The Old Testament Cult inferior to the Perfection of Christ’s Sacrifice. Heb. 9, 1-28.

Description of the Tabernacle and its appointments: V.1. Then, verily, the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service and a worldly sanctuary. V.2. For there was a Tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick and the table and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary. V.3. And after the second veil the Tabernacle, which is called the Holiest of all; v.4. which had the golden censer, and the Ark of the Covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; v.5. and over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercy-seat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. In this chapter the points which had been discussed but briefly in the foregoing paragraphs are taken up in greater detail, the first half of the chapter bringing the proof of the superiority of Christ’s office over the ministry of the Old Testament priests. This the author proceeds to prove by referring, first of all, to the place of worship and its appointments: Even the first covenant, indeed, had ordinances of worship and a worldly sanctuary. With these words a concession is made to the excellencies of the Old Testament covenant, such as they were, for the purpose of bringing out all the more strongly the beauties of the new covenant. There were regulations, ordinances respecting the worship, governing the public services in all its parts. The Jews also had a sanctuary, a place of worship, but, as the author immediately says, one pertaining to this world, suited for an external worship only, a tabernacle erected by man, constructed by human hands, with material of this earth.

He describes this sanctuary: For a tent was constructed, the fore-tent, in which were the candlestick and the table and the setting forth of the loaves, which is called the Holy Place. Cp. Ex. 25, 23-39; 26, 35; Lev. 24, 5-9. The Tabernacle, which was erected at the command of God, consisted of two parts. The first part of the tent, that into which a person stepped from the Court of the Priests, was called the Holy Place. In this eastern part of the Tabernacle were various articles of furniture, a lamp stand, or candlestick, made of gold, very beautiful, a table, which stood near the south wall. On the opposite side of the room stood the table of acacia wood, overlaid with gold, which served as a stand for the showbread or the dozen bread cakes, the bread of the countenance of the Lord, which were renewed every Sabbath.

The other part of the Tabernacle is also described: And after the second veil the tent, which is called Holy of Holies, having the golden altar of incense and the Ark of the Covenant, covered all over with gold, in which was a golden jar containing manna, and the rod of Aaron which had budded, and the tables of the covenant; and over it cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat, concerning which I need not now speak in detail. The second, or inner, tent was separated from the Holy Place by a second veil, the first one being that which hung before the Holy Place. This section of the Tabernacle was a shrine, the Most Holy Place, guarded with the greatest care against every profanation. At its entrance, at the place which was in the closest connection with the service of the Day of Atonement, in the center of the splendid curtain on the east side, stood the golden altar of incense with its golden censer, Ex. 30, 1-10; 37, 25-28. Here the priest designated for this special work was required to burn incense at both the morning and the evening sacrifice. Inside the curtain was the Ark of the Covenant, the only piece of furniture really inside of the Most Holy Place, Ex. 25, 10-16. This large chest of acacia wood was overlaid both inside and outside with gold. It served as a depository for several articles. There was a golden pot, or jar, in which three quarts of manna were preserved, Ex. 16, 33; there was the rod of Aaron which had budded at the time when some of the elders of the people had expressed their dissatisfaction with the Lord’s order ranking him a prince in Israel, Num. 17, 8. 10; there were, above all, the two stone tables on which the Lord had written the words of the Law for the second time, with His own finger, Deut. 31, 25. 26. The cover of the ark, or chest, was called the mercy-seat. It was made of gold and contained as its most prominent ornament two cherubim having their wings extended and facing each other over the center. They are called the cherubim of glory, because it was between them that the Lord appeared to Moses and communed with him, Ex. 25, 22. All these things the author mentions, not with the purpose of discussing them in detail, but simply for the purpose of showing that the old covenant also possessed a measure of glory. His readers were familiar with these articles of equipment, having been told of them since their youth.

The ministry of the Old Testament priests imperfect: V.6. Now, when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. V.7. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the errors of the people; v.8. the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest while as the first tabernacle was yet standing; v.9. which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; v.10. which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. The sacred writer now refers to the form of worship in these two parts of the Tabernacle: These matters having been thus arranged, into the fore tent, indeed, the priests enter continually, accomplishing their ministrations, but into the inner the high priest alone once a year, not without blood. When the Tabernacle had been constructed according to God’s directions and all the equipment put into place as He had ordered, the priests took up their work, performing all the acts of their ministerial office as the Law prescribed. Their work took them into the outer tent every day, regularly, since the offering of incense had to be done both morning and evening, Ex. 30, 7-9. The lamp also, with its everlasting light, had to be trimmed with the same regularity. But so far as the inner tabernacle was concerned, the daily use and entrance of the Most Holy Place was forbidden. Only once every year, on the tenth day of the seventh month, the high priest, and he alone, entered into this shrine, performing the special work which was laid upon him by the precepts of the Day of Atonement. At least three times he put aside the heavy curtain which veiled the Most Holy Place, taking with him first the incense, then the blood of the bullock, which atoned for his own sins and those of his house, and finally the blood of the goat for the sins of the people. The offering of blood, therefore, the sprinkling of blood against the mercy-seat, was the essential part of the high priest’s ministry on that day. Cp. Lev. 16. That was the divine rule for the performance of the priestly functions in the Tabernacle and, to some extent, in the Temple.

