Hebrews 9:11-28

David H. Linden    University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, NM  USA    (revised September, 2011)

 

 

In this part of Hebrews we come, in my opinion, to the pinnacle of the entire book. Here we find the service of Christ, our Great High Priest, in His sacrificial, effective, one-time, unblemished ransom-offering. Without shedding blood He would always be welcome in heaven in His own righteousness, but by His blood He was qualified to enter heaven to represent sinners in the Presence of God, since He had atoned for them on earth. There Jesus continues to serve.

 

Here we also find the benefits to His own: His blood cleanses the conscience and thereby enables the true worship of God.  As the Mediator of the new covenant Who died for His people’s unfaithfulness, Christ alone – and not the people by their faithfulness – has secured eternally their promised inheritance. The eternal redemption (9:12) secures the eternal inheritance (9:15). This passage is also the clearest in the Bible on the meaning of the blood of Christ. 

 

Many Biblical themes converge in this passage, one that shows that the death of Christ is the crucial act of God in history and the means by which all the blessings of salvation come to us. The gospel of Christ is fused with human history. The Christian faith is not just a message; it rests squarely on the event of our Savior’s death at a specific location on earth. It also rests on His current advocacy for us in heaven. The gospel message cannot exist apart from God’s actions. It is more than a nice idea. 

 

This passage begins by teaching that the first coming of Christ is the hinge of human history. The sequence is: God’s creation, man’s sin, and redemption by the God-Man, Jesus Christ. The time of reformation, or time of correction, came (9:10) precisely when the Redeemer appeared as high priest (9:11) at the end of the ages (9:26). The “end of the ages” refers to the Lord’s first coming, as it does in 1 Corinthians 10:11.

 

In Jesus’ priestly work, the ineffective has been replaced with the effective; the numerous sinful mortal priests with the one holy Priest Who lives forever; and animal blood with the blood of Christ that really does cleanse from sin. No longer does a priest enter the Presence of God to leave and appear again a year later after another death of an innocent animal. Our Lord Jesus Christ offered once, has entered the Presence, and is still there “for us” after 2000 years. He will come again to fulfill promises that had to wait for the redemption He accomplished in His sacrifice.  

 

 

9:11,12   The ceremonial ministries of priests on earth are no longer valid. The new time has come (9:10), so this verse speaks not of good things yet to come, but good things already here, such as a cleansed conscience.  

 

Christ came as High Priest. In a different Scripture, Jesus asserted His calling as Priest when He said of His impending offering, “for this reason I came into the world” (John 12:23-28).

 

The priestly work of Christ is given in the format of the priests who were types of Christ. Thus, Christ has gone into the inner place behind the curtain” (6:19,20). The greater tabernacle “not of this creation” is heaven (9:11). In 9:12 the Most Holy Place refers to heaven. We are accustomed to think of the ascension as Jesus going up, but 9:12 says through. By using “through” the writer maintains the imagery of other priests passing horizontally through a literal curtain. Jesus “has passed through the heavens” (4:14). In Hebrews His approach to the Father is greatly emphasized. Besides 6:19,20 and 4:14 above, Christ is exalted above the heavens (7:26). “We have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.” (8:1,2).

 

Priests often entered the Holy Place without blood, but on the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the Most Holy Place with blood. It was his duty to take animal blood and sprinkle it before the Lord. Such a ministry was authorized and required by God. For Jesus to be a Priest, He too must have something to offer (5:1 & 8:3). He could enter the Lord’s Presence on His own and be welcome, but He could not enter the Presence of God to represent sinners unless blood had been shed for them. The sacrifice which produced the blood necessary for Christ’s priestly entry was His body offered on the cross. Other high priests entered by right of blood; this applies to Christ as well, but the blood of His mediation was His.

 

Handling Types   It is important to understand that a type in the OT will not be identical to its fulfillment in the NT, just as shadow of a hand is not like a hand in every respect. In the OT the high priest carried the blood with him; the NT never says that Jesus did that. 9:12 does not say Jesus entered with blood as some translations say.[1] The language that Jesus entered by means of His blood or by His blood, is that His bloodshed on the cross is what gave Him the right to appear before God as our Priest. He does not appear there for us by means of, for example, some false argument that we have not sinned. He does not intercede by means of a plea that we should be forgiven apart from justice – as if God could overlook sin! He went by means of the satisfaction that His sacrifice had made for us. The figurative way to speak of that sacrifice is to call it His blood, because He shed His blood when He offered Himself (9:25). The literal blood itself was left on the ground at the foot of the cross. His appearance in heaven to represent us is genuine, effective and legitimate because what He had done for us on the cross was all that was needed for redemption and acceptance by God. It is in this sense that He entered the Most Holy Place by His blood. He pled for our release from punishment on the basis of what He had endured for us.  

 

This is related to another issue in interpretation. Did Jesus offer anything when He appeared before the Lord in the Most Holy Place? We face here some Roman Catholic influence with its doctrine of repeated offerings of Jesus’ body and blood. The OT never says that the priest who presented blood in the Most Holy Place offered it in the Most Holy Place. In both the type and the antitype, the offering was prior to entering the Presence of God. The goat was killed outside the tabernacle and the Lord Jesus’ offering was outside heaven on earth six weeks prior to His ascension. There is only one offering event, the one Jesus made in His death. No sacrifice is made in heaven. It was made where human sin occurred – on earth! 

