|CLICK HERE TO PRINT!||[CLOSE WINDOW]|
CHRIST PROVIDES BETTER SACRIFICES (Hebrews 9:1-10:39)
DESCRIPTION OF THE RITES AND SACRIFICES OF THE LAW
THEIR INFERIORITY TO THE DIGNITY AND THE PERFECTION OF CHRIST AND HIS BLOOD AND SACRIFICE
The mundane sanctuary mentioned here is doubtless the tabernacle constructed and erected in the wilderness by Moses upon instructions of God; and the fact that the more ancient tabernacle, rather than the Herodian temple, comes to view here should not be viewed as an indication that the temple was not then standing, or that the recipients of this epistle were not Jewish. It is precisely in line with the author's thesis that he should go back to the original tabernacle, erected according to the pattern God gave Moses, rather than appeal to the temple then standing, which, after all, had been copied from the tabernacle in all its essential details. The word "ordinances" in this place means "regulations." Beginning here is a detailed and extensive contrast between that worldly sanctuary, whether the tabernacle or the temple, which was the center of the Jewish religious institution, with the heavenly counterpart of it which is the grand theater of the redemptive ministry of Jesus. "Divine service" is an implication that God is recognized as the author of all those things in the "sanctuary of this world."
For a diagram of the three compartments, the court, the holy place, and the most holy place, see in the tenth chapter. The "first" tabernacle in this verse is identified by the articles of furniture in it as the holy place. In it there were the golden candlestick on the south, the table of showbread on the north, and the golden altar of incense near the curtain, or veil (Exodus 40:22,24,26). Such is the importance of these objects, as being the patterns of great spiritual realities which they typified, that some particular attention is due each of them.
THE GOLDEN CANDLESTICK
History, through the overruling providence of God, has preserved a likeness of the golden candlestick that was in the Herodian temple destroyed by Vespasian and Titus in 70 A.D. The candlestick, along with other treasures, was looted and carried in the triumphal procession in Rome; and, when the Arch of Titus was constructed to memorialize the victory, both the table of showbread and the candlestick were detailed in the carvings decorating the arch and may still be seen there in the excavated ruins of ancient Rome. Plaster casts of those carvings are exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum, New York; and from these is evident the immense weight of those golden treasures, several men being necessary to bear each of them.
The golden candlestick was the only source of light in the holy place, symbolizing the truth that the only light of the church is the word of God, thus making the candlestick also a symbol of the Bible, or type of it. Zechariah's question of the meaning of the seven golden candlesticks (Zechariah 4:1-6) evoked this response from the angel, "This is the word of the Lord"; and although limited as "unto Zerubbabel" in that reference, there can be little doubt that it stands for all the word of the Lord in the whole Bible; and, as such, it is a fantastically accurate and instructive type of it. Its seven branches stand for the seven divisions of the Bible: (1) the Law of Moses; (2) and the Prophets; (3) and the Psalms (Luke 24:44) in the Old Testament; and the other four divisions; (4) the Gospels; (5) the Book of Acts; (6) the Epistles; and (7) Revelation, in the New Testament, the latter four divisions being implicit by the inherent nature of the books themselves, and from the revelation of three Old Testament divisions enunciated by the Lord himself. Other and more elaborate divisions of the Bible are sometimes given; but the divisions noted here have the authority of Jesus' own acceptance of them. The three Old Testament divisions are called by the Hebrews, Torah, Nebhiim, and Kethubhim. F1
A glance at the candlestick shows that its two longest arms, on the right and on the left, make the longest projection in the things represented, the left branch (Torah) going all the way back to creation, and the right (Revelation) reaching all the way to the judgment and eternity. Implicit also in the duality of the candlestick, being symmetrical with two corresponding sections, and in the scriptural emphasis on this double characteristic, is the suggestion of two major divisions of God's word. Thus, Zechariah called attention to the two olive trees and the two pipes to supply oil, etc. (Zechariah 4:12). The Old Testament and New Testament are typified.
The candlestick required constant care, twice a day, or oftener, when the lamps were trimmed and supplied with oil, the same being eloquently typical of the constant care, meditation, reading and study of the Bible. Also, note the centrality of the division representing the Four Gospels, standing exactly where it should, with the three branches on the left descending (as through history) and flowing into it, and the three branches on the right rising and coming up out of it. The Old Testament looks forward to the gospel; the New Testament looks back to it. In the centrality of the branch representing the Gospels is also the explanation of the ten golden candlesticks (1 Kings 7:49), which, in all probability, were made by extending the central branch upward into four separate divisions elevated above the other six, thus making five on each side, but which must not be thought of as a deviation from the number of seven golden candlesticks so emphatically required (Exodus 25:3ff). The only way to get any EVEN NUMBER of candlesticks would involve dividing and extending the central stem. Thus those four divisions were essentially one, just as the Four Gospels are one; and that ancient Hebrew variation was an unconscious emphasis upon that part of the candlestick especially representative of Christ and his Gospels.
