Hebrews 10:26 – If we go on sinning willfully, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Jesus has offered one sacrifice for all sins of all time.  By that single sacrifice He has made His people perfect for all time.  However, they may still fall away.  Christians continue to sin; sometimes unintentional and sometimes the lust of the body makes them do things which they deeply regret.  But they remain “perfect”, to use terminology from Hebrews, in spite of such sins.  However, if a Christian goes on sinning willfully, after receiving the knowledge of the truth. then it becomes impossible to renew him again to repentance. 

Hebrews was written to protect Christians against this danger.  It advises them to draw near to the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace in time of need.  The main aim of Hebrews is to give us confidence in God; to teach us to trust God, so that we would know that He sympathizes with our weaknesses.

Previous articles

This is the fifth and last in a series of articles on the teachings in the letter to the Hebrews on Christ as our high priest.

The first article explains How Jesus became high priest:  God perfected Jesus through suffering.  Jesus offered Himself without blemish to God, making purification of sins through death.  Jesus then sat down on His Father’s throne and became our high priest in the tabernacle in heaven.

The second article describes Jesus as a better high priest, for the Levitical priesthood was merely a copy and shadow of the tabernacle in which Jesus serves, and for that reason was unable to do away with sin.  “Perfection”—a word which Hebrews uses for being put right with God—is only possible only through Jesus.

The third article analyzes the role Jesus plays as our high priest.  He is sympathetic and merciful, appearing before God for us.  God promised, “their lawless deeds I will remember no more”.  Our high priest Jesus guarantees that promise.

The large middle section of Hebrews (4:14 to 10-31) discusses Jesus as our high priest.  This section starts and ends with similar phrases.  This was how ancient writers indicated that a portion of text forms a discrete unit.  This technique is called an inclusio.  The fourth article analyzes these two bookends, which also serve as a summary of that entire section, and which urges us to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, for Jesus is faithful and sympathetic with our weaknesses.

Purpose

The purpose of this fifth and last article is to ask why Hebrews advises us to draw near to God through Jesus.  This may seem like a dumb question, for obviously we must seek God.  However, the writer has already indicated that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10).  What further need is there to ”draw near … to the throne of grace”?  What do we need more grace for?

A study of Hebrews 10 (actually from 9:25 to 10:22) will provide answers.  Below the principles in 9:25-20:22 are presented in a sequence which seems to be logical.

Animal sacrifices were offered time after time, but Jesus died once only.

Animal sacrifices were offered:

9:25often … year by year”;
10:1continually year by year”;
10:3year by year”;
10:11daily … time after time”;

But Jesus offered a single sacrifice:

9:28Offered once to bear the sins of many
10:10the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all
10:12He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time
10:14one offering

In the next section Hebrews argues that Jesus’ sacrifice, which was offered once only, is sufficient.

Jesus’ sacrifice does take sin away, something which the animal sacrifices were unable to do.

Animal sacrifices cannot take sin away:

10:1The Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near” (cf 10:2)

10:4It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins”.
10:11can never take away sins

Make perfect” (10:1) means the same as “put away sin” (9:26).  Other phrases used by Hebrews as synonyms for “make perfect” are “cleansed … no longer have had consciousness of sins” (10:2) and “take away sins” (10:4).

The writer goes further and say that the fact that the animal sacrifices are offered over and over proves that they cannot take away sin (10:2-3).

But Christ’s offering does take away sin:

Put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26).

In 10:1 the writer states that the Law (of sacrifices) is only a shadow of the good things to come, and therefore can never make perfect those who draw near.  10:5-9 implies that Christ’s sacrifice is the reality of which the “Law” was a shadow.  This is further proof that the reality (Christ’s death) is able to take away sin.

Jesus has “offered one sacrifice for sins for all time” (10:12). 

He offered one sacrifice for the sins of all ages, including sins committed prior to the first covenant, sins committed under the first covenant and sins committed under the new covenant.  His sacrifice is sufficient even for the sins of His enemies, but will benefit only “those whom He foreknew” (Rom. 8:29).

