11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. – Hebrews 9:11-15 ESV
To understand this passage, it is essential to understand God’s view on blood. For those of us living in the 21st Century, the very idea of a blood sacrifice is appalling and distasteful. It sounds barbaric and cruel. But you have to go all the way back to the book of Leviticus to get God’s view on blood and its role in the sacrificial system He established for Israel.
“And if any native Israelite or foreigner living among you eats or drinks blood in any form, I will turn against that person and cut him off from the community of your people, for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible.” – Leviticus 17:10-11 NLT
Blood was a symbol of life. Without blood, life would be impossible. So when innocent animals were sacrificed on the altar of the tabernacle, they were acting as substitutes for the people of Israel. Their blood was spilled so that the guilt of the sinful Israelites could be atoned for. The Israelites, like all people, sinned regularly, and their sin, according to God’s law, deserved death. So God allowed an unblemished animal to serve as a substitute. However, the atonement the Israelites received was temporary and incomplete. It could not fully cleanse them from sin. The life of the sacrificial animal could never fully replace the life of a human.
So the sacrificial system and the tabernacle were both symbols of something greater to come. And the high priest, who acted as a mediator on behalf of the people, was also a type, an imperfect representation of a greater high priest to come – namely Jesus. Ultimately, Jesus came to die. Yes, He was born of a virgin, grew up to be a man, performed miracles, taught His disciples, raised the dead, walked on water, and spoke often about His Kingdom. But the primary objective of His earthly mission was to die – sacrificing His life as a substitute for the sins of mankind. The author makes this perfectly clear.
With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. – Hebrews 9:12 NLT
The sacrifice Jesus offered was not presented in the earthly Tabernacle of Temple and was not done using the blood of bulls or goats. He shed His own blood. It was just as He had told His disciples the night they shared their final Passover meal together.
“This cup is the new covenant between God and his people – an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.” – Luke 22:20 NLT
The blood of Jesus had to be poured out on behalf of all men in order for complete atonement to be made. Jesus was sent by His Father to be the atoning sacrifice, just as John the Baptist had prophesied. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). The prophet, Isaiah, recorded these powerful words centuries before Jesus appeared on the scene.
He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. – Isaiah 53:7-10 NLT
Jesus came to earth in order to take on human flesh and do something no other man had ever done: Live in complete obedience to God’s will and in perfect compliance with the Mosaic Law. The apostle Paul eloquently describes the path of obedience that led Jesus from His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven to a cruel Roman cross on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT
His perfect obedience made Him the perfect sacrifice. As the “spotless lamb,” His blood was an acceptable sacrifice to God and served as payment for the sins of mankind. And unlike the sacrifices of bulls and goats, Jesus’ atonement for sin was permanent and not temporary. His death was able to “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14 ESV). In other words, His offering was more than ceremonial in nature. It was not simply a ritual cleansing from sin, but it provided a thorough removal of all vestiges of sin in the life of the penitent sinner.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us. – Psalm 103:11-12 ESV
With the death of Jesus, men no longer had to carry around a sense of guilt and apprehension. By placing their faith in His sacrificial death, they could be absolved from the guilt of their sins and enjoy complete freedom from the fear of future condemnation or judgment.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:1-4 ESV
With the perfect sacrifice offered on their behalf, sinful men and women no longer had to worry about whether they had done enough to please God. Under the old sacrificial system, there was always the chance that their sacrifice was not good enough. Their lamb was not pure enough. Their motives were not righteous enough. The Jews always had to worry whether their sacrifice would be acceptable to God. They also had to live with a sense of impending doom because of their inability to refrain from sinning. Any sacrifice they offered could only atone for past sins but could not alter future behavior. It provided forgiveness but not heart change.
But the sacrifice of Jesus covered mankind’s sins completely and permanently. It served as the perfect sacrifice, offering atonement for all sins – past, present, and future. As the apostle John wrote, “…the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV). Jesus offered the all-sufficient sacrifice. It was the once-for-all-time atoning sacrifice that was based on the finished work of Jesus and not the flawed and feeble efforts of sinful men. Under the old covenant and the sacrificial system, no one could be fully justified or made right with God through self-effort. Attempting to keep the Mosaic Law proved to be a futile enterprise for God’s people. And the presence of repeated sacrifices was proof that their efforts to live in obedience to God’s laws were unsuccessful. That’s why Paul reminds us that justification by works was never intended to be our means of salvation.
…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. – Galatians 3:16 ESV
But because of what Jesus has done, sinful men and women can serve the living God, both in this life and in the life to come. Not only can they enjoy freedom from condemnation and absolution from the guilt of their sins in this life, but they can be assured of spending eternity in perfect communion with God the Father.
…those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance… – Hebrews 9:15 ESV
Jesus, the better high priest has provided a way for sinners to receive forgiveness for all their sins. The sinless Lamb of God has offered His life so that sinners can be made right with God – not just now but for eternity. With His death, Jesus provided forgiveness of sin, assurance of salvation, and the promise of eternal life. But this incredible gift is not based on anything we have done or will do. It relies solely on the work that Jesus accomplished on the cross.
The apostle Paul, who was a faithful Jew and a former Pharisee, summed up nicely what Jesus’ sacrificial death accomplished on our behalf. And his message would have resonated well with the Jewish audience to whom the letter of Hebrews was written.
I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down. For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. – Galatians 2:18-21 NLT
For those Jews who had placed their faith in the saving work of Jesus, there was no going back to the Mosaic Law. That old system had served its purpose. With the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the new covenant was now in full effect and it was based on the work of Jesus, not the works of men.
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.