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21. Dealing with Death or The World's Greatest Bailout (Hebrews 9:15-28)

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15 And so [Therefore] he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant. 16 For where there is a will, the death of the one who made it must be proven. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it carries no force while the one who made it is alive. 18 So even the first covenant was inaugurated with blood. 19 For when Moses had spoken every command to all the people according to the law, 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 and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that God has commanded you to keep.” 21 And both the tabernacle and all the utensils of worship he likewise sprinkled with blood. 22 Indeed according to the law almost everything was purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. 23 So it was necessary for the sketches of the things in heaven to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves required better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands – the representation of the true sanctuary – but into heaven itself, and he appears now in God’s presence for us. 25 And he did not enter to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the sanctuary year after year with blood that is not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the consummation of the ages to put away sin by his sacrifice. 27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 28 so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation (Hebrews 9:15-28).1

Introduction

I was fascinated by an article I read on the Internet entitled, “Final touch: A cosmetic lift for your funeral?”2 I’ve performed enough funerals to realize that some bodies may need a little “touching up” for a funeral. That said, I have never seriously considered the possibility of doing a major overhaul on someone’s face (or body?) in preparation for a funeral. Our text strongly indicates that before we die, we need to make some much more important preparations for our death. These are not outward preparations to make us look good in the casket, but preparations that enable us to face death without fear of the judgment that follows. I’m thinking in particular of an earlier text in Hebrews and its relationship to the final verses of our text:

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 28 so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28).

I can guarantee that there is no more important topic for you to consider and to act upon than the subject of our text. It determines how you will look to God when you die, and where you will spend eternity. Let us listen carefully to what the inspired writer has to say about what lies beyond death and what the Lord Jesus has done to deal with death, so that it becomes the cure as well as the curse for man’s sins.

Should This Message Be “R” Rated?

In one sense, the Bible is a very “bloody” book.3 Think of all the sacrificial animals whose blood was shed under the Old Covenant. Think of the importance that is placed on the “blood” of our Lord Jesus that was shed at Calvary. The shedding of animal blood did not seem to trouble those who lived in Old Testament times, but we cannot assume the same response today. Can you imagine the outcry of the animal rights activists if they had lived in Israel in days gone by?

While there are a number of folks who would feel uneasy reading about the shedding of blood in the Bible, there is a great deal of inconsistency (some might even call it hypocrisy) regarding such matters. For example, think of all the television programs that now feature corpses in the process of an autopsy. They seem to delight in revealing all the inner organs of the human body. Many of those who strive to save the whales, dolphins, polar bears and spotted owls are silent about the bloody murder of innocent children by such methods as partial birth abortion. Why don’t they show these bloody deaths on television, or react with horror knowing that they are performed many times a day?

Well aware that the subject matter of our text may not be popular, it is nonetheless important. Indeed, it is a matter of life and death, eternal life or death. As our author says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). So let us pursue the subject of shedding blood (death) carefully, realizing how important this is to God, and to men.

Where We Have Been and Where We are Going

Let me attempt to briefly review the argument of Hebrews up to our text, and then indicate how we will approach our Scripture text in this lesson. The first two chapters of Hebrews focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is God’s final revelation to man (1:1-4). All of the qualities of deity are rightfully His, and thus the author can rightly describe Him as One whose rank is “much higher than the angels” (1:4). He is not only qualified for His role because of His deity (chapter 1), but also because of His humanity (chapter 2). At His incarnation (which we celebrate at Christmas), He added sinless humanity to His undiminished deity (2:5-16), and He is thereby qualified to serve as our Great High Priest (2:17-18).

Man’s need for a Great High Priest is demonstrated in chapters 3 and 4, which reminds us of the failures of the first generation of Israelites to receive the law. Surely during those early, pristine years of Israel’s history, the people of God would have done as well as we might expect of anyone. Yet, sadly, they set the stage for centuries of failure, as Stephen would point out centuries later (at the cost of his own life):

51 “You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, like your ancestors did! 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold long ago the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become! 53 You received the law by decrees given by angels, but you did not obey it.” 54 When they heard these things, they became furious and ground their teeth at him (Acts 7:51-54; see also Matthew 23:29-33).