By His once for all sacrifice He made His people perfect for all time.   

10:10We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”.
10:14By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (10:14).
10:18Where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin”.
10:2The worshipers, having once been cleansed, … no longer have … consciousness of sins

Sanctified – The word “sanctified” (10:10 – NIV “holy”) is often used with reference to spiritual growth, but Hebrews uses “sanctified” as a synonym for “put away sin” (9:26), “take away sins” (10:4) or “make perfect” (10:1). The unusual use of familiar words contributes significantly to our difficulty in understanding Hebrews.

10:2 – The statement in 10:2 is made in the context of the animal sacrifices, but the implication of the context is that this applies to Christ’s sacrifice of Himself.

But we still sin – Perfected people continue to sin, but since that “one sacrifice” is “for sins for all time”, even their future sins have been taken care of.  They remain “perfect” even when they sin.

When were they made perfect? – Since Jesus perfected them by His “one offering”, they have been perfected when He died; not when they repented.  The also applies to the Old Testament saints; they were also perfected when He died: “so that apart from us they would not be made perfect” (11:40).  “Those who are sanctified” are therefore perfected as a group; not a one by one.

But people that have been sanctified by His blood can still fall away.

Many believe that, once a person is saved, that person will always remain saved.  But this is not what Hebrews teaches.  As indicated by the verses quoted below, Hebrews teaches that it is possible for Christians to fall away.  Each of the verses below contains either a promise (orange font) or a warning (blue font), but in each case the promise or warning is conditional, as indicated by the underlined text:

3:6 We are God’s house, “if we hold fast … until the end”.
3:14We have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast … until the end”.
10:35-36 You have need of endurance, so that … you may receive what was promised”.
10:38 If he shrinks back, My (God’s) soul has no pleasure in him”.
10:39 We are not of those who shrink back to destruction”.
10:26-27 If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries”.
10:29 “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified?

Destruction (10:39) – Consume (10:27) – Similar to Paul, Hebrews does not preach eternal punishment in hell.  See Eternal Life and Death in Paul’s Letters.

The danger – The traditional view is that the danger, which motivated the writer of Hebrews to write his letter, was that his readers were Christian Jews and that they were in danger of falling back into mainstream Judaism, but this is never explicitly stated as such in Hebrews.  The warnings in Hebrews are always against sin in general.

Were they really Christians? – The Calvinistic explanation of these verses is that these people never really were Christians, but it is difficult to support this view from the verses quoted above.  For instance, the person, who the writer had in mind, “was sanctified” by the blood of the covenant (10:29).  This person therefore previously was in a right relationship with God; he was a real Christian.  But if this person “go on sinning willfully”, he will end up in “the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (10:26-27).

As further evidence that Hebrews teaches that real Christians can fall, consider 6:4-6:

In the case of those who
+     have once been enlightened and
+     have tasted of the heavenly gift and
+     have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit
, and
+     have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and
then have fallen away,
it is impossible to renew them again to repentance
”.

The phrases in bold indicate that these people were once sanctified by the blood of the covenant.  Particularly the word “renew” means that the person had repented before.

The purpose of the current article is not primarily to argue against the once saved, always saved doctrine.  The purpose is simply to understand what the writer thought, for unless we understand his anxiety, namely that some of his Christian brethren might fall away, we would be unable to explain why he asks his readers to draw near to the throne of grace.

Once a Christian has fallen away, he is impossible to renew to repentance.

6:6 “It is impossible to renew them again to repentance
10:26-27If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries”.

Three kinds of sin

Willful sins – Three kinds of sin may be identified.  The word “willfully” (10:26) implies a high handed or defiant form of sin – sins that reject God’s covenant.

Unintentional sins – 9:7 refers to “sins … committed in ignorance”.  The Old Testament refers to unintentional sins (for instance Leviticus 4:1).

Sins I hate – But there remains a third kind of sin which is not willful nor intentional. Romans 7 helps us to understand the sins which Christians do not commit “willfully“, which means that they do not want to do these things.  Paul wrote in Romans 7 (orange bold emphasizes what Paul wants to do):

14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.

