We are in part 3 of our study of Jesus as our Great High Priest. Last week we learned how the Old Covenant was good, yet weak; therefore, it was made obsolete in order to pave the way for the new and better covenant initiated through Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 9, the writer of Hebrews reminds us of the rituals of the earthly priesthood (9:1-10) and how it foreshadows Christ’s sacrifice and its significance (9:11-28).
The Earthly Priesthood (9:1-10)
We begin Hebrews 9 with a description of the first covenant regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary (also called tabernacle and/or tent) in which all this was performed. When it speaks of the “earthly sanctuary” (9:1) it refers to belonging to the world. This does not mean it was “worldly” in a bad sense, but that it was located on Earth. This tabernacle is described more fully in Exodus 25-31. In the first tabernacle, there were two sections: Holy Place and Most Holy Place.
The Holy Place. The first section of the tabernacle was called the Holy Place. Only priests could enter this section as they carried out the rituals prescribed in the Law of Moses. In the Holy Place was the table for the Bread of the Presence (Ex 25:23-30), the Golden Lampstand (Ex 25:31-40; 37:17-24) and the Altar of Incense (Ex 30:1-10; 37:25-29). This section was necessary because of the holiness of God and the uncleanness of the people.
The Most Holy Place. The second section of the tabernacle was called the Most Holy Place. The Most Holy Place resides behind the veil which separates the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. In the Most Holy Place was the Ark of the Covenant. Originally it contained the two stone tablets God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Later a golden urn holding manna (Ex 16:32-33) was placed in it along with Aaron’s staff that budded (Num 17:10). This is where God chose to have His Spirit dwell among the people. No one–except those authorized by God–could touch it or look upon it. Only the High Priest went into the second section. He did so only one time a year (Day of Atonement) with blood offering for his sins and the sins of the people (9:7).
The Holy Places were Closed. The Holy Spirit indicates that the way to the Most Holy Place was not open (9:8) while the first Holy Place still stood. The fact that there was a “1st tent” showed that the “2nd tent” was not open. This is used as a word play. Just as the presence of the Holy Place showed that the Most Holy Place is not open; so too, the presence of the earthly tabernacle shows that the heavenly tabernacle is not open. These rituals and sacrifices were good, but they “cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper” (9:9). It was in place until a time of reformation.
Christ’s Priesthood (9:11-14)
The writer of Hebrews has made it clear that the Old Covenant was good, but weak because it could not cleanse one’s conscience. This brings us to the New Covenant that is initiated in Christ’s blood which can cleanse the conscience.
The Holy One. Let us remember that we are also in the midst of a larger discussion of the superiority of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of everything in the Law of Moses. He is our Redeemer, Advocate, Savior, and Lord—worthy of all praise and glory and honor. He is greater than the Prophets (He is the final Word), the Angels (He is the Son), and Moses (He is the Builder of the House of God). He is greater than Aaron as He has a more superior priesthood. He has “appeared as a high priest of the good things to come” (9:11). He is the Son who has been appointed heir of all things (1:2). He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1:3).
The Holiest Place. Jesus is the Holy One of God (John 6:69) who has “entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle” (9:11). Hebrews 4:14 says “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God.” Hebrews 6:19-20 says, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us.” Hebrews 8:1-2 says, “we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.” Hebrews 9:24 says, “Christ did not enter a Holy Place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.”
The Holy Places are Open. Jesus entered into heaven as our substitutionary sacrifice. Hebrews 9:12 says, “Through His own blood, He entered the Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” Hebrews 9:14 says, “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?” It is important to note that we are cleansed by Jesus in order to serve Him.
The time of reformation has come. The New Covenant has been instituted and the Old Covenant has been made obsolete. Jesus is the high priest of the New Covenant enacted on better promises and provides eternal redemption.