The solution to Israel’s sin was not “trying harder,” but the coming of God incarnate as Israel’s Promised Messiah. In so doing, He became God’s revelation to men,4 dwelling among men,5 whose word continues to expose and change the hearts of men (Hebrews 4:12-13). Having taken on a human body, Jesus became a sympathetic High Priest, to whom men may draw near for help in their time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). The author then sets out to show how the Lord Jesus became a priest after the order of Melchizedek, contrasting His superior priesthood with the inferior priesthood of the Aaronic order (5:1-10). He wanted to say much more, but he could sense that the eyes of his readers were already glazing over. This was “meat,” and they were only accustomed to a diet of “milk” (5:11-14). But the author is not willing to throw in the towel and to merely cater to their immaturity (to be a “Dairy Queen” teacher rather than a “Steak and Ale” teacher). He has determined to press on with the matter of Melchizedek, but not until after he has given us a strong word of warning and exhortation (6:1-12). Those who profess Christ as Messiah and Savior dare not fall back into a works-based religion; they must rather persevere and press on to maturity by seeking a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ by drawing near to God through Him, rather than drifting away.

Having issued this exhortation, the author now returns to his topic of a better priesthood, one which is unconditional because it is guaranteed by God’s oath (6:13-20). In 7:1-10, our Lord’s priesthood is shown to be of the order of Melchizedek, but this being the case, this new priesthood cannot be based upon the Old Covenant, but rather on the New Covenant (7:11-28). In chapter 8, we see that our Great High Priest has a better place of ministry, in the “true tabernacle,” that is in the heavens, seated at the right hand of God (8:1-5). Our Great High Priest is the mediator of a better covenant, the New Covenant, which has better promises than the Old Covenant. To illustrate, our author cites the better New Covenant promises of Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Hebrews 8:6-13).

In the first 14 verses of chapter 9, we are reminded of the furnishings of the tabernacle and of how this structure actually prevents men from drawing near to God (verses 1-10). It was only through the appearance of our Great High Priest and the shedding of His blood that eternal redemption was accomplished, thus dealing with our sins, which stand between us and a Holy God. Those who have trusted in His atoning work at Calvary now are clean before God, and more than that, they feel clean; they have cleansed consciences, so that they may confidently draw near to God in worship and service (verses 11-14).

Because of His work of atonement, our Lord has become the mediator of the New Covenant. The remaining verses of chapter 9 focus on the “better sacrifice,” the shedding of our Lord’s precious blood and Calvary. It is by this better sacrifice that our sins are dealt with once for all. These verses show us that our Lord’s death was necessary and that it offers salvation to sinners who are destined for judgment and eternal torment after death. These verses spell out the gospel and God’s only means for forgiveness and eternal life. There are no more wonderful words for the sinner who wishes (by God’s doing) to draw near to God.

The Necessity of Death
Hebrews 9:15-22

15 And so [Therefore] he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant. 16 For where there is a will, the death of the one who made it must be proven. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it carries no force while the one who made it is alive. 18 So even the first covenant was inaugurated with blood. 19 For when Moses had spoken every command to all the people according to the law, 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 and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that God has commanded you to keep.” 21 And both the tabernacle and all the utensils of worship he likewise sprinkled with blood. 22 Indeed according to the law almost everything was purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:15-22).

There is good reason for our author to establish the need for our Lord’s death. Beforehand, no devout Jew was eager to hear about the death of Messiah. This was true of the Old Testament prophets, who spoke of our Lord’s suffering and His glory. They struggled with their own prophecies in which they wrote of Messiah’s suffering and death (texts like Isaiah 52:13—53:12). They could not see how these prophecies could be compatible with those that promised triumph over His enemies and the forces of evil:6

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. 12 They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things angels long to catch a glimpse of (1 Peter 1:10-12).