19I practice the very evil that I do not want”.

21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” (Rom. 7:21-23)

In these verses Paul distinguishes between two parts of man:

▬ the “inner man” (v22) or “mind” (v23);
▬ the “flesh” (v14) or “the members of my body” (v21)

In the case of Christians, these two parts are controlled by two different laws:

The law of my mind” (v23) is the “law of God” (v22).  In his “inner man” or “mind” Paul does not want to sin, for “I agree with the Law” (v16).

But the “flesh” or “members of my body” are controlled by the “law of sin” (v23).  This law is “waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin“.

Consequently, although the Christian does not want to, he still sins:

Rom. 7:15I am not practicing what I would like to do”.
Rom. 7:15I am doing the very thing I hate”.
Rom. 7:16I do the very thing I do not want to do
Rom. 7:19I practice the very evil that I do not want
Rom. 7:21me, the one who wants to do good

This distinguishes a Christian from a non-Christian: Because of the lusts of the body both the Christian and non-Christian sin, but the Christian, in his “inner man” or “mind”, does not want to sin.

The writer of Hebrews is not troubled by sins “committed in ignorance”.  He is also not concerned with sins which “I do not want to do” (Rom 7:16).  “Perfected” people (Heb. 10:14) remain “perfect” even when they sin unintentionally and when they do things which they really do not want to do.  But the Christian who “go on sinning willfully”, which means that, in the “inner man” or “mind”, he wants to sin, which means that he does not agree with God’s law (Rom. 7:16), thereby regards “as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified” (10:26, 29).  He rejects that sacrifice.  Then no sacrifice remains.  And since no means remains whereby the person can be “perfected”, there only remains “a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (10:27).

Conclusion

This is why Hebrews was written; the writer was concerned that some of his Christian brethren might fall away.  They were in great danger.  To protect them from this danger, he advises them, “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16).  The word “confidence” is key to the understanding of Hebrews.  The main purpose of Hebrews is to give us that confidence; to teach us to trust God, to know that “since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered” (2:18), He sympathizes with our weaknesses (4:15).

TO: General Table of Contents

Draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, for Jesus is our high priest.

The large middle section in Hebrews presents Jesus as our high priest.  The introduction and conclusion of this section are in many respects similar and also summarize the main points of the entire section.   Christians must draw near to God’s throne and they may do so with confidence, for Jesus is faithful, sympathizes with our weaknesses and appears as high priest for us before God.

Previous articles

This is the fourth in a series of articles on the teachings in the letter to the Hebrews on Christ as our high priest.

The first article explains How Jesus became high priest.  God perfected Jesus through suffering.  Jesus offered Himself without blemish to God, making purification of sins through death.  Jesus then sat down on His Father’s throne and became our high priest in the tabernacle in heaven.

The second article presents Jesus as a better high priest, for the Levitical priesthood was merely a copy and shadow of the tabernacle in heaven, and therefore was unable to do away with sin.  “Perfection”—a word which Hebrews uses for being put right with God—is possible only through Christ.

The third article analyzes Jesus’ role as our high priest.  He is sympathetic and merciful, and appears before God for us.  God promised, “their lawless deeds I will remember no more”, and our high priest Jesus guarantees that promise.

Inclusios

Bible writers were not able to add section headings to their writings.  When the Bible was written, people did not even insert spaces between words.  Instead of section headings, they used repetition: They marked out sections of text by starting and ending a section with similar phrases.  Theologians call this technique bracketing or inclusios or bookends.  Since inclusios serve as section headings, they help us to understand the message better.

The purpose of this fourth article is to discuss the two bookends.

Possibly the best example of such an inclusio in Hebrews is 4:14-16 and 10:22-24; the start and end of the section on Jesus as our high priest.  Note the many similarities between these two sections of text:

4:14-16Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

10:19 Since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, … 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,26 but if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”.

For the sake of simplicity, these two sections of text are referred to as bookends in this article.

