Our author has spoken already of the legitimacy of Christ’s priesthood (chapter five), which he carefully explained as after the order of Melchizedek (chapter seven). Because this kind of priest cannot serve under the old covenant, Christ has also mediated a new covenant suitable to His work (chapter eight). Chapter nine contrasts the sanctuaries and the rituals of the two covenants, and then, by a play on words, demonstrates another blessing Christ’s death gives His people.
9:1. The first covenant involved ordinances and arrangements for divine service, but the sanctuary in which these were carried out was worldly. It was, as verse nine will show, a figure of something more substantial in the eternal order.
9:2. The Mosaic Tabernacle consisted of two tent-compartments. In the first or outer one was the candlestick (better, lampstand; Exodus 25:31-40; Leviticus 24:1-4), and the table (Exodus 25:23-30; Leviticus 24:6) on which the priests placed the showbread (literally “loaves of presentation” or “bread of the presence”; see Exodus 25:30; Leviticus 24:5-9). This first tent was called the sanctuary or holy place.
9:3. A veil or curtain (Exodus 26:31-33) separated the holy place from the holiest of all or the most holy place (literally, “holy of holies”). It is called the second veil in contrast to the linen curtain separating the holy place from the outside court (Exodus 26:36-37).
9:4. The second compartment had or involved the use of the golden censer or altar of incense (Exodus 30:1-9). Although this altar was in the outer holy place (Exodus 30:6), the smoke from it filled the most holy place on the Day of Atonement so that the high priest never came into God’s clear presence (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:12-13).
The ark of the covenant was also in the inner tent (Exodus 25:10-15). When first built, this gold-plated wooden chest contained three articles which reminded Israel of God’s covenant-mercies
The golden pot that had manna (Exodus 16:32-34) reminded Israel of God’s miraculous provision of food in the wilderness. The English Bible follows the Hebrew in not mentioning the vessel being gold, but our author is quoting from the Greek version which included that detail.
Aaron’s rod that budded (Numbers 17:1-11) was a perpetual sign of the exclusive right of Aaron and his descendants to the priesthood. This rod was involved in the miraculous incident which occurred after the rebellion led by Korah (Numbers 16). See also notes on 5:4-6.
The tables or plaques of the covenant were the two tablets of stone cut by Moses after he had angrily shattered the first tablets because of Israel’s idolatry (Exodus 32:19; 34:1-4, 28-29). On these were engraved the ten commandments.
Archaeology has suggested an interesting possibility regarding the dual tablets of stone. In the absence of carbon paper or photocopy machines, covenant-treaties in the ancient world between protective lord and a vessel people were often written twice — one copy for his records and one for theirs. These tablets would be kept in the respective temples as solemn reminders of the covenant. Because Israel’s sanctuary was at the same time God’s only visible “dwelling,” both copies of the “covenant” were kept in the most holy place. Whether the two tablets reflected this practice or not, they gave the ark containing them its name.
When Solomon built the Temple, nothing was in the ark but the two tables of stone (I Kings 8:9; II Chronicles 5:10). The other articles may have been removed during the seven months the Philistines possessed the ark (I Samuel 4: 11; 6:1).
Scripture does not tell the final destiny of the tabernacle or its furniture. An ancient Jewish tradition had Jeremiah taking the tabernacle, the ark and the altar of incense to a cave atop Mount Pisgah, where he hid them “until God shall gather the people again together, and mercy come . . . and the glory of the Lord shall be seen, even the Cloud” (II Maccabees 2:1-8).
9:5. Over the ark was a lid of solid gold called the mercy-seat (Exodus 25:17). The Greek word here is the same translated “propitiation” in Romans 3:25, where Christ is our mercy-seat. These are the only two times this word appears in the New Testament Scriptures.
Connected to the ends of the mercy-seat were the cherubims of glory, two golden angels facing each other with up-spread wings that covered the mercy-seat (Exodus 25:18-20). From here God would give His commandments (Exodus 25:22) and here He would “meet” the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:2, 13-15).
Our author speaks only generally of these items which were in the tabernacle. That he cannot now speak particularly means simply that he will not at this point; enter on a detailed discussion of the individual pieces. Since he makes only a general typological point regarding these items, we will here do the same.