I suspect that this same tension (between Messiah’s suffering and His glory) was at least part of the reason for John the Baptist’s question for Jesus:

1 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their towns. 2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds Christ had done, he sent his disciples to ask a question: 3 “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11:1-3)

John was in jail at the moment. The time of his death was drawing near, and it did not look as though Jesus was about to render judgment on Rome or on disobedient Jews (as John had warned).7 Had John been wrong to identify Jesus as the Messiah? Why was Jesus not fulfilling John’s prophetic words regarding the judgment Jesus would bring upon the wicked? We now know that the answer is to be found in the two appearances of Jesus – the second of which our author speaks in Hebrews 9:27-28.

John was not alone in his confusion about Jesus. The Lord’s disciples were not eager to hear their Master speak of His suffering and death at Calvary. Just after Peter’s great confession in Matthew 16, our Lord disclosed to His disciples that He was soon going to die. Peter’s reaction reveals his failure to grasp this aspect of our Lord’s messianic mission:

/21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.” 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 16:21-25).

Unbelieving Jews also had great difficulty with Jesus’ talk of death. It seems to be one of the reasons why they would not embrace Him as the Messiah:

30 Jesus said, “This voice has not come for my benefit but for yours. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 (Now he said this to indicate clearly what kind of death he was going to die.) 34 Then the crowd responded, “We have heard from the law that the Christwill remain forever. How can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” (John 12:30-34, emphasis mine)

Nobody wanted to hear of Jesus’ death as Israel’s Messiah, which may help to explain why the author of Hebrews felt it was so important to deal extensively with the necessity of Messiah’s death.

The World’s Greatest Bailout
Hebrews 9:15

And so [Therefore] he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:15).

The “therefore” links this statement with what has just been stated. That is, because Christ appeared and made atonement for our sins by shedding His precious blood, He has become the mediator of a New Covenant, in place of the old. Some of the particulars of this “New Covenant” have already been cited in chapter 8. It was death – Messiah’s death – that accomplished redemption for those transgressions committed under the Old (“first”) Covenant. This is truly an amazing statement because it clearly indicates that the animal sacrifices offered under the Old Covenant didn’t accomplish redemption for sins. Paul put it this way:

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness (Romans 3:21-26, emphasis mine).

Listen carefully to what Paul (and the author of Hebrews) is saying about the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant and its Aaronic priestly sacrificial system did not put away the guilt and punishment for the sins of the ancient Israelites; it only put off the day of reckoning. Let me seek to illustrate this in monetary terms. Let’s suppose that the penalty for Israel’s sins was assessed in financial terms. Every sin put the sinner and the nation deeper into debt, and neither the individual nor the nation had any means of repaying their debt. On the annual Day of Atonement, a sacrifice was made for the “national sin debt” of the Israelites. That debt was not paid off; it was merely put off for another year. Israel’s “spiritual loan” was extended another year. And so each year the nation’s sin debt grew larger and larger. It was not until the coming of Messiah and His death on the cross of Calvary that the debt was finally paid off. This was truly the world’s greatest bailout. A debt that men could not pay was paid by God in the person of Messiah. The payment was not monetary; it was a spiritual debt, and it was paid off by our Lord’s death – by the sacrificial shedding of His blood on the cross.

Just who are the recipients of this massive bailout? The saving work of Jesus on the cross of Calvary applies to the sins of those who lived under the Old Covenant as well as to those living since the first coming of our Lord. In other words, anyone whose sins are forgiven and who inherits eternal life does so because of Christ’s saving death and resurrection. But this is not to say that everyone, past, present, or future will benefit from Christ’s saving work. Our author is very clear on this point: those who receive the promised inheritance are only those who are called. Paul put it this way in Romans 9:

6 It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all those who are descended from Israel are truly Israel, 7 nor are all the children Abraham’s true descendants; rather “through Isaac will your descendants be counted.” 8 This means it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God; rather, the children of promise are counted as descendants. 9 For this is what the promise declared: “About a year from now I will return and Sarah will have a son.” 10 Not only that, but when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our ancestor Isaac – 11 even before they were born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose in election would stand, not by works but by his calling) – 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger,” 13 just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:6-13).

While we see that the doctrine of election (God’s sovereign calling) is clearly taught in Scripture, men are still commanded to believe in Jesus for salvation. Paul will underscore this in the next chapter (10) of Romans:

8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 11 For the scripture says, “Everyonewho believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:8-13).

