.]

"The implication (which underlies all the epistle) is that even in his earthly life Jesus possessed eternal life. Hence what took place in time upon the cross, the writer means, took place really in the eternal, absolute order. Christ sacrificed himself ephapax [once for all], and the single sacrifice needed no repetition, since it possessed absolute, eternal value as the action of One who belonged to the eternal order. He died-he had to die-but only once (915-1018), for his sacrifice, by its eternal significance, accomplished at a stroke what no amount of animal sacrifices could have secured, viz. the forgiveness of sins." [Note: Moffatt, p. 124.]

Verse 15

Since we have obtained "eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12) through the death of our Mediator and the "eternal [Holy] Spirit" (Hebrews 9:14), we can have hope in an "eternal inheritance." In contrast, believers under the Old Covenant enjoyed mainly temporary blessings and had comparatively little understanding of eschatological rewards.

"With a play on the double meaning of diatheke (both ’a covenant’ and ’a testament’), the author goes on to bring out the necessity for the death of Christ just as the death of the testator is required if a will is to come into force." [Note: Morris, p. 88.]

The readers should not feel guilty about abstaining from the rituals of the Old Covenant. Instead they should appreciate the accomplishments of Jesus Christ’s death. [Note: See Rodney J. Decker, "The Church’s Relationship to the New Covenant," Bibliotheca Sacra 152:607 (July-September 1995):290-305; 608 (October-December 1995):431-56.] They should also turn their attention to obtaining what God had promised them as a future inheritance and continue to follow the Lord faithfully and patiently (Hebrews 6:12).

The New Testament revelation concerning the inheritance that believers can merit by faithful perseverance in the faith and good works is extensive. Some passages indicate that it involves participation in the wedding banquet at the beginning of the messianic kingdom (e.g., Matthew 25:1-13; et al.). Others present it as involving an especially honorable resurrection (Luke 20:35). Still other passages speak of it as reigning with Christ (Matthew 19:27-28; Luke 19:17-19; Luke 22:28-30; Romans 8:17-21) or as treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21; Matthew 6:30; Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:32-33; 1 Timothy 6:17-19). It also involves receiving praise and honor from Jesus Christ and the Father (Matthew 6:1; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:16; Matthew 25:21; John 12:26; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Peter 1:6-7; 2 Peter 1:10-11). These honors are sometimes spoken of as crowns (Philippians 4:1; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 4:9-10). [Note: See Dillow, pp. 551-83.]

Verses 16-17

In certain respects the covenants God made with humankind are similar to wills. With all wills, the person who made the will must die before the beneficiaries experience any effects of the will.

Verses 16-28

The superior sacrifice for sin 9:16-28

"The author has made it clear that Christ’s death has instituted a better covenant (Hebrews 9:11-15) which is superior to animal offerings (Hebrews 9:12-14). But the need for such a sacrifice has yet to be explored. So a key word in this subunit [Hebrews 9:16-28] is ’necessary’ (ananke, Hebrews 9:16; Hebrews 9:23). In the process of exploring this point, the author clearly underscored the measureless superiority of the sacrificial death of Christ." [Note: Hodges, "Hebrews," p. 802.]

Verses 18-21

The Old Covenant went into effect when the Levitical priests shed the blood of animal substitutes and applied that blood to the covenant beneficiaries. The beneficiaries were the Israelites (Exodus 24:6-8) and the tabernacle (cf. Exodus 40:9-15). The New Covenant went into effect when Jesus Christ shed His blood and God applied it to its beneficiaries spiritually (cf. Matthew 26:28).

"The central thrust of the argument is that there is an intimate relationship between covenant and sacrificial blood." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 244.]

Verse 22

The exception to which the writer alluded was God’s provision for the poor in Israel. He allowed them to bring a flour offering in place of an animal if they could not afford two doves (Leviticus 5:11; cf. Numbers 16:46; Numbers 31:22-23; Numbers 31:50). As a principle, God required the shedding of blood (death) for forgiveness under the Mosaic Law. The Israelites saw this most clearly on the Day of Atonement, but every animal sacrifice reminded them of it. The principle expressed is true of the New Covenant as well. Blood (death) is essential for decisive purgation.

Verse 23

Whereas animal blood adequately cleansed the prototype on earth under the Old Covenant, a better sacrifice was necessary to cleanse the realities in heaven (cf. Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:24). Thus Jesus Christ’s death was essential. The "heavenly things" may refer to the consciences of men and women. [Note: Bruce, The Epistle . . ., p. 218.] It seems more likely, however, that they refer to the things connected with the heavenly tabernacle. This may include angels that need cleansing (cf. Job 4:18; Job 15:15) [Note: Pentecost, A Faith . . ., pp. 156-57.] and or "wickedness beyond this earth" [Note: Morris, p. 91.] (cf. Romans 8:38-39; 1 Corinthians 2:8; Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 1:20; Colossians 2:15).

