An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
In Hebrews 8:6 the apostle had affirmed, "He is the Mediator of a better covenant." Such a declaration would raise a number of important issues which are here anticipated and settled. Who is the High Priest of the new covenant? What is the tabernacle wherein He administered His office? What are the particular services He performed, answering to those which God appointed unto Aaron and His successors? Wherein do the services of the new High Priest excel those of the Levitical? These were pressing questions, and it was necessary for them to be Divinely answered, not only for the silencing of objectors, but that the faith of believing Jews might be established. Thus, in Hebrews 9:11, 12 we have the actual ministry of Christ declared, in verses 13,14 the proofs that it was "more excellent."
The 9th chapter of Hebrews contains a particular exemplification of this general proposition: Christ is the substance of the Levitical shadows. The general proposition was stated in Hebrews 8:1, 2: Christians have an High Priest who is a Minister of the true tabernacle. Here in chapter 9 confirmation is given of what was pointed out at the close of chapter 8, namely, that Christ’s bringing in of the new covenant did abrogate the old. In exemplifying this fact mention is made in Hebrews 9:1-10 of sundry shadows of the law, in verse 11 and onwards it is shown that the antitypical accomplishment of them was in and by Jesus Christ. The contents of verses 1-10 may be reduced to two heads: ordinances of Divine service, and a worldly sanctuary in which they were observed. In verses 11-28 the Spirit magnifies the excellency of Christ’s priesthood by showing that He brought in what the Aaronic rites were unable to secure (condensed from W. Gouge, 1650).
The contents of these verses which are now to be before us set forth the ministry of Christ as "the Mediator of the new covenant." They describe His initial work as the High Priest of His people. They set forth the inestimable value of His sacrifice, and what it procured. They magnify His precious blood and the character of that redemption which was purchased thereby. Each verse calls for a separate article, and every clause in them demands our closest and most reverent attention. May the Spirit of God deign to open unto us something of their blessed contents, and apply them in power to our hearts. We purposely cut down our introductory comments that more space may be reserved for the exposition.
"But Christ being come an high priest of goods 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" (verses 11, 12). "These words naturally call attention to two things: The official character with which our Lord is invested, and the ministry which He has performed in that official character. His official character: He is ‘come an high priest of good things to come.’ His ministry in that official character: ‘He has obtained eternal redemption for His people,’" (John Brown).
"But Christ being come an High Priest." The opening word emphasizes a contrast: the legal high priest "could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience" (verse 9): "But Christ"—could. The title here given the Savior deserves particular notice. He is referred to in a considerable variety of ways in this epistle, and many different designations are there accorded Him. Each one is used with fine discrimination, and the reader loses much by failing to distinguish the force of "Jesus," "Christ," "Jesus Christ," "our Lord," "The Son," etc. Here (and also in Hebrews 3:6, 14; 5:5; 6:1; 9:14, 24, 28; 11:26) it is "Christ," the Messiah (John 1:41), His official designation, a term that means "The Anointed," see Psalm 2:2 and cf. Acts 4:26. Great emphasis is placed by the Holy Spirit upon this title: "the Christ" (John 20:31), "that Christ" (John 6:69), "very Christ" (Acts 9:22), "The Lord’s Christ" (Luke 2:26), "The Christ of God" (Luke 9:20).
"But Christ being come an High Priest." Under the name of the Messiah or Anointed One, He had been promised unto Israel for many centuries, and now the accomplishment had arrived. In a moment of doubt, His forerunner, in prison, sent unto Him asking, "Art Thou He that should come?" (Matthew 11:3). Upon the fulfillment of God’s promise that He would send the Messiah, give a perfect revelation of His will, and bring in "perfection," the faith of the Jewish church was built. And now God’s Word was verified, the true Light shone. The awaited One had come: "in the character in which He was promised, having done all that it was promised He should do" (John Brown). Therefore does the Holy Spirit here give the Redeemer His official, and distinctively Hebrew, title. "But Christ being come" no doubt looks back, especially to Psalm 40:7.
"But Christ being come an High Priest." True, He came also as Prophet (Deut. 18:15, 18), and as King (Matthew 2:2), but here the Holy Spirit especially emphasizes the sacerdotal office of Christ, because it was in the exercise of that He offered Himself as a sacrifice unto God. The words which we are now considering begin a new division of this Epistle, though it is intimately related to what has gone before. In Hebrews 9:11–10:22 the Holy Spirit sets before us the antitype of Leviticus 16, which records the work of Israel’s high priest on the annual day of atonement. There we behold Aaron officiating both outside the veil and within it. So the priestly functions of Christ fall into two great divisions, as they were performed on earth and as they are now continued in heaven. Before our great High Priest could enter the Holiest on high and there make intercession before God, He had first to make an atonement for the sins of those He represented, which was accomplished in His state of abjection here below, being consummated by His offering Himself a sacrifice unto God: 7:27, 8:3, 9:26.