But all this was typical and prophetical for the time of the New Testament: The Holy Spirit signifying this, that the way into the Holiest was not yet manifest as long as the first tent still was in place. While the worship of the Jews was still being carried on in Tabernacle and Temple, in a so-called Most Holy Place, while the veil still separated even the priests from the shrine, the inner sanctuary, during the entire time of the Old Testament, in fact, the Holy Spirit intimated that the true access to God had not yet been furnished, that the restoration of perfect fellowship between God and man had not yet taken place. “The very object of the division of the Tabernacle into two rooms, an outer and an inner, was to impress men with the fact that the way of access had not actually been disclosed.” (Dods.) Now that the veil has been rent, matters have reached a different stage, Matt. 27, 50. 51. There is no more need of a Levitical priesthood; we have unhindered access to the Throne of Grace.

But so far as the Tabernacle and its appointments were concerned, the writer again emphasizes: Which is a figure for the time present, according to which are offered both gifts and sacrifices that cannot possibly make him that renders the service perfect as pertaining to conscience, relating only to food and drink and a variety of washings, ordinances of the flesh imposed until the time of correction. The fact that there was a first part of the Tabernacle distinct from the Most Holy Place was a continual lesson for the time being, for the time and the people of the Old Testament; whenever they looked at the double tent and remembered its significance, they were to think of the more perfect way of salvation which was to be revealed in the Messianic period. It was in accordance with the purpose of the Tabernacle that men brought gifts and sacrifices; these offerings were required of them at that time. But all these sacrifices in themselves could not possibly render the conscience of any worshiper perfect and clean. They were of no real value in themselves, but only inasmuch as they were types of the perfect offering to be made by Christ. These gifts and sacrifices were connected only with matters of food and drink, Lev. 11; Num. 6, 2-4; Lev. 10, 8-11; 11, 34, with various washings, religious ablutions for the purpose of ceremonial purification, Ex. 29 4; Lev. 11; 14, 2-9; 15, 5-13; 16, 4. 24-28; Num. 8, 7; 19, 17-21. 9) All these were merely external ordinances pertaining to the flesh, to the consecration of the body, and they were supposed to remain in force only until the time of emendation, or correction, until the better covenant would be inaugurated and be in force. Thus it was evident that the entire Old Testament was imperfect and could not produce perfection, could put no man into such a state as would make him acceptable before God.

The perfection of Christ’s sacrifice: V.11. But Christ being come an High Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building, v.12. neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood he entered in once in to the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. V.13. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifeth to the purifying of the flesh, v.14. how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God! This paragraph embodies a conclusion which covers practically the discussion of the entire letter, as Luther remarks: “For the proper understanding of this section it is necessary to understand the entire Epistle to the Hebrews.” 10) The perfection of Christ’s redemption is thus brought out: Christ, however, having come as a High Priest of the good things to be, through a better and more perfect tent not made by hand, that is, not of this creation, neither through the blood of goats and oxen, but through His own blood entered once and for always into the Holy Place, obtaining eternal redemption. Christ is here placed into the very center of the Gospel proclamation. He has come, He has presented Himself, He was sent by God in the fullness of time as a High Priest, not of earthly and temporal goods and gifts, but of such gifts, joys, and blessings as are to be ours in the future, at the time when we shall have the consummation of our salvation. It is an eternal redemption which He has earned or obtained for us by paying the ransom required by the justice of His heavenly Father. The inspired author tells exactly how this was done, saying that Christ appeared through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by human hands, not pertaining to this present creation, to the visible world and age, not constructed of gold or silver or woven materials. It was the tabernacle of His human nature, of His flesh and blood, which enabled Him to shed His blood for us, in which He entered in to God. By giving His flesh, His human life, into death, Christ became partaker of the glory of His Father, was exalted to the right hand of God. Cp. chap. 10, 19. 20; Eph. 2, 14. It is immaterial whether we say that Christ entered into glory through the veil of His flesh or through the tabernacle of His flesh. It was not the blood of goats or bullocks which this High Priest shed, as did the priests of the Old Testament on the Day of Atonement and at other times, but it was His own most precious and divine blood. That is what gave to the ransom which He paid the perfect and eternal value. Only once He gave His life, only once did He shed His blood for us, but that sacrifice was once and for always, it paid for the redemption of the whole world forever. The high priests of the Old Testament had to renew their atonement for the sins of the people every year, chiefly because the sacrifices which they brought were only typical and symbolical; but here no such repetition is necessary: the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sins, 1 John 1, 7.

