By the time this is published, I will be flying out to the West Coast to visit family in the LA area. As a consequence I will not be at my duty station for a few days, and won’t be posting any more Hebrews items until I return. I have scheduled a Photo of the Week for later today and an item to run on Sunday.
In the meantime I wish everyone a wonderful and blessed week and I will be back at work on September 7 with the next installment from Hebrews, and hopefully some new photos to share and stories to tell.
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,[c] so that we may serve the living God!
In yet another amazing passage, one that continues to build his case, our author charges head long into the notion that the Old Covenant is still somehow in effect. Having just concluded a discussion of the earthly tabernacle and earthly sacrifices, he contrasts the work of Jesus against the old system in telling us that the Most Holy Place into which High Priest Jesus entered with His blood sacrifice was not the one in Jerusalem that is a mere illustration of the real thing, He instead entered the Real Thing in heaven. Our author highlights the difference and relevance of his assault by noting that the reality and result of this work by Jesus is “already here.” Clearly, he is not referring to any future event.
Next is a contrast between the nature of the old and new sacrifices, the first being performed with the blood of animals, is contrasted with the second, being the blood of the Son of God, and it is this difference that made possible eternal redemption. Can you see why the author earlier said that the Old Covenant Law was obsolete? If the final blood sacrifice was made with the blood of the Son of God, what standing can there be for animal sacrifices going forward? It’s really a ridiculous notion when you think about it.
Verse 13 makes reference to sacrifices and ashes that were made to cleanse those who were “ceremonially unclean” under the Law, and the author makes the point very clearly that this only made those people “outwardly clean.” Keep in mind, that everything that the Law dealt with was “outward” for it was a set of earthly regulations; even its promises are of an earthly nature. Contrast this with verse 14: The sacrifice of Christ doesn’t aim to cleanse us outwardly, for it cleanses our conscience which is an inward cleansing; the New Covenant is all about inward spiritual things, not outward earthly ones. With this inner cleansing, we can serve the living God in fellowship with Him.
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
Jesus Christ is the mediator of a superior covenant. It is superior because it deals with the inner parts of Man rather than the outward parts. This has set us free from our bondage to sin, death and the grave, and made it possible for us to actually be called God’s children, not as a metaphor, but by that eternal life which is now ours in Christ.
As I mentioned last week, I have completed and posted “Reflections on Jude” today, and it is now available for download HERE.
The link will take you to the “Publications” page of my website where you can choose from several other titles; all are offered for free.
You are welcome to use this file for whatever purpose you like; you may even make it your own… as long as you don’t do so for sale or commercial purposes.
Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.
Chapter 9 opens with a brief description of the Old Testament Tabernacle and its contents which would have been quite familiar to the Jewish readers of this letter. As you can see, it is not the author’s purpose here to go into any great detail on this subject, for he is heading in a more important direction, however, I’ve included a chart that will compare the tabernacle contents with their New Testament counterparts:
|OT Tabernacle||New Covenant counterpart|
|Altar of burnt offering||The cross and death of Jesus|
|Holy Place||The church|
|Lamp||The Word and the Holy Spirit|
|Table||Fellowship between God and Man|
|Altar of incense||Prayer|
|Veil||Body of Christ|
|Ark||Presence of God|
|Staff||Leaders of God’s choice|
|Cherubim||Ministering angels of God|
|Atonement cover||Reconciliation to God|
When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
Verses 6-7 continue with the author’s brief description of the scene in the tabernacle, culminating in the annual entrance of the high priest into the Most Holy Place; notice that he had an offering for his own sins, as well as for all of the people. I point this out because it is a tell-tale sign that the ministry of Jesus is completely different than that of the Old Covenant priests, and should convey to us that Jesus is not and will never be an Old Covenant priest.
Verse 8 marks the point where the author shifts from his description of the tabernacle into his application of this information. See the words “the Holy Spirit was showing by this…”? The author is telling us that as long as the Old Covenant was in effect, the reality of Jesus was not yet in force. Please take note that the opposite is also true: Now that Jesus has finished His work, the Old Covenant is no longer in effect, and never will be again. Why do I keep pointing this out? Because millions of our dear brothers and sisters in Christ are looking forward to the day when the Old Covenant Temple is rebuilt, and the Old Covenant sacrificial system is once again practiced, with the understanding that Jesus Himself will one day be that high priest who enters the Most Holy Place… and that simply cannot be!
