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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 9

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Verses 1-10

The Earthly Sanctuary

In chapter 8 you saw how the new covenant was placed against the old one. In chapter 9 you shall see how the true heavenly sanctuary is set against the allegorical earthly sanctuary. In Hebrews 9:1-Deuteronomy : first a description of the preparation of the earthly sanctuary is given after which, up till Hebrews 9:10, the service in the earthly sanctuary is described. From Hebrews 9:11 you look into the heavenly sanctuary, where Christ has entered once and for all and what are the wonderful results of it.

Another striking thing is that there is mention of the tabernacle and not of the temple. The reason is that the description of the tabernacle and the service therein are more adaptable to the view of the Christians in this letter. They are actually seen here as a pilgrim nation on earth that is on its way to the promised land. That doesn’t mean that there is a certain difference between the preparation of the tabernacle and the service that took place therein on the one hand and the temple and its preparation and service on the other hand. According to their character the services in the tabernacle and in the temple were the same. The description that is given is actually that of the usual way in the temple, but the writer indeed continually speaks about the tabernacle.

Hebrews 9:1. He starts with demonstrating the connection between the first, old covenant and the regulations for the service in the earthly sanctuary where that service took place. He speaks about “the earthly sanctuary” and not about a ‘worldly sanctuary’. A worldly sanctuary would mean that it happened in a worldly way and that it is adapted to the taste of the world. What he intends to say, is that it is a sanctuary that belongs to the tangible, visible world.

Hebrews 9:2. In the description the writer takes his readers to the tabernacle and leads them in mind along the several objects. First he stands still at “the outer” tabernacle, which means the first part of the tabernacle. This part is called “the sanctuary” (Exodus 26:1-Amos :). In that part the priests were allowed to come daily to hold their services. In the sanctuary were the lampstand (Exodus 25:31-Matthew :) and the table with the showbread on it (Exodus 25:23-Amos :).

Hebrews 9:3. After the first part behind the first veil there is another part “behind” what is called here “the second veil“. That part is called “the Holy of Holies” and was the actual dwelling place of God. It was only accessible for the high priest for only once a year.

Hebrews 9:4. In the Holy of Holies there were also some objects, namely the altar for burning incense (Exodus 30:1-Joshua :) and the ark (Exodus 25:10-Nehemiah :). The ark is called here “the ark of the covenant” to indicate once more that it is about an old and a new covenant. The ark was the meeting place between God and the nation under the old covenant. Against this center of the old covenant Christ stands as the center, the heart of the new covenant.

The glory of the ark is indicated by mentioning that it was “overlaid on all sides with gold”. There were still more glorious things connected to the ark. In the ark there were a golden jar with manna (Exodus 16:33) and Aaron’s rod (Numbers 17:8-2 Samuel :).

When you read the quoted verses it will strike you that of both the jar and the rod is said that they were placed before the ark. Here it is said that they were in the ark. That can only mean that they were brought later into the ark. How that has happened we do not know. The contents of the ark is completed by two tables of stone, here called “the tables of the covenant” (cf. ‘the ark of the covenant’). The tables were found in the ark from the beginning, because God said so (Deuteronomy 10:5; 1 Kings 8:9).

Hebrews 9:5. In his ‘guided tour’ in the earthly sanctuary the writer finally concentrates on “the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat” (Exodus 25:18-Song of Solomon :). The two impressive angel images formed one whole with the mercy seat. Between the two cherubim that formed the throne of God was the place where God was dwelling. They looked down on the mercy seat and the tables of the law and they were the symbolic representatives of God’s judgment power to judge everything that was not in accordance with God’s holiness.

The writer would have wanted to speak in detail about the meaning of the interior or the exterior of the tabernacle, but that was not possible. Of course it is also wonderful to be able to understand the spiritual meaning of those objects. That is certainly allowed and that is even the intention of it if you read and study the book of Exodus, but that is not the point of the writer here. His intention is rather to separate his Jewish readers from this whole earthly routine, because that whole temple service, including all its objects, has lost its meaning to God.

For them however, the temple with all its objects and the service connected with it still exerted a potential attraction. That is the reason why the writer demonstrates the emptiness of the earthly sanctuary and the uselessness to still ascribe any value to it. Though the teachings about the symbols are indeed very useful, the point of the writer is the sharp contrast between the symbols and Christendom. Again and again he shows the contrast (symbols – reality, earthly – heavenly, temporary – eternal; imperfect – perfect) and says that a mixture or dilution is not possible.

