The High Priest: Christ In The Sanctuary
The Tabernacle stood in its simplistic beauty, a pillar of smoke resting upon it by day and a pillar of fire by night, symbolizing the presence of God. So significant is the small building that thirty-seven chapters are used in the Bible to reveal its structure and service. On seven occasions the Tabernacle is described as being made according to the heavenly pattern. When reference is made to the heavenly sanctuary and its worship, the writer does not speak of Solomon’s or Herod’s Temple, but takes us back to the Tabernacle. For it is the Tabernacle, with its sacrifice and service, which originally typified the Lord’s ministry in Heaven. Yet, it was only a shadow of the real sanctuary in Heaven. The writer now ascends the heights of Heaven, taking us out of the shadows, to reveal in great detail the superior ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary.
The Hebrew Sanctuary
The Sanctuary (vv. 1-5)
The first (Mosaic) covenant possessed laws governing the “. . . divine service, and an earthly sanctuary” (v. 1) used by the priest to intercede on behalf of the people. The sanctuary consisted of two rooms; “the first [holy place], in which was the lampstand, and the table, and the showbread. . . ” (v. 2). The “golden censer” (golden altar) [v. 4] is depicted as placed in the holy of holies, but it was actually in the holy place. The writer is referring to the ritual use of the altar in which the high priest took the golden censer, filled with burning incense, into the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:12-13).
The second section of the sanctuary was called the “Holiest of all” (holy of holies) with a huge “second veil” (v. 3) covering its entrance. The holy of holies contained only the “. . . ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, in which was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant” (v. 4). On the lid of the ark (mercy seat) stood two pure gold “cherubim” (v. 5) facing each other, but looking down toward the mercy seat with their wings touching as they stretched out over its top. After describing the Tabernacle and its furnishings, why did the writer pass over their fulfillment in Christ? Since the Tabernacle was only a type and shadow of Christ’s earthly ministry, already completed, he now focuses on Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary.
The Sanctuary Service (vv. 6-10)
The priest ministered in the “first tabernacle” (holy place) [v. 6] daily. It was his duty to trim and light the golden lampstand, partake of and change the showbread, and burn sweet incense, morning and evening, on the golden altar of incense – representing the prayers of Israel unto God.
The high priest only entered the “second” tabernacle (holy of holies) “. . . once every year, not without blood . . .” (v. 7). This was on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), which took place on the tenth of Tishri (September-October). The high priest, divested of his royal dress and clothed in white linen (Lev. 16:4), would part the huge veil and enter into the holy of holies to offer blood “. . . for himself, and for the errors [sins of ignorance] of the people” (v. 7). It was necessary that he enter to offer the blood, for “. . . without shedding of blood is no remission” (v. 22; Lev. 17:11) of sin. This was a day of judgment, or a day of life. Judgment, for if the Lord did not accept the blood atonement, the high priest would die in the holy of holies and the people would not have their sins covered. Life, for if the high priest emerged alive, God had accepted the blood atonement for sin.
The Tabernacle, with all its regulations, had been given by direct revelation from God. Yet, it was only a “. . . figure [lit. parable] for the time then present. . .” (v. 9). A parable is an earthly story used to illustrate or teach a spiritual truth. The ordered service of the Tabernacle, mediated through the Levitical priesthood, was used as an object lesson in which the “Holy Spirit” (v. 8) would teach the true realities of God to Israel.
First, the Spirit taught “. . . that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while the first tabernacle was yet standing (v. 8). In other words, the way into the holy of holies was not disclosed until the inner veil between the two rooms was rent at Christ’s crucifixion. At that time all men had access through Christ into God’s presence. Opening the holy of holies was a lesson for the Levitical priesthood that their ministry had been dissolved.
Second, the Spirit taught that the Israelite could not be made “perfect” (brought into a right relationship with God) by means of the “gifts and sacrifices” (v. 9) he offered up. The sacrifices were powerless to take away sin, thus the worshiper experienced no peace, but felt a “conscience” (v. 9) full of guilt.
Third, the Spirit taught that such ordinances as “foods and drinks, and various washings” were “carnal” (fleshly) [v. 10]. The word “carnal” does not mean “sinful”, but that such sacrificial and ceremonial regulations were impotent in their ability to bring the Israelite into a right standing before God.