THE TABLE OF SHOWBREAD
On the north side of the holy place, the table of showbread balanced the golden candlestick on the south side, and itself was typical of momentous truth in the new covenant. Twelve loaves of bread were kept fresh on the table and were arranged in two rows, suggesting the providence of God in the provisions made for his people, the two rows reminding one of the two Israels, the fleshly Israel and the spiritual Israel. This table is likewise not without its reference to the table in the kingdom of Christ (Luke 22:29,30). In this table, no less than in the case of the candlestick, there were also examples of Jewish decorative variations being providentially overruled to provide even more startling symbolism of true spiritual realities. Josephus described the decorations of the table of showbread made by Ptolemy. It was elaborately covered with a grapevine, described thus,
(It had) tendrils of the vine, sending forth clusters of grapes, that you would guess were nowise different from real tendrils; for they were so very thin, and so very far extended at their extremities, that they were moved by the wind, and made one believe that they were the product of nature, and not the representation of art. F2
How strange indeed that Christ, the true vine, and the "fruit of the vine" so sacred to his disciples should thus have been so gloriously depicted upon the ancient table of showbread; and that, it seems, not by reason of any divine instruction, but merely after the fancy of men. Surely God was in those things pertaining to the ordinances of his divine service. Of course, the bread also, as exhibited on that table, has its counterpart in the bread of the Lord's Supper, itself symbolical of that bread which came down from God out of heaven, the bread of life, of which, if a man eat, he shall never die; and God shall raise him up at the last day.
The reader should be aware that many things have been said to be represented by such things as the candlestick and the table. Macknight's suggestion that the candlestick represented "the seven planets (!)" and that the table represented the provision available from the earth for man and beast, F3 is an example. It is the view here that those marvelous objects plainly said to be "copies of the things of heaven" are worthy of being received as types of that entire spiritual system which they symbolized.
THE GOLDEN ALTAR
From Exo. 40:22,24,26, the placement of the golden altar appears to have been near the veil through which the high priest entered the most holy place; and from the fact of its being an altar of incense, it should be understood as a type or symbol of the prayers of God's people (Revelation 5:8), the incense representing the prayers, and the altar the institution of prayer itself. Many of the pioneer preachers of the Restoration, on whose memory may God's blessing rest, made a great deal of the symbolism in the location of the altar within the holy place typifying the church, and not in the court typifying the world, thus making prayer to be a special privilege of the Christian within the church, and not a privilege pertaining to all people indiscriminately. Such does not deny that God may answer prayer from anyone, as for example when Christ granted the request of the demons (Matthew 8:31,32), if such should correspond to the divine will; but there cannot be any doubt that, at least, generally, prayer is the privilege within, not without, the covenant relationship with God.
It should not be confusing that the golden altar of incense is said to pertain to the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 9:4), because, situated as it was, so near to the entrance through the veil, it did indeed pertain to the most holy place of all, but it was not located within the holiest place but without in the holy place. Therefore, it is discussed here in connection with the holy place, along with the candlestick, and the table of showbread. In its use, the altar was significantly associated with the solemn ritual on the day of atonement, when the high priest made two or three excursions within the Holy of Holies with this altar as the pivot around which his activities revolved. Thus, it is no violation of truth to speak of it as pertaining to the Holy of Holies, especially since it is not said that the altar was "in" the Holy of Holies, but that the Holy of Holies "had" a golden altar (Hebrews 9:4) Barmby said,
(The altar) was an appendage of the Holy of Holies, though not actually inside it, in the same way (to use a homely illustration by Delitzsch) as the signboard of a shop belongs to the shop and not to the street. F4
The location of the golden altar near the veil which typified, among, other things, the curtain of death, calls attention to the special urgency of prayers as one draws near to death, or as he may be brought into the contemplation of it. See article on the veil of the temple, below.
The only access to that Holy of Holies was through the veil, a description of which is afforded by Exo. 26:31ff. It was this veil which was parted in twain from the top to the bottom at the time of our Lord's crucifixion (Matthew 27:51), thus being brought into focus to reveal an astonishing weight of symbolism.
THE VEIL OF THE TEMPLE
The three colors of the veil (Exodus 26:31ff), blue above, scarlet beneath, and purple between, formed by the perfect blending of the other colors, suggest the doctrine of the Trinity, and particularly the person of Christ whose heavenly nature (the blue) was perfectly blended with his earthly nature (the scarlet) to form the perfect co-mingling of the two (the purple) in his person as the unique God-man. The spiritual and heavenly nature of the things typified by the veil is typified by the embroidered cherubim upon it. According to the scriptures, that ancient veil stands typical of a number of things.
Their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remaineth, it not being revealed to them that it is done away in Christ. But unto this day, whensoever Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart. But whensoever it shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away (2 Corinthians 3:14-16).
Only in Christ can the Old Testament be understood, even by Israel. Christ is the "seed" of Abraham, "the Son of David," the "Lion of the tribe of Judah," "that Prophet like unto Moses," the suffering "servant" of Isaiah, the priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, and so on and on. His resurrection was the "sign of the prophet Jonah," and his herald, John the Baptist, was "that Elijah which was to come."