Hebrews 9:6. After the writer has shown how everything was prepared, he then speaks about the service of the priests. Their service in the sanctuary (‘the outer part of the tabernacle’) consisted of taking care of the lamps and the offerings of the incense on the altar twice a day and the changing of the showbread once a week. This service happened on a very regular basis, which is indicated by the word “always”.

Hebrews 9:7. That is a contrast with the service of the high priest of whom you read that he alone was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies (the second part of the tabernacle) just “once a year”. This ‘once a year’ was on the tenth day of the seventh month, that is the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-Amos :). And when he entered it, it was “not without [taking] blood”. First he entered with the blood of the bull to offer that “for himself” (Leviticus 16:6; Leviticus 16:14). After that he entered with the blood of the first goat to offer that “for sins of the people committed in ignorance [that means: the sins that were committed unintentionally]” (Leviticus 16:15).

Hebrews 9:8. The description of the tabernacle is not made up by the writer. He is simply following the instructions that the Holy Spirit has made known about it in the Old Testament. He also learns from the description of the tabernacle the teachings of the Holy Spirit that, as long as the first tabernacle with its closed veil is still being maintained, there will be no free access to God. His readers had to be fully aware that a return to the earthly service meant that they were closing again the way to God for themselves.

Had the veil not been rent and had the way to the sanctuary not been opened through the work of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 27:51)? Each believer is allowed to come into God’s presence on the basis of what the Lord Jesus has done. You too have a permanent access to God, a direct access to the place where He is, in the light. Would you want to exchange that privilege for a service that may be appealing to eye and ear, but takes you outside God’s presence?

Hebrews 9:9. The whole earthly tabernacle or temple service was “a symbol for the present time”, in order to compare all the parts of that service with the heavenly tabernacle. The word ‘symbol’ literally means ‘throw next to’ with the meaning of throwing an object next to another object to compare these objects with each other. The intention is that you compare both the building and the service that takes place in it, with the heavenly sanctuary and the service that takes place there. As was fitting for an earthly sanctuary, tangible literal gifts and sacrifices – also at the time this letter was written – were offered up.

The readers had to become fully aware that no sacrifice in the first part of the tabernacle had ever been able to give the sacrificer a perfect conscience. He who returned to the old service would lose his perfect conscience and be continually accused again by his conscience. A person with a perfect conscience knows God and knows to be surely accepted by Him. He who has a perfect conscience, knows that he has been purified from all evil once and for all by the work and the blood of Christ.

Hebrews 9:10. The whole service according to the law with its offerings and ordinances can and could never ever had that effect. They were all ordinances for the outward man, the flesh, the body, and not for the inward man or the conscience or the spirit. In that way “food” had to do with the difference between clean and unclean animals (Leviticus 11:2) and “drink” for example refer to the prohibition for the priest to drink alcohol (Leviticus 10:9). Also the “various washings” have nothing to do with the inward man, but only with the outward man. In that way washings were necessary at births (Lev 12) and after leprosy (Lev 13-14).

All these outward ordinances were imposed on the people by God “until a time of reformation”, that is the millennial kingdom of peace. When that kingdom comes, God’s earthly people will be cleansed from all sins by conversion and regeneration and will be connected to God. The outward service will then not be an empty form anymore, not a religious event without content. It will be a service that will take place from a new heart which is fully in accordance with God’s thoughts.

Now read Hebrews 9:1-10 again.

Reflection: What does the writer want to make clear with this summary of the earthly worship service?

Verses 11-15

Christ, High Priest and Mediator

Hebrews 9:11. The first word “but” indicates that what now follows is a contrast with what is written in the previous part. The word “Christ” presents the Person by Whom the whole earthly service, which is described in the previous verses, has lost its right to exist. The earthly service has not made perfect the conscience of any man (Hebrews 9:9) and also hasn’t brought a perfect situation (Hebrews 7:19). The only One Who is able and Who will indeed do that is Christ.

He has come as High Priest to guide His people into the rest of the promised millennial kingdom of peace. In that kingdom of peace, which is the future world, He will reign and bless His people with the “good things”. These good things “to come” exist in everything that will please the Messiah when He reigns. You recognize these good things in the bread and the wine with which Melchizedek met Abraham (Genesis 14:18).

We have now already received the good things that are still to come for Israel: the eternal salvation, redemption, inheritance, covenant, a perfect conscience, free access to the heavenly sanctuary, fellowship with God. For the believing Hebrews and for you Christ has already come as High Priest. To us His service is not related to an earthly sanctuary that is marked by weakness and imperfection, but with the heavenly sanctuary.

