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Chapter 9 The Ordinances of the First Covenant Described and Compared with Those of The New Covenant.
The fact of ‘Jesus the Son’ as our great High Priest having been established as the great reality, and the ministry of the old covenant having been established as copies and shadows, Jesus’ ministry is now described in contrast with that ministry of the first covenant and the first Tabernacle. It is done with due reverence for what was of the past. The first is not diminished, it is rather demonstrated to have been a ministry of copies and shadows, a preparation for the greater glory that has now come.
The main emphasis of this chapter is a comparison of the great Jewish Day of Atonement which was such a solemn feature of the cult, and occurred year by year, a day which had burned its way into the consciousness of the people, and was for many the greatest and most solemn day of the year, for it was the day each year when the sins of the year past were finally seen as laid to rest, with the once-for-all heavenly Day of Atonement of the new heavenly High Priest which achieves its purpose once for all, and never needs to be repeated, making the other redundant.
A Consideration of The Old Ordinances Under Which Men Were Barred From Entering The Holy Presence of God. They Had To Worship From Afar Using Things of No Lasting Validity (Hebrews 9:1-10 )
Hebrews 9:1, ‘Now even the first covenant had ordinances of divine ministry and its holy sanctuary of this world.’
Even under the first covenant there were ‘ordinances of divine ministry’, and a ‘holy sanctuary’ (hagion). And they were admittedly genuine. But they were nevertheless ‘of this world’, they were made with hands. Thus they could not be as good as the reality. Nevertheless it must be accepted that they were both of God, and that for hundreds of years they had shaped the worship of God’s people. On the other hand it should be clear to all that being fulfilled on earth in things that were made by human hands, they could only be preparatory until something better should come. However glorious they were, they were earthly. They could not enter Heaven itself. They were ‘afar off’.
‘Had.’ Imperfect active signifying ‘used to have’, with the idea that they were now a thing of the past.
‘For there was a tabernacle prepared, the first, in which were the lampstand, and the table, and the showbread (literally ‘the presentation of the loaves’), which is called the Holy place.’
The ancient Tabernacle is now described and seen here as split into two smaller tabernacles, the first ‘the Holy Place’, and the second ‘the Holy of Holies’, the latter entered only from the Holy Place. In the first were the lampstand, the table, and the showbread. And this is called the Holy Place, the place set apart for God, separated to His use.
This Holy Place was the place which only the priests could enter, and they only when on holy service. Here they walked in awe and tended the golden lampstand twice daily (Exodus 25:31-40; Exodus 30:7-8). Here they replaced the showbread weekly on the Sabbath (Leviticus 24:5-8), twelve baked cakes of which, were placed in two rows on a table of acacia wood covered with gold (Exodus 25:23-30). And here they approached the altar of incense to offer incense, again twice daily (Exodus 30:7-8), and then withdrew.
That the lampstand represented the glory of God as dimly revealed to man outside the Holy of Holies, so that he might have some conception of what was within, comes out in that the two olive trees in Zechariah 4:12-14 receive their oil (their commitment to God by anointing) from the golden lampstand. Its sevenfold nature revealed the divine perfection that the light portrayed. It also represented the witness to God that Israel were intended to be, a reflection of God’s reflection, as is evidenced by the seven lampstands, representing seven churches, in Revelation 1:0. There the churches were to be ‘the light of the world’ (Matthew 5:14), separate lampstands, revealing the One sevenfold lampstand Who is the true Light of the world (John 8:12 - spoken at the feast of Tabernacles where four large lampstands were erected in the court of the women). The twelve cakes of showbread represented the constant gift to His people (the twelve tribes) of all God’s provision as the Feeder of His people, and their re-offering to Him of the bread as a symbol of, and in gratitude for, that provision. It was to be eaten by the priests in a holy place. This may well have been in Jesus’ mind when He spoke of Himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:35).
‘And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holy of holies, having a golden altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, in which was a golden pot holding the manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant, and above it cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat; of which things we cannot now speak severally.’
And then there was the second tabernacle which was called ‘The Holy of Holies’, the only entrance to which was from the Holy Place. It was a place so holy that none could regularly enter. The contents of the Holy of Holies (often called the Holiest of all or the Most Holy Place) are now described.
It is noteworthy that he connects the altar of incense with the Holy of Holies. It stood against the veil probably between the two protruding staves which bore the ark (1 Kings 8:8), (for it would be central), and thus, although it was on the side of the veil facing the Holy Place, (so that priests could approach it) it was clearly seen as an essential part of the Holy of Holies (compare 1 Kings 6:22 where it is said to ‘belong to the oracle’, that is to the Holy of Holies). Note the way it is expressed, ‘having a golden altar of incense’ (contrast ‘having’ with ‘in which’ - Hebrews 9:2). It does not say that it was in it, only that it belonged to it. It was the one place throughout the year where, as it were, the Holy of Holies could be continually accessed, by means of the odour of the incense that pierced the veil, and annually the blood of the sin offering of atonement would be applied to its horns in order to atone for it (Exodus 30:10). It was most holy to Yahweh. And each year it was effectively borne into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement in the form of its golden censer.
Note on The Position of the Golden Altar of Incense.
The golden altar of incense was physically placed in the Holy Place ‘before the veil’. But it was carried annually into the Holy of Holies in the form of the censer which was filled from it, the only thing from the Holy Place that ever went in to the Holy of Holies. And in fact the exact literal translation of the Greek here is ‘the golden censer’, the altar being named after its most important function. A censer was a vessel which bore coals on which incense was burned. The altar was thus seen as there for two reasons, for offering incense on the fire which burned on it (acting continually like a huge censer), and in order to fill the censer which bore the coals on which the incense was burnt before Yahweh when the High Priest ventured into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. The altar and the censer together could thus be called ‘a golden censer’ (both Josephus and Philo call the golden altar of incense this), for both acted as censers and were involved in the work of offering the incense. (Note the lack of the definite article compared with other items).
The actual censer, filled with coals taken from the golden altar of incense, was used to carry the ashes of the golden altar, on which incense was to be burned, into the very ‘presence’ of God, into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:12-13). And these came from the golden altar, so that the whole was seen as in some way a part of the Holy of Holies, although spending most of their time in the Holy Place. For the golden altar of incense was in an ambiguous position. It had to be in the Holy Place in order that the priests may offer the incense on it daily at the time of the morning and evening sacrifices, but its essential function was to offer incense before Yahweh with its sweet odour penetrating the veil to reach the throne of Yahweh. And by means of the censer it actually ‘went in’ to the Holy of Holies annually. It was placed immediately against the veil behind which was the ark of the covenant, almost certainly between the two protruding staves which bore the ark, which staves also represented the ark as embracing the altar. Essentially it belonged to the Holy of Holies.
This can be seen as confirmed by the ambiguity of the Law (Torah), since it places the golden altar ‘before the veil’ and ‘before the ark’ and ‘before Yahweh’ (see Exodus 30:1-10; Exodus 40:5; Exodus 40:26-27; Leviticus 16:12; Leviticus 16:18-19). It was clearly thus seen as before the ark and in God’s presence, although practicality and use demanded it being before the veil in order to preserve the holiness of the Holy of Holies. So it was in essence a Holy of Holies feature. The idea that the incense altar was closely connected with the Holy of Holies is further supported by two sources from the second-Temple period. In 2 Bar 6:7 , Baruch is said to have a vision of the angel descending to the Holy of Holies and removing the ark and the incense altar, and in Malachi 2:4-8; Malachi 2:4-8, in a letter detailing an alleged event in the life of Jeremiah the prophet, the ark and the incense altar are mentioned together, implying that they were considered to be in the closest of associations, and the essentials for the true worship of Yahweh. The golden altar of incense was thus seen as an essential part of the significance of the Holy of Holies.
