Hebrews 9

We are halfway through the heart of this book (chapters 7-10). The author continues to show us how Jesus is not only superior as the Son but also superior in his ministry. That superiority leads to his death, and the author shows us why Jesus had to die. He takes us into the Old Testament, as he always does, to see the shadows that pointed to Jesus. Then he shows us Jesus in his glory. He has accomplished something amazing for us. 

Hebrews 9:1-10 

1 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. 2 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. 3 Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, 4 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. 5 Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.  

6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 7 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. 8 By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing 9 (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.  

The point of detailing the structure of the tabernacle and the regulations for the priestly sacrifice on the Day of Atonement is to draw out the reality of the distance between God and man. There was not freedom to come to God whenever. A sacrifice had to be made to bring them near. 

Up until this point, there have been hints and allusions to the costly sacrifice of Christ on the cross but nothing explicit. The mention of blood in verse 7 sets the stage for the discussion about the bloody sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  

In verses 8-10 the author shows us two ways in which the old priesthood was insufficient for our needs. First, as long as barriers exist between God and man, there can be no direct access to the presence of God. Second, the priestly sacrifices under the old covenant were insufficient to clear the consciences of the people. Their sin was never fully dealt with. It haunted them. Let’s look at each of these insufficiencies. 

First, the distance. Under the tabernacle (and temple) system, there was no direct access to God by the people. Only the priests could enter the inner room in the tabernacle, the Holy Place. Only the high priest could enter the second room in the tabernacle where God dwelt on Earth, the Most Holy Place, and only once per year. There was a curtain separating the two rooms.  

This was a huge problem for sinful people who needed access to the forgiving God. God provided priests to the people to offer sacrifices for their sins. Yet even what the priests offered was incomplete to purify for an extended period. The priests made daily and annual sacrifices. But what they did was never good enough to bring God’s people close enough. There was always distance because there was never full, everlasting forgiveness.  

Now, the second insufficiency: conscience. God’s people need more than the blood of animals, they need a clean conscience. The tabernacle system was instituted by God to provide a way to deal with the sins of the people. Blood had to be shed to pay for the penalty of sins. So, the priest had to take blood with him into the Most Holy Place. But the blood that he took – the gifts and sacrifices – were not sufficient to perfect the conscience of the worshiper.  

The problem was a guilty conscience. If this system did anything, it provoked guilt feelings within the people, rather than took them completely away. They were witnesses to the bloody sacrifice that their sin required. They saw it and felt it. Their guilt was a constant foe, and therefore only enhanced the felt distance between them and God. 

There was a day, the Day of Atonement, that was ordained by God to deal with guilt. It was instituted to make a sacrifice for the unintentional sins of the people. But the fact that the Day of Atonement was an annual event was proof that the sacrifice was insufficient to cleanse for all time. Something more was needed. 

Many today will say that there is no need to feel guilty about anything. We define who we are. Our mistakes are nothing to worry over. Our problem isn’t real guilt, it’s only guilt feelings. In other words, we have nothing to feel bad for. If we have hurt people, it’s only because we’ve been hurt. If we have been hurt, we can’t be blamed for anything. We are all victims, never the victimizer. Therefore, guilt is a myth. It’s all in our head, just think better of yourself and you’re ok! 

But the reality is that we do have guilt. It’s not just feelings. It’s real, moral guilt. We have committed sin and therefore are guilty of that sin. There is no way around it. The Bible is clear. 

Shakespeare helps us understand this. Macbeth receives a prophecy that he will one day become King of Scotland. Ambition rises within him. He aims to realize this hope. When King Duncan stays in his house one evening, Macbeth and his wife conspire to kill him and take the throne. But neither he nor his wife can eliminate the guilt of their murder. Shakespeare, in poetic terms, shows us the guilty conscience in one scene where Lady Macbeth sleepwalks, rubbing her hands to remove the stain. 

Enter Lady Macbeth, with a taper.  
   Lo you, here she comes! This is her very guise; and,  
   upon my life, fast asleep. Observe her; stand close. 
 
       Doctor  
   How came she by that light? 

 Gentlewoman  
   Why, it stood by her. She has light by her  
   continually; 'tis her command.  
 
       Doctor  
   You see, her eyes are open.  

 Gentlewoman  
   Ay, but their sense is shut.  

       Doctor  
   What is it she does now? Look, how she rubs  
   her hands.  
 
     Gentlewoman  
   It is an accustomed action with her, to seem thus  
   washing her hands. I have known her continue in  
   this a quarter of an hour. 

 Lady Macbeth
   Yet here's a spot.  
 
       Doctor  
   Hark! she speaks. I will set down what comes  
   from her, to satisfy my remembrance the more  
   strongly.  
 
       Lady Macbeth
   Out, damned spot! out, I say!—One: two: why,  
   then, 'tis time to do't.—Hell is murky!—Fie, my  
   lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we  
   fear who knows it, when none can call our power  
   to account?—Yet who would have thought the old  
   man to have had so much blood in him?  
 
       Doctor  
   Do you mark that? 

 Lady Macbeth  
   The thane of Fife had a wife; where is she now?—  
   What, will these hands ne'er be clean?—No more o'  
   that, my lord, no more o' that: you mar all with  
   this starting. 

     Doctor  
   Go to, go to; you have known what you should  
   not. 
 
       Gentlewoman  
   She has spoke what she should not, I am sure  
   of that; heaven knows what she has known.  
 
