Chapter 15: The Tabernacle as seen in the Epistle to the Hebrews

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by Daniel Rudge, England





The Epistle to the Hebrews was written to Jews who made a profession of Christianity.  It is entirely possible that some, if not most, of the writer’s audience were those who once ministered as priests under the economy of Judaism.  Indeed, in early days “the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” Acts 6.7.  The problem the inspired author seeks to address is the attraction of the old religion to these new converts of Christianity.  After all, they had given up all the visible and tangible glory of Judaism, as displayed in the Temple and its services, for what was largely invisible and spiritual, in Christianity.  In addition, there was a great deal of suffering associated with a profession of Christ, Heb.10.32-34; 12.3,4,11,12; 13.3.  As such, the writer’s burden was to present the superiority of Christianity over Judaism.  Of necessity this required a presentation of the Person, Priesthood and propitiation of the Lord Jesus.  Broadly speaking, the doctrinal chapters of the Epistle present the superiority of the Son over angels, chapters 1,2, His service (or Priesthood) over that of Aaron, chapters 3-8, and His sacrifice over that of animals, chapters 9,10.

Within this framework lies the great theme of the Tabernacle.  The word occurs ten times in the Epistle, on each occasion translating the Greek word skene (a portable tent or shelter made of fabric or animal skin).  Seven times it refers to the earthly, Mosaic Tabernacle of the wilderness, twice to its heavenly counterpart (“the true tabernacle”) and once to the physical tents of the patriarchs.  The Tabernacle is so important to the writer’s argument because it was an earthly sanctuary which represented a temporal and limited system of worship.  It could never provide access to God, Heb.7.19, or “perfection” in a person’s standing before God, Heb.7.11.  But what this failing system could not do, Christ has done.  The superiority of His provision is perfectly captured in these words from chapter 9: “But Christ being come a high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” Heb.9.11,12.  Christ has introduced a new economy which, by contrast, is heavenly, permanent and provides perfection.

We might ask why the Epistle emphasises the Tabernacle rather than the Temple; after all, both were representative of the earthly system of worship instituted in Judaism, and the Temple was very likely still standing (though not for much longer) in Jerusalem.  First, the background of the Epistle is the wilderness, not the land (see chapters 3 and 4).  God’s people are pictured as pilgrims passing through this scene, soon to enjoy eternal Sabbath rest in heaven.  Thus, the Tabernacle, which was a moveable sanctuary for a pilgrim people, is a more fitting object lesson.  Furthermore, it was always the desire of God that He might “dwell” among His people in tabernacle character, Ex.25.8.  This will be reflected in the eternal state: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God” Rev.21.3.  Without the all-sufficient work of Christ, this Divine purpose could never be realised.

At this point it is necessary to outline three important words used to describe the Tabernacle and its services: figure, example and shadow:

“A figure for the time then present” Heb.9.9.  The word “figure” translates the Greek parabole, often translated “parable” in the Gospels.  Rather than being an object lesson for the ears (as a parable), the Tabernacle was an object lesson for the eyes.  The “time then present” is a phrase capable of referring to the time the Tabernacle was standing or the time when Hebrews was written.  Both are true.
An “example and shadow of heavenly things” Heb.8.5.  “Example” translates the Greek hypodeigma, meaning a sketch or pattern regarded as typical of its class.  The Tabernacle on earth was therefore a likeness corresponding to the reality in heaven.
The shadow (skia) of a person casts a rough outline of their size and shape, but is limited: not revealing, for example, the person’s hair colour.  Likewise, the earthly Tabernacle presents an outline of the heavenly substance.  It is but an imperfect representation.

Whether we consider the earthly Tabernacle as a lesson (parabole), likeness (hypodeigma) or limited outline (skia), the study of its details is essential, for a consideration of the copy (replica) can help us to better understand the heavenly counterpart (reality).

The purpose of this chapter is now to give a brief overview of the salient teaching of the four chapters in the Epistle which contain most references to the Tabernacle and its services.