End of note.
The other things that are mentioned are the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, a chest 4 feet by Hebrews 2:5 feet by Hebrews 2:5 feet (Exodus 25:17), in which was a golden pot holding the manna (Exodus 16:32-34), and Aaron's rod that budded (Numbers 17:1-11), and the tablets of the covenant (what we call the ten commandments - Exodus 25:16), and on which was the mercy-seat (Exodus 25:17-18; Exodus 25:21), the throne from which God dispensed His mercy, and above it cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat. All these were kept within the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle, but the pot and the rod appear to have disappeared by the time of the building of Solomon’s Temple. 1 Kings 8:9 tells us that, "There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone".
These were all symbolic of the old covenant. They stressed God’s promises and goodness under that old covenant, His provision of manna in the wilderness, the reminder that it was He Who had established the Aaronic priesthood (the rod that budded), and the very tablets containing the written covenant. And above all was the mercy-seat with the ‘cherubim of glory’ hovering over, which declared His Kingship, His mercy and His glory as watched over by the cherubim. It was on and before the mercy seat that blood was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:14-15). But the writer stresses that these are things he does not intend to go into. They are now of the past, and such as then survived would soon be of the past literally.).
The pot holding the manna is nowhere said to be golden in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, but LXX and Philo both describe it as such, and as gold predominated in the Holy of Holies such was most fitting and most likely.
‘Now these things having been thus prepared, the priests go in continually into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the services.’
And the things in the Holy Place having been ‘prepared’ according to God’s instructions to Moses, the priests ‘go in continually’ to fulfil their responsibilities and fulfil the many services required of them. This busy activity is in deliberate contrast with the next verse. All their efforts are expended outside the Holy of Holies. They cannot come into the direct presence of God.
‘But into the second the high priest alone, once in the year, not without blood, which he offers for himself, and for the errors of the people.’
But into the second tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, even the priests have no entry. Note the deliberate contrast between ‘the priest go in continually’ and ‘the High Priest alone once in the year’. The Holy of Holies existed in solitary splendour along with its accoutrements, in total darkness except for when the light of God shone there (no earthly light was allowed), only to be entered once a year and that by the High Priest alone. On that day there were two brief, but memorable and awesome, visits, by the High Priest, one for himself and one for the people, and those only after the offering of special sacrifices of sin offerings of which the blood was to be presented, sacrifices which were offered on the Day of Atonement both for the High Priest’s sins and the sins of the people (see Leviticus 16:0).
‘Offers.’ Not as a sacrifice but as evidence that the ritual has been carried through correctly, ensuring the overall atonement for himself and the people for another year. The word ‘offering’ does not appear with respect to the Holy of Holies in the ritual for the Day of Atonement. The word used there is ‘sprinkled’ which indicates application of the blood. It demonstrated that the necessary sin offerings had been made. It also confirmed that atonement had been made.
‘The errors (or ‘ignorances’) of the people.’ Man’s sins were a mixture of error, folly, wilfulness and ignorance. And all had to be atoned for.
This day was looked on as especially holy, and the rightness of the preparations had to be carefully ensured. For it was a fearsome experience for a man, even though he be the High Priest. First the tabernacle would be emptied of all personnel, so that the veil could be partially pulled aside. Only the one who was fully ritually prepared could be allowed in the sanctuary without the veil fully pulled across.
He would previously have carefully clothed himself in the High Priestly garments, knowing that any mistake would be his last, and then fearfully and tentatively he would move through the sanctuary towards the veil, take the golden censer and fill it with coals from the altar of incense, and place incense on them. All the time his heart would be beating strongly within him at the thought of what he was going to do. Then he would draw a portion of the veil aside and enter alone through the veil into the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies where no man but he would ever go while he was still alive. The tension would be horrific.
The glowing ashes for the burning of incense which he carried in his censer would provide the only dim light, and by that dim light he would approach in almost sheer darkness the dim shape of the Mercy Seat that he could make out before him, with all that it signified of the presence of the holy and invisible God, in order that he might present the incense and the blood of bull and goat. He would at the same time be filled with fear that one mistake might mean his end, that one moment of God’s displeasure could strike him down. For so it was believed.
And it was always with great relief that he would finally, after two such visits, first to make atonement for himself, and then to make atonement for the people, withdraw again the second time, grateful to be alive and could recognise at last that what he had done had been accepted. The people and the priests would meanwhile have been waiting in silent awe all through the process, filled with tension until he reappeared, and at that point there would be huge jubilation. Atonement had been satisfactorily accomplished for another year. All the sins of Israel for a whole year had been ‘covered’. (Indeed so holy was the place that there grew up a tradition, not mentioned in Scripture, that sometimes a rope would be tied around his leg so that if God should strike him down his body could be recovered without anyone else entering, for none would dare to enter in order to recover it even in such an emergency).
The procedures were carried through even when the Ark was gone, possibly carried off by the victorious Babylonians. But it is interesting that no mention was ever made of it, (2 Chronicles 36:10 refers to ‘the goodly vessels of the house of Yahweh’), and surely had they believed it to be in Babylon great efforts would have been made to ensure its recovery. Perhaps then they knew that it had been destroyed or that it had been melted down in the King’s treasury. (A Jewish record, 4 Ezra 10:22, declares that ‘the light of our lamp is extinguished, the Ark of our covenant is spoiled’). There appears to have been no Ark in the second Temple. Tacitus writes, "The first Roman to subdue the Jews and set foot in their Temple by right of conquest was Gnaeus Pompaeus (Pompey). Thereafter it was a matter of common knowledge that there were no representations of the gods within, but that the place was empty and the secret shrine contained nothing" (Hist. Hebrews 5:9). 2MMalachi 2:4-7 refers to a tradition that the prophet Jeremiah hid the tabernacle, the Ark and the altar of incense in a cave. However, there was certainly later an altar of incense in the Temple.
‘The Holy Spirit signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been made manifest, while the first tabernacle is yet standing (or ‘yet retains its standing’).’
And what did all this indicate? It indicated that while the first tabernacle was still standing, (as opposed to the true heavenly tabernacle), or more likely, while it had standing, while it was valid, (either would in the end would mean the same thing and the word can mean both), there was no way for His people into His very presence. The way was barred. They could come so far but no further.
It indicated that God was so holy, and His people so sinful, that they must keep a safe distance and remain out of range of His glory. Even all their offerings and sacrifices were not sufficient to enable them to approach near to God. Both they and their representatives were for ever barred from His very presence. No entry was available into the Holy of Holies. No man could approach God publicly. God must be ever apart from man.
There was but the one concession, that their representative the High Priest alone could himself enter once a year, after the most elaborate preparation, and once the sanctuary had been emptied of priests and the High Priest had been covered with his High Priestly garments, for that one specific holy task of yearly atonement. He went in as their representative bearing their names on his clothing, and that brief time once a year was the only time when Israel could even by proxy directly approach their God. And the process was carried out with awe and great fear.