"As sinful pilgrims on their way to the heavenly city, God’s people defile all they touch, even their ’meeting place’ with God, and they need the constant efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ their High Priest to remove that defilement." [Note: David J. MacLeod, "The Cleansing of the True Tabernacle," Bibliotheca Sacra 152:605 (January-March 1995):71.]

Verses 24-26

Jesus Christ’s ministry required a once-for-all, sufficient sacrifice. The "consummation" refers to the end of the Old Covenant. Jesus Christ entered the presence of God rather than an earthly tabernacle (Hebrews 9:24). He made His offering only once rather than repeatedly (Hebrews 9:25). Furthermore He put away sins forever rather than removing them only temporarily (Hebrews 9:26; cf. 1 Peter 1:20).

"Copy" (Hebrews 9:24) is the Greek word typos ("type"). The writer identified a type (a divinely intended illustration) here. The holy place in the tabernacle and temple was a type of heaven. [Note: Ibid., pp. 60-63. See also Philip E. Hughes, "The Blood . . .," 131:521:26-33.] (See Romans 5:14; Romans 1 Corintians Hebrews 10:6; Hebrews 10:11; and 1 Peter 3:21 for other New Testament identifications of types.)

"At His ascension Christ was formally installed as High Priest and began His present high priestly work. In the heavenly tabernacle today He represents His people (i.e., He secures their acceptance with God); obtains free access for them into God’s presence; intercedes in prayer for them and grants them help; mediates their prayers to God and God’s strength to them; anticipates His return to earth to reign; and, at the end of the present session, will bless His people by bringing them deliverance into the kingdom." [Note: David J. MacLeod, "The Present Work of Christ in Hebrews," Bibliotheca Sacra 148:590 (April-June 1991):200.]

Verses 27-28

Because Jesus Christ died for our sins we do not need to fear condemnation after death (Hebrews 9:27; cf. Romans 8:1), but we can look forward to ultimate deliverance (i.e., glorification, Hebrews 9:28).

"There is a finality about it [death] that is not to be disputed. But if it is the complete and final end to life on earth, it is not, as so many in the ancient world thought, the complete and final end. Death is more serious than that because it is followed by judgment. Men are accountable, and after death they will render account to God." [Note: Morris, p. 93.]

This is one of only two references to sin-bearing in the New Testament (cf. 1 Peter 2:24), but the concept is common in the Old Testament (cf. Numbers 14:34; Isaiah 53:11-12; Ezekiel 18:20).

"Reference to the ’many’ is not . . . to be understood as limiting the effects of Christ’s sacrifice to those who accept it in faith. The implied contrast, as in Isaiah 52:12; Hebrews 2:10; Mark 10:45; Mark 14:24||, is rather between the one sacrifice and the great number of those who benefit from it." [Note: Ellingworth, p. 487.]

When the Lord returns at the Rapture all Christians will enter into His presence, but only believers who have remained faithful to Him will enter into their full inheritance (cf. Hebrews 1:14; Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 9:15). "Those who eagerly await Him" (Hebrews 9:28) evidently refers to faithful believers. [Note: Cf. Dillow, p. 129.] Specifically what will take place is that at the Rapture all believers will go to be with Christ. However only those who have not apostatized will receive a full reward at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:14-15; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10). [Note: See Gerald B. Stanton, Kept from the Hour, pp. 165-77, for refutation of the partial rapture view.]

". . . his appearance will confirm that his sacrifice has been accepted and that he has secured the blessings of salvation for those whom he represented. . . . The parousia is thus the key event in the realization of salvation." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 251.]

"On one day of the year alone only the high priest could pass through the curtain to appear before God (Hebrews 9:7). That he must do so year after year indicated that the atonement he secured was merely provisional in character. The sacrifices he offered were inadequate to accomplish a decisive purgation of the defilement of sin. Against this backdrop the writer contrasts the efficacy of the unrepeatable action of Christ, whose single offering secured eschatological salvation and provided access to the inaccessible presence of God. The key to the typological exposition of salvation in Hebrews 9:11-28 is that entrance into the heavenly sanctuary pertains to an eschatological and eternal order of salvation.

"The writer’s primary concern in this section is with objective salvation. The exposition is focused upon the saving work of Christ in relation to God in behalf of the redeemed community rather than upon salvation realized subjectively in Christians." [Note: Ibid.]

The New Covenant sanctuary is superior for five reasons. It is heavenly (Hebrews 9:11), and its ministry is effective in dealing with sin (Hebrews 9:12-15). Its ministry also rests on a more costly sacrifice (Hebrews 9:16-23), represents fulfillment (Hebrews 9:24), and is final and complete (Hebrews 9:25-28). [Note: Wiersbe, 2:310-12.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Hebrews 9". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/hebrews-9.html. 2012.
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