NOTES on Hebrews
9:16-28 (click here for study)
Hebrews 9 closes with a discussion showing that Christ's death was necessary in order to restore humanity to a relationship with God. Verse 16 leads with a metaphor: in order for a will to be in force, somebody has to die. The Greek word "diatheke" which is translated "will" in verses 16 and 17 is the same word translated "covenant" in verse 15. The double meaning is intentional.
Just as the heirs of an estate do not obtain their inheritance until the signer of the will dies, just so humanity could not receive eternal atonement for its sins until Jesus died. The covenant God made with mankind promising an eternal inheritance could not be ratified until Jesus shed his blood for sin. Eternal life was not a reality until the Son of God shed his blood.
The old covenant, likewise, had to be put into effect with blood (the symbol of sacrificed life). The blood that sealed that covenant, however, was animal blood. It was not the blood of humans, and it was not able to satisfy the demands of the law: the wages of sin is death. Humanity sinned, humanity died. No animal could substitute for human death.
Why the Shedding of Blood?
When Adam and Eve sinned, God gave the first hint that blood would be part of the atonement. "And I will put enmity between you and the woman," he said to the serpent, "and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."
In this prophecy God foretells that Satan will deal a wound to the woman's offspring, but the woman's offspring would kill the serpent. The serpent's offspring would be those who choose spiritual death over spiritual life through Christ. The woman's offspring would be the spiritually alive including the "firstborn of creation", Jesus.
Genesis 3:20 says, "Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living." In the Bible the dead are the lost, and the living are those who accept Jesus and receive their eternal inheritance. It's noteworthy that God referred to Satan's offspring and to Eve's offspring. Satan's would be those who were loyal to him and did not accept Jesus. They would remain in spiritual death and would inherit Satan's ultimate fate: hell. In spite of Eve's sin, however, her offspring would be considered the living. God did not declare her to be the mother of the lost. Rather, he declared Satan to be the progenitor of the lost. Eve, however, would produce a line of living offspring crowned by Jesus himself-both God and human.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:22, "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." We inherit our death from Adam; Eve, however, is our spiritual mother, and the living-the miraculous spiritually dead humans who are brought to spiritual life-are her offspring.
This miraculous spiritual life would require blood-the wound that the serpent would inflict on Eve's offspring: Jesus.
Further, God instructed Moses to tell Israel, "For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life." (Lev. 17:11)
From earliest times God had declared that ultimate atonement for sin would require death. It is a fact of the universe that sin put a permanent rift between God and humanity; that rift was a death sentence for mankind. The eternal life Adam and Eve had at their creation was over the moment they sinned. It was not possible for humanity to live cut off from God. Sin meant death. Only another's death could substitute for the death humanity acquired the moment Adam and Eve sinned.
Moses ratified the old covenant between God and Israel by sprinkling blood on the altar and on the people. That blood represented Christ's blood that would-indeed, that had since the creation of the world-bridged the gap of sin between God and mankind. The altar was the place in the tabernacle that represented the place of Christ's death. When Moses sprinkled blood over the crowd of people he was foreshadowing Christ's blood cleansing humanity from sin.
Everything, in fact, needed cleansing including the altar and Aaron and his sons. (Ex. 29:21) The animal blood of the Old Testament sacrifices defiled the temple and those who touched it. It carried the sins of the people, and after Aaron and the priests had offered sacrifices, they and the altar had to be cleansed. The Israelites lived with continual reminders of their sin and desperate need. The priests who mediated God's mercy and judgment to the people were especially burdened by sins since they handled the sacrifices and the blood.
Cleansing, though, was a vicious cycle; the sacrifices were not adequate to cleanse from sin. They had no power to stop the evil behind sin, and they had no power to reconnect the people with God. Still, the blood had to be applied. Israel had to be aware of its sin and of its own defilement.
Jesus had to die in order for our sins to be permanently erased. Since Adam's sin ended humanity's connection to God, mankind was doomed to die. Nothing could reconnect us with the Source of life-nothing except a miracle.
God became a man and died the singular death that could stop the evil behind sin and reconnect us with himself. Jesus shed his blood and opened a new, living way for us to be one with God. As our God he could be responsible for our sin. His death as a man paid for our sin. His life as our resurrected Savior promised us a future without sin. His ascension to the Father allowed him to send us the Holy Spirit and to give us a new birth from above.
Jesus' death atoned for all sins committed before he came, and they atoned for all sins in the future. His sacrifice has not only paid for sin and reconnected us to God, but his resurrection has given us eternal life. His ascension gave us the Law in our hearts and minds. His life, death, resurrection, and ascension have created an entirely new reality in which we participate when we accept him.
"It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these." (v. 23)
The fact that "heavenly things" needed to be purified with Jesus' blood suggests that sin affected more than just earth. When God created Adam and Eve, he walked with them every day. They had free physical access to their Creator. Whatever the boundaries may have been between eternity and time, they did not limit God and his new creatures. Adam and Eve were fully alive, and death could not touch them.
After sin, however, death changed everything for Adam and Eve. They no longer had unending life. They no longer had free physical access to God. Sin affected more than the earth; it affected humanity's fellowship with beings outside time. Sin was like a giant tear or chasm in the universe that man could not cross. "Heavenly things" and heavenly beings were affected by man's death.
Besides the more obvious fact that animal deaths could not truly pay for human sins, another reason the old covenant sacrifices could not atone for sin was that animal deaths had absolutely no jurisdiction over anything outside time. Only Jesus could mend a rip in the universe and create a way for humanity once again to have a relationship with God.
End of the Ages
When Jesus came the end of the ages came. Jesus intersected time, and all reality is different now. We are living in the "end of the ages".
Jesus destroyed sin by paying the price for us and forever silencing Satan's claim on our souls. He destroyed sin by bringing us to spiritual life and filling us with his Holy Spirit. Even though our bodies are not yet resurrected and exist with genetic imperfections and weaknesses for temptation, sin no longer defines us when we accept Christ. Our spirits are alive with His Spirit, and that new life defines us. In Christ we are saints, and the Holy Spirit is working even now to bring life to our mortal bodies. (Romans 8:11)
We wait confidently for his second appearing when he will bring us our physical salvation, and we will be fully and eternally alive with and in him.
God's call to us is a call to life. His call is a paradox: he asks us to accept history's most horrific death as a means to achieving eternal life. God asks us to lay aside our pride and our comfort, our arrogance and our complacency, and accept the convicting truth of Jesus' death.
When we look at the cross we see our sin. We can't fool ourselves about our "good lives" any longer. The cross shows us our own treachery and double-mindedness. God asks us to embrace his death and to find his love waiting for us at the cross. He calls us to a life that is completely new.
His call demands that we give everything to him. But his call is also a promise: he will come to us and live with us. Never again will we be alone. Never again need we fear.
God's call costs us everything, but everything is what we must give.
The love of Jesus is greater than anything we give up. It fills our empty hearts and changes us from the inside out. It melts away fear and strengthens timidity. It gives us peace and a reason to live.
Jesus is everything. In him, we will never be the same again.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised March 14, 2001.