This chapter is designed to show the superiority of the Priesthood of Christ over that of Aaron.  As a great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, Christ provides eternal access into the presence of God; something Aaron could never do.  “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them” Heb.7.25.

Principles of Priesthood

The word priest simply means ‘one who officiates’.  The officiating family of the Tabernacle was the family of Aaron.  He and his sons acted to represent God before men, and men before God.  Their service sought to maintain fellowship (communion) with God by offering “gifts” and “sacrifices” on behalf of the people, Heb.5.1.  But the Levitical priesthood was incapable of providing “perfection”, so God announced a change of priesthood, Heb.7.11,12,17.  He introduced a Priest after the order of Melchizedek.  Whilst Christ is a Priest after the pattern of Aaron as to His work and activity, He is a Priest after the order of Melchizedek as to the nature, rank and quality of His Priesthood.

Person of Melchizedek – Heb.7.1-3

Melchizedek is mentioned in three portions of Scripture.  He is viewed historically in Genesis chapter 14, prophetically in Psalm 110 and doctrinally in Hebrews chapters 5 to 7.  Given his first appearance in Genesis chapter 14, he clearly predates Aaron.

As to his manhood, Melchizedek was a king-priest.  His name means ‘king of righteousness’ Heb.7.2, and his throne was located in [Jeru]Salem, hence ‘king of peace’.  Righteousness and peace were, no doubt, personal attributes of the king himself and perfectly foreshadow the Lord Jesus Who, in the Millennium, will reign as Priest upon His throne, Zech.6.13.  We note that Melchizedek ministered to Abraham both after the trial (he was returning from the slaughter of the kings, Gen.14.17-20) and before the trial which came in the form of the king of Sodom, Gen.14.21.  By comparison, our great High Priest intercedes for His own before the trial (as in the example of Peter, Lk.22.32), after the trial (ministering blessing to Israel after the Tribulation) and even during the trial: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” Heb.4.16. 

As to his priesthood, Melchizedek is “made like unto” (resembles) the Son of God, Heb.7.3; not personally, but in a literary and typical sense as far as the record of Scripture is concerned.  For example, though he must have had a father and mother, there is no record of Melchizedek’s family lineage (which was so essential for Aaron).  There is also no record of his birth or death; he simply appears on the page of Scripture.  Therefore, his priesthood continues!

Prominence of Melchizedek – Heb.7.4-10

The word “consider” Heb.7.4, exhorts the readers to ponder intensely in their minds the greatness of the man Melchizedek.  Even the prime ancestor of the nation was minded to give him “the tenth” part of the “spoils” (akrothinion), a word which signifies the top of the heap, or choicest portion of the plunder.  Abraham gave Melchizedek the best, and thus acknowledged him as a superior.  A believer is wise to remember that as God has given His best for us (His only begotten Son) so we should always seek to give our best in return, whether in sacrifice, service or substance.  Again, the Levitical priesthood received tithes by Divine commandment, Numbers chapter 18, but Abraham gave Melchizedek of the spoils voluntarily.  The climax of the argument is reached in Heb.7.9,10, for even Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek in the actions of Abraham, though in his “loins” as he was yet unborn.  So, our writer has magnificently proved the superiority of the priesthood of Melchizedek over that of Levi.

Perfection of Christ’s Priesthood – Heb.7.11-22

Now, what kind of priest is Christ?  First, He is another (heteros) kind of priest to Aaron, Heb.7.11; after all, He did not spring from the tribe of Levi, but rather the tribe of Judah, Heb.7.14. Therefore, he originates after the “similitude” of Melchizedek rather than Aaron, Heb.7.15.  Second, Christ was made a Priest by “oath” as recorded in Psalm 110: “The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, ‘Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’” Ps.110.4, quoted in Heb.7.21.  The accompanying Divine oath was not because God’s word is unreliable, but rather to emphasise the permanence of the Priesthood of Christ.  There was no oath involved at the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, for the system was only designed to be temporary and provisional.  With this new Priest comes a new and “better testament” Heb.7.22.  This testament, or covenant, promises perfection, even a “better hope”, by which believers today can “draw nigh” to God, Heb.7.19.  Such a privilege can never fail, for its eternal efficacy is guaranteed by Christ, Who is the “surety” Heb.7.22.