 

 

Having obtained eternal redemption   The language here is in a past tense.[2]  That shows that before His entrance into heaven, Christ had already obtained the eternal redemption. This is important because if we miss that the obtaining was accomplished prior to His entrance, we might wonder if something happens in heaven that causes redemption. If so, that would again argue that the redemption is not accomplished only in the sacrifice on the cross and could occur later and elsewhere. Redemption always has in it the idea of a payment. (In Revelation 14:3,4, redeemed = purchased.) Since this is so, we must see that the death of Christ is a redeeming death (1Peter 1:18) and avoid all suggestion of any later redeeming activity in heaven. The fact of one event as the sole basis of eternal redemption fits the truth that Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary once, and that the redemption Christ obtained on earth is eternal. Thus there is no later act in heaven or on earth to secure redemption. Our faith does not redeem, the Lord’s Supper does not redeem; there is no continuing purging of sin. Redemption was finished by one payment on the cross. He has freed us from our sins by His blood (Revelation 1:5), by one sacrifice (10:14: 7:27). God has accepted that sacrifice and requires nothing more. 

 

Since the redemption is eternal and Christ has obtained it, it is a certainty. It cannot be altered or affected by any other factor. It is not contingent on the response of faith; rather, it secures the needed faith, because we are redeemed (i.e., set free) from the sin of not believing. Redemption rests on one base, not two; it was acquired for us by Christ in His work as our Priest. His accomplishment will bring about its results in the lives of all sinners who are saved. That redemption is in fact what saves them. (See the comments related to 9:15 below.)  

 

The Blood of Christ   The Apostles Paul, Peter and John, as well as Hebrews, all speak of the blood of Christ as His voluntary sacrificial death. Because the life of a creature is in its blood (Leviticus 17:11), the shedding of that blood is certain death. For Jesus to shed His blood means He gave up His life in death as a ransom payment (9:15). Since such sacrifices were always for others, the blood of Christ means Christ was a substitutionary sacrifice (9:28). His blood is the object of faith (Romans 3:25) and the basis of justification (Romans 5:9). By it Jesus redeemed His church (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:19)   and brought reconciliation  ( Ephesians 2:13;  Colossians 1:20)  and purification  (1 John 1:7). The blood of Christ in Hebrews appears at 9:12,14; 10:19,29; 12:24; 13:12,20.This is the greatest concentration in the Bible making reference to Jesus’ sacrifice in terms of blood.

 

Our High Priest in Heaven   Jesus does not make offerings in heaven; His one and only offering occurred on earth on the altar of the cross. Yet He is still our Mediator Priest at the Father’s right hand, seated there because His offering is final, unrepeatable, and finished. As a Priest He never speaks for Himself and does not need to. Instead, He actively represents His people, intercedes for us, blesses us, and turns aside all accusations.   

 

He represents.   Since He has been granted admission as our appointed Priest, this guarantees our entrance (6:19,20) and shows our acceptance in Christ. An accepted offering indicates the acceptance of the one represented (Leviticus 22:17-25).

 

He intercedes.   He lives to intercede (7:25) and help His weak children (2:18). He prays for our protection, unity, perseverance, joy, success in service, holiness and final glorification (John 17). His intercession is our security; no charge against us for our sin can succeed since He has already atoned for it. No accusation of sin, in fact nothing at all, can separate us from being in Christ (Romans 8:31-39; 1 John 2:1,2).

 

He blesses.   Jesus’ death brings comprehensive benefits to His own – blessings eternally secured. Our Priest blesses us in benedictions beyond mere words. We bless when we say what we wish for the Lord to do. He blesses in words that describe what He does do. Numbers 6:22-27 is a priestly prayer with the kind of favor Christ as Priest bestows. His death removed the curse and the barrier to blessing (Galatians 3:13-15). Because He has acquired gifts for His own, He dispenses them richly: chiefly the ministry of the Spirit among us (Luke 11:13, Acts 2:33; John 14-16; Ephesians 4:7-16), and all the things promised eternally to Abraham (Ephesians 2:12). God does not bless the person under His curse, but since our curse has been absorbed by Christ, Jesus dispenses blessing graciously.  

 

 

9:13   The writer now mentions that the blood of bulls and goats made a person to be outwardly clean. To this he adds the ashes of a heifer, which in Numbers 19 was used for those who had touched a dead body so they could be declared clean.[3] Such a ritual cleansing did not cleanse the conscience. 

 

9:14   The blood of Christ is the offering of an unblemished Person, one Whose entire ministry was the result of the fullness of the Holy Spirit, including making an offering of Himself. It is contrary to human nature to do such a thing, yet it was the will of the Father. Jesus’ Messianic obedience was supported by and completed in the Spirit’s power. Jesus obediently offered Himself. Thus by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus as a man was able to offer Himself as a morally pure man.    

 

The “much more” is crucial to Hebrews. It contrasts Jesus with the animals of 9:13. One must consider Who it is Who offered Himself. The animals were not filled with the Spirit, nor did they voluntarily die. Their blood was not precious as was the blood of Christ. (His blood was precious not because it was different in kind from the blood of other men, but because it was His.) To return to the religion of shadows and copies, and to sacrifices of mere animals and away from Christ is to move from much more to much less. It is always this way with apostasy.