This is further substantiated by a comparison: For if the blood of goats and of bullocks and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean purify toward the cleanness of the flesh, how much rather shall the blood of Christ, who through the Holy Spirit offered up Himself to God unblemished, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? The author here refers to the work which Christ is at the present time performing in our interest. His readers were familiar with the requirements of the Jewish cult, they knew that the blood of bullocks and of goats, used not only on the Day of Atonement, but also on other days in the year, was used to restore a transgressor to personal purity before the Law of God. Thus also, when the ashes of a red heifer, mixed with water, were sprinkled upon such as had become polluted by contact with a dead body, they were restored to Levitical purity and permitted to remain in the midst of the people. But the knowledge of sin, the consciousness of sinfulness, was not removed by all the sacrifices and washings of the Old Testament. The believers of the Old Testament did not place their confidence in the essential merit of their sacrifices, knowing that they were valid only in the measure of their prophetical quality, but in the Messiah and His work, to whom all their ceremonies pointed forward. Now that Christ has actually come, we know that His blood is able to cleanse our consciences from all dead works, from the vain and empty acts, from all transgressions of the Law which pollute the conscience, and from all the vain efforts of self-righteousness. That is true because He has offered up Himself through the eternal spirit as a sacrifice without blemish. The incomparable, priceless worth of the blood of Christ, of the offering of His life and body, is here emphasized. It was the pure and holy Son of God that gave Himself, as the innocent Substitute, for the sins of the whole world. Through the eternal spirit He did this, through His invisible, spiritual, divine essence, through His divine nature. Through, by virtue of, His eternal deity Christ offered up Himself. God’s blood, God’s martyrdom, God’s death was thrown into the scales; that fact gives us the blessed certainty of our salvation. And that fact also gives us the willingness and the power to serve the Lord in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life, to make our life a continual offering of thanksgiving for all the wonderful gifts of His grace which we enjoy without ceasing. It is the living God whom we serve, He who Himself is the Source of life and finds His delight in pouring out upon us spiritual life and power in rich measure. 11)

The necessity of Christ’s death: V.15. And for this cause he is the Mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. V.16. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. V.17. For a testament is of force after men are dead; otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. Having shown that the high-priestly office of Christ was in every respect more excellent than that of the Old Testament high priests, the author in the second part of the chapter furnishes proof of the fact that Christ is also the Mediator of a better covenant than that of the Old Testament. In demonstrating the necessity of Christ’s death, he refers, first of all, to the effect and purpose of the great sacrifice on Calvary: And for that reason He is the Mediator of a new testament that, a death having taken place for deliverance from the transgressions under the first covenant, those that have been called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For this reason, because Christ entered into the Most Holy Place of the heavens through His own blood, and because His blood cleanses the conscience from dead works to serve the living God, He is the Mediator of the new covenant. Through the annual atonement made by the high priests of the Old Testament the covenant of God with His chosen people was always renewed and Israel continually reinstated in its rights as the people of the covenant. But Christ, through His blood, through His salvation, has established a new covenant, one by which we are God’s children, God’s people, by which we are assured of the mercy of God and have fellowship with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, not only for one year or for a few years, but for all eternity. All this has been made possible through the death of Christ, which took place for the deliverance from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For unless these transgressions, of which all men were guilty, were atoned for, no man could receive the eternal inheritance. The sacrifices of the Old Testament not being able to atone for sin, a new covenant was necessary with a death which could accomplish this necessary object. Christ’s vicarious death being a historical fact, it follows that the promise can now be carried into effect. We, whom He has called by the Gospel, can now freely rely upon the promise of the eternal inheritance in heaven, where we shall enjoy the true, lasting gifts and blessings.

