The Arrangement and Ritual of the Earthly Sanctuary, 1-10

9:1 Now the first covenant, in fact, had regulations for worship and its earthly sanctuary.
The Old and New Covenants Contrasted

The old covenant and the new are set side by side in order to bring out the defectiveness of the old and the superiority of the new. The beauty and dignity of the earthly tabernacle are portrayed alongside the glory and majesty of the heavenly sanctuary. That which is merely external is contrasted with that which is internal.  That which is only temporary and impermanent, merely operating ‘until the time of reformation’ in Christ, is forcefully contrasted with that which is lasting and eternal. The blood of involuntary animals is set alongside the voluntary sacrifice of God’s Son.  The repetitive, incomplete sacrifices are contrasted with the finality of Christ’s death. Promise is set alongside fulfilment. The annual reminder of man’s sin is introduced a long with the once-for-all promise of God’s will to forget it.  The priests who stood in God’s presence to serve are mentioned along with the eternal priest who sits at God’s right hand having accomplished our salvation; their incomplete ministry is contrasted with his finished work.

(Brown, BST)

The writer announces in this verse two themes which he will go on to develop in reverse order: the first covenant’s ‘regulations for worship’ (vv6-10) and its ‘earthly sanctuary’ (vv2-5).

The sanctuary was ‘earthly’ (worldly) in that it was made by human hands (Heb 9:11,24) and only provided a shadow of the heavenly reality (Heb 9:11f).

9:2 For a tent was prepared, the outer one, which contained the lampstand, the table, and the presentation of the loaves; this is called the holy place. 9:3 And after the second curtain there was a tent called the holy of holies. 9:4 It contained the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered entirely with gold. In this ark were the golden urn containing the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 9:5 And above the ark were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Now is not the time to speak of these things in detail.

Our author begins his ‘guided tour’ (Hagner).

The holy of holies…contained the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant – According to Ex 26:34f, the ark of the covenant was placed on its own in the Most Holy Place, with the altar of incense, along with the table and the lampstand, was situated in the adjoining ‘Holy Place’.  Now, the word translated ‘contained’ sometimes means ‘associated with’ (as in Heb 6:9 – ‘things that belong to salvation’).  On the Day of Atonement (which is the specific context of the present chapter) the altar of incense was associated with the ark in that the blood of the sin-offering was sprinkled on both of them (Lev 16:15-19), and a censor from the gold altar was to be taken into the Most Holy Place (Lev 16:12).  Cf. 1 King 6:22. (See Bewes, The Top 100 Questions, p239)

9:6 So with these things prepared like this, the priests enter continually into the outer tent as they perform their duties. 9:7 But only the high priest enters once a year into the inner tent, and not without blood that he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance.
9:8 The Holy Spirit is making clear that the way into the holy place had not yet appeared as long as the old tabernacle was standing. 9:9 This was a symbol for the time then present, when gifts and sacrifices were offered that could not perfect the conscience of the worshiper. 9:10 They served only for matters of food and drink and various washings; they are external regulations imposed until the new order came.

Christ’s Service in the Heavenly Sanctuary, 11-28

9:11 But now Christ has come as the high priest of the good things to come.

Barclay (DSB) says that three thoughts – critical to Hebrews as a whole – inform our appreciation of this passage:

  1. Religion is access to God. Its function is to bring a man into God’s presence.
  2. This is a world of pale shadows and imperfect copies; beyond is the world of realities. The function of all worship is to bring men into contact with the eternal realities. That was what the worship of the Tabernacle was meant to do; but the earthly Tabernacle and its worship are pale copies of the real Tabernacle and its worship; and only the real Tabernacle and the real worship can give access to reality.
  3. There can be no religion without sacrifice. Purity is a costly thing; access to God demands purity; somehow man’s sin must be atoned for and his uncleanness cleansed.

With these ideas in his mind the writer to the Hebrews goes on to show that Jesus is the only High Priest who brings a sacrifice that can open the way to God and that that sacrifice is himself.