       Lady Macbeth
   Here's the smell of the blood still. All the  
   perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this  
   little hand. O, O, O!  

 Doctor  
   What a sigh is there! The heart is sorely  
   charg'd.  
 
       Gentlewoman  
   I would not have such a heart in my bosom  
   for the dignity of the whole body. 

 Doctor  
   Well, well, well.  
 
       Gentlewoman  
   Pray God it be, sir. 
 
       Doctor  
   This disease is beyond my practise; yet I  
   have known those which have walked in  
   their sleep who have died holily in their beds.  
 
       Lady Macbeth
   Wash your hands, put on your nightgown;  
   look not so pale.—I tell you yet again, Banquo's  
   buried; he cannot come out on's grave.  
 
       Doctor  
   Even so? 
 
       Lady Macbeth
   To bed, to bed! there's knocking at the gate:  
   come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What's  
   done cannot be undone.—To bed, to bed, to bed!  
 
          Exit Lady. 

We have all felt this sense of nagging guilt, at least at some level. The memories roll over our minds, condemning us. As P.T. Forsyth says, we are “not even stray sheep, or wandering prodigals merely; we are rebels taken with weapons in our hands.” We are active sinners with real guilt. And the guilt haunts. 

We long for the memory to fade but it never does. What are we supposed to do with this? The problem isn’t that we’re just feeling guilty. The problem is that we are guilty. We need someone to take this away. We need a conscience purifier. 

Hebrews 9:11-22 

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 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.  

15 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. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.  

The author highlights a difference – the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. We can summarize it this way: 

Old Covenant New Covenant
Temporary tabernacle (earth) Eternal tabernacle (heaven)
High priest entered annually High priest entered once for all
Blood of goats and bulls Blood of the Son of God
Purified for a set amount of time Purified for all time through the perfect sacrifice
Merely external Thoroughly internal
Shadow Substance

With all those differences, there is one that stands out above all the rest. Eternity. 

The Levitical high priests entered the Most Holy Place, offered the sacrifice of the blood of bulls and goats, turned and walked out only to walk back in a year later with another sacrifice. Jesus entered the true Most Holy Place in heaven, offered the sacrifice of his own blood, and never went back to offer another sacrifice. The author is making a sharp distinction. The offering that Jesus has made is better than all others. It is eternally effective. 

Imagine you are a Jew under the old covenant. The Day of Atonement was yesterday. You sinned a lot today and need the Day of Atonement-type sacrifice for forgiveness. But you have to wait a year. The sacrifice yesterday was temporary and ineffective for today’s sin. Under the law, we could never be sure of our forgiveness at any single point other than the moment of the Day of Atonement sacrifice. The law stood to condemn. But under the new covenant we can be utterly certain of our forgiveness because we have a high priest who has made the ultimate atonement for all our sin. The sacrifice was eternal and fully effective. The New Covenant is our promised eternal inheritance (v. 15). What assuring language! 

The author then draws the conclusion that the reason that this sacrifice of Jesus is fully effective to cleanse us completely, even our consciences, is because he offered himself through the eternal Spirit without blemish. 

Mere animal blood could never bring about the kind of cleansing that we needed. Our sin was too great for the blood of an imperfect animal to atone for. Man’s sin requires man’s blood. Man’s sin + man’s blood = reconciliation. There is no other way. 

So, when Jesus offers himself, sinless as he is, his offering is the perfect sacrifice to purify us. And because he is sinless his offering is eternally effective. The perfect obedience of Christ guaranteed that his offering would be fully accepted by God as our payment. Through the blood of Christ, we are saved – and only by his blood. By faith we have been sprinkled, purified. 

A will and testament is only a piece of paper until death occurs. At that point, it becomes effective. Those who are written in as beneficiaries receive the inheritance. God wrote us into his will, but until the death of Jesus occurred we could not have our inheritance. It was only a piece of paper until the final breath.  

Jesus had to die. It was the only way to bring about the new covenant. He was the covenant sacrifice and his death made it effective. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Jesus shed his blood. Therefore, there is forgiveness of sins through him.  

Hebrews 9:22-28 

The author then sums it up in verses 22-28: 

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 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. 

We see that there are three great assurances for us in this chapter, and which the author has been stressing throughout the book. 

  1. Our past sin is forgiven - The blood of Jesus is the forgiveness we need to cleanse our guilty conscience from past sins. He is merciful. 
  2. Our present sin is mediated - The presence of Jesus in heaven serving as our high priest grants us the mediator that we need. He is gracious. 
  3. Our future sin won’t rob us of our inheritance in Christ - The accomplishment of Christ in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension gives us grounds to look forward to the future. He is faithful. 

All of this was designed to urge us to look to Jesus as the founder and perfecter of our faith (12:2) and the one in which whom all our assurance rests. We are safe in Christ. No need to fear now. We have been redeemed. 

Imagine you are a Christian under the new covenant. Jesus died on the cross two thousand years ago. You sinned a lot today and need the Day of Atonement-type sacrifice for forgiveness. You don’t have to wait for it. It has already come fully and finally. The sacrifice two thousand years ago was eternal and effective for today’s sin. Jesus made a once for all sacrifice. Under the new covenant, we can be sure of our forgiveness at every point. The greatest problems of the old covenant are gone. We have no more distance and we have no more troubled conscience. Jesus has removed both. The cross stands as a symbol of his grace.