9:6-7. Having spoken of the equipment of the Aaronic priests, he turns now to their ritual These two verses emphasize one theme in three ways: the inaccessibility of the most holy place under the former covenant. The priests ministered in the holy place; the high priest alone could enter the most holy place. Service was performed always or daily in the first tent; it was performed in the second tent only one day every year. The outer tabernacle was entered for many purposes; the inner tent could not be entered without blood. This blood the high priest offered that single day each year, first for himself and then for the errors of the people (see 5:3; 7:27; Leviticus 16:6, 11, 15).
When these things were thus ordained refers to the time of Moses. The phrase has no bearing on the date of this epistle.
9:8. In the very limited access to the most holy place, the Holy Ghost or Spirit was signifying that the way to God was not yet made manifest to sinful man. So long as the first tabernacle was standing, so long as there were two tents, just that long man could not approach God directly or with a clear conscience. The next chapter will show that the work of Jesus has opened the road to God for the people of the new covenant (10:19-20; see Matthew 27:51; John 10:9; 14:6; Romans 5:2; Ephesians 2:18).
9:9. All this was a figure or parable for the period of time in which the Aaronic priesthood was ministering. It should have indicated to them that their gifts and sacrifices (see 5:1, 8:3) were not for the perfecting of the conscience.
9:10. Such offerings involved ceremonial cleansing from meats or foods and drinks through various washings and carnal ordinances. The ceremonial laws and the rituals pertaining to them were all temporary, and were imposed only until the time or period of sacred history in which God would affect reformation.
Reformation translates a word which means a straightening, and was used in Greek literature of setting a fracture, repairing roads or houses, or even paying debts. The general meaning is “putting right” or “bringing to a satisfactory state.” In this verse, the present period of the priestly work of Messiah Jesus is the time when God is putting right sinful man and bringing to a satisfactory state the ordinances foreshadowed by the incomplete shadows and symbols of the old covenant system.
9:11. Christ having arrived (that is literally what he says), so has the time of reformation just mentioned. He is high priest of all the good things which belong to the order to come, that is, the Messianic order of fulfillment. The phrase “to come” is used several times in Hebrews of the still unrealized future (2:5; 13:14), but the entire epistle agrees that this perfect order has now begun in part, and that its power may already be enjoyed (6:5).
Christ’s service involves a greater and more perfect tabernacle or sanctuary. It is not made with hands (see 8:2, 5); in fact, it is not a part of this physical creation or building.
9:12. Nor is His service dependent on the blood of goats for Himself or of calves for the people. Through the merits of the sinless life represented in his own blood He has entered into the most holy place once for all time, and there He has found or obtained a redemption that is eternal.
Unlike the temporary elements of the first covenant, all that pertains to the new covenant belongs to the eternal order. This eternal covenant (13:20) brings an eternal redemption (9:12), inheritance (9:15) and salvation (5:9), because it rests on the offering of Christ by His eternal Spirit (9:14).
This is not a Platonic distinction between the world of true being and that of forms or appearance. It is not simply a lower and an upper world. Rather the writer of Hebrews speaks of the eternal things and the carnal ordinances with both horizontal and vertical significance.
On the one hand, there is an eternal realm which exists at the same time as but transcendent to the first-covenant types and shadows based on it. On the other hand, this eternal realm was manifested in the course of human time and history, displacing the former types and shadows.
In combining these concepts the writer is in complete accord with the rest of the New Testament Scriptures that the Christian order involves both what already has come into human history and what has not yet appeared. It is unfair to our author to say that he is voicing Greek philosophy, or even that he is speaking in Platonic terms. He is rather speaking in language that is common to Jewish expression (the “vertical” typology) on the one hand, and to Christian teaching (the “horizontal” element) on the other.
9:13. Here is another of those “how much more” contrasts with which we have become familiar in Hebrews. This time it clinches the point made so far in chapter nine: Christ as a priest ministers a service which excels that of the Aaronic priests, and, in keeping with that, He gives far better benefits.
The blood of bulls and of goats was used in sin-offerings on the Day of Atonement or at other times, and the ashes of an unblemished red heifer were used in rites of purification (Numbers 19:1-22). These things could sanctify so far as purifying the flesh from ceremonial uncleanness, or even staying God’s wrath against sin momentarily.
9:14. Yet how much more, we are asked, will the blood of Christ cleanse the conscience, not from uncleanness incurred through touching a dead body (Numbers 19:11-16), but from “practices and attitudes which belong to the way of death, which pollute the soul and erect a barrier between it and God” (Bruce) — that is, from dead works?
Freed from such practices by the blood of Christ, His people are free to serve the living God. Note the contrast between dead works and a living God. For a similar point see Romans 6:6, 13; 7:4-6; II Corinthians 2:16; 3:6.
