Backwards, Upwards, Forwards
Backwards, Upwards, Forwards
The apostle spent the first seven chapters of his book reveling in who the Lord Jesus Christ is. From 8:1, however, he turned from his person to his work, from who he is to what he has done.
He is the mediator of a better covenant, giving to his people changed hearts that desire to do God’s will; bringing each one to know him as God, and as their God, and leading them to experience and enjoy entire forgiveness for their sins.
Not only so, but he is the priest of a better tabernacle, giving his people what the Old Testament tabernacle foreshadowed, but could never give anyone – namely, free access into the Holiest of all.
In the passage before us (Heb. 9:14-28), the apostle teaches a third truth about the work of Christ. He continues to contrast what people experienced in Old Testament days with what believers enjoy through the Lord Jesus Christ, but his particular aim is to show us that he is the offerer of a better sacrifice.
To make this clear, he takes us through three steps. He shows us:
- What Christ has done in the past: he has appeared on earth (9:14-23).
- What Christ is doing now: he is appearing in heaven (9:24-28a).
- What Christ will do in the future: he will appear from heaven and come to earth (9:28b).
If you like, the apostle invites us to take a look backwards, a look upwards, and a look forwards. As we work through this passage, I invite you to do the same.
1. A Look Backwards: What Christ Has Done in the Past – He Has Appeared on Earth (9:14-23)⤒🔗
9:14: We looked at this verse in our previous study, but let us remind ourselves of what it says: after living a perfect life out of love for his heavenly Father, Christ went voluntarily to the cross where he spilt his blood. In doing this he was sustained and upheld by the eternal Spirit. His purpose was that we might receive the two great blessings of the new covenant. These are a new record and a new heart. He did it so that we might be truly cleansed from our sins, and also be made willing and able to worship and serve God.
9:15: The old covenant certainly talked about eternal life, forgiveness and cleansing, but it could never give these things, because the blood of animals is simply incapable of providing real atonement for sin. And yet, even at that time, there were people who were ‘called’, and who entered into ‘the promise of the eternal inheritance’. How did this happen? They did not receive such a blessing on the basis of animal sacrifices, but on the basis of the infinitely superior sacrifice which those Old Testament sacrifices spoke about – that is, the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is because he offered such a superior sacrifice that he is able to bring people into the benefits of the New Covenant, both retrospectively as well as from Calvary onwards. Yes, there were saved people in Old Testament days, and every one of them was saved by our Lord Jesus Christ through the work of his cross.
9:16-17: To make this clear, the apostle invites us to think about what happens when someone makes a will. Throughout this illustration he uses the word ‘testament’ as it is used when someone writes their ‘last will and testament’.
As long as the will-writer is alive, he can chop and change his will as he likes. The written will lies on the table, but it has no legal force because its author is still alive. As soon as he dies, everything changes. The will comes into force. Its wording is now beyond all change and emendation, and its provisions are unalterable. How does the will become fixed, certain, and secure? It is by the death of the testator. It is his death which brings all its benefits into operation.
This is a very good illustration, because the New Covenant is not so much a contract between two parties as a donation, at least as far as we are concerned. The Lord Jesus Christ, our covenant Head, covenanted with the Father in eternity that he would save us by living for us and dying for us. All that he promised to secure for us becomes ours by his death. It was at that moment that the penalty due to his people fell on him, meaning that no such penalty awaits them. It was by his death that believers entered into pardon.
9:18: The New Covenant could not have come into operation without Christ’s blood being shed. Those who find this idea surprising should think back to God’s inauguration of his covenant with Israel. This happened at Mount Sinai, where the shedding of blood was a prominent feature.
9:19-20: None of the provisions of that covenant came into force until they were ratified, confirmed and made valid by Moses. How did he do that? Was it by means of a signature, such as when we confirm our covenants in marriage or the purchase of a house? No; he had to sprinkle both the book of covenant terms and the covenant people with blood, as he said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant (or testament) which God has commanded you.’