Apart from him all, even the favoured priests, had to at all times remain outside the veil, while the people could not even enter the sanctuary. For their sacrifices and offerings could not achieve the purpose of making either Israel or themselves truly holy. They were simply an ordained provision by the mercy of God until the true sacrifice could be offered. But the lack of full effectiveness of their offerings and sacrifices is evidenced by the fact of their being refused access to God in this way. What a contrast that is, says the writer, to what is now true (Hebrews 10:19-20).
This is not, of course, to deny that men could as it were enter His presence in private prayer, and know that He watched over them. The Psalmists make that clear. But that was the spiritual entry of a forgiven ‘saint’, and had nothing to do with the Holy of Holies. But publicly the stress was on the fact of God’s unique ‘otherness’ so that none could approach where He was depicted as being, in the holiest place on earth (although all were aware that He was in Heaven, and that His presence there on earth was but partial).
‘Which is a figure for the time present, according to which are offered both gifts and sacrifices that cannot, as touching the conscience, make the worshipper perfect, in the matter of meats and drinks and divers washings, carnal ordinances, imposed until a time of reformation (making straight).’
So exclusion from the Holy of Holies was a ‘parable’, a figure, an illustration, an acted out prophecy, speaking to ‘the present time’, to those who had not, as Christians, entered the ‘age to come’, demonstrating that the way to God was still barred. It revealed that all the gifts and sacrifices, could not purify the conscience by providing a genuine dealing with and removal of all sin. It showed that they could not thus give the worshipper that perfection which would be necessary for him to enter God’s presence with a clear conscience. And this was something which each worshipper would well know in his own conscience.
For in his conscience was the recognition that he was deeply sinful and unworthy to meet God, and that all these gifts and sacrifices and rites had not and could not suffice to put him right. For they were merely carnal, earthly ordinances. All they could do was avert God’s wrath, God’s aversion to sin, for a time.
They involved among other things the eating of meat from certain sacrifices and the eating of parts of meal offerings, in the drinking of drink offerings, and in many kinds of washings. They may have thought in this that they were eating before Yahweh (Exodus 24:11; Exodus 18:12) or partaking of sacred food and drink before Him, or washing themselves clean from their earthiness, but it produced no means of real purity or genuine access into God’s presence. These gifts and sacrifices were merely provided by God as a sign of His watch over them and of what was to come, until there came the time of reformation, the time of ‘putting things straight’, when all would be put right, and there would be a new Eden and men and women would truly ‘eat and drink’ in God’s presence (Isaiah 11:6-9; Isaiah 65:25; Isaiah 25:6; Matthew 26:29; Luke 22:30; Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 7:16; Revelation 22:2; Revelation 22:17).
‘In the matter of meats and drinks and divers washings’. Others see this as simply referring to the many ritual restrictions, and requirements related thereto, including the eating of what was clean and the abstaining from what was unclean, and the keeping away from wine and strong drinks, together with the multiplicity of washings. They now no longer applied individually for the time of reformation had come. For the use of epi to express accompanying circumstances see especially 2 Corinthians 9:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:7. Also 1 Corinthians 9:10; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Timothy 2:14.
The Transformation That Has Been Wrought By Christ Our High Priest (Hebrews 9:11-14).
Having established the temporary nature of the old Tabernacle and its ministry and offerings, Christ’s superiority is now brought out in a number of ways.
1) In that He officiates in a more excellent, a heavenly, Tabernacle (Hebrews 9:11).
2) In that He has offered to God a far superior sacrifice (Hebrews 9:11; Hebrews 9:14).
3) In that He has entered a more glorious Holy Place (Hebrews 9:12).
4) In that He secured a more efficacious and eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12).
5) In that He has acted through a more excellent eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14).
6) In that He obtained for His people a better cleansing (Hebrews 9:14).
7) In that He has made possible for them a nobler service (Hebrews 9:14).
He is superior in every way.
‘But Christ having come a high priest of the good things that have come, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation,’
And now that time has come. For the Messiah King had come as the High Priest of those good things promised by the prophets, which have now arrived, and having offered a once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of men, He has entered, not into that earthly sanctuary with its gloom and darkness, but into the greater and more perfect sanctuary, one not made with hands (see Acts 7:48), into Heaven itself. And this mention of it not being made with hands does not simply indicate that God made it, but that it is totally non-earthly. It is ‘not of this creation’. Like Ezekiel’s temple it is of Heaven, and from it flows the water of life. It is the true sanctuary in which is the true presence of God.
‘A High Priest of the good things that have come.’ These are the good things that have already come in the enjoyment of Christ in this life and the gifts of His Holy Spirit, which are the evidence of the enjoyment of the Paradise to come, both being provided through our great High Priest. (This reading, rather than ‘to come’, is supported by the most important manuscripts. But the meaning is actually the same in both cases, for the ‘good things to come’ would be looked at from the time of the old covenant, and thus refer to the good things that have now come under the new).
‘Nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption.’
Nor did He enter it through the blood of mere goats and calves, as was true of the earthly High Priest on the annual Days of Atonement. That but spoke in shadows and would not be effective in Heaven. It was never fully satisfactory. Rather He entered through the efficacy of His own blood, shed on earth for the sins of men, but heavenly in its effectiveness. And through that shedding of blood He entered once for all, never having to withdraw, into the heavenly Holy Place, having through His sacrifice of Himself obtained eternal redemption for those who are His own. Satisfaction was complete. No other sacrifice would ever be required, and He now had permanent presence there as the Representative of His own people in order to act on their behalf.
We note that there is no description of His taking His blood into the heavenly sanctuary. That would have been an unnecessary crudity. It was the effectiveness of the shedding of His blood that He bore into the heavenly sanctuary, which was itself ‘once-for-all’.
‘Eternal redemption.’ That is, it was an act of redemption of His own true elect people (Mark 10:45) that would have eternal effects, and result in eternal life, through His sacrifice on the cross and the shedding of His blood. It is the redemption of ‘the age to come’. It includes the thought of deliverance from slavery, payment of their debts as their Kinsman Redeemer and deliverance through the paying of a price. And this redemption was accomplished once-for-all prior to His entry into the heavenly sanctuary. His continuing ministry in the heavenly sanctuary is not sacerdotal in any way, His once-for-all sacrifice has provided full and complete atonement, but is a ministry of representation for His people.
Thus we have the emphasis that there was one sacrifice offered once-for-all, one entry into God’s presence made once-for-all, and one redemption accomplished once-for-all. Apart from His continuing intercession His High Priestly work was complete. There was no shortfall in what He had accomplished.
‘For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh,’
There was, of course, a sense in which the earthly ordinances, the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of the ashes of the heifer, which contained the blood, had catered for the defilement of men and women. They had been outwardly effective. Through them those who had sinned, and those who had had contact with death, could be restored to contact with the congregation of Israel, and thus with the means of worship and atonement, and could once again partake in the ritual. It was so because God had appointed it so. It was not through any intrinsic worth of the sacrifice (for that was symbolic) but He had appointed that it would be so.
But these ordinances could never cleanse within, they could only cleanse the outward flesh. They could never be truly effective. They set men and women apart as outwardly ‘holy’, making them ‘clean’ outwardly so that they had acceptance in the congregation of Israel. They were, by God’s appointment, a way of restoration, but they were not a way of being transformed within. For they could never purify the heart, making men clean within. They were a picture of what would be, not a genuine means of purifying (Hebrews 1:3), of propitiation (Hebrews 2:17), of dealing with sin (Hebrews 7:27) and cleansing (Hebrews 1:3). That awaited the great High Priest to come.
