In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
The Hebrews author is continuing his contrast between the Old Covenant and the New, but here he takes an interesting twist, one that I would never have thought of is this last will a metaphor, or is it literal? I’ll let you decide as we go along…
Clearly a will has no impact on anything until the person who made it dies. Then we go through a descriptive reminder of the oath swearing ceremony at the inception of the Old Covenant, with all of the people parading past and being sprinkled with the blood of the sacrificed animals, and the sprinkling of the various objects of the tabernacle. This served a dual purpose by most accounts, first that of the actual oath swearing, which can be compared to signing a contract, for it is the point at which the people voluntarily entered into relationship with God. It symbolized this oath: If I do not obey the terms of this covenant, then so shall it be with me, or to be blunt, if I don’t keep up my end of the deal, I give permission for my own blood to be spilled. The second purpose was the ritual of cleansing, as was discussed in the previous verses in the last section, in the case of the Old Covenant these are outward acts and cleansing, not inward ones. God also swore an oath when the carcasses of the sacrificed animals were consumed by fire.
My question for you is this: OK, so who died that the Old Covenant should take effect?
It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Now the contrast of the New Covenant: Jesus needed better sacrifices for the New Covenant, since it is the reality that the Old Covenant merely illustrated. Once again, the author points out that High Priest Jesus did not enter the Most Holy Place in a Temple that was a copy, but that He entered the real Temple that is in the actual presence of the Father in heaven, and He brought with Him a different sacrifice altogether. Jesus Himself was the sacrifice. He was sacrificed once for all time, and this was possible because He was not a goat or a calf or a lamb, He was the Son Of God. As our author makes so very clear here, there is one sacrifice that counts, and that was the sacrifice of Jesus; the Real Deal.
So, who died, that all of God’s promises might come into effect in reality and truth? …………Got it? Yep, it was Jesus!
Wait! No! What about the Old Covenant, who died to put it into effect?
Really? Do I really need to answer that one?
OK, fine… it was no one. Remember, the Old Covenant was only a picture, a poor copy of what would come later, so at the time the author described in verses 16-22, calves stood in for the oath swearing; no one died. When Jesus died on the cross, He fulfilled all of God’s promises, bringing from illustration into present reality.
There’s only one question left to complete the picture, and that is: When do we have our oath swearing ceremony, coming into contact with the blood of the New Covenant sacrifice?