“Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary” (Hebrews 9:1).
We can view our journey through the Biblical book of Hebrews much like a road trip that winds its way through a variety of landscapes. The current leg of our journey began in chapter eight and will continue into chapter ten, where the scene will change once again. But first, the author of Hebrews will guide us into the heart of the discussion he began in the previous chapter.
That conversation involved the Old and New Covenants, the Levitical priesthood, Jesus’ priestly ministry, and the earthbound Tabernacle that imitated the genuine article in heaven. Our author will advance that discussion here in chapter nine with a summary of the Tabernacle, as well as a few of the services that were performed there.
While the Old Testament Scriptures go into great detail regarding the Tabernacle and its ordinances, there are limits to our ability to analyze those subjects. This is something our author freely admits (Hebrews 9:5). Nevertheless, he will address certain aspects of those topics that allow him to make his point: “…[Jesus] has appeared once and for all, to remove sin through the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26 GNT).
Hebrews chapter nine also makes use of two words that are closely related: tabernacle and sanctuary. The word “tabernacle” appears fifteen times in the New King James Version of the New Testament and forty percent of those instances occur here in Hebrews chapter nine. Therefore, it is well worth the effort to familiarize ourselves with this important Biblical subject.
The tabernacle referenced in Hebrews chapter nine refers to the tent-like structure that served as God’s dwelling place following Israel’s departure from the nation of Egypt. Later in Israel’s history, this movable structure was replaced by Temple buildings that were far more permanent.
The word “sanctuary” identifies an area that is “set apart for God, to be as it were, exclusively his.” (1) While the word “sanctuary” may refer to the Tabernacle as a whole, it probably best applied to a specific portion of the Tabernacle. Our author will provide us with a descriptive analysis of that area later in this chapter.
Finally, the Old Covenant mandated a substantial number of regulations (CSB), ordinances (KJV), and rules (GW) in regard to the Tabernacle. Our author will discuss some of those directives here in chapter nine as he continues to build his case for Christ as our great High Priest.
(1) G39 hagion Thayer’s Greek Definitions https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g39/kjv/tr/0-1/
“The first covenant had rules for worship and a place made for worship as well” (Hebrews 9:1 GNB).
Our modern-day word “worship” is derived from the ancient phrase “worth-ship.” That expression was used to describe “a condition of being worthy.” (1) One core component of “worship” thus involves the attribution of worth to someone or something. This is important, for it means that the concept of worship extends far beyond the bounds of religious expression.
You see, virtually everyone holds a set of priorities that fulfills the “condition of being worthy.” At the top of that hierarchy is the thing we value most in life. To put it another way, we attribute the highest worth to anything we love, fear, or respect the most. That leads us to a vital conclusion: the thing that occupies that highest position of worth in our lives serves as the ultimate object of our worship.
Whenever someone chooses to dismiss the existence of God, he or she must exchange Him with something else as the object of highest worth in life. That “something” doesn’t have to be a spiritual concept or belief. Instead, it might be a person, a thing, an idea, or even ourselves. The Biblical Scriptures refer to this as “idolatry.”
Once something becomes more important than God in one’s life, that something (whatever it is) effectively becomes his or her idol. To illustrate this, let’s take the example of someone who views the accumulation of financial wealth as the highest priority in life. In reality, that person is just as idolatrous as someone who bowed before a pagan statue in the Old Testament era.
In the original language of the New Testament, the definition of worship conveys the image of kissing one’s hand, much as one might do in the presence of royalty today. (2) Therefore, a similar attitude of reverence should characterize those who claim to worship God, for “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24 NIV).
“Worship” should also encompass a lifestyle that demonstrates respect for God in our thoughts, words, and actions. With this in mind, we can say that worship involves more than just music and song; it means honoring God with the position of highest worth in every area of life. As we’re told in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians…
“According to some people, there are a great many gods, both in heaven and on earth. But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created all things and made us to be his own; and one Lord Jesus Christ, who made everything and gives us life” (1 Corinthians 8:5-6 TLB).
(1) Lexico.com, “Worthship” Retrieved 01 August, 2022 from https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/worthship
(2) G4352 proskuneo Thayer’s Greek Definitions https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g4352/kjv/tr/0-1/
“For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary” (Hebrews 9:2).
The Old Covenant Tabernacle mentioned in Hebrews 9:2 began with God’s command to Moses, as recorded in the Biblical book of Exodus:
“Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering. From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering… And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it” (Exodus 25:8-9).
One source offers a brief but thorough description of the Tabernacle along with its surrounding environment…
“The tabernacle was a tentlike structure in which God dwelt among the Israelites from the time of their encampment at Mount Sinai to the building of the temple. The area around the tabernacle was called the outer court. It was enclosed by a fence consisting of a series of bronze posts with linen cloth stretched between them. As the Israelite entered the tabernacle court through the gate at the east, he came to the altar of burnt offering, where the sacrificial animals were slain and burned; then to the laver, a large bronze stand containing water, in which the priests washed their hands and feet.
The tabernacle itself measured about 45 feet long, 15 feet wide, and 15 feet high. It was divided into two compartments. The first, the Holy Place, was 30 feet long and the second, the Most Holy Place, was 15 feet long.
The tent consisted of a wooden framework covered by goats’ hair curtains and weatherproof drapes of animal skins. These coverings formed the top, back, and sides of the tent. The front of the tabernacle was an embroidered veil.” (1)
So this imposing structure communicated something important to the people of Old Testament Israel: it said that God was present with His people, but not freely accessible. This becomes more evident as we examine the inner structure of the tabernacle and its contents. For instance, the first item inventoried here in Hebrews 9:2 is “the lampstand.”
This lampstand was constructed of gold and featured a middle stem with six branches, according to Exodus 25:31-40. This lamp provided the only source of light within the Tabernacle, and the Levitical priests were directed to attend to it regularly to prevent its light from being extinguished (Exodus 27:20–21). We’ll consider the other items mentioned in Hebrews 9:2 next.
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers (Hebrews 9:2) p.2260
“For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place” (Hebrews 9:2).
As we continue our guided tour through the Old Testament Tabernacle here in Hebrews 9:2, we now come to some additional items that resided within the area known as “the Holy Place.” The Holy Place comprised a section that encompassed the outer portion of the Tabernacle interior. The table mentioned in this passage was constructed from acacia wood and overlaid with gold according to instructions given to Moses in the Biblical book of Exodus…
“You shall also make a table of acacia wood; two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, and make a molding of gold all around” (Exodus 25:23-24).
A “cubit” represented an ancient unit of measurement that was roughly equal to the distance from a person’s elbow to the tip of his or her middle finger. The exact measurement varied throughout the Biblical era but likely represented an equivalent length of 18-24 inches (or 46-61 cm). Therefore, we can calculate the dimensions of this table to an approximate length of 3-4 feet (92-122 cm), a width of 1.5-2 feet (46-122 cm), and a height of 2.5-3 feet (69-91 cm).
The primary object residing on that table was known as the “Showbread” or the “Bread of the Presence” according to Exodus 25:30. We find a description of that bread in the Biblical book of Leviticus…
“Take fine flour and bake it into twelve loaves; each loaf is to be made with four quarts. Arrange them in two rows, six to a row, on the pure gold table before the Lord. Place pure frankincense near each row, so that it may serve as a memorial portion for the bread and a food offering to the Lord.
The bread is to be set out before the Lord every Sabbath day as a permanent covenant obligation on the part of the Israelites. It belongs to Aaron and his sons, who are to eat it in a holy place, for it is the holiest portion for him from the food offerings to the Lord; this is a permanent rule” (Leviticus 24:5-9 CSB).
This bread was significant for several reasons. We’ll examine what the Showbread meant for Old Testament Israel and see how Jesus used it as an object lesson in our next study.
“The first part of the tent was called the holy place, and a lampstand, a table, and the sacred loaves of bread were kept there” (Hebrews 9:2 CEV).
These “sacred loaves of bread” were also known as the “Showbread” or “Bread of the Presence” because they were set before God’s presence within the Old Testament tabernacle. These loaves (which we might associate with a type of flatbread today) were rotated on a weekly basis and then given to the priests to eat. There were twelve loaves of Showbread, a number that provided a ready association with the twelve tribes of Israel.
However, this bread meant something more, for Jesus once made use of an incident involving the Showbread to communicate an important spiritual lesson…
“Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
“But He said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” (Mark 2:23-26).
By the first century A.D., Israel’s religious leadership had developed an extensive list of traditional observances associated with the Old Testament Law. One such tradition involved the act of picking individual kernels of grain and eating them on the Sabbath. Since this involved harvesting each kernel and separating the outer husk, Jesus’ disciples had engaged in “work” according to these religious leaders. The issue arose from the fact that labor was strictly prohibited during the Sabbath according to the Old Testament Law (see Exodus 34:21).
Jesus responded by using His knowledge of the Scriptures to identify an error in their accusation. He did so by referencing the account of David as chronicled in the Biblical book of 1 Samuel (see 1 Samuel 21:1-6). That passage of Scripture records some of David’s activities while he was being pursued by Israel’s king Saul. During that time, David met with a priest and requested something to eat. The priest had nothing to offer David except the Showbread and subsequently gave it to him.
While this account may not seem to hold a great deal of application to our passage from Hebrews, we’ll see how Jesus made use of this incident to provide an important spiritual application next.
“There were two rooms in that Tabernacle. In the first room were a lampstand, a table, and sacred loaves of bread on the table. This room was called the Holy Place” (Hebrews 9:2 NLT).
An Old Testament priest was the only person who could lawfully eat the sacred loaves of bread mentioned here in Hebrews 9:2. Yet, Israel’s king David once ate such bread when nothing else was available, according to 1 Samuel 21:1-6. Many generations later, Jesus referenced that incident to illustrate an important spiritual principle.
Even though David breached the letter of the Old Testament Law in eating this bread, God did not condemn him for doing so. This tells us that human need represents a legitimate consideration whenever we are engaged in the spiritual decision- making process. In cases where genuine human need exists, David’s example indicates that God has allowed for that need to take precedence over traditional or ceremonial observances.