Permanence of Christ’s Priesthood – Heb.7.23-28

Aaron was a mere man, subject to death.  Hence there were many high priests, possibly even as many as eighty-three between Aaron and the destruction of the Temple in A.D.70.1  By contrast, the Lord Jesus is not subject to death!  He once, voluntarily, laid down His life, at Calvary, but now, as alive from the dead, He “continueth ever”.  His Priesthood, therefore, continues “unchangeable” and uninterrupted, Heb.7.24.  Praise God, our case and our cause are safe with Him.  The salvation the Lord Jesus offers is therefore total.  He “save[s] … to the uttermost” Heb.7.25, a thought which involves degree (He saves completely), and time (He saves eternally).  This is not merely salvation of the soul from the penalty of sin, but salvation of the life from the power of sin.  He guarantees to bring every true believer safe home to heaven by way of the wilderness.  He is an ‘all the way home’ Saviour!

1.  Radmacher, Earl D. (Ed.). “Nelson Study Bible”. Thomas Nelson, 1997.


The writer has proved the superiority of the Person of the Priest, Hebrews chapters 1 and 2, and the order of His Priesthood, Hebrews chapter 7.  Now he will mention the superior (heavenly) sanctuary in which He serves, Heb.8.2, and sacrifice He has offered, Heb.8.3, but will develop these thoughts later, in chapters 9 and 10 respectively.  Hebrews chapter 8 emphasises the superior service of Christ as the “mediator of a better covenant” with “better promises” Heb.8.6.  Christ has a twofold priestly ministry.  As a wilderness Priest He leads us through, Hebrews chapters 2 to 7.  As a sanctuary Priest, He takes us in to the presence of God, Hebrews chapters 8 to 10.

A Superior Sanctuary – Heb.8.1,2

The chief or crowning point of the writer’s argument thus far is: “we have such a high priest” Heb.8.1.  Note, he does not say ‘there is’ but rather “we have”.  He is a personal High Priest!  This One is exalted in heaven, even in the place of acceptance (He is seated), authority and affection (He is at the right hand) and administration (He is on the throne).  Indeed, He is a “minister of the sanctuary”, indicating His activity.  This sanctuary is the “true [alethinos] tabernacle” which the Lord “pitched”, rather than men, presented in obvious contrast to the earthly copy (representation) in which Aaron ministered.  We must ever remember
that Christianity is associated with heaven, and Judaism with earth.  Hence the latter was a religion with great appeal to the senses in what was
visible, tangible and audible.  There should be no perpetuation today, as in much of Christendom, of a replica God has decommissioned. 
Hence we value the beauty and simplicity of the local assembly, where
all that is sensual is put away for the enjoyment of that which is

A Superior Sacrifice – Heb.8.3-5

Generally speaking, part of a high priest’s ministry is to offer “gifts” and “sacrifices” Heb.8.3.  Those who brought gifts (largely bloodless) were giving to God in order to please and honour Him.  Those who brought sacrifices were seeking forgiveness for sins and therefore receiving from God.  So Christ, as great High Priest, must have “somewhat also to offer”.  The phrase is singular, hinting at the once-for-all sacrifice of Calvary, Heb.7.27.  The sacrifice is over, but there is a sense in which Christ still offers “gifts”, a theme developed in chapter 13: “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” Heb.13.15.  As High Priest He continues to offer the praises of those He has constituted a spiritual priesthood.  Again, this is a ministry that is exercised in heaven, for if He were on earth He could not function in the earthly Temple as a priest, for He was not a Levite, Heb.8.4!  However, His Priesthood is not material: it is spiritual.  His Priesthood is not temporal: it is eternal.  Levitical priests served in the replica; Christ serves in the reality!  Hence we see the importance of Moses following the “pattern” (typos) shown him in the mount.  The word typos signifies a visible mark or model made by a series of blows or strikes (the same word is used by Thomas of the nail prints in the hands of the Lord Jesus, Jn.20.25).  Whatever Moses was shown in the mountain, he certainly knew the importance of following the pattern.  Indeed, ninety-eight verses are used in Scripture to record God’s instructions to Moses concerning the pattern of the Tabernacle, Exodus chapters 25 to 27.  Likewise, ninety-eight verses are also employed to record the implementation of Moses’ instructions regarding the same by the people, Exodus chapters 36 to 38.  Though the Tabernacle was an earthly replica of the heavenly reality, it was still God’s house!  His was the right of design.  Today it is the local assembly that is designated “house of God” in character, 1Tim.3.15.  Thus, all the members of an assembly are responsible to build and function according to the Divine pattern.

