The message is relentless in this letter, but that is how God wanted it to be because we are dull and deaf and blind, and slow of heart to believe. What is the message? – that in every conceivable way, Jesus is better than all who came before and than every arrangement that existed before between God and man. It is the height of folly to mess around with old and obsolete systems, or even to cobble together our own misguided, pathetic and useless schemes for getting close to God when (at incalculable cost) He has provided the only way and it is absolutely guaranteed to work if we will come to Him and trust Him!
LOOKING BACK (Hebrews 9:1-14)
The writer compares Old and New Covenants again, and once again his burden is to deal with the access to God offered under the Old Covenant compared with that under the New. He has just said that all members of the New Covenant, from least to greatest, will know God intimately. Now he reminds the readers that under the Old Covenant only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies once a year (on the Day of Atonement) and never without sacrificial blood. As long as this ritual persisted, the members of the Old Covenant were supposed to understand that the way to God was not yet opened to them. It was underlined to them that all the blood of all the sacrifices offered on the altar had not dealt with the problem of their hearts and their consciences. They were made outwardly clean so that God could dwell in the Tabernacle and not break out in wrath against them. The whole system shouted out that a reformation was needed and (as we have seen) Melchizedek showed that it was coming.
And so Christ appeared as high priest in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 9:11). He performed His ministry in the heavenly tabernacle of which the one on earth was a mere copy. He made atonement there not with the blood of bulls and goats but with His own blood. His perfect work does indeed cleanse the conscience of those who come to Him in trust, so they may themselves draw near to serve the living God. As a sign that this is what Jesus actually accomplished on the cross, the curtain in the temple that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was torn in two at the very moment Jesus died. The way to God is now open to all who approach in faith through the blood of Jesus.
We all need to be made right with God and many of us try all sorts of arduous and fanciful methods to achieve that goal. But look at the majesty of the plan that God put in place and announced even on the day Adam rebelled against Him! Look at how He revealed it patiently and increasingly over the years in signs, in shadows. in prophecies and in types. Look at how perfectly Jesus fulfills all of these so that we may be very certain He is the Savior. Look at Him on the cross, purchasing people for God and introducing a new and better covenant in His blood. See Him in heaven now, always living to pray on behalf of His people and absolutely certain to secure the full salvation of each and every soul that the Father gave to Him. How does your way to deal with your sin and draw near to God stack up in comparison? There is no other way, no other sacrifice, no other Savior than Jesus – so get rid of your useless efforts and come to Him now!
LOOKING AHEAD (Hebrews 9:15-28)
The Old Covenant failed as a way by which people could draw near to God. There was nothing wrong with the covenant itself, but the fault lay with the people (Hebrews 8:8). They didn’t (and indeed, because of their sinful hearts, couldn’t) continue in that covenant. All it did was to expose their sin, pronounce condemnation on them and point them very clearly to the need for something better if ever any descendent of Adam was to be saved from the consequences of the fall.
So God had always planned to introduce a New Covenant in the fullness of time, which could do everything the Old Covenant couldn’t. It would ensure the salvation of God’s people by changing the fundamental nature of the agreement. The Old Covenant was between God and sinful man (who inevitably failed). This New Covenant was between God the Father and God the Son (Who acted for and on behalf of fallen sinners and kept the terms of the Covenant in their place) with God the Spirit implementing the results of the Son’s work in the very hearts of God’s people. It can never fail!
This New Covenant was ratified and mediated by Jesus Himself through His death. These covenants were both like legal wills, only providing the entailed blessings and inheritance when there is a death – demonstrated in the pouring out of blood. Moses inaugurated the Old Covenant by means of the blood of calves and goats, which were sprinkled on both the people and the Tabernacle with its equipment to purify them. The shedding of blood was the prescribed way to purify almost anything and anyone under the law. But the writer has already told us that these earthly tents and services were only copies of the heavenly realities. If blood was needed to inaugurate the Old Covenant, to purify its worshippers on earth, and to secure its promised blessings, what would need to be done for those who would worship God in the true heavenly tabernacle? A much better sacrifice and much more powerful and valuable blood would be needed for that! And so Jesus gave up His life, and took His own blood into heaven. Through this offering He has made perfect forever those who draw near to God through Him!
Jesus so perfectly put away sin by the shedding of His blood – the giving of His life) that it only had to be done once. It is a horrific practice to keep on sacrificing Christ in our worship! We are saying that what He did once on the cross wasn’t good enough or powerful enough or effective enough to save us completely. We are in effect trying to top up the merits of His sacrifice by crucifying Him over and over again. The writer makes it so clear in this passage that Jesus only did this once from the foundation of the world and there is no need for it ever to happen again!
When Jesus does return again, it will not be to die but to save all those who have believed in Him and to judge all those who have not. It will not go well on that day for those whose consciences have not been purged by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus. Among these would be any of the recipients of this letter who abandoned Christ and returned to an obsolete covenant as their hope for drawing near to God, when a covenant sealed with the blood of God’s only Son is now in force and is presented as a sure and certain way for sinners to draw near to a holy God.
How will it go for you on that day, friend? Has your conscience been cleansed by Christ’s powerful and effective blood? That is the only sure way to be accepted and to draw near!