Look at the next verse: “This is an illustration for the present time…” All of the things that went on in the Temple were illustrations, even the Temple itself was an illustration. An illustration represents the reality pictured, but an illustration is never the reality itself. The gifts and offerings in the old Temple worship could never clear the conscience of the worshippers, because they could never take sin away, for in the final analysis, they only involve earthly things. Now pay careful attention to what he says next: external regulations applying until the time of the new order. These are very interesting “external regulations” for they have an expiration date attached; how can that be? Yes, I’ve even had a comment or two along these lines… how can something “everlasting” be over?
Let’s think… these Temple ceremonies and sacrifices are meant to illustrate something. They illustrate an eternal truth that Man needs salvation from sin. When that salvation was accomplished once for all time by Jesus on the cross, the illustration is not longer necessary, but the truth they once illustrated remains: Man needs salvation from sin, only now, we have found it in the work of Jesus on the cross.
You see, that wasn’t really so hard to understand, was it? The illustration that was the Old Covenant is over because the eternal reality of what it illustrated has come to pass… simple.
For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:
“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
Something was wrong with the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses. The prophet Jeremiah foretold of its end, and the author of Hebrews is telling us clearly and unambiguously that the end has come. I’m always amazed that more of us can’t seem to comprehend this. So many Christian doctrinal traditions treat the New Covenant as little more than addendum to the Old. Others add elements of the Old into the New almost on a whim; how clear does it need to be?
This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
This is the rest of the quotation from Jeremiah 31:31-34, note that he described features of the New Covenant that were never present in the Old. Notice also that this entire quotation is cited by our author here in Hebrews as an accomplished fact, and not something still off in the future, as some would claim it to be today. If you still aren’t convinced, there is one more verse in this chapter:
By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
The Old Covenant is called “obsolete and outdated.” Some might suggest that it will “soon disappear” but it still hasn’t; if you are thinking along these lines, think again.
Within just a few years of the time Hebrews was written, the Romans sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and scattered the people who were fortunate enough to survive the siege, and the Old Covenant has not been practiced from that day until this. Gone are the sacrifices, the offerings, the priests, the tabernacle, the holy place and all the rest of the system that was completely, totally and utterly replaced by the work of Jesus Christ, our great high priest who reigns even now at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven… and all of that was foretold centuries before by the prophets.
Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.
This section is one that is often a surprise to people not familiar with the relationship between Old and New Testaments. As we go through this chapter, we will be challenged to see things the way God views them, and to be quite candid, things aren’t always what they at first appear to be. These first two verses give us a bit of that; notice that there is a difference between the tabernacle that Jesus is serving in as high priest, and the earthly one. For starters, Jesus isn’t in Jerusalem, nor is He serving in a place made by human hands, but by God Himself. Finally, notice that the tabernacle He is in is “true.” If Jesus is in the true sanctuary, what does that say about the one in the Old Testament?
Fasten your seat belts, we are about to find out!
Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law.
The offerings and gifts that the earthly priests sacrificed were prescribed by the same Law that established their office and Jesus, because He is from the tribe of Judah could never have been a priest, and since He is an entirely different kind of priest, He has a different kind of offering. Jesus did not offer sacrifices consisting of animals for atonement to put off the penalty for sins, He offered Himself, and took sin away entirely.
They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.
How surprising it would have been for those first recipients of this message to learn that their beloved Temple in their beloved Jerusalem was only a shadow of the real thing. I am often amazed today when I listen to people discuss the rebuilding of this Temple in the future, as though the Temple were the real thing… but it was never the real thing; it’s but a mere copy or shadow of the reality that is in heaven… and do you know what? So were the sacrifices, the priests and even the Law itself. Of course Jesus is superior to the Levites; He is the real thing, while they were shadows of what would come one day. Of course Jesus was the superior sacrifice; for His was the one that takes away sin. Of course the New Covenant is superior to the Old, for the New Covenant is the real deal and the Old Covenant was but a shadow of the reality that was to come, and it was set to pass away.
None of this should really be a shock to anyone, for the Old Covenant Law was entirely earthly; physical. It never promised to take away our sins, it never promised eternal life. These things weren’t even ideas that were in play anywhere at that time. The rules and regulations are but a shadow of the reality of having God’s laws written on our hearts. Most importantly, the Old Covenant and its system of laws and sacrifices and the Temple all speak of Jesus Christ who was to come one day.
And that day came!
Our author will continue to explain all of this from this point through 10:18…