He Died So That We Might Live

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 9:16-28 ESV

Throughout this section of his letter, the author has been attempting to establish the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice. His death ushered in a new and better covenant. The shedding of His blood was necessary for that new covenant to replace the old one, and the blood that was shed resulted in death. This point is key to understanding the effectual nature of Christ’s sacrifice. The Son of God had to die so that the sins of mankind could be atoned for, and the author uses a clever play on words to make an important point. The Greek word for “covenant” is diathēkē, but it can also be translated as “testament” or “will.” In verse 16, the author states that “where there is a testament (diathēkē), the death of the testator (diatithēmi) must of necessity come in” (Douah-Rheims Bible).

For a will to go into effect, the one who made the will must die. In the same way, for the new covenant to replace the old one, Jesus’ death was “a necessity” (anagkē). Without His death, the promise of atonement, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life would have remained unfulfilled. Had Jesus not sacrificed His life, the old covenant would have remained in effect, leaving mankind with an awareness of sin but with no way to remove the guilt and condemnation that came with it.

The Jewish recipients of this letter were very familiar with blood sacrifices. Before coming to faith in Christ, they had taken part in the sacrificial system of Israel, in which the shedding of blood was an everyday reality. Under the old covenant, blood and death were unavoidable necessities if any Jew wanted to have his sins forgiven and his relationship with God restored.

When Moses dedicated the Tabernacle in the wilderness, he sacrificed unblemished animals and sprinkled their blood on the book of the law, the people, as well as the Tabernacle and its contents. Before the new house of God could be opened and the presence of God could fill the Holy of Holies, everything and everyone associated with it had to be purified. For, as the author reminds his readers, “under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

In the same way, the new covenant went into effect when Jesus sacrificed His life and allowed His blood to be poured out as a spiritual offering to God on behalf of sinful humanity. At the final Passover meal He shared with His disciples, Jesus held up a cup of wine and stated, “…this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many” (Matthew 26:28 NLT).

Just hours later, Jesus would shed His blood on the cross, sacrificing His sinless life on behalf of sinful mankind. And that sacrifice would prove to be better and more effective than any other sacrifice that had ever been given. When Moses inaugurated the Tabernacle, he said, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you” (Hebrews 9:20 ESV). And when Jesus had prepared to use His body as the new means of sacrifice and the key to atonement, He said, “…this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 NLT).

Both covenants were sealed in blood. But there is a huge difference between the two. The old covenant involved the blood of bulls and goats. The new covenant was based on the blood of the sinless Son of God. He “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26 ESV). Jesus didn’t require an animal sacrifice because He was without sin. He needed no atonement. Instead, His death was vicarious in nature, as He served as a substitute for sinful humanity. He became the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:20).

And His sacrifice was not offered in some Tabernacle made with human hands.

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. –  Hebrews 9:24 ESV

Under the old covenant, the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement. After offering sacrifices for his own sins, the high priest could pass through the veil and enter the Most Holy Place where he would sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed bull on the ark of the covenant. He would also sacrifice a goat and sprinkle its blood on the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat “because of the defiling sin and rebellion of the Israelites” (Leviticus 16:16 NLT). Then he would take a second goat and “lay both of his hands on the goat’s head and confess over it all the wickedness, rebellion, and sins of the people of Israel” (Leviticus 16:21 NLT). This symbolic action would “transfer the people’s sins to the head of the goat” (Leviticus 16:21 NLT). That living goat would become the “scapegoat,” bearing the sins of the people and being led into the wilderness where it would inevitably die.

But with His death, Jesus entered into the presence of God. He did something no other sacrifice had been able to do. He died and was brought back to life by the power of God’s Spirit, which signified that His sacrifice had been acceptable by God. Jesus did not cease to exist after death. While His earthly body died and remained in the grave for three days, the Holy Spirit raised that body back to life.

When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, they fully recognized Him because He was, in a sense, His old self. His body even carried the holes left by the nails in His hands and feet. The disciples could clearly see the wound from the spear that had pierced His side. Jesus had died but was now alive. And as the author makes clear, Jesus was not going to have to die again. His sacrifice was fully sufficient.

he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. – Hebrews 9:25-26 NLT

Paul reminds us of the incredible power that raised Jesus back to life because we have it available to us in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s power not only brought the body of Jesus back to life but it raised Him back to heaven where He sits at the right hand of God the Father.

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. – Ephesians 1:19-21 NLT

And just as Jesus came the first time in order to die for the sins of mankind, He is coming a second time to complete what He began. We all face the inevitable and inescapable reality of death. But the author of Hebrews gives us the good news regarding the death of those who have accepted Christ as their Savior.

And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 9:27-28 NLT

Jesus is coming again. And to all those who have placed their faith in His substitutionary sacrifice, He will provide victory over death. They will receive new resurrected and redeemed bodies, free from pain, suffering, and sin. Those living under the old covenant depended on the blood of animals to cleanse them from their sins and any atonement they received was temporary in nature. They lived to sin again. They enjoyed forgiveness for the moment, but would eventually be required to offer another sacrifice. And they had the constant presence of their guilt before them and the fear of death facing them. But because of Jesus’ death, those of us who call Him Savior no longer live with the condemnation of sin or the fear of death. We are forgiven. We have the firm assurance of our promised inheritance. Our future is secure. Because we have placed our hope in a better sacrifice.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

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