The basis of this superior benefit of Christ’s offering is that He through the eternal spirit offered himself without spot to God. Christ’s sinless life has already been attested to, and will appear again in chapter ten. His life was “offered” to God, not to Satan as some medieval theorists surmised. This was a sacrifice of love, but also of “bearing sins.” A sinless life could justly meet all God’s requirements for man and at the same time pay the ransom for sin. One ought not press these figures beyond scriptural bounds, but simply glory in what God has done and be content to understand that by such terms as He has chosen to use in revealing it.
Through the eternal spirit. In the face of arguments for “spirit” and “Spirit” here, it does no violence to the passage or the larger context to allow both meanings. It was through the offering of His own spirit, first in complete obedience and then in death, that Christ’s blood possessed merit. His spirit is eternal because by nature He is the Son who belongs to the eternal order; He was raised to be priest because He possesses an indestructible life (7:16).
On the other hand, it was by anointing Jesus with the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 42:1) that God announced Him to be the Servant on whom He would also lay “the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). It was by the Spirit that Christ was raised from the dead (I Peter 3:18) and declared to be the Son (Romans 1:4), fulfilling the promise that He would “prolong His days,” “see the travail of His soul and be satisfied” and “justify many” (Isaiah 53:10-11).
9:15. Because of Christ’s meritorious blood, by which He became mediator of the new testament, one may say that by means of death those who are called of either covenant receive the promise of eternal inheritance. His death was for the redemption of the transgressions under the first testament, as well as for sins of those who should live afterward (see also Romans 3:25). Because Christ’s blood can cleanse from dead works (verse 14), the inheritance contained in God’s promise is assured to His people.
Having spoken of the inheritance, the author’s thoughts seem to move for a brief moment to a double meaning possessed by the word which he has been using for “covenant.” For the word translated “testament” here is the same one translated “covenant” in the preceding chapter.
Because the English language needs two words to express what the Greek language could say in this one, the English reader is at a disadvantage in understanding the present argument until he learns of this double sense.
Ordinarily in Scripture this word means “covenant.” It is a great theological word of the Old Testament, where it stands for the Hebrew term signifying the divine disposition or arrangement imposed by God on Israel, through which He brought Israel into a special relationship with Himself. That covenant was one-sided in that God planned and expressed it and Israel could not bargain the terms. But it was two-sided in that Israel accepted certain stated conditions involving both blessing and punishment.
In New Testament times, however, this same Greek word was used commonly for a last will and testament. Not only so, the word for the man who offered a covenant to another was the same word for the man who made a will. There are similarities and differences between these two concepts.
A covenant and a will have in common that both (at least in a divine-human covenant) involve a death. They are distinct inasmuch as such a covenant provides for both benefits and punishments, but a will provides only for benefits — which are assured by the death of the man who makes the will.
In verses 15-20, the word is used both ways. Verses 15, 18-20 use this word in the usual biblical sense of a covenant. But verses 16-17 use the same word (as the Greeks commonly used it) of a will. By this subtle shift in emphasis from one to the other and back again, the author points out a special benefit of the new covenant which the old could not give.
9:16. Where a testament or will is, there must be publicly established and proved the death of the man who made the will. This is a general statement concerning normal human affairs.
9:17. Such a will is of force only after the man who made it is dead. It has no legal power while he is living. The point here is not particularly that Jesus was free during His life time to dispense blessings in a manner other than that provided for in His “will,” though it is true that “the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.” Rather the author’s concern is that a death must take place in the establishment of either a divine covenant or a human will, and that, in the case of a last will and testament, once the death has occurred the benefits provided by the will are guaranteed to the beneficiaries.
Because the death of Jesus can purge the conscience from dead works, His beneficiaries will receive the eternal inheritance. His new testament is of the nature of a will, as well as that of a covenant (which was discussed in chapter eight), but as a will it provides only benefits!
This does not diminish the force of numerous stern warnings against apostasy. For the beneficiaries of Christ’s will are seen to be the people of the new covenant, not individuals in isolation. The benefits are for the “house” which “we” are (3:6). The true rest is for the “people” of God (4:9). Both “house” and “people” figure in the discussion of the new covenant (8:8, 10).
