Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. – Hebrews 9:1-10 ESV
In verse ten of this section of Hebrews, the author made an interesting statement. He referred to “the time of reformation”. The Greek word he used was diorthōsis and it means “a making straight, restoring to its natural and normal condition something which in some way protrudes or has got out of line, as broken or misshapen limbs” (Greek Lexicon :: G1357 (KJV) Blue Letter Bible). It could also mean to straighten thoroughly, rectify or restore. Some Bible translations refer to it as the “new order” or the time “when things will be put right”. But it is clear that the author is referring to the new covenant. The old way has been replaced by something new and improved. The author gives a brief description of the old way by listing some of the more important characteristics of the tabernacle and the worship that took place there. He mentions the Holy Place and the lampstand, table and bread of the Presence. He brings up the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, in which there was the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant. He includes the priests and the high priest, who were responsible for making sacrifices on behalf of themselves and the people. But he can’t help but remind his readers that “according to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper” (Hebrews 9:9 ESV). The sad reality was that the old covenant could never provide the worshiper with intimate access to God or the relief that their sin debt was taken care of.
The very fact that the average Jew could not enter the Most Holy Place, but had to rely on the high priest to minister on their behalf, paints a picture of the inadequacy of the old way. It could not make the worshiper fully right with God or provide a personal experience of His presence. By these things “the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing” (Hebrews 9:8 ESV). As long as the tabernacle or the temple were still in use, the people would never fully experience the joy of access to and intimacy with God.
In John’s gospel, he records an encounter Jesus had with the Jews outside the temple just after He had chased out the money changes. He made a bold statement. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 ESV). Angered and more than a bit confused by Jesus’ statement, the Jews responded, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20 ESV). Thankfully, John provides us with clarification. “But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21 ESV). In this brief exchange, we are provided with a glimpse of the “time of reformation” to which the author of Hebrews refers. Jesus was the temple of God through which men would enter into the His presence and receive a declaration of full acquittal for their sentence of death and complete forgiveness for their sins. In other words, they would be made right with God through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. He is not only the high priest and the sacrifice, but the temple of God itself. He alone can provide access to the Father. Which is why, when He breathed His last breath on the cross we are told, “At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart” (Matthew 27:51 NLT). The barrier to God’s presence was removed. Which is why Paul reminds us, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence” (Ephesians 3:12 NLT). And the author of Hebrews told us, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT).