Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Brief Guide to Hebrews, 9:1-28

The last section talked about the New Covenant being superior to the Old.  In this chapter, the author is addressing the ways in which the Old Covenant tabernacle and sacrifices were not the complete picture and that the New Covenant sacrifice is better.  The first part describes the sanctuary under the Old  Covenant (9:1-5) and the rituals (9:6-10); these were temporary and were not meant to be eternal.  The author then progresses to Christ’s blood sacrifice as superior to the blood of animals (9:11-28).  He recounts the description of the tabernacle and notes its temporary (i.e. earthly) nature (see footnote).  The ritual sacrifices had temporary characteristics too, since they were only done once a year, had to be repeated every year, and only the high priest could enter the holy of holies — even he needed the covering of sacrificial blood.  The ceremonial law was a blueprint for the heavenly reality of Christ that would bring about the reformation of Israel’s religion from external realities, to internal and spiritual realities of the heart.  But the real issue was that these material forms of worship could not penetrate the human conscience and the heart.  Inward transformation was necessary in order to bring free access to God for acceptable service and worship.  This was effected through the blood of Christ offered on the cross.  His resurrection and ascension prove he was not only from heaven, but also that his work of atonement was acceptable to God.  Because Christ’s sacrifice worked on a spiritual level he is able to free us from the inward bondage and bring perfection to our worship.
The Earthly Copy and Blood Sacrifices
There are two concepts in particular that are especially important.  The first is the need for blood sacrifices, as verse 9:22 makes clear.  The nature of sacrifice within the Bible is different than in religious mythologies.  Modern people struggle with the necessity of substituting the life of one living thing for the sins of another; a God who requires blood sacrifice seems cruel, and indeed many pagan deities were.  But the principle is that the result of sin is death.  Atonement through blood sacrifice served to restore divine relationship with the source of life himself.  As reviewed above, the external ritual was not effective under the Old Covenant.  The New was needed to bring the internal change and eternal redemption through Christ.  The second concept is that the earthly form of worship was a “copy” of the heavenly one.  Ancient people considered their temples to literally be houses for their gods that replicated the deities’ heavenly houses.  Biblically, the tabernacle represented God’s presence among his people, and in the New Testament he dwells within his people, the church, through his Spirit.  Jesus is the one who not only was the presence of God himself among us (Jn. 1:14) but also is our perfect high priest who dwells in the very presence of God eternally.  Thus, believers have direct access to the Father, through the Son, by his Spirit.
1 The reason why he focuses on the tabernacle and not the temple is not entirely clear.  Perhaps the temporary nature of the tabernacle as a tent versus the temple as a permanent building is why.  But there is little textual cues for this.  Regardless, he is making a biblical argument and the layout of the tabernacle was virtually identical to the temple.  The theological and biblical argument is the same whether he decides to use the tabernacle or the temple.

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