And he (God) will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces (Isaiah 25:7,8).
In this passage, death is plainly called the veil that is spread over all nations, thus the destruction of that veil symbolizes the triumph of Christ over death; and, previously to that, the veil stood for centuries as a type of death itself, appropriately attested by its strategic location between the sanctuary (the church) and the most holy place (heaven). The scriptural authority for such a view of the veil is seen in the reference to Christ's entering heaven for us as "entering into that which is within the veil" (Hebrews 6:19).
Therefore, every time a human being gets between God and one of his holy and royal priests (Christians) and tries to be something of a higher priest to perform some intercessory or mediatorial or judicial service, such a man is only trying to patch up that old veil which was destroyed by the hand of God when Christ was crucified. Let no man, therefore, hide behind a veil to hear another's confession, or to pass sentence, or to prescribe penalties, or perform any function whatsoever. It is only that old veil trying to come back. Remember that God took it away. Tear it down therefore and trample upon it. Take it away forever. Let it come no more between the person who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ and the presence of God, to which presence every true believer has "access," not upon the sufferance of any man, clerical or otherwise, but by the will of God through Christ. People are no more children hiding in the folds of an old veil; let them walk in the Light.
The "holy of holies" mentioned in Heb. 9:3 is discussed as a type of heaven in Heb. 10.
The golden altar was discussed under the preceding verse. From its location, it is more readily identified with the sanctuary than with the Holy of Holies. A more detailed examination of the other things mentioned here and which were in the Holy of Holies will not be attempted. None of the articles described here was ever found in the Herodian temple; and it was perhaps for this very reason that the author of Hebrews elected to draw his illustrations from the tabernacle, rather than from the temple; therefore, the emphasis here on the tabernacle, not the temple, does not mean that the temple had been destroyed when Hebrews was written. The temple of Solomon was said to have all the articles mentioned here, except the pot of manna and Aaron's rod that budded. Long before New Testament times, the Chaldeans had sacked Jerusalem and carried away the ark of the covenant which they never returned; and, in the times of Josephus, a contemporary of Christ and the apostles, that Jewish historian related that there was nothing whatever behind the veil within the Holy of Holies. F5 Thus there was sound logic in appealing to the tabernacle, rather than to the current temple, to bear the weight of analogy so important to the theme of the book of Hebrews.
THE ARK OF THE COVENANT
Taking a cubit as eighteen inches, the ark of the covenant was a gold box, 45 inches long, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches deep; and, in addition to its extravagant cost, its principal glory rested in its location within the Holy of Holies, and in its contents mentioned above, which included the sacred tables of the Decalogue itself. One may feel, therefore, some of the excitement and thrill of Moses who received instructions from God for making the ark and placing it in the most holy place (Exodus 25:10,11). Having a golden crown about its top and inlaid within and without with pure gold, it was indeed a fitting receptacle of the sacred tablets on which God inscribed the commandments of the Decalogue. Moses might very well have thought, "Surely God has gone the limit of making holy things in such an object as the ark of the covenant." (See under "Mercy Seat," below.)
The golden pot holding the manna and Aaron's rod that budded were not said in the Pentateuch to have been placed in the ark of the covenant; but no objection can be lodged against the statement in Hebrews to that effect, because such a keeping place would have been perfectly in line with God's instructions that they were to be "laid up before the Lord" (Exodus 16:33), and "before the testimony" (Numbers 17:10). Rather than attempting a full discussion of these two items and the glorious events memorialized by them, we choose to fall back on the reason alleged by the author of Hebrews himself that these are some of the things of which "we cannot now speak severally," the reason being that far too much time and space would be required.
And the tables of the covenant" effectively identify the covenant spoken of in Hebrews as the Decalogue covenant. Jeremiah's great prophecy of the new covenant, more fully discussed in Heb. 8, plainly identified the old covenant as the one God made with Israel and Moses at the time of the exodus from Egypt, the one containing the ten commandments, and the one which Israel did not keep. Efforts to dissociate the moral part of that covenant from the annulment that fell upon it fail in the light of such clear identification as this.
Although the author of Hebrews was in a hurry to move forward to the extensive deductions to be made from the mention of the various sacred things, perhaps it would be well to borrow a little time to glance at the surpassingly marvelous symbolism of the mercy-seat. Compare with note on the ark of the covenant, above.