A priest is one who officiates in the name of others, who approaches to God in order to make atonement for them by sacrifice. The design of his ministry is to render the Object of their worship propitious, to avert His wrath from men, to procure their restoration to His favor: see Leviticus 16. Thus, the work of the priest is mediatory. Since the fact of sin is a cardinal one in the case of man, the function of a mediating priest for man must be mainly expiatory and reconciling: Hebrews 8:3. It should serve as a most solemn warning unto all today that, while the Jews believed their Messiah would be both a prophet and king, they had no expectation of His also being priest, who should redeem sinners unto God. One who should go forth in the terror of His power, subjugating the nations and restoring the kingdom to Israel, appealed to their carnality; but for One to minister at the altar, employ His interest with God on behalf of transgressors, draw near to the Divine Majesty in their name, and mediate peace between them and an offended Creator, seems to have had no place in their thoughts. Hence it is that the priesthood of Christ is given such a prominent place in this epistle to the Hebrews.
"But Christ being come an High Priest." As to the time of His investiture with this office, it was clearly co-incident to the general office of Mediator. At the same moment that God appointed His Son "Mediator," He was constituted the Prophet, the Priest, and the Potentate of His Church. Prospectively, that took place in the eternal councils of the blessed Trinity, when in the "everlasting covenant" the Father appointed the Son and the Son agreed to be the Mediator between Him and His people. Historically, the Son became the Mediator at the moment of His incarnation: there is "one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5); as soon as He was born, He was hailed as "Christ, the Lord" (Luke 2:11). Formally, He was officially consecrated to this office at His baptism, when He was "anointed (Christed) with the Holy Spirit and with power" (Acts 10:38).
"But Christ being come an High Priest," and this according to the eternal oath of the Father, which "oath" was afterwards made known to the sons of men in time. This was before us when we considered Hebrews 7:20-25. It was "by the word of the oath" that the Son is consecrated to His priestly office (Heb. 7:28), the "oath" denoting God’s eternal purpose and unchanging decree. In Psalm 2:7 we read that God said, "I will declare the decree," and accordingly in Psalm 110:4 we are told, "The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek"—there it was openly published. That God’s "oath" preceded Christ’s entrance upon and discharge of His sacerdotal office is clear from Hebrews 7:20-25, otherwise the force of the apostle’s reasoning there would be completely overthrown.
"But Christ being come an High Priest," otherwise He could not have "offered" Himself a sacrifice to God. As we saw when pondering Hebrews 5:6,7, Christ was exercising His sacerdotal functions in "the days of His flesh," i.e., the time of His humiliation. So too it was as "a merciful and faithful High Priest" that Christ "made propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:17). The types foreshadowed the same thing, especially Leviticus 16. Aaron was not constituted a priest by entering the holy of holies; he was such before, or otherwise he could not have passed within the veil. Every passage which speaks of Christ’s one oblation or His "offering" Himself once are conclusive as His being a priest on earth, for that word "once" cannot possibly be understood of what He is now doing in heaven; it must refer to His death as an historical fact, completed and finished here below: it is in designed contrast from His continuous intercession which is based upon it. The priestly sacrifice which He offered is emphatically described as co-incident with His death: Hebrews 9:26. Any one of the common people could slay the sin-offering (Lev. 4:27-29), but none save the priest could offer it to God (Lev. 4:30)! Thus, every verse which speaks of Christ "offering" Himself to God emphasizes the priestly character of His sacrifice.
"An high priest of good things to come." The reference here is to that more excellent dispensation which the Messiah was to inaugurate. Old Testament prophecy had announced many blessings and privileges which He would bring in, and accordingly the Jews had looked forward to better things than they had enjoyed under the old economy. The apostle here announces that this time had actually arrived, that the promised blessings had been procured by the High Priest of Christianity. As the result of Christ’s advent, life and death, righteousness had been established, peace had been made, and a new and living way opened, which gave access to the very presence of God. Different far were these blessings from what the carnal Jews of Christ’s day desired. Of course the "good things to come" are not to be restricted to those blessings which God’s people already enjoy, but include as well those which yet await them. The "good things" are summed up in "grace and glory," and are in contrast from "the wrath to come" (Matthew 3:7).
"By a greater and more perfect tabernacle." This repeats what was said in Hebrews 8:2. The reference is to the human nature which the Son of God took unto Himself. "The Word became flesh and (Greek) tabernacled among us" (John 1:14). Christ officiated in a much more glorious habitation than any in which Aaron and his successors served. Most appropriately was the humanity of the Savior called a "tabernacle" for "in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9). Additional confirmation that the "greater and more perfect tabernacle" here referred to Christ’s body, is supplied by Hebrews 10:20, where the Holy Spirit again applies to Him the language of the Mosaic tabernacle and shows that in the Lord Jesus is found the antitype—"through the veil, that is to say His flesh."
