Commentary on Hebrews 9:11-14
First of all, read Hebrews 9:1-10 for yourself and include these verses as part of your exposition of the Hebrews 9:11-14 text for this week.
The description of the Ark of the Covenant is something that most people don’t have a clue about as to its significance, what was contained in the ark, and the ritual associated with the ark. This background is critical to understanding the new “lid of the ark” or “mercy seat” present in Jesus.
Background reading on the tent shrines of the wilderness years is found in Exodus 25:1-26:37. The first tent was the Holy Place which included the lamp stand, the table, and the bread of the Presence (Leviticus 24:5-9). With the destruction of the First Temple in 587 BCE the items of the second tent behind the Holy Place, the Holy of Holies, were lost. Here was the altar of incense and the Ark of the Covenant “overlaid on all sides with gold” (9:4). The lid is called the “mercy seat” or “place of atonement” upon which the high priest sprinkled blood once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) “for himself and for the sins committed unintentionally by the people” (9:7). Overshadowing the mercy seat were “the cherubim of glory” (9:5).
Paul makes the connection of the “lid of the ark/mercy seat” to Christ, “whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement (Greek: hilasterion) by his blood, effective through faith” (Romans 3:25). Paul continues to show that God’s righteousness/justification (Greek: dikaiosuna) in Jesus Christ proves “at the present time that he himself (God) is righteous/just and that he makes right/justifies the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
The author of Hebrews continues to show in our text (9:11-14) that “Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come.” The previous tents of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies are now a “perfect tent” in Jesus Christ. This is a tent “not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” (9:11). The connection to the Ark of the Covenant and sacrifice of atonement is unique in the New Testament and draws us into the rich history of the “first covenant” now brought to perfection in Jesus Christ.
The perfection in Christ is now spelled out: “He entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Greek: lutrosis) (9:12). The goat was used for the people’s sacrifice, and the calf was used for the sacrifice for the high priest and his house (Leviticus 16:5-11). Once again we have a connection to Paul in the same section in Romans: “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption (Greek: lutrosis) that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-23). Christ’s act of atonement (Greek: hilasterion) on the cross secures an eternal redemption. Christ has entered into the perfect heavenly sanctuary after he provided an eternal redemption, thus securing our eternal redemption by his blood/death on the cross.
The analogy to the first covenant sacrificial system has provided a remarkable way in which the author of Hebrews has drawn us into the history and meaning of the way in which the first covenant attempted to bring the gift of redemption to the people. It was not a perfect system, but it foreshadows the perfect redemption of the blood of the cross in Jesus’ redeeming and atoning death.
Our text now brings us to a resounding conclusion: “For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God” (9:13-14). This is only one sentence!
What is present in these words stands through all eternity! The imperfection of previous sacrifices is past. There is no more meaning to all things previous. They have had their place in the history of God’s salvation for the people, but now all things are new. The blood of Christ is the complete sacrifice. In Christ Jesus redemption is accomplished.
Jesus’ final word from the cross in the gospel of John is the word of fulfillment: “It is completed” (John 19:30). The verb (Greek: tetelestai) is in the perfect passive tense. This Greek tense signifies that Christ’s redemption has been made for all times. It is completed/accomplished/finished in the past and it remains completed/accomplished/finished into the eons of eons.
The evangelist of the fourth gospel and the author of Hebrews have brought us to the final word of Jesus from the cross. The truth for all time has been spoken. This is the word of life in the midst of death. This is the word of proclamation on this Twenty–second Sunday after Pentecost.
Our text from Hebrews is also the word for All Saints Day. In the gospel text assigned with this text from Mark 12:28-34, we hear the confession of the scribe who proclaims the truth of our Hebrews text. Jesus had taught him the truth of the first and second commandment, and he responds: “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he (God) is one, and beside him there is no other; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’–this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:32-33).
Jesus commends the scribe for answering wisely: “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). This unknown scribe bears witness to the truth that it is not through the blood of animals or the sprinkling of ashes by burning a red heifer that there is ceremonial sacrifice for sinful and defiled persons (9:13-14). Only through the perfect sacrifice of Christ is God’s work of salvation brought to perfection or completion: “It is completed/accomplished/finished” (John 19:30). This is the word from the cross for all the saints in Christ Jesus for all eternity. Amen.