Following Lane (Call to Commitment) we may identify the following aspects of Christ’s priestly ministry, by way of contrast with the Levitical ministry:-

  1. Its location is heavenly, rather than earthly
  2. Its means is his own blood, rather than the blood of animals
  3. Its accomplishment is inward redemption, rather than outward purification
  4. Its effect is once-for-all, rather than temporary

Brown (BST) notes that in this section we are taught that the better sacrifice of Christ

  1. procures our redemption
  2. purifies our conscience
  3. sanctifies our service

The sacred writer is demonstrating and illustrating the truth of the proposition set out at the beginning of chapter 8, that ministry of Jesus Christ, our High Priest, is superior to that of the Levitical priests of the old covenant.

In the original, these two verses comprise one long sentence.  The word ‘Christ’ stands in a prominent position at the beginning, with the main verb coming later: ‘he entered’.

When Christ came – or, rather, ‘arrived at his destination (the very presence of God)’ with, as it were, a fanfare.  This is what we refer to as his ascension and exaltation.

‘The official designation “Christ” not only draws attention to the Messianic fulfilment of the things thus typically signified, but also indicates the representative nature of his entry into heaven by which the salvation of his people is assured.  For God’s acceptance of the person of the appointed Mediator is the indisputable proof of the efficacy of the sacrifice he had offered on their behalf.’ (Wilson)

High priest – Dealing with God on our behalf, in respect of expiation for our sins, interceding on our behalf, and bringing us all the benefits of eternal salvation.

The good things that are already here – Or, according to a variant reading, ‘the good things to come’.  If this alternative reading is correct, then, the ‘good things’ were future either from the perspective of the Old Testament, and had now arrived with the coming of Christ, or were future from the perspective of the writer, and await fulfilment at the consummation of the age.  The NT generally teaches that we now experience the first-fruits of Christ’s achievement, but not yet its fullness.  ‘Our present experience of the transforming power of the indwelling Spirit is but the pledge or earnest of the ineffable completeness of the transformation which awaits the people of God in the glory of eternity (cf. Eph 1:13f; 2 Cor 1:22).  Thus the good things both have come and are coming; and the two stages in which we experience them, the foretaste and the fulness, are closely connected, as effect to cause, to the two comings of Christ, the one past and the other still future.’ (Hughes)

He passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, 9:12 and he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption.

He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle – This is taken by some to mean Jesus’ body (so Calvin).  In this case, the sense is, ‘he went by means of his body, in which the majesty of God dwelt.’  Others take it to refer to the heavens (so Brown, O’Brien).  The meaning would then be, ‘he passed through the heavens.’  This would be consistent with Heb 4:14; 7:26, and also with the very next verse, which declares that ‘this greater tabernacle…is not part of creation’.  See Lk 24:50f.

‘We cannot doubt that the whole of the attendant cherubim in the holy of holies, if not awed into reverent silence, put forth their choicest melodies when the great “High Priest of good things to come” sat down on the heavenly throne, sprinkled with his own blood, on the right hand of Jehovah, who livest for ever and ever.’ (Brown)  See Psa 47:5f; 68:17f.

This greater tabernacle is not man-made…not part of creation – unlike the tabernacle of the old covenant.  This makes it clear that Jesus did not pass through the physical heavens; what is being referred to here is ‘transcendent and spiritual.’ (O’Brien)

‘He obtained, not temporal, but eternal redemption for his people; and having done so, entered not into the material holy of holies, but into the immediate presence of God; and in donig so, he passed not through the outer tabernacle erected by Moses, but through the visible heavens.’ (Brown)

If the ceremonial laws of time past were temporary and incomplete, then the atonement wrought by Christ is permanent and perfect.  In verse 11f, the author explains how Christ fulfils the role foreshadowed by the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:1-19).  The high priest would had passed through the outer tent into the Most Holy Place.  There the blood of slaughtered animals would be sprinkled and intercessions offered.  This would be repeated every year.  Jesus, on the other hand, went through a greater and uncreated tabernacle, and entered the Most Holy place once for all, obtaining eternal redemption.  And this not by virtue of the shedding of animal blood, but by the shedding of his own blood.

