A Better Covenant Based on a Better Sanctuary

Text: Hebrews 9:1-11

In Hebrews 8:5, the writer mentioned that the priests serve in a tabernacle that was a shadow of heavenly things. He returns to that subject in chapter 9, discussing the details of the tabernacle and the worship offered. It is discussed in the past tense because the Old Covenant had passed away with the death of Jesus on the cross (Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 2:13-17).

Under the Old Covenant, the tabernacle was a physical sanctuary divided into two chambers. The first chamber was called the Holy Place and it contained the lampstand and the table of showbread (Exodus 26:35). The second chamber, the Holy of Holies, was separated from the Holy Place by a veil, which had the altar of incense before the veil (Leviticus 16:12) and the ark of the covenant behind the veil (Exodus 26:33). Within the ark were the tablets of stone on which were written the ten commandments (Exodus 25:16), Aaron’s rod which had budded (Numbers 17:10), and a jar of manna (Exodus 16:33). The ark’s top formed the mercy set with two cherubim, whose wings overshadowed the mercy seat.

Twice a day the priests would trim the wicks on the lampstand and replenish the oil it burned (Leviticus 24:3-4). At the same time, incense was offered to the Lord on the altar of incense (Exodus 30:7-8). The bread on the table was replaced every Sabbath (Leviticus 24:5-8).

Once a year, on the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:29-34), the high priest would enter the veil (Leviticus 16:2) after he had:

  • Washed and changed his clothing (Leviticus 16:4)
  • Made an offering for himself and his family (Leviticus 16:11)
  • Offered up incense (Leviticus 16:12-13)
  • Sprinkled blood on the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:14)
  • Made an offering for the people’s sins and sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:15)

No one else was allowed in until the high priest left the tent (Leviticus 16:17).

All of these things were symbolic of things in the Christian age. But it also represented that the way to heaven was not yet open while the tabernacle stood. In fact, these items and rituals were unable to give the worshiper a perfect conscience.

The ordinances were given as a temporary measure until the time of reformation. This is a reference to the change in law brought in by Jesus’ death on the cross. The worship in the New Testament places emphasis on the spiritual instead of the physical (John 4:24). Thus, we see the acts of worship today emphasizing the heart (Ephesians 5:19; I Corinthians 11:23-29).

In contrast, Jesus came as the High Priest of “good things to come.” By this, the writer seems to be referring to the salvation of mankind (Hebrews 10:1). Jesus came into this world prior to salvation being offered to all of mankind. He then entered heaven after his death to be in the presence of God, the Father. Thus, the Old Testament tabernacle symbolized heaven with the Holy of Holies and Christ did not enter the symbol, but the actual place as our High Priest.

For discussion:

  1. What did the table of showbread represent?
  2. What did the lampstand represent (Revelation 1:20)? Why was it important that the lights never went out (Matthew 5:14-16)?
  3. What did the altar of incense represent (Psalms 141:2; Revelations 8:3-4)?
  4. What did the tabernacle represent?
  5. What did the Holy Place and Most Holy Place represent (Hebrews 9:11-12; Matthew 27:51)?
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