Chapter 8 showed us that Jesus is our high priest. Now we move into understanding the sanctuary that He entered as priest, and the difference between the old covenant and new covenant priesthoods. Verses 1-5 give us a brief description of the tabernacle as erected by Moses, in which Aaron was the first priest. The outer room was called the ‘Holy Place’ and the inner room, which was separated from the first by a thick curtain, was called the ‘Most Holy Place’. (You can read more about it in Exodus 25-30.)
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. 2 For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lamp-stand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. 3 Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, 4 having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. 5 Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 7 but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. 8 By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing 9 (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.
The author shows us that the Law required strict guidelines to follow for worship inside the tabernacle. Each day the priests would make sacrifices for the people’s sins, but those sacrifices did not deal with those sins, they merely covered over them. When a person brought their animal for sacrifice they would stand at the entrance to the outer tent and place their hands on the head of the animal, representing their sin leaving them and going to the animal. Then the priest would tie the animal to the 4 horns of the altar and slaughter it. The blood would have gotten not only on the priest, but the one who had come to sacrifice for their sin. It would not have been a pleasant experience and as the person left the tent, it would be visible to all that they had needed to make atonement for something by the show of blood on their clothing. (You can read more about regulations for sacrifices in Leviticus 1-7.)
The Most Holy Place was only entered into once a year and only by the High Priest. He would first have to make atonement for himself, and then he could make atonement for the people, offering up the sacrifice and prayers. As the author explains in verse 8, the way to the holy places was closed (as represented by the curtain separation and the once a year entrance). That meant that the only person able to be in God’s presence was the High Priest, and he only once a year. Because of this there would have been great importance on this time of year when the people could finally feel free from all of the things that had happened all year until then, but is was never enough to give them total freedom from their guilt or their sins – nor was it meant to. The purpose of the Law was to lead people to faith in God’s work on their behalf, not what they could do for themselves through rituals.
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. – Galatians 3:21-22
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
When Moses was given the instructions for the tabernacle in Exodus 25:8-9 God said, “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” The tabernacle was built off of a pattern of what was in Heaven. Following the same pattern as what Christ would eventually do, the priest would enter into the Most Holy Place to make atonement. When Christ died, as a sinless replacement for all those who would believe in Him, He entered into the Heavenly version of the tabernacle and finalized the sacrificial system once and for all. Not only does His sacrifice cleanse our sins, but also our consciences because we know that it was accepted when He rose to life from death. There is no longer any need for works on our behalf to earn salvation.
15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
Christ is our mediator who gives us the promise now because he has died and solidified the payment that was required for the fulfillment of that promise. Now that the first covenant has been fulfilled, we have entered into a new one. The author uses the imagery of a will. If a person writes a will, it is not in effect until the person dies. The same is true of the first covenant. All of the sacrifices and rituals pointed to what Christ would eventually do, and they were ‘written’ (given) by God. The only one who could enforce that will was God himself, in the person and work of Christ upon His death. The seal and ratification of that covenant was life giving blood. Notice in verse 19 that not only was the tabernacle and all the people sprinkled with blood, but the ‘book’ itself! The Scripture entered right along with everyone and everything else into the covenant with God.
23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
The earthly copies were purified by blood, and the heavenly things were purified by blood – the blood of Christ – the most perfect sacrifice that was not attainable apart from him. This is why the author says ‘better sacrifices’. Christ was still a sacrifice for sins, and he still upheld the Law during his life, but because he upheld it perfectly he was sinless… spotless… a lamb led to the slaughter, to take the sins upon himself and be offered up for the sins of many. And because it was perfect and Jesus is the Son of God, it was only needed the one time – not year after year. Jesus’s atoning death is eternal, just as he is. Verses 27-28 remind us that man is appointed to die once, and then to face judgement. Christ died, but because he was without sin he was found clean. The next time we see Him will be a glorious day.
- How has your life demonstrated the purification from dead works through Christ’s sacrifice? (vs. 11-15)
- How can/will you worship God for the salvation we have been so graciously given through Christ?