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but…by his own blood – Some translations (including RSV) have ‘taking his own blood’ instead of ‘by (i.e. by means of; by virtue of) his own blood’.  This is to import an unwarranted and alien idea.  ‘It is a vain speculation, contrary to the analogy of faith, and destructive of the dignity of his person, that he should carry with him into heaven a part of that material blood which was shed for us on the earth.  This some have invented, to maintain a comparison in that wherein none is intended.  The design of the apostle is only to declare by virtue of what he entered as a priest into the holy place.  And this was by virtue of his own blood when it was shed, when he offered himself unto God.’ (Owen)

‘The perfection of his atonement is the ground of his exaltation, and of his unbounded saving power.’ (Brown)

He entered the Most Holy Place once for all – in contrast to the Jewish high priest, who had to enter every year.  ‘A new year brought new guilt; an dhtis guilt required a new sacrifice, and a new entrance into the holy place.  But by hs one sacrifice he obtained eternal redemption for his people; and the expiation being complete, the entrance into the holiest of all was final – once for all.  The Jewish high priest had to come out, that he might again perform the work of expiation.  But our High Priest comes no more out to perform the ministry of atonement.  That is over, completely over.  He will indeed come forth…But “when he comes the second time, it will be without a sin-offering.”  It will not be expiate the sin that has been done already; it will be to consummate the salvation of “all who look for him.”‘ (Brown)

Having obtained eternal redemptionThe word redemption comes from the language of the slave market.  The word is used of the liberation of slaved by the payment of a price.  Sinners are now offered freedom from the penalty and power of sin.  All other forms of liberation, important as they may be, are secondary to this.

‘The language of ransom or redemption is not prominent in Hebrews (v. 15; 11:35), but elsewhere the word group was used for buying back (on the payment of a price) property (Lev. 25:24, 26, 29) or slaves who were taken into someone else’s possession (Exod. 21:30; Lev. 25:48). God redeemed Israel by delivering them out of slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand. Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45), and his death brings redemption from sin. Paul asserts that believers have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23), and that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13; cf. 4:5). Like Hebrews 9:11–12, Ephesians 1:7 states that the redemption we have in the Beloved has been procured ‘through his blood’. This abbreviated expression signifies that Christ’s sacrificial death is the costly means by which our deliverance has been won.’ (O’Brien)

We see in this expression the idea of ‘definite’ atonement.  ‘It is to beggar the concept of redemption as an effective securement of release by price and by power to construe it as anything less than the effectual accomplishment which secures the salvation of those who are its objects.  Christ did not come to put men in a redeemable position but to redeem to himself a people.’ (Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p63)

This is not mere abstract theology.  It has pastoral significance.  ‘Under the law one could never be sure of forgiveness. The sacrifices had to be repeated, since they could ‘never take away sins’ in any final sense, but Christ has come to secure for us by his death an eternal redemption (Heb 10:11; 9:2). It covers man’s immense needs as a sinner, tomorrow’s sins as well as those of yesterday. In this moment, by virtue of that sacrificial death, the truly penitent person can be saved immediately and eternally. Throughout the years such people have acknowledged their pardon and security with deep thanksgiving, not in a cocksure form of spiritual arrogance, but with unspeakable gratitude and a sense of unpayable debt.’ (Brown, BST)

‘Whoever believes that the things which were foreshadowed in [the Law] have been shown forth in Christ will not remain any longer in the shadows but will embrace the substance itself and the solid truth.’ (Calvin)

9:13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.

The blood of goats and bulls – This refers to the Day of Atonement.

The ashes of a heifer sprinkled – prescribed in Num 19 for the cleansing of a person who had become defiled through contact with a dead body.  The significance of this ritual is not indicated by our auther, but ‘it is generally agreed that its unblemished condition symbolises the sinlessness of Christ, the sacrificial ritual of purification the cleansing effected by the blood of Christ, and its offering outside the camp the suffering of Christ outside the gate (see Heb 13:11f).’ (Hughes)

The statement that the blood and ashes sanctify them so that they are outwardly (ceremonially) clean forms the basis of the ‘How much more…’ of the following verse.

The best that the blood and ashes of animals can do is to bear witness to the fact that sin and defilement must be removed in order for us to find acceptance with God.  And if we spend so much money, time and effort on outward cleanliness (with a multitude of bathroom routines and products) should we not pay more attention to the need for inner cleanliness.  Sin is not only a violation of the law of God, or the violation of a relationship.  Sin corrupts.  It is a violation of our personhood.  It is a stain that demands cleansing.  (See the discussion in Lane, Call to Commitment, p122f)

The blood of Christ– This expression combines fact: Christ died, with effect: Christ died as a sacrifice for sins.  Note the repeated reference to ‘Christ’: this death was not that merely of a martyr.  ‘The dignity of his person guarantees the incalculable value of his sacrifice.’ (O’Brien)

Offered himself…to God – No hint of ‘cosmic child-abuse’ here!  Out of loving obedience to his Father, and loving compassion towards sinners, Christ willingly offered himself up.

