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What a Supreme Treasure We Have in Christ
(Chapter 1 Verse 1 to Chapter 10 Verse 18)
Hebrews chapter 9 verses 11-14
When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
Now comes the contrast—and how sharp it is. First, the author shows the superiority of the tabernacle in which Christ our High Priest serves. It is not “man-made,” not constructed by men of earthly materials like the Jewish tabernacle. It is not even “part of this creation,” not coming from God’s creative hand like the heavens and the earth. It is the eternal heaven where the eternal God dwells. No wonder the author describes it as a “greater and more perfect tabernacle.”
In the eternal presence of God, Christ dwells because he had come as the “high priest of the good things that are already here.” Note that his title “Christ,” or Anointed, is used to remind us of his office. He had come to earth to function as High Priest and thereby to secure “good things” for us. Because of his sacrificial work on the cross, the good blessings of salvation and all that goes with it are ours already to enjoy. What a contrast—our Priest serves in a heavenly tabernacle.
The next contrast is just as vivid. Look at the offering he brought. Yes, it was “blood” just as with Israel’s high priests. Blood was important in their sacrifices, as Leviticus chapter 17 verse 11 points out, because blood was a vivid reminder that God demanded death for sin. Unlike the high priests, Christ did not bring the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, holy and precious because it was the blood of the God-man. So he did not have to come year after year with his blood as the high priest had to. “Once for all” he offered and thereby achieved “eternal redemption.” To redeem means to set free by paying the price. Forever in heaven Christ points to his blood as having freed us from all sin and guilt.
The contrast in offerings is sharpened by pointing to their effects. Outward cleanliness for people ceremonially unclean was all that the blood of goats and bulls could offer. The reference to the sprinkling of “the ashes of a heifer” particularly points out this limitation. In Numbers chapter 19 God made provision for cleansing those who would become ceremonially unclean by contact with dead bodies, human bones, or graves. Such unclean people were to be sprinkled with water into which the ashes of a sacrificial heifer had been mixed. Outward defilement was involved, so outward cleansing was offered. But that was all! These sacrifices did nothing to get rid of sin’s more serious defilement of the soul.
Now the author bids us to look more closely at Christ’s offering. The animals that the priests offered had nothing to say in the matter and did not even know what was going on. Christ offered himself willingly. With him went the “eternal Spirit” guiding and encouraging him along the way in this awesome task, just as God had promised. In Isaiah chapter 42 verse 1 God had said of his willing servant, “I will put my Spirit on him.”
Besides being a voluntary sacrifice, Christ was also an “unblemished” one. God’s demand that the Old Testament sacrificial animals be free of all physical defects pointed to his spotless, sinless Son, who would lay himself on the altar of the cross.
And the results of this perfect sacrifice? His blood reaches far beyond the skin and produces more than outward cleanness. It “cleanse[s] our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.” All the works of natural man are done in spiritual death and can only lead to eternal death. For him there is no peace, only the frantic rubbing of his conscience with the abrasive steel wool of worthless works. But for us, peace washes over the conscience when by the Spirit we behold our heavenly Sacrifice and believe “by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah chapter 53 verse 5). Then loving service to a living God can and will follow in daily life.
Hebrews chapter 9 verses 15-22
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
How absolutely essential Christ’s sacrifice was. Without it there would be no new covenant in force and no eternal inheritance for anyone. That is the thought the author next sets forth. “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant,” he writes, “that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” The author is not limiting the effects of Christ’s redemption to those who lived under and sinned against the Mosaic covenant. Christ’s death covers all sinners—past, present, and future.
But the author points out that Christ did what the old covenant of the law could not do. With his sacrificial death, Christ mediated the new covenant of grace. He stepped between sinless God and sinful man and put God’s covenant of salvation into force. Now “those who are called” to faith by God’s gospel grace receive “the promised eternal inheritance.” Whether they live before or after Calvary makes no difference. As heirs named in God’s will, they receive his eternal inheritance, made sure by Christ’s complete sacrifice.
