The book of Hebrews is a message to Christians to hold fast and not give up. The writer of Hebrews has moved into describing the superior covenant that we enjoy so that we will not weaken in our faith. The author’s way to deepen and strengthen faith is to give us a greater vision of Jesus. As we have seen in the last couple of chapters, the arguments the author uses are rather dense. Remember that the author warned about the dullness of the hearers as he approached these discussions. He told them they would have difficulty understanding, not because the material is hard, but because they were dull of hearing (5:11-14). Hebrews 9 also has the same density in the presentation of the arguments. As we go through this chapter we will summarize the main points of each paragraph so we can understand the superior covenant we have in Christ.
The Glory of the First Covenant (9:1-5)
The writer begins by describing the worship under the first covenant. The first covenant had worship regulations and an earthly sanctuary (9:1). There were two rooms in this earthly sanctuary, commonly called the tabernacle. The first room, called the Holy Place, had a lamp stand, the table and the bread of the Presence (9:2). The second room was called the Most Holy Place which was separated from the first room by a curtain. The second room had a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant which was covered with gold (9:3-4). The ark of the covenant had in it a golden urn of manna, Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Further, above the ark of the covenant was the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat (9:5).
There are two keys to see from this paragraph. First, the tabernacle was glorious. There was lots of gold on the articles in the tabernacle. The tabernacle was full of glory and beauty. Most important, the second room was the place of God’s presence (Exodus 25:22). It was where God was enthroned on earth (1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; Psalm 99:1). It was also the place of atonement (Leviticus 16). This was a glorious earthly sanctuary, full of beauty and full of God’s presence. This leads to the second key to see from these first five verses. There was an impenetrable barrier between the two rooms. There was a curtain between the two rooms. The second room, the Most Holy Place, was full of glory and the presence of the Lord, but was completely inaccessible.
Nature of the Earthly Tabernacle (9:6-10)
Now the writer of Hebrews describes the activities of the earthly sanctuary, the tabernacle. Priests regularly went into the first room (9:6). The priests continually went into the first room of the tabernacle, constantly performing rituals that were never finished and never got them closer to God than the first room. Though the rituals never stopped, they never allowed a priest to go into the second room. Only the high priest was allowed to enter the second room and this had great limitations (9:7). The high priest could enter the second room containing God’s presence once a year and never without blood, making an offering for himself and for the sins of the people. But even this annual act of the high priest did not accomplish the goal. His access was not daily but it was limited to once a year. Further, the high priest had to repeatedly enter the second room. Yet, after all the high priest did once a year, the people were still separated and still needed atonement next year.
This was a picture to show that access to the Lord (the Most Holy Place) was not accessible while the first room still remained (9:8). Now the Holy Spirit was teaching something through this. The earthly gifts, offerings, and regulations cannot perfect the worshiper’s conscience (9:9-10). The earthly sacrifices did not deal with the problem of our wicked hearts. The cleansing was only outward and ceremonial. These sacrifices were not heart transforming. All of these were teaching pictures until the time of reformation, which was the time of the arrival of the Christ. In short, the point of the tabernacle was to show the limitations of this system in giving people access to God and giving people clean hearts and consciences.
The Superior Nature of Christ’s Work (9:11-14)
Now the contrast is given as we look at the work of Christ. Christ appears as the high priest of the good things that have already come (9:11). Because a superior high priest has arrived, there are present benefits. Christ enters the greater and perfect sanctuary (tabernacle) in heaven with his own blood, not the blood of animals (9:12). Look at what Jesus has done. He has secured an eternal redemption. Redemption in the scriptures is a picture of setting people free from their slavery. To set us free from our slavery to sin, the death of animals was insufficient. The price to set us free was not that cheap. It took the blood of Jesus. It took his death to set us free. So Jesus sheds his own blood to accomplish was the first covenant could not accomplish.
Carefully listen to the point in verses 13-14. The blood of animals was acceptable for the purification of the body’s defilements. If the blood of animals and the sprinkling on defiled people could purify the body, how much more will the blood of Jesus purify our conscience from dead works to enable us to serve the living God! Did we hear what God is able to do through the blood of his Son? God can purify that stained conscience. This is exactly what we need. We need a cleansing covenant. We can throw ourselves into doing all kinds of good works and stopping sin but none of those external activities can cleanse the conscience. You can show up to church every Sunday and it will not cleanse your conscience.