Some might question, then what was the purpose of the system in the first place? The system was imposed upon Israel “. . . until the time of reformation” (lit. setting things right, a complete rectification) [v. 10]. The Tabernacle and its service were a shadow, figure and parable pointing to a new and better program that God would establish through the ministry of Christ. The day of rectification came when the veil was rent so that man could come directly to God through the blood of Christ. This is what God had designed under the first covenant (Gal. 3:23-24).
The Heavenly Sanctuary
With the words, “But Christ being come an high priest. . . ” (v. 11 ), the writer presents a contrast between the two ministries: the old under the Mosaic covenant, and the new under Christ. Now, the focus is on His heavenly ministry as “. . . high priest of good things to come . . .” (v. 11), in which the law was only a shadowy outline (10:1). A number of good things which Christ provided for the believer are enumerated.
Christ is in a better sanctuary. His ministry is in a “. . . greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands . . . not of this building” (creation) [v. 11 ]. He did not enter into a physical sanctuary made of earthly materials visible to the eye, but into Heaven itself to dwell at the right hand of God. He is minister of the “. . . true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man” (8:2).
Christ is a better sacrifice. He entered the holy place, the heavenly sanctuary not “. . . by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood. . .” (v. 12). The question arises, did Christ present His blood in Heaven? The text does not say He entered in “with” His blood but “by” His blood, by virtue of His atoning work at the time of His death. He entered into the heavenly sanctuary not with literal blood, but with the “blood-right” atoning for man’s sin. Unlike the Levitical high priest who entered each year to offer blood, Christ entered “once”, and there to remain as the believer’s Advocate.
Christ’s sacrifice is better in sufficiency. His sacrifice was sufficient to obtain “eternal redemption” (v. 12). The words “for us” are in italics indicating that they were added by the translator for clarity. The emphasis of the verse is not on “eternal redemption for us”, but His entering in once and for all to secure eternal redemption. Redemption is made available to all but is only effectual to those who receive Christ.
Christ’s sacrifice secures a better sanctification. The priest who touched a dead body or tomb was considered ceremonially unclean and could not enter into the Tabernacle for service. The word “unclean” refers to being “unhallowed or profane”, thus not fit for service. He could only be brought back into fellowship through “. . . the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean. . . ” (v. 13; cp. Lev. 16:3, 14-15; Num. 19:9-17). The blood of animals could only sanctify to the “purifying of the flesh” (v. 13) which restored one to external purity making him fit to serve.
The phrase, “How much more shall the blood of Christ” (v. 14), shows the superiority of Christ’s service over that of animal blood in a number of ways:
- If the blood of animals provided external sanctification, “how much more shall the blood of Christ” provide internal cleansing from sin’s defilement?
- If the blood of insensible and involuntary animals could cleanse the flesh from defilement, “how much more shall . . . Christ, who through the eternal Spirit” voluntarily shedding His blood, cleanse from sin’s defilement?
- If the beast, without merit, although considered perfect in body, could provide external cleansing, how much more could Christ who “offered himself without spot to God” cleanse from sin?
- If the blood of animals purged the Israelite from ceremonial defilement, how much more did Christ’s blood “purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” No matter how meticulously the Levitical priest performed his service, he always felt the sense of guilt and defilement weighing upon his conscience, but in Christ the believer is liberated to experience perfect peace.
Christ’s sacrifice has a better scope. Through His blood, Christ becomes mediator of the new covenant securing an “eternal inheritance” (v. 15) for all believers. The scope of His mediatorship reaches back to include all the “called” (v. 15) ones under the first covenant as well as those who believe in the future. The inheritance bequeathed can be acquired only upon the death of the bequeather (v. 16). Thus the new covenant can only legally take effect upon the death of Christ (v. 17).
To prove the necessity of a blood atonement, the writer illustrates that even the first covenant did not become effective until Moses read it before the people, who agreed to keep its precepts (Ex. 24:7). Then Moses sprinkled the covenant, people,Tabernacle and vessels of ministry with blood and water (vv. 18-21). There are no exceptions when it comes to the necessity of cleansing mankind through a blood atonement, for “. . . without shedding of blood is no remission” (v. 22). God takes the sin question seriously – no shed blood, no remission of sin!
The Heavenly Service
The mediatorial ministry of Christ’s high priesthood reaches its culmination in connection with the heavenly holy of holies. The earthly Tabernacle had to be “purified with these” (animal sacrifices) [v. 23] because of the defiling presence of the high priest (Lev. 16:6). In the same manner the heavenly sanctuary must be cleansed with better sacrifices (v. 23) – Christ’s sacrifice.