However, this does not mean that human need outweighs God’s Law in every instance. If that were the case, then we might escape any responsibility to obey God’s Word simply by characterizing something we want as “a need.” Instead, we can find a better guiding principle in the words of Hosea 6:6: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (NIV).
Since Jesus’ disciples had been accused of violating the law against working on the Sabbath, Jesus used David’s example to provide a correct understanding of the Sabbath’s function: “People were not made for the good of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for the good of people” (Mark 2:27 CEV). In other words, the Sabbath was created for the benefit of humanity and not the other way around. Unfortunately, the religious establishment of Jesus’ day had turned that beneficial directive into a burden through their erroneous interpretation.
In light of this, it’s important to remember a primary theme that runs through the Biblical book of Hebrews: Jesus’ dominion over all. Thus, it should not be surprising to find that Jesus exercised His prerogative to define appropriate conduct on the Sabbath. As He Himself said, “Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). In this, and other judgment calls of life, all interpretations are ultimately subordinate to His.
One source completes our look at the Showbread from Hebrews 9:2 with the following insight…
“The Old Testament showbread placed on the table in the tabernacle provides a wonderful picture of Jesus, the Bread of Life. Jesus is holy before God, He provides true sustenance, and He is always present. ‘Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry’” (John 6:35). (1)
(1) GotQuestions.org, What was the bread of the Presence (Exodus 25:30)? Retrieved 08 August, 2022 from https://www.gotquestions.org/bread-of-the-presence.html
“and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All” (Hebrews 9:3).
The Old Testament Tabernacle featured two veiled entrances, one exterior and one interior. The first veil separated the interior portion of the Tabernacle (known as the Holy Place) from the exterior courtyard. The second veil separated the Holy Place from another interior area known as the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies, or the “Holiest of All” as referenced in the passage quoted above.
Beyond that interior veil was the place where God manifested His direct presence. The “Holiest of All” represented the dwelling place of God and one source provides us with a concise, but detailed portrait of that sacred location…
“The room known as the Holy of Holies was the innermost and most sacred area of the ancient tabernacle of Moses and temple of Jerusalem. The Holy of Holies was constructed as a perfect cube. It contained only the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of Israel’s special relationship with God.
The Holy of Holies was accessible only to the Israelite high priest. Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the high priest was permitted to enter the small, windowless enclosure to burn incense and sprinkle the blood of a sacrificial animal on the mercy seat of the Ark. By doing so, the high priest atoned for his own sins and those of the people.
The Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the tabernacle/temple by the veil, a huge, heavy drape made of fine linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn and embroidered with gold cherubim. God said that He would appear in the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 16:2); hence, the need for the veil…
The veil and the elaborate rituals undertaken by the priest were a reminder that man could not carelessly or irreverently enter God’s awesome presence. Before the high priest entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he had to wash himself, put on special clothing, bring burning incense to let the smoke cover his eyes from a direct view of God, and bring sacrificial blood with him to make atonement for sins (Exodus 28; Hebrews 9:7).” (1)
So, those who served God in this manner were responsible to approach Him with an attitude of utmost reverence and respect. Those who failed to do so made that choice at the cost of their lives (see Leviticus 16:2 and Leviticus 22:9). These passages thus remind us that we should also approach God in Christ with a similar attitude of esteem and reverence today.
(1) GotQuestions.org, What was the Holy of Holies? Retrieved 08 August, 2022 from https://www.gotquestions.org/Holy-of-Holies.html
“which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant” (Hebrews 9:4).
Although the Scriptures do not provide us with a description of the golden censer mentioned here in Hebrews 9:4, the Old Testament book of Leviticus offers a look at its function…
“The Lord said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover…
He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die’” (Leviticus 16:2, 12-13 NIV).
So, this cloud of fragrant incense shielded the officiating priest from a direct view of the almighty God on the Day of Atonement. We find the reason behind that precautionary measure in Exodus 33:20: “…you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live” (NIV).
Nevertheless, there seems to be a question of whether the original language of this passage actually refers to the Tabernacle’s altar of incense. This altar stood outside the Most Holy Place according to Exodus 30:6 and not within it as we read here in Hebrews 9:4. If this passage is meant to refer to this altar, then we have several options available to reconcile this seeming inconsistency.
One approach views the altar of incense as an appendage of the Holy Place. This would be comparable to the exterior signage of a business. Even though a sign is located outside the building or storefront, it belongs to the business and not the street. (1) However, the best explanation is probably offered by the following commentary…
“Verse 4 says that the golden censer was also in the Most Holy Place. The Greek word translated censer can mean either the incense altar (mentioned in Exo 30:6 as being in the Holy Place) or the censer with which the high priest carried the incense. The best explanation is the latter. The writer regarded the censer as belonging to the Most Holy Place because the high priest carried it in from the incense altar into the Holiest Place on the Day of Atonement.” (2)
(1) See Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Hebrews 9”. “Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/hebrews-9.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
(2) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers (2 Corinthians 5:10) p.2261
“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” (Hebrews 9:4 ESV).
At the heart of the Holy of Holies stood the ark of the covenant. The ark was a chest that was constructed of acacia wood and overlaid with gold according to Exodus 25:10-22. The top (or lid) of the ark was known as the mercy seat (Exodus 25:17), a term that communicated the image of a sovereign authority who pardoned the sins of His people under the Old Covenant.
Two angelic beings known as cherubim were positioned above the ark at either end. Humanity first encountered these angelic cherubim when God stationed them “…east of the Garden of Eden, with a flaming sword to guard the entrance to the Tree of Life” (Genesis 3:24 TLB). The prophet Ezekiel also interacted with cherubim, as detailed in Ezekiel chapter ten.
The cherubim above the ark of the covenant faced one another with their wings stretched above the mercy seat (Exodus 25:18-20). It was there between these majestic angels that God manifested His divine presence. However, Hebrews 9:4 also draws our attention to the items that resided within the ark: “…a gold jar containing manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant” (CEB).
Although this passage summarizes the ark’s contents, it also appears that some items may have been added or deleted over time. For instance, Exodus 25:16 tells us that God directed Moses to “Place inside the Ark the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you” (NLT). Later on we’re told, “…Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved” (Exodus 16:34 NIV). Finally, God gave the following directive to Moses in Numbers 17:10: “‘Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony…’” (ESV).
But by the time we reach the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, we’re told, “There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 8:9 ESV). So it seems that the contents of the ark changed over the course of Israel’s history.
Thus, as one scholar concludes, “Originally, all three items (tables of stone, pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod) were in the ark (as Heb. 9:4 says). Subsequently, the last two were removed (Ex. 40:20).” (1)
(1) Norman L. Geisler and Thomas A. Howe, When Critics Ask : A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992), [Hebrews 9:4].
“It contained the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered entirely with gold. In this ark were the golden urn containing the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant” (Hebrews 9:4 NET).
In addition to the “…stone tablets with the commandments written on them” (GNT) and “Aaron’s staff that budded” (CSB), the ark of the covenant also contained a jar of manna. “Manna” was the food that God miraculously provided for the people of Israel following their departure from the land of Egypt. The Biblical book of Exodus provides us with a description of this supernatural, frost-like substance…
“…in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor… when the sun grew hot, it melted away… The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:13-14, 21, 31 NIV).
Manna turned out to be a highly versatile ingredient and the people of Israel promptly began to bake it, boil it, grind it up, and make it into cakes (Exodus 16:23, Numbers 11:8). That was good- for a while, at least…
“Then the Egyptians who had come with them began to long for the good things of Egypt. This added to the discontent of the people of Israel and they wept, ‘Oh, for a few bites of meat! Oh, that we had some of the delicious fish we enjoyed so much in Egypt, and the wonderful cucumbers and melons, leeks, onions, and garlic! But now our strength is gone, and day after day we have to face this manna!’” (Numbers 11: 4-6 TLB).
As you might expect, that ungrateful demonstration did not end well. The book of Exodus also tells us how this jar of manna made its way into the ark of the covenant…
“Then Moses gave them this further instruction from the Lord: they were to take two quarts of (manna) to be kept… so that later generations could see the bread the Lord had fed them with in the wilderness, when he brought them from Egypt. Moses told Aaron to get a container and put two quarts of manna in it and to keep it in a sacred place from generation to generation. Aaron did this, just as the Lord had instructed Moses, and eventually it was kept in the Ark in the Tabernacle” (Exodus 16:32-36 TLB).
So this jar of manna symbolized God’s gracious provision, as well as a reminder of the need to demonstrate respect and appreciation for His blessings in our lives.
“and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail” (Hebrews 9:5).
Many of us probably know someone who likes to digress into unrelated topics when conversing with others. That prospect seemed to concern the author of Hebrews as he reviewed the various items related to the Tabernacle here in chapter nine. While our author might have taken the opportunity to discuss those elements in greater detail, he was unwilling to divert his audience’s attention from the subject at hand.
In this instance, the subject at hand involved the symbolic aspects of the tabernacle and its furnishings as they related to Christ. One such item was the mercy seat mentioned earlier. While the mercy seat offered a powerful image of a sovereign authority who pardoned the sins of His people, the underlying significance of this term is even more important.
In the original language of Hebrews 9:5, the term “mercy seat” is associated with the word “propitiation.” This is an important Biblical concept that refers to the satisfaction of God’s justice and the appeasement of His righteous anger towards those who have broken His laws. It also conveys the idea of “paying the price” that was necessary to reconcile sinful human beings with the God who created them.
These definitions direct our attention to Jesus and His sacrificial work on our behalf. He was the one who willingly paid the price that secures eternal salvation for sinful human beings. The New Testament book of Romans discusses this key Biblical doctrine in a familiar portion of Scripture…
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…” (Romans 3:23-25 ESV).
To this, the Biblical epistle of 1 John adds…
“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [that is, the atoning sacrifice, and the satisfying offering] for our sins [fulfilling God’s requirement for justice against sin and placating His wrath]” (1 John 4:10 AMP).