Let me illustrate this with a common feeling we have experienced. Let’s say that you are driving down the freeway and you are carelessly going a little fast and you come over a hill and there is a state trooper running radar. You look down at your speedometer and you see that were going too fast as you whiz by the trooper. Now what do you do? You immediately slow down and try to look like you have been obeying the speed limit all along. Does this make you feel any better by doing this? No, because you are looking in the rearview mirror every three seconds to see if the trooper is coming for you. There is nothing you can do to deal with your conscience in that moment. What is the only thing that calms you down? The mercy of the trooper who decided that today he did not want a bunch of paper work and did not come out for you. Here’s the point: your external actions cannot change your guilt, change your hurt, or change your conscience. You need the Lord to cleanse your conscience. We need the Lord to help us and do something for us.
The Power of the New Covenant (9:15-22)
This is the power of the new covenant that Jesus mediates (9:15). Look at it in verse 15. “…so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” What has happened? Notice that you do not receive the promised eternal inheritance because you are such a good person. You do not receive the promised eternal inheritance because you are better than your neighbors. You do not receive the promised eternal inheritance because you have done enough good things. The writer of Hebrews says that a death has occurred that redeems us from our transgressions. We broke God’s law and the death of Jesus is what redeems us from what we have done.
This new covenant required blood. In fact, even the first covenant required blood to be inaugurated (9:16-18). The author of Hebrews reminds the people of what happened when the first covenant was inaugurated, which is recorded in Exodus 24. After the law was read to the people, Moses took the blood of animals and threw it on the altar, the book, and the people saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” The picture was that of purification so that the people could be brought into a covenant relationship with the Lord, as the people declared that they would do all that is written in the law. We see this point in verses 21-22. Almost everything was purified with blood under the first covenant. This is a big spiritual truth given to us by God. Blood is needed to purify. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Someone had to die for you to be forgiven. Someone had to die for you to be purified. Someone had to die for there to be a new cleansing covenant. Someone had to die for a new covenant to be enacted.
The Heavenly Impact (9:23-28)
This is why Jesus had to entered to true sanctuary in heaven with his own blood. This was the only way for our forgiveness to be bought. This was the only way for us to be redeemed from sin. This was the only way for there to be a cleansing covenant. Since the first covenant required all that it did and it was a model of the heavenly reality, then the same thing had to happen in the heavenly sanctuary with a better sacrifice. Jesus entered heaven itself to appear in the presence of God on our behalf (9:24). Jesus dies and enters into heaven to stand before God on your behalf. The sacrifice is so perfect that he only needed to do this one time, unlike the earthly priests in the earthly sanctuary with earthly sacrifices (9:25-26). Jesus appeared one time at the end of the ages to remove sin by sacrificing himself (9:26). Sin no longer has the final say on our lives. Jesus has done what we could not do.
Now one more piece of hope so that we will not give up. In this chapter the author has told us that Jesus has come to purify our conscience, something that we cannot do for ourselves. The author has told us that without the shedding of blood there cannot be forgiveness of sins nor a cleansing covenant. Yet Jesus has come as the perfect Lamb of God so that we can have forgiveness of sins and have this glorious covenant. In fact, Jesus entered into heaven itself and stood in the presence of God on our behalf with his own blood to cover our sins. One more piece of hope so that you will not give up in verses 27-28.
Just as there is the certainty that each one of us must die and stand before the Lord in judgment, so also there is certainty that Jesus is will appear a second time. Jesus is going to come back. Jesus is going to appear again. Why is Jesus coming this time? Last time Jesus came he came to deal with sins. But not this time because he already took care of our sins once for all time. No, when Jesus comes this time he will come “to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Jesus has dealt with your sins and he is coming for you. Jesus has given us a covenant that cleanses us and he is coming back for you. How could we give up when Jesus is coming back for us? This is what Jesus told his disciples before he left.
“Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1–3 CSB)
Jesus has appeared as the high priest of good that have already come to us. He is going to appear again as our high priest to save us and take us home to be with him. We need to belong to this glorious, cleansing covenant.