The heavenly sanctuary is greater and more perfect than the earthly one. That heavenly sanctuary and the service He performs there, is not the result of men’s work. In no way it is related to the first creation. Therefore that sanctuary and the service that happens there cannot be violated or harmed in any possibly way and therefore the blessing is preserved and safe. With that blessing Christ will soon come out as the true Melchizedek to form the heavenly sanctuary for His people on earth.

Hebrews 9:12. The writer uses again the most powerful words in order to absolutely exclude any possible chance of the slightest doubt concerning Christ and His work. The assurance of the blessing lies in the “own blood” of Christ with which He entered into the sanctuary. That also stands against the earthly service with its animal sacrifices of which the blood could not take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). How could the blood of animals ever possibly take away the sins from men?

Christ entered the sanctuary to be there forever. His blood that was shed once for all eternally keeps its value and power. The work is finished and its value can never change. Because He always remains there, the access has been opened once for all and therefore we always have access to God in the light. We can enter, because Christ entered and we are able to enter, because we have a perfect conscience.

He has accomplished an “eternal redemption”. That redemption concerns the believers of all times. Even the whole universe will take part in it. It is about the rights that He as the Son of Man, Who will soon rule over the world to come, has obtained. Through His sacrificial death He has laid the foundation for the redemption of all believers and of all things (Colossians 1:19-Song of Solomon :). The blood that forms the foundation is now in the sanctuary.

The blood has eternal value and therefore the redemption is also an eternal redemption. Redemption goes further than forgiveness. Forgiveness deals with our sins and it means that God doesn’t impute our sins to us anymore, because they have been removed by the Lord Jesus. Redemption deals with our own selves. It removes us from our former situation and brings us into a totally new position, related to Christ.

Hebrews 9:13. The writer wants to present the contrast between the washing rituals in the Old Testament and the washing through the blood of Christ with more emphasis. The blood of goats and bulls is related to the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:3; Leviticus 16:14-Ezra :). The ashes, mixed with the water of purification, came from the red heifer (Numbers 19:9). These means were literally applied on the body of a person who had become unclean by a sinful expression or contact. By the sprinkling with the prescribed means that person became clean again. That cleansing concerned only his body, but on that basis he was allowed to be among God’s people again. It did not say anything about his inward man. These means also had to be used again when the person committed a sin again. The cleansing was only temporary.

Hebrews 9:14. The blood of Christ and its functioning and the result of it are completely different. As far as heaven is above the earth, as far is the distance of what Christ has done and the value of His blood beyond the earthly washing rituals. In that way the Holy Spirit was present in each aspect of the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross and of His whole preceded life. The Lord Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35); He was anointed by Him (Acts 10:38); He was led by Him (Luke 4:1) and He acted through Him (Acts 10:38). Here we read that He “through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God”.

The value of the blood of Christ is that great, because this blood is from Christ Who has sacrificed Himself to God and that through the Holy Spirit. He is seen here as Man, Who, for the sake of all men who would believe in Him, offers up the sacrifice to a holy and righteous God in the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ was a Sacrificer Who was able to offer up a spotless sacrifice to God, because He was perfectly clean, righteous and without sin. He was the Sacrificer and the Sacrifice, Whose blood was brought into the sanctuary. And that’s the point here.

The result is that the conscience of the believer is cleansed from “dead works”, through which he is now able “to serve the living God”. Dead works are all works that are not done in fellowship with the living God, but from one’s own idea about serving God. Therefore serving the living God stands against dead works.

‘Serving’ here has the meaning of serving as a priest. On the basis of the sacrifice that the Lord Jesus offered up to God in Himself, all believers are now able to bring offerings to God. They serve God by honoring Him. The believers bring worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24) by telling God what they have seen in the sacrifice of His Son.

All things will be judged by the question: ‘What does God, the Living One, think about it?’ The living God has no interest in ‘church attendances’ as such, but sees if there is any interest in His Person. Imagine that someone visits you, but only pays attention to the way your house is decorated and doesn’t look at you at all. That’s the way many people deal with God and His service. They do not realize that the Lord Jesus sacrificed Himself to form a company of worshippers who would be able to draw near to God in the sanctuary with a fully cleansed conscience.