 

 

The God-ward Aspect of the Death of Christ    We often fail to emphasize that Jesus’ sacrifice was offered “to God”. A self-centered culture likes to hear little more than that it was “for me”. That Jesus died for others is very clear; it is the principle of substitution. Hebrews teaches that every priest’s offering is to God, never to man. Christ’s offering was to God, Who was propitiated in the death of Christ. It was God to Whom the ransom payment was made in redemption. It is God’s alienation toward His elect that has been removed; God is the victor at the cross in the destruction of His enemy Satan. God’s justice was satisfied in the death of Christ and our sins (against God) were removed from His sight. God provided our priest, and God was being obeyed and glorified by Him. It is a sentimental half truth to say the cross is Jesus holding wide His arms to us. It was Jesus’ offering to the Father.  

 

The new covenant promises to faith a radical change of heart (8:10). This is the cleansed conscience, a benefit which comes because the blood of Christ the Mediator cleanses. Christ is not a Mediator Who simply passes on information from God. He is One Who has acted to change His people so that they will be the transformed people Jeremiah predicted under the new covenant.

 

Cleansing the Conscience   This is Hebrews’ term for genuine forgiveness. Forgiveness happens in God the Forgiver. It is His judicial decision concerning us that happens the instant we believe. By faith in His Word we know in our hearts that we have peace with God, that our sins are truly all forgiven, that in Christ we are accepted, and that we have been given a title to all the benefits of God’s gracious salvation. Thus the conscience is at peace and our fear of His wrath has been removed (Romans 5:9). We have no sense of remaining under God’s holy rejection because Christ’s sacrifice has removed all danger of it from the one who rests in His finished work. Our conscience knows nothing more will be required by God. Justification does not mean Christians have no further accusation of conscience reminding us we are sinful and need to repent. In the Spirit’s work the conscience is brought to agree with the sober appraisals of God’s law that we always need cleansing. Because of moral weakness, we come to the throne of grace in great need and even embarrassment, but also confidently in Christ – not with a sinless conscience, but one that rests in Christ – though in need of help because of remaining sin. We find grace, mercy and help because Christ is our Great High Priest (4:15,16) Whose blood has atoned for us. The conscience rests in God’s forgiveness by faith in His blood (Romans 3:25). Hebrews is not teaching that we can look within and with a good conscience think of ourselves as completely sanctified; rather, it teaches that sin affects us easily (12:1). It presents only Christ as perfect in His obedience (5:9) and believers in a process of being made holy (10:14). The intercession of Christ is not a false argument that we have no more sin, but a plea that Jesus’ one offering has answered fully for our sins. His blood has satisfied God and cleanses our consciences. We make no offerings for our sins; we only confess them, and God is faithful to purify the conscience from them (1 John 1:9).

 

The Contrast   “Acts that lead to death” (like 6:20)  – or better dead works – is a way to look at sin from one angle. As transgression, sin disobeys; as defilement, sin is unclean. To speak of cleansing as 9:14 does, is to view sin as filth. Death is sin’s consequence. It is the execution of the sentence of condemnation. Death is a broken communion with God; its beautiful opposite is to “serve the living God.” The word serve is commonly used for worship. The OT priest could offer sacrifices of blood, and had to do so. With forgiveness and cleansing from sin secured by Christ, we may approach to offer the sacrifice of praise (13:15). This is a kind of service common to all of God’s people as a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). 

 

 

 

This amazing verse, 9:15!   The blood Christ offered to God cleanses the conscience and opens the way to genuine worship (9:14). By saying that, the writer of Hebrews joined to the sacrifice of Christ the benefits that come from it. In 9:15 he links the promised inheritance (of Abraham) to the priestly service of Christ Whose ransom removes sin and thereby secures that inheritance. Defective obedience can never secure an inheritance; Christ’s obedience does. 9:15 must be one of the most amazing verses in the Bible. It joins together very large matters in a very brief statement. Christ’s mediation and ransom results in an unlosable inheritance for all who are called. This verse is like a bridge that links all the continents of earth together in one location. The ransom paid by Christ connects all these elements in the eternal purpose of God.

 

Christ & Moses   Christ is the Mediator of a new covenant. Moses was the mediator of the old one (Galatians 3:19; see also the contrast in Hebrews 12:18-29). Moses could not guarantee any inheritance. Israel’s remaining in the land depended on their obedience (Deuteronomy 28:21, 58-63; 29:25-28). Moses could not even guarantee that the adults who left Egypt with him would enter the land; only two did and godly Moses did not enter the Promised Land because of his public sin (Numbers 20:2-12). But unlike Moses, Christ is perfect in obedience (5:9) and qualified to enter heaven! As a mediator, Moses could give the law, but he could not produce any obedience to it. When his people sinned, he could pray for them but could not die for them. Moses could not deliver the inheritance promised to Abraham, or the obedience promised in the new covenant. “ … The law was given by Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

 

Our Mediator is the Guarantor (7:22) of the new covenant. Unlike Moses, Christ does bring His sons to glory and also makes them holy (2:9-11). With Christ, it is not that two get in (Caleb and Joshua), but that none will be lost (John 6:39; Jeremiah 23:4-6). Israel was in the land by God’s grace, not their obedience (Deuteronomy 7-9), and only for a while. Moses could not enter the land because of his defective obedience, but he entered heaven based on the obedience of Christ, his Priest. Centuries later he appeared with Elijah and the Lord on the mountain at the transfiguration of Christ. In contrast to the mediatorial ministry of Moses, Jesus has secured for us an inheritance that is eternal. We sinners have no claim on any blessing in our obedience, but Jesus sets free from the sin and loss that the covenant-breaking in the old covenant brought (8:8; 3:11-19). What Moses could not provide, we have in Christ. The benefits promised in the new covenant come to us because Christ is its unique Mediator. 