With earthly wills and inheritances, death is always necessary. It is a general principle that as long as a man lives, the provisions of his last will and testament do not go into effect. He may have that will drawn up for years and locked securely away, but it does not go into effect till he dies. Then, when evidence has been produced of the testator’s death, the heirs receive their inheritance.
Can we miss the author’s point? Christ is both Testator and Mediator of the new covenant of salvation. As the “heir of all things” (chapter 1 verse 2), he has also the eternal inheritance in his hands and wills it to us. As the Mediator, he steps onto the cross and with his death puts this blessed testament into effect. Should the cross be a thing of dismay for anyone? Should blood theology make us squirm? Without Christ’s cross and blood, we have nothing to inherit.
Apparently the Jewish Christians to whom the author was writing were questioning the necessity of Christ’s death. The author has already answered by reminding them that wills and inheritances involve death. Now he answers by urging them to look back at the old covenant. Had they forgotten how much blood was involved in that Mosaic covenant? Didn’t they remember how “the first covenant was not put into effect without blood”? From its very inception the Mosaic covenant operated with sacrificial blood.
To show this, the author went back to Exodus chapter 24 verses 1-8, even adding some details under the inspiration of the Spirit. When God gave the old covenant at Mount Sinai, Moses first proclaimed all its requirements to the people so that everyone understood. Then he took sacrificial blood, extended in quantity with water, and with a sponge of hyssop wrapped with scarlet wool sprinkled it on “the scroll and all the people.” “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep,” he told them. The blood, when sprinkled on the scroll, put the Mosaic covenant into effect. When sprinkled on the people, it bound them to the regulations of the covenant and promised blessings for obedience.
Later, when the tabernacle was built, blood was used again. Moses sprinkled it both on the tabernacle and on the sacred vessels used in the religious ceremonies. Though Exodus chapter 40 verse 9 in recording this event mentions only the sprinkling with oil, the author of Hebrews under divine inspiration adds the detail that blood was also used.
Who could miss the symbolism? Blood was necessary. “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood,” as those Jewish readers should have well remembered from their Old Testament Scriptures. The Mosaic Law demanded bloody sacrifices for sin offerings. Only the very poor, as outlined in Leviticus chapter 5 verse 11, could bring four pints of flour as a substitute for blood.
To emphasize, the author repeats the thought, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” All the animal blood connected with the old covenant reminded Israel that they and everything they touched were sinful and needed cleansing. Even more important, all that blood pointed ahead to the greatest sacrifice ever, the pouring out of the blood of God’s Son, which alone can remove sin’s spots and stains. Well do Christians love to sing of this blood!
Hebrews chapter 9 verses 23-28
It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Now again comes the contrast—and again note how sharp it is. If earthly things like tabernacles and equipment needed purifying with sacrifices, how about the heavenly things that they copied? Would they not require “better sacrifices” than the blood of animals? This verse has caused considerable concern for commentators. The plural used in “better sacrifices” has troubled some since obviously Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice must be meant. A simple explanation is that the plural is used because the statement is general in form, contrasting not many versus one sacrifice but lesser versus greater.
More troubling is the question about the purifying of the “heavenly things.” What are these heavenly things, and what kind of purifying is meant? Heaven, where God dwells, is perfect as he is and needs no cleansing. But a cleansing is needed as heaven is entered by sinful man.
The cleansing blood of Christ enables sinners to enter into and enjoy “the heavenly things” without defiling them. This blood ushers sinners into heaven, all the while keeping heaven free of their sin and its consequences. The believer’s entrance into the heavenly presence of God begins already here on earth the moment he’s brought to faith. Christ’s cross is stamped indelibly on that entrance, for only his sacrifice makes this blessed communion with God possible for sinners. When sin, as it still clings to the believer, threatens to disrupt that fellowship, again only Christ’s sacrifice avails.
