1 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. 2 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. 3 Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, 4 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. 5 Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 7 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. 8 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 9 (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 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 makes an interesting statement. He refers 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 The old way has been replaced by something new and improved.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 which contained the golden lampstand and the table of shewbread which held the 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 a reference to 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 assurance that their sin debt was paid in full and their relationship with God was completely restored.
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 justified before a holy and righteous 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. These man-made structures could only emulate or model something greater to come. Even the priests who ministered in the Tabernacle and the Temple “serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven” (Hebrews 8:5 NLT).
Yet, Jesus “ministers in the heavenly Tabernacle, the true place of worship that was built by the Lord and not by human hands” (Hebrews 8:2 NLT). This “heavenly Tabernacle” was what the earthly version was intended to model. It was designed by God and based on the true Tabernacle located in the heavenly realm. But it was made by human hands and required constant purification from the sinful influence of God’s chosen people. In this earthly Tabernacle, access to the Most Holy Place, where the presence of God dwelled over the mercy seat, was highly restricted. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest was allowed to pass through the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. But only after he “offered blood for his own sins and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance” (Hebrews 9:7 NLT).
Even the high priest was restricted from entering God’s presence. There were conditions that had to be met and regulations that had to be obeyed.
By these regulations the Holy Spirit revealed that the entrance to the Most Holy Place was not freely open as long as the Tabernacle and the system it represented were still in use. – Hebrews 9:8 NLT
It seems that the author is using the separation between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place as a metaphor for the difference between the earthly Tabernacle and the one that exists in heaven. As long as the Tabernacle or Temple were still in use, the people of Israel would never enjoy access to the true Holy of Holies in heaven, where God Himself dwells alongside His resurrected Son, the Messiah. And as long as the Jewish Christians to whom this book was written continued to harbor thoughts of returning to their former adherence to the law and the sacrificial system, they would be erecting a barrier between themselves and God. The Tabernacle and the Temple were meant to be temporary.
The Tabernacle that the Israelites utilized during their years traveling through the wilderness was eventually replaced by the Temple that Solomon constructed in Jerusalem. But even that glorious structure was eventually destroyed when the Babylonians entered and plundered the city of Jerusalem. More than 70 years later, it was rebuilt by the remnant of Israelites who returned to Judah. But this new Temple was a far cry from the grand architectural wonder that Solomon had built. And it would be centuries later that King Herod instituted his plans to remodel and expand the Temple. It was to this structure that Jesus referred to when speaking with His disciples in the latter days of His earthly life.
John’s gospel records an encounter Jesus had with the Jewish leadership outside Herod’s Temple just after He had chased out the money changers. With the Temple as a backdrop, Jesus boldly declared, “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). But John provides insight into the meaning of Jesus’ statement.
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 His presence and receive 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. Not only is He the high priest and the sinless sacrifice, but He serves as the Temple of God. He alone can provide access to the Father. This is why, when He breathed His last breath on the cross, something truly significant took place.
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
With the death of Jesus, the barrier to God’s presence was removed. His blood provided atonement for the sins of mankind – once and for all. This 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). That is why the author of Hebrews was able to write, “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). The veil was torn. The barrier was removed. Access to God was restored. But it was all due to the sacrificial death of Jesus – the sinless Lamb of God, the High Priest of Heaven, and the true earthly Temple in which God’s presence was made available to all men.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. – Romans 5:1-12 ESV
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.