 

The Promise   9:15 does not elaborate on the promised inheritance. 6:13 and 11:9,11 speak of the promise to Abraham. This promise was covenanted (Genesis 15). The law in Moses’ day did not replace the earlier promise to Abraham (Galatians 3:15-18). As law-breakers they could never inherit the land, but that was not what settled the issue. Receiving the inheritance was certain because God had promised it to Abraham and his children. Since obedience is required and found nowhere else, the condition is fulfilled by the covenant keeping of Christ. We are heirs only because we are joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). Christ is the promised Seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16). All who belong to Christ are Abraham’s true seed since they have been joined to the One Who is the Seed of Abraham. That is all that is needed to guarantee to them as heirs the promise to Abraham (Galatians 3:29; 4:28-31).  

 

The new covenant is also promised in Jeremiah (Hebrews 8:6-13), but this is different from the promise to Abraham only in detail, not in kind. To Abraham and his children, God promised to be their God (Genesis 17:7,8). [4] In the new covenant the Lord repeats that He will be their God (8:10). In sending Christ, God remembered “his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:72-75). This revelation makes clear that the covenant with Abraham, and the new covenant promise of access to serve the living God, are both fulfilled in the covenant Mediator, Christ.

 

The Great Surprise   In any covenant God makes, He requires absolute obedience. Disobedience is always punishable by death. The great question is how a holy God can take into a covenant relationship with Himself people who are sinners. It is not that He takes in people who may become sinners later; the surprise is that each person after Adam is already worthy of death at the time he or she enters a covenant with the Lord. This kind of covenant – a holy God with a sinful creature unable in himself to obey – is astounding to imagine (Habakkuk 1:13). Such a bond could never even begin unless God already had in mind a comprehensive remedy. He has one in Jesus, our most unusual Mediator! This Mediator of the new covenant is the reason those who are called receive their inheritance.

 

Christ & Adam   To see the big picture, one must step back to see the original covenant God made with man. In that covenant God was one party and Adam the other. There was no third party, no mediator; none was needed. Then Adam sinned and the sanction of the broken covenant fell on him: Adam died and all who were in him died to God because of Adam’s transgression (Romans 5:15,17). Yet in the beginning of our history, God promised a Savior (Genesis 3:15); He would put a Mediator between Himself and us (1 Timothy 2:5). Ages later (9:26) Jesus as that Mediator inaugurated a new covenant. Sinners cannot meet the unchanging requirement of obedience, and the penalty for disobedience we can bear only by suffering for our sin in hell forever. The only way this new covenant succeeds is that God is on both sides of it. He is faithful as covenant Lord, and He has been sent as the new covenant Man from heaven (Isaiah 42:6; 49:8; 1 Corinthians 15:47), Who when tested proved to be faithful (2:17; 3:1-6). We must not miss how very gracious it is that God would have a covenant with sinners where all the covenant requirements fall back on the Lord Himself – yet not on the Lord as God, but on the Lord God as our incarnate covenant Man (Romans 5:19). This is the only way the necessary faithfulness can be found on both sides of the covenant. 

 

The Blood of the Mediator   Making a covenant in Hebrew idiom is “cutting” a covenant. When a covenant was made, an animal was slaughtered and its blood, as in Exodus 24:8, was an objective sign to ratify the covenant, i.e., to begin it officially. This ritual would impress on the mind that covenant breaking would result in death. When Jesus inaugurated the new covenant, He too used blood to ratify it when He said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). No blood was sprinkled on the disciples that night; no threat of their bloodshed was made!! Instead the cup of the Covenant Keeper’s blood was passed to covenant-breakers, men whose blood He did not spill in judgment, men He would redeem with His blood. Just as eating and drinking sustains life, they benefit from the blood shed for them on the cross. The new covenant placed their sins on the Mediator! God Himself bore human sin for sinners. (Such grace is unheard of!) Within hours of that meal Jesus in death would drink the cup of wrath for them, but those who deserved it drank a cup of blessing (1 Corinthians 10:16). For Jesus to give thanks for that cup and give it to them, was unlike other covenants in blood. It was for His people the very opposite of a covenantal curse for a potential infraction. The cup of His blood implied that He would die as a ransom to set them free from the curse that the first covenant pronounced on sin. The new covenant pronounces no curse for those in it; it speaks a better word (12:24) – the forgiveness of our wickedness (8:12). In the new covenant, blessing and cursing are not combined (note James 3:9-12). Because Christ is the Guarantor of the new covenant’s success, its fulfillment rests on Him alone. God cannot curse the faithfulness of Christ, and His is the only human faithfulness in view in the new covenant, a faithfulness which, in turn, secures ours.

 

Until the last Passover Supper, old covenant ritual was an obligation for God’s people; then there at the same table and time, Jesus finished one ritual with animal blood and inaugurated the new covenant in His. That night the new order began. The old order (with animal blood) ceased; never again would they be required to keep the Passover with the bloodshed of a lamb. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7). A new worship obligation replaced the old one. The “Do this in remembrance of Me” sacrament replaced a do-this-in-anticipation-of-Me Passover. In the new covenant, we are not under the old covenant in worship, practice, sacrifices, or threat. This is not to deny the lasting validity of the covenant of works. Sin brings death. Those apart from Christ face God without a mediator. For the person who is in Christ, the covenant of works has also been satisfied in the death of Christ so that no threat remains (Romans 8:1).     

