[9:1]Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, 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; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. 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; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. 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– concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.
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. 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. 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?
Chapter 9 continues the thought begun in ch. 3 about the superiority of the priesthood of Christ over the OT priesthood. In 8:3, the writer pointed out that since He was a priest, He must have an offering. But it was a far different offering than any offered by Aaron or his descendants, with a far different result. The discussion begun in 3:1 goes through 10:18 and climaxes with the discussion of these two differences.
There are two parts to these verses:
1. The figurative character of the First covenant, 9:1-10.
2. The finality of the New Covenant, 9:11-14.
The writer begins his teaching describing-
1. The Figurative Character of the First Covenant, 9:1-10.
Description of the First Covenant’s “service” and “sanctuary,” vs. 1-7. In vs. 1-5, the writer quickly describes the Mosaic tabernacle, passing over any detailed description of it, v. 5. In vs. 6, 7, the writer briefly describes the “daily” service in contrast to the yearly occurrence of the Day of Atonement. Every day, the priests were in and out of the first compartment of the Tabernacle, doing those things which accompanied the “divine service” of v. 1. However, only one day a year the High Priest, never the other priests, was permitted, even required, to enter the second compartment – the Holy of Holies. It is this one day the writer will compare with the one day the Lord Jesus offered Himself.
The writer develops the significance of the contrast between what the priests could do and what only the High Priest could do:
Design of the First Covenant “service” and “sanctuary,” vs. 7-10. There’s still a lot of confusion over this, even among Christians, many of whom still try to “keep the Law’ as a means of gaining approval or of becoming righteous before God. For such a purpose, we might say that the First Covenant was “defective.”
When we say “defective,” we’re not somehow implying that God made a mistake in giving the First Covenant, or that there was some “malfunction” in it. The First Covenant worked perfectly in that for which it was designed. Just because we cannot drive a car from here to London (assuming that for you, the reader, “here” isn’t somewhere on that same island!) – neither ourselves or the car being designed for underwater travel! – doesn’t mean that the car will not function perfectly if driven on the highway.
In the same way, the Law worked perfectly in what it was designed to do.
So then, what was it designed to do?
In a nutshell, the Law was never designed to be a way to God. While it is true that a perfectly sinless and sinlessly perfect person could come that way, the fact is that we are neither sinless or perfect, but are sinful and depraved. Because of that, the Law blocks our way to God, forever making it impossible to be accepted by God on the basis of our own works. It therefore shows us that we need to be saved, as typified in the elaborate sacrificial system, which could never take away sin or cleanse the sinner.
In vs. 9, 10, the writer again alludes to the temporary nature of the First Covenant. In v. 9, it was a “figure (type) for the time then present,” and in v. 10, we read that it was “imposed until the time of reformation.”
2. The Finality of the New Covenant, 9:11-14.
Really, the writer isn’t considering the covenants themselves so much as the sacrifices they prescribed. It was the sacrifice which was important. Even under the First Covenant, it was impossible to approach God even typically or symbolically without a blood sacrifice, which had many restrictions and requirements, and it was (and is) impossible to live so as not to need sacrifices.
There are two things said of the sacrifice which ratified the New Covenant, and which therefore characterize the Covenant itself:
1. It is eternal, vs. 11-12. Note especially the phrase, “eternal redemption.” This could never be said of the OT sacrifices. The New Covenant is eternal because nothing else remains to be done for redemption: it has been accomplished.
No Aaronic priest would ever have dared to offer his own blood; such would have been an abomination, for no human, except the Lord Jesus, ever met or can meet the requirements God set forth for such an offering in such verses as Leviticus 1:3. Because of this imperfection, the death of the priest would have been wasted because sinful, thus adding to the problem and not solving it. This is why human sacrifice, practiced in some religions, is an abomination; the offering itself is polluted. In connection with this, note Malachi 1:8. If “blind,” “lame,” and “sick” sacrifices offend God, how much more an offering which is in itself “evil,” as a human sacrifice would be?
What volumes this says about the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ! What this says about His nature and character! Cf. 10:4. Only the sinless, perfect, incarnate Son of God was able to offer “His own blood,” to offer the ultimate and only possible sacrifice for sin.
In addition, what a rebuke this is to our perverted self-righteousness! If the ultimate human sacrifice does not prevail to take away sin, how worthless is that little piddling effort we call “sacrifice” to avail before God! By this, I am NOT downplaying the suffering and sacrifice of many of God’s people even at this very moment, even to death at the hands of their persecutors. There is much suffering, that we in the comfort of our padded pews and air-conditioned church buildings can’t even begin to imagine, in other parts of this world. Stephen in the Book of Acts might have been the first to suffer death for his faith in Christ, but he wasn’t the last. And that was at the hands of religion, as is much of the persecution of this time. And it’s likely to get worse. No, no, I’m just saying that there is no sacrifice we can make that will pay for sin.
But, you see, we don’t really understand how little we “deserve” at the hand of God except judgment and wrath. Oswald Chambers had an excellent comment along this line: “If we have ever had a glimpse of what we are like in the sight of God, we shall never say, ‘Oh, I am so unworthy,’ because we shall know we are, beyond the possibility of stating it.”
The New Covenant is final, because:
2. It is efficacious, vs. 13, 14. Here the writer contrasts the effect, if you will, of the two covenental sacrifices. True, the OT sacrifice was able to give a certain sense of “rightness” before God. Zechariah and Elizabeth, for example, are called “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless,” Luke 1:6. Nevertheless, there could never be a sense of more than sins “covered.” There always had to be the next sacrifice, and the work was never finished, even though the flesh might have been (ceremonially) “purified,” v. 13.
The sacrifice of Christ, however, effects an internal cleansing, “purging” the conscience. Under the First Covenant, one could never be sure that all sin had been covered. Indeed, there were some sins for which there was no sacrifice, hence, no “covering.” Under the New Covenant, however, “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin,” 1 John 1:7.
The “dead works” of v. 14 are works done to obtain salvation. This is why the First Covenant couldn’t give an enduring “rest,” as we noted in another post; salvation can never be achieved through our own efforts, and the “covering” that was afforded by the death of an animal was only “good” for that sin and would not cover the next sin, probably committed on the way home from the first sacrifice.
In connection with this turning from “dead works,” note 1 Thessalonians 1:9, in which Paul describes how the Thessalonians “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” Scripture knows nothing of a redemption that doesn’t result in a radical, Godward shift in living. Though none of us is perfect in this life, there is no such thing as a “carnal Christian” or a “Sunday-only Christian.” These might be accepted among men, but they are not accepted before God.
In v. 13, notice the phrase, “the ashes of a heifer.” Numbers 19 tells us of this sacrifice. In a carefully prescribed ceremony, in the only rite in which a female was specifically called for, a red heifer was sacrificed and her ashes were carefully collected and preserved for use in the “water of separation,” which was a “purification for sin,” Number 19:9. This was the “holy water” later used in various ceremonies. You might read that chapter to see what it says about this sacrifice. It was nothing to be slighted. Please note that it was not the water itself which purified, but the sacrifice of the heifer, as signified by the presence of her ashes.
This is a lesson for us today. There are many, for example, who insist that baptism is essential for salvation. I’ve dealt at length with this in other posts, posts about the thief on the cross and about Cornelius. There’s also a whole series on “infant baptism.” It’s enough here to say that the “water” was of no effect, no value, without the sacrifice. Baptism has its place, as do many other things which men say have to be “added,” as it were, to faith in order to be saved. But these only have value because of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. If any of these are “added” to that sacrifice in order for one to be saved, then faith has been corrupted and there is no salvation.
There is only one thing which can take away sin, which can “purify the flesh,” and that is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ: “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin,” 1 John 1:7.
There is a fountain filled with blood,
drawn from Immanuel’s veins.
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
that fountain in his day.
And there may I, though vile as he,
wash all my sins away.