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Monday, December 30, 2013

The Greater Promise, Priest, Place, and Payment

Hebrews 9 
[Author's note: this is a very long blog. If you want to break it into several readings, it can be easily done by stopping after verse 7, 15, and 23 and then picking up later where you stopped.]

The writer of Hebrews began this chapter reminding us, the readers, of the things of old, the worship regulations, the tabernacle preparation, the tabernacle formation, and the priestly function. He spent the first seven verses of chapter 9, reminding the Jews and later readers of the regulations God set forth in Exodus and Leviticus. There were revelations regarding divine worship referred to in verses 1 and 10. These regulations concerned food, drink, and bodily washings. These were set out in Leviticus 11:2, 25, and Numbers 6:3, 19:13. The washings spoken of in verse 10 and referred to in verse 1 are the Greek word baptismos, which means purification through water as prescribed by Moses. Each of these are laws/rules concerns the outer person; none affects the inner person.

The writer also reminds us of the earthly sanctuary as set up by the first covenant (Exodus 25:8-9, 26:1-30) and how it was to be ordered in regards to what and where each item would go, i.e. the lampstand, table, and loaves of presentation to be in the outer (Greek word protos, meaning first in place) tabernacle. The Lord in Exodus 25:30 and Leviticus 24:5-9 required the loaves as an offering for the Levitical priests to eat in the holy place. He reminds the readers about the temple formation, which area priests and high priests could enter, holy place (former) and holy of holies latter).Where the bread was presented to God was called the holy place, the tabernacle/room before the holy of holies. The holy place was between the outer altar where most sacrifices were performed and the holy of holies where the high priest entered to offer blood sacrifices for himself and the people.

Between the holy place and the holy of holies was a second veil or curtain. Moses spoke of this in Exodus 26:31-33. This curtain was the place through which only the high priest could pass. Behind this curtain was a golden altar of incense. This golden altar is a censer in which incense burned (Exodus 30:1-5). Also in the holy of holies was the Ark of the Covenant. This ark is the manifestation of God’s presence on earth. It led the people into the Promised Land and into battle. When the Israelites moved the Ark into the tabernacle (sacred tent) and, later, into the temple, it was accessible once a year on Yom Kippur when the high priest would enter to ask forgiveness for himself and the people. The writer stated that the cherubim of glory overshadowed the mercy seat (Exodus 25). It is from these outstretched cherubim arms over the ark that God renders His judgment.

The writer reminded us of the formation and purpose of the tabernacle, priests, and regulations. He continued with the duties of the priests. In verses 6 and 7, the writer reminded the readers of who is to perform the worship duties and what the Law required to be done. His first statement, which is very important, is that “the priests are continually entering the outer (first) tabernacle (sacred tent) performing the divine worship” [Hebrews 9:6] according to the Levitical law (Numbers 18:1-6, Exodus 27:21, and Leviticus 24:3). The writer reminds us only the high priest (Numbers 18) can enter the second tabernacle (holy of holies) once a year (Leviticus 16:34 and Exodus 30:10). The high priest must take blood (haima) from the sacrifice to offer for the sins of himself and the people, sins (agnoema) committed in ignorance. This blood is the blood of animals or man and is the seat of life (Leviticus 16:15) for without blood, we would not be alive. The sins that this offered blood covers are sins of ignorance or thoughtlessness. The Greek text states it literally as “the ignorance of the people.” The writer of Hebrews spoke of this ignorance and misguidance in Hebrews 5:2. He used the Greek words agnoeo, which means to not know or understand, and planao, led away from the right way. To the writer, Jesus could deal gently with the ignorant and misguided since He also had weaknesses. Paul equated this ignorance as darkness and a hardened heart (Ephesians 4:18).

            After reminding the readers of the laws and regulations establishing the old covenant, the writer of Hebrews compares the old and new covenants in verses 8 - 23. He begins in verse 8 with the fact that the Holy Spirit is signifying (deloo – making known or declaring) that the way into the holy place for everyone has not been disclosed, made actual and visible (realized) while the outer (protos – first) tabernacle is still standing. God was inaccessible by people by themselves while the outer tabernacle was separate from the inner tabernacle by the curtain/veil. This outer tabernacle is a symbol (parabole – a comparison for the time of the writer). Thus, the priests offered both gifts and sacrifices according to the Law as noted in Hebrews 5:1. These gifts and sacrifices cannot make the worshipper perfect, have complete cleansing (teleioo – complete, brought to the fulfillment as per the prophecies, complete cleansing) in conscience (sunedesis – soul distinguishing what is morally good and bad). The Law made nothing perfect (Hebrews 7:19, 10:1; Acts 13:39; Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16) since it only related to food and drink and various washings [Hebrews 9:10]. Remember "washings" is baptismos, purification effected by means of water as prescribed by the Mosaic Law. The Hebrews author compared the washings of the Mosaic Law and the Christian baptism. The Law provided regulations for the body (flesh) imposed until a time of reformation. This reformation is diothorsis in Greek and means to make straight or restore to its natural and normal condition. It is a re-forming. So, the ceremonies of the Law only deal with clean and unclean meats and drinks and with washings, which are external rules for the body imposed until the re-forming when Christ comes to establish the better covenant.

