The writer of Hebrews turns now to the earthly sanctuary and the service of the priests who ministered there. He begins by speaking of these things as part of the first covenant, now obsolete (8:13), valid only before Christ appeared as the ultimate Priest. Within the man-made sanctuary, certain practices by God’s design were parallel to the ministry of Christ.
high priest of
as the blood of animals was offered to God, the Lord Jesus as our Priest and
Sacrifice entered the Presence of God by means of the blood He shed for His
people. That will be the subject of much of the remainder of chapter 9. Both
the place and the activity are of great interest to the writer. The sanctuary
and blood foreshadow a different sanctuary and blood, namely the blood of
Christ shed on earth which avails in the sanctuary of heaven. This is the theme
Hebrews 9 is moving to, but first it must lay a groundwork by giving some
detail of the place and the worship activity under the ordained priests of
9:1 In Greek the word covenant is absent in what we translate as “the first covenant”. No doubt “the first” of 9:1 refers to the previous verse (8:13) where “the first” is the old covenant.
If the old covenant is obsolete, then the regulations in it
are as well, yet their value to us is to increase our understanding of Christ
as our priest. If we had no other model of priesthood to compare to, we would
have only the work of Christ but no illustration to help us understand it. 9:1 refers to the tabernacle in the
desert prior to entering the Promised Land. Hebrews never speaks directly of
the temple in
9:2-5 The Physical Structure and Contents The tabernacle in the desert had two compartments:
· The Holy Place which many priests (9:6) entered. It had a lampstand and a table with bread.
· The Most Holy Place which only the high priest (9:7) entered. In it was the ark of the covenant and associated with it was the incense altar. [See below Appendix E: The Location of the Incense Altar.]
It is odd to us, reading a book 2000 years old and not having all the resources they had, to learn that not only were the two stone tablets of the law in that covenant box, but Aaron’s rod and the pot of manna were there also. The OT does not mention these last two items as contents of the ark of the covenant. Hebrews does not give attention to what significance each object or activity in the tabernacle may have.
9:6-10 In the old administration, the matter of
limited access to the Lord was demonstrated by curtains that served as
barriers. Priests were all from one tribe, yet not all men in that tribe were priests,
only sons of Aaron. Of all the priests, there was only one living high priest,
and he could enter the
As long as that tabernacle was still standing, it gave a double message:
The Holy One was indeed among His sinful people, yet He held them back. The death of Christ would change this. On the day Jesus died, God tore in two the separating curtain (Matthew 27:51). That alone shows that the Levitical order had been superseded. The way is open because of the offering of the body of Christ (10:19-22). God only accepts people in Christ, but He accepts all He has joined to Christ. The Bible makes being called to and joined to Christ a high privilege! (1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13,14, Ephesians 1:18). Access to the Father is limited to Christ as the way (John 14:6).
Here in 9:7 Hebrews begins to describe sacrifice using the word blood. This is a very important feature of Biblical truth. Hebrews will oscillate between the blood of animals and the blood of Christ. The Lord had arranged a system of sacrifices with the frequent bloodshed of innocent victims in order to bring attention to the literal bloodshed of Jesus on the cross. It is one thing for God to act to save. It is also essential for us that God should interpret His saving actions, and this He has done in words. His ordained rituals prepared His people for the ultimate reality. Hundreds of years of bloodshed pointed to the death of Jesus on a Friday afternoon. The people knew that the high priest never went into the Presence of God without taking the required blood, which he offered (the same verb for offer is used in 9:14,25,28 & 10:12). A vital truth was being illustrated. To this day Jews will call the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) their most holy day, while so far, most in the Jewish community refuse the true meaning of that day. The Lord will change this! (Romans 11:11-32).
9:9,10 The contrast is between the external and the internal. Some rituals “cleansed” a man of ceremonial uncleanness (9:13), such as defilement for touching a dead body. This man declared “clean” could enter the congregation again, but such a ritual did not cleanse the conscience. It did not bring forgiveness or righteousness. It did illustrate that purging sin can only come from a blood sacrifice. That cleansing will be accomplished by Christ. OT rituals had a purpose; they were an instrument of the Lord to teach the gospel. Their usefulness, limited as it was, was temporary and would serve only till the time the new order came. It came when Jesus made His offering on the cross, and the curtain of the sanctuary on earth below and heaven above was opened. Jesus, having opened the way for us (6:19,20) entered into the heavenly sanctuary and sat down at the right hand of God.
Appendix E: Sins Committed in Ignorance (9:7)
The blood the high priest offered was only for sins committed in ignorance (9:7). This may make us wonder if we ever sin deliberately (and we do) if there is any offering for such sin. If one’s hope in Christ is that every sin we have ever committed must be a certain kind of sin, i.e., a kind of sin we do not know is really sin !! – then we really have no hope of salvation in Christ. Our time in history is one where people care little about righteousness and whether anything is sinful. This is a serious sign of danger. This attitude causes us not to wonder what “sins committed in ignorance” really means. Some presume that God forgives all sin, a confusion that leaves no room for apostasy and reprobation. Some sins are not atoned for (Isaiah 22:14). Some sins will never be forgiven (Mark 3:29) and that is announced concerning certain sinners in advance of their death. (The old slogan: “while there is life there is hope,” does not really apply to all!)