A Superior Service – Heb.8.6-13

With those fleeting glimpses of subjects yet to be developed, the Epistle focuses for the meantime on the “more excellent ministry” with which Christ is engaged in the superior sanctuary.  He is the “mediator of a better covenant” Heb.8.6, also called a “second [covenant]” Heb.8.7, “new covenant” Heb.8.8, and “everlasting covenant” Heb.13.20.  The word “covenant” refers to a treaty or contract.  The “first” covenant, under which Aaron served, was a legally binding, written document which defined the relationship between God and His people, Exodus chapter 20; Jeremiah chapter 31. The “mediator” of that covenant was Moses, who acted as an intermediary between the two parties of the covenant, God and Israel, Gal.3.19.  The Mediator of the second covenant is Christ. 

The ‘second’ covenant is not second-rate in quality, but second in time, being described in Jer.31.31-34 (which was written almost one thousand years after Israel was given the first covenant).  It is “new” in quality and type, not merely the adjusting or patching up of the first covenant.  It is “better” in its terms, for the first covenant was a two-sided conditional affair which promised blessings, if they were obedient, and threatened curses, if they were not.  The second covenant is altogether one-sided, as demonstrated by the repetition of the Divine “I will” Heb.8.10.  God has pledged unconditional blessings in this covenant that rests on the finished work of Christ.  Why was a “second” covenant required?  Because the first was faulty, Heb.8.7.  It was, of course, good and perfect in itself, as given by God, but faulty inasmuch as it did not sufficiently provide against mankind’s faultiness.  The material on which the first covenant operated was sinful, failing humanity: a disobedient people which “continued not in My covenant” Heb.8.9.  This is expressed in the words of Romans chapter 8, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh …” Rom.8.3.  Thus, the first covenant was essentially for the training and education of ‘little children’, utilising the object lessons of the Tabernacle and associated sacrificial system, Heb.8.9.

The New Covenant, as to its scope, is to be made with the “house of Israel and with the house of Judah” after they have been planted back in the land, Heb.8.8; Jer.31.23,33.  However, believers today are linked with the Mediator of this covenant and thus enjoy the spirit, if not the letter, of the same.  Or, in the words of J.N. Darby, “This covenant of the letter is made with Israel, not with us, but we get the benefit of it.  We are associated with the Mediator.”2  Hence Paul declares, “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament” 2Cor.3.6.

2.  Darby, J.N. “Notes on the Epistle to the Hebrews”. G. Morrish (no date), p.70.

How then is this covenant, of which Christ is the Mediator, superior to the first?  Note four blessings:


“I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts” Heb.8.10.

This is an internal transformation: the work of God in the heart, in contrast to the Law written on tables of stone.  A new people will be created from the inside out and become lovers of the Word of God, with His Word in their minds and His laws on their hearts.  The nation of old had external commands written on stone, but no strength or inclination to keep them.  Now there is a new nature that desires and delights in doing the will of God.


“I will be to them a God” Heb.8.10.

Israel enjoyed national sonship, but believers today know the privilege of being children and sons of God individually.  It is by the Spirit of God we are able to cry “Abba, Father” Rom.8.15, as those who have both the relationship of dependent and devoted children (“Abba”), and the dignity of dutiful sons (“Father”).