The blood of goats and bulls represented the many sacrifices for sin, and for guilt, and for atonement. The blood of burnt offerings and peace offerings and guilt/trespass offerings was sprinkled on or around the altar (Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 1:11; Leviticus 3:2; Leviticus 3:8; Leviticus 3:13; Leviticus 7:2), the blood of the special guilt/sin offering prescribed for certain offences in Leviticus 5:1-4 was sprinkled on the side of the altar (Leviticus 5:9), and in the case of a sin offering on behalf of the anointed priest or the whole people it was sprinkled before the veil (Leviticus 4:6; Leviticus 4:17). On the Day of Atonement the blood of the sin offerings was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat within the veil (Leviticus 16:14-15) and on the altar to purify it (Leviticus 16:19). But in no case was the blood sprinkled on people. That only occurred at the sealing of the Sinai covenant (Exodus 24:8), and in the case of the cleansing of a leper, where the blood was that of a bird. Thus the ‘sprinkling of many that be defiled’ cannot refer to the blood of the sacrifices mentioned in Hebrews 9:13.
What was sprinkled on men for the removal of defilement was the water of purification which was prepared by putting the ashes of the red heifer, which were specifically said to contain the blood (Numbers 19:5), and which were kept in a clean place outside the camp of Israel until they were to be used, into a vessel along with ‘living water’ - (spring water which bubbled out of the ground) whence it was sprinkled on those who were unclean through contact with death (Numbers 19:17-21; compare also Numbers 8:7 for its use in the cleansing of the Levites). Thus the blood of bulls and goats sanctified because it atoned. The blood was presented at the altar in order to demonstrate that the sacrifice had been carried out. But what was sprinkled in order to remove uncleanness was the combination of the ashes of the heifer (which contained the blood) mingled with ‘living’ water (untainted spring water).
‘How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?’
Yet, says the writer, if those old rites could be effective in dealing with the external problems of sin and defilement, how much more could the blood of the Messiah, who offered Himself without blemish to God through the eternal Spirit, truly cleanse and purify inwardly from all ‘dead works’, (useless fleshly works which can only result in death). And we may note that in this case this is not just because of God’s appointment, but because of the intrinsic worth of the sacrifice. Thus are men and women cleansed, not outwardly but deep within, in the very heart and conscience of every one who comes to Him, resulting in the possibility of true and fully acceptable worship, of spiritual service to the living God.
Here was the effective remedy of which the past ordinances had been but shadows. This was not just outward but reached into man’s deepest heart and conscience, for it totally removed and made satisfaction for all sin both without and within. The effect of the shedding of the blood of the new covenant would purify, justify and work righteousness within men’s lives in accordance with the new covenant (Hebrews 8:10), that they might serve in the very presence of the living God.
Notice in these two verses the deliberate contrast of life with death. The ashes of the heifer were for the removal of the defilement of death through the waters of purification, and the works of men are ‘dead works’, works that defile and result in death. Men are thus portrayed as defiled and tainted with death, for which Christ’s blood is the remedy. For as Paul tells us, all men apart from Him are dead in trespasses and sins precisely because of their works (Ephesians 2:1) . And that is why Jesus had to partake of death (Hebrews 2:9), and that is why the blood of the Messiah had to be shed in order that He might die to bear our sin. All this was in order to bring men and women to the ‘living’ God.
‘The blood of Christ.’ This signifies what the shedding of His blood accomplished, through His meeting in full, by the shedding of blood, the requirements of the Law on behalf of all His own, and its sufficiency was now made available to them in full forgiveness and atonement. Using the illustrations of Hebrews 9:13 it was presented to God for atonement at the altar (Hebrews 13:10), before the veil, and within the veil, and sprinkled on men as the equivalent of the ashes of the heifer mingled with living water, that is as the water of purification, so that the defilement of death may be removed once and for all. It covered all aspects of cleansing, purification and atonement.
‘Who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God.’ And in this He was aided by the ‘eternal’ Spirit, (the Spirit of the coming age - Isaiah 44:1-5; Joel 2:28), Who enabled Him as Man to live blamelessly, so that He was ‘without blemish’ as a sacrifice must be. He was crowned with glory and honour as true, sinless man (Hebrews 2:9). And the eternal Spirit further enabled Him to offer Himself as a sacrifice to endure death, so that He might face death fully for every man. The Messiah and the Spirit worked as one, the comparatively weak frail One Who was made in the likeness of man, Who had emptied Himself of His Godhood and walked as a human being (Philippians 2:6-8), and the powerful, eternal Spirit of God active fully through Him as through no other (John 3:34; Luke 4:1).
And it is because He so died for us without blemish, that our consciences can be cleansed from our past works, works which could only produce death, with the result that, coming out of spiritual death with a cleared conscience, and made free from all the defilement of death-producing sin, through the shedding of His blood, we are able to face God without fear. This then results in our being able to come into the presence of ‘the living God’, the One who calls to account, and serve and worship Him in His presence. The whole of the eternally living, Triune Godhead was thus active in our deliverance. Through Him life comes from death so that we can enter the presence of the living One.
Alternately ‘through the eternal spirit’ is seen by some as referring rather to Christ’s own eternal spirit, which enabled Him to live blamelessly and to offer Himself as the unblemished Lamb to God, so that He might cleanse our consciences from the same death-dealing works and bring us into the presence of the living God. This would be emphasising His divine nature.
But this interpretation does seem rather to separate His spirit too much from His flesh, His Godhood too much from His manhood, and to by-pass His self-emptying. For while His spirit was undoubtedly fully involved, so was His flesh, and He offered Himself in the flesh, and His blood was demonstrably shed in His flesh, through His own ‘fleshly’ choice. He was blameless in both His flesh and His spirit, and He offered up both blameless flesh and blameless spirit to God. There was no separating of the one from the other. For He ‘tasted death’ as Man (Hebrews 2:9). Thus offering Himself as blameless for the shedding of blood ‘through His eternal spirit’, if referring to His own spirit, would surely seem to separate spirit from flesh and spiritualise the whole idea too much, lifting it above the earthly in which He had voluntarily submerged Himself. Can we really so separate His spirit from what was basically a ‘down to earth’ transaction of flesh and blood as much as a spiritual one (compare Hebrews 2:14 where it is stressed that it was as flesh and blood that He defeated death)? It was very much as man that He offered Himself up in the Garden of Gethsemane, not as eternal spirit. We must not over-spiritualise His offering of Himself. It was as both God and man.
Yet it was certainly ‘through His eternal spirit’ in the sense that He did it as He Who is the source of everlasting spiritual life, as the One Who was heavenly and divine, as the One Who was sent by the Father, as the One Who could therefore voluntarily choose to die in the flesh and live again (John 10:18), the Lord of life. As such His spirit was certainly ‘eternal’, ‘of the ages’. Thus it may be that we are to see this as bringing out the fact that He was in Himself, from the beginning, eternal spirit, the One Who was the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), the One ‘in Whom was life’ from the beginning (John 1:4) as He subsequently revealed in His victorious earthly life, and in His triumph through and over death (compare Hebrews 7:16). His sacrifice ‘through His eternal spirit’ might thus be seen as encouraging us to see His sacrifice as eternally effective on our behalf because it was made by the eternal One, in order to give us true life so that we might live in the presence of the living God. But such a spiritualising is outside the writer’s normal way of thinking. Previously he has been robust in stressing Jesus’ essential manhood in all that He has done (although consider Hebrews 1:2-3), even in revealing Himself as High Priest. And in Scripture ‘eternal’ usually looks to the ‘coming age’ rather than to all ages.