So, those who inherit God’s promised blessings are those whom God has sovereignly chosen and called, and also those who have believed in God’s promise. (We should remember from Hebrews 3 and 4 that the ancient Israelites failed to enter into rest because of their unbelief.) I would understand the promised blessings to be the sworn (and thus irrevocable) promises that God made to Abraham in the Abrahamic Covenant and to Israel and all men in the New Covenant.

One inference from verse 15 is hard to miss: The Old Covenant system led to spiritual bankruptcy; it is the work of Christ in fulfilling the New Covenant that has provided the bailout for sinners. If the New Covenant sacrifice of Jesus “paid it all” – which it surely did – then why would anyone place their trust in a failed system, so far as its ability to save is concerned?

The Necessity of Death for the Execution of a Will
Hebrews 9:16-7

16 For where there is a will,8 the death of the one who made it must be proven. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it carries no force while the one who made it is alive (Hebrews 9:16-17).

We have just seen that the redemption of lost sinners required the sacrificial death of the Messiah. Now the author is going to buttress this declaration by showing that the death is required in everyday life as well. The case in point is the execution of a will. With rare exceptions, a will does not go into effect until after the death of the one who made it (the testator). Just as our author has stated, a death certificate is required before any will is executed. Death is a prerequisite for the execution of a will.

The Necessity of a Sacrificial Death to Execute the Mosaic Covenant
Hebrews 9:18-22

18 So even the first covenant was inaugurated with blood. 19 For when Moses had spoken every command to all the people according to the law, 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 and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that God has commanded you to keep.” 21 And both the tabernacle and all the utensils of worship he likewise sprinkled with blood. 22 Indeed according to the law almost everything was purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:18-22).

Just as death is required to implement a will, death was also required to implement the Mosaic Covenant. When God made His covenant with the nation Israel, it was inaugurated with blood. I believe that verses 18-22 refer primarily to the events of Exodus 24:

3 Moses came and told the people all the Lord’s words and all the decisions. All the people answered together, “We are willing to do all the words that the Lord has said,” 4 and Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Early in the morning he built an altar at the foot of the mountain and arranged twelve standing stones – according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 He sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls for peace offerings to the Lord. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and half of the blood he splashed on the altar. 7 He took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people, and they said, “We are willing to do and obey all that the Lord has spoken.” 8 So Moses took the blood and splashed it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:3-8).

The point that our author if making is that the Mosaic Covenant was set in motion (inaugurated) by the sacrifice of animals and the sprinkling of their blood. To be more direct, the death of innocent animals was required to inaugurate the Old Covenant. Hebrews 9:19-21 does include a few additional details that are not found in Exodus 24, but these are consistent with Moses’ account and are probably just further clarification.9 What we are to glean from this reference to the inauguration of the Old Covenant is that even this covenant was commenced by the shedding and application of sacrificial blood. No wonder the New Covenant was inaugurated by the blood which our Lord Jesus shed for the redemption of lost sinners.

From these specific examples, the author reaches a general conclusion: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22b). Under the Old Covenant, sins were reckoned with (temporarily) by the shedding of the blood of sacrificial animals.10 Our Lord’s death is entirely consistent with God’s way of dealing with sin. The shedding of sacrificial blood may offend the sensibilities of some, but this was the way God had appointed to reckon with man’s sin. If we are appalled by the severity of God’s solution for sin, then surely we must begin to understand how appalled God is by our sin. We dare not take sin – or its consequences – lightly.

The Death of Christ and the New Covenant
Hebrews 9:23-28

23 So it was necessary for the sketches of the things in heaven to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves required better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands – the representation of the true sanctuary – but into heaven itself, and he appears now in God’s presence for us. 25 And he did not enter to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the sanctuary year after year with blood that is not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the consummation of the ages to put away sin by his sacrifice. 27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 28 so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation (Hebrews 9:15-28).

In the preceding verses, we have just seen that the people and things associated with the Old Covenant needed to be ceremonially purified by animal blood for the implementation and ongoing ministry of the Mosaic Covenant. Now the author reminds us that these things which needed purification were “sketches of the things in heaven.” The author reasons that since these earthly “sketches” needed purification, then the heavenly realities needed purification as well, but it must be accomplished by means of “better sacrifices” – better than the blood of sacrificial animals. That “better sacrifice” is the once-for-all offering of the blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

In verses 23-28, the author contrasts the better ministry of our Lord under the New Covenant with that of the priests who served under the Old Covenant. He has already set the stage by speaking of the earthly prototypes as “sketches” of heavenly realities, which must be purified by better sacrifices (verse 23). Our Lord has a superior place of ministry, seated at the right hand of the Father,11 where He now appears “for us” (verse 24). He does not need to repeatedly offer Himself as a sacrifice, as did the priests. His sacrifice was that of His own blood, and thus His one offering was sufficient once for all (verses 25-26).

Actually, our Lord will appear on earth again, but it will not be to repeat what He has already accomplished, once for all:

27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 28 so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28).

Since the Lord Jesus offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins, thus dying in our12 place, He cannot die again. It is appointed for men to die but once (verse 27), and our Lord is no exception. But there is a great difference between the one-time death of Jesus and the one-time death of man. Although Christ died to bear the sins of many He will appear again, but this time it will not be to repeat His sacrifice; it will be to bring salvation to those who eagerly await His return (verse 28).

Back to Hebrews 9:23 for a Moment

Having briefly traced the flow of the argument to verse 28, let us return momentarily to verse 23:

So it was necessary for the sketches of the things in heaven to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves required better sacrifices than these (Hebrews 9:23)

It is easy to see why the earthly copies of heavenly things needed to be cleansed. It is not so easy to understand why the heavenly realities needed to be cleansed. Several explanations have been offered:

The heavens need to be cleansed because Satan has been there (see Job 1 and 2; Revelation 12:10).

Cleansing is necessary because the fallen angels were there (Ephesians 6:12).

Cleansing is required of the saints, who will ultimately be there in the presence of God.

The first two options just don’t satisfy many students of Scripture, and they don’t really satisfy me, either. For one thing, the cleansing to which the author refers seems to refer more to those things that pertain to the New Covenant and to the ongoing high priestly ministry of our Lord. For another, the cleansing of which our author speaks is viewed as something accomplished in the past – at Calvary – rather than as something future. If I read the Scriptures correctly, Satan and his fallen angels are still in heaven and are yet to be cast down.13

The third option seems to be the most popular among the commentators that I consulted. As much as I respect these men, I just can’t see how this explanation fits our text. Let me mention several problems I have with this view. First, it seems clear to me that our author is speaking about the cleansing of a place and of heavenly things more than he is of people. Second, from 1 Corinthians 15:50-55, we know that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (15:50). As Paul goes on to explain (and as we see in 1 Thessalonians 4), we will leave these corrupted bodies behind and will enter heaven in new, transformed, bodies. So why do these bodies need to be purified?

I would be inclined to suggest a fourth explanation for the purification of the heavenly things. I look at the purification of the tabernacle, its furnishings, the high priest, and the people as an initiation or inauguration. In just a few days, Barak Obama will be officially installed as the president of the United States by means of an inauguration ceremony. It is the beginning of a new regime, a new administration. Just as the Old Covenant was inaugurated by the sprinkling of blood, so too it was fitting for the New Covenant (and all its associated elements) to be inaugurated with blood as well. The shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross of Calvary was the inauguration of the New Covenant ministry of our Lord. It redeemed men from the penalty of their sins, but it did more. It commenced a whole new ministry in the heavenlies, at the right hand of God, and blood shedding was an essential requirement for its inauguration.

Conclusion

We are at the heart and soul of the Book of Hebrews, and we dare not miss the message that is here for each of us. Let me suggest a few of the lessons which our text has for us.

1.Death and judgment are certainties, but so is the offer of forgiveness and eternal salvation. We cannot, we dare not, miss the warning in verse 27. But neither should we miss the blessed offer of Salvation that is also found in verse 28.

27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 28 so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28).