 

Eternal Inheritance (9:15) – Eternal Redemption (9:12)   9:15 deals with receiving an inheritance, sin which loses inheritance, and the redemption necessary to preserve it. Had Adam obeyed he would not have lost the world he was given. By means of his obedience, he would have kept the inheritance he entered at creation. Had Jesus not died as a ransom, Abraham and his children could not receive the promised inheritance that still awaits us (11:8; 11:39). The meek – who do not make a false claim of faithfulness – will inherit the earth as a gracious provision (Matthew 5:5). Adam lost the world, but Abraham would become heir of it because of the righteousness (of Christ) that he would receive by faith (Romans 4:13). Since he received it, such righteousness was not his native obedience. Abraham died in faith rejoicing he would see the day of Christ (John 8:56), Who would gain the inheritance for him. The eternal inheritance of 9:15 would require first the eternal redemption of 9:12.  

 

Those Who Are Called   Those God loved in advance (the meaning of “foreknew”) and chose in eternity, He also in our history called, justified, and glorified (Romans 8:28-30). The eternal inheritance is based on an eternal redemption for those whom God in His eternal purpose called to salvation (Ephesians 3:11). (See Appendix H:  For Whom Did Christ Die?)  

 

When those who are called believe in Christ Who died for their covenant breaking and obeyed for their covenant faithfulness, we may speak sincerely such covenant language as “God is our God, and we are His people”. In Christ we have all things graciously secured for us (Romans 8:32): an accomplished redemption in the past, forgiveness in the present, and a future inheritance both certain and eternal.  

 

 

 

 

Inheritance and the Holy Spirit   The ministry of Christ our Mediator in the past, has made our eternal inheritance certain (9:15). This inheritance in some sense is being delivered already. When a man believes the gospel, he is sealed with the promised Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). This shows that not all aspects of the promise wait for the future. That God would give anyone His Spirit is a wonder beyond our understanding; He must have a very favorable view of us because of Christ! The Spirit is a guarantee of inheritance in a different sense. Christ in His priestly intervention and obedience has secured the inheritance. The Spirit given to us shows that God has not confined promised blessing to the future. God’s giving the Spirit shows He will give everything else. The blessing is underway, for the Spirit has been given in the present as “the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire [future] possession of it …” (Ephesians 1:14).

 

New things   The old creation has suffered from man’s sin; the new creation is its replacement. There is no other creation after the new creation (Revelation 21:1-5), for it is the ultimate thing. The old man, i.e., our likeness to Adam, is replaced in God’s salvation by the new man (2 Corinthians 5:17), which is a man like Christ (Ephesians 4:20-24). This is the ultimate in human life; it is in no need of revision or improvement because anything like Christ will never need growth in holiness. Likewise, the new covenant is one in which full covenant faithfulness appears and remains on the human side. Faithfulness has always existed on the divine side. In the new covenant our faithfulness is Christ Who has represented His people. Because God has brought sinners into this covenant with Christ, it is a covenant where sins are forgiven and remembered no more. The new covenant in full expression will eventually have perfect righteousness in each covenant member. The law already written on new hearts (Ezekiel 36:26) will be fully obeyed. In the new heavens and the new earth, the new man with a new heart will inhabit the new creation because of the new covenant. (See 1 John 2:7,8.) “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

 

9:16-22   A Necessary Death   The emphases of 9:14,15 has been on benefits that come from the death of Christ. Next, the writer gives other reasons a death was necessary. Two examples follow, one of which (vv.16,17) is unusual for Hebrews since it does not come from the Old Testament. A will is not in force unless the one who made that will has died. Death releases the benefits in a will. While the testator is alive the beneficiary receives nothing. This simple point is that apart from Christ’s death, no promised benefit can come to anyone unless Christ’s ransom settles the debt of sin.

 

Then with a death drawn from the Old Testament, the writer reminds them that covenants were sealed in blood. The old covenant at Sinai was put into effect when blood was sprinkled on the people and the place (Exodus 24:3-8). For this ratification to happen, animals died so their blood could be used that way. With such a ritual it was official and public that Israel had entered into a covenant with the Lord. Unless there is bloodshed there is no covenant and thus no covenant blessings. In the same way there must be the death of Christ to initiate the new covenant. The OT shadows clearly taught that if there was no bloodshed there was no forgiveness.

 

 

 

The Ministries of Christ and the Levitical Priests

 

 

Sphere

Means

Outcome

Effect

Of Christ

Heaven

His own blood

Redemption

Cleansing of the conscience

Of Levitical priests

Sanctuary on earth

Blood of goats and calves

Guilt remained

External cleansing of the body

 

9:23  one of the puzzling verses in the book of Hebrews. 

 

We should face this verse certain of these things: Hebrews speaks of two cleansings: one external and ceremonial and the other a cleansing of the conscience. The Day of Atonement had a cleansing rite even for the Most Holy Place (Leviticus 16:16). Hebrews has established that the earthly sanctuary was a copy of heaven itself. The activity on earth was an analogy of the activity related to heaven. In both places a priest entered God’s Presence by means of blood previously shed to plead the need of sinners.

