Summary: The ratification of the old covenant did not take place without blood. But it took the blood of Christ to bear away our sins, once and forever!
NOT WITHOUT BLOOD
In continuing to compare and contrast the old covenant and the new, we have seen how the high priest would enter the ‘Holiest of All’ (Hebrews 9:3), alone, once a year (on the Day of Atonement) ‘not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people’ (Hebrews 9:7). 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).
Under the old covenant, the tabernacle, and then the Temple, must have smelt like an abattoir. Sacrifices were constantly being made morning and evening, sabbath by sabbath, new moon by new moon, festival by festival, and year by year on the Day of Atonement. Yet for all that, it was never enough: the blood of bulls and goats would not suffice (Hebrews 9:13).
What a terrible thing, then, we see sin to be! In our present passage we see that “neither was the first (covenant) dedicated without blood” (Hebrews 9:18) for, “without the shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). It would take only the blood of God’s eternal Son, the Word made flesh, to make us right with God (Hebrews 9:14).
“For this cause, He is the mediator of the new testament” (Hebrews 9:15a). How so? By death! Jesus gave His life in death for our redemption, so that we might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
And thus our writer draws upon the double meaning of the noun used here: that which is translated as ‘covenant’, or ‘testament’, can also be translated as ‘will’ as in our ‘last will and testament’. A will only comes into force upon the death of the testator (Hebrews 9:16-17). This is why it is so important to recognise that Jesus truly died, which is the witness of none other than the Roman centurion who oversaw His execution (Mark 15:44-45).
Looking back to the old covenant, our writer emphasises that it was ratified by blood (Hebrews 9:18). Moses “took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book and all the people” (Hebrews 9:19). Moses’ words anticipate those of Jesus: “This is the blood of the testament which God has enjoined upon you” (Hebrews 9:20); ‘For this is my blood of the new covenant,’ says Jesus, ‘which is shed for many for the remission of sins’ (Matthew 26:28).
Furthermore, the sanctuary was sanctified with blood (Hebrews 9:21). But the endless round of sacrifices would never suffice for the remission of sins (Hebrews 9:22). To enter into heaven itself, Jesus needed a ‘better’ sacrifice than those previously offered (Hebrews 9:23).
We move forward from the earthly patterns of things in the heavens (cf. Hebrews 8:5), to the heavenly reality which they foreshadowed (Hebrews 9:24). Jesus has passed into the heavens, and “now appears” in the presence of God on our behalf (Hebrews 9:24). This is one of three ‘appearances’ of Jesus mentioned in this passage.
FIRST, Jesus “appeared” in the earth, in the past, in the incarnation (Hebrews 9:26). Christ entered into this world to vanquish sin through the sacrifice of His holy self (cf. Mark 10:45). The sacrifice of the Cross is described as a once-and-forever event (Hebrews 9:28). Our salvation was accomplished in the earth at the Cross of Jesus (cf. John 19:30).
SECOND, Jesus appears now in heaven, ever interceding on our behalf at God’s right hand (cf. Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). Jesus did not need to come often and offer repeatedly blood not His own (Hebrews 9:25). Nor does He need to suffer repeatedly, for His one sacrifice is perfect and efficacious for all (Hebrews 9:26). Our salvation was ratified in heaven in the presence of God on our behalf (Hebrews 9:24).
THIRDLY, Jesus will appear again in the earth, in the future, when He comes to gather to Himself those who are eagerly awaiting Him (Hebrews 9:28b). Just as “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this judgment” (Hebrews 9:27), so Christ died once as an offering for the sins of many so that those who await Him (Hebrews 9:28) need not fear that judgment!