The author identified neither himself nor the people to whom he was writing. However, the content of the book, including the frequent references to the Hebrew Scriptures, makes it clear that he was writing to Jewish Christians who were sorely tempted to leave the Christian church and revert to Jewish worship.
The author spends the first ten and a half chapters of this thirteen chapter book (1:1 – 10:18) emphasizing the superiority of Christ and the new covenant to Moses and the old covenant.
In Hebrews 4:14 – 5:14, the author emphasized the superiority of Jesus the high priest over the high priests of Aaronic descent. In 5:5-7, 10, he cited scripture to show that Jesus was God’s Son (in a sense that Aaron was not)––and that Jesus belonged, not to the order of Aaron but of Melchizedek––making Jesus “a priest forever” (5:6).
In chapter 6, the author warned of the peril of falling away (6:1-12) and the certainty of God’s promise (6:13-20).
In chapter 7, he returned to the theme of the priestly order of Melchizedek––how great Melchizedek was (7:4-10), and the significance of another priest like Melchizedek (Jesus) arising (7:11ff.).
In chapter 8, he emphasized Christ as the mediator of a better covenant.
Now in 9:11-14, he contrasts the limited effects of the Jewish high priest’s ministry with the unlimited effects of Christ’s high priestly ministry.
HEBREWS 9:11-12. ONCE AND FOR ALL
11 But Christ having come as a high priest of the coming good things, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, 12nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption.
“But Christ having come as a high priest of the coming good things” (v. 11a). “Having come” is the Greek aorist, showing an accomplished action––Christ has already come as a high priest.
Christ comes dispensing “good things,” but the author doesn’t define those. Given that the tabernacle was the dwelling place of God and the place where the high priest observed the Day of Atonement, those good things surely include the forgiveness of sins.
“through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, (Greek: skene) not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation” (v. 11b). This Greek word, skene, was the word used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) for the tabernacle (see also Acts 7:44; Hebrews 9:2-3, 21; 13:10).
The tabernacle was a tent that accompanied the Israelites wherever they went in their forty-year trek in the wilderness. The tabernacle was the place where the Israelites made their daily offerings. They understood the tabernacle (specifically the Holy of Holies) to be the dwelling place of God. The temple was the successor to the tabernacle once the Israelites established themselves in the Promised Land.
The author of Hebrews has assured us that Jesus is our high priest––and the true tent (skene) “that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up” (Hebrews 8:2). He further notes that the tent erected by Moses in the wilderness was but “a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one” (Hebrews 8:5).
Now the author notes that, unlike the tabernacle that accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness, the “more perfect tabernacle” where Christ abides is not made by hands––is “not of this creation”––is not of this world that we currently inhabit.
“nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood” (v. 12a). Having contrasted the wilderness tabernacle of old with the perfect tabernacle of Christ, the author goes on to contrast “the blood of goats and calves” with Christ’s “own blood.”
Christ’s blood is superior in two ways:
• First, Christ’s blood grants access to the hagios. This term is ambiguous. The tabernacle was composed of two chambers, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place. The Holy Place was open to the ministry ordinary priests, and was separated by a veil from the Holy of Holies––the dwelling place of God. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and only on the Day of Atonement.
When Solomon built the first temple, it replaced the tabernacle as the dwelling place of God. When Jesus died, the veil of the temple was torn, symbolizing the open access to Christ’s people to the presence of God (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38).
In this verse, then, it seems likely that the author means the Holy of Holies when he uses the word hagios.
• Second, the ministration of the high priest in the earthly tabernacle on the Day of Atonement had to be repeated each year. There was a temporary quality to the high priest’s work. That was not true of Christ, who “obtained eternal redemption.”
“entered in once for all into the Holy Place, (Greek: hagios) having obtained eternal redemption” (Greek: lytrosis) (v. 12b). The Jewish high priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. His work there was temporal and required renewal annually. But Christ entered into the Holy of Holies once for all. His work on the cross needs not be repeated.
Redemption involves bringing liberty to a captive, usually through the payment of a price. Levitical law required Israelites to buy back (redeem) a family member who had been forced to sell himself into slavery (Leviticus 25:47-49). It also required them to buy back (redeem) family land that had fallen into other hands due to poverty (Leviticus 25:25, 33). The New Testament presents Jesus’ death on the cross as a redemptive act for humanity––as a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Paul speaks of “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). He tells us that “we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7)––and that Jesus Christ is the one “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14).
HEBREWS 9:13-14. HOW MUCH MORE WILL THE BLOOD OF CHRIST
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify to the cleanness of the flesh: 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
“For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify to the cleanness of the flesh” (v. 13). This verse sets up another comparison: The blood of goats and bulls (typical of the tabernacle/temple sacrifices) versus “the blood of Christ” (v. 14).
“how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (v. 14). The “blood of Christ” is superior to “the blood of goats and bulls,” which offered ritual cleansing to those who were defiled. While the sacrifices of the tabernacle/temple cleansed the guilty party, that cleansing was temporal and limited in its effect. It had to be repeated regularly, and would not grant access to the Holy of Holies.
Just as sacrificial animals had to be without blemish, so also Jesus was without blemish––without sin. There were differences. Jesus offered himself as a voluntary sacrifice––not true of the sacrificial animals. Also, Jesus’ sacrifice cleanses “conscience from dead works,” freeing us to serve God without a burdened conscience.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2016, Richard Niell Donovan