The covenant of God, assured to us through His promise, is at the same time the testament, the last mill, of our Savior Jesus Christ. And from this fact the sacred writer argues: For where there is a testament; it is necessary that the death of him who made the testament be set forth; for a testament is in force with regard to dead people, since it is never in force while the testator is living. The illustration is taken from the general custom or law with regard to wills, for a man’s last will and testament is never valid while the testator is still alive. If the real or alleged heirs want the benefit of the inheritance, proofs of the death of the testator must first be adduced. Only when this fact is established beyond a reasonable doubt, when the man who has formally put his last will to paper is no longer among the living, then the provisions of the testament are in force. Thus also the death of Christ was necessary in order that Christ might really be the Mediator of a new and better covenant.

The type of the Old Testament sacrifices: V.18. Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. V.19. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book and all the people, v.20. saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. V.21. Moreover, he sprinkled with blood both the Tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. V.22. And almost all things are by the Law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. The statement of the preceding paragraph, that Christ became the Mediator of the New Testament by His death, by the shedding of His blood, is here substantiated by a reference to the type of the Old Testament: Whence neither the first (covenant) has been inaugurated without blood. The children of Israel were received into the covenant of the Lord through death, over the dead bodies of the sacrificial animals as representing the people. The death of these animals was necessary, partly as a means of expiating the sins of the people, partly as indicating that the people died to the past and became wholly the peculiar nation of the Lord. So even the first covenant, imperfect and temporary as it was, was not ratified without the shedding of blood and the resulting death of the animals substituted for the believers.

This fact is shown in one pertinent instance: For when every command according to the Law had been spoken by Noses to all the people, he took the blood of bullocks and of goats with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled it upon the book itself and the entire people, saying, This is the blood of the covenant which God has enjoined upon you. The inspired author here refers to a story with which his readers were familiar. After Moses, in agreement with the command of the Lord, had repeated to all the people all the precepts which God had spoken, when they all had had an opportunity clearly to understand the obligations they assumed on entering the covenant, then Moses impressed the matter upon their minds by a solemn ceremony. The proper animals having been slaughtered, he took blood of bullocks and goats, added water to it, either to prevent coagulation or to symbolize the fact of cleansing, tied some scarlet wool on a stick of hyssop or wild marjoram, which was also associated with purifying, and then used this device for the purpose of sprinkling. Cp. Num. 19, 6. 7. 18; Lev. 14, 4-7. 49-52. He first sprinkled some of the blood upon the book itself, that is, upon the roll on which he had written the words of the Lord, the terms of the covenant, and then upon the people, as a party to the covenant, saying, at the same time, that this blood was the blood of the testament, that God thereby ratified the covenant between Himself and the nation chosen by Him. Cp. Ex. 24, 3-8. Note that the words used by Moses are very much like those used by Christ at the institution of the Eucharist, by which the Lord signified that by the shedding of His sacrificial blood alone, for the remission of sins, the everlasting covenant of the New Testament is ratified.

But the author adds another point: And he even sprinkled with blood both the Tabernacle and the vessels of the ministry likewise; and practically everything is purified with blood according to the Law, and without the shedding of blood remission does not take place. What had happened on this occasion was later repeated in just as solemn a manner, Lev. 8, 15. 19, namely, when the Tabernacle was dedicated with appropriate ceremonies, Aaron in this case acting on behalf of Moses, at God’s command. It seems that while Moses attended to the anointing of the Tabernacle and its appointments personally, Ex. 40, 9-11, and also sprinkled the blood of Aaron’s sin-offering upon the altar with his own hands, the high priest afterward performed the consecration of all the holy vessels used in the work of the Levitical priesthood. The author is right, therefore, in stating that practically all things were cleansed by blood according to the rite of the Old Testament, blood being the symbol or agency of purification. Water was used for cleansing only from certain pollutions. The conclusion, then, is fully justified that without blood-shedding there is no remission of sins. Thus it was in the Old Testament. The application for the new covenant is obvious, namely, that there is no salvation but through the sacrificial death of Christ. He gave His life for the life of the world, and thereby gained eternal life for the world.

The demands of the new covenant satisfied by Christ’s perfect sacrifice: V.23. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. V.24. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; v.25. nor yet that he should offer Himself often, as the high priest entereth into the Holy Place every year with the blood of others; v.26. for then must He of ten have suffered since the foundation of the world; but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. V.27. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the Judgment, v.28. so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation. Here the necessity of cleansing the heavenly sanctuary, as well as the efficiency and the finality of Christ’s one sacrifice, is emphasized. Of the first point the author saps: It was necessary, then, that the copies of the things in the heavens be cleansed by these, but the heavenly things themselves by better sacrifices than these. The copies, or patterns, of the heavenly things, the Tabernacle and its appointments, had to be cleansed and consecrated with the blood of the sacrificial animals. That was the ordinance of God, and this form of purification was sufficient SO long as things of this world mere concerned. For the Tabernacle with all it contained, being only a type and shadow of heavenly things, more than this purification was not needed. But it is different with the heavenly sanctuary itself; for its holiness is so immeasurably elevated above that of anything on earth that it required a more excellent and more perfect sacrifice, lest the influence of human sin and weakness defile this divine shrine, make the entrance into its holy portals impossible. In themselves things heavenly need no cleansing, but as entered upon by sinful men they need it.

