Hebrews 9-10, “A New and Living Way”
The author of Hebrews has continued to prove the superiority of Christ over all people, angels, and religions. Chief among them is the Old Covenant of Law given by Moses. It was good and had its purpose but it had numerous shortcomings that the New Covenant of Grace ushered in by Christ has overcome such as: 1. The Old was written on stone, but the new will be written on your heart, 2. The Old needed mediators/priests who proved to be quite human (meaning depraved), 3. The Old was conditional on their obedience but the New will be unconditional, 4. The Old had no permanent forgiveness but the New provides eternal forgiveness, 5. The New Covenant includes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to change hearts, which is necessary to actually keep the law. Now that Christ has come, God is asking us to give up the Old as He is offering something better in return. The audience of Hebrews had been exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but apparently due to persecution and peer pressure some of them were in danger of falling back into the Old religion. Therefore the author sought to fully compare and contrast the two covenants. In Hebrews 9, verses 1-10 detail the Old Covenant, and verses 11-14 detail the New.
The Day of Atonement
In Hebrews 9:1-10, we see the Tabernacle, the furnishings, and the practices of the priests. The original Tabernacle was a movable tent with an outer courtyard surrounded by a linen barrier or wall. It was 150’ by 75’. Inside the court was the altar, which was basically a giant barbecue pit. Next to the altar was a huge laver—a wash basin for the priests to cleanse themselves. Behind the altar and laver was the Tabernacle building itself. It was a flat roofed tent 45’ long by 15’ wide by 15’ high. Inside, the Tabernacle was divided into 2 rooms separated by a thick tapestry. The priests worked in the first room, the Holy Place, and the second room was the Holy of Holies with the Ark of the Covenant in it. The Ark was a gold box that contained the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s staff. On a daily basis, people who had been caught in sin or just admitted sin brought animal sacrifices to the altar in the courtyard, and so the priests were continuously making sacrifices for known sin there on the altar. One day out of the year the High priest made a special sacrifice for the unintentional sins of all the people in the nation. This was called the Day of Atonement or in Hebrew, Yom Kippur. The High Priest would first make a sacrifice for his own sin, and then he would have two goats by the altar. He would kill the first goat and take its blood into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle it on the Ark for the sins of the nation. Then he would go back out and ceremonially put the sins of the nation on the “scape goat” and release it out into the wilderness. Then the priest bathed himself in the laver. All this ritual (most of which I didn’t even go into) taught both the holiness of God and the depth of man’s sin. Mankind had a boatload of sin it wasn’t even aware of, and the holiness of God required that even unintentional sin had to be atoned for. No one could approach God without the shedding of innocent blood.
In v.8-10 the author reveals that the worship of God was limited in the Old Covenant, and there was no access to God for the people—the outer court was as close as they got. Even the priests had no access to the Ark, which signified the presence of God. Only the High Priest had access and then only once a year. No final complete offering was ever made in the Old Covenant, which could cleanse people’s conscience. Those sacrifices were temporary in nature and just covered sin until the time that Messiah would come and make the perfect sacrifice of infinite value.
Total Access to God and Total Efficacy of Christ’s Sacrifice
In Hebrews 9:11-12, the author begins the contrast between Christ’s superior sacrifice and those of the Old Covenant with the word ”But”. Jesus as the Son of God who is sinless and who has perfectly carried out God’s will, gave His precious blood once and for all sins, and then sat down in the position of authority at the right hand of God having totally accomplished the atonement for all sins past, present, and future. Jesus’ work has also provided direct access to God for man. Everything was completed, and that is why Jesus was able, right before He died, to say “It is finished”. At that time God provided confirmation by doing four awesome miracles proving that Christ’s sacrifice was acceptable to God. The miracle that confirmed our direct access to God can be found in Matthew 27:51, “the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom”. The veil was a thick tapestry that separated the room of the ark. The veil signified the barrier between us and God’s presence. Now that believers were totally forgiven they had access to the Holy of Holies and the barrier was brought down. Since this was true, staying with the old religion is like someone preferring to read a cookbook rather than eat the meal.
Clearly, all works base religions are inadequate to save. I was reading recently about Albert Speer, the notorious Nazi henchman of Hitler. After the war the allies prosecuted 24 high ranking Nazis for war crimes at Nuremburg. Speer was the only one who totally admitted his guilt and showed contrition. He received 20 years in prison as his sentence. Upon release he said, “My guilt is still not forgiven, I must continue to work and do penance”. Years later, right before he died he said he still did not feel forgiven. Although his life was built on lies, he was correct that no amount of time in prison and no amount of work done will bring forgiveness in God’s eyes. God has provided one proven and correct way to be forgiven and saved, and that is through the atoning work of Christ on the cross.
Christ is the Mediator of a New Covenant, Hebrews 9:15-28
Christ’s effective sacrifice for us offered to God made Him the mediator of the New Covenant of Grace. Before Jesus died it was a promise to believers in the Old Testament, but now it was realized after His death. People may wonder how people were saved before Jesus came. God, existing outside of time, knew that He would send Jesus to atone for the sins of believers past, present, and future. Therefore the saving effect of Jesus’ death was retroactive, as Romans 3:24-25 says, “in the forbearance of God He passed over sins previously committed”. You could say that Old Testament believers had salvation on credit. Through obedient faith in what they had of God’s Word, and faith in God’s promises they were credited with what Jesus would do in the future. As the author of Hebrews said in Heb.4:3, Christ’s works “were finished from the foundation of the world”.
Bloody Religion, Hebrews 9:18-28
We may not like it, but has been clearly revealed that the only way a sinner can approach the holy righteous God is through innocent blood. Even before the original sin God said to them that if they were disobedient they would surely die. Then after the original sin, we see the very next story of Cain and Able. Apparently God gave instruction that to approach Him required a blood sacrifice. Able provide a blood sacrifice and God accepted it, but Cain provided a grain sacrifice that God rejected. As you go through the stories of each of the O.T. patriarchs, they all provided animal sacrifices. The Mosaic Law given to the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai, required blood sacrifices for sin. Forgiveness requires life-blood, but the blood of animals was a foreshadowing, symbolic, and looking forward to the real effective innocent blood of Christ. Jesus’ blood would inaugurate the New Covenant of Grace. God could not overlook sin, but His love led Him to provide the payment for sin. In this life we have our chance to receive Christ as our Savior, but act now because Hebrews 9:27 makes it clear that there are no second chances, “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment”. When the second coming of Christ occurs, He is coming as a conquering King and will Judge all people, those without Him will be judged on their own merit, but those who believed in Christ will be judged by His merit.
The author continues the repetition of the superiority of Christ and His New Covenant over the Old Covenant and legalistic religion. There is no hope in the priestly sacrifices of animals, which were done as a reminder and confession of sin. Christ crucified is the only hope for mankind. In 10:5-6, he quotes Psalm 40 to reveal that even in the Old Testament sacrifices the sacrifices themselves were not acceptable without sincerity, contrition, and repentance. In religious practices people just go through the motions, but nothing changes. They were still practicing sin while doing all the religious stuff. As if every Sunday you could go to church to be forgiven for what you did Saturday night and were going to do again Monday.
Application, Hebrews 10:22-39
Now, after pounding on his audience the repetition of the superiority of Christ, he turns to encouraging them to act. Draw near to the Lord in sincerity knowing that you are forgiven. Hold fast to the truth and your hope for the future inheritance in heaven. Stimulate each other to do good deeds and don’t neglect going to church for fellowship. Live with a healthy fear of God knowing Christ is coming soon.