THE MERCY SEAT
We have already noted the heavenly emphasis upon the ark of the covenant and the preference that pertained to it, as to location, cost, contents, etc.; and it can only be imagined, therefore, what must have been the astonishment of Moses when he was instructed to make a mercy-seat (Exodus 25:17ff) of the same lateral dimensions, to adorn it with intricately carved figures of cherubim facing each other with wings arched upward and forward, posing in an attitude of worship, and peering intently downward into the mercy-seat, and to place it ABOVE AND ON TOP OF THE ARK OF THE COVENANT! There, in the location of that mercy-seat, was revealed the key fact of all God's dealings with the race of Adam, namely, that by God's eternal will, his mercy stands enthroned even above his law; and no more significant truth was ever made apparent under the types and symbols of the old covenant. Generations of people beheld the wonder of God's mercy-seat above God's law; but neither men nor angels understood it, nor could they understand it, until the Christ ascended Golgotha. That this typical elevation of mercy above law in the economy of God was a matter of wondering amazement even to the angels is depicted in the symbol itself, in the attitude of the cherubim, peering intently downward and straining their eyes, so to speak, to behold what the mystery was. It was probably of that very thing that Peter spoke these words, "which things the angels desire to look into" (1 Peter 1:12). Every mortal man, prone to sin, mired in the inevitable guilt associated with all human life, and conscious of his own helplessness to save himself - every man should thank God for the Father's mercy, forever elevated even above his law, and for the salvation provided in that mercy through the blood of the Saviour.
The use of the present tense in this verse shows that the services being performed by the priests were still going on which would mean that the Herodian temple was yet standing and certainly dating Hebrews prior to 70 A.D. Here is a partial list of services performed by the priests: (1) They lighted the lamps each evening and trimmed them every morning. (Exodus 27:21; 30:8). (2) Each sabbath day they renewed the loaves on the table of showbread (Leviticus 24:5). (3) They burned twice daily the incense on the golden altar, this coinciding with the morning and evening sacrifices, and with the trimming and lighting of the lamps (30:7,8; Luke 1:10). All of these actions took place in the holy place.
designates the most holy place, or Holy of Holies, into which only the high priest could enter, and during which entry no lesser priest could ever stand in the sanctuary without, making it impossible to catch even a glimpse of that which was done within; and the high priest himself, far from having a continual access within the veil, could enter only under the strictest rules, and that upon only one day in the whole year, the Day of Atonement. Two points of emphasis appear in these verses: (1) the services of the high priest on the Day of Atonement, and (2) the great lesson so effectively taught by the Holy Spirit in such an arrangement.
THE DAY OF ATONEMENT
Lev. 16 details the duties of the high priest in making the atonement. He appeared before the door of the tabernacle with no less than four sacrifices, a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering, both of these to be offered for the high priest and his family; and then there were two he-goats for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering, these being for the whole of Israel. The high priest wore special linen garments for that occasion; and once used, the garments could not be taken out of the sanctuary. Further, he could not attire himself in those holy garments until he had washed himself in water.
First, he slew a bullock and proceeded to offer its blood within the veil as an atonement for his own sins; but, before doing so, he took live coals from off the altar of incense, near the veil, in a golden censer, having with him a handful of the finely beaten sweet incense which he burned in the censer in such a way as to cover the mercy seat with smoke. Then he took of the blood of the bullock and sprinkled it seven times upon the eastward portion of the mercy seat. The atonement for himself and his house thus made, the high priest then killed one of the he-goats, selected somewhat earlier by lot, and used its blood to sprinkle on the mercy seat in the same way he had sprinkled the bullock's blood; and this made the atonement for the errors and sins of the people. Significantly, there were also ceremonies of atonement for the holy place itself, and for the tabernacle, and the altar. It is not clear if there was a third entry within the veil or not; but certainly the high priest entered twice within the veil on that day, and possibly three times. From this, the meaning of "once a year" is actually "upon only one day in the year."
The remaining live he-goat, called the "scapegoat," was next used in one of the most amazing ceremonies of the old institution. The high priest laid his hands on the goat's head and confessed the sins of all Israel, after which the goat was driven off into some uninhabited place, thus "bearing away" the sins of the people.
After this, the high priest re-entered the sanctuary, took off the sacred linen clothes, dressed himself in his own priestly regalia, after another ceremonial washing, and then came out of the tabernacle and offered the two rams as burnt offerings. The contaminating power of sin was dramatically symbolized in the special arrangements observed when the custodian of the scapegoat, after letting him go, bathed himself and washed his clothes before re-entering the camp. Also, the flesh of the bullock and goat, after their blood was sprinkled, was carried without the camp and burned, not even the hide being saved; and the persons charged with such details could not return to the camp without bathing and washing their clothes.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THOSE SERVICES
The great significance of all that elaborate ceremony and its supporting services is simply this: the way into the Holy Place had not been revealed as long as the tabernacle services continued. The use of "tabernacle" here does not exclude the temple, as observed above, although it was still standing when Hebrews was written. As Milligan said, "It is plain enough that `the tabernacle' is used here symbolically for the whole system of Jewish worship. F6
The ascription of purpose to the Holy Spirit in these verses shows that God was the author of all those rites, ceremonies, and institutions of the old covenant, and that God had a purpose in their design, a purpose here revealed. The purpose was to show dramatically the darkness of the Jewish institution. The people, even though they were God's chosen people, could not enter even the sanctuary, to say nothing of the most holy place where God's presence was symbolized. Only a relatively few priests could enter, and even they were excluded from entering within the veil, where only one of them, the high priest alone, might enter under the most limited circumstances, and upon only one day in the year. And even when the high priest entered, the mercy seat was first covered with smoke of incense, showing that, even after all the ritual, God would not really look upon the high priest, except as through the smoke that screened his unworthiness from the Lord. Let it be remembered that the Holy of Holies was a type of heaven, eternal redemption, and fellowship with God, and it will appear how far short of redemption were those types and shadows of it in the old institution. This cannot mean that the ancient worthy patriarchs were not saved; it is freely conceded that they were saved; but the HOW of such a salvation could not be known as long as the old system stood. Christ opened up "the new and living way, through the veil, that is to say his flesh" (Hebrews 10:20).
