Hebrews 9:11–28

But the Messiah has appeared, high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation ), He entered the most holy place once for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God?

Therefore, He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance, because a death has taken place for redemption from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. Where a will exists, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will is valid only when people die, since it is never in force while the one who made it is living. That is why even the first covenant was inaugurated with blood. For when every command had been proclaimed by Moses to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, along with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll itself and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the covenant that God has commanded for you. a In the same way, he sprinkled the tabernacle and all the articles of worship with blood. According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves to be purified with better sacrifices than these. For the Messiah did not enter a sanctuary made with hands (only a model of the true one) but into heaven itself, so that He might now appear in the presence of God for us. He did not do this to offer Himself many times, as the high priest enters the sanctuary yearly with the blood of another. Otherwise, He would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now He has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And just as it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment — so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

– Hebrews 9:11–28 (HCSB)

Having established previously that the Old Covenant is replaced by a new and better covenant, because of the failure of the people to fulfill their covenant obligations, and having explained some features of that Old Covenant, our author proceeds to discuss this New Covenant.

While the priesthood of the Old Covenant was an earthly priesthood taking place in a created tabernacle, the priesthood of the New Covenant takes place in an uncreated sanctuary and is a heavenly priesthood. Rather than bringing the blood of goats and calves to make atonement, Christ entered the heavenly tabernacle to present his own blood. He remarks that while the blood and ashes of sacrificed animals removed the uncleanness of the Israelites, the blood of Christ which was presented to the Father through the Holy Spirit, actually cleanses our consciences.

Because of this reality, Christ is the new and better mediator between man and God. Because of his mediation, we can receive our eternal inheritance. Furthermore, this death does not just generally reconcile us to God, but we are redeemed “from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”[1]

Our author then goes on to discuss how wills function. That is, the inheritance related to a will is always connected to death. This is a difficult passage to say the least, so I will leave more able scholars to comment on it at length. Here, I will only say that this continues the theme of the divine persons making this covenant, but that the Son specifically is the one who obtains the right for us to inherit the blessings of this covenant by means of his death.

Our author here also makes a vital connection for us, albeit obliquely. He notes that when Moses made the Old Covenant he used the words “This is the blood of the covenant that God has commanded for you.” It is not a bare coincidence that Christ uses the same phrasing when inaugurating his New Covenant in the Last Supper. This shared phrasing makes it undeniably clear that this is what Jesus was doing.

He goes on to explain that just as the Old Covenant required blood in order for the people to be reconciled to God (albeit in a typological and temporary way), so also the New Covenant does. We should not read verse 23 to mean that heaven was defiled and needed to be purified, rather we should read it to mean that it was prepared for New Covenant use by Christ’s sacrifice.

Just as the High Priest of Israel had to be prepared to enter the Holy of Holies, so also the Son was prepared to enter the Heavenly Holy of Holies as our High Priest by his life of perfect human obedience, even unto death, even death on a cross! He now stands in the heavenly sanctuary in God’s presence for us. Pause to consider that. He did not just become incarnate, and die on a cross for us. He also lives and stands in God’s presence for us.

Contrary to the frail offerings of the Old Covenant, Christ’s sacrifice only had to be obtained and offered once. This sacrifice, since it did not have to cleanse him, cleanses us once and for all. Just as we all die once and stand before God’s judgement, so also Christ’s sacrifice only had to be offered once in order to propitiate the wrath due our sins. Likewise, just as we die once, so also the next time we see Christ, it will be to bestow upon us the ultimate salvation for those who persevere.[2]

  1. There is much debate regarding the republication of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Administration. However, I do not see how we can ignore the fact that here the penalties we are redeemed from in salvation are expressly the eternal penalties of the Mosaic Covenant. If the Mosaic Covenant is not in some sense a republication of the Covenant of Works, I fail to see how we can understand that the eternal consequences of the Covenant of Works are also seen here as the consequences we are redeemed from under the Old Covenant.
  2. We know that perseverance is granted to the elect by God himself. Never-the-less, it is important to use this language, because the New Testament uses this language. We are exhorted to persevere, to engage in good works, and to pursue salvation in many places in the New Testament. Although I recognize that to say this often seems like a works based salvation, but we know that it is not.