“All shall know Me, from the least to the greatest” Heb.8.11.

This describes a personal revelation of the Lord to every believer.  In the Old Testament, knowledge of God was both fragmentary and progressive, even second-hand knowledge as taught by the priesthood, but in the New Testament, John could declare to the “little children” (the youngest in the family of God) that they have “known the Father” 1Jn.2.13.  This is a personal, direct and intimate relationship.


“I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” Heb.8.12.

On the basis of ‘mercy’ (a word which is closely related to propitiation; this is therefore a righteous dealing with sin) sins and iniquities will be “remember[ed] no more”.  The Greek includes a double negative which can read ‘never, no never’.  Rather than a “year by year” remembrance of sins, as under the first covenant, Heb.10.1, there is the righteous and eternal forgiveness of the same under the second.  ‘Remembrance’ is not a question of failure on the part of God’s memory, but a way of declaring that these sins will not be held to our account.  They have been judged once and for all at Calvary.

We conclude this section by rejoicing that the New Covenant is secure.  There will not be a third!  No, the everlasting covenant has been established upon the blood of Christ and therefore cannot and will not be revised.  The faithfulness of God and finished work of Christ declare it, Heb.7.22!


The first covenant was associated with a “worldly” (earthly) sanctuary, namely the Tabernacle, Heb.9.1.  This chapter develops the limitations of such a system of worship and contrasts the “greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands” Heb.9.11, into which the Lord Jesus has entered and serves, having “obtained eternal redemption for us” Heb.9.12.  The description of the earthly Tabernacle in this chapter is full of barriers: there were compartments, curtains and ceremonies, Heb.9.2,3,7.  The Tabernacle of old was certainly glorious, but it was limited.  It could not provide access to the presence of God, Heb.9.8, or purge the conscience from sins, Heb.9.9, but what it could not do, Christ has done, and so we read, “But Christ” v.11!

Parable of the Worldly Sanctuary – Heb.9.1-10

The first covenant was associated with regulations for worship and a “worldly” (earthly) sanctuary.  The tent of the Tabernacle was divided into two compartments: the holy place (“sanctuary” A.V.), Heb.9.2, and Holiest of all, Heb.9.3-5.  All that was contained therein (which was seen only by the priestly family) represents Christ in glory, as recognised and appreciated by believers, who constitute the priestly family today.  The holy place contained the “candlestick”, speaking of Christ (the lampstand itself) as the revelation of truth (light) to His people by the Spirit of God (oil).  Then there was the “table” and “the shewbread”, signifying Christ as the sustenance and satisfaction of His people.  According to the inspired writer, the Holiest of all “had” the golden “censer”, a word which occurs only here in the New Testament and is translated by some (for example, the New English Translation) as “altar of incense”.  Whether the golden altar itself or its censer is in view (a censer was used on the Day of Atonement, but it is not said to be golden, Lev.16.12), there is an apparent problem, as the golden altar was located in the holy place, not the Holy of holies.  However, the problem is easily solved when one realises that the great Day of Atonement is in view throughout the chapter.  Therefore, the Holiest of all “had” the golden censer by association, for its fragrance was required within the veil on that special day, Lev.16.12,13.  Within the Holiest of all was also the “ark of the covenant”, expressing the Deity and humanity of the Lord Jesus joined in one, now glorified, Person.  The “golden pot that had manna” reminds us typically of Christ in glory, our provision for the wilderness.  “Aaron’s rod that budded” speaks of Christ our Priest in resurrection and the “tables of the covenant” of Christ our pattern here on earth Who magnified the Law.  The great climax of the description is the “mercy seat”, where blood was sprinkled once upon it, and seven times before it, on the Day of Atonement.  Therefore, it sets forth Christ as the place of meeting between God and men on the basis of shed blood.