9:21-22: If we think back to the tabernacle, and to all the furniture and utensils that went with it, we find that none of it could be used until its ceremonial defilement had been removed by the sprinkling of blood. In fact, under Old Testament law, we may almost say that every single object and ritual connected with worship had to be cleansed with blood. Until it was, it was unfit for use.
9:23: The apostle closes this first point by reminding us of what he has told us before: the earthly tabernacle, and everything that went with it, was just a pictorial representation of heavenly realities. It was a visual aid intended to convey to our minds certain spiritual truths which we would not otherwise be able to grasp.
This raises a question: could not an Old Testament worshipper have said something like this: ‘Doesn’t the Shekinah glory of God dwell here in this earthly tabernacle? Surely then, as this physical place is hallowed by his presence, it does not need any cleansing.’
The tabernacle, by definition, could not in any full and complete sense have been the dwelling place of the infinite God. But even if it could have been, it would still have needed cleansing. This is because it was a place where God met sinners. God is holy, and sinners cannot come to him as they are. Atonement must be made for them. Blood must be shed. Cleansing through sacrifice was an essential part of tabernacle worship.
If that was true of the earthly picture, how much more is it true of the heavenly reality! Animal sacrifices were sufficient for revealing principles and teaching spiritual lessons, but the sacrifice necessary for sinners to approach God in the heavenly reality must be infinitely better than they were!
The apostle has made his first point and is now ready for the second. The first point is essential for all that follows, and it has been well made. Wills, testaments, and covenants are made certain and secure by death. The death which makes the New Covenant secure is the death of Christ.
Look backwards. Reflect on what the Lord Jesus Christ has done in the past. He has appeared on earth. He has died the death necessary to save sinners. In this way he has fulfilled in reality all that the Old Testament types spoke about in picture form.
The covenant blessings which the apostle has been writing about are secure. Christ’s death has secured them! The fact that we who believe are new creatures in Christ, with all our sins forgiven, having God as our Father and enjoying access to him, is because of Golgotha. Such blessings are mine, as are countless more, because of his cross – but only because of his cross.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God:
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
2. A Look Upwards: What Christ Is Doing Now – He Is Appearing in Heaven (9:24-28a)←⤒🔗
9:24: To understand what the apostle says next we must think back to what the Old Testament reveals about Israel’s annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). On that day the high priest killed the appropriate sacrifice and then, with its blood, went into the Holy of Holies. He did this once a year, every year. Unlike him, Christ has not entered into a mere picture of the heavenly reality. He does not minister in a tent erected by humans, which is but a figure of spiritual truths. He ministers in heaven itself, where he appears before God’s face (as the original Greek says). And this he does on our behalf.
9:25: How different Christ is from that Old Testament priest! During his lifetime that priest entered the Holy of Holies quite often, that is, once a year. Each entering in was a repetition of what happened the year before. Every time he did it he carried blood which was not his own. But Christ, by virtue of an unrepeatable sacrifice in which he shed his own blood, has entered once and for all. He has gone in to stay!
9:26: Christ’s sacrifice is a sufficient offering for sinners. It is a perfect atonement for their sins. This is proved by one simple fact – his sacrifice does not need repeating. If that were not the case, he would have needed to keep repeating his sacrifice from the foundation of the world until now.
Christ’s sacrifice took place in time. It happened on a definite date. And yet this once for all sacrifice is sufficient and effective for all believers of all times. This means that it even dealt with the sins of those believers who lived before it took place. It is a sacrifice that does not need anything added to it, because it is not deficient in any way at all. Nor does it need repeating. This is proved by the fact that having offered himself once, Christ has entered into heaven to stay.
Christ has appeared once, towards the end of the world’s history. Unlike the Old Testament high priest who offered the blood of others, without any pain to himself, Christ has offered himself. The eternal Son of God endured and experienced mortal agony as he died. If, like the Old Testament high priest, he was required to offer a continual oblation, he would have to die again and again and again. This is clearly impossible.
No; the one offering that he did make is perfect, and by virtue of it he appears in heaven continually to represent his people there. Sin’s penalty has been fully and really paid. It has been put away. God the Father accepts this; the proof of this is that he accepts into heaven for ever the one who atoned for sin by the sacrifice of himself. No further proof is required of the fact that Christ’s sacrifice is never to be repeated.