So, while it surely would have been fascinating to join our author in a detailed analysis of the tabernacle and its furnishings, our inspired author chose to stay on point in using those elements to illustrate the access to God that is available through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice.
“These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties” (Hebrews 9:6 ESV).
The Gospel of Luke contains an element from Jesus’ birth narrative that relates to our passage here in Hebrews 9:6. That portion of Scripture chronicles the experience of a priest named Zechariah…
“One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense. All the people who gathered to worship were praying outside during this hour of incense offering” (Luke 1:8-10 CEB).
The following verses tell us that an angel appeared to Zechariah during that time to inform him that he and his wife would become parents of a son. In accord with that promise, Zechariah’s wife bore a son who is better known to us today as John the Baptist. However, the tasks associated with Zechariah’s priestly ministry are of greater interest to us as they relate to this portion of Scripture from Hebrews 9:6.
We can begin by noting that Zechariah was engaged in the “ritual duties” that our author references in verse nine. In this instance, Zechariah was given the responsibility of burning fragrant incense before the Lord in the area of the sanctuary known as The Holy Place. This took place twice each day, once in the morning, and again in the evening. Although it is not mentioned in Luke’s account, Zechariah would have also been responsible for tending the sanctuary’s lampstand during that time as well (see Exodus 30:7-9).
Another ritual duty involved replenishing the showbread once a week, as mentioned earlier. Taken together, these ministries constituted the “religious duties” (Phillips) performed by these Levitical priests. These priestly ministers were the only ones who held access to these areas; everyone else was strictly prohibited from entering.
Yet even though these priests had held lawful access to the sanctuary, the author of Hebrews will soon remind us that “free access” and “unlimited access” are not necessarily synonymous. You see, our author is about to reiterate the fact that there was only one person on earth who could enter the inner portion of the tabernacle (or the Most Holy Place), and then only once a year.
Those Old Covenant limitations provide us with an object lesson concerning access to God. That lesson proceeds directly from the Holy Spirit, and we’ll examine its meaning in greater detail over the course of the next few studies.
“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” (Hebrews 9:7 ESV).
While it often seems tedious to engage with repetitive details, the act of doing so can help us retain important information. For instance, let’s take this passage from Hebrews 9:7 as an example. If a portion of this Scripture seems familiar, it may be related to the fact that this verse reiterates something mentioned earlier in chapters five and seven of this epistle…
“For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness. Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins” (Hebrews 5:1-3).
“For such a High Priest was fitting for us… who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Hebrews 7:26-27).
These passages remind us that the priests of the Old Testament era were fallible human beings, just like anyone else. This explains why the High Priest offered sacrifices for his sins as mentioned in the verses quoted above. It was only after the priest fulfilled these sacrificial requirements that he was permitted to minister on behalf of others. However, Jesus was sinless, and did not need to offer such sacrifices. Thus, He is uniquely qualified to serve as our High Priest.
Finally, Hebrews 9:7 mentions a sacrificial offering for the “…unintentional sins of the people.” We might associate this reference with the sinful acts that human beings commit in error. It might also include inadvertent sins that result from thoughtlessness, ignorance, or involuntary negligence. One source provides us with some further information regarding these types of sins…
“During the administration of God’s kingdom on earth before Christ, sacrifices for sin took away only sins ‘committed in ignorance.’ The Greek word in verse 7 corresponds to a Hebrew term in Leviticus 4, which deals with the sin offerings. That word may be translated ‘sin of inadvertency’ or ‘unintentional sin,’ but most precisely it refers to a ‘sin of wandering astray.’” (1)
(1) Sproul, R. C. (1994). Before the face of God: Book 4: A daily guide for living from Ephesians, Hebrews, and James (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries.
“But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance” (Hebrews 9:7).
There is a symbolic element within this verse that undoubtedly held significance for the original audience of this epistle. For contemporary readers of this passage, some background information can help us develop a greater appreciation for the conclusions that our author will begin to draw in the following verse.
For instance, the “second part” of the tabernacle refers to the Most Holy Place mentioned earlier. The only period when a human being could lawfully enter God’s presence there occurred on the annual Day of Atonement. That human being was the High Priest and Leviticus chapter sixteen details his agenda for that day.
First, the High Priest was required to bathe and “…put on his linen tunic and the linen undergarments worn next to his body. He must tie the linen sash around his waist and put the linen turban on his head” (Leviticus 16:4 NLT). He had to sacrifice a young bull for his sins (and those within his household) as well as a ram for a burnt offering (Leviticus 16:5-6).
What happened next was rich with significance…
“From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering… Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.
…When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:5, 7-10, 20-22 NIV).
The following verse will serve to explain why our author has focused on these offerings. We’ll take a closer look at those conclusions next.
“By these regulations the Holy Spirit revealed that the entrance to the Most Holy Place was not freely open as long as the Tabernacle and the system it represented were still in use” (Hebrews 9:8 NLT).
In speaking with His disciples in John 15:26, Jesus identified the Holy Spirit as the parakletos in the original language of that passage. This word is used to describe someone who serves as an advocate who seeks to aid, counsel, and help others. (1) Jesus alluded to these aspects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in other portions of the Gospel of John as well…
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16 NIV).
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26).
In commenting on the Holy Spirit’s instructional role, Jesus also said, “…when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:13 NIV). These doctrinal truths prepare us to move into a discussion concerning the Old Testament sacrificial system and the Holy Spirit’s revelation to us here in Hebrews 9:8.
You see, the Holy Spirit uses the limitations placed upon the High Priest to teach us that free and open access to God was unobtainable under the Old Covenant. Three commentators lend their insights to this important revelation…
“The Levitical system did not provide any direct access into God’s presence for His people. Rather, it kept them away. Nearness had to be provided by another way (v. 12). This is the primary lesson which the Holy Spirit taught concerning the tabernacle. It teaches how inaccessible God is apart from the death of Jesus Christ.” (2)
“There were deep spiritual truths connected with this. The Holy Spirit was teaching that sin had created distance between man and God, that man must approach God through a mediator, and that the mediator could approach God only through the blood of a sacrificial victim. It was an object lesson to teach that the way into God’s presence was not yet opened for worshipers” (3)
“The veil that screened the Most Holy Place and forbade entrance, save once a year, taught that fellowship with God was not fully open. Ignorance, unbelief, unpreparedness of heart still weave a heavy veil which screens God from the soul’s gaze” (4)
(1) G3875 parakletos Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g3875
(2) John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), Heb 9:8.
(3) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers (Hebrews 9:2) p.2261
(4) F. B. Meyer, B.A., Through the Bible Day by Day, Hebrews 9:1-10 The Imperfect Way Of Approach To God
“It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience–” (Hebrews 9:9).
One of the more prominent aspects of Jesus’ ministry involved His use of parables. A parable is a teaching method that uses a short story that serves to illustrate a spiritual truth or moral lesson. A parable works by taking a familiar custom from everyday life and using it to demonstrate a hidden spiritual reality. For example, Jesus’ parables used illustrations that were easy to understand and associate with Biblical truths that were more difficult to grasp.
This teaching method takes on greater significance when we examine the word “symbolic” (or “figure”) here in Hebrews 9:9. “Symbolic” is derived from the word parabole in the original language of this passage and forms the basis for our modern-day word “parable.” So just as Jesus’ parables point the way to deeper spiritual truths, the tabernacle (along with its offerings and furnishings) represents an object lesson as well.
We can draw several parabolic applications from the tabernacle and its associated practices. For instance, consider the work of the Levitical priests. Since the high priest was the only person who was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies (and then only once a year), his work demonstrated that access to God was highly restricted. The repetitive nature of those Levitical sacrifices tells us that an all-inclusive offering for sin was unavailable under the Old Covenant. Then there was the fact that the priests were required to offer sacrifices for their personal sins before they could minister to others.
In addition to these external examples, there is also the matter of our internal consciences. Under the New Covenant, we are told, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”(1 John 1:9). But our passage from Hebrews 9:9 reminds us that this was not the case under the Old Covenant: “…under the old system, gifts and sacrifices were offered, but these failed to cleanse the hearts of the people who brought them” (TLB). Those sacrifices had no effect upon the internal attitudes of those who offered them, but that will be a subject for discussion in our next study.
So, these Old Covenant practices served as living parables that illustrated the need for something better. As our author has reiterated throughout this epistle, Jesus is that better way.
“This has an important lesson for us today. For under the old system, gifts and sacrifices were offered, but these failed to cleanse the hearts of the people who brought them. (Hebrews 9:9 TLB).
The Biblical book of Romans contains a well-known and oft-quoted portion of Scripture: “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This spiritual reality places every member of the human family in a desperate position, for there is nothing we can do on our own to escape that condition and get right with God.
Nevertheless, God has responded to this problem by offering a means of reconciliation. An extensive system of animal sacrifices served that purpose under the Old Covenant, as God graciously accepted the death of an animal on behalf of the sinner. The Old Testament book of Leviticus summarizes that arrangement for us: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Leviticus 17:11 NIV).
The Mosaic Law also established standards for these sacrificial animals. For instance, there were animals that were clean and those that were unclean. Some animals were appropriate for sacrifice while others were not. A sacrificial animal also had to be free of any defect. Finally, those who brought these sacrificial offerings had to personally identify with their sacrifices.
Although the people of Israel received genuine forgiveness through these offerings, there were some flaws within this system. First, the blood of bulls, goats, and other sacrificial animals held no inherent worth with respect to sin and forgiveness. As the following chapter of Hebrews will go on to tell us, “…it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).
As mentioned earlier, these Old Covenant sacrifices also failed to cleanse the consciences of those who brought them. Much like the Biblical account of a man who fulfilled his religious commitments but struggled with a nagging sense of spiritual debt, we may fulfill a series of external religious obligations yet still maintain a sense of debt within our consciences.
Thus, the Old Testament sacrificial system was clearly incapable of serving as a permanent solution to humanity’s estrangement from God. Instead, it graphically illustrated the fact that sin results in death (Romans 6:23). Yet just as God Himself provided those Old Covenant sacrifices, so He also provided the New Covenant sacrifice in the Person of His Son.
“concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation” (Hebrews 9:10).
Most of us are undoubtedly familiar with the concept of an expiration date. For instance, many grocery store items carry a “sell by” date that tells a consumer when it is safe to consume various food products. However, many other products, including batteries, medications, coupons, games, and contests, also carry expiration dates as well. Once those commodities exceed their date parameters, they often become spoiled, useless, or invalid.
In a similar manner, the Old Covenant means of relating to God carried an “expiration date” as well. That expiration date was reached when the Old Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant that was initiated through Jesus’ sacrificial death. The Gospel of Matthew records how Jesus established that Covenant at the Last Supper with His disciples…
“Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom’” (Matthew 26:27-29).
While the civil, ceremonial, and moral laws enacted under the Old Covenant have much to teach us, they lacked the transformative power necessary to change the hearts and cleanse the consciences of those who sought to approach God under them. Thus, the external regulations related to the Old Covenant were “imposed until the time of reformation.” That reformation occurred when Jesus invalidated the Old Covenant through His atoning death.
One Biblical scholar provides us with some additional insight into the word “reformation” as it is found here in Hebrews 9:10…
“The word translated ‘reformation’ is interesting and important. It is diorthosis, from the verb diorthoo. The word means in its physical sense the making straight, the restoring to its natural and normal condition, something which in some way protrudes or has gotten out of line, as for instance broken or misshapen limbs. It means ‘to set things to rights.’
…The word in its context here means ‘to bring matters to a satisfactory state.’ It refers to the introduction of the New Testament which latter displaces the First Testament. The First Testament never was satisfactory, so far as offering a sacrifice that could pay for sin was concerned. It could not actually in itself save the believer.” (1)
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [Hebrews 9:10] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” (Hebrews 9:11).
Hebrews 9:11 marks an important transition, for it speaks of a “…greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation)” (CSB).
You see, the author of Hebrews offered a description of the Mosaic tabernacle along with its furnishings and practices earlier within this chapter. For instance, he discussed the interior room divisions between the Holy Place and Most Holy Place. He addressed the veil (or curtain) that separated those two inner rooms. He spoke about the lampstand, the table, and the consecrated bread (or showbread). He talked about the altar of incense, the ark of the covenant, and the items that resided within the ark. Finally, our author discussed the cherubim that were placed above the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat itself.
But after completing that extensive inventory, our author then followed with a rather abrupt conclusion: “…now is not the time to discuss these things in detail” (Hebrews 9:5 CJB). With this in mind, we might ask why he chose to provide us with such a comprehensive list. The answer to that question is given to us here in Hebrews 9:11 and the verse that follows.
Having established this foundation related to the tabernacle and its furnishings, our author will now contrast those items to Jesus’ ministry within a greater tabernacle. Hebrews 9:11 opens that portion of our author’s discussion in saying that “…Christ does not serve in a place like the tent that those other priests served in. He serves in a better place. Unlike that tent, this one is perfect. It was not made by anyone here on earth. It does not belong to this world” (ERV).
When God communicated His design for the Old Covenant tabernacle and its accouterments, He said to Moses, “Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you” (Exodus 25:9 NIV). The tabernacle that was constructed under that design was an earthly representation of the place where God dwells, and Jesus ministers today.
So, while the Levitical high priest ministered within a tabernacle here on earth, Hebrews 9:11 tells us that Jesus serves in a superior sanctuary. In fact, the following verse will tell us that Jesus has entered the very throne room of God. Thus, He ministers in a place that is greater than anything a mere human being might construct.
“Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).
Hebrews 9:12 builds upon the previous verse is saying that Jesus offers eternal redemption, once for all, by his own blood. Because of this, we can say that Jesus’ sacrificial offering is efficacious for everyone, everywhere.
To illustrate this gracious act of redemption, consider the contrast that our author draws in this passage. For instance, the Levitical high priest was compelled to offer a sacrifice in order to enter the Most Holy Place under the Old Covenant Law. Jesus offered a sacrifice as well, but it wasn’t a sacrificial animal he brought. Instead, this passage tells us that Jesus “…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.”
Furthermore, the Old Covenant allowed for the sacrificial death of an unblemished animal as a substitutionary offering. This foreshadowed Jesus’ own sacrificial death on our behalf. The following commentary sheds additional light on the sacrificial offerings associated with the annual Day of Atonement and allows us to contemplate how they prefigured Jesus’ atoning work…
“the author of Hebrews relies on the OT for the religious metaphors used to illustrate Jesus’ sacrificial death. Three sacrifices were associated with the offering on the Day of Atonement: a bull and two goats. The priest offered the bull on behalf of himself and his family (Lev 16:6, 11). One goat was presented alive as the scapegoat. The Israelites would then release the scapegoat into the wilderness in order to take away sins from Israel (Lev 16:10). The second goat would be slaughtered for a sin offering (Lev 16:15).” (1)
Finally, three additional commentators explain this somewhat perplexing reference to “his own blood” within this passage…
“Did Jesus take his blood into heaven and show it to God? No, Jesus’ blood was displayed on the cross. On the basis of that display, God opened heaven to him, making his ascension possible.” (2)
“The ‘with’ is more accurately rendered ‘through.’ It is not as though He took a bowl of blood. Rather, His shed blood was the channel of access” (3)
“This is the great distinction between Christ as High Priest and all other high priests. They offer blood (verse 7), but he offered his own blood.” (4)
(1) John D. Barry, Douglas Mangum, Derek R. Brown, et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Heb 9:12.
(2) Sproul, R. C. (1994). Before the face of God: Book 4: A daily guide for living from Ephesians, Hebrews, and James (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries.
(3) Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 1649
(4) A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 5:399, quoted in Constable, Thomas. DD., Notes on Hebrews 2022 Edition, [9:12]
“With His own blood–not the blood of goats and calves–He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever” (Hebrews 9:12 NLT).
Many consumers are undoubtedly familiar with the various redemption plans offered by retailers and others. These programs typically furnish discounts, free products, and/or priority shipping incentives for those who enroll in them. In a similar manner, the idea of “redemption” represents a key Biblical concept, but one that is quite dissimilar to the redemption plans we may encounter today.
You see, the redemption plans offered by merchants, financial institutions, and business organizations generally center around the idea of an “exchange.” For instance, a consumer may agree to use a merchant’s preferred form of payment in exchange for a product or service discount. In this example, the buyer gives something, and the seller gives something back.
However, the Biblical concept of redemption referenced here in Hebrews 9:12 conveys something very different. Here, the word “redemption” is associated with the idea of deliverance, especially from the penalty of sin. (1) With this in mind, we can say that Jesus’ sacrificial death secured our redemption in the sense that He delivered us from the eternal death penalty that accompanies sin. As we’re told in the Biblical book of Galatians…
“But when the right time finally came, God sent his own Son. He came as the son of a human mother and lived under the Jewish Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might become God’s children” (Galatians 4:4-5 GNT).
In the words of another source, “The [Old Testament] High Priest obtained annual redemption; Christ obtained eternal redemption.” (2)
From another perspective, we can say that Jesus also fulfills the Biblical role of a “kinsman-redeemer.” A kinsman-redeemer was a family member who possessed the ability to redeem property, liberate a relative from servitude, continue the lineage of a deceased relative, or enforce the law upon those who killed or injured another family member.
A kinsman-redeemer had to meet three prerequisites to serve in that role:
- He had to be related to the person in question.
- He had to possess the ability to act.
- He had to be willing to do so.
Thus, it is easy to apply this concept to Christ. First, Jesus serves as our kinsman-redeemer in the sense that He is related to us through our common humanity. Next, His death on the cross redeemed us from our state of separation from God. Finally, Jesus willingly paid the price necessary to secure our deliverance.
(1) G3085 Lutrosis https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g3085/kjv/tr/0-1/
(2) Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, Hebrews Chapter 9:1-14. Christ and the Tabernacle [pg. 653] Copyright © 2000, 2007 by Halley’s Bible Handbook, Inc.
“For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13-14).
These verses present us with a rhetorical question. A “rhetorical question” is a literary device that uses an obvious answer to emphasize a point or validate an opinion. For instance, Hebrews 9:13 tells us that these Old Covenant offerings provided external cleansing. With that in mind, we can ask a rhetorical question: how much more effective is Jesus’ sacrificial offering than those Old Testament precursors?
The answer to that question is easy: Jesus’ sacrifice is far more effective because it cleanses us internally as well. In a sense, those Old Testament sacrifices were much like the proverbial act of sweeping dirt under a rug. Even though we can no longer see the dirt after it has been swept under a rug, that doesn’t mean the dirt is gone.
On the other hand, Jesus’ sacrificial offering was far different. To continue with our analogy, Jesus did not sweep our sins under the rug, so to speak. Instead, He permanently swept them away through His sacrificial death. To borrow a phrase from Psalm 103:12, “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (NLT).
This means we can approach God with the knowledge that our sins have not merely been covered up but “swept clean” to God’s satisfaction in Christ as we follow the Biblical path outlined in 1 John 1:9…
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
We’ll talk more about the application of 1 John 1:9 in our next study. For now, we can say that this verse is the antidote for those feelings of separation from God that we may experience as a result of our sins. As we’re told in another portion of the Biblical book of 1 John, “…if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (1 John 3:20).
Thus, it is important to remember that God is greater than our hearts or our consciences. If we confess our sins according to 1 John 1:9, then God assures us that we are forgiven, no matter what our feelings may tell us.
“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. (Hebrews 9:14 ESV).
Earlier in Hebrews 8:3 we read, “…since every high priest is required to offer gifts and sacrifices, our High Priest must make an offering, too” (NLT). So what priestly gift and sacrificial offering did Jesus present as our High Priest? Well, the author of Hebrews answers that question here in Hebrews 9:4: “…the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse[s] our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (NIV).