The writer furnishes such a detailed and accurate description of the Tabernacle and its furnishings to better emphasise its limitations.  The priests went continually, even daily, into the first compartment, but only the high priest could enter the second, once a year, and that “not without blood” Heb.9.7.  In all this the Spirit of God was supplying an object lesson.  He was declaring that access into the immediate presence of God was restricted.  The whole system announced that God was within and man was without.  Indeed, no matter how many sacrifices were brought, “conscience” could never be “perfect[ed]”, that is, full and final forgiveness of sins that permanently cleared the conscience from guilt was not possible under the old order, Heb.9.9.  These ceremonial regulations were a burdensome duty imposed on the people ‘until the time of reform’ or ‘improvement’, as instituted by the work of Christ on the cross.

Perfection of the Sacrifice of Christ – Heb.9.11-23

Whilst much of the activity of the Lord Jesus on earth was priestly in character, not least the “offering” and “sacrifice” of Calvary, Eph.5.2, He entered into the exercise of His High Priestly ministry upon His resurrection and ascension into the “greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands”, that is, heaven itself, Heb.9.11,24; compare Ps.110.1,4.  If Aaron entered the Holiest with the blood of “goats and calves”, then Christ has entered heaven “by” His own precious blood, Heb.9.12.  This does not indicate the carrying of His own blood into heaven, but the character of His entrance.  He has gone into heaven in the virtue of a once-for-all, finished work at Calvary.  Furthermore, Aaron entered the Holiest once a year, but Christ has entered heaven once for all, having obtained “eternal redemption”, rather than annual atonement!  For the blood of animals and ashes of a red heifer could only achieve ceremonial, external purification from defilement, Heb.9.13, but “how much more” the blood of Christ has wrought, Heb.9.14!  It was through the power of the “eternal Spirit” (the title emphasising a work of timeless value) He “offered Himself”.  This was a rational, willing and obedient choice, unlike sacrificial animals that were ignorant of their purpose.  Indeed, Christ offered Himself “without spot”, that is, free from any internal blemish; He was a faultless and sinless sacrifice.  In light of such work, the repentant and believing sinner can know the joy of a “purge[d]” (cleansed) conscience.  This is no mere outward, ceremonial cleansing but a permanent inward cleansing from the guilt of sin.  Furthermore, it releases an individual from the bondage of ceremonial and ritualistic dead works to worshipfully serve the living God; see Rom.12.1,2.  The implication is that this is a willing service driven by the affection of the heart, rather than a burdensome religious service of constraint.  The remaining verses of this section, Heb.9.15-23, expand the “much more” of the blood of Christ, which has not only effected purification but inaugurated the New Covenant.

Presence of the Saviour – Heb.9.24-28

The chapter closes by referring to three appearings of the Lord Jesus: present, Heb.9.24, past, Heb.9.26, and future, Heb.9.28.  The appearings mirror those of Aaron on the Day of Atonement, which, in chronological order, were: in the court, the holiest of all and before the people at the gate.


In terms of the present, Christ now “appear[s]” (emphanizo), or ‘shines’, in the presence of God for us.  He is there as our personal representative, His presence acting as an assurance of our acceptance before the throne of God.  The high priest of old must have shone whenever he entered the holy place in his garments for glory and beauty.  No doubt the stones on his breastplate and shoulders caught, reflected and refracted the light of the lampstand.  It is a thought most encouraging to know that Christ permanently represents us before the throne of God, our names engraved both in the place of affection (breast) and in the place of strength (shoulder).


Christ has not entered heaven to offer Himself again and again, or on an annual basis, Heb.9.25.  That would require suffering for sins regularly since the foundation of the world.  No!  In terms of the past, Christ has once appeared (phaneroo) in the “end of the world”, or ‘at the consummation of the ages’, to “put away sin” by the sacrifice of Himself.  The cross is here considered as the centrepiece of time, with every age either looking forward or back to that one glorious event.  In other words, every age finds its goal and fulfilment in Him and the work accomplished at Calvary.  The effect of that work was to “put away sin”, a comprehensive term suggesting the total removal and abolishing of sin, both root and fruit.  Truly it was said of Him, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” Jn.1.29.