Why must the “heavenly things”, which are perfect, be purified? Scripture gives a number of reasons. First, the blood does not remove defilement from the sanctuary, but prepares the sanctuary so sinful man can serve there without it becoming defiled. Second, Satan had access to Heaven (Job 1:6; Rev. 12:9-10), thus it had to be purified because of his presence. Third, the record of the unsaved is recorded in books kept in Heaven (Rev. 20:12). Heaven must be cleansed of all things that speak of sin.
Christ’s mediatorial ministry accrues a number of benefits to the believer which are expressed and contrasted with those of the Levitical priesthood. The three appearances mentioned in these verses correspond to that of the high priest on the Day of Atonement.
Christ’s Past Appearance (vv. 25-27)
The word ‘”appeared” (Gr. phanerao) [v. 26] means “has been manifested” referring to His manifestation on earth for the purpose of putting away sin. The Levitical high priest “. . . entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others” (not his own) [v. 25] to make atonement. It was necessary for the Levitical priest to repeat his yearly offering of blood, but not so with Christ. Christ entered into the heavenly sanctuary once, not offering “himself often, as the high priest” (v. 25). Why? “For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world. . . ” (v. 26). Since, from the time of Adam, blood was required to atone for sin, Christ would have been obligated to repeatedly offer Himself as a suffering sacrifice to atone for sin in each generation. This would have been impossible! “But now once [once for all], in the end [consummation] of the ages, hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (v. 26). Christ came to earth as a sacrifice for sin when the past ages had reached their goal in God’s program (Gal. 4:4-5).
Another comparison, the death of mankind, is presented to show that Christ’s offering of Himself cannot be repeated: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment, So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many. . .” (vv. 27-28). The thrust of this passage is the once offering of Christ for sin. If man is required to die only once and judgment will follow because of sin, then Christ is only required to die once, in a non- repeatable act, to atone for man’s sin (cp. Rom. 5:12-21).
From the comparison springs this sobering thought: Death places the individual into either Heaven or hell. Those who are lost have only the Great White Throne Judgment awaiting them (Rev. 20:11-15).
Christ’s Present Appearance (v. 24)
The Levitical high priest entered “into the holy places made with hands” (v. 24), which were only “figures” (corresponding copies) of the “true” sanctuary in Heaven, in order to represent Israel before God on the Day of Atonement. Christ entered “into heaven itself” (before God’s throne), to function as the believer’s High Priest. The phrase, “now to appear in the presence of God for us” (v. 24), is full of meaning. “Now”, from this point on, Christ is the believer’s High Priest in the heavenly holy of holies. The word “appear” (Gr. prosopo) means “to be manifested” and speaks of Christ presenting Himself as the believer’s representative before the Father, having finished His earthly ministry. Christ is “in the presence of God”, literally “face to face”, with nothing obscuring or intervening between Him and the Father. He is manifested face to face before God “for us”. When Christ was accepted into fellowship with God the Father, all believers were included as well – a concept hard for the finite mind to grasp.
Christ’s Promised Appearance (v. 28)
On the Day of Atonement Aaron disappeared behind the veil to offer blood on the mercy seat as an atonement for sin. In the meantime, Israel waited, looking expectantly for his return from the holy of holies to bless them. Those who have accepted Jesus Christ “look” (await expectantly) [v. 28] for His return and blessing. Their expectation is not for naught since He shall “appear the second time”. The third word “appear” (Gr. optomai) means “to see” and has the idea of Christ revealing Himself to the world at the second coming. Thus will be fulfilled the promise made to His disciples in Acts 1:11. Christ’s second coming will be “without sin [apart from sin] unto salvation” (v. 28). At His first coming, Christ put away or settled the sin question by the sacrifice of Himself once for all. When He returns the second time, Christ will bring to completion the salvation of those believers alive on the earth; the whole of creation awaits this deliverance (Rom. 8:10-25).
The believer looks with expectant joy for the Lord’s return. Soon He will step out of the heavenly sanctuary and call His Church home to glory. Those who have part in the first resurrection will return as priests of God and Christ to reign with Him for a thousand years on earth (Rev. 20:6). John W. Peterson sums up the believer’s hope when he writes:
Coming again, Coming again;
May be morning, may be noon,
May be evening and may be soon!
Coming again, Coming again;
O what a wonderful day it will be –
Jesus is coming again!