NOTES on Hebrews
9:1-10 (click here for study)
Chapter 9 of Hebrews begins with a recap of the intricacy and beauty of the Old Covenant's ceremonies and symbols. The sanctuary was at the heart of the Old Covenant. It was the place where God's presence resided, and it housed the words of the covenant engraved by God on tables of stone. The sanctuary represented to Israel their relationship with God and his choice of them as his people with whom he dwelled.
The sanctuary also housed certain furniture that held immense symbolism for Israel and even more subtle meaning for God's people in the New Covenant. The ark of the covenant, made of acacia wood and covered with gold, held the tablets of the covenant, Aaron's rod that budded, a jar of manna gathered during Israel's years in the wilderness, and the written law. Two golden cherubim touched their wingtips over the center of the ark where God's visible presence rested-the mercy of God overshadowed the law of stone.
A heavy curtain, or veil, separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, keeping everyone out of the presence of God except the high priest who could enter once a year on the Day of Atonement to offer sacrifices for the sins of Israel. This curtain, which ripped from the top down at the moment of Jesus' death, represented the body of Christ which has always been what protected sinful humanity from the holiness and judgment of God. (Hebrews 10:19-20)
Just outside the veil stood the altar of incense which burned continuously. Incense represented the presence of God and the prayers of God's people. The high priest took a censor of burning incense from the altar into the Most Holy Place with him on the Day of Atonement, allowing the smoke from the incense to fill the chamber, obscuring the view of the ark so he didn't directly see the presence of God.
The seven-branched candlestick in the Holy Place burned all night, the flames representing the presence of God that is the light shining in the darkness. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit came in the visible form of flames on the Day of Pentecost. The presence of God came to its new temple, the human hearts of Jesus' church, and those people carried the presence of God, the light shining in the darkness, to the world. The seven churches of Revelation were also represented by candlesticks.
The priests made the showbread from the grain offerings Israel brought. Every week the priests baked a new batch and ate the old batch. There were twelve loaves of showbread, one for each tribe and also, in retrospect, one for each apostle. The tribes were the foundation of God's Old Covenant people, and the apostles were the foundation of the church, God's New Covenant people. The showbread was a symbol of Jesus, the Bread of Life, and it represented the presence of Jesus in his people.
In the old covenant, the priests ate the showbread, the symbol of Jesus. In the New Covenant, the church, priests of God, eat communion bread, the symbol of Christ's body.
Greater than the Temple
On one occasion David and his soldiers ate the showbread from the temple. Only Levites were allowed to eat showbread, but because David was God's anointed king, the priest allowed him and his men to eat.
Many years later Jesus used this example to illustrate to the Pharisees his own superiority over the law. When they confronted him about his unlawful Sabbath behavior, Jesus responded, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread-which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is hereFor the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." (Matthew 12:3-8)
Jesus didn't merely explain his relationship to the Sabbath. He explained his relationship to the whole Old Covenant. The temple was the center of worship, culture, and law in Israel. It was the symbol of the Israelites' identity. The temple was sacred to the Jews because it housed the words of the covenant and it was the place where, historically, the presence of God resided. The temple was the sacred icon of Israel.
When the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, he didn't merely answer them. Rather, he pointed out that historically David and the priests had broken the law and desecrated the rules of the temple without blame. Then he made the statement that shocked the Pharisees: "One greater than the temple is here."
For Jesus to claim to be greater than the temple was to claim to be greater than the law. Everything that defined Israel and upheld their traditions centered in the temple. The temple housed the law. In a sense, the law could be seen as a subset of the temple, and the Sabbath as a subset of the law. For Jesus to claim to be greater than the temple was far more shocking than claiming to be greater than the Sabbath. Jesus claimed to be greater than the identity and traditions of Israel. By making such a claim he was saying, in essence, that he was even greater than Israel.
Jesus finished this unsettling declaration by saying, "For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." This statement does not mean that he is lord, or ruler, over an outside entity as the Queen is ruler over England. Rather, this statement means that Jesus is bigger than the Sabbath instead of the Sabbath being an outside institution that is bigger than he is. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath because he is outside the Sabbath. Instead of being in charge of an eternal entity, Jesus is the Creator of the Sabbath. Sabbath rest is inside Jesus, not outside, and when we are in him we enter his rest.
The Way Into the Most Holy
In verses 7 and 8 the author of Hebrews is explaining that as long as the high priest entered the Most Holy on the Day of Atonement with the blood of sacrifices, "the Holy Spirit was showingthat the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing."
