NOTES on Hebrews
9:11-15 (click here for study)
The first part of Hebrews 9 recaps the Old Testament tabernacle service. In this passage, the author contrasts that service with the blood of Jesus. The Levitical high priest entered the Most Holy Place once a year bearing sacrifices for sin. Jesus "came as high priest of the good things that are already here," or "that are to come."
The Old Testament Jews did not have the good things Jesus brought: restored connection with God (spiritual life), eternal atonement, eternal life, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and sin as a defeated enemy. These are all things we can enjoy now as Christ-followers, and the physical reality of resurrection bodies and life with Jesus are still to come.
To establish these realities Jesus "went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation." (v.11)
There are two possible explanations for the tabernacle that is not man-made. One is that the phrase refers to his own body. (John 2:19) William Barclay in his commentary The Letter to the Hebrews points out this understanding. The other explanation is that it refers to heaven, the place where God is. (Hebrews 9:24) With either of these explanations, Jesus' singularity is the focus.
Jesus was the only human to be born spiritually alive, conceived by the Holy Spirit, "the firstborn over all creation." (Col 1:15) He referred to his body as the temple. "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." (John 2:19) He was the first human whose physical body was the temple of the Holy Spirit. He lived his entire life, until his death on the cross, in a living connection with his Father. In order for Jesus to bring us "the good things that are already here," he had to take on humanity while not divesting his divinity. Jesus, the God-man, was a miracle. His life was not the product of human conception; he was not born dead as all humanity has been since Adam. (Ephesians 2:1)
Jesus had to come through "the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made," his human but sinless self, in order to be our perfect sacrifice.
Equally significant, Jesus completed his work for us by ascending to heaven and sitting down at the side of his Father. His work was complete; he himself had become the Living Way by which each of us can have direct access to God. "He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence." (v. 24) His blood is our eternal atonement.
Only Jesus, fully man and fully God, could offer the sacrifice that would satisfy the death decree of sin which rested on us. Since humans sinned, the law required human death. But only God could take responsibility for all of humanity and pay our price himself.
Only Jesus' death could offer a sacrifice that would qualify humanity to enter the presence of God. Jesus, as the "firstborn among many brothers," (Romans 8:29) has entered God's presence on our behalf. Jesus, eternally God and eternally human, has reconnected our race to the Creator. He has entered "the perfect tabernacle that is not man-made," the literal presence of God, and has given his Holy Spirit to us, connecting our spirits to God and guaranteeing that we will physically enjoy the presence of God as well.
The old covenant required many different sacrifices to cover every imaginable circumstance. Verse 13 mentions two specific sacrifices: the bulls and goats required on the annual Day of Atonement, and the heifer required whenever anyone touched a dead body. There was an elaborate ritual in place including the burning of a sacrificed heifer for the ceremonial cleansing of one tainted by death. The Day of Atonement dealt with Israel's spiritual death, and the heifer ceremony dealt with Israel's physical death.
The cycle of life and death has begun to seem natural to mankind. We have forgotten that our initial heritage was sinlessness and eternal life. When God created Adam and Eve he did not intend for them to die. Death is foreign to us. It's not surprising that people do not naturally accept the idea of their own death. It is not natural. But after living with it for thousands of years, people begin to think of it as a natural counterpart of life.
God did not want Israel to forget the seriousness of the curse of sin. He gave them the law and the ceremonies to wake them up to reality. He wanted them to clearly see their sin and their spiritually dead condition. He wanted them to continually face their need to atone for their brokenness, and he wanted them to continually face their need of cleansing from physical death. Spiritual and physical death go hand in hand, and God wanted his people never to think of their condition as his plan for mankind. He wanted them always to confront the reality that their sin and their death required cleansing and atonement.
The problem with these ceremonies, however, was that they did not fix the broken part of people. They represented God's cleansing; they provided physical and ceremonial cleansing, but they did not mend people's broken hearts that were disconnected from God.
When Jesus came, died, and rose again, he offered a once-for-all sacrifice that forever took care of sin and death-it even provides for physical resurrection. Jesus cleansed us deeply, at the level of original sin, at the level of our spiritual disconnection from God. Jesus' death and resurrection mended the tear in the universe that was sin. Man and God are reconnected.
Jesus went consciously and willingly to his death. In fact, he gave up his own spirit. The animals sacrificed in the old covenant did not go willingly to their deaths. They went to death because they were led to death. Jesus went purposefully. Just as the first sin was an act of will, so was Jesus' atonement.
Jesus' death has cleansed our consciences, not just our bodies and our environment. Because we know that we are forgiven, we no longer live in deep, perpetual shame and guilt. Because we are free, we are also free from the useless ceremonies and rituals which continually reminded the Israelites that they were living under a curse of death. The Israelites were obligated to continually atone for their sins. They had to acknowledge and own their guilt, and the ceremonies existed for that purpose.
The ceremonies also existed, however to remind them of their hope and faith in a coming Redeemer. Now that the Redeemer has come, now that the unbridgeable chasm between God and us is mended, we are in direct communion with the Father. We have the Holy Spirit living in us, and because we are now spiritually alive, we become able, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to truly serve God. Now we live by his will; now his deeds become our deeds; now we have new hearts with eternity written on them.
Ransomed for an Eternal Inheritance
The new covenant which Jesus mediates for us is the restoration of communion between us and God. Jesus, by his death, resurrection, and ascension has opened for us the living way by which we can enter the presence of God. By his atonement he has made us priests of God. We become the mediators of his love to the world around us.
The "called" (v. 15), those who hear the call of Christ through the gospel, may respond to his love and sacrifice and enter eternal life. The gospel presents the truth of salvation; those who hear it are called to follow Christ; those who respond become the chosen. (Matt. 22:14) When we accept Christ we are called to leave the darkness and live lives of holiness and obedience. Our calling is to leave spiritual darkness and death and to accept our eternal inheritance and communion with God.
We begin now to experience our eternal inheritance. We receive a new heart, a soft heart instead of a heart of stone. We live in grace instead of condemnation; we live as members of one body united by one Spirit. We have "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all." (Eph. 4:4) We become members of the Jesus' kingdom now, when the Holy Spirit indwells us and connects our spirits to the eternal God. We have "redemption and forgiveness of sins" in the "kingdom of light." (Col. 1:13) We have a new birth and a living hope; we have an eternal future in heaven in the presence of God; we are shielded from evil by God's power. (see 1 Peter 1:4-5)
Jesus ransomed us from slavery in the kingdom of darkness-sin and death-and gave us a new life in the kingdom of light. He rescued us from ourselves, born hopelessly broken and cut off from him, and brought us to life. He gave us hope and a future. He gave us himself.
God calls us out of our natural condition. He calls us to lay aside our drive to manipulate and control. He calls us to be honest and vulnerable. He calls us not to pretend in front of him anymore. He asks us to let him help us know the truth about ourselves. He asks us to risk the pain of knowing that truth. And he promises to bring peace to the places that now cause us shame.
Jesus calls us to accept his sacrifice. He asks us to face him on the cross, beaten and bloody, carrying our sin, and allow our hearts to be filled with grief and gratitude. He asks us not to recoil from the messiness of his sacrifice but to immerse ourselves in it, knowing that only by allowing his blood and grace to completely cover and fill us can we hope to heal the torn and broken places in our hearts.
The Holy Spirit calls us to a life of holiness. He asks us to let him gently teach us how to live, how to repent, how to give up, how to be new. He asks us to let him connect our spirits with his and our hearts with each other. He asks us to let him teach us to live with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23)
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below.
Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised March 14, 2001.