Both applications are true and present different aspects of His work. But for the reasons given above we feel that the emphasis is rather on the whole of the Godhead at work in the accomplishment of our redemption.
‘Offered Himself.’ But however we see it, it was as the great High Priest that He offered Himself as the only true unblemished sacrifice. His action was both willing and voluntary (Isaiah 53:10; Mark 14:36). He had come to do God’s will (Hebrews 10:7-10). He was working hand in hand with the Father. There is, however, no contradiction in this, for the will of His Father, and His own will, were as one (Hebrews 10:7-10; John 4:34; John 5:19; John 5:30; John 6:38).
‘Cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.’ Note again the contrast between the dead and the living. God is the living One. Those who serve Him perform works that are living and vital. Dead works (compare Hebrews 6:1) are those which are performed apart from the living God, in the case of these people prior to coming to know Him. They are works which are dead in themselves, they have no part in achieving ‘life’. They carry within them the smell of death, and they can only result in death. They lead men into despair.
They are not the product of the activity of the living God. Their aim is self-saving and self-glorifying, but they are in fact self-condemning and can only leave man more guilty than he was before. They achieve nothing spiritually. Whether speaking of works of merit or of dead ritual acts (and Hebrews 6:1 stresses the former) they are spiritually futile. They are man’s feeble attempt to make himself right. And they fail. They can never remove the sense of guilt, they can only contribute to it. They merely confirm that ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). Even when they have done all, those who perform them can only admit that what they have done cannot atone for the past. That they have only done in each work what it was their duty to do at that time, so that in regard to any saving effectiveness even those are dead works (Luke 17:10). Thus these cannot make up for the times when they have failed in their duty. Their failure ever hangs over them. They are dead in their past sins.
In direct contrast is serving the living God. Those who serve the living God produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). They do not work in order to achieve merit, or in order to establish their own reputations, for their merit and their reputation has been established through the shedding of the blood of Christ. Through His sacrifice of Himself they are accepted as ‘sanctified’, made holy, set apart as God’s (Hebrews 2:11). They are acceptable to God through the death of His Son. They have been ‘perfected’ (Hebrews 10:14). Thus they gladly give of themselves to the service of God because they have been ‘bought’ by the shedding of the blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18-19). Having received life, they through that life serve the living God, resulting in live works.
We can finalise these few verses by pointing out that in context (Hebrews 9:13) Christ’s blood is seen as spiritually ‘sprinkled’ on His own. He offered Himself as a sacrifice for sin, and the efficacy of that offering is here applied to each individual who comes to Him. It is this personal contact with the power revealed through the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18) that cleanses the conscience as opposed to the outward flesh. The Christian becomes aware that God is now totally satisfied with him because he is in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20-21), because he is accounted righteous by His grace (Romans 3:24), because he is fully acceptable as sanctified by His blood (Hebrews 13:12; 1 Peter 1:2), because he is reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:19). He no longer needs to struggle to perform dead works. In fact God requires nothing further of him to make Him acceptable, for in Christ he has done all that is required. He is totally in the clear. That is why he is now free to serve the living God as one who in God’s eyes is wholly righteous.
‘And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.’
It is because as High Priest He offered Himself to death as an unblemished sacrifice that He is demonstrated to be the Mediator of the new covenant. "For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (1 Timothy 2:5-6). And this death took place ‘for the redemption of the transgressions which were under the old covenant’ (compare the propitiatory sacrifice by which our ‘sins done aforetime’ could be passed over - Romans 3:25). Without that death we would yet be left in our sins. We could have no part in the covenant. But having been delivered by His covenantal death as Mediator by the shedding of His blood (compare Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24) we can now enjoy His life, provided as our inheritance in that new covenant (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:16-17).
The idea of redemption (apolutrosis) is again prominent here. Compare ‘eternal redemption (lutrosis)’ - Hebrews 9:12. For apolutroo in LXX see Exodus 21:8 where the buying back of a family member is in mind. The idea is of the Kinsman Redeemer who pays off the debts of one of his family (Leviticus 25:47-49), redeeming them from their transgressions under the old covenant by the payment of the required price. Here in Hebrews the idea is that they are ransomed by Him and set free (compare Mark 10:45). This then releases them from the old covenant so that they can participate in the new.
But if a ransom is paid, to whom is it paid? The final answer is, to God and the requirements that result from what He is. For man was enslaved by sin, bound by guilt, and was under sentence of death because he had failed to pay his due to God. And this was all owing to what God is. By His very nature God had to require it of man. So, until God’s sentence on man could be averted by being fully satisfied, man could only remain in that state. Thus the price of sin had to be paid, guilt had to be removed, the sentence of death satisfied, and then man could be released. Redemption vindicated the moral law, the moral nature of God.
Once the redemption has taken place the ‘called’, those chosen (Ephesians 1:4) and called by God (2 Timothy 1:9), receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (or ‘of the inheritance of the age to come’), eternal life (the ‘life of the age to come’). To ‘receive the promise’ means to enter into enjoyment of it (compare Hebrews 11:39). In this regard it should be noted that the initial element of this inheritance is received now (John 5:24; 1 John 5:13) as well as being enjoyed even more wonderfully in the future in God’s eternal kingdom. Thus it is even now ‘the age to come’. It is the consequence of our eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:10).
God’s future blessings for His own are often seen as an inheritance (e.g. Acts 20:32; Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 1:14; Colossians 1:12; 1 Peter 1:4), but it is the more apposite here because the writer goes on to speak of Christ’s last will and testament. It is the inheritance of the saints in God’s light (Colossians 1:12-13; Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:5) received under His rule.
This use of the idea of inheritance is significant. An inheritance is something that comes to you as a gift. In its basic idea it is not earned, it is not bought, it is not worked for. It comes as a result of the undeserved grace of the giver. It brings out the fact that what God’s people will receive in the future is not their deserts but the giving of blessings by a gracious God.
So the picture is of our great High Priest, our Kinsman Redeemer, Who acting as mediator, and having died for us, applies to us the benefits of His death and grants to us eternal life, the eternal inheritance, which is granted to us by the grace of God, and ‘bought’ for us through His blood.
‘Of the transgressions which were under the old covenant.’ The question which might arise here is as to whether this merely signifies that those living in the time of the writer who had sinned under the old covenant could now be redeemed, (because that is what is in the writer’s mind). Or whether it includes the transgressions of all Old Testament believers for which Christ’s death and mediation was effective (Romans 3:25). Or whether it refers to all transgressions committed by those who have now been ‘called’, who had committed them before they were under the new covenant (because, whether Jew or Gentile, all were assumed to be under the old). It is not really necessary to choose between them. By implication, if not in fact, all are in mind, the point being that any who are called would necessarily have to have had their old sins dealt with, and that that could only be through the blood of Jesus.
Whichever way therefore that we take it, the words are true. Those who believed in the Old Testament period, whose sins were for a time passed over through their obedience to the covenant as they knew it in all its facets, were awaiting the coming of the One Who would Himself bear their sins (Romans 3:25). Thus implicit in their calling was the fact that God would in future deal effectively with their sins. Those who were never patently under the old covenant because they were not Israelites/Jews were nevertheless under it latently, for they were under the law of conscience. Sinning without law they would perish without law unless they were ‘called’ and their sins atoned for, for they were as it were voluntarily ‘under the law’ by responding to their consciences (Romans 2:12-16).