            The chapter continues with verses 11 and 12 stating:

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands. That is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

Christ became the High Priest when He offered Himself as the sacrifice. Since He is from God and is of the Godhead, He is from heaven (the “true tabernacle” spoken of in Hebrews 9:24). His sacrifice came through a greater and more perfect tabernacle (as compared to the plan of the sacred tent God gave Moses). This greater tabernacle was not manmade like the one whose plan God gave to Moses. This tabernacle, made by God, is perfect and is heaven, God’s home. Fallible humans did not build the true tabernacle. The “once for all” spoken of in verse 12 is ephapax in Greek and means all at once. See Romans 6:10; 1 Corinthians 15:6; Hebrews 7:27 and 10:10). Therefore, Jesus entered the holy place not made with human hands through His sacrifice of Himself once for all and obtained eternal redemption.

This eternal redemption is lutrosis in Greek and means ransoming, redeeming and delivering from the penalty of sin (Hebrews 5:9 and 9:15). Thus, humans did not offer the sacrifice from created beings to gain the more perfect sacrifice for sins. Creature cannot gain us spiritual and eternal salvation. The created, fallen as it is, could not offer creatures (goats and calves) from a fallen creation as a perfect sacrifice. Nothing in the created universe is perfect, but is corrupted by sin. God provided something outside the created universe to be the perfect sacrifice for the sins of humankind. The perfect sacrifice had to come from God, the only perfect being and Creator of all. The sacrifice to re-form created beings into the image He created them originally had to be from Himself. This is why His Son, Jesus the Christ, had to be the sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice made the reconciliation of God and humankind secure. This reconciliation is His mediation, how He is called the Mediator. With the Son’s spilling of His own blood, as High Priest from heaven, to re-form/redeem people from their sins and broken relationship with God, there was no longer a need for a curtain to be between the people and God. Hence, the veil between the people and the holy place was torn in two, from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). We now have access to God for ourselves because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the High Priest and was the perfect sacrifice, once for all, for the sins of humankind for eternity.

            The writer of Hebrews returns to his comparisons in verses 13 and 14. If the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who have been defiled sanctifies the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who is without blemish, offered to God cleanse your conscience from dead works? The blood and ashes of one created body cannot affect the inside conscience of a person. It can only touch the outside of those who are unclean according to the Law. These cannot sanctify (hagiazo – render hallow and dedicated to God) and cleanse the inside, only the outside. The blood of Christ, the seat of life for Himself and all created beings, is faultless and unblameable to God. Thus, He can cleanse your conscience (soul) from dead works. These dead works the writer of Hebrews defines in Hebrews 6:1 as those things we do hoping to redeem ourselves. They are actions to appease God for our sin, to make ourselves clean and free from sin. Only the blood of Christ as a sacrifice can cleanse us inside and out so that we can serve the living God.

            The culmination of the writer’s reasoning so far is in verse 15. He said, “For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” Breaking it down it says this. Because Jesus Christ justified (made right with God) us through His gift of redemption (Romans 3:24), He is the mediator (mesites - the one who restores peace and friendship, ratifies a covenant, creates a medium of communication, 1 Timothy 2:5) of a new covenant as I said in last week’s Bible study, “The New Greater Covenant” (Hebrews 8:8) and as promised by God in Jeremiah 31:31, Luke 22:20, and 2 Corinthians 3:6. Since a death has taken place for the redemption/ransom of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called (kaleo – invited and given an name; see Matthew 22:3, 14; and Romans 8:28) may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (kleronomia – possession of eternal blessedness in the kingdom of God after Christ’s visible return). Jesus’ death was the ransom to pay for the sins committed while people were under the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic covenant could not cleanse the soul/conscience, only the flesh. Remember, too, the Law (Mosaic covenant) pointed out a person’s sins, but did not have the power to remove sins completely since it was an invalid covenant. Humankind did not keep their promises in the covenant. Therefore, God had to enact the new covenant, which only He had to fulfill. The new covenant does not rely on anything humans had to do. Humans are unable to keep their promises since they are sinful. Since God enacted the new covenant, the High Priest would be perfect and not a creature, the sacrifice would be perfect to remove all sin forever from the flesh and conscience, and sacrifice would be sufficient performed once unlike the inadequate sacrifices the Levitical priests performed. Since God is greater than humankind is and infallible, His High Priest is greater than humans are and sinless. His sacrifice was greater since it came through the blood of His perfect holy Son. The new covenant is greater than any other covenant and no other covenant need to occur to bring humankind into a renewed relationship with our God and Creator.

