The Cleansing Blood of Jesus
Jesus is a better prophet and a better priest than anyone else in history. He also offered a better sacrifice for sins. The writer of Hebrews already introduced this concept, and now expands on Jesus' superior sacrifice. While there are several reasons why we should understand Jesus' sacrifice to be superior, the primary reason is that Jesus offered His own blood for our sins. It's the blood of Jesus Christ that meets our deepest spiritual need. It's the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses our inward being from sin. Only the blood of Jesus can completely wash away our sins.
Rites and rituals will never meetour deepest spiritual need (9:1-10).
The ancient Israelites followed a system of rites and rituals, a system instituted by God but inadequate to meet the deepest spiritual need. God established this Old Covenant system to point His people to their need for inner cleansing based on His divine mercy. The astute worshiper in Old Testament times would have easily recognized that sacrificing an animal couldn't fully atone for human sin. There had to be a better sacrifice. That better sacrifice would come in the person of Jesus Christ.
The old sacrificial system took place at the tabernacle, an earthly sanctuary (9:1-5).
The Old Covenant, due to human inability to meet its demands, fell short of satisfying our deepest spiritual need. It was inferior to our New Covenant relationship with Jesus Christ for several reasons. First, the old sacrificial system took place at an earthly tabernacle rather than at the heavenly tabernacle. The writer tells us that the first covenant consisted of regulations that guided the priestly service and worship. These regulations were to be fulfilled at an earthly sanctuary, the tabernacle.
This tabernacle, as a shadow of the true and heavenly tabernacle, reflected the way in which people are to approach God's presence. That earthly tabernacle had an outer holy place and an inner holy of holies. The first or outer room-the holy place-was furnished with a seven-branched lamp stand and a table for the consecrated bread. The priests would daily tend the lamps and weekly replace the sacred bread. Another piece of furniture, the golden altar of incense, was also located in the holy place (Exodus 30:6). Interestingly, the writer associates the altar of incense with the second room-the holy of holies.
To enter the holy of holies, the high priest had to go through a second veil, the first forming the entry into the holy place. The holy of holies, the second room or tabernacle proper, "had" the altar of incense and the ark of the covenant. Was the writer incorrect in identifying the altar of incense with the holy of holies? We must note that the writer doesn't say that the altar of incense was "in" the holy of holies but that the holy of holies "had" the altar of incense. The writer clearly says that the lamp stand and the table of bread were "in" the first room, but doesn't use this preposition regarding the placement of the altar of incense in regard to the holy of holies. For some reason the writer preferred to associate the altar of incense, though it was located in the first room, with the functions of the second room, the holy of holies. In fact, the Old Testament does make a close connection between the altar of incense and the ark of the covenant, though they were separated by the inner veil. Moses instructed the priests to put the altar of incense in front of the ark of the covenant (Exodus 40:5). The High Priest, on the Day of Atonement, was to burn incense on the altar so that its smoke would conceal the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant (Leviticus 16:13). First Kings 6:22 describes the altar of incense as belonging to the inner sanctuary, words that are similar to the description in Hebrews 9:4. Therefore, the writer of Hebrews was not mistaken in identifying the altar of incense with the inner holy of holies. Instead, the writer accurately portrays the altar of incense as closely associated with the holy of holies and the ark of the covenant.
The ark of the covenant was the main feature of the tabernacle. It represented the throne of God, the focal point of His presence on earth. This gold covered ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the tablets of the Law that Moses had received on Mount Sinai. The manna was a reminder of God's provision, the staff a reminder of God's authority, and the tablets a reminder of God's holiness. On top of the ark of the covenant was the mercy seat, or atonement cover. It was on the mercy seat that the High Priest would apply the sacrificial blood on the annual Day of Atonement. God would then treat His people with mercy. The mercy seat was overshadowed with golden cherubim, angelic creatures that guard the glory of God.
The ancient tabernacle was indeed an awe-inspiring structure. It had rich meaning to the people of God in ancient times, and even for us as Christians today. The furnishings of the tabernacle remind us of the atoning work of Jesus Christ. It would have been highly instructive for us had the writer of Hebrews explained in greater detail the application of the tabernacle to the people of God. But alas, the writer says, "We cannot discuss these things in detail now." There were even more important matters to discuss, namely, the superior sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
The old sacrificial system allowed only the High Priest only once a year to enter the holy of holies (9:6-7).
As glorious as it was, the old sacrificial system was inferior to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ because it took place at an earthly tabernacle and because it depended on the limited role of the High Priest. When the tabernacle was in place, various priests had the responsibility of tending to the details of worship within the "first tabernacle," the holy place. Only priests had access to this part of the tabernacle. No one else could approach this close to God's presence. Furthermore, only the High Priest could enter the "second" tabernacle, the holy of holies. He alone could draw near to the manifest presence of God on earth. But even the High Priest was limited to entering the holy of holies only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. In addition, the High Priest had to approach the mercy seat with sacrificial blood, making first a sacrifice for his own sins and then a sacrifice for the sins of the people. Leviticus 16 describes the details of the Day of Atonement. That was a special day in the Jewish calendar in which sacrifice was made for all the sins of all the nation of Israel. The writer describes these as "the sins the people had committed in ignorance." This doesn't mean that the Israelites never committed any sins intentionally, for surely they did. Nor does it mean that there was no sacrifice available for intentional sins. Most likely the writer of Hebrews is referring to sins in general, simply calling sin "the ignorant actions of the people." Even our intentional sins can be construed as ignorant because we ignore God's holiness when we violate His holy Law. The High Priest alone could offer the sacrifice for the nation's sins, and he could do so only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. Access to God's presence was limited and was based on the rites and rituals of a special day in the year.