The use of the present tense in "is a figure" and "are offered" points to the temple and its services as still operative when Hebrews was written. The great weakness of the old covenant was its carnality. To be sure, the worshiper who offered the proper sacrifices, washed himself ceremonially upon required occasions, observed the regulations as to meats and drinks, etc., could have been, and was, admitted into the commonwealth of God during that period; but none of those fleshly, carnal ordinances did anything at all to cleanse the consciences of sinners. The blood of bulls and goats, the sprinkling of altars, the ashes of a red heifer, the burning of incense, the washings, the changing of clothes, etc., none of those things made the slightest change in people's hearts. That was the mortal weakness of the old covenant. Time would not allow in such a work as this a thorough study of all the rites and ceremonies of Judaism included in this general reference to them; but most of them, even the washings, are illustrated by the Day of Atonement ritual described above.
Until a time of reformation
designates the times of the Messiah and the new covenant. Christ referred to those times as "the times of regeneration" (Matthew 19:28), and Peter called them "times of refreshing" (Acts 3:19).
But Christ having come a high priest
shows that the author of Hebrews considered the public ministry of Christ with his passion, death, and resurrection to be the termination of the old order, and not his birth, a truth attested by Christ's fulfilling the law meticulously during his earthly sojourn.
Of the good things to come
is made to read "of the good things that have come" in the RSV; and even English Revised Version gives the alternative reading from certain old manscripts; but there is no problem, because it is true either way. As Robertson said,
It is a nice question which is the true text. Both aspects are true, for Christ is a high priest of good things that have already come as well as the glorious future hope. F7
Through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation
is easily understood as far as the last two clauses are concerned, since they clearly refer to the spiritual and more heavenly nature of the perfect tabernacle; but it is a little more difficult to determine what the antitypical realities are in Christ, as compared with the ancient high priest.
The Jewish high priest first offered the bullock OUTSIDE the sanctuary; the Lord also offered himself outside the city, or camp of Israel. The Jewish high priest then passed through the sanctuary and offered the blood within the veil. Christ also conformed to this pattern, with the additional fact that he was both the victim and the one offering the victim. Christ then passed through the sanctuary and into heaven itself (corresponding to that which is within the veil) and there offered his own blood. The problem is to determine what corresponds to the sanctuary through which the high priest passed to go within the veil; and how is it that Christ also passed through the great antitype of it? Barmby's thorough exploration of the subject is helpful, although we draw back from accepting his conclusion. He makes the tabernacle through which Christ passed on the way to heaven the atmospheric heavens and other areas short of entering into the very presence of God on High. F8 He also mentioned the conviction of the Ante-Nicene fathers generally as holding that it refers to Christ's human nature, which Barmby refutes on the premise that Christ's human nature was assumed at his birth prior to his offering himself; and the figure calls for the passing through the sanctuary after his sacrifice of himself. If Christ's human nature, however, is restricted to mean the spiritual and glorified resurrection body, rather than his flesh throughout his earth life, we may escape the weight of Barmby's refutation, and in addition pick up the most solid support of such a view from a number of other important considerations.
Of invaluable aid in understanding this is the fact that the sanctuary is a type of the church of Christ; and the church, of course, is the spiritual body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). To the objection to the above view (In what sense can it be said that he entered through it? We should say that he ascended WITH it to the right hand of God.), F9 we may only say that the difficulty in this view is far less than that attending any other view. A summary of what various scholars have said about this is taken from Milligan. Macknight says it was "the whole earth"; Chrysostom made it "the human nature of Christ"; Ebrard identified it with "the holy life of Christ"; Hofmann thought it was "the glorified body of Christ"; Bleek called it the "aerial and siderial heavens"; and Delitzsch explained it as "the heaven of angels and of the just made perfect." F10 The view preferred here is that of Hofmann, since whatever view is taken, it must be consistent with the relation of the church itself to the sanctuary; and Christ's glorified body best suggests and maintains that fact. We strongly agree with Milligan to the effect that whatever the upper and greater tabernacle is, through which Jesus passed, "it manifestly includes the church of Christ." F11
Two points of superiority in the high priesthood of Christ are stressed here, these being: (1) that by a more perfect medium, his own blood contrasted with blood of animals, and (2) that in a more exalted place of the offering, in heaven itself, Christ offered his own blood, not repeatedly, but once for all. The first of these superiorities the author elaborates in the next two verses, and the second beginning at Heb. 9:25.