The warning is straightforward: it is appointed for mankind to die once, and then comes judgment. With a few exceptions, every human being has, or will, experience physical death.14 Everyone (except the Lord Jesus) is born spiritually dead, due to the sin of their original parents, Adam and Eve,15 and as a consequence of their own sins, for “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Death and judgment are not subject to our will, but are the outworking of divine appointment. It is appointed for men to die once, and then the judgment.

The words of verse 28 are God’s truth, plainly exposing Satan’s lie, which we first see in Genesis 3:

1 Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard; 3 but concerning the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard God said, ‘You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “Surely you will not die, 5 for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil” (Genesis 3:1-5, emphasis mine).

Knowing that Satan “is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44), we would expect him to refute God’s Word and to assure sinners that they need not fear the consequences of sin, which are death and judgment – the very things our text in Hebrews speaks about.

If God’s word is true, and it surely is, then any belief system which denies the certainty of death and judgment is a lie. Our text rules out the possibility of reincarnation and its promise of another chance after death. It also prohibits us from assuming that once one dies, all is over. Because of the resurrection of our Lord, all men will be resurrected to live forever; some will live in everlasting bliss,16 while others will live in eternal torment.17

The good news of the gospel is this: While death is a curse, the consequence of sin, it is also the cure for sin. How tragic it would have been for Adam and Eve (or anyone else) to live forever as condemned sinners, separated from fellowship with God. That is why God banned them from the garden and from eating of the tree of life.18 Death requires the setting aside of our fleshly bodies, but for the Christian, this means the putting on of a new, resurrection body.19 When the Lord Jesus tasted death at Calvary, He bore the penalty for sin, and when He rose from the dead, He rose to newness of life. All those who trust in Jesus for salvation are identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, and thus they, too, have died to sin and have risen to newness of life.20

Those who reject the good news of the gospel and the atonement Jesus accomplished at Calvary have everything to fear. But those who acknowledge their sin and trust in Jesus for salvation have no need to fear. Thus, men need not fear death if they have trusted in Jesus. This is what our author has already indicated in chapter 2:

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Which brings us full circle to the topic of our introduction – looking good when you die. Our text instructs us that death, while a curse for sin, is also the cure for sin. But it is only the death of Jesus Christ for lost sinners that saves. His death made atonement for sin once for all. Thus, it is vastly superior to the blood of sacrificial animals. His death cleansed the heavenly sanctuary and inaugurated the New Covenant. His death not only cleanses sinners, but it cleanses their consciences from dead works, so that they will boldly draw near to God. It is not wrong to look good in your casket, but the only way that you will “look good” to God is by means of the shed blood of His Son. His shed blood cleanses us of all our sins, and He makes us righteous before God. He is at work in His chosen saints to purify and prepare us for eternity in His presence. And even now we may draw near because the Lord Jesus is our Great High Priest who has taken on our humanity, and also our sins. He is a sympathetic High Priest to whom we can draw near for help in our times of need. To reject Christ and His sacrifice and to return to Judaism and the Old Covenant is to return to a bankrupt system. Christ is our only hope, and the best “bailout” anyone could ever hope for. Have you trusted in Jesus for your eternal future, starting now and continuing after death?

2. The value of blood. Our text and its emphasis on the shedding of blood reminds us of the value of blood in God’s eyes. It also reminds me of these words of Peter (who so strongly resisted the shedding of our Lord’s blood at Calvary):

13 Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance, 15 but, like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, 16 for it is written, ”You shall be holy, because I am holy.” 17 And if you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one’s work, live out the time of your temporary residence here in reverence. 18 You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors you were ransomed - not by perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you now trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:13-21, emphasis by underscoring mine).

I have pondered just what the attraction of Old Covenant worship was to Hebrew Christians, tempting them to turn from Christ and back to the old worship. I think that some of it may have been the beautiful liturgy involved. Think of the beauty and splendor of the tabernacle, of the priestly garments, and the like. I wonder if some of the attraction was not the gold that was so skillfully fashioned into the tabernacle furnishings. What could be more valuable than gold? Peter tells us: blood, the shed blood of Jesus. Nothing is more precious than it. Only His shed blood can forgive our sins and give us the assurance of eternal life. Only His shed blood enables us to draw near to God.