‘Christ took the place of sinners, and did and suffered in their room what to the infinitely wise, and holy, and just Governor of the word seemed necessary and sufficient to make their pardon and salvation consistent with, and illustrative of, the perfections of his character, and the principles of his moral administration.  He presented himself, having done all and suffered all the requisitions of the law on him as the substitute of sinners, in the precise manner, with the precise temper in which the law required this to be done, – he presented himself, having “finished the work given him to do,” having done the whole will of his Father, – he presented himself as the victim of his elect people.’ (Brown)

Unblemished – Our Lord’s life of perfect obedience, culminating in the cross, is a recurring theme in Hebrews (see Heb 5:7–9; 7:26–27; 10:10).

Through the eternal Spirit – Some think that because the article is absent in the original the reference is to Christ’s own spirit. But if this were the case we would expect to read ‘through his eternal spirit’.  Others (e.g. Calvin, NBC, O’Brien) think it more probably that the reference is to the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, with the exception of Heb 4:12 all the previous references to the spirit in Hebrews have been to the Holy Spirit (Heb 3:7; 6:4; 9:8).  Christ’s is an eternal redemption, accomplished through the eternal Spirit.

Here we are shown, says Calvin, ‘how the death of Christ is to be regarded; not from its external act but from the power of the Spirit.  Christ suffered as man, but in order that his death might effect our salvation it came forth from the power of the Spirit.  The sacrifice of eternal atonement was a more than human work.’

Many see an allusion here to Isa 42:1.  But the parallel is not quite exact, because there the Spirit’s endowment for the Messiah’s kingly office is in view, whereas here it is his priestly office.  We may conclude that ‘the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus as high priest for every aspect of his ministry, including his sacrificial death.’ (O’Brien)

Christ’s blood is able to cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death.  These ‘are not works of the law or even the sacrificial ceremonies associated with the Levitical priesthood, although our author is aware that these sacrifices are ineffective to deal with such acts. Rather, they are the practices and attitudes that belong to the way of death (see Heb 6:1), that defile a person’s conscience, erect a barrier between him or her and God, and incur divine judgment.’ (O’Brien)

‘Dead works…are sins, which receive this appellation either because they deserve death, or are the work of those who in a spiritual sense are dead – or, like dead men, produce pollution, which must be cleansed…These dead works pollute and defile the conscience, and render men utterly unfit for the spiritual service of God.’ (Brown)

‘The old covenant sacrifices not only did not cleanse the conscience but also served as a continual reminder of sin (Heb 10:3), keeping the conscience aware of its guilt. The new covenant blood of Jesus does cleanse the conscience from works that lead to death (Heb 9:14) and so deals with sin once and for all (Heb 9:12). Such cleansing makes believers free to serve the living God (Heb 10:22), their hearts having been “sprinkled from a conscience of evil” (i.e., cleansed from guilt). Thus both objective guilt before God and subjective awareness of that guilt in the conscience have been dealt with. A  conscience that has been so cleansed can call itself “good” or “clear” (Heb 13:8).’ (DLNTD)

‘”The conscience” here is just the man as a spiritual being, capable, from the constitution of his nature, of the spiritual service of God.  Sin makes man hateful in God’s sight – the object both of judicial displeasure and moral disapprobation.  But this is not all: conscious guilt unfits a man for acceptably serving God.  The essence of the service which God requires of his intelligent creatures is love.  The man whose conscience is polluted with unpardoned guilt cannot love.  He knows he has offended God; he knows he deserves punishment; he does not, he cannot, love the Being whom he regards as his enemy; he cannot seek his enjoyment in communion and fellowship with him.  Nothing can fit man for the service of God but what purifies the conscience from the pollution produced by these “dead works”; and nothing can do this but the blood of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.’ (Brown)