This theme comes up in Hebrews in a number of ways. The high
priest in 5:1-3 offers sacrifices for sins of ignorance and waywardness. Sin
may be from weakness, not only simple ignorance, as in the case of the
disciples in Mark 14:37-40. It may even be rebellion (Leviticus 16:16). There
is a qualitative difference between those sins and the sin of the people in
3:7-4:11 who were hard-hearted, or between the sins of 5:1-3 and the sin of
Judas. Judas’ policy of sin was an unrepentant greed so aggravated he would
betray the Son of Man for money with a kiss in spite of all warning to him. The
eleven disciples were weak. Peter denied his Lord; Judas was apostate. The
A very helpful passage to show the difference between unintentional sin and defiant sin is Numbers 15:22-31. Expressions like “sins of ignorance” or “sins done unintentionally” appears to take on the sense of a class of sin. The way to understand a kind of sin is to see it in terms of its opposite. Hebrews is not saying that we have no Savior because of the sin that so easily entangles us (12:1). Hebrews does say there is no sacrifice for the sins of the man in 10:26 who deliberately rejects the truth of Christ he once held. One cannot be a Christ-confessor and then a Christ-rejecter, and still have hope of repenting (6:4-6). God will not give it! The apostate has no claim on the sacrifice for sins made on the cross. No sacrifice remains for him (10:26); no sacrifice for that kind of sin has been provided. Every man is a fool who chooses to live in sin and presumes that the blood of Christ will cover him. Those who assume God forgives all sin, and that the atonement covers every sin ever committed, argue from a posture not found in the Bible. God will forgive every sinner who repents, but He does not grant repentance to every sinner (6:4-6; Acts 11:18). He also hardens men in their defiance (Romans 9:16-18; Romans 1:28-32) and lets them go on to judgment.
There is great comfort that Paul, the chief of sinners, could be saved, but his opposition to Christ was without the knowledge of Who Jesus is. He was shown mercy because he acted in ignorance (1 Timothy 1:12-17). He called Jesus “Lord” while still uncertain of His identity, wondering in that moment who the God of Israel really was (Acts 9:4,5). Paul was shown grace and a mercy not available to apostates. (In light of these things, we pray about our sins with the words of Psalm 19:12,13.) There is sin not done in ignorance or weakness, sin so deliberate that the apostle declines to pray for the person who commits such it (1 John 5:16,17).
That the Bible makes this distinction concerning sin is clearly present in Scripture. Hebrews warns that the sacrifice of Christ does not cover every kind of transgression. His priestly offering atones for all of the sins of His elect for sure, but not the sins of apostates.
But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD's word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him (Numbers 15:30,31).
Appendix F: The Location of the Incense Altar in 9:3,4
When the priest entered the
Before I offer a solution that may well be wrong, I have this advice. When we hear a person say something that does not make sense to us, it helps to be able to ask what he meant. We do not have that opportunity with the writer of Hebrews. If we had, we might be surprised at a simple solution. We should humble ourselves and say that we just do not know the answer to some of our questions.
When the tabernacle was set up (Hebrews 9:2), the Altar of Incense was in the
Holy Place in front of the curtain that
is before the Ark of the Testimony (Exodus 30:6). This position could
be stated as being simply “in front of the
Some attempt to solve the problem by saying 9:4 does not
really speak of the Altar of Incense in the
suggestion is that the tabernacle should also be considered in two parts, not
by what is visible upon entering but by its purpose. In one half, there are
items directly related to the ritual activity of the worship of the Lord: the
The veil (or
imaginary line. When serving at the incense altar, the priest standing at the
dot [•] in the diagram, is in the half of the tabernacle connected to the
worship if God. He faced the Lord Who was in the
Looking from the angle of function, the Lampstand was
to give light so the priests could see; the Table held bread for the priests to
Ordinarily for us to say a room has something, and some item of furniture is named, we mean that that room contains the item. But this is not always so; a courtroom may have guards, yet these guards and a desk for them may stand outside. Their function has to do with the courtroom, while their location could be outside it. The Greek verb “echein” (i.e., “to have”) has sufficient flexibility to it to allow this interpretation.
 The OT
does not say that the ark contained the gold jar of manna as we read in
 This should not concern us unless we had in the OT some word that all information about the OT is contained there and nowhere else. The Bible does not make such a claim. In 2 Timothy 3:8 two men of Moses’ time are named, yet their names do not appear in the OT! All the information we need about God and our relationship to Him is found in Scripture and nowhere else. We glean much related information from archaeology and other historical records that are not part of Scripture. The OT refers to other documents that are not part of Scripture itself, as in 2 Chronicles 20:34. Thus, the NT may give details not mentioned in the OT. That the tabernacle also was sprinkled with blood (9:21) is something the writer of Hebrews knew, but it not mentioned in the OT.