These references to “the blood of Christ” and “cleansing our consciences” direct our attention to a subject that bears repeating. As mentioned earlier, the Biblical book of 1 John provides us with the right response to sinful behaviors: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Whenever we recognize and admit to God that we have done something wrong, this passage tells us that God will forgive and cleanse us when we come to Him through Christ. This is not a mere opinion- this is God’s promised response from 1 John 1:9. Thus, it is important to remember this verse whenever we begin to experience a “guilty conscience” regarding a past event. If we have confessed it, then we can be assured that it is over and done with according to God’s Word.
But what if we’ve taken those steps and still don’t feel forgiven? Well, that provides us with an opportunity to revisit another passage that bears repeating: “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (1 John 3:20).
For instance, a person who acts upon 1 John 1:9 may say, “I know God has forgiven me, but I don’t feel forgiven” or, “I know God has forgiven me, but I can’t seem to forgive myself.” In those instances, we should remember that God is greater than our feelings or our consciences. If God says we are forgiven, then we are forgiven, no matter what our feelings may tell us.
Remember, “Christ offered himself through the eternal Spirit as a perfect sacrifice to God. His blood will make us completely clean from the evil we have done. It will give us clear consciences so that we can worship the living God” (ERV) as we’re told here in Hebrews 9:14.
“how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14 HCSB).
Much as he has done repeatedly throughout this epistle, the author of Hebrews now returns to a subject he discussed earlier within this letter. In this instance, the subject involves the “dead works” mentioned here in Hebrews 9:14. This passage thus builds upon a foundation that our author previously established: “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God” (Hebrews 6:1 ESV).
These “dead works” serve to identify those religious beliefs, spiritual rituals, acts of piety, and other, similar observances that do nothing to make us acceptable before God. While there may be many who feel as if God will accept them on the basis of such things, Jesus identified a different standard in the following passage from the Gospel of Mark…
“…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30 ESV).
This represents an impossible benchmark for imperfect human beings. Thus, it illustrates our need for a Savior who can save us from our failure to fulfil this standard. In light of this, we can say that any attempt to relate to God apart from Christ is a “dead work.”
For the original readers of the book of Hebrews, the application was obvious…
“Dead works are the rituals of the Mosaic Law that could not give life (6:1). Placing faith and confidence in what has already served its purpose and has now passed away is useless. It is disobedience. The author of Hebrews commands his audience to free their conscience from regulations of Mosaic Law and instead cling to Christ for cleansing. In doing so, they could truly serve the living God and not dead works.” (1)
In contrast, modern-day audiences might associate a dead work with anything we may seek to do in establishing a relationship with God apart from Christ. No matter how virtuous those acts may seem, they cannot serve to make us right with God. Unfortunately, that did not deter certain individuals in the Old Testament and New Testament eras from making such attempts. We can avoid similar failings by learning from their negative examples.
(1) Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 1649.
“And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15).
If we seek to be accepted by God, it is crucial to approach Him in a manner that He approves. Since “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant” (NIV) as we read here in Hebrews 9:15, this passage reminds us that we must approach God through the mediator He has established.
Many of us are probably familiar with the role of a mediator as someone who arbitrates and reconciles the differences between two parties. However, Hebrews 9:15 tells us that Jesus’ intermediary role is exclusive and superior to that of any other purported mediator…
“The Greek word… (mesite, ‘mediator’) in this context does not imply that Jesus was a mediator in the contemporary sense of the word, i.e., he worked for compromise between opposing parties. Here the term describes his function as the one who was used by God to enact a new covenant which established a new relationship between God and his people, but entirely on God’s terms.” (1)
The New Testament book of 1 Timothy 2:5 also makes an unequivocal statement in this regard: “there is… one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” This is important for those who seek to approach God through alternative means, such as the intercessory efforts of saints, ancestors, good works, and other types of religious activities.
Jesus is our mediator because He atoned for our sins through His sacrificial death. He accepted the death penalty associated with our sin and opened the way in which we might approach God and establish a relationship with Him. As Jesus Himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
The reference to “by means of death” also prepares us for the discussion that will follow in the next verse of Hebrews chapter nine. In that portion of Scripture, the author of Hebrews will use the example of a will to demonstrate how Jesus’ atoning death served as the vehicle to enact the New Covenant.
But first, we will take a closer look at this reference to “the transgressions committed under the first covenant” (CSB) in our next study. There, we will examine how Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection impacted the righteous individuals who passed from this life while living within the confines of the Old Covenant.
(1) NET Bible notes on Hebrews 9:15 https://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Heb&chapter=9&verse=15&mode=print
“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” (Hebrews 9:15 ESV).
We can derive an important benefit from Hebrews 9:15 if we associate this reference to an eternal inheritance with the idea of salvation.
From a Biblical perspective, the word “salvation” relates to the concept of “deliverance.” It corresponds to God’s act of liberation in delivering sinful human beings from their state of separation from Him through Christ. However, this might prompt a question in light of Hebrews 9:15: how were the pre-New Testament saints delivered to their eternal inheritance prior to Jesus’ atoning death? Well, the answer is that they were delivered as we are today: by faith.
Consider the experience of Abraham, the great Old Testament patriarch. We have already referenced Abraham several times in our look at the epistle to the Hebrews and we will do so again at greater length in Hebrews chapter eleven. For the purpose of our discussion here in Hebrews 9:15, we can focus upon one aspect of Abraham’s experience with God…
“…[Abraham] believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6 NLT).
Although Abraham’s life pre-dated the Old Testament sacrificial era, he still fulfilled God’s directive as later expressed through the pen of the Biblical prophet Habakkuk…
“Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
In addition, we can say that Abraham’s faith in God also encompassed his belief in a future Messiah. Indeed, as Jesus Himself once remarked to the religious leaders of His era, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56). Thus, as the following scholars conclude…
“Sinners who were saved under the First Testament were actually saved, not by it or by any sacrifice offered under its jurisdiction, but through the atoning work of Messiah under the New Testament.” (1)
“What of those people of faith who lived under the old covenant (cf. 11: 8 ff., 13-16)? Are they left in their sins, since their institutions did not adequately cope with the sin-problem, removing it only ceremonially? The answer to this question is immediately forthcoming: the range of the effectiveness of Christ’s death is so vast as to set them free from the sins (done) under the first covenant (15). The death of Christ is retroactive (cf. Rom. 3: 25 f.).” (2)
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [Hebrews 9:15] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(2) New International Bible Commentary general editor G. C. D. Howley, consulting editors F. F. Bruce, H. L. Ellison. Copyright© 1979 by Pickering & Inglis Ltd [pg. 1522]
“For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives” (Hebrews 9:16-17).
There is a subtle, but interesting shift in the language of this passage from Hebrews 9:16-17. In it, we find a play on words that substantiates our author’s message from earlier within this chapter: “…with His own blood [Jesus] entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:13). That word-play is involves our author’s use of the word “testament.”
You see, the author of Hebrews has expressed a preference for the word “covenant” in addressing God’s response to human sin. In fact, the word covenant has already appeared more than a dozen times thus far within the book of Hebrews.
As mentioned previously, a covenant is similar to other types of contractual arrangements in certain respects. For instance, a covenant resembles a modern-day contract in the sense that it conveys the responsibilities of each party. And like many other types of contractual arrangements, a covenant often contains a list of penalties to be assessed against those who fail to fulfill its terms.
However, a covenant differs from other types of agreements in one important respect: the terms of a covenant are non-negotiable. In other words, the language of a covenant cannot be deleted, modified, or amended to suit the desires of one party. Instead, a covenant must be accepted or rejected in its entirety without alteration. Furthermore, we should also remember that God always serves as the sole initiator of a Biblical covenant.
In light of this, we should note the abrupt transition from the use of the word covenant to the word testament here in Hebrews 9:16-17. In fact, this passage represents the first and last appearance of the word “testament” in the New King James Version of this epistle. One source sheds some additional light on the relationship between these words…
“’Covenant’ (NASB) can also be translated ‘testament’ (KJV) or ‘will’ (NIV, NRSV, TEV), and ancient writers often argued their points by plays on words. ‘Testaments’ were sealed documents, opened only on the testator’s death; ‘covenants’ were agreements between parties or imposed by a greater party on a lesser one.” (1)
Since the words “covenant” and “testament” originate from the same word in the original language of this passage, these observations should alert us to a specific intent behind this choice. We’ll explore that intent next.
(1) Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary [Hebrews 9:16-17]
“For where there is a will, the death of the one who made it must be proven. For a will takes effect only at death, since it carries no force while the one who made it is alive” (Hebrews 9:16-17 NET).
A Last Will and Testament is an important legal document that is useful in managing the distribution of one’s assets following his or her death. This document acts as a set of instructions that serve to allocate the belongings and/or financial assets of someone who has passed away.
The person who creates a Last Will and Testament is known as a testator. A legal representative or individual who is charged with the responsibility to administer a Will is known as an executor. The executor’s primary responsibility involves acting on the testator’s instructions as expressed within his or her Will.
These definitions are important to our author’s argument here in Hebrews chapter nine. While it may not be obvious from the text, the words “covenant” and “will” find their origin in the same word (“diatheke”) in the original language of this passage. Having previously used the word “covenant” in reference to the Levitical sacrifices (“the Old Covenant”) and Jesus’ sacrificial death (“the New Covenant”), our author now shifts into the alternate definition of this word (“a will”) for a very important reason…
“The author now provides an explanation for the necessity of Jesus’ death. Diatheke in the Greek can mean ‘covenant,’ ‘testament,’ or ‘will.’ A last will and testament becomes operative only at death. Likewise, the divine covenant required a death in order to become operative. In the case of a will, the person who made it must die for it to take effect.
In the case of the covenant of Moses, provision was made for death to claim a substitute instead… The point is that Jesus brought a new will and final testament, and its provisions could not become operative until his own death as testator had occurred.” (1)
So, Jesus’ atoning death fulfills the definition of a will and a covenant. Thus we can identify it as both: a will here in Hebrews chapter nine and a covenant earlier in Hebrews chapter eight. (2) Just as the terms of a Last Will and Testament go into effect when the testator dies, Jesus’ death initiated the New Covenant on behalf of His beneficiaries. This clever word play by the inspired author of Hebrews thus serves to expand our understanding of Jesus’ sacrificial work on our behalf.