 

Two puzzling things appear in 9:23: 

1.) the reference to the work of Christ with the plural word “sacrifices” (“better sacrifices”).  

2.) the statement that the heavenly things are purified.  

 

Both are solved if we remember that it is quite natural when making a comparison or contrast to repeat words even where they do not fit in an identical way. This is intended to make the parallel more obvious.   

 

An illustration: in one school, uniforms are required, and in the other one they are not. A boy may say, “You have school uniforms, but my uniform is whatever my mother gives me.” Note that the boy uses the word “uniform” the second time to indicate that he does not have a uniform! This happens so often in our speech that we do not notice it. We say things we do not mean literally in order to heighten a contrast.

 

In Hebrews we are told many times that there is one sacrifice for sin (10:10,12). V.23 simply contrasts sacrifices by using comparison language the way the boy does in the illustration above. Hebrews means something like this, “These sacrifices are better than those sacrifices.” The text is NOT being specific as to number but to promote the contrast, it maintains parallel language.  

 

The cleansing of the heavenly things is more difficult and has been met with many suggested solutions. Some will say that the “heavenly things” refer to the redeemed people. That is a way of solving the problem by changing the meaning of “the heavenly things”. That will not work; the context is clear (as in v.24) the expression the heavenly things refers to the heavenly sanctuary.

 

The solution I suggest is that we ought not to press any analogy too far. If we were to press the analogy that Christ and His church are Husband and Bride, we would end up with ridiculous conclusions. The shadows of the OT were not intended to give detailed parallels. Instead of reasoning that something in heaven is in need of cleansing, we should back up to firmer ground and view this in light of all the book has said so far. If we do, we may end up with a conclusion like this:

 

Just as the OT priest worked in the setting of earthly things – offering sacrifices to cleanse the earthly sanctuary – on the other side of this comparison, we move from mere copy to the heavenly sanctuary itself. This other reality is referred to as “the heavenly things”. Associated with the heavenly place is better blood than Levitical priests brought to cleanse the Most Holy Place below. In heaven, Christ’s better sacrifice has been accepted. So in heaven, the Priest Whose blood provided purification, sat down and there He remains (1:3). What was done in ritual on earth has a higher correspondence in heaven; it is not identical, but it may be spoken of in the terms of what happened on earth. I suggest that that is what v.23 does when it speaks of cleansing heavenly things. Two ministries are discussed; one is analogous to the other, but we should not press the analogy. 

 

I may be wrong, but I understand the verse this way:

 

It was necessary, then, for the copies [on the earth side of the analogy] of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but [on the other side of this analogy] the heavenly things themselves [also have an important purification concerning them which was done] with better sacrifices [i.e., Christ’s, but the plural maintains the parallel] than these [animal sacrifices].

 

We must consider the verse in its context: The ransom death sets free from sin (9:15). For benefits in a will to be released, a death is necessary (9:16,17). To inaugurate a covenant, there must be a death to provide the blood of that covenant (9:18-20). Likewise, blood was necessary to purify many other things (9:21,22); it is, in fact, a general rule of OT ritual. But when it comes to forgiveness of sin, the rule without exception is that there must be bloodshed (9:22). It is the same way with heavenly things: just as blood was required to purify the copies, purification by Christ’s blood is necessary in the forgiveness that occurs in the non-physical heavenly sanctuary. The point of the context is that death is essential. We will be sidetracked with no context to help us if we delve into a question of how the heavenly sanctuary itself might be the object of some necessary purification different from the one required for our sin. Hebrews give no evidence of any other kind of cleansing.

 

9:24, 25   The Lord Jesus never served at the altar connected to the temple in Jerusalem (7:13,14). He never even entered that sanctuary. In fact, Jesus never preformed a ritual. In the Lord’s Supper, He did not eat of the bread and the cup. He never baptized anyone with water (John 4:1,2). His role is what the signs point to, so He baptizes with the Spirit (John 1:33). The only sanctuary He entered as our Priest is heaven itself. Just as He represented His people on the cross, His service there is “for us”. His offering is a once-for-all-time offering. So He did not appear and leave, only to return again later after making another offering. 

 

Note in light of v.23, that we have again an example of saying one thing in terms of the established ritual, so well known under the old covenant. Jesus did not offer in heaven, nor did he go with blood (see notes on 9:12 above). The established imagery in the readers’ minds is what went on in the Old Testament; Hebrews reflects from that standpoint. Jesus did not make an offering in heaven; His offering was on earth. The writer keeps up the parallel long enough to state sharply the major differences now being addressed: a different sanctuary, a different number of times, with different blood. Hebrews moves from the familiar ritual to its substance, substance the ritual was designed to portray.  

 

9:26  If Christ’s offering were not effective in one offering, He would have to offer again and again. If one offering for all time is not adequate, then the sins of all times, including the earlier ones, would have needed multiple offerings. If one offering by Christ is insufficient, His multiple offerings would need to begin whenever sin began right at the beginning of our history. Such is one implication of not having one effective atonement.

 

Christ did not appear at the beginning of human history, or when the first promise was made about Him. He appeared at the end of those previous ages. This shows that His sacrifice was effective for the salvation of those He saved before He ever came to earth. (How were sins forgiven in the Old Testament? By the blood of Christ.)

