posted on Mar, 3 2017 @ 05:07 PM
The epistle to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians, perhaps to a specific Jewish church.
The message of the letter is that Christ has brought “completeness”.
That is, God is making available, through him, a much greater and more decisive revelation than anything they have received from him previously
Drawing upon the Old Testament statements about Melchizedek, the writer has identified Jesus as the great High Priest, exalted above the heavens and
established as priest “for ever”.
He differs from the priests established under the law, because he serves in the true sanctuary in heaven, set up by God himself.
They only serve in the copy of that sanctuary, set up on earth and built with human hands.
Then he begins to explain the essential difference between the two.
First, a brief outline of the arrangement of the earthly sanctuary [KOSMIKON].
That is divided into two spheres, the outer tent and the “Holy of Holies”.
The first contains the lampstand and the table with shewbread.
The second incorporates the golden altar of incense, which gives access to the Holy of Holies, and the ark of the covenant kept within.
Of course the writer is describing the ideal version of the sanctuary, as established by the law, rather than the actual sanctuary of his own time,
which had lost the ark (ch9 vv1-5).
Two points have to be noticed about the existence of the inner sphere.
One is the limited access. None of the priests are allowed to enter, except the High Priest himself, once a year.
The other is that even the High Priest cannot enter without blood, to be offered for the sins of himself and the rest of the people.
They both carry a symbolic meaning for us to understand.
The “Holy of Holies” represents the true sanctuary, the immediate presence of God.
Since the mass of the people and even the mass of priests are not allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, this indicates that we don’t have our own
access to the true sanctuary as long as the “outer tent” remains in place.
And the outer tent represents “the present age”, as distinct from “the age to come” (v8).
Under this arrangement, the legal priesthood is restricted to making offerings which cannot perfect [TELEIOSAI] the consciences of the
That is because they only deal with external things, relating to the conduct of the body.
They are just regulations imposed “until the time of reformation” (vv9-10).
That is the equivalent of Paul’s explanation, that the law kept us under restraint “until faith should be revealed… until Christ came”
(Galatians ch3 vv23-24).
Whereas Christ as the High priest concerns himself with spiritual things, things which have been achieved.
He does this by passing through the true outer sanctuary, the one which is greater and “more perfect” [TELEIOTEROS], not made with human hands
This gives him access to the true inner sanctuary, the presence of God.
And here we see the significance of the necessary offering of blood.
Blood means life.
The priests enter the earthly sanctuary offering the blood of animals as their means of access, but Christ enters the heavenly sanctuary offering his
He only needs to enter once, because he has obtained for us a redemption which is “eternal”. It does not need to be renewed over and over again
The Old Testament demands blood in other situations, which teach the same lesson.
One is the sacrifice of the unblemished heifer, demanded by the law, so that the ashes can be sprinkled upon “defiled persons”.
But this only served for the cleansing of the flesh.
How much more effective would be the offering made by Christ.
He offered himself, rather than the blood of animals.
He offered himself through the eternal Spirit, rather than under the command of the law.
He was more truly unblemished.
And therefore his offering would be able to cleanse not just the flesh, but the conscience.
The conscience may be cleansed from “dead works” (or the works of a “dead world”?), in order to serve the living God (vv13-14).
Another example is the procedure for making covenants.
As far as we can tell from the hints in the Old Testament, a sacrificial animal was cut in half and laid upon the ground, in such a way that a gap was
left between the two portions.
The parties to the agreement would then go between both halves of the animal, along this passage.
They would probably swear an oath along the lines of “May the Lord do the same to me, and more also, if I do not keep this covenant which I have
The Greek word DIATHEKE, like the English word “testament”, can also be used for a man’s “last will and testament”.
The modern translations I find on my bookshelves all assume that the writer is using this double meaning, at least in vv16-17.
The testator makes his will, but it does not take effect until he dies.
Thus his death is necessary, so that his beneficiaries, “those who are called”, can receive “the promised eternal inheritance”.
But this translation is problematic in a number of ways.
It works out very awkwardly as a metaphor about what Christ is doing.
The ordinary testator is passing on property which he can never use again, because he is not expecting to come back.
Whereas the “portion” of Christ, in the more usual understanding, is what he gains through his death and resurrection, before coming back
to share it with his people.
It also wrecks the logical connection with the next verse, which begins with “For this reason [HOTHEN]”.
If these two verses are about a will, then the writer is saying “A testator’s will only takes effect when he dies, and for this reason the
covenant of Moses was ratified by a sacrifice”.
The implication would be that the animal sacrificed by Moses made a last will and testament, which is clearly not the case.
In fact the two verses, when translated this way, interrupt a discussion of covenant-making which begins in v15 and continues afterwards.
So there is a lot to be said for taking the word DIATHEKE as “covenant” all the way through this passage.
The opening statement, in v15,is that Christ is the mediator of a new covenant. In the same way that the covenant sacrifice (rather than Moses) was
the mediator of the old covenant.
The real purpose of vv16-17 is to explain the general principle of covenant-making; the covenant sacrifice makes[ the covenant, by his death,
and therefore the covenant has no force until the sacrifice has taken place.
From v18, the writer shows how this principle was carried out in the making of the covenant of Moses. The sacrificial blood was sprinkled on the book
of the covenant, on the people, and on the tabernacle and the sacred vessels.
All these examples put together are making the point that under the arrangements of the law, all things are purified “by blood”- that is, by the
offering of life.
The message, then, is that without such an offering there can be no purification of men, no forgiveness of sins (v22).
And that is what made the death of Jesus an essential condition in the making of the new covenant.
There must be a sacrificial death, so that the “sacred things” of the heavenly tabernacle may be sprinkled with his blood, like their earthly
This brings us back to the original image of Christ entering the sanctuary like a High Priest.
That is, he appears in the presence of God, acting on our behalf.
Christ is the reality, of which the old priests were the imperfect copies.