But Christ will appear again in the future, Heb.9.28.  He was once offered to “bear” or ‘lift up and away’ the sins of “many” (the term of final result and actual effect).  Every person who has experienced such salvation therefore “look[s]” for Him with eager anticipation!  The expressive Greek word (apekdechomai) pictures a person standing on tiptoe and craning the neck in expectation.  To these people Christ shall “appear [with dramatic suddenness] the second time”, not on this occasion to deal with the question of sin (which He did at His first coming), but for the purpose of salvation.  The parallel with the Day of Atonement and the use of the same root word “appear” (horao) in Matt.24.30 point towards a reference to the coming of Christ in glory to the earth.  Then He will deliver a godly remnant from their enemies.  Nevertheless, the eager expectation of the coming of Christ, whether the Rapture or Manifestation, should be the characteristic attitude of every believer!


Though there will be a later reference to the “altar” Heb.13.10, this chapter closes the doctrinal section of the Epistle and is the last to lean heavily on the background of the Tabernacle and the associated sacrificial system.  The final emphasis falls on the theme of the superior sacrifice of Christ on the cross in contrast to animal sacrifices offered on the brazen altar.

Resolve of the Perfect Servant – Heb.10.1-18

Again, the writer reminds his readers that the sacrificial system attached to the Mosaic Law only presented the “shadow” rather than the substance (“image”) of “good things” now realised and enjoyed in Christ.  The centrepiece of the Law was its sacrificial system, but these same sacrifices were offered continually year after year, thus proving that they could never fully and finally cleanse the guilty conscience and remove sins.  The statements are unequivocally clear.  Animal sacrifices could “never” bring “perfect[ion]” in one’s standing before God, Heb.10.1.  It was “not possible” that the shed blood of bulls and goats could “take away sins” Heb.10.4.  The same sacrifices repeated again and again could “never take away sins” Heb.10.11.  What, then, was the purpose of the sacrificial system?  Apart from teaching the people of God the serious nature of sin and its consequence (that is, death), these sacrifices provided ceremonial cleansing and an object lesson pointing forward to the Lamb of God: the One Who ultimately could and would provide Himself as a sacrifice to effectively deal with sin.  It is important to remember that Old Testament saints knew the blessedness of sins forgiven as well as any New Testament believer today; compare Ps.32.1; Rom.4.6-8.  However, the basis of their forgiveness was not animal sacrifices!  Rather, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” Gen.15.6; Rom.4.3.  An individual, whether in the Old or the New Testament, has only ever been justified on the basis of faith.  But an Old Testament saint was forgiven on credit, in the sense that the basis of his or her forgiveness (the work of Christ at Calvary) was yet future.  Principally then, animal sacrifices were for an already-redeemed people seeking restoration of communion with God.  The sin offering, for example, covered what an Israelite had inadvertently done to break the law of God.  On the other hand, the burnt offering covered what an Israelite had failed to do in his duty before God.  The Day of Atonement was a Divine examination of the nation’s sins for that year.  The sacrifices of the occasion served to cleanse the nation from its ceremonial uncleanness, Lev.16.16, and avert the governmental judgment of God, thus enabling Him to dwell amongst His people for another year.  Yet, as soon as the Day was over, the next one loomed with the promise of further investigation of guilt.  There was no full and final satisfaction in relation to sin.