The text has been color coded to show the similarities.  Both:

  1. Start with a similar phrase:
    ▬ “Therefore, since we have a great high priest” (4:14, 16);
    ▬   “Since we have … a great priest” (10:19, 21);
  2. Say we must “draw near with” “confidence” (4:16; 10:19) or “in full assurance of faith” (10:22),
  3. Provide explain why we can be confident.
  4. Provide advice; what we must do.
  5. Provide explain why we must draw near.

These two bookends therefore not only identify 4:14 to 10-31 as a discrete unit within Hebrews, they also serve as a summary of that entire section.  Below the main principles contained in these two bookends are discussed.

Why we can approach God with confidence

The following reasons for our confidence are provided by these bookends:

4:15 He sympathizes with our weaknesses, for He has been tempted in all things as we are.

10:19-20 He created for us on the living way into the tabernacle in heaven by His death.

10:23He … is faithful”.

The living way into the tabernacle, which He created for us by His death, is symbolic language.  It simply means that His death made it possible for us to approach God through Christ.

That He sympathizes with our weaknesses, because “He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered” (2:18), should also not be taken literally.  Jesus was not more sympathetic with sinners after His life on earth than what He was before He became a human being.  To understand what this means:

▬ Remember that the earthly tabernacle, with all its ceremonies, was a symbol of reality (8:5; 9:8-9; 10:1).

▬ For that reason, and because his Jewish Christian readers were familiar with the earthly tabernacle, the writer explains the unseen but real events in heaven, which we only dimly understand, by using the terminology of the earthly tabernacle and its ceremonies.

▬ Therefore, since the high priests of old “can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided” because they knew what it was like to be tempted (5:2), the writer similarly describes our high priest Jesus as sympathetic “with our weaknesses, for He has been tempted in all things as we are” (4:15).

His sympathy and “the living way”, which He created for us into the tabernacle, may seem very dissimilar, but actually are similar.  His sympathy and “the living way” are simply two different ways of saying that we are welcome to approach God through Jesus.  Furthermore, both are the consequence of His life on earth:

4:15We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are

10:19-20 He created the living way into the tabernacle for us by His death.

The entire purpose of Hebrews

It may be correct to say that the entire purpose of Hebrews is to give us the certainty that we may approach God, knowing that we will receive “mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16) for He loves us and have sympathy with our weaknesses.  Note that the words underlined in the verses below all relate to this certainty we may have:

4:16Let us draw near with confidence”.
6:18We who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us”.
6:19This sure and steadfast hope is our anchor of the soul”.
7:19Bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God
10:22Full assurance of faith

What Hebrews advises us to do

The ultimate purpose of the letter to the Hebrews is reflected in the “let us” passages, of which there are many (4:1, 11, 14-16; 6:1; 10:22-24; 12:1, 28; 13:13, 15), but only the ones quoted below form part of the middle section of Hebrews (4:14-10:31), which discusses Christ as our high priest:

4:14 Let us hold fast our confession”.
4:16Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace”.
10:22Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.”.
10:23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering”.
10:24Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds”.

All five these “let us” recommendations are from the two bookends, which confirms that these two bookends really are intended to bracket this large section of text (4:14 to 10:31).

Both bookends recommend the readers to “draw near” (4:16; 10:22) “to the throne of grace” (4:16).  Somebody once said that the entire letter to the Hebrews is an interpretation of Psalm 110.  In verse 1 of that psalm Jesus takes His seat at God’s right hand and verse 4 declares Jesus to be priest forever.  The writer of Hebrews combines these two events.  In other words, Jesus became high priest when He sat down on His Father’s throne.  On this basis we can conclude that the tabernacle in heaven is where God’s throne is.  Therefore, when 10:19 says that “we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus”, this is the same as saying “we have confidence” to “draw near”.

Why we must draw near?

Both bookends also explain why we must draw near:

4:16so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need
10:26For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”.