(1) Walters, John. “V. Fourth Point: “A New Covenant” (8:1-10:31)” In Asbury Bible Commentary. 1156. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1992.
(2) See Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow Michael Kroll, eds., KJV Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 2561.
“Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people” (Hebrews 9:18-19).
Henry H. Halley (April 10, 1874–May 23, 1965) was an American author and minister who is best known for his influential work, Halley’s Bible Handbook. From its humble beginnings as a free sixteen page leaflet in 1924, Halley’s Bible Handbook has grown to encompass over two dozen printed editions with millions of copies sold.
Anyone who peruses the table of contents for Halley’s Bible Handbook will encounter the usual maps, charts, outlines, photos, illustrations, and notes that one might expect to find in a such a work. However, the 24th edition of Halley’s handbook also contains a rather curious entry. That entry (in all capital letters) is simply entitled, “MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THIS BOOK.”
So what did Halley consider to be the most important thing within his handbook? Well, a portion of that entry identified Halley’s top priority: “This simple suggestion: that each church have a congregational plan of Bible reading and that the pastor’s sermon be from the part of the Bible read the past week thus connecting the pastor’s preaching with the people’s Bible reading.” (1)
Halley’s recommendation relates to our passage from Hebrews 9:18-19 in an important way. While the members of the first-century audience for this epistle were familiar with the sacrificial offerings conducted by the Levitical priests, the author of Hebrews found it necessary to issue a reminder concerning those offerings: “…indeed we find that even the first agreement of God’s will was not put into force without the shedding of blood” (Phillips).
The point was this: just as a life was sacrificed in connection with an Old Covenant offering, Jesus’ sacrificial death put the New Covenant into effect as well. Unfortunately, some members of the original audience for this epistle had become neglectful in their attention to God’s Word. If they had been more attentive to the Scriptures and their teachings, they might have made this connection for themselves, thus making it unnecessary for our author to furnish this reminder.
So, even though it is important to join together regularly for the ministry of God’s Word, it is also important to prayerfully read and familiarize ourselves with the Biblical Scriptures on a daily basis so that God may speak to us directly from His Word.
(1) Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, Copyright © 2000, 2007 by Halley’s Bible Handbook, Inc. [pg. 814]
“For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.’ Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry” (Hebrews 9:19-21).
This reference to “every precept” here in Hebrews 9:19-21 refers to an authoritative command, directive, or injunction. Hebrews 9:19-21 provides us with a detailed description of these Old Testament precepts as they related to the purification of the tabernacle and its belongings. In this instance, the blood of a sacrificial animal was sprinkled upon these items in an act of ceremonial cleansing.
One author offers some further insight into these additional details…
“…whereas the Exodus narrative describes Moses as sprinkling nothing but blood, here the blood is accompanied by water, scarlet wool and hyssop. We have no evidence for the origin of these variations on the Exodus narrative; for them, as for some of the details of the tabernacle furniture in verse 4 (the position of the incense-altar and the contents of the ark) our author may well have drawn upon some source which is no longer extant” (1)
So this additional information provides us with a fuller, richer understanding of these practices. Another source addresses this topic and explains how it related to Israel’s relationship with God under the Old Covenant…
“In Exo 24:1-11, we read that Moses sprinkled the altar and the people; no mention is made of sprinkling the book, or of the water, scarlet wool, and hyssop. It is best to view both accounts as complementary. God, represented by the altar, and the people were the contracting parties. The book was the covenant. The sprinkled blood bound both parties to keep the terms of the covenant. The people promised to obey, and the Lord promised to bless them if they did.” [bbc]
Our final commentary ties these Old and New Covenant offerings together in the following manner…
“The whole sacrificial system is seen as a type in Hebrews 9:19-26. The articles of the ‘first testament’ were dedicated with the blood of sacrifice; these articles are called ‘the patterns of things in the heavens’ and ‘figures of the true’ (verses 23-24). This passage teaches that the Old Testament sacrifices typify Christ’s final sacrifice for the sins of the world.” (3)
(1) The New International Commentary On The New Testament – The Epistle To The Hebrews, F. F. Bruce, General Editor © Copyright 1964, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan [pg. 215]
(2) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers (Hebrews 9:19) p.2186
(3) GotQuestions.org, What is biblical typology? Retrieved 03 September, 2022 from https://www.gotquestions.org/typology-Biblical.html
“And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).
In reading through the Biblical account of Old Testament Israel, it’s easy to underestimate the enormous number of animals that were sacrificed over the course of that nation’s history. To cite one example, 2 Chronicles 7:5 tells us that Israel’s King Solomon once offered a sacrifice of 22,000 bulls and 120,000 sheep on one ceremonial occasion.
To put this in perspective, imagine what it would be like to attend a ceremony where 142,000 animals were put to death. Consider the overwhelming amount of blood those deaths would generate. Then imagine the incalculable number of sacrificial animal deaths that occurred over the many centuries of Israel’s Old Testament existence.
These difficult realities serve to remind us that the Old Covenant sacrificial system produced an enormous amount of death. For this reason, some may have difficulty understanding how the Author of life could establish a system of reconciliation that was predicated on such widespread slaughter.
We can address that concern when we remember that sin carries a a heavy price. While the Biblical definition of sin encompasses all the inappropriate behaviors we generally associate with that word, it primarily means “to miss the mark.” In other words, sin involves a failure to live up to the perfect standard that God established when He created the first human beings.
We should also remember that the first appearance of “death” in the Scriptures took the form of an advance warning from the Creator to the very first human person…
“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:16-17).
Unfortunately, the people who received that warning chose to disregard it, and death came about as a result. Every human being has since followed in the footsteps of that first human couple. The important thing to remember is that God’s warning is just as valid today as it was then. That resulting death penalty will claim the lives of the disobedient or it will claim the life of an innocent substitute.
The astonishing magnitude of animal sacrifices offered under the Old Covenant provide a stark contrast that illustrates the sole sufficiency of Jesus’ atoning death. Remember that Hebrews 9:22 tells us, “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (NIV). There is no perfect forgiveness without a perfect sacrifice- and Jesus is that sacrifice.
“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).
The standard means of ceremonial cleansing under the Old Covenant involved an animal sacrifice. However, there were some exceptions to that rule. For instance, a person of limited financial means might bring an offering of fine flour according to Leviticus 5:11. Another exception involved spoils of war. Those items were cleansed through fire or water, depending on their composition.
One commentator summarizes this idea by observing, “…as a general principle, God required the ‘shedding of blood’ (death) for ‘forgiveness’ under the Mosaic Law. The Israelites saw this most clearly on the Day of Atonement, but every animal sacrifice reminded them of it.” (1) However, this sacrificial principle did not originate with the Old Covenant.
After the first human couple disobeyed God’s directive in the Garden of Eden, we’re told, “…the Lord God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife” (Genesis 3:21 NLT). This indicates that an animal was made to sacrifice its life in order for Adam and Eve to be clothed. This aligns with the warning presented to Adam concerning the death penalty that would result if he chose to ignore God’s instructions (Genesis 2:16-17).
That penalty was further executed in the death of an innocent animal in order to cover the result of what that first human couple had done. Later came the death of an innocent Person that served to counteract what they (and all who followed them) had done.
While this bloody procession of sacrificial offerings is undoubtedly disturbing, they serve as a graphic depiction that illustrates the high cost of sin. So, while some may view good works, charitable giving, or other external efforts as a means of salvation, Hebrews 9:22 reminds us that “…without the shedding of blood there is neither release from sin and its guilt nor the remission of the due and merited punishment for sins” (AMPC).
Finally, one source closes our look at this verse from a different (but equally important) perspective…
“Why does forgiveness require the shedding of blood? This is no arbitrary decree on the part of a bloodthirsty God, as some have suggested. There is no greater symbol of life than blood; blood keeps us alive. Jesus shed his blood-gave his life-for our sins so that we wouldn’t have to experience spiritual death, eternal separation from God. Jesus is the source of life, not death.” (2)
(1) Constable, Thomas. DD, Notes on Hebrews 2021 Edition “The superior sacrifice for sin 9:16-28” [7:12] [pg. 161] See https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/hebrews/hebrews.htm
(2) Life Application Study Bible [Hebrews 9:22] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
“Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these” (Hebrews 9:23).
Much as he has done throughout this epistle, the author of Hebrews will build upon a foundational thought in the passage quoted above. Our author established that foundation earlier in verses eleven and twelve…
“But Christ came as a chief priest of the good things that are now here. Christ went through a better, more perfect tent that was not made by human hands and that is not part of this created world. He used his own blood, not the blood of goats and bulls, for the sacrifice. He went into the most holy place and offered this sacrifice once and for all to free us forever” (GW).
We can turn to a section of Hebrews chapter eight to find another portion of the foundation that our author builds upon here in Hebrews 9:23. That passage is Hebrews 8:4-5. There within those verses, the author of Hebrews established that the earthbound tabernacle (along with the Temple that followed), served as a type, model, or replica of something else. That tabernacle, (and its associated furnishings), conveyed the heavenly reality of such things.
In like manner, the human priests of the Levitical era performed a real service. However, their work was just a shadow of the work that was performed by the Greater Priest who followed. Therefore, “The real High-Priest who offered the real sacrifice for sin serves in the real tabernacle. He is the complete fulfillment of the shadowy copies in the Levitical system.” (1)
So, while the people of Old Testament Israel received authentic cleansing through the animal sacrifices of the Mosaic era, those sacrifices would not suffice to enter the presence of God in heaven. Only the perfect, self-sacrificial offering of the Messiah could open the way into the Most Holy Place where God dwells.