Jesus is the way into the Most Holy Place. Before Jesus came to earth, it was not possible for humanity to enter the presence of God. The Israelite priesthood was flawed; they were sinners born with dead spirits. They had nothing to recommend them to God as mediators for the sins of the people. They were sinners equal to the sinners for whom they interceded.
Furthermore, the sacrifices they offered were merely symbols. They were animals that had no power to atone for the sins of humanity. "The first tabernacle" and all its ceremonies and sacrifices were not able to open the way for people to personally experience the presence of God. "The first tabernacle" only demonstrated the way to have a relationship with God. It reminded Israel that the Messiah was coming who would restore them to their Creator, and every piece of furniture in the temple and every sacred rite represented some spiritual truth that would find its reality only in Jesus when he would finally come.
Only when Jesus came and became the perfect sacrifice and our living High Priest did the way open for us to enter the presence of God. Only through Jesus can we be reconciled to the Father.
A Present Illustration
"This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper."
The "present time" is now, within the new covenant. The illustration regarding "the first tabernacle" being unable to open the way into the presence of God stands as a reminder to us. We have experienced God through knowing Jesus. If we become seduced into returning to laws and rituals to enhance our relationships with Jesus, we are pulled away from focusing on Jesus only.
Doing works feels good; works make us feel as if we're living right and being holy. But works are completely powerless to create or maintain a relationship with Jesus. When we look to the old covenant traditions and laws for hints about relating to God, we miss the truth. The old covenant laws existed to point out sin by setting an impossible standard for humans to meet. They and the old covenant sacrifices could not clear the consciences of the worshipers. Furthermore, those laws were given to people who were still dead in their sins. Returning to them will not enhance our new covenant relationships with Jesus.
Living by works according to the law is the condition of natural humanity. Born again people, however, live by the power of God in them.
In the new covenant we have a living Savior who has already defeated Satan. His death, resurrection, and ascension have open a "living way" for us to enter the presence of God. Instead of living under "external regulations", when we accept Jesus we live by the Spirit who is in us. When we live by the Spirit, we do not need the external law nor any ceremonial requirements or regulations.
The Holy Spirit connects us to God, and his witness to us about the truth of Jesus' love and sacrifice clears our consciences from the shame and guilt that accumulated all through our lives before Christ and also in the future.
Before we accept Jesus, the demands and the curse of the law rule over us. Once we are born again, however, we enter a completely new reality. The Holy Spirit lives in us, and we pass from death to life. The law of sin and death no longer has any power over us. We must not be deceived into thinking that old covenant rituals will help us to know Jesus better or make us more godly.
Only our faith in Jesus can put us in God's presence. Only the Holy Spirit in us can transform our behavior.
God's Call To Us
God is asking us to accept his sacrifice for our sin and to enter the new covenant with him. He's asking us to give up our efforts to live good moral lives and to seek him instead. We don't find Jesus by trying to be good; we only find our own sinful failure.
Jesus is calling us to live in truth. He's asking us to let go of our fragile, precariously balanced lives and look at his love and sacrifice for us. He's asking us to admit how ineffective we are in our attempts to "be good". He allows us to spiral into despair if we insist on managing the details of our lives without submitting to him and giving him our fear, our hurt, and the relationships and things that define us.
Jesus calls us into freedom. He calls us to admit how we cling to the dreams we've created and to acknowledge how they have become so big they've obscured the truth.
The truth is that we are in bondage as long as we hold onto any person, accomplishment, or expression of ourselves without letting go of our desires and submitting those things to God. We have to be willing to lose the beliefs, the people, the work, and the things that we trust and cherish and allow Jesus to be our only definition.
We may be called to experience great pain and loss as we submit to Jesus, but unless we're willing to walk through that dark valley, we will never know the transforming freedom of Jesus' redemption of our souls and memories. We will never know the freedom of allowing his love to give us new hearts, untwisted by shame and guilt. We will never experience the peace that comes from the Holy Spirit filling the empty cracks in our broken hearts, mending us with forgiveness and freedom, freeing us from the destruction of shame and hopelessness.
Jesus came to restore us to the Father. He came to give pay the price for our sin and spiritual death. He came to forgive us and to bring our souls to life, filling us with his own Spirit. He came to break the bondage of evil, and he asks us to accept the fact that we are not bound by the evil that claims us. He bought us back from death with his own life, and we are now children of light instead of children of darkness.
Praise God for loving us and for sending Jesus to reclaim us for himself. Praise Jesus for dying for us and for restoring us to life and peace. Praise the Holy Spirit for indwelling us and for working out in us the redemption of the details of our lives and for teaching us the truth.
Praise God for his love which breaks the power of sin in our lives and
redeems even our most shameful secrets.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised March 14, 2001.