Hebrews 9:15. This drawing near to God was impossible under the old covenant. To make that possible a new covenant was necessary. This new covenant concerns Israel and Judah and still has to be made with them, but God has already appointed and revealed the Mediator, actually. This One has accomplished the work on which the fulfillment of the promises could be based. The sacrificial death of Christ liberates us from the transgressions of the old covenant and is the foundation for receiving the blessings of the new covenant: “the eternal inheritance”.

The transgressions under the first covenant could not be removed by the sacrifices under the first covenant. But the blood of the new covenant that was shed through the death of Christ, has completely blotted them out. They don’t weigh like a burden on the believer anymore, as such is the case with them who remain related with the old covenant. He who is connected to the Mediator of the new covenant, is redeemed from the transgressions. They are “those who have been called” and are able to receive the eternal inheritance on the basis of that redemption.

It is a great privilege to belong to the called ones, which also includes the receiving of the eternal inheritance. There can be mention of an eternal inheritance, because the atonement is perfect. Sin has been removed and will be completely removed from God’s eye in accordance with the nature and the Being of God Himself. Christ, the Mediator (Hebrews 12:24), mediates between a holy God and the defiled man. Moses was also a mediator, but then of the old covenant, but he didn’t die for the people. As a sinful man neither was he able to. What Christ did, was not in relation with the old covenant, for within that system there was no room for a real cleansing and service. The service of Christ is connected to a new covenant. That makes everything totally different and perfectly sure.

Now read Hebrews 9:11-15 again.

Reflection: Which aspects of Christ and His work do you find in these verses?

Verses 16-28

The Purification and the Appearance

Hebrews 9:16-Esther :. These verses form a parenthesis. In Hebrews 9:15 the writer spoke about the death and the inheritance. He is now explaining how these two are connected to each other. The one is not separated from the other. Then it was like that and it is still like that nowadays.

An inheritance is something that someone bequeaths when he dies. He who has possessions he bequeaths will usually make a testament. In a testament the ‘testator’ describes who shall receive his possessions when he dies. That means that his death must have taken place before the heir, the one who is called the beneficiary in the testament, can enjoy the possession that is promised to him in the testament. Therefore it is said in these verses that a testament can only have power when the testator dies. In order to execute the will of the testator, that one’s death has to be absolutely sure.

Now the exceptional thing in this situation is that Christ is both the Testator and the One Who is entitled to that inheritance. As God He is Testator and as Man He died. As the Son of God He is also “the heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2). Considering that He shares that inheritance with you (Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 3:6) and that you belong to the ones He called and who will receive the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15), it can only bring you to your knees to worship Him. These are things that are beyond human understanding, but in faith you will accept that they are true. It is exactly the glory of Christ and the mystery of His Person that make us draw near to Him in worship.

A testament or covenant therefore only has power when death has occurred. That is not something that was only valid in relation to the new covenant. Also in the old covenant or Old Testament it was already like that. In the Old Testament we have plentiful examples of the necessity of the occurrence of death before men were able to stand in connection with God. Just think of the whole offering service. Yet again a person either endures the judgment himself or sees how his sins are being wiped out because another one has endured the judgment on his behalf.

Hebrews 9:18-Proverbs :. To illustrate his teachings the writer quotes another example that was very familiar to his readers. Moses had passed on the words that he heard from the Lord about His covenant on the mountain, to the people (Exodus 24:3). The people then responded solemnly to obey this covenant. Thereupon Moses offered up the offerings and sprinkled blood on the altar and on the people and the book (Exodus 24:6). The blood is the blood that God commanded as His answer on the promise from the people. Threat came from this blood. God makes known what would happen to Israel when the people trespass the words of the Lord.

The blood of the new covenant speaks a totally different language. The believers of the New Testament are sprinkled with it. Atonement, forgiveness and blessing come from that blood (1 Peter 1:2; Hebrews 12:24). In the value of that blood we, who are not any better than those who were under the old covenant, are able to stand before God.

Hebrews 9:21. The sprinkling mentioned here, happened on the Day of Atonement, though not through Moses, but through Aaron. The point of the writer is to demonstrate the meaning of the blood under the old covenant and how everything was ruled by it. It clarifies the fundamental role of the blood, both in the old and in the new covenant.

Hebrews 9:22. “Without shedding of blood” there is no forgiveness possible, just as little as redemption (Hebrews 9:12) and washing (Hebrews 9:14). By saying that with blood “almost all things” are purified, it is clear that the writer is aware of exceptions like for a poor (Leviticus 5:11-1 Chronicles :; Leviticus 15:10; Numbers 31:22-Isaiah :; Numbers 31:50Numbers 16:46).