Finally, one commentary addresses a question that may arise from this reference to the “…things in heaven [that] had to be purified with far better sacrifices” (NLT)…
“It may seem surprising that the heavenly places needed to be purified. Perhaps a clue is found in Job 15:15, ‘the heavens are not pure in His sight.’ Doubtless this is because Satan committed the first act of sin in heaven (Isa 14:12-14), and because he still has access to the presence of God as the accuser of the brethren (Rev 12:10). (2)
(1) John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), Heb 9:23–28.
(2) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers (Hebrews 9:23) p.2265
“For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another–” (Hebrews 9:24-25).
One of the more perceptive observations regarding the Biblical Scriptures is widely attributed to St Jerome: “The Scriptures are shallow enough for a babe to come and drink without fear of drowning and deep enough for a theologian to swim in without ever touching the bottom.” Hebrews 9:24-25 validates that conclusion for anyone who is willing to wade into the depths of these verses.
For instance, we find one interesting aspect of this passage hidden below the surface of the original language…
“There are three different ‘appearings’ of Christ mentioned in this chapter, using three different Greek words. Hebrews 9:26 speaks of the past appearing, when ‘he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.’ Hebrews 9:28 speaks of His future appearing, when He shall ‘appear the second time without sin unto salvation.’ His present appearance, however, is in ‘heaven itself,’ where He ‘ever liveth to make intercession for them’” (7:25). (1)
The “shallows” of Hebrews 9:24-25 reveal another important detail…
“The New Testament emphasis on the completion and finality of Christ’s sacrifice of himself for us has much practical application, because it assures us that there is no more penalty for sin left for us to pay. The penalty has entirely been paid by Christ, and we should have no remaining fear of condemnation or punishment.” (2)
To complete our analogy, this passage also alerts us to the flood of judgment facing those who reject Christ…
“Imperfect sacrifices must be repeated continually; a perfect sacrifice can be made once for all time, and genuinely put away sin (not just cover sin, as sacrifice under the Old Covenant). This is why Jesus’ acceptance of the Father’s wrath on our behalf did not need to be eternal, but once for all time and it was finished. This is also why God’s justice demands that the punishment of Hell be eternal; those in Hell cannot offer a perfect payment for their sin, so it must be continual – for all eternity. Just as much as we die once and face judgment, so Jesus only had to die once (not repeatedly, not continually) to bear our sins.” (3)
(1) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes (Hebrews 9:24) https://www.icr.org/bible/Hebrews/9/24/
(2) Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, Ml: Zondervan Academic, 2020) [pg 25].
(3) Guzik, Dave, Hebrews 9 – The Old Covenant and the New Covenant Compared (23-28). See https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/hebrews-9/
“He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26).
The seventh month of each year marked a special interval on Israel’s national calendar. That period corresponded to September-October on a modern-day calendar and coincided with three national holidays: the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles.
The Feast of Trumpets is also known as Rosh Hashanah and marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year. The Day of Atonement is also recognized as Yom Kippur. This represented the only day of the year when the High Priest was permitted to enter the innermost portion of the Tabernacle (or the Most Holy Place) to offer a sacrifice for the sins of the nation.
The Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot) commemorated the period that followed Israel’s release from Egyptian slavery. It marked the forty-year wilderness journey that ended when Israel entered the land of God’s promise. During that festival, the people of Israel constructed temporary shelters made from the branches of various leafy trees to commemorate the period when they lived in such dwellings following their departure from Egypt.
Hebrews 9:26 recalls the second of these national holidays- the Day of Atonement. The author of Hebrews has already established that Jesus served as the High Priest who officiated over that final atoning sacrifice, as well as the sacrifice itself. It is in this manner that “…he has appeared once and for all to abolish sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Phillips).
However, this principle of sacrifice did not end at the cross. Instead, Jesus also set a sacrificial example for us to follow…
“So the atonement of Jesus as our Great High Priest ended the Old Testament sacrificial system. However, it did not destroy the principle of sacrifice in the Christian life. We are still called to worship God and to give offerings to Him in that worship.
Paul wrote in Romans: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom. 12:1–2)
We are to give ourselves to God as living sacrifices. This means we are to give our time, our energy, and our very selves to Him as acts of worship and gratitude. But we must always be aware that God has given us these and all things.” (1)
(1) Sproul, R.C., Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow © 2008 by R.C. Sproul, Reformation Trust Publishing [pg. 112]
“He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26 NIV).
The following quote raises an important question related to Hebrews 9:26 and Jesus’ sacrificial death…
“John’s Gospel famously declares, ‘God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son.’ How then, have we come to believe that at the cross this God of love suddenly decides to vent his anger and wrath on his own Son?” (1)
In considering this question, we should note the use of the word “suddenly.” In this context, “suddenly” conveys the image of a seemingly hasty and capricious Deity who subjects His Son to an agonizing death. However, the idea that God abruptly decided to vent His anger and wrath upon Jesus does not align with the message of 1 Peter 1:18-20…
“…you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (see also Revelation 13:8).
A better approach to this question is one that acknowledges Jesus’ death as an act of penal substitution. The word penal is associated with the word “penalty” and carries the following definition: “of, relating to, or involving punishment, as for crimes or offenses.“ (2) When we combine this definition with the word “substitution,” we emerge with the following doctrine: God accepts Jesus’ sacrificial death in place of the death penalty incurred by those who have violated His laws.
As the author of Hebrews reiterated earlier in Hebrews 9:22, “…without the shedding of blood there is neither release from sin and its guilt nor the remission of the due and merited punishment for sins” (AMPC). Jesus thus serves as our judicial substitute. The Biblical book of 1 Peter summarizes this idea when it tells us, “…Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God…” (1 Peter 3:18).
We also have Jesus’ personal testimony in this regard: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep…” (John 10:11). Therefore, as one source concludes…
“Justification -being declared righteous or ‘not guilty’ before God- reflects the language of the courtroom (Rom. 3:24). It is the opposite of condemnation (Rom. 8:33-34). Jesus’ death was a matter of penal substitution, the just taking the punishment of the unjust upon himself.” (3)
(1) Steve Chalke and Alan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), p. 182.
(2) “Penal” Dictionary.com, Retrieved 19 September 2022 from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/penal
(3) Copan, Paul. True For You, But Not For Me : Deflating The Slogans That Leave Christians Speechless Bethany House Publishers pg 158
“And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
There is a simple, five-word question that serves to occupy the minds of small children, elderly adults, and virtually everyone in between: “What happens after we die?”
One popular answer involves the doctrine of reincarnation. Those who believe in reincarnation hold that our personal, non-material essence (sometimes defined as the soul) migrates to another human (or nonhuman) entity after death. This view is closely associated with the idea of “karma,” or the belief that our good and bad deeds affect the positive/negative spiritual balance we accumulate in life. That positive or negative balance subsequently determines our fate in the next life.
Despite their popularity, the Biblical Scriptures reject these beliefs. In addition to the passage from Hebrews 9:27 quoted above, we should note something Jesus said to a criminal who was crucified alongside Him as He hung on the cross…
“Then [the criminal] said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus replied, ‘I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:42-43 CEB).
Notice that Jesus did not present this man with an opportunity to absolve his debt through reincarnation or work off his negative karma. Instead, the repentant criminal went to be in the presence of Christ immediately following his death. There are several other Scriptures that stress the finality of our choices and decisions when we pass from this earthly life. Those passages include Matthew 16:27, Luke 12:4-5, Luke 16:19-31, John 5:28-29, 2 Corinthians 5:10, and Revelation 20:11-15 among others.
So, Hebrews 9:27, along with the other passages cited above, excludes the possibility of reincarnation and its related belief systems. Barring a miraculous intervention, the lives we live today are the only lives we will possess before we enter eternity. This has led one source to conclude…
“It is axiomatic that man dies once. Exceptions do exist: Enoch and Elijah of the Old Testament, the New Testament saints who will be alive at Christ’s return who will never die, or Lazarus and others who have been raised from the dead and died twice. But no exceptions concerning God’s judgment can be cited. There is no reincarnation; every person gets one chance to prepare for God’s judgment.” (1)
Therefore, we would do well to follow the counsel given to us in the New Testament book of Ephesians…
“Therefore consider carefully how you live—not as unwise but as wise, taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16 NET).
(1) Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow Michael Kroll, eds., KJV Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 2562
“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 ESV).
The Scriptures identify two different judgments that will take place in the lives of every human being. One such judgment has come to be known as the “Great White Throne Judgment” of the unrighteous dead. That judgment is described for us in Revelation 20:11-15…
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.
The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”
Notice that “…the dead, both small and great” will be assessed in this judicial process. This tells us that the recognition, power, wealth, status, or influence we possess today will have no impact then. You see, who you are now will not matter in that eternal court – it’s what you are now that will be important then.
One commentator makes a disconcerting observation in this regard…
“It is sobering to realize that Scripture represents the state of unbelievers after death as a fixed state. There is no second chance (Ecclesiastes 11:3; Luke 16:19-31; John 8:21,24; 2 Peter 2:4,9; Jude 7,13). The Scriptures also reveal that the condemnation of unbelievers is determined by actions done during mortal life (especially the action of rejecting Christ)…” (1)
Another source adds a comment that is worthy of our attention…
“Judgment is not a popular theme today, but the Bible teaches that judgment is coming. Do you look forward to Christ’s return, or do you see it as a threat? As sure as death itself, judgment awaits. At God’s judgment there will be no higher court of appeal should the verdict not be to your liking. If you hope for a favorable verdict in this court, put your hope entirely on Jesus. Pray today-now if you haven’t before-for the freedom and pardon Jesus has won for you.” (2)
(1) Ron Rhodes, Heaven: The Undiscovered Country: Exploring the Wonder of the Afterlife pg.47
(2) Life Application Study Bible [Hebrews 9:27] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
“And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 NET).
Unlike the “Great White Throne Judgment” of the unrighteous dead (as detailed in Revelation 20:11-15), the future judgment of God’s people will follow a different protocol. Consider Jesus’ message from Revelation 3:5: “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (see also John 6:37-39, John 10:27-28, and Romans 8:33-39).