For this reason, individuals are to exhort “one another” lest “any of you” be hardened (3:13). They know that the Lord will judge His “people” (10:30). Some who have entered the covenant may certainly be lost, though only through failure to remain in the covenant by faith (fullness). All who remain among the covenant people will obtain the blessings which Christ’s offering secured for them, for His death was that of a testator as well as that of a covenant-mediator. “He is testator and executor in one, surety and mediator alike” (Bruce).
9:18. Leaving now the idea of a last will and testament, and returning to the ordinary meaning of covenant, the writer notes that the first covenant or testament was also dedicated with blood.
9:19. When Moses had spoken the terms of the covenant to all the people, he sealed with blood their acceptance of it and God’s acceptance of them on that basis. The account of this covenant-sealing ceremony is given in Exodus 24:1-8. Several details in Hebrews are not mentioned in the Old Testament. Exodus makes no mention of goats in the ceremony. It does not mention the use of water, scarlet wool or hyssop in the sprinkling. It makes no mention of the Book being sprinkled, but does say the altar was, which Hebrews omits.
Delitzsch believes the expression “calves and goats” in Hebrews is a general term for sacrifices of all kinds. It is also quite possible that our author had information not given in Exodus.
The mixing of water with blood for sprinkling and sprinkling by means of wool wrapped around hyssop may be inferred from the case of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:22), the purification ceremony for one cleansed of leprosy (Leviticus 14:4-l, 49-53), or the cleansing of one who had touched a dead body (Numbers 19:17-18). The author of Hebrews either assumes the sprinkling of the Book because the altar and people were sprinkled, or he has information not extant today.
9:20. Be that as it may, the point he makes is that blood was directly involved in the dedication of the first covenant, and he quotes Moses to that effect. He does change the wording slightly, giving “this is the blood of the testament” for “behold the blood . . .” in Exodus. This may reflect a simple paraphrase, or he may be aligning those words to the words of institution at the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:28).
9:21. When the tabernacle was erected, Moses sprinkled with blood the tabernacle itself and all the vessels of the ministry. Again the Old Testament does not give all these details, though it does say the tabernacle and its furnishings were sprinkled with oil (Exodus 40:9-11; Leviticus 8:10-11; Numbers 7:1) and the altar with blood as well (Leviticus 8:15).
Josephus, however, says that the entire tabernacle and furnishings were purified “both with oil first incensed, as I said, and with the blood of bulls and of rams” (Antiquities 3:8:6). Again we may suppose that our author had information beyond that in the books of Moses.
9:22. Almost all things, according to the Old Testament law, were purged with blood. This statement leaves room for exceptions, as in the case of a poor Israelite (Leviticus 5:11-13; see Numbers 16:46-48; 31:21-24; 31:50-54). The next statement, however, has no exceptions. Without shedding of blood there is no remission or forgiveness.
The three words shedding of blood stand here for a single Greek word, which is found only here in all biblical literature. This word emphasizes the actual taking of blood, and calls attention to the fact that blood offerings represented the presentation of a life (Leviticus 17:11). Shedding of broad is also linked to the remission of sins in the Lord’s words at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:28).
9:23. Because of the general practice of cleansing with blood, and because forgiveness of sins may be obtained only through blood-shedding, it was necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens (see 8:1, 5) be purified with the blood ceremonies already described. But the same principles require that the heavenly things themselves be purified with better sacrifices than these. The heavenly realities are purified with the blood of Christ, and this purification is necessary because of the general curse of sin on creation and because Christ has opened the way for redeemed sinners to enter the most holy place not made with hands.
9:24. Christ has entered into a holy place not made with hands (see 8:1, 2, 5; 9:11-12), not the mere figures of the true, but into heaven itself. He has gone to appear in the presence of God, to be examined as a sacrificial offering, as a Lamb without spot or blemish, to be carefully scrutinized by God Himself — and that with no cloud of incense to obscure the view! Not only so, He has presented Himself in this manner for us, and it is for His people alone, not for Himself, that Christ became the Lamb of God or that He made this appearance.
Philip the Evangelist preached Jesus as a lamb, based on a prophetic passage full of the Gospel (Acts 8:32). Peter wrote of the Christian’s redemption by the blood of Christ “as of a lamb without blemish” (I Peter 1:19). John the Baptist introduced Jesus as the “Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world” (John 1:29, 36). Paul speaks of Christ as our “Passover” (Lamb) who has been slain (I Corinthians 5:7).