But Christ is the substance of the shadow.  The quotation of Psalm 40 declares God’s latest word on the sacrificial system, Heb.10.5.  Sacrifice and offering were not desired by God because what should have been an expression of faith and affection had become a legalistic ritual of outward form, offered by constraint.  God rather desired such holy devotion to Him and His will that sacrifices and offerings would be superfluous!  After all, “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” 1Sam.15.22.  Such a desire could only be fulfilled in the Perfect Man.  It was upon His Incarnation that the Lord Jesus took the words of Psalm 40 upon His lips and said, “Lo I [am] come … to do Thy will, O God” Heb.10.7.  The words “a body hast Thou prepared Me” Heb.10.5, is a Spirit-given interpretation and elucidation of the phrase, “Mine ears hast Thou opened” Ps.40.6.  The ears of the Lord Jesus were ever open to the will of His God, to Whom He rendered full obedience in the body prepared for Him.  That body was the instrument of His obedience, and it led Him, ultimately, to the place called Calvary: He was obedient even up to the point of death, Phil.2.8.  Thus He “taketh away the first”, that is, the system of animal sacrifice, to “establish the second”, namely, perfect obedience to the will of God, which is the basis of eternal salvation through “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” Heb.5.9.   What a contrast is provided in verses 11 and 12!  Christ has offered “one sacrifice”, not multiple daily sacrifices!  His sacrifice is “for ever”, not “oftentimes”.3  Levitical priests merely stood before the throne of God (as represented in the ark of the covenant), whereas Christ has sat down on the throne of God.  His work is finished and Divinely approved.  This glorious work has “perfected for ever them that are sanctified” v.14.  The truth is positional.  Believers have a perfect standing in the sight of God and are “sanctified”, suggesting a fitness for entry to the courts of heaven and sanctuary of God.

3.  It is often discussed whether the comma in the Authorised Version of Heb.10.12 is correctly placed. Some would place the emphasis with the sacrifice: ‘one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down …’; others with the seated Christ: ‘one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down …’ Of course, both are true. However, this construction is used in Hebrews on three other occasions (Heb.7.3; 10.1,14). On each occasion it is placed after that which it qualifies. The same is, therefore, likely here (see M.R. Vincent, “Word Studies in the New Testament”). In addition, the preceding verse speaks of the priest daily ministering and offering oftentimes. But Christ does not daily offer: it is one sacrifice. He does not offer oftentimes: it is forever.

Revelation of a New and Living Way – Heb.10.19-21

The finished work of Christ has provided two great blessings for believers: access and acceptance.

We have access, Heb.10.19,20.  Every believer can now have “boldness [‘confidence’] to enter into the holiest”; that is, the reality in heaven, not the replica on earth!  This is by a “new and living way”.  It is “new” in terms of time and quality.  This fresh, recently made way of access was unknown in a past dispensation.  Under the Law, the people of God never entered into the Holiest, save the high priest once a year, but believers today enter in spiritually and repeatedly.  It is a “living way” for it provides perpetual access to the living God, the Sustainer of spiritual life.  By contrast, the threat of death hung over any who sought the immediate presence of God in the Tabernacle, Lev.16.2.  This way has been “consecrated” (‘inaugurated’) by the “blood of Jesus” v.19, and His “flesh” v.20.  Verses 19 and 20 are parallel in thought.  The “holiest” parallels “through the veil”.  The means of access is “by” the blood and “through” His flesh.  Thus, it is not that the veil is His flesh, but believers are able to enter beyond the veil in heaven, by means of His flesh.  The simple truth is that sinners are barred from the presence of God because of what they are, as well as what they have done.  The blood of Christ deals with sins: what I have done.  The “flesh”, referring to the death of Christ, deals with sin: what I am.  The same emphasis is present in Col.1.21,22: “… yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight”.

We have acceptance, Heb.10.21.  In the holiest we have a glorious representative before the throne of God: a “great Priest” (J.N. Darby, New Translation).  This is the same One Who “appear[s]” in the presence of God for us, Heb.9.24, and has full resources to meet our need.  In light of such acceptance, there is a command to continually “draw near” (approach) the throne of God in worship.  As noted above, we are able to be there with “boldness” Heb.10.19, that is, freedom of speech, and without fear or hesitation.  That does not, of course, mean that there is any room for familiarity or irreverence in our approach to God.  And any approach must be with a “true heart”, implying real devotion and sincerity without superficiality.  We should delight and long to be in the presence of God in “full assurance of faith” for there is no need to doubt our fitness for such a place: Christ is our title to be there!