            Verses 16 and 17 give a legal argument about covenant and its validity. The writer spoke of covenant and death in the same breath. We must understand two important things in regards to this. First, the word translated as covenant comes from the Greek word diatheke, which means a testament, will, compact or covenant. This then shows us that the Old Testament and New Testament of the Bible can read old covenant and new covenant. So, let us keep in mind that covenant means testament. Second, a will or testament is not valid until the death of the person making the testament. Thus, the covenant is not valid until blood, the seat of life, is shed. The practice of covenant- making between God and humankind also required blood in the Old Testament. When God was a party of this kind of covenant, He was the superior party and He took the initiative. However, both sides of the party make promises/oaths and promise to keep the commands. The promises are valid only when humans keep their promise of obedience to the commands in the covenant. God made signs and pledges to humankind for obedience by humans. There were penalties for disobedience. So the covenant between God and humankind was a command, an obligation imposed by a superior upon an inferior. When God made these kinds of covenants, the priest sprinkled blood from sacrificial animals upon the person making the covenant with God and upon Yahweh’s altar, as in Exodus 24:4-8. People also made blood oaths between themselves. The two pledging to each other would drink blood together or something symbolizing blood. Hence, covenants in the Old Testament period were very often accompanied with blood as the seal of the covenant.

            With this in mind, let us look at verses 16 and 17: “For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.” Understanding the current common meaning of last will and testaments as well as the Bible times meaning, we can now see what the writer meant. Without death, the new covenant/testament of God to humankind would have been invalid. Hence, His Son’s death validated the new covenant as God’s pledge to humanity. His Son’s blood sealed it as active. Considering this, then, the writer led the readers to consider the first covenant again. He said even the first covenant made with Moses was not inaugurated/initiated without blood. When Moses spoke every commandment by God (the Law), he sprinkled the book and the people with water and the blood of calves and goats using wool and hyssop (Exodus 24:1-10; Leviticus 14:4; Numbers 19:6). While doing this, Moses proclaimed to the people, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you” (Hebrews 9:20; Exodus 24:8; Matthew 26:28 – This is what Jesus said at the Lord’s Supper, too). Moses then sprinkled the tabernacle (sacred tent) and the vessels used in the ministry (Exodus 24:6, 40:9; Leviticus 8:15, 19, 16:14-16). By doing this, he bound the people to God’s command and sanctified the tabernacle, vessels and people to God.

            The writer segued from the Old Testament and Jewish purpose of using blood to the current times in verse 22. He said, “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. This can also be read, according to the Law, almost all things are cleansed with blood. The writer made this addendum because a proviso is in Leviticus 5:11 for the poor who could not afford an animal sacrifice. God allowed them to offer flour as a sin offering. The significance of blood as the seal of a covenant and for religious cleansing came about because blood is the life of the flesh/body. Therefore, when a person offered a blood sacrifice via a calf or goat, the animal's blood spilled out represents the person’s blood offered upon the altar from the atonement of their souls. Without life given (blood spilled out) there is no forgiveness. Forgiveness is the Greek word aphesis, which means release from bondage and pardon of sins as if they had never been committed. It is a remission of the penalty for sins/wrong actions. Continuing from this, since the tabernacle and the things in it are merely copies of the things in heaven and humankind made them, they, too, had to be cleansed with blood.

            The writer ends verse 23 with the thought that moves the rest of the chapter towards its main point. The earthly tabernacle, a copy (imitation) of the true tabernacle (heaven, where God dwells), had to be cleansed with the blood of a created being. How much more do the heavenly things (Hebrews 8:5) require the blood from a better (kreitton – more useful, advantageous, and excellent) sacrifice than those used in the earthly tabernacle? The writer continued, “For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (vs. 24). Christ was not the High Priest who entered the holy place made by the hands of finite, sinful humankind, but into heaven itself (Ephesians 4:10; Hebrews 4:14, 9:12) to be in the presence of God for us. Humankind cannot be in the presence of God and see His face. This is why God told Moses to go into the cave and cover his face. This is, also, why the priests burned incense in the holy of holies. It created a smoke so that the high priest who entered there once a year could not see God’s face. This is why Christ makes intercession for us with God (Hebrews 7:25) while He sits on the right hand of the throne of God. His glory is too much for humans to see.