In heaven Christ “appear[s] for us in God’s presence.” No earthly priest is he, standing before a gold-covered ark in some man-made sanctuary smoky with incense. Our High Priest stands in the very presence of God, not to look upon him but to be looked upon by him as the accepted sacrifice for sin. There he pleads “for us” and always successfully. His blood shed on earth has already paid our penalty and won for us God’s acquittal. What need is there for such a perfect sacrifice to be repeated?
The high priests of Judaism would have been content to sacrifice only once, but their sacrifices had to be repeated. This Priest’s sacrifice counted “once for all” for sins from Adam and Eve on down. When he appeared at “the end of the ages,” all history came into focus. To his cross with its sacrifice all past ages were leading; by his cross all present and future ones are guided. Those Hebrew Christians were living in this glorious New Testament time. They knew how Christ had done away with sin, canceling its guilt and cracking its grip. How could they even think of turning away from such a Savior? To believe what he had done would mean to rejoice all the day through.
Once more the author presents Christ’s perfect sacrifice, this time from another perspective. “Man is destined to die once.” It is a circumstance of life over which man has no control and that, though he try to forget, he cannot avoid. And death is serious because judgment follows. At death’s moment God’s verdict is pronounced—with the soul going either to heaven or to hell, to be followed on the Last Day by his body. Now consider our Great High Priest. He did not merely die; he was sacrificed, but only once, and that was enough to satisfy God’s judgment. By that sacrifice the sins of all, whom the author describes as “many” in contrast to the one who bore those sins, were canceled.
But Calvary with its cross is not the end of redemption’s story nor is the scene in heaven’s Most Holy Place where the ascended Priest represents his people. The final chapter remains to be written. When Christ returns to earth, he won’t be concerned about sin. Oh yes, he will have something to say to unbelievers about their sins, and for a million worlds none of us would want to be in their shoes. But for those “who are waiting for him,” holding out eagerly for that great Last Day, his return will bring full enjoyment of salvation. The apostle’s words in 1st John chapter 3 verse 2 mirror our thoughts: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” How we wait for his return!
Hebrews chapter 10 verses 1-4
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Do we get the feeling that the author has been somewhat repeating himself? Yes, indeed, purposely so! Throughout this first part of his letter, the theme has been “What a supreme treasure we have in Christ.” No more glorious theme could be found; his readers were to be perfectly clear about this truth. So as the author draws this doctrinal portion of his letter to a close, he once more repeats and reinforces the thought of the superior Christ and his all-sufficient sacrifice for sin. Note how he ends each of the brief sections with a reference to that perfect sacrifice.
Once more the author takes his readers back to the Old Testament law with its commands about the sacrificial system. How inadequate it was. In dismissal the author summarizes the law as only a shadow of the good things to come. Shadows are not “the realities themselves” but only vague previews of what is coming. Those animal sacrifices only hinted at the “good things” of salvation that Christ’s real sacrifice would bring. To turn back now from Christ to the shadow would be like preferring a photo to the real person. What an insult that would be!
Because those sacrifices were only shadows, they needed to be “repeated endlessly year after year.” Every year for centuries the ritual on the Day of Atonement was the same. Yet repetition did not bring remission of sin. Animal sacrifices made no one “perfect.” They brought no one to the goal of forgiveness of sin and fellowship with God. If they had, why were those sacrifices repeated endlessly? If surgery is successful, it need not be repeated over and over. If cleansing for the guilty conscience is there, additional cleansing need not be obtained.
Those repeated sacrifices did not soothe the sinner’s conscience but rather stabbed it awake each year. Instead of erasing the sinner’s guilt, the annual sacrifices emphasized it. The conclusion was obvious: “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” “Take away” means to remove something so completely that it is no longer in the picture. That’s what man needed done with his sins, and that’s what animal blood was incapable of doing. To try removing sin with animal blood was as futile as attempting to build a mountain to the moon with teaspoonfuls of sand. Could the readers miss the author’s emphasis? “Don’t look back at those Old Testament sacrifices,” he was saying. “They couldn’t remove even a speck of sin’s guilt but only pointed ahead to Christ, whose perfect sacrifice would remove it all. Look at him!”
End of Part 1.9