Retired: traditional worship
- 9:1 God gave people rules about how to worship. Those rules were an important part of the first agreement. There was a worship center, too.
- 9:2 God’s people set up a tent they could use in worship. They called the large, front room the Holy Place. There, they set up a lamp and a table for the sacred bread.
- 9:3 They hung a curtain to separate the front room from the smaller back room. They called the back room the Most Holy Place.
- 9:4 Inside this sacred room they put a gold altar, which they used for burning incense. The Ark of the Covenant was in there, too. It was a wooden chest plated with gold all over. Inside that chest was a golden jar with some manna, Aaron’s almond wood staff that budded, and stone tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments.
- 9:5 Covering the chest was a lid with figures representing glorious celestial beings called cherubim. This was the place where God’s people found forgiveness.1 I’m not going to go into more detail about that now.
- 9:6 Once the tent was set up and ready, priests regularly went into the front room to perform their worship rituals.
- 9:7 They didn’t go into that back room. It was off limits to everyone but the high priest. Even he couldn’t go in there except on the annual day of repentance.2 And when he did, he had to take blood—an offering for both his sins and the unintentional sins of the entire nation.
- 9:8 This worship practice is the Holy Spirit’s way of helping us understand that the most holy place—God’s presence—wasn’t available to us back then. Not when God’s people worshiped at a tent.3
- 9:9 This isn’t just about history. It’s about us, too. Think about those gifts and sacrifices priests brought to the tent. Those offerings don’t erase our sense of guilt.
- 9:10 Those offerings are about food and drinks along with ritual baths and other rules about the human body. That was for then. This is for now—a revitalized system for a new age.
God’s new deal with people
- 9:11 Christ came as high priest of everything good in our life, now and to come. He went into the real worship center, not some tent copy of it made by human hands.
- 9:12 He went into the authentic Most Holy Place. He did it just once, but forever. He didn’t get there courtesy of blood from goats and calves. He got there because of his own blood. He didn’t free us from sin for just a year. He redeemed us forever.
- 9:13 When someone becomes ritually unclean, they go through cleansing rituals.4 This can involve blood of goats and bulls and ashes of a heifer.5
- 9:14 Well, blood of Christ is better. Encouraged and empowered by the eternal Spirit,6 he offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice. There was nothing wrong with him. His blood washed away our guilt. It left us with a clear conscience and a desire to live our life for the living God.
Jesus, the perfect peacemaker
- 9:15 That’s why he’s the perfect choice as a mediator. That’s why he’s the one who delivered God’s new agreement to everyone invited to live forever. Jesus died to save people held hostage for sins they committed during the first agreement. His death paid the ransom to free them.7
- 9:16 We’ve got to prove someone is dead before we can execute the person’s will.
- 9:17 The will isn’t valid until the person who made the will dies. That’s in the contract.
- 9:18 God’s first contract agreement with people couldn’t go into effect without death. There had to be blood.
- 9:19 Here’s what happened. Moses, with the Book of Law, told the people every commandment God gave them. Then he dipped hyssop branches and scarlet wool into the blood of calves and goats. He used this to sprinkle blood on the Book of Law and on the people.
- 9:20 Moses said, “This blood executes the contract agreement God has with you. The agreement is now active.”
- 9:21 He sprinkled blood on the tent worship center and all the ministry utensils and furnishings.
- 9:22 When we look closely at the Jewish law, we can see that anything needing forgiveness is going to get sprinkled with blood. No blood, no forgiveness.
Purifying people for heaven
- 9:23 The tent worship center and everything with it are just shadows compared to the real place of worship in heaven. We can purify things here with the blood of animals. But to purify people for the genuine place of worship in heaven,8 we need better blood.
- 9:24 Christ didn’t go into some worship center made by humans, and copied from heaven’s original. He went to heaven. He’s there now. He’s speaking up for us in the company of God.
- 9:25 He didn’t go to heaven with the plan of offering himself in sacrifice every year, like the high priest offering animal sacrifices every year in the worship center’s Most Holy Place.
- 9:26 If Jesus had to do that, he would have suffered and died many times since the world started.
- 9:27 Humans die once. Then they’re judged.
- 9:28 Jesus died once. He did it to carry away the sins of many people. He’s coming back, and it has nothing to do with sin. He’s coming to save people excitedly waiting for him.
One autumn day each year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the high priest splashed blood on the Ark of the Covenant as part of a ritual to express sorrow and repentance for the sins of the nation. See Leviticus 16.
Day of Atonement, also called Yom Kippur.
Ditto the Temple after the tent. The Temple was set up with similar rooms.
See examples of cleansing rituals in Leviticus 12—15.
See Leviticus 16:14, 19; Numbers 19:17.
Literally “through the eternal Spirit he offered himself…to God.” Scholars debate what that means. It could mean the Holy Spirit helped Jesus somehow, perhaps through tough times like the evening of his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Or it might refer to Christ’s own eternal spirit. This is the eternal Jesus who voluntarily became a human so he could die for humanity’s sin.
Jews taught that in God’s eyes, sin was a capital offense. Jewish law, however, says God allowed them to substitute the death of an animal for the death they deserved. “For the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible” (Leviticus 17:11 New Living Translation). The writer of Hebrews says the blood of Jesus was the last sacrifice needed; it paid the price for the sins of all people for all time (Hebrews 10:10).
The writer, more literally, says the heavenly “realities,” or original versions of the Jewish place of worship, needed to be purified. Scholars debate what that means. Some say it means sinful people polluted heaven and that heaven needed to be decontaminated. Others say it’s a word picture to help people understand that the death of Jesus made an eternal difference from here to high heaven.
The first Jewish worship center was a tent with a courtyard walled off by curtains. This tent worship center, often called the Tabernacle, was set up much like the Jerusalem Temple, which Jews built several centuries later. The layout of these worship centers looked very much like pagan worship centers, archaeologists report. The Bible says God gave the Jews the basic design for both of their worship centers and then “gave people rules about how to worship” (9:1). So why did he borrow plans from other religions?
Christianity started as a Jewish movement. Jews probably thought the only difference between a tradition-minded Jew and a Jewish Christian was that the Jewish Christian believed the Messiah had come. Yet Christianity didn’t end up like one of the other branches of Judaism: Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. Jewish Christians eventually got themselves excommunicated from their synagogues. What do you think would have been hardest about getting kicked out?
“No blood, no forgiveness” (9:22). The Hebrews writer said that was the Jewish law. Why do you think God set up a plan like that? Why not Jesus from the beginning?
LIFE APPLICATION. The Hebrews writer said animal sacrifices “don’t erase our sense of guilt” (9:9). That tracks with an odd line from a rabbi in a miniseries called “Angels in America.” A gay man abandons his partner who’s dying of AIDS, and he asks the rabbi, “What does the Holy Writ say when someone abandons who he loves in a time of great need?” The rabbi says, “Catholics believe in forgiveness. Jews believe in guilt.” As Christians, do we really believe forgiveness is stronger than our sense of guilt?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jews got forgiveness by offering “blood of goats and bulls and ashes of a heifer” (9:13). “Well,” the writer of Hebrews adds, “blood of Christ is better” (9:14). He said animals were sacrificed on a regular basis, but when Christ sacrificed himself, “He redeemed us forever” (9:12). That idea of blood for sin seemed to work in Bible times, when people were still sacrificing animals and crucifying people. Not so much today. How do you think the Hebrews writer might make his case today, to convince Christians leaving the church to stay?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus is coming back, the writer of Hebrews says, “to save people excitedly waiting for him” (9:28). Are we still excitedly waiting for him?