            Another point to be made here, is that the writer of Hebrews stated, He (Jesus Christ) would not offer Himself often like the earthly high priest who enters the holy of holies every year (Leviticus 16:12; Hebrews 9:2, 7, 24-25) with blood that is not his own. The writer compared Christ’s priesthood and sacrifice with that of the Levitical high priest who was a priest by Law and who offered animal sacrifices prescribed by the Law. Christ offered Himself on the altar as the sacrifice. If Christ had offered the sacrifice as the high priest did, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world. However, since He is the High Priest who became so by the oath of Yahweh and by His own blood, which is perfect and holy, His sacrifice needed offering only once at the consummation of the ages. The blood of animals was from created beings and was not powerful to remove all sin for all time, whereas the blood of Christ, who is the Son of God, pure and perfect, and not created, is great enough to cover and cleanse all sin for all time. The consummation of the ages means the completion or end of time. The New Testament believers believed that Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection heralded the immanent second coming of Christ. They believed He would return very soon and so they believe that His sacrifice would bring the end of time as the world knew. Verse 26 continues that Jesus has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Manifested means to make known what has been hidden or unknown. He manifested to the world God’s plan for everyone’s redemption from the penalty of sin. God’s plan was to offer the perfect sacrifice, unlike any that created beings could offer. God offered from Himself His Son, Jesus Christ as the pure and perfect sacrifice, Creator for the created. The blood of creatures is of a different nature than the blood of Christ – creature vs. Creator. The priest was of a different nature – created being vs. Creator. The blood of animals was a small thing and came from created beings, as was the person who administered the blood according to the Law. The blood of the Son of God has infinite value and God administered it Himself, the Creator and greater than all created things. Weighing the balance, the blood and priesthood of Christ is greater than the blood and priesthood of the created. Christ’s sacrifice and priesthood is adequate to remove and cleanse all sin from the outside of the flesh and from the conscience.

            In verses 27 and 28, the writer concluded his points. He stated, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” All men die once. God stated it in Genesis 3:19. After death, God judges humankind. Paul stated this in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” John also spoke of this judgment in 1 John 4:17. We can know our final judgment before judgment day according to Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Paul spoke of faith salvation, not works salvation, in Romans 3:28 and 2 Timothy 1:9 also.

The writer continued with the main purpose of this chapter, Christ was offered as the sacrifice once to bear the sins of many. This offering is prosphero, giving to a person who is to judge or to hand something to a person. We have seen the Greek word for once before. It is hapax meaning once for all. Bearing is to place on oneself anything as a load to be carried. The prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 53:12 used it when he referred to the coming Messiah. It is also used by Peter in 1 Peter 2:24 when he spoke of Christ taking upon Himself our sins in His body on the cross so that we would die to sin and live to righteousness. The writer also speaks of Christ appearing a second time for salvation without reference to sin. Christ will appear and we will see Him with our eyes. He will take those who believe in Him to salvation. He will not come a second time to sacrifice for sin; He already did that. The second time He comes, He will take His children, those who believe in Him and eagerly awaited Him, to heaven.

From this chapter, we can know all men die, but God provided a way to re-form each person into the original state in which He created human beings. Through the only sacrifice that was perfect, His Son, Jesus Christ, and by His holy priesthood, God has provided the way for us to have our sins removed from our flesh and consciences/souls. The Law provided by the first covenant is unable to provide the perfect sacrifice or priesthood because it is a covenant that relies on human obedience as well as God’s promise. The new covenant is greater because God fulfills all the promises without corresponding obedience from humankind. Therefore, by believing in faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and accepting Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, offered once forever, God provided a way for us to be redeemed, re-formed, given eternal life with Him in heaven, His kingdom and the true tabernacle.

Jesus Christ provided the better and greater way for us to know before judgment day at the end of time what our judgment by God will be – redeemed and saved. This redemption does not rely upon anything we do or say. It relies solely upon our faith and acceptance of Him as the Son of God who died for our sins and Lord of our lives from here forward. You do not have to do anything; God has done everything. He provided the perfect promise (the new covenant), the perfect place (the true tabernacle), the perfect priest (Jesus Christ, His Son), and the perfect payment (Jesus’ death and blood). You only have to believe, have faith, and that is a gift God will give you if you ask Him with a genuine heart. It is that simple on our part. This decision will affect the rest of your earthly and eternal life. What will you decide?