In light of this, we can say that the future judgment of God’s people will not involve the question of salvation, for those who accept Jesus’ sacrificial death by faith are released from sin’s death penalty and restored to a right relationship with God through His atoning work. However, God’s people will be called to account for how they used the skills, talents, abilities, gifts, and opportunities He has provided for them. That assessment will take place before the “bema” (or judgment) seat of Christ, a phrase that was sure to evoke a familiar image in the minds of first-century readers.
You see, the bema seat was an elevated platform where Roman authorities gathered to render judicial decisions. A Roman leader would ascend to this platform to address an assembly, administer justice, or honor those who excelled in athletic competition. Paul the Apostle was personally familiar with this arrangement, for we are told in Acts 18:12, “…when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat” (KJV).
Every man or woman of God will undergo this evaluation, for we are told, “…Christ will judge each of us for the good or the bad that we do while living in these bodies” (CEV) in 2 Corinthians 5:10. As one source observes, “The judgment seat of Christ will reveal our lives of service for Christ exactly as they have been. Not only the amount of our service, but also its quality, and even the very motives that prompted it will be brought into review.” (1)
The New Testament epistle of 1 Corinthians adds the following…
“There is going to come a time of testing at Christ’s Judgment Day to see what kind of material each builder has used. Everyone’s work will be put through the fire so that all can see whether or not it keeps its value, and what was really accomplished” (1 Corinthians 3:13 TLB).
Several Biblical passages serve to illustrate the exhaustive nature of this judicial review and we’ll consider a few of them next.
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers (2 Corinthians 5:10) p.1839
“And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 NLT).
Unlike an attorney who seeks to argue the facts of a case in a court of law, there will be no need for such deliberations in advance of the judgment referenced here in Hebrews 9:27. At that time, there will be no need to establish motives, reconstruct events, or work to create a sense of reasonable doubt regarding the events of our lives. These things will be unnecessary, for all such things are already known to the omniscient God of all. Instead, that judgment will reflect an accurate appraisal of our motives and subsequent actions.
In addition to this cautionary message from Hebrews 9:27, we might also consider the following portions of Scripture…
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13 NIV).
“For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14 NIV).
“You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat” (Romans 14:10 NIV).
“For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3).
“For God is closely watching you, and he weighs carefully everything you do” (Proverbs 5:21 TLB).
In the words of one theologian, “… even believers will stand before God (cf. Rom_14:10; 1Co_3:10-17). Apparently, we will be judged/rewarded for our motives, availability, and use of spiritual gifts. Sin and sins have been completely dealt with in Christ’s substitutionary death, but discipleship is an issue.” (1)
Of course, it’s easy to understand why some may be reluctant to examine their motives in advance of this judgment. Since our true intentions are often difficult to discern, it may take a great deal of effort to uncover the reasons behind our actions. There is also the unpleasant possibility of discovering that our motives may be less noble or virtuous than we first believed if we stop to scrutinize them.
Nevertheless, the knowledge that God will judge such things should prompt us to prayerfully examine our motives now to avoid the potential for disappointment when He examines them later.
(1) Dr. Bob Utley, Free Bible Commentary 2 Corinthians [5:10] Copyright ©2014 by Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL06/VOL06B_05.html
“Everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God” (Hebrews 9:27 GNT).
Hebrews 9:27 presents us with an opportunity to address another question related to the afterlife and the spiritual world: Do “ghosts” really exist? Considering the way television and movie studios churn out feature presentations related to that subject, it may be easy to think so.
In reality, many so-called “ghosts” are often traceable to pranks, shadows, natural occurrences, graphic technologies, or optical illusions. However, there are other instances where “ghosts” cannot be explained so easily. So what’s the answer? Well, let’s start by defining our terms.
A “ghost” refers to “the spirit of a dead person, especially one believed to appear in bodily likeness to living persons or to haunt former habitats.” (1) Since Hebrews 9:27 tells us that “…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,” this eliminates the possibility of human beings coming back from the dead as ghosts.
The Old Testament book of 2 Samuel touches upon this subject as well. That portion of Scripture relates the account of Israel’s king David and the passing of his infant son. In response to that unfortunate event, David made a remorseful observation: “Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23 NIV). This response indicates that David expected to see his son again in the afterlife, but not during his remaining time on earth.
Barring a miraculous concession from God, these passages tell us that our interaction with other human beings comes to an end when we pass from this earthly life. Therefore, we have a reasonable Scriptural basis to conclude that there are no such things as ghosts.
So how can we account for “ghosts” that cannot be easily explained? Well, the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians offers one potential explanation…
“…Even Satan can disguise himself to look like an angel of light! So it is no great thing if his servants disguise themselves to look like servants of righteousness….” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15 GNT).
2 Thessalonians 2:9 also reminds us that Satan is known for his “lying wonders.” Therefore, it is possible that some individuals who encounter “ghosts” are those who have come into contact with malevolent spiritual entities masquerading as human beings who have passed away. The media rush to sensationalize this topic further serves to harm those who are naïve or misguided regarding the true nature of such encounters. We’ll consider some Biblical admonitions against these interactions next.
Image Credit: Jeanmilost, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
(1) “Ghost.” Retrieved 28 September 2022 from American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright (c) 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
“People are destined to die once and then face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 CEB).
As we continue our look at ghosts and related spiritual entities in the context of Hebrews 9:27, we now stop to consider the Biblical warnings issued to those who seek to engage with these “spirits of the dead.” Perhaps the clearest admonition against this practice is found in the Biblical book of Deuteronomy…
“There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).
Leviticus 20:6 adds the following…
“I will be your enemy if you go to someone who claims to speak with the dead, and I will destroy you from among my people” (CEV).
We find another example in 1 Chronicles 10:13-14. In that portion of Scripture, we learn that Israel’s king Saul lost his life because he visited a medium and made a request to bring the prophet Samuel back from the dead. The events that led to Saul’s death are instructive for anyone who seeks to learn from his unfortunate example.
Saul desperately sought to reach Samuel to seek his direction regarding an upcoming military campaign. Saul pursued that course of action because God refused to provide him with any further guidance in light of his earlier decisions. In this instance, God permitted Samuel to speak with Saul, but the message Saul received from Samuel was not the one he sought…
“Why ask me if the Lord has left you and has become your enemy? …All this has come upon you because you did not obey the Lord’s instructions… What’s more, the entire Israeli army will be routed and destroyed by the Philistines tomorrow, and you and your sons will be here with me” (1 Samuel 28:16, 18-19 TLB).
Finally, the book of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah offers some practical advice for anyone who might foolishly seek to consult the dead for their advice…
“When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isaiah 8:19 NIV).
“so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).
In addition to what we read here in Hebrews 9:28, 1 Thessalonians 1:10 offers another characteristic that reflects an authentic, God-honoring life: the anticipated return of “…[God’s] Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (CSB). These passages thus describe the mindset of someone who lives in anticipation of Jesus’ second advent. This generally refers to Christ’s return in association with the culmination of this age.
Hebrews 9:28 expands on this idea by saying, “…Christ died only once as an offering for the sins of many people; and he will come again, but not to deal again with our sins. This time he will come bringing salvation to all those who are eagerly and patiently waiting for him” (TLB). Of course, there are many who dismiss the idea of Jesus’ return in light of the time that has passed since His crucifixion and resurrection.
The Biblical book of 2 Peter addresses that objection with this prophetic observance: “…scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:3-4).
Then there are others who find it difficult to understand why centuries have elapsed between Jesus’ first advent and His return. We can address that difficulty if we move forward a few verses in the book of 2 Peter where we find the following words of encouragement: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).
While it may seem as if an inordinate amount of time has passed in light of Jesus’ promised return, we can be sure that a good reason exists for this apparent delay. That reason appears to be related to God’s patience in waiting for those who will come to repentance throughout these intervening generations. Therefore, we would wise to avoid disregarding these Biblical teachings related to Jesus’ return.
Our next study will continue our look at the concluding verse of Hebrews chapter nine with a parable from Jesus. That parable offers a warning for those who might be tempted to ignore these Biblical admonitions related to His return.
“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” (Hebrews 9:28 ESV).
In contrast to those who choose to disregard the Biblical teachings related to Jesus’ second advent, it is important to live in anticipation of His return. Whether Christ returns for someone at the end of his or her life (whenever that may be) or whether He returns to begin a new chapter of history, our responsibility is to be ready whenever He appears.
Consider this warning from Jesus in the form of the following parable…
“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes.
I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night.
But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Peter asked, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?’ The Lord answered, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers” (Luke 12:35-46 NIV).
This parable, along with our passage from Hebrews 9:28, illustrates the importance of living with the expectation of Christ’s return.
“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” (Hebrews 9:28).
As we complete our look at Hebrews chapter nine, we will conclude by identifying an important aspect of our relationship with Christ from the verse quoted above: “…he will come bringing salvation to all those who are eagerly and patiently waiting for him” (TLB). This attribute appears repeatedly within the New Testament Scriptures. For instance…
“…we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
“People tell us about what sort of welcome we had from you and how you turned to God from idols. As a result, you are serving the living and true God, and you are waiting for his Son from heaven. His Son is Jesus, who is the one he raised from the dead and who is the one who will rescue us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 CEB).
“But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also eagerly await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20 NET).
“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
“My friends, be patient until the Lord returns. Think of farmers who wait patiently for the autumn and spring rains to make their valuable crops grow. 8 Be patient like those farmers and don’t give up. The Lord will soon be here!” (James 5:7-8 CEV).
While the context of Hebrews 9:28 encompasses Jesus second advent, there is another sense in which Christ will appear at the conclusion of our earthly lives, whenever that takes place. A person who looks forward to that appearance is someone who can say along with the Apostle Paul, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23 NIV).
As one commentator explains, “Christ has already passed through the judgment of the day of the Lord for believers, so they need not fear His return.” (1) This passage thus encourages us to look confidently and expectantly for Christ’s return whenever it may occur. As we’re told in the New Testament epistle of 1 John…
“And now, little children, remain in relationship to Jesus, so that when he appears we can have confidence and not be ashamed in front of him when he comes” (1 John 2:28 CEB).
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2138). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.