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March 24th, 2023
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gary damronMY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron


The Book of Hebrews compares and contrasts the Old Covenant with the New. Last week we looked at the Law given to Moses that speaks of physical requirements and blessings. The New Covenant through Christ brings spiritual blessings, and a new spiritual law to be engraved on human hearts. 

The first 14 verses of Hebrews chapter 9 focus on the temple. Also called a tabernacle or a sanctuary, a temple is the dwelling place for God, someplace we go for safety and security. 

The key to the Book of Hebrews is Jesus’ death on the cross. For centuries, sacrifices had been offered on an altar in a temple, but the blood of animals was ineffective in changing people. Next week we’ll dwell more on the shedding of blood. The subject is frankly repulsive to many, but is mentioned twelve times in this chapter alone and requires some explanation. 

The author begins chapter 9, “The first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. There was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place. Behind the second veil, there was a tabernacle called the Holy of Holies, having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat” (verses 1-5). 

God’s instructions to Moses on the mountaintop (Exodus 25:40) gave him the pattern for God’s dwelling place. For the next 400 years, this movable tabernacle accompanied the children of Israel in their wanderings, and served until the first temple in Jerusalem was built by David and Bathsheba’s son (2 Chronicles chapter 3). Four hundred years later, Nebuchadnezzar burned Jerusalem, and many Jewish people were carried into exile. Solomon’s temple lay in ruins. Under Ezra and Nehemiah (see Old Testament books with these names), a second temple was erected and city walls were rebuilt; nearly 400 years later, Herod the Great expanded the temple and built his lavish palace. 

Outside the temple was the court, with the inner sanctuary in the center. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, it was to Herod’s huge temple court in Jerusalem that Mary and Joseph brought their infant boy to fulfill Jewish requirements. There they had him circumcised (Luke 2:21), and they offered two turtledoves as their sacrifice (Luke 2:22-24). The lampstand, table, bread and curtain, as well as the ark and cherubim in the Holy of Holies, all summarized with dignity and beauty the Mosaic rituals that harkened back through centuries. 

A second veil, thick and impenetrable, separated the Holy of Holies from the outer courts. On a golden altar, offerings of incense brought a sweet-smelling savor before God. The Ark of the Covenant was a wooden box, covered on all sides with pure gold, and contained a golden jar holding manna from the wilderness; Aaron’s rod that budded; and the tablets of commandments. The lid was the most sacred altar of Judaism, the mercy seat of God. 

So, where would we be in this setting? Actually, none of us would have ever seen any of the splendor of the inner temple. Moses and the priests knew the details, but even Jewish believers who had been declared cleansed required someone else approaching the altars to represent them. 

Priests daily entered the outer tabernacle, performing worship functions and offering sacrifices (Hebrews 9:6). Once a year, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies and made sacrifice for himself and the sins of the people (Hebrews 9:7). However, through his death Christ entered “…not through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood” (Hebrews 9:12). When Jesus died, “he entered the holy place once for all” (Hebrews 9:12), offering his “…precious blood … as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19). The death of Jesus on the cross brought a new reality. The moment his side was pierced by the soldier, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; and Luke 23:45). At the same time, the earth shook, the sky grew dark, and rocks were split in two. 

From that day, God’s dwelling place – the temple - became an entirely different place. The rituals which were very precise, physical and earthly, were transformed. “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…” (Hebrews 9:11). 

Verses 13-14 of Hebrews chapter 9 make it clear that the blood of animal sacrifices only purified outwardly those who were ritually unclean. But the blood of Christ purges our conscience from dead works so we may serve the living God. Johannes Schneider wrote, “The blood of Christ cleanses our conscience...of guilt. The worship of the Church of Christ is a worship of prayer and love.” For next week I would encourage reading the rest of Hebrews chapter 9.

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