 

Self-sacrifice   The repetition is important: “He offered Himself” (7:27), “by His own blood” (9:12), “Who … offered Himself” (9:14), “to offer Himself” (9:25), “by the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26). 

 

Three appearances:   He appeared on earth to make His sacrifice (9:26). He appeared in heaven in the ascension (9:24). He will appear again for those who wait for Him (9:28). 

 

To do away with sin   Hebrews does not look on the atonement as a provision of God that is made effective by the response of the sinner. It is the work of Christ itself that does away with sin. This includes doing away with the sin of unbelief, hardness of heart, and whatever sinful resistance is found in those God calls. Since the sacrifice truly does away with sin, it surely saves those Christ died for. Sin is not put away by our faith; it was put away by His sacrifice.

 

9:27,28   The emphasis on the necessity of this death has merged into its one-time aspect. This, as is typical of Hebrews, was mentioned early (7:27) and not developed at that point. Now in 9:12,25,26 it has much more attention. (This demonstrates that repetition of important themes is vital to sermons.) The necessity of Christ’s death was given with a number of parallels; now the writer parallels the “once only” of His death to the fact that men die only once. (The animals sacrificed under the old covenant died only once too.) So too, Christ would die one time. One can only wonder if those who rejected the sacrifice of the Messiah, might have argued that such a death would need to be multiple as it was with the sacrifices of the old system. Maybe this is why Hebrews argues that such an idea is contrary to the situation with other human deaths; men die once and then face judgment. (We are not certain of all the error Hebrews was written to refute.) 

 

One additional benefit of this verse is to set straight the sober truth that after a man’s death, he will face the judgment. It counters the false view of a “second chance”. It also says that we are appointed to death. Death for man is a firm decision by the Lord; He has appointed death for all men. In giving eternal life to His children, death is the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26). We in Adam participated in his sin. Christ is our “second chance”; there will be no third.

 

Hebrews teaches by making contrasts – another feature in this model of good preaching. The writer’s sense that Christ was sacrificed but once, leads naturally to pointing out a plural. Jesus’ death is the one-time sacrifice of one Man for the many sins of many persons. It is likely that the death-then-judgment way of speaking suggests that Christ’s sacrifice was a judgment on Him for us. It does say (again) that it was for the removal of sin. It says in 9:28 that He bore sin, so what could He bear but sin’s judgment? The text moves from saying men die once, to Christ’s singular death. I think this is a double parallel: men die once and then judgment, and He died once as a judgment. We can be forgiven because Jesus Who bore our sins was not forgiven for them.   

 

When a priest would enter the Holy Place, sometimes the people would wait outside for their priest to return. That suggests that they realized that he represented them. They waited for Zechariah; the priest would bless the people, but Zechariah could not speak (Luke 1:5-22). Our Great High Priest has done all that is needed for us inside in the awesome presence of God, now we wait outside for Him to appear again. The blessing He will bring is not the words of what He would like God to do for us. It is far more; He will finish in us the salvation He has begun (Philippians 1:6). He need never bear sin again; that is forever done. The One who makes men holy will bring many sons to glory, and the redeemed humanity will be crowned with glory and honor again (2:5-11). We wait for His return. Many false prophets proclaim what a wonderful world they will give us, if we but follow them. There is no other salvation for this earth than the eternal redemption obtained by Christ (9:12). Its full enjoyment awaits His appearance. Only then will the saints of all ages experience the fullness of this salvation/inheritance when all are made perfect together at the same time (11:39,40).  

 

 

Appendix H:  For Whom Did Christ Die?      

 

 

Hebrews 2    In 2:9 Jesus tasted death for everyone (or all). These persons are then referred to as many sons (v.10), as Jesus’ brothers (v.11), and His children (v.13).* Jesus took on the humanity of the all, i.e., the sons, brothers, and children, so that by His death for them He might set them free (2:14,15). In 2:9 it may appear that the death of Christ is for each and every human being in all of history, which if true, would imply a universal atonement. Later in chapter 2 however, those Jesus died for are the ones who are set free from the power of the devil, and obviously not all sinners will be set free from Satan’s bondage. So we conclude that Jesus’ death in 2:9 is for the all that the writer had in mind and in the remainder of chapter 2, he shows that the ones for whom Jesus died are simply His own children, when He “made propitiation for the sins of the people” (2:17). The alternative to this understanding is that Jesus died for all without exception but then brought only His sons to glory. If that were true, Hebrews 2 would be arguing for an ineffective atonement in which its goal of saving all is not matched by its actual effect of saving fewer than the population of the world. 

 

* “Behold, I and the children the Lord has given me…” (ESV) Note the children of Hebrews 2:13,14 are ones given to Christ by the Father, which is consistent with John 6:37,39; 10:29; & 17:2,6,9,24. In John 6 & 17 it is clear that the ones spoken of are not the entire population of the world but a number distinguished from it. In this way in the Gospel of John, election to salvation is taught without using the word election.

 

Hebrews 9    In 9:15 Jesus died to set free from sin a specific group of people described as “those who are called.” The description, the “called”, is not of the total population of the world; it refers only to the ones who receive the promised eternal inheritance. Those set free from sin, those who are called, those who inherit, and those for whom the ransom was paid are the same persons. Further, the text assumes that those for whom He died as a ransom to set free are indeed set free. It would be foreign to this verse, and an insinuation of failure, to suggest that Christ died to set a group of people free, when some never are.  