The context might be seen as suggesting that the second interpretation is paramount, (while drawing in the other two), for it has depicted the problems of people under the old covenant. It had only been effective outwardly, not inwardly. Thus unless we are to see the Old Testament believers as left without real hope there had to be some explanation as to how they too could share in God’s true salvation.
We should now note one of the implications of this verse which will be taken up in the next. There is in mind here a new covenant. But it is more than a covenant. In order for it to come into force there must be a redeeming death because of their sin under the old covenant. Thus it must be a covenant linked with death. And the result is to be an inheritance received, an inheritance not receivable until the death has occurred. It is thus seen to be a covenant-testament, a covenant, which was irrevocable because of Who made it and because it was unconditional, and yet only coming into force through the death of the bestower, and therefore being like a will.
Christ As Mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 9:15-17 ).
As a result of His death for us Christ is now the Mediator of the New Covenant already mentioned (Hebrews 8:8-12). Not only are our sins dealt with but He works in us His perfect work. A mediator is One Who comes on behalf of two parties in order to establish terms with both and arrange all necessary fulfilment of any requirements, in order to bring about between them what is desired. From God’s point of view He recognises the necessity of the shedding of blood for sin, indeed because of His holiness demands it, while from man’s point of view He offers Himself as a sacrifice as representative Man. Having accomplished that He can then arrange a further carrying out of the terms by His Spirit working in our hearts and by His acting in Heaven on our behalf. But first there must be the required shedding of blood.
‘For where a covenant-testament (diatheke) is, there must of necessity be the death of him that made it. For a testament is of force where there has been death, for it never avails while he who made it is alive.’
Thus having brought out that the new covenant was, as far as God is concerned, a ‘covenant-testament’ he stresses again that it was more than a covenant. It was an unconditional God-to-man covenant (diatheke), with God the Benefactor and man the beneficiary, because it referred to what God had covenanted to bring about, and it was a testament (diatheke) because from the very beginning its bringing about was, in God’s purposes, linked to the death of the Covenantor. Such a covenant testament thus necessarily involves the death of the One Who made it, without which it could not come into force.
The further implication here is that God has in the covenant given all things to His Son (John 3:35; John 13:3; John 16:15; John 17:10), Who has therefore become the covenantor as well as the mediator, and that He must die in order for the covenant to come into force because of the special nature of the covenant as a covenant-testament.
This revelation could be expressed in this way because word used for ‘covenant’ in the New Testament (diatheke) regularly means ‘a will’ in popular Greek usage, but was used in LXX to translate God’s ‘covenant’ (berith) with His prospective people. This situation arose because the usual Greek word for covenant (suntheke) rather referred to a covenant between equals, while God’s covenant (diatheke) with His people, was like a will in that it was that of a benefactor to a beneficiary and was initiated solely by God.
However, it was not just a play on the meaning of a word for such a covenant was recognised as regularly accompanied by the symbolised death of one or both of the parties involved, and where a death was not mentioned it would certainly be somewhere in the background (as he will now illustrate). Its fulfilment was totally dependent on His intention that man should benefit through a death (just as a will was an expression of intention). And in this case, because God is unchangeable and the covenant unconditional, it was a binding intention.
So the writer has taken advantage of this dual usage in order to point out that in fact the requirement for a death implicit in the word diatheke emphasises the fact that the new covenant is not only a covenant but a covenant-will, which will be brought into force through death. This is not just clever manoeuvring, a trite play on words. It can be likened to this precisely because it was always God’s necessary intention on making the covenant (the old having been broken) that it would be actioned through death, the death of His own Son through Whom the inheritance was to be passed on. This thus made it a will (but not only a will, for, apart from a deathbed will, a will is revocable), as well as a covenant.
The stress here is thus on what God’s intention in making the new covenant was from the beginning. It was always His direct intention that the fulfilment of the covenant should be dependent on the death of His appointed Benefactor. Thus it was from the beginning also a special kind of covenant, a covenant-will. The making of the covenant and its being actioned was always in God’s eyes linked to a death, the death of His Son.
He illuminates this further by arguing that where there is a will it is the intention that it will not be enforceable while the testator is alive. So in this case too the application of this solemn covenant-will, made by God, can only take place through Christ’s necessary death, solemnising the covenant and bringing it into effect, making it ‘of force’. The change in illustration is valid in this case because of the intention of the covenantor. It was He Who in His eternal purposes tied His covenant to a death, because He knew that without it the fulfilment could not take place. And that is what is being indicated here.
It would lose its force with an ordinary will-maker who does not choose to die and can withdraw his will. There the will is not a covenant but simply a prospective ‘covenant’. So this case is more like the case of a man who has chosen that he will die or is on the point of death and has made his will accordingly knowing it to be irrevocable. It is a covenant-will. In choosing to make a covenant with man He always recognised that the consequence must be His own death in His Son. It was a covenant of blood.
‘For this reason even the first covenant has not been dedicated without blood. For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded towards you”.’
Indeed such a death was ever seen as necessary for an important covenant. It sealed it permanently. And it was specifically true of the first covenant. The first idea of the application of blood was that none could withdraw on pain of death. That is why the first covenant, the old covenant, was dedicated with blood and sprinkled on the altar and the people. It bound both parties irrevocably while the conditions were fulfilled. And once the conditions were broken there arose ‘the transgressions which were under the first covenant’, and the parties involved in these were, as a result, doomed to die. Thus any new covenant had also necessarily to take into account the need for atonement. Death must be implicit in any new covenant simply because it was required of those who had broken the old.
The making of the old covenant is now described in detail. Once it had been declared, and Moses had described every commandment in the covenant to all the people (for all were to be involved and must know what they were agreeing to), he carried out ceremonial sacrifices in order to seal the covenant with blood, applying the blood both to the record of the covenant itself, and to all the people (Exodus 24:6-8). By this they were bound to obedience to it on pain of death, and God, as the One to Whom the sacrifices were offered, was equally bound to them while they faithfully kept the covenant.
Yet as the context here makes clear, that blood was not just a symbol of the sacredness of the contract, it was also a requirement because of the sinfulness already present on the part of one of the parties involved. Such a contract could not have been made without cleansing for sin. For there was a past to be atoned for, and as we are shortly to be informed, the main purpose of the shedding of blood is the remission of sin (Hebrews 9:22). Furthermore the whole context here is of cleansing from sin (Hebrews 9:12-14; Hebrews 9:21-22). Any explanation therefore that lacks that necessity is itself lacking.
So we may undoubtedly recognise here that the shedding of blood, as well as sealing the covenant, also had a cleansing significance, for whenever blood was shed sacrificially in relation to anything connected with God such a meaning was necessarily involved. Because the contract was made with sinners, cleansing must therefore be involved.
The passage in Exodus does not mention the sprinkling of the blood on the book It does, however, bring the book into close connection with the ceremony. The blood there is sprinkled on the specially erected altar and on the people connecting God with His people. The book may well have been placed on the altar in such ceremonies. The writer may well have been writing on the basis of his knowledge of such ceremonies, or of some tradition which drew this out. Nor does the passage mention the method of sprinkling which is described in the detail given here, which is in fact partly similar to that for the sprinkling of the ashes of the heifer (Numbers 19:6). Note how here it is just assumed that these had been used in the sprinkling. It was thus clearly a recognised custom to use scarlet wool and hyssop for sprinkling, compare Leviticus 14:4; Leviticus 14:6-7.