There is almost nothing that modern theologians hate more than the very thought that without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. It means that humanity consists of hopelessly lost creatures on whom the death penalty lies and that only through death it is possible to remove this death penalty, through which lost creatures are able to receive forgiveness. How necessary the death of Christ was indeed!

Hebrews 9:23. With “the copies of the things in heaven” the whole earthly tabernacle with its service is meant. They are an illustration of the better, real, “heavenly things”. The symbolical things had to be purified, for they were touched by sinful people. That purification happened through blood. However, as a consequence of the fall of man also the heavenly things, that is the created heaven, are defiled (Job 15:15) and have also to be reconciled (Colossians 1:20). In connection with that purification the writer speaks about “better sacrifices”. The blood draws our attention to the work of Christ; the sacrifice draws our attention to Christ Himself and the sacrifice He offered.

Hebrews 9:24. Christ has entered the real, “the true one”, that is the heavenly sanctuary. The earthly sanctuary was the “copy”. It was nothing more than a copy, an image or picture of the heavenly sanctuary. Christ has not entered the earthly sanctuary, but the heavenly one. He entered it in a very different way than Aaron entered the earthly one. Aaron remained just a very short time in the sanctuary. Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary in order to appear in the light of God on our behalf. As a result of that we are able to be there also now. He represents us to God.

Hebrews 9:25. Christ entered the sanctuary on the basis of His one-time sacrifice. That is perfect. Therefore repetition is not necessary. The Day of Atonement was totally different. There the prescribed sacrifices had to be offered up each year. You can derive from the repetition that that was inadequate. The high priest had to enter the sanctuary over and over again with blood and indeed with strange blood, which means: with other blood than that of himself. That is a great difference with the Lord Jesus Who on the contrary, entered into the sanctuary with His own blood.

Hebrews 9:26. The writer again demonstrates clear what the consequence would be if the one-time sacrifice of Christ had not been adequate. He would then have had to come from heaven numerous times, again and again, to suffer. This proves the foolishness and also the reprehensibility of the sacrifice of the mass of the roman-catholic church, wherein Christ is being sacrificed again and again. If that one sacrifice of Christ wouldn’t be adequate, when then would His sacrifice be adequate? It is one of both: either the sacrifice of Christ was perfectly accomplished once for all or it will never ever be perfect. In the latter case an equally endless repetition would be required as this was the case under the old covenant.

But Christ came only once and has accomplished a one-time work that never has to be repeated ever (see also 1 Peter 3:18). The time of suffering was determined by God. It would happen in the fulfillment of the ages. Only when many ages had proven that there is no good to be expected from man, God sent His Son.

The corruptness of man has been fully exposed, with its lowest point being the rejection of the Son of God. At the same time this great purpose of God to abolish sin, was made known in the revelation of the Son. He is the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The complete fulfillment is still to happen, but the foundation for the ultimate, definite and complete abolishment is laid by the Lamb when He died.

Hebrews 9:27. Everybody will die once. That is the inevitable consequence of sin through which death entered into the world (Romans 6:23). With death the consequences of the earthly life are irrevocably and eternally established for everyone. He who dies in unbelief will end up in Hades, the place where pain rules (Luke 16:19-Obadiah :; 1 Peter 3:19), and finally in hell (Revelation 20:11-Ezra :).

Man is not given a second life on earth. A circle of life and death, the so-called reincarnation is a fabrication from the devil. People who ignore God love to believe that. Still, with death everything is not finished yet. There is an “after this [comes] judgment” that will be exerted by Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 4:1; John 5:27).

Hebrews 9:28. Like all people Christ has also died only once, but with what wonderful, heavenly, everlasting and irrevocable consequences for the believer! He has two great securities: the forgiveness of his sins and the return of the Lord. Christ died in the place of everyone who believes in Him. He bore their sins (1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:12). When He appeared as Man on earth it was to die. Now He is in heaven, after He fulfilled His work, He appears before God’s face for us.

When He appears for the second time on earth, it is then for them who are waiting for Him. This is not about the rapture of the church, but His revelation on earth. The remnant of Israel will wait for Him and we also are looking forward to see Him. We love His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).

When He then comes it will have nothing to do with His work regarding sin, because the problem of sin has already been solved once and for all with His first coming. When He comes the second time, it will not be in humiliation, but in glory. Then the full salvation of the kingdom of peace will be realized by Him.

Now read Hebrews 9:16-28 again.

Reflection: Why is the value of the blood of Christ so great?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Hebrews 9". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/hebrews-9.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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