 

Universal words    

 

1)   What of the Bible’s use of “all” as the ones for whom Jesus died? (This word in 2:9 appears in others places such as  2 Corinthians 5:14,15). In 1 Corinthians 15:22 –  “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” – the two uses of all do not refer to the same people. Thus the word must be distinguished by its context.  

2)   What of Jesus’ death for “the whole world” (1 John 2:2)? A Jewish believer aware that Christ’s death was not for the sins of just “us Jews”, could speak of the enlarged scope of salvation which includes Gentiles as being for “the whole world”. In the same epistle (1 John 5:19) the words “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (ESV) cannot refer to every man on earth, because not all are under the control of the devil, according to Hebrews 2:14,15.   So in 1 John 2:2 whole world” does not need to mean each and every person in the world. It must mean though the broad range of persons in all the world in every language and culture. (See also John 12:19 for a sweeping use of this term that cannot include everybody. It is also from the pen of the Apostle John.)

 

Exclusion from Atonement    In the OT there was no offering for those outside Israel (Leviticus 16:17); even within Israel some sins were not atoned for (Isaiah 22:14). On the Day of Atonement the high priest offered only for sins of ignorance, not sins of defiance. (See Appendix F – Sins Committed in Ignorance in 9:1-10.) As it was with the OT type, so it is with the sacrifice of Christ: God gives over to depravity the one who repudiates the Lord (Romans 1:28). This is very much the opposite of God making an atoning provision for the apostate person. Such a person has no claim on Christ’s offering for sin. There is no sacrifice for the apostate (10:26). The Lord declared that some will never be forgiven (Matthew 12:30-32). Jesus did not die to secure the forgiveness of those who will never be forgiven.

 

Concerning Priestly Service    Intercession is a priestly function (7:25). In Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17:9, He did not pray for the world, and made a point of saying so. He prayed only for those the Father had given Him. It will not fit that Christ as our High Priest refused to intercede for some persons, but then as a Priest made His offering quite inconsistently for those excluded from His priestly prayer. In 7:25, the ones who come, the ones He saves, and the ones He intercedes for refer to the same persons. Further, those in hell prior to the death of Christ cannot be released from their condemnation, so it is hard to imagine that an atonement was intended for those the Bible teaches are beyond redemption. Hebrews is a priestly book; it is not surprising that 9:15 would speak of the ransom payment at the cross and the inheritance as being for those whom God calls, i.e., the many (9:28) whose sins are actually purged.

 

Effective or Ineffective?   The choice is whether the atonement is limited in its power – i.e., He died for all, but His atoning  death does not actually save all those for whom the sacrifice was made.  OR, the atonement is particular and intentional in its scope of redemption – i.e., He died for all His own (whom He also calls), and His death effectively secured the salvation of each one. I urge that the sacrifice of Christ was intentional in its goal and that God delivers the salvation to His elect by bringing them and only them to Christ. I decline the view that the work of Christ becomes effective by the response of the sinner. Salvation occurs at God’s initiative because Jesus died as a ransom to set free the ones God has called (Romans 8:28-30).

 

In John 10: Sheep vs. Not My Sheep   The Lord Jesus spoke of sheep which were not yet brought in, but which He would also bring, v.16 (election, because He has them, and irresistible grace, because He will bring them). They will hear, v.27 (effectual calling) and follow, v.27 (perseverance). They will never perish, v.28 (preservation). No one can snatch them out of my hand v.28, and my Father’s hand, v.29 (preservation). Some are not His sheep, v.26 (reprobation). Concerning others: My Father … has given them to me (election). Of others, “You do not believe because you are not part of my flock”, v.26 (depravity implied). The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep, v.11 (particular atonement).

 

In John 10, if not given by the Father, such a soul will not believe. All persons given by the Father will believe. These are His sheep, and are known to be so by their response of hearing and following. The others are not His sheep. He lays down His life for His sheep. “For His sheep” in John 10 is a phrase which excludes the rejecters addressed in that chapter. Christ did not lay down His life for them. The Bible does not teach a universal atonement or an ineffective one.

 



[1]   I often recommend the New King James Version. Here it disappoints when it says , “with His own blood He entered…”.   The Greek preposition in 9:12 is dia not syn.  Did Jesus go with His blood, meaning that His shed blood accompanied Him to be presented before God? No. The NKJV undoubtedly does not intend to convey that thought, but the translation allows it. The King James itself did not use with but by!

[2]   It is an aorist participle. The English Standard Version renders this: “thus securing an eternal redemption.” I think “having secured” is better. This securing is related to Christ’s blood, so it is not necessary to take the ESV to mean that the securing of eternal redemption happened after the cross. Nevertheless, the aorist in 9:12 refers to a past action. 

[3] Philip E. Hughes points out that this may have appealed very much to those in the Qumran community who did not recognize the temple worship in Jerusalem and had no tabernacle, because the heifer was killed outside the camp. He suggests that the mention of this ritual from Numbers 19 is more evidence that Hebrews was written to people influenced by this community.

[4] Genesis 17 is the first specific wording that God would be Abraham’s God. He did worship and call on the Lord prior to this explicit language in chapter 17. It is interesting that Melchizedek’s benediction was that Abram should be blessed by God Most High. Possibly the Holy Spirit has shown by this that having the covenant relation is a blessing conferred by priestly intercession. In the new covenant as developed by Hebrews this is surely so.