How powerfully effective is Christ’s atoning death!  ‘In his pre-conversion days, anyone sensitive to the rigorous demands of the law can be in acute mental pain because of his troubled conscience. He calls to God for help, and this epistle, possibly more than anywhere else in the New Testament, gives the answer to his cry. The blood of Christ is God’s answer to man’s disturbed conscience. He can be cleansed and know he is forgiven. For all its sophisticated ceremonial rites, first-century Judaism knew no experience of freedom and release from the consciousness of sin. Christians who had been converted from a Jewish background could rejoice in a clear conscience through Christ’s effective sacrifice.’ (Brown, BST)

So that we may serve the living God – Just as the purpose of the sacrifices of the old covenant was that the people might be cleansed and consecrated to God’s service, so also it is true within the new covenant that we are ‘saved to serve’.  But to ‘serve’ the living God is to worship him aright.  Heb 12:28-13:16 will expand on this, drawing attention to specific aspects such as prayer and praise, as well as a more general honouring of God’s name by a life of practical obedience.

Note two aspects of Christ’s blood: negatively, we are saved from dead works; positively, we are saved to serve the living God.  Brown (BST) quotes Westcott: ‘Purity is not the end but the means of the new life. The end of the restored fellowship is energetic service to Him Who alone lives and gives life. The thought of performing certain actions is replaced by that of fulfilling a personal relation.’

Westcott (quoted by Barclay, DSB) outlines four ways in which Jesus’ sacrifice differs from the animal sacrifices of the old covenant:-

  1. The sacrifice of Jesus was voluntary. The animal’s life was taken from it; Jesus gave his life. He willingly laid it down for his friends.
  2. The sacrifice of Jesus was spontaneous. Animal sacrifice was entirely the product of law; the sacrifice of Jesus was entirely the product of love. We pay our debts to a tradesman because we have to; we give a gift to our loved ones because we want to. It was not law but love that lay behind the sacrifice of Christ.
  3. The sacrifice of Jesus was rational. The animal victim did not know what was happening; Jesus all the time knew what he was doing. He died, not as an ignorant victim caught up in circumstances over which he had no control and did not understand but with eyes wide open.
  4. The sacrifice of Jesus was moral. Animal sacrifice was mechanical; but Jesus’ sacrifice was made, through the eternal Spirit. This thing on Calvary was not a matter of prescribed ritual mechanically carried out; it was a matter of Jesus obeying the will of God for the sake of men. Behind it there was not the mechanism of law but the choice of love.
9:15 And so he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant.

A new covenant – ‘Christ’s atoning death ratified the inauguration of the new covenant, in which access to God under all circumstances is guaranteed by Christ’s one sacrifice that covers all transgressions (Matt. 26:27-28; 1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 9:15; 10:12-18). Those who through faith in Christ have “received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:11) “in him… become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). In other words, they are justified and receive the status of adopted children in God’s family (Gal. 4:5). Thereafter they live under the motivating constraint and control of the love of Christ for them as made known and measured by the cross (2 Cor. 5:14).’ (Concise Theology)

9:16 For where there is a will, the death of the one who made it must be proven. 9:17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it carries no force while the one who made it is alive. 9:18 So even the first covenant was inaugurated with blood. 9:19 For when Moses had spoken every command to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats with water and scarlet wool and hyssop and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 9:20 and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that God has commanded you to keep.” 9:21 And both the tabernacle and all the utensils of worship he likewise sprinkled with blood. 9:22 Indeed according to the law almost everything was purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Both the tabernacle and all the utensils of worship he likewise sprinkled with blood

Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness – As stressed in Lev 17:11.

‘This statement climaxes a series in chapter 9 that has underlined the fundamental importance of sacrificial blood: it provides access (v. 7), purges the conscience (v. 14), inaugurates covenants (v. 18), consecrates the people (v. 19), cleanses cultic instruments (v. 21), and purges many things under the Old Testament law (v. 22a).’ (O’Brien)

For N.T. Wright, ‘verses 18–22 must be taken to mean that the blood of the sacrificial animals, through which the first covenant made through Moses came into being, was somehow a representation of the self-giving love of God. He emphasizes that everything to do with that first covenant—the book itself in which it was written, the people with whom it was made, the tabernacle where the sacrifices would thereafter take place and the vessels of various sorts that were to be used in the regular worship—everything had to be sprinkled with the blood. The blood of the animals was saying, in relation to every possible aspect of the Israelites’ regular relationship with God, “All this happens because I love you enough to give my own self, my own life, for you.” The animals are not just, it seems, representing the people who come to worship; they stand as a gift from God to his people, with their death (symbolized by the poured-out lifeblood) as a sign of God’s own self-sacrificial love.’