The use of blood of bulls and goats on the Day of Atonement has already been discussed; and for the ritual with the ashes of a red heifer, see Num. 19. These were used for ceremonial cleansing from such defilements as were incurred by touching a dead body. The heifer on which no yoke had come was required to be without blemish, and after the ceremonies was burned without the camp.
The argument here is that Christ's offering is superior to that of the old covenant by the same measure which values the blood of a man more than that of an animal; yes, even more, in that Christ was not merely a MAN, but the holy and perfect God-man himself. There are other points of superiority. Whereas animals were sacrificed without their consent, Christ consented to be the victim for man's sins. Animals were offered by others; Christ offered himself. Moreover, the wonderful offering of Christ was by the purpose and consent of the eternal Spirit, not the Holy Spirit as usually understood, but the pre-existent, eternally divine Spirit of Christ himself which he had before the world was, and which during his earthly ministry was conjoined with his human nature. This distinction between the flesh of Christ and his Spirit appears in three other New Testament references, Rom. 1:3,4; 1 Tim. 3:16; and 1 Pet. 3:18. Barmby's note on this reads:
In all these passages, THE SPIRIT is that divine element of the life of Christ, distinct from the human nature which he assumed of the seed of David, in virtue of which he rose from the dead. F12
Thus the blood of animals was chosen and offered upon the volition and choice of men, whereas the offering of Christ was by the fiat of the eternal Spirit that was in Christ.
Now it is admitted by the author of Hebrews that those animal sacrifices did perform their intended function by sanctifying unto the cleansing of the flesh; and if that was true, so he reasons, how much more shall the blood of Christ avail to the achievement of a clean conscience toward God. Regarding the expressions "dead works" and "the living God," see notes under Heb. 6:1 and Heb. 3:12. Particular attention is now directed to the consicience and how it may be cleansed.
CONCERNING THE CONSCIENCE
The value of the human conscience is similar to that of a watch, its utility being determined absolutely by its synchronization with the correct time, not determined by the watch, but by the moment of the sun's passing over a certain meridian; and like the watch, a man's conscience can have many things wrong with it. It can be evil (Hebrews 10:22), seared (1 Timothy 4:2), defiled (Titus 1:15), ignorant (1 Timothy 1:13), and choked with dead works (Hebrews 9:14). In spite of the things that may go wrong with it, there is a vast weight of moral authority in the conscience. "If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knoweth all things" (1 John 3:20). It is the glorious superiority of the new covenant that God has provided a way by which man's conscience can be truly cleansed, and the basis of that cleansing is shown in this verse. It is by means of the blood of Christ.
But how does the spirit of man come in contact with the blood of Christ? Surely not literally. Therefore, there must be some accommodation in doctrine or ordinance of God that enables that sinful soul to know that he has in fact touched the blood of Christ. If the thesis developed in these lines appears superficial or forced in any degree, let it be remembered that the sole means of obtaining a clean conscience is found in the blood of Christ and that there can be no cleansing apart from that blood. The metaphorical nature of the spiritual truth in this premise would lead us to expect some metaphorical explanation of it, and in this we are not disappointed. Note the following:
(1) Take the view that Christ's blood is in his body. To find contact with the blood, one would therefore have to enter the body of Christ; and how can this be done? Three times the sacred scriptures declare that people are baptized into Christ, that is, into his body (Romans 6:3; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27).
(2) Or take the view that Christ's blood was in his death, that being the occasion of its being shed. How does one enter the death of Christ? The scriptural answer is, "All we who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death" (Romans 6:3). In view of these things, who can doubt that Christian baptism is in some wondrous way related to the believer's contact with the blood of Christ with its consequent cleansing of the conscience? If such is not the case, how could the apostle Peter have related baptism to the cleansing of the conscience in the manner of these words, "Which also after a true likeness doth now save you, even baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Christ" (1 Peter 3:21)?
The connection between baptism and a good conscience is so important that we shall give this verse from 1 Pet. 3:21 in the various versions and translations in order for the reader to ascertain for himself what is the most likely meaning of it. The English Revised Version rendition given above is definitely not one of the better ones, as there would seem actually to be an effort to avoid the true meaning by breaking up the clause "baptism now saves you" by placement of the verb first, and by imposition of a five-syllable word "interrogation"!
KJV: "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), by the resurrection of Christ."
RSV: "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Christ."
Emphatic Diaglott: "And immersion, a representation of this, now saves us (not a putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the seeking of a good conscience towards God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
J. B. Phillips: "What a perfect illustration this is of the way you have been admitted to the safety of the Christian `ark' by baptism, which means, of course, far more than the washing of a dirty body: it means the ability to face God with a clear conscience. For there is in every true baptism the virtue of Christ's rising from the dead."
E. J. Goodspeed: "Baptism which corresponds to it, now saves you also, (not as the mere removing of physical stain, but as the craving for a conscience right with God) - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
R. F. Weymouth: "And corresponding to that figure, baptism now saves you - not washing off of material defilement, but the craving of a good conscience after God - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
John Wesley: "The antitype whereof ... baptism now saveth us, (not the putting away ... the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
In all of these and many others, the unmistakable relationship between the ordinance of baptism and the possession of a good conscience is emphatically plain.