The Centrality of Death In God’s Saving Purposes In Order For All Things To Be Cleansed and Purified (Hebrews 9:18-28 ).
We are now looking at the detailed explanation of Hebrews 1:3. How did the Son make purification of sins? By coming as the Christ Messiah and shedding His blood for all who would receive Him. Just as the shedding of blood was central in the old covenant, so it is in the new. But whereas the old required many and continual sacrifices through the centuries, the new required only one sacrifice for sin for ever. For He was so immense that His once-for-all sacrifice covered the sin of all ages and of all people for all time. All Who would might therefore reach out for salvation, receiving it as God’s free gift and being finally saved to the uttermost through Him.
‘Moreover the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry he sprinkled in like manner with the blood.’
And not only was blood applied in the covenant ceremony, but later everything connected with the covenant, the Tabernacle and all the vessels of ministry, were sprinkled in the same way with sacrificial blood. This initial sprinkling of blood is not mentioned in the Pentateuch, but it was recognised as being a fact by Josephus, and thus clearly a traditional idea among the Jews. This is entering more deeply into the significance of the shedding of blood. The shedding of blood was essential for the purifying of all that was to be involved in the relationship between God and His people. It was a cleansing necessary as a result of their sinfulness, for all was contaminated by man and his world. Thus the blood not only sealed and solemnised, it also indicated cleansing and purifying.
‘And according to the law, I may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and apart from shedding of blood there is no remission.’
Indeed the Law made it quite clear, that ‘apart from the shedding of blood’ there is no cleansing, there ‘is no remission (of sin)’. It tells us that all in the world is seen as tainted by sin, and that this taint of sin can only be dealt with by death, by the shedding of blood. By this, sin is seen as having affected everything that is. It is seen as rampant and the world as therefore cut off from God. And to remedy that requires death, a special death. For the wages of sin is death.
The Law therefore reveals that removal of the taint of sin can only be dealt with by the shedding of blood. It is only by that means that anything, including the tabernacle, and to a lesser degree the camp of Israel, could become holy to Yahweh. It is indeed often asked, why so many sacrifices? And the answer is, because there were so many sins. But all awaited the one great sacrifice for sins, which was once-for-all and would never required to be repeated, for its sufficiency was more than enough for the whole world of all ages. In the end it was without the shedding of that Blood that there was no remission of sins.
‘I may almost say.’ Other things were in fact also connected with cleansing such as fire and water for purifying captured wealth (Numbers 31:22-24). See also Numbers 16:46, where instant atonement is made for the rebellious people by the use of the fires from the altar borne in a censer, which however connects with the shedding of blood (compare Isaiah 6:5); Numbers 31:50 where atonement had to be made for not giving the Lord His portion of what was won as spoil in battle, by remedying the failure and doing exactly that; and Leviticus 5:11-13 where the very poor could offer fine flour as a sin offering. But these were very secondary and peripheral. It was the shedding of blood that was ever the most prominent.
‘It was necessary therefore that the copies of the things in the heavens should be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.’
Thus the copies of heavenly things, all that was involved in the ritual of Israel, had to be cleansed with the shedding of blood. ‘It was necessary’ for it had all been connected with what was sinful, and with man in his sinfulness, and sinfulness required death. So if man was to approach God, the means by which he did so must be through the shedding of blood, as he must himself be cleansed by the shedding of blood, for all was connected with sin, and sin demands death. But, because they were only copies, the cleansing could also itself take place through copies and shadows. Those involved were only seeking to enter an earthly Tabernacle, and therefore earthly sacrifices sufficed. Once they sought to enter the heavens it would be a different matter. There was no way of entering Heaven by means of these.
‘But the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.’ And here is the crunch. Heavenly things could not be cleansed by the old sacrifices and rituals. They only sufficed on earth. Things which were to be in contact with heavenly places required deeper and better cleansing. The earthly sacrifices were of no avail there. However awesome their presentation, earthly sacrifices were useless for any purification connected with ‘the heavens’. For ‘heavenly things’ are a part of the greater Reality outside the reach of the mundane. This is not referring to Heaven itself, but to things connected with ‘the heavens’ (epourania), especially such as were transferred from earth.
But why should cleansing be necessary with regard to ‘heavenly things’? In Hebrews 12:23 two of such heavenly things are outlined and directly connected with the mediation of Jesus Christ and the sprinkling of blood (Hebrews 12:24), they are the ‘church of the Firstborn’, and ‘the spirits of just men made perfect’. Without the blood of Jesus they could not have entered the heavenlies. For all who would enter Heaven from earth require such cleansing, and it was only because of such cleansing that they were able to enter into the presence of God. The copies could be cleansed with animal blood, but not these. Anything earthly which would enter the heavenly sphere required a better sacrifice, a fuller and more complete sacrifice. To enter Heaven there had to be inward cleansing as well as outward.
And it is indeed because we have experienced such cleansing that we can even now at the present time enjoy lives in heavenly places (epourania) (Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 2:6). Those who would now in Christ enter ‘the age to come’, and come under the Heavenly Rule of God, and into enjoyment of the Spirit, can only do so because of the shedding of His blood, which not only purifies us but enables us to renew and retain such purity (1 John 1:7) as we live in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6, compare Hebrews 1:3) where our citizenship lies (Philippians 3:20), looking not at the things which are seen but at the things that are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Besides, there is also spiritual wickedness in heavenly places, though of course not in Heaven itself. That comes out in Ephesians 6:12. That too had had to be dealt with at the cross (Colossians 2:15). That also was defeated by the shedding of His blood, and the cleansing made as a result, for in the end all has to have been made clean either by blood or by fire. So in mind here in the reference to ‘the heavenlies’ is the spiritual sphere that we enter when we become Christians which is a part of ‘the heavenlies’, and where the evil forces of the Enemy carry out their main wickedness. Cleansing in that spiritual sphere requires the sprinkling of the blood of Christ. And that cleansing of the heavenlies too is necessary, for all does finally have to be purified, and earthly sacrifices are not enough to purify these heavenly places.
‘With better sacrifices than these.’ Note the plural. Yet we have been told that all was in fact cleansed by the one sacrifice. Why then the plural? Why not ‘a better sacrifice’? The writer possibly has in mind that that the one sacrifice included many sacrifices; there was His humbling of Himself to come into a sinful world, there was His persecution and tribulation within that world, and there were His final sufferings at the cross. All came together in that one sacrifice. Alternately it may be a plural of intensity speaking of something which outdid all other sacrifices, the plural bearing in mind the multiplicity of what it is contrasted with. Just to speak of ‘a better sacrifice’ may have been seen as limiting the comparison. By using the plural he demonstrates that the sacrifice of Jesus combines in itself the equivalent of all sacrifices. His sacrifice of Himself was better than all the sacrifices put together.
‘For Christ entered not into a holy place made with hands, like in pattern to the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us.’
And the reason that the better sacrifice is required is precisely because Messiah is not entering an earthly tabernacle, one made with human hands and simply a pattern, even though a good pattern, but into Heaven itself. He is entering the true Holy Place where the High and Holy One sits on His throne in full majesty. And there He will appear before the very face of God for us so that we are personally and continually represented, through His intercession, in the presence of the Most Holy One. This is the great Reality in contrast with the copies and shadows of the old covenant. Fake holiness might be able to enter the earthly Tabernacle, but that which enters the heavenly Tabernacle must be truly pure and holy through and through.