The figure of Jesus as a sacrificial lamb appears only in Revelation otherwise, though there frequently. He is the Lamb whose sacrifice has been received; He is a Lamb worthy of praise; the Lamb who has redeemed His people; the Lamb at God’s right hand; the Lamb who will come in Judgment; and the Lamb who will be forever a light for His people (Revelation 5:6, 8, 12, 13; 6:16; 7:9-17; 12:11; 13:8; 14:1, 4, 10; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22, 23, 27; 22:1, 3).
9:25. Because of the quality of His offering, Christ made but one for all time, though as eternal priest He perpetually mediates on the basis of that single sacrifice. Here the contrast is with the Aaronic priesthood. The regular priests under that covenant entered the holy place often, the high priest entered the most holy place one day each year. But Christ, the priest of the new covenant, entered the heavenly holy place only one time forever. He does not need to offer himself often, not even every year, for He did not carry the blood of others but His own.
9:26. If Christ’s single sacrifice were not sufficient for all time, He must have suffered a bloody death since the foundation of the world, for just that long men have been sinners and in need of a sacrifice. But instead we see Him now in the end of the world, at the consummation of the ages, when the eternal order is breaking in on man’s history, at the time of perfection — appearing once on the scene of history to make His single offering and put away or disannul the power (same word at 7:18) of sin for all time.
Note the contrasts in this verse. Christ has not suffered death often, but once; not from the foundation of the world, but only now in the end of the ages, not (as the high priests of verse 25) with the blood of others, but by the sacrifice of Himself.
The exact expression here translated the end of the world (literally, “the consummation of the ages”) appears only here in the New Testament Scriptures. It is parallel, however, to the expression found at Matthew 13:39, 40, 49; 24:3 and 28:20, and closely related in meaning to similar phrases in I Corinthians 10:11 and I Peter 1:20. As Bruce points out, “it is not that Christ happened to come at the time of fulfillment, but that His coming made that time the time of fulfillment.” See notes on 9:10-12 and especially on 1:2.
The singularity of Christ’s offering is expressed here in three ways. It is once for all; it is in the consummation of the ages; it is to abolish sin. If sin is abolished, there is no need for another sacrifice If the consummation of the ages has come, there is no time £or another. If Christ’s offering is once for all, there can be no other. Chapter ten will show how this once-for-all character of His offering brings both marvelous blessings and a dreadful warning to the people of the new covenant.
9:27. The general rule is stated that it is appointed by God for men to die once and only once, inasmuch as they live once in a mortal body, and after this comes the judgment. The author does not deal with the time lapse between death and judgment; that is not his concern. He simply calls attention to the fact that men live one time, die one time and (sometime thereafter) are judged by God for the life they lived before they died.
9:28. In keeping with this general rule, Christ (who became one with His human brethren by taking on flesh and blood, 2:14) also lived one time in the flesh, died one time in the flesh and appeared before God one time to be judged on the basis of the single life lived before He died.
Christ, however, lived a representative life on behalf of others (as chapter ten will explain); He died to bear the sins of many, so was offered; and has been judged for others as well (verse 24). Yet the point remains the same as with all men: He can only live once, die once, and be judged once for that life. But Christ has already lived, died and been judged — therefore He cannot repeat His fleshly life, or death, or (this is the point in relation to verses 25-26) offering.
Not only was Christ’s life unique (both because it was sinless and because it was lived for others), and His death one of a kind (because it was offered as a sacrifice, for others, and by Himself), but His “judgment” was the first among men, signifying the beginning of the end of the world and guaranteeing the outcome of the judgment of all His people
The second point in this verse uses imagery of the Day of Atonement. Christ our high priest has entered the presence of God bearing the offering. His people, meanwhile, are waiting outside the sanctuary for Him to return and certify that the sacrifice has been received and that they are forgiven The Day of Atonement, according to an ancient Jewish source, came to a happy end with the high priest going to his own house. “All the people accompany him . . . and he holds a festival to celebrate his having come successfully out of the sanctuary.” See Appendix V.
The writer seems to be saying that our high priest of the new covenant has entered the presence of God with a suitable sin offering, and that He will certainly appear the second time to His people that look for him. Unlike those priests who foreshadowed and symbolized Him, Christ does not repeat the performance. Having once been offered to bear sins, He will reappear only to bring salvation to those for whom He once suffered. One should not stretch the analogy beyond measure, but we might observe in the light of the rest of the New Testament Scriptures that the Holy Spirit’s descent, which authorized the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel, was a case of the high priest sending a messenger out in advance of Himself to tell the waiting people that His sacrifice had been received and that remission of sins was effected.
Next: Chapter Ten