"By a greater and more perfect tabernacle." There is both a comparison and a contrast between the tent which Moses pitched and the human habitat in which the Son of God abides: for the comparison we refer the reader to our comments upon Hebrews 8:2. The contrast is first pointed by the word "greater," the Antitype far surpassing the type both in dignity and worth. The humanity of Christ, in its conception, its framing, its gracious endowments by the Holy Spirit, and particularly because of its union to and subsistence in the divine person of the Son, was far more excellent and glorious than any earthly fabric could be. "The human nature of Christ doth thus more excel the old tabernacle, than the sun does the meanest star" (John Owen). Of old God declared, "I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir" (Isa. 13:12)—a prophecy which obviously had its fulfillment in the Man Christ Jesus.
"And more perfect tabernacle": this points the second contrast between the type and the Antitype. As the word "greater" refers to the superior dignity and excellency of the humanity of Christ over the materials which comprised the tabernacle of Moses, so the "more perfect" respects its sacred use. The body of Christ was "more perfectly fitted and suited unto the end of a tabernacle, both for the inhabitation of the divine nature, and the means of exercising the sacerdotal office in making atonement for sin, than the other was. So it is expressed in Hebrews 10:5, ‘Sacrifice and burnt-offering Thou wouldst not, but a body hast Thou prepared Me.’ This was that which God accepted, wherewith He was well pleased, when He rejected the other to that end" (John Owen). Probably the Holy Spirit has used this expression "more perfect" here because it was also through Christ’s service in this "tabernacle" that His people had been "perfected forever."
"Not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building." Further reference is here made to the humanity of Christ by a double negation: "Not made with hands" is set in opposition to the Jewish tabernacle, which was made by the hands of men (Ex. 36:1-8). The humanity of Christ was the product of Him that hath no hands, even God Himself. Thus the expression here is the same as "which the Lord pitched, and not man" in Hebrews 8:2. Then how much "greater" was the "more perfect Tabernacle"! The temple of Solomon was a most sumptuous and costly building, yet was it erected by human workmen, and therefore was it an act of infinite condescension for the great God to dwell therein: "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have builded?" (1 Kings 8:27). Reference to the supernatural humanity of Christ was made in Daniel 2:45: He was to be a "Stone," cut out of the same quarry with us, yet "without hands," i.e., without the help of nature, begotten by a man.
"That is to say, not of this building," words added to further define the preceding clause—the term rendered "building" is translated "creature" in Hebrews 4:13. The humanity of Christ belonged to a totally different order of things than ours: there is no parallel in the whole range of creation. "Although the substance of His human nature was of the same kind with ours, yet the production of it in the world, was such an act of Divine power, as excels all other Divine operations whatever. Wherefore, God speaking of it, saith ‘The Lord hath created a new thing in the earth, A woman shall compass a Man’ (Jer. 31:22) or conceive Him without natural generation" (John Owen). How blessed to see that God is so far from being confined to natural means for the effecting of His holy counsels, that He can, when He pleases, dispense with all the ordinary methods and "laws" by which He works, and act contrary to them.
"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" (verse 12). Having shown that in Christ’s person we have the antitype of the tabernacle, the apostle now proceeds to set forth that which was foreshadowed by the entrance of Israel’s high priest into the holy of holies on the day of atonement: this he does both negatively and positively, that the difference between the shadow and the substance might more evidently appear. The design of this verse is to display the pre-eminence of Christ in the discharge of His priestly office above the legal high priest. This is seen, first, in the excellency of His sacrifice, which was His own blood; second, in the holy place whereinto He entered by virtue of it, which was Heaven itself; third in the effect of it, in that by it He procured "eternal redemption."
"Neither by the blood of goats and calves": it was by means of these that Aaron entered the holy of holies on the day of atonement (Lev. 16:14,15)—the apostle here uses the plural number because of the annual repetition of the same sacrifice. In Leviticus 16, the "calf" or young bullock (of one year old) is mentioned first; perhaps the order is here reversed because the "goat" was specifically for the people, and it is Christ redeeming His people which is the dominant thought. It was by virtue of the blood of these animals that Aaron entered so as to be accepted with God. The reference here is not directly to what the high priest brought with him into the holiest—or the "incense" too had been mentioned—but to the title which the sacrifices gave him to approach unto the Holy One of Israel.
