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.
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.
The illustration that was the Old Covenant is over because the eternal reality of what it illustrated has come to pass.
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, 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 assertion 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.
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 them 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?