In chapter 8 we focused on the better priesthood of Jesus and the associated better covenant, but there was one other matter introduced which shows the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood: He is “a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man” (Hebrews 8.2). The author returns to the matter of the sanctuary in chapter 9, showing the superiority of the true tabernacle to that which was only “a copy and a shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8.5).
Hebrews 9.1-5, The First Tabernacle
The chapter begins with the author describing both chambers of the old covenant tabernacle and the furnishings. Some note a discrepency in vs. 4, because the altar of incense was located in the outer tabernacle and not in the holy of holies. However, the altar of incense was closely associated with the most holy place and the high priest’s entrance on the day of atonement (see Leviticus 16.12-13). However, the author makes clear that his intention is not to discuss the tabernacle in depth: “of these things we cannot now speak in detail” (vs. 5). He has more important matters to discuss.
Before we move on we should note some of the language used regarding the old covenant tabernacle. The NASB describes the holy place as the “outer one”, but the literal rendering should be “first one” (as reflected in the ESV, NIV, NLT, NKJV, etc.). It’s the same word used for the first covenant (see Hebrews 8.7,13;9.1). As we will see, the first chamber of the covenant was associated with the first covenant; therefore the second chamber, the most holy place, was a part of something else entirely.
Hebrews 9.6-10, Imperfect Service Of The First Tabernacle
The author contrasts the priestly service conducted in the first chamber of the covenant from that conducted in the second. In the first chamber, the holy place, the priests served on a daily basis (vs. 6). Their service included:
- trimming of the lamps (Exodus 27.20-21)
- burning of incense on the altar (Exodus 30.7-8)
- weekly replacing of unleavened loaves on the table (Leviticus 24.8-9).
However, only the high priest could enter the most holy place, only once a year and only with blood. This occurred on the day of atonement (Leviticus 16).
Remember, the earthly tabernacle was based on a pattern shown to Moses (Hebrews 8.5; Exodus 25.40). The author states that God was making a point through the Holy Spirit: “the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer (first) tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time” (vss. 8-9). Furthermore, the shortcomings of the first tabernacle meant that the service done there could not “make the worshiper perfect in conscience” (vs. 9). “The ordinances of the old covenant had been external. They had not been able to come to grips with the real problem, that of the troubled conscience. This does not mean, of course, that no OT saint ever had a clear conscience, but he did not obtain it by the sacrifices as such.” (Leon Morris, Expositors Bible Commentary)
Hebrews 9.11-14, Christ’s Perfect Service In The Perfect Tabernacle
Under the old covenant constant service was offered in the tabernacle, but the mediator for the people could enter the presence of God on only one day each year and only with the blood of sacrfices made for the people and for himself. No wonder the conscience (consciousness of sin in Hebrews 10.2) could not be perfected. But what if your high priest was always in the presence of God; what if He was always able to minister on your behalf? Those who belong to the new covenant have such a High Priest (Hebrews 8.1-2).
Jesus, the Christ, has now entered the true tabernacle (vs. 11) and He did so with a vastly superior sacrifice: His own blood (vs. 12). And since our High Priest is always in the presence of God, and since He offered the truly unblemished sacrifice, we can know we have “obtained eternal redemption” (vs. 12); our consciences can be thoroughly cleansed (vs. 14). “The ability of the defiled conscience to disqualify someone from serving God has been superseded by the power of the blood of Christ to cleanse the conscience from defilement.” (William Lane, Word Biblical Commentary)
Leave a Reply