Summary: The way into the Holiest.
We have been comparing and contrasting the new covenant with the old, the heavenly tabernacle with the earthly; the substance with its shadow (cf. Hebrews 8:1-13). Also the ministry of Jesus with that of Aaron (cf. Hebrews 5:1-10).
In this passage we see that the place of “the ordinances of service” of the “first (i.e. old) covenant” in its “worldly (sic.) sanctuary” (Hebrews 9:1) stands in stark contrast with the “But Christ” of Hebrews 9:11, where we see that the “building” in which Jesus serves is “the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made by hand” (Hebrews 9:11; cf. Hebrews 9:24).
Our writer gives us a tantalising look at the earthly tabernacle, with its division into its ‘Holy Place’ (Hebrews 9:2) and “Holiest of all” (Hebrews 9:3). Not forgetting the veil between them, which was ‘rent in twain from the top to the bottom’ when Jesus ‘yielded up the ghost’ (cf. Matthew 27:50-51).
Our writer also gives us a fleeting glimpse of the furniture of the earthly sanctuary (Hebrews 9:2-5a), including the contents of the ark of the covenant (Hebrews 9:4), and “the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat” (Hebrews 9:5a); but not wishing to be distracted he concludes, “of which we cannot now speak particularly” (Hebrews 9:5b), and moves on quickly to speak of the details of the service of the earthly tabernacle.
Here again we have a contrast. In an argument from the lesser to the greater, the chapter continues with a demonstration of the limitations of the access to God allowed in the annual Day of Atonement (Hebrews 9:6-7). The offering of Jesus, however, - and that “by His own blood” - was a more abiding sacrifice than that of Aaron, procuring our “eternal” redemption (Hebrews 9:12). “Redemption” speaks of the release of slaves: those who have been hitherto held in thraldom to sin, death and the devil. We are ‘redeemed by the blood of the Lamb’ (cf. 1 Peter 1:19).
There is also displayed a limit to what the Old Testament sacrifices could accomplish (Hebrews 9:8-9). Yet even on this negative side of the argument, there are already hints of the better that was to come. The way into the heavenly sanctuary was “not yet” opened (Hebrews 9:8). The bodily regulations were imposed only “until” the time of reformation (Hebrews 9:10).
The “worldly sanctuary” (Hebrews 9:1) served for a time, in both tent and Temple, but now the “reformation” has been accomplished (Hebrews 9:12). Jesus has ‘passed through the heavens’ to the heavenly sanctuary (cf. Hebrews 4:14), of which the earthly was only a copy (cf. Hebrews 8:5).
Rather than merely providing temporary purification for the flesh (Hebrews 9:13), the sacrifice of Jesus “purges our conscience” (Hebrews 9:14). It will never suffice for our salvation to go through even God-appointed rituals and rites, only to have to repeat them over and over again. Yet what Jesus accomplished, “by His own blood” - and that just “once” (Hebrews 9:12) - is the eternal “purging” of all our sins (Hebrews 9:14). Nothing else would have sufficed.
Our consciences are set free from the guilt of sin, and our lives released from the tyranny of the law. Furthermore, our purged conscience leads us out from dead works “to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). Hallelujah! What a Saviour!