The Old Covenant and its worship was bloody, and so is the worship of the New Covenant. Blood is precious. One might even say that there is nothing more precious than blood (life). So when man’s sin necessitated the wholesale shedding of animal blood, we are given a clue as to how much our sin offends a holy and righteous God. New Covenant worship does not have all the fancy dwellings like the tabernacle or the temple, and it does not require the use of much gold. (Indeed, gold becomes of so little eternal value that it is used to pave the streets of heaven. It is heavenly asphalt.) There is no elegant liturgy required for worship in the New Testament. Indeed, all that is needed is a little bread (representing our Lord’s sinless body, taken on at His incarnation) and a little wine (representing His precious blood). No wonder, then, that God takes it so seriously when these elements are taken in a drunken and disorderly way (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, especially verses 27-30). And no wonder that God is so offended when we reject or disregard the shed blood of Jesus:

26 For if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us, 27 but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a furyof fire that will consume God’s enemies. 28 Someone who rejected the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much greater punishment do you think that person deserves who has contempt for the Son of God, and profanes the blood of the covenant that made him holy, and insults the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31).

Think, too, of the offense of those who dare to suppose that God will accept whatever means by which men seek His approval. If God purposed to provide salvation through the shed blood of His Son – something infinitely precious to Him – then how would you expect Him to respond to those who seek His approval and favor by law-keeping and their best efforts to please Him? Nothing is more offensive to God than for men to seek His favor apart from the shed blood of Jesus.

As the words of the hymn inform us: “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Have you received the payment Christ has already made for sin? Do you value His shed blood above all else? Do you joyfully celebrate His sacrifice for your sins often by observing communion? Our text should help us to get our values straight and to live accordingly.


1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org

Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 21 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on December 14, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

2 Diane Mapes, “Final touch: A cosmetic lift for your funeral?” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28114566/

3 According to my concordance program, “blood” (with some variations) occurs over 450 times in the entire Bible. It occurs 167 times in the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible), 93 of which are in Leviticus. It occurs 23 times in the Book of Hebrews.

4 See John 1:1-18; Hebrews 1:1-4.

5 See 1 John 1:1-4.

6 See, for example, Psalm 2.

7 I am thinking of texts such as Matthew 3:1-12, where John warned the Israelites that when Messiah came He would baptize sinners with the fire of His judgment. He was right, of course, but this was what would happen at our Lord’s second coming. John’s words in John 1:29, 36 can now be understood as referring to Messiah’s sacrificial death, but neither John nor anyone else fully grasped what our Lord’s first coming was about.

8 Scholars differ as to whether this word should be rendered “will” or “covenant” (the KJV and NKJV render it “testament”). Elsewhere in Hebrews, the rendering is “covenant” or “testament.” But this word has a two-fold meaning, and it seems to me that the author is using it in the sense of a will here.

9 The fact that a later account would include additional details is not limited to our text. Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 also provides additional details to some Old Testament accounts. These details prove helpful to our understanding of the Old Testament events being discussed.

10 There were a very few exceptional cases in which blood was not shed, such as the offerings that were acceptable from those who were very poor (see Leviticus 5:11-13).

11 See Hebrews 1:3; 4:14-16; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2, 22-24.

12 This is not universalism. The “our” refers to those who have been called (verse 15) and who have believed in Christ for salvation.

13 See Revelation 12:7-12.

14 We cannot overlook men like Enoch in Genesis 5:24, and perhaps Elijah in 1 Kings 2, who seemed to be supernaturally transported into heaven. And then there will be those who are alive at the second coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Then, of course, there are those very unique instances of men who are raised from the dead, men like Lazarus (see John 11). Eventually, Lazarus died “once for all.” But other than these “exceptions,” all will die physically.

15 See Romans 5:12-21; see also 1 Corinthians 15:21-22.

16 See 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 21-22; see also Luke 16:19-31.

17 See 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10; Revelation 20:11-15.

18 Genesis 4:22-23.

19 See 1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.


Related Topics: Atonement