Putting these two statements together, we must draw near to find help against sin in our lives, for “He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (2:18).  However, the writer has already indicated that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10).  What further need is there to ”draw near … to the throne of grace”?  Why would we still need more grace?  This is explained in the next article in this series: Impossible to renew them again to repentance.

NEXT: Impossible to renew them again to repentance

TO: General Table of Contents

How Jesus became our High Priest

Why was it necessary for Jesus to suffer?  And why was it necessary for Him to remain without sin?  When did He become our high priest?

Tabernacle in heaven

Summary of this article: The main point in the letter to be Hebrews is that Jesus is our high priest, serving in the true tabernacle in heaven.  To become high priest, He first had to suffer, because He learned obedience from what He suffered.  Being made perfect, He offered Himself without blemish to God; one sacrifice for sins for all time.  After His resurrection, Jesus sat down on His Father’s throne.  He then became our high priest, with the inauguration of the new covenant by the cleansing of the things in the heavens by His blood.

Purpose

Although no other letter in the New Testament explicitly teaches this, the “main point” of the letter to the Hebrews, to which about five chapters are devoted (4:14-10:31), is that Jesus is our high priest in the true tabernacle:

Now the main point in what has been said is this:
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” (8:1-2).

The previous verse (7:28) identifies this high priest is as the Son of God .

Hebrews is one of the most difficult books in the Bible.  Not only are the concepts complex; the highly symbolic and idiomatic language of the letter makes it even more difficult.

The purpose of this article is to give a simple as possible overview of Hebrews’ teachings of Christ as our high priest.  The relevant material from the letter is grouped into sub-topics, and discussed below in what seems to be a logical sequence.

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the NASB.

Jesus was perfected through suffering.

As will be shown below, Hebrews uses the phrase “made perfect” for people whose sins have been forgiven (for instance 12:23).  But Hebrews also describes Jesus as “made perfect”.  He was “made perfect” through what He suffered:

2:10 It was fitting for Him (the Father) … in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation (Jesus) through sufferings”.

5:8-9Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered, and having been made perfect” (5:8).

7:28 He was “made perfect forever”.

Because He was made perfect, He was able to offer “Himself without blemish to God” (9:14).

Jesus was fully human

That Jesus was made perfect does not mean that His sins have been forgiven, for He never sinned (4:15).  This concept may be unfamiliar to us because we very often think of Jesus as God, which is not wrong, but we often fail to think of Him as a fully human being that had to learn like any other human being.  Hebrews teaches that Jesus became a human being in every respect: “He had to be made like His brethren in all things” (2:17).  Jesus therefore indeed developed through what He suffered.

Hebrews, similar to the other letters of the New Testament, emphasizes Christ’s death, as we will see below.  But Hebrews put more emphasizes on His life than what other letters do: specifically on His suffering, which also was His temptation:

2:18He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered“.

4:15He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin”.

Gethsemane

Don’t miss this point: His suffering was His temptation.  He was tempted to prevent or lessen His suffering, for He was able to that (Mt 26:53), but he patiently “endured such hostility by sinners against Himself” (Heb. 12:3).

Through death Jesus made purification of sins.

A question that arises, when reading Hebrews, is how people are saved, for Hebrews seems to say that people are saved through Jesus’ work as our high priest.  But Hebrews also agrees with other letters that “through death Jesus made purification of sins” (1:3).  Each of the verses quoted below refers to both His death and to dealing with sin:

9:26Now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself”.

9:28Christ … offered once to bear the sins of many”.

10:12He … offered one sacrifice for sins for all time”.

13:12Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate”.

If this is so, what is the purpose of Jesus’ role as our high priest, which is so prominent in Hebrews?  The relationship between His death and His work as high priest, in the redemption of the world, is discussed in a separate article.

After His resurrection, Jesus sat down on His Father’s throne.

This is a well-known New Testament teaching, based on Psalm 110:1.  Hebrews often confirms this truth, saying that Jesus, after His resurrection, passed through the heavens (4:14) and “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1:3, cf. 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2).

Jesus became high priest when He sat down on His Father’s throne.