9:27-28a: Yes, just as certainly as men and women die once, and are judged once, equally certainly has Christ been offered once. In that one single transaction he bore the sin of many.
Let us take a moment to reflect on this teaching and to grasp it completely. When the Lord Jesus Christ died, he bore the full penalty due to his people. He put away their sins. The Father has completely accepted this, and so Christ is perpetually in heaven. He represents us to the Father. But he is not pleading. He is not crying. He is not agonisingly imploring that we should be accepted there. We need to be very clear about what is happening there.
Everything that separates us from God has been dealt with. When the substitute died in our place, every sanction that our sins deserve fell on him. The simple fact that Christ is in heaven, and that he remains there, testifies to this.
His very being in heaven proclaims that there is no punishment left for any believer to bear. There is no sacrifice that now needs to be offered, no atonement that needs to be made. There is nothing left to pay. There is no offering that is still required. There is nothing to bring. All that needs doing has been done, and Christ’s simple presence in heaven ensures our acceptance there. His being there is enough.
Any attempt to re-offer Christ’s sacrifice is to suggest that it was insufficient, or that God needs some reminder of Calvary in addition to the presence of his Son. This is what makes the Roman Catholic Mass an insult to God. It is a blasphemous ceremony and it is a sin to participate in it.
In the same way, to insist that a sinner must perform some penance or other implies that something additional to Christ’s sacrifice is necessary to secure the sinner’s full acceptance by God; it is to belittle and to degrade the perfection of what God in Christ secured at Calvary. There is no place for any form of penance in any church that claims to be Christian.
In order to approach God, all a sinner needs to do is to rely on the fact that his sins, which rightly deserve God’s wrath, have been fully dealt with at Calvary; and that God has accepted what Christ did on the sinner’s behalf. He needs to cast himself upon God’s love in Christ, and not to put any faith in anything that he might think he can do, or might hope to do. As long as the Lord Jesus Christ is in heaven, no sinner pleading his name can ever be turned away.
How privileged we believers are! What access is ours! How great is the price that secured it! How great is the love which has been poured out on us! How wise the eternal plan of salvation is! How exalted the Man of Sorrows is now! But the apostle will not allow us simply to revel in the wonder of our salvation. He still has one further thing to say.
3. A Look Forwards: What Christ Will Do in the Future – He Will Appear from Heaven and Come to Earth (9:28b)←⤒🔗
We did not see the Lord when he came to earth the first time, and we do not see him now. But we love him and we are glad that he will come to earth again, that he ‘will descend from heaven with a shout’ (1 Thess. 4:16), and that he will do this without ever leaving heaven! At his coming the present distinctions between visible and invisible, material and spiritual, earthly and heavenly, will be broken down, as the book of Revelation makes clear (Rev. 21:1-5). On that momentous day the Lord of heaven, without leaving heaven, will come from heaven and ‘appear a second time’.
Meanwhile, we eagerly wait for him and look for him, knowing that we shall not be disappointed. How different his second coming will be from his first! This time he will not come to deal with sin; this he has done, as we have seen. He will not come to save sinners, but to collect all sinners who have been saved by the shedding of his blood.
The day of Christ’s return will be the final display of the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old. The New Covenant not only gives us access to God now, but an eternal home in his heavenly glory! That is where our crucified Redeemer is at this moment, and his presence there secures our acceptance. But where he is, we shall be also. For us to get there, he will actually come again to this earth to collect us.
That wonderful day, for which we eagerly wait, will be the climax and final consummation of God’s plan of salvation. What a hope we have! Who can tell what joys and glories lie ahead of us? The apostle will not let us forget it. It is something to think about every day. But we must also reflect on the fact that all this too was secured for us by the Saviour’s cross and shame.
We are going to heaven! We are going to heaven! Christ is coming to take us there, but no one will get there without him. Those, like the Hebrews, who are thinking of walking out on him, would do well to remember this.
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