The old sacrificial system involved external regulations that made no lasting internal change (9:8-10).
The old sacrificial system was inferior to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ because it took place at an earthly tabernacle, it limited access to God's presence, and it focused on external rituals instead of the heart. So why did God institute such a system? The writer states that the Holy Spirit used this system to show that the way into the holy of holies, the way into the very presence of God, had not yet been revealed. While the "first tabernacle," that is, the first room or the holy place (compare verses 2 and 6) was still standing-or retained its status-there existed a constant barrier to God's presence. The writer says that God used the tabernacle as an "illustration" or, literally, a "parable" for the present time. According to this illustration, the gifts and sacrifices that were offered at the tabernacle could not bring the worshiper into the presence of God. They were unable to make the worshiper perfect or cleanse the worshiper's conscience. The rituals were merely external. An internal work of God was necessary for spiritual cleansing. The writer says that the old sacrificial system revolving around the tabernacle was focused on regulations about food and drink and ceremonial washings. These were merely "external regulations" or "ordinances of the flesh." They pointed to the need of a New Covenant relationship with God, a "new order" or a "time of renewal." That time had come. It came in the person of Jesus Christ. Rites and rituals could never meet our deepest spiritual need. We need Jesus.
The blood of Jesus Christ alone can meet
our deepest spiritual need (9:11-14).
We now turn to Jesus. In contrast to the old sacrificial system with its legislations and limitations, Jesus opened the way for us to have access to God. His blood, shed on the cross, satisfies our deepest spiritual need.
Jesus Christ came through the greater heavenly tabernacle, opening the way of access to God (9:11).
Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest. He came into the world to introduce us to the "good things that are already here," or better, "the good things that are to come." We look forward to better things because of Jesus Christ, things that far outshine the Old Covenant. Jesus' sacrifice for our sins is superior to the old sacrificial system because He went through "the greater and more perfect tabernacle." The tabernacle on earth, while designed by God, was merely a man made structure. Jesus went through the real, heavenly tabernacle that wasn't made by human hands and isn't a part of this creation. The earthly tabernacle was only a model of heaven. Jesus ascended into heaven itself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. In so doing, He opened the way for us to have everlasting access to God.
Jesus Christ offered His own blood rather than that of sacrificial animals, purchasing our eternal redemption (9:12).
Jesus entered the heavenly tabernacle and even went into the heavenly "holy of holies." He went into the very presence of God the Father. Jesus could do so even in His humanity because He entered with sacrificial blood. But the blood that Jesus offered to God the Father wasn't the ineffectual blood of "goats and calves," the kind of sacrifices offered in the old sacrificial system. Jesus entered into the presence of God the Father on the basis of His own blood shed on the cross of Calvary. Because Jesus shed His blood for us, He has opened the way for us to receive "eternal redemption." The redeeming work of Jesus is eternal. This means that His work is sufficient, complete, and unrepeatable. It also means that those who enter into His redemption through faith have been eternally saved. We need not fear the loss of our salvation because we've received Jesus' eternal redemption.
Jesus Christ provided cleansing for our innermost being, enabling us to serve the living God (9:13-14).
The writer again underscores the superiority of Jesus' sacrifice over those sacrifices of the Old Covenant. The old sacrificial system depended on the blood of goats and bulls. It included the sacrifice of a special red heifer, whose ashes would be mixed with water and sprinkled on someone who was ceremonially unclean (see Numbers 19). These rituals provided external cleansing. They allowed the Israelite to be active in society and in worship. But these sacrifices applied only to "the flesh," providing only "outward" sanctification. What we really need is a cleansing of our hearts, and inner sanctification of our consciences. This is where the blood of Jesus Christ comes in. Unlike the blood of bulls or goats, Jesus' blood provides full, inner cleansing. Jesus voluntarily offered Himself for our sins. He did so through the "eternal Spirit," a reference either to His own human spirit or to the Holy Spirit working through Him. Jesus was perfect, "unblemished" in character and practice. As the perfect, unblemished, voluntary sacrifice for our sins, He is able to cleanse us at the deepest level. Our consciences, which convict us of our sinfulness, can at last confirm our righteous standing before God. We are free from "dead works," that is, free from our dependence on rites and rituals that lead nowhere but to death. Instead, we have the blood of Jesus. In Him we have life and are able to serve, as believer-priests, the living God.
Jesus Christ offered, once for all, the supreme sacrifice for our sins. It's the blood of Jesus Christ that meets our deepest spiritual need. It's the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses our inward being from sin. Only the blood of Jesus can completely wash away our sins