The same writer comments, with respect to the last sentence in this passage, that ‘it isn’t trying to establish a general principle, as though whenever any pardoning needed doing there had to be some blood involved. It is stating how things were in the God-given regulations for the first tabernacle and the consecration of its furniture and vessels. Everything had to be purified with blood, signifying the purification and pardon that was needed for sinful human beings. There was to be no loophole, no point in the entire system at which anyone could suppose that their worship, their buildings, their liturgy or they themselves could do without the self-giving love of God. No room was left for human pride. Everything had to be dependent on the grace of God. And if that was true in the system of the old covenant, which pointed forwards as a signpost to the new one, how much more is it true now that Jesus has embodied in his own life and death, his own bloodshed, the loving pardon which God always longed to give.’

9:23 So it was necessary for the sketches of the things in heaven to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves required better sacrifices than these.

It was necessary – because there is only one way, not many.  As the previous verse has reminded us, ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’.

Copies of the heavenly things – The Mosaic system was taken up with ‘models’ of reality, rather than the reality itself.  With regard to the heavenly reality, something ‘better’ than models and analogies is required.

The heavenly things to be purified – How can it be that things in heaven (the dwelling-place of God, v24) need to be purified?  Perhaps our author’s thinking here is like that of Paul, who refers to ‘”the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12); the “rulers of this age” (1 Cor 2:8); the “powers” like “height” and “depth” (Rom 8:38–39), as well as “angels” and “demons.” Such references seem to indicate wickedness beyond this earth. And when Christ performed his atoning work, he “disarmed the powers and authorities … triumphing over them by the cross” (Col 2:15). It was God’s will “through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col 1:20).’ (EBC)

Better sacrifices – We are, perhaps, surprised to read the plural here, given our author’s insistence on the one perfect sacrifice of Christ (v26).  But he is, perhaps, looking back to the many of the Mosaic system, in contrast to the one that was to come.

9:24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands—the representation of the true sanctuary—but into heaven itself, and he appears now in God’s presence for us.

Only a copy of the true one – ‘The language used [here] might suggest that the author thought the earthly tabernacle was a copy of an eternal heavenly one. But to take that position is to miss the point of the passage. The author is saying that the earthly tabernacle and the sacrifices offered there are representative of eternal, spiritual truth: the all-sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ for all eternity. The tabernacle represents truth, not some other material entity. The author is possibly using the language of Platonic philosophy, but the biblical philosophy of transcendence is diametrically at odds with Plato’s insistence that this world is unreal. That the writer of Hebrews knows this is evident in 9:25–26, where he shows that Christ is not being continually sacrificed in some heavenly reality, but that he died once for all here on earth, and so here fulfilled what the tabernacle was all about.’ (Oswalt, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, art. ‘Tabernacle’)

He appears now in God’s presence for us – ‘Jesus, our priest and mediator, appears in the presence of God, bearing our names, as a memorial to God. He is the sign, the reminder, the pledge, the guarantee that we belong in the presence of God. Our presence before God is as certain as Christ’s presence before God. Our salvation is safe and secure as long as Christ is in heaven.’ (Chester, The Ascension)

9:25 And he did not enter to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the sanctuary year after year with blood that is not his own, 9:26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the consummation of the ages to put away sin by his sacrifice.

The end of the ages – the climax of history.  ‘The first coming of Christ—and more particularly his offering of himself on the cross—ushered in the final state of affairs in human history. It is a common thought of the NT writers that God’s decisive action in Christ has altered things radically. The Messianic Age has come—the age that all the preceding ages have led up to.’ (EBC)

9:27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 9:28 so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation.

Just as…so… – Note the structure of the argument.  The author stresses the finality of death, both for ourselves and for Christ.  But the consequences are completely different: our death is followed by judgment, but Christ’s death leads to the taking away of sins of many people.