The purification is now explained: For not has Christ entered into the holy places made with hands, the mere counterparts of the genuine, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God in our behalf. Christ, our High Priest, is in every way elevated far above the high priests of the Old Testament. For, unlike them, He did not enter into the sanctuary, into the Most Holy Place of the earthly Tabernacle, made by the hands of men, this being a mere type, figure, or counterpart of the real Holy Place in heaven. Into heaven itself, the true sanctuary, Christ has entered; by the shedding of His holy blood He laid open the entrance to the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle above. And it is not a mere earthly mercy-seat before which He appeared, at a place where the glory of the Lord was revealed only occasionally, to commune with His servants, but it is the throne of glory itself where He is now standing, in the very presence of the Lord of glory. All this He did in our behalf, as our Mediator, the Mediator of the new and better covenant.

This fact of Christ’s vicarious sacrifice is emphasized also from another side: Nor that He might offer Himself often, just as the high priest entered the Most Holy Place yearly with strange blood; for in that case He would have been obliged often to suffer since the foundation of the world; now, however, once, at the end of the world periods, has He been manifested for the abolition of sin through His sacrifice. The sacrifice which Christ made for us differed from that made by the Jewish high priests year after year, on the great Day of Atonement, also in this respect, that their offering had to be made repeatedly, had to be renewed every year, or the covenant would not stand. Like everything else that is performed by human beings, all the rites and ceremonies and sacrifices were incomplete and imperfect. And the high priests of old, in addition to this, performed the work of the atonement with, or in, strange blood, the blood of the offering being the instrument which enabled them to enter the sanctuary. But the sacrifice of blood not one’s own is necessarily imperfect. If the same thing held true in the case of Christ, then it would have been incumbent upon Him to suffer again and again since the creation of the world. If the entrance had always required repetition, then Jesus would have been obliged to be subject to periodical suffering and death. But now that Christ’s Passion and death is eternally efficacious, it was altogether sufficient for Him to appear now, at the consummation of the ages, in the fullness of the times, in the period of the world when all the types and prophecies of the Old Testament find their interpretation and fulfillment, in the period preceding the end of the world. Instead of making His sacrifice for every succeeding generation of men, He has made a single offering, this sacrifice being altogether sufficient to abolish and put away sin forever, because it consisted of His own body as the sacrificial victim. On the basis of Christ’s single sacrifice we are justified in saying that all is finished that was necessary for the salvation of the world.

To substantiate his statement that Christ’s sacrifice was once and for always, the inspired writer refers to the normal conditions of the death of men: And insomuch as it is fixed for men once to die, but after that the Judgment, so also Christ, being offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear the second time without sin to those that patiently expect Him unto salvation. It is a stern truth which the writer here uses to emphasize the point he wants to make. It is fixed, appointed, to men, to all men, once to die. That is a fact stated in Scripture and supported by the experience of the ages: mortal men must die. But death is not the end, death is not destruction; it is rather so that after death there comes the Judgment, when all men must appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, whether they be good or bad, 2 Cor. 5, 10. But just as the results of every man’s life are settled when he dies, thus the death of Christ settled the matter of sin and salvation. He was offered up as a sacrifice once, to bear the sins of many. That was the burden which Christ took upon Himself and bore, even to the death on the cross: the trespasses, the guilt, the punishment of many, of the entire human family. But just as certain as this fact is the other, that Christ will appear a second time, that He will return in glory to judge the quick and the dead. And when He does appear, visible to the eye, it will not be for the purpose of establishing a millennial kingdom here on earth, but of giving, transmitting, to those that have patiently waited for Him in faith, eternal salvation, of taking them up to the eternal mansions. Cp. 2 Tim. 4, 8. Thus Jesus Christ is the Mediator of a better covenant than that of the Old Testament. Thus may we put our firm trust in Him as our Savior.

Summary. In showing that the Old Testament cult is inferior to the perfection of Christ's sacrifice, the inspired writer gives a description of the Tabernacle and its appointments, indicates how imperfect the ministry of the Old Testament priests was in comparison with the office of Christ, argues for the necessity of His death, proving, incidentally, that the demands of the new and better covenant are fully satisfied by Christ’s perfect sacrifice.