Thus, the manner of people's consciences being cleansed from dead works, although not within the perimeter of the author's vision in these verses, is a matter of the greatest concern to all people. A good conscience becomes reality upon one's obeying the gospel of Christ through faith, repentance and baptism, and rising to walk in newness of life. Without doubt, this fact underlies the reason that baptism, the great initiatory rite into the Christian religion, should have been so solemnly enjoined by the Saviour upon the occasions of his giving the great commission as related by Mark and Matthew. It may be added here as a deduction of our own, that wherever there is knowledge of the Lord's commandment that all people, of all times, of all nations, should be baptized, there never lived a man, and there never will live a man, who can go before God with a good conscience until he has been baptized.
This shows that the real value of the old types and shadows lay in the perfect realization of them through Christ, their redemption, no less than ours, depending solely upon his atoning death. As Robertson expressed it, "So then the atoning sacrifice of Christ is the basis for the salvation of all who are saved before the cross and since." F13 No sin, in all the history of humanity, was ever forgiven except upon the basis of Christ's atonement; and this is so mountainous a truth that God was said by Paul to have justified his "passing over the sins done aforetime" through the means of setting forth his Son to be a propitiation (Romans 3:25). The author shows here that Christ made an atoning death for the forgiveness of the sins under the old order, thus actually accomplishing their forgiveness, a thing which the old law could not achieve. This being done, the author continues, God is free to usher in the new covenant as prophesied by Jer. 31:31ff. The absolute cancellation of the old covenant is implicit in this truth concerning Christ. Since not even the noblest under the law could ever possess true forgiveness apart from Christ, it logically follows that "Jesus only" is the basis of all further drawing near to God. "They that have been called" is not exclusive but relates to the world-wide invitation of the Master that "whosoever will may come."
THE TESTAMENT (WILL) OF CHRIST
The word "testament" in these two verses comes from the same word translated "covenant" everywhere else in Hebrews; and since there are some facts related to wills that do not relate to covenants, the commentators have generally been at a loss to know how to treat this interjection of a drastically new thought. Of course, the Greek word from which both of these renditions comes means either; and the author of Hebrews is well within his rights to make a digression of the kind noted here. His doing so strongly reminds one of Paul and his custom of seizing upon a word or a phrase for a parenthetical development of it apart from his main line of thought. This appears to be exactly the case here. The parenthetical thought that flashed upon the author's mind came as a result of that other meaning of the word for "covenant" which he had been using; and it was suggested by the mention of a death that had "taken place" for the redemption of the sins under the law. Then, departing for the moment from his main argument, and seizing upon the alternate meaning of the word, which is "testament," he made an independent argument for the absolute necessity of Christ's death within the framework of the alternate meaning.
Since Christ is the heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2), people may inherit, therefore, only if Christ died; but he did die. And think of the benefits that accrue to people in this. Lenski has a perceptive paragraph on this subject, as follows:
It becomes still clearer here why Christ is called the mediator of a testament. God made him the Heir, and thus through him alone who owns everything, through him and through his death as the testator, do we inherit as heirs. Although all comes from God, none of it reaches us save through Christ as the medium (Mediator), the middle link, the testator for us, whose death gives to us, his heirs, the great eternal inheritance ... It is misleading to press these human terms, which convey the divine facts, so that these facts become blurred and distorted. The human testator dies and remains dead, his property is conveyed to heirs who in turn die; successive generations of heirs step into the shoes of their predecessors. Our Mediator-Testator died and thereby made us joint-heirs with him, heirs who never die so that their inheritance might be lost to them. The word "eternal" which is used in verses Heb. 9:2,4 and Heb. 9:15 is not repeated and emphasized for naught. F14
The use of the word "testament" in these verses is the source of an incidental revelation for which people may be truly thankful. It furnishes an independent view of the entire concept of eternal life in Christ, a view which makes the eternal inheritance to be, in a sense, on a parity with receiving a bequest from some person who has left it in his will for another. Such is the import of the word "testament" as used here. The terms of any will become binding only upon the death of the person making it; and they do not limit or impede in any way the free use of the testator's property BEFORE his death. This sublime fact is precisely the reason why no person may claim forgiveness of his sins through a mere act of faith, as did a certain woman (Luke 7:50), or like the thief on the cross, for example. The testator had not then died; and the conditions under which it was prescribed how all people might inherit were not announced as yet. The value of this in understanding the preconditions of salvation is past all calculation. If people would inherit through Christ, who is the heir of all things, let them discover what his plenary representatives, the apostles of Christ, announced after his death as the binding terms of the testament, and obey them, meet those conditions; nor should they rely upon isolated and individual instances of Christ's redemptive favor in which, prior to his death, salvation was conferred upon persons such as the thief on the cross and the certain woman already mentioned. To make such prior examples (prior to his death) any solid basis for determining how people are saved now, after Christ's death, is a very hurtful error.