Man is destined to die once – See Gen 3:19.  ‘The expectation that some will escape death (cf. 1 Thess. 4:15ff.) is an exception to the general rule stated, occasioned by the special event of the coming of Christ.’ (Guthrie)

After that to face judgment – This asserts, not the immediacy, but rather the inevitability, of final judgment.  Any divine judgment that we experience in this life is, accordingly, partial and provisional.

There is a preacher of the old school, and he speaks as boldly as ever. He is not popular, though the world is his parish, and he travels over every part of the globe, and speaks in every language under the sun. He visits the poor; calls upon the rich, and preaches to people of every religion and many of no religion, but the subject of his sermon is always the same.

He is an eloquent preacher – often stirs feelings which no other preacher could, and brings tears into eyes that seldom weep. He addresses himself to the conscience and the heart. His arguments none are able to refute; nor is there any heart that had remained wholly unmoved by the force of his weighty appeals. Most people hate him, for many quail in his presence, but in one way or another he makes everybody hear him.

He is neither refined nor polite. Indeed, he often interrupts the public arrangements and breaks rudely in upon the private enjoyments of life. He frequents the shop, the office, and the factory; he appears in the midst of legislators, and intrudes upon fashionable and religious gathings at most inopportune times. His name is death.

You cannot take up a newspaper without finding that he has a corner in it. Every tombstone serves him for a pulpit. You often see his congregations passing to and from the graveyard. The sudden departure of that neighbour – the solemn parting with that dear parent – the loss of that valued friend – the awful gap that was left in your heart when that fondly loved wife, that idolised child, was taken – all have been loud and solemn appeals from this old preacher. One day he may take you for his text and in your bereaved family circle, and by your graveside, he may be preaching to others. Let your heart thank God this moment that you are still in the land of the living – that you have not, ere now, died in your sins!’ (C.A. Coates, Q in Naismith, 1200 Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes, 52f)

It will happen to all of us that, at some point, you get tapped on the shoulder and told not just that the party’s over, but slightly worse: the party’s going on, but you have to leave. (Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011).

“The Day of Judgement is remote, thy day of judgement is at hand, and as thou goest out in particular, so shalt thou be found in the general. Thy passing bell and the archangel’s trumpet have both one sound to thee, In the same condition that thy soul leaves thy body, shall thy body be found of thy soul. Thou canst not pass from thy death-bed a sinner, and appear at the great assizes, a saint.” (Unknown)

‘Certain things may be done by proxy; other things may be bought off and evaded; but we cannot evade death. Each man and woman, saint and scoundrel alike, passes through the portal of death…when death comes – the great leveller – all men are equal in the solemn stillness of the sepulchre.’ (Q in Lockyer, All the Doctrines of the Bible, 268)

‘The character wherewith we sink into the grave at death is the very character wherewith we shall reappear at the resurrection.’ (Thomas Chalmers)

…was sacrificed – the passive voice in reference to Christ’s sacrifice is unusual in this letter (see v26).  Here, it hints at the divine purpose behind his death.  ‘Taken in conjunction with verse 14, it may be said that both active and passive aspects are necessary for a complete understanding of the offering.’ (Guthrie)

…to take away the sins of many people – lit. ‘to bear the sins of many’; cf. Isa 53:12.  Note the contrast between the ‘many people’ whose sins are taken away and the one sacrifice that effected the bearing away of their sins.

He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation – Again, this indicates the completeness and the finality of Christ’s sacrifice for sin.  It has all been dealt with at his first coming.  His second coming will bring the salvation that has thus been secure to its completion.  ‘Sin needs no further atonement. All that is necessary is the appropriation of the salvation which Christ’s self-offering has secured.’ (Guthrie)

‘Not to bear sin’ is lit. ‘without sin’.  The same expression is found in Heb 4:15, where it refers to Christ’s sinlessness.  Here, however, it means, ‘without reference to sin; without any purpose of atoning for it’.

Those who are waiting for him – Nothing is explicitly said here about the destiny of unbelievers.  ‘At this point the writer is concerned only with those who are Christ’s. They “are waiting for” him, eagerly looking for the Lord’s coming.’ (EBC)  The same expression is used in 1 Cor 1:7; Phil 3:20 and Rom 8:19, 23, 25.