When did Jesus become high priest?  Was He also high priest in Old Testament times?  The following indicates that Jesus’ life and death allowed Him to become high priest:

2:17 Jesus “had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest”.

9:11-12When Christ appeared as a high priest …, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle … through His own blood”.

Jesus therefore became high priest after His death, namely when he “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”.  These are one and the same event.  To understand Hebrews, one needs to get used to how the writer thinks.  He knew the Old Testament extremely well, and the Old Testament passage that is most quoted in the New Testament is Psalm 110.  Verse 1 of that psalm is interpreted by the New Testament as God saying to Jesus:

Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet”.

Then verse 4 adds

You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”.

The writer of Hebrews makes the assumption, since verse 1 applies to Jesus, that verse 4 also applies to Jesus.  This is something which the writer of Hebrews often do, namely to link things that are not clearly linked in the original text.  He therefore merges verses 1 and 4 into a single statement, which would mean that He became priest when He sat down on His Father’s throne.

But the writer goes further.  Since Jesus, according to Psalm 110:1, enters God’s immediate presence, and since only the high priest was able to enter into God’s presence (Ex. 25:22), the writer promotes the “priest” in Psalm 110:4 to “high priest” (see quotations above).  This something else that we must learn about the writer of Hebrews: He continuously quotes from the Old Testament, but he does so with significant freedom.  He adds or changes words and phrases to fit the point that he wants to make.  But that is okay.  The Bible is not inspired word for word; the writers are inspired with concepts, and they themselves must find the best possible words to express those concepts.

But it remains symbolic language.  The earthly tabernacle, with all its ceremonies, was only a symbol of reality (8:5; 9:8-9; 10:1).  For that reason, and because his Jewish Christian readers were familiar with the earthly tabernacle, the writer uses the earthly tabernacle with its ceremonies to explain the unseen but real events in heaven, which we only dimly understand.

Christ’s death enabled Him to become our high priest.

Hebrews 9 describes the inauguration of Jesus’s ministry in heaven.  The first 15 verses form a unit.  It starts with a description of the earthly tabernacle with its daily and annual ceremonies (9:1-7).  It then states that these ceremonies are symbols of what happens in heaven (9:8-9), and explains what these symbols meant:

Jesus entering the true tabernacle

When Christ appeared as a high priest …,
He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation;
and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, …
For … how much more will the blood of Christ … cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
” (9:11-12)

In other words, Jesus’s death permitted or qualified Him to commence His work as high priest; His death was a prerequisite for entering the holy place.

Tabernacle in the wilderness

The second unit in Hebrews 9 (verses 16 and following) also starts by describing an aspect of the earthly tabernacle, this time the inauguration of the first covenant.  This ritual was performed by Moses 1500 years before Christ, when he used the blood of animals to clean the tabernacle (9:18-23).  Hebrews then implies that the cleansing of the tabernacle by Moses was a symbol of the cleansing of “the heavenly things themselves”.  The earthly “copies of the things in the heavens” were cleansed by the blood of animals, but the “heavenly things themselves” were cleansed with “better sacrifices” (9:23), namely “the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26).

To conclude then, in both units (9:1-15 and 9:16-24) Christ’s offering of Himself, as symbolized by His blood, enabled Him to commence His ministry on the new covenant in heaven.  This is consistent with the conclusion of the previous section above, namely that Jesus became high priest at his ascension to heaven, when He sat down on His Father’s throne.

Satan expelled from heaven

Hebrews does not explain why the “the heavenly things” had to be cleansed.  As stated above, this is symbolic language, but that does not mean it is meaningless.  It means that it must be interpreted.  It is often said and thought that the blood of Christ satisfies the demands of God’s righteousness.  Such thinking is not accepted here.  According to 2:14 He died to render the devil powerless.  And in Revelation 12 we see that the war in heaven against “the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9) was brought to an end by Christ’s death. “The heavenly things” were cleansed by expelling Satan from it.  The See War in Heaven and Why Jesus had to die.

NEXT:  Jesus is a better high priest

TO: General Table of Contents