If it should appear to any person that the writer's insistence upon the death of Christ as a prerequisite of eternal life was anything strange or ill-advised, let him take note of the fact that even in the old covenant, there was no binding system until everything had been dedicated through blood. Such would seem to be the meaning of this verse.
The obstinate problem the author of Hebrews was dealing with in these verses was the prejudice of Jewish Christians who found the cross of Christ an offense and who were inclined to stumble at the death of Christ. This mention of all that blood and sprinkling is for the purpose of showing that all of the ancient typical institutions called for bloodshedding, not occasionally, but continually, such things being suggestive and typical of the death of Christ. Again from Lenski,
Since there was so much use of blood in connection with the Mosaic testament and all that pertained to that testament, how can any of the readers find fault with Christ's death and blood in connection with the new testament? They should do the very opposite: appreciate the fact that Christ's death and blood are infinitely more precious than all the Mosaic sacrifices. F15
This verse concludes an argument the author began back in Heb. 9:13, to the effect that Christ's sacrifice is infinitely more wonderful and efficacious than any or all of the Mosaic sacrifices. Bruce's illuminating comment on this is:
Our author does not deny that such ritual cleansing was real and effective as far as it went. What he does deny is that cleansing of this kind could be of any use for the removal of inward and spiritual defilement. The various installations that were cleansed and fitted for the worship of God by the blood of animal sacrifices were but copies of the spiritual realities; where the spiritual realities themselves are concerned, a superior sacrifice and more effective cleansing must be forthcoming. It has frequently been asked in what sense the "heavenly things" required to be cleansed; but our author has provided the answer in the context. What required to be cleansed was the defiled consciences of men and women; this is a cleansing which belongs to the spiritual sphere. F16
Here the infinite superiority of Christ is related to the place where the offering of blood took place, not in some carnal, earthly, man-made holy place, but in heaven itself in the very presence of God. The result was a universalization of the benefits thus procured, making them available to all people. Hewitt has a quotation from Tasker, as follows:
By entering heaven, the crucified Saviour transferred from an earthly, localized realm into a spiritual universal sphere the benefits of his passion. Therefore, his blood can be thought of as sprinkled in the hearts and consciences of all believers, who are in consequence able to draw nigh unto God through him. F17
For the significance of hapax as used here, see under Heb. 7:27. Its meaning is "once for all." The glory of Christ's sacrifice as set forth here consists of the complete, final, and irrevocable nature of the offering. It was not a repeated thing as were the offerings and sacrifices under Judaism but was a "once for all" accomplishment. As pointed out earlier, this eliminates any notion that the church should have something to offer or sacrifice, in such a thing as the mass, for example; for the one and only efficacious sacrifice has already been offered in heaven, where alone it could do any good and by the only one capable of doing it, Jesus the Lord.
Implicit in this place is also the revelation of the true purpose of Jesus' coming into this world. It was not to begin an earthly kingdom, nor to erect an earthly throne, nor to restore a literal kingdom to Israel, but to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. Those who view the crucifixion of Christ as otherwise than something God planned and envisioned from the beginning have failed to grasp the most fundamental fact in all the scriptures. God's offering of himself in the person of his Son upon the cross is the sine qua non of all human forgiveness and salvation.
See under Heb. 6:2 for notes concerning the "judgment." It needs only to be added here, in the words of Milligan, that
The true character of every individual is determined on his exit from this world; and that his destiny is then virtually determined. And just so it is in the case of Christ, as our author now proceeds to show. F18
On the appointment of death for all people, it may be remembered that there is nothing accidental relative to the universal sentence of death upon humankind. True, accidental death may occur for an individual; but all people are certain to die at last. Statistically, it cannot be viewed otherwise; because, if death had been merely a matter of something accidental, the billions that have lived would certainly have provided an exception.
Having been once offered
is an intimation of Isa.53:4-6. God indeed did lay upon him the iniquity of us all. The chastisement of our peace was upon him. We did esteem him stricken of God and afflicted. The Jewish hierarchy had their little day with him; they humiliated him and crowned him with every conceivable insult; they inflicted the most terrible punishment that people could devise upon him; he was despised and rejected of men and thus died for the sins of many. But after death, there quickly appeared the judgment of God upon Christ. He rose from the dead. The Supreme Court of the Universe reversed the adverse judgments of the Sanhedrin and the Roman procurator; and Christ was elevated to the right hand of the Majesty on High.
The second time apart from sin
is a reference to the second advent of Christ when he shall appear in flaming fire taking vengeance upon them that know not God and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus (2 Thessalonians 1:7,8). Yes, Christ shall be seen on earth again, not as a humble sufferer, but as the mighty judge before whom all people must give an account. The expression "them that wait for him" is a tender and beautiful suggestion of the necessity of mortal trial and tribulation, and is a directive that Christians should "wait it out," never be discouraged, and endure to the end.
Apart from sin
suggests many things, among them being that our Lord shall not be grieved and distressed by the vicious deeds of the ungodly, that he shall have finally disposed of the sins of his disciples, having abolished them forever, even from God's remembrance, and that the very presence of sin or sinners shall have no further existence before his face.
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.