‘Before the face of God for us.’ It was said of Moses that God spoke with him face to face like a man speaks with his friend (Exodus 33:11). Compare Deuteronomy 34:10 where it revealed his uniqueness as a prophet. But even then all knew that it should not be taken too literally, for God in the fullness of His glory was in Heaven while Moses was on the earth. It is rather saying that he knew God and spoke to God like no other. But here is One Who appears before the very face of God in Heaven where there are no shadows, only the great Reality. He literally sees God face to face as He is in Heaven. He sees behind the glory to the very face of God. Here is One Who is a greater than Moses, with a ministry more directly carried out before the face of God in Heaven. And whereas for Moses such experiences were temporary, for Christ they are permanent.
And we should note the consequence of the phrase. He was ‘before the face of God’. Not only did He see God face to face, but all that He was, was known to God. He was laid bare before Him. Not one thing could be shielded from that piercing Eye. And yet approaching in His Manhood He was clearly found completely satisfactory. He was the One Whose ways were totally pleasing to God. For the first time since the days of Adam a Man appeared before God unflinchingly and without fear, in order to represent those who were His. It was the proof in embryo of the total restoration of man, for He was there ‘for us’.
‘Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest enters into the holy place year by year with blood not his own, otherwise must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world. But now once at the end of the ages has he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.’
Nor was His entry into Heaven one of many such entries which had to be made by Him, as though He had no permanent right there, for His one offering of Himself was sufficient for all sin for all time. Therefore could He be permanently before the face of God. He was not like the High Priests who had to enter to make atonement year by year, offering blood which was not their own, and then had to leave again, for had the effect of His sacrifice been of such a temporary nature He would have had to undergo regular periodic suffering, beginning from the very foundation of the world, when sin first began. (Note the implication that His own blood was the only offering that He could make in view of the kind of priest that He was). But it was not so. For now, once at the end of the ages, He had been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and He had been wholly successful.
The implication in these words is enormous. Firstly that He has entered into the presence of God and has put away sin once-for-all for all time, reaching right back to the beginning and right on to the end. His sacrifice is sufficient to cover all sin of all ages, and once made does not have to be repeated. For those who are His, sin has been ‘put away’. And secondly that this is ‘the end of the ages’. It is now the last age, the promised ‘coming age’ of the prophets, the age of the everlasting kingdom, already here and bound up in Christians, and to be consummated in the eternal Kingdom. There remain no further earthly ages to come.
‘And inasmuch as it is appointed to men once to die, and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time, apart from sin, to those who wait for him, to salvation.’
‘It is appointed to men once to die.’ That was the sentence in Eden. It is the continual sentence (Romans 5:12; Romans 6:23). So Christ having been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and having been rejected by the world as a whole, all that now remains for each one in the world that has rejected Him is death and judgment. They do not just die. They are appointed to die. The judge has made his preliminary decision. Note that they are each to ‘die once’, that death being seen as final. That is what is required as the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). And after this will come their judgment, when the sentence will be confirmed. They face eternal death.
And just as it is appointed for such men to die once, so was it appointed for Christ to be offered once, bearing the sins of many (Isaiah 53:12), one death again being all that was required for their sin, for His death was of a sufficiency to cover all. It was the infinite dying for the finite. So for those who are His, His one death for all time delivers them from the ‘death resulting in judgment’ that should have been theirs. Death is no longer the wages of sin for them. Not for them the judgment of condemnation. They have been crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6; Galatians 2:20; Galatians 3:13), and their sin has therefore been borne in Him as a result of that one sacrificing of Himself, and they thus live through Him.
Note here the deliberate contrast between death followed by judgment and Christ’s offering of Himself, followed, for those who believe, in salvation. The judgment is not emphasised, the emphasis is on Christ as the Saviour, but nevertheless the contrast is real. For those who refuse His offering of Himself death awaits, for those who refuse His salvation judgment awaits, and that includes for the earthly priesthood.
So just as the High Priest emerged from the Tabernacle on the Day of Atonement, and thereby triumphantly revealed to the waiting crowds that their temporary atonement had once more been successfully accomplished, so will Christ emerge from Heaven at the end of time, appearing to His own who are waiting for Him (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), to proclaim that their full, permanent atonement has been satisfactorily achieved in every respect. Because of it they are accepted as holy, unblameable and unreproveable before Him (Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22; Jude 1:24).
Thus will He appear in His glory, free from all connections with sin, such having been atoned for once-for-all by His sacrifice on the cross, in order to finalise their salvation and make their salvation complete. They will be changed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52), and be caught up to meet Him in the air, there to be ever with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
‘To those who wait for Him.’ There are a number of ways in which His people wait for Him. Firstly by their steadfast faith in His appearing, resting with implicit confidence on His promises in John 14:2-3. Secondly by having a real love for it, a yearning to see Him (2 Timothy 4:8). Thirdly by having an ardent longing for it, so that they cry, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20). Fourthly by patiently waiting for it, in the midst of many discouragements (James 5:7-8). Fifthly by personally preparing themselves for it and living in the light of it (Matthew 25:10; Matthew 25:13-46; Luke 12:35-37 and often). If we do not recognise in these our own attitudes we need to be considering our ways. He appears to those who wait for Him.
‘Apart from sin.’ He had been made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) but now that sin has been atoned for by His sacrifice of Himself and He is therefore once more free from sin, from our sin which He took on Himself. As far as God is concerned, and as far as He is concerned, and as far as those who believe are concerned, sin has therefore been dealt with for ever. Their sins are no more. Furthermore their Sanctifier has done His work totally and completely and is now bringing to its final conclusion His leading of them safe to Heaven (Hebrews 2:10-11). Their Trek Leader will have finalised the trek successfully, having lost none of those who put themselves totally under His control (John 17:12; John 10:27-29).
By these means and arguments therefore has the writer demonstrated to his readers the total superiority of our great High Priest, the total superiority of the sacrifice that He made and the total superiority of the salvation that He offers. He has especially made clear that hope lies finally in the blood of Christ offered for us.
We finish the chapter by considering what Christ did do, and what He did not do, which furthers the writer’s arguments.
1) He came as a High Priest of good things to come, ministering to His own all the blessings stored up for them by God (Hebrews 9:11).
2) Having obtained the redemption of the age to come for us, He entered into Heaven ‘by His own blood’, that is, in consequence of the total success and efficacy of His sacrifice of Himself on the cross (Hebrews 9:12).
3) Having through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God He cleanses our consciences from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14).
4) As our Mediator of the new covenant He ensures that we receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15).
5) He has cleansed the spiritual realm, the heavenlies, and we who enter it, by His better sacrifice of Himself (Hebrews 9:23).
6) He appears before the face of God for us (Hebrews 9:24).
7) He has been manifested to once-for-all put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Hebrews 9:26).
8) He has been once offered to bear the sins of many, as the suffering Servant of Isaiah was to do (Isaiah 53:11-12) - Hebrews 9:28.
9) And so He will finally appear in order to finalise His salvation in His own at His second coming (Hebrews 9:28).
What He did not do compared with what He did do.
1) He did not enter through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood (Hebrews 9:12).
2) He did not enter into the Holy Place made with hands, but into Heaven itself (Hebrews 9:24).
3) He did not offer Himself year by year, because He did not need to. His offering of Himself was once-for-all and was completely acceptable, never needing to be repeated (Hebrews 9:25).
In the light of this fact that He was superior in every way they were to choose which High Priesthood they would follow, the earthly one which dealt with copies and shadows, or the heavenly One Who dealt with the great Realities.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hebrews 9". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
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