"But by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place." Here we are brought directly unto the great mystery of the priestly work of Christ, especially as to the sacrifice which He offered unto (God to make an atonement for the sins of His people. The "holy place"—called in Hebrews 9:8 "the Holiest of all"—signifying Heaven itself, the dwelling-place of God. This is unequivocally established by Hebrews 9:24 "into heaven itself." There never was any place to which this title of "holy place" so suitably belonged: thus it is designated in Psalm 20:6 "His holy heaven." And when was it that Christ entered Heaven by virtue of the merits of His own blood? Almost all of the commentators take the reference here as being to His ascension. But this we deem to be a mistake, and one from which erroneous conclusions of a most serious nature have been drawn. The writer is fully satisfied that what is affirmed in this verse took place immediately after Christ, on the cross, triumphantly cried "It is finished." Some of our reasons for believing this we give below.
First, the typical priest’s entrance within the veil took place immediately after the victim’s death: its body being carried without the camp to be burned in a public place, its blood being taken into the holiest, to be sprinkled on the propitiatory, covering the ark. Those closely-connected acts in the ritual were so related that, the burning followed last in order. Now Hebrews 13:11 clearly establishes the fact that that typical action coincided with Christ’s sacrifice outside Jerusalem: therefore, to make Christ’s entrance into heaven occur forty days after His death, destroys the type. In pouring out His blood on the cross and surrendering His spirit into the hands of the Father, Christ expiated sin, and at that very moment the veil of the temple was rent, to denote His entrance into the presence of God. No sooner had He expired, than He entered Heaven, claiming it for Himself and His seed. His resurrection testified to the fact that God had accepted His sacrifice, that justice had been fully satisfied, and that He was now entitled to the reward of His obedience. His resurrection was the antitype of Aaron’s return from the holy of holies unto the people, which was designed as a proof that Divine wrath had been averted and forgiveness secured.
Second, Aaron began by laying aside his robes of glory (Lev. 16:4), putting on only linen garments: that was far more in keeping with Christ’s abasement at the cross, than His triumph and glory at His ascension. Third, when Aaron entered the holy of holies, atonement was not yet completed: that awaited his sprinkling of the blood upon the propitiatory. Therefore, if the antitype of this occurred not until the ascension of Christ, His sacrifice waited forty days for God’s acceptance of it. Fourth, while Aaron was within the veil, the people without were full of fear for the high priest, lest he fail to appease God. Similar was the state of Christ’s disciples during the interval between His death and resurrection: they remained in a state of suspense and doubt, dejection and dread. But far different were they immediately after His ascension: contrast Luke 24:21 and 24:52, 53! Fifth, God’s rending of the veil at the moment of Christ’s death was deeply significant: it was the Divine imprimature upon the Son’s "It is finished." It was the outward adumbration in the visible realm to image forth what had taken place in the spiritual—Christ’s entrance into heaven. In like manner, Christ’s appearance to the disciples after His death, and His "peace be unto you," evidenced that peace had been made, that the atonement was completed.
"By His own blood He entered in," entered heaven as the Surety of His people, as their "Forerunner" (Heb. 6:20). That which gave Him the right to do so was the perfect satisfaction which He had made, a satisfaction which honored God more than all our sins dishonored Him, which magnified the law and made it honorable. It was not the shedding of His blood alone which constituted His satisfaction or atonement, any more than a heart-belief in His resurrection (Rom. 10:9) without "faith in His blood" (Rom. 3:25) would save a sinner. He "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8), and what He there voluntarily endured was the climax and consummation of His redemptive work. "His own blood" emphasises its inestimable value. It was the blood of the "Son" (Heb. 1:2, 3). It was the blood of "God" incarnate (Acts 20:28). Well might the Holy Spirit call it "precious" (1 Pet. 1:19). No greater price could have been paid for our redemption. How vile and accursed, then, must sin be, seeing it can only be expiated by so costly a sacrifice! What claims Christ has upon His own! Well might He say, "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:33).
"He entered in once into the holy place." The word "once" is that which has led so many to conclude that the reference was to the Savior’s ascension. But this, we have endeavored to show above, is a mistake. As we shall (D.V.) yet see, Hebrews chapters 9 and 10 contemplate a double entrance of Christ into heaven in fulfillment of the double type—Aaron and Melchizedek. That Christ did enter heaven at death is clear from His words to the thief (Luke 23:43); 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4 places "paradise" in the third heaven. In every other passage where the term "once" occurs concerning the atoning work of Christ, it is always used contrastively with the frequent repetitions of the Old Testament sacrifices: see Hebrews 7:27; 9:7, 25, 26; 10:11, 12. That which is contemplated is Christ’s presenting His satisfaction unto God. His ascension was for the purpose of intercession, which is continuous, and not completed.
"Having obtained eternal redemption," and this before He entered Heaven. To "redeem" is to deliver a person from a state of bondage, and that by the payment of an adequate ransom-price. Four things were required unto our redemption. It must be effected by the expiating of our sins. It must be by such an expiation that God, as the supreme Ruler and Judge should accept. It must be by rendering such a satisfaction to the Law, that its precepts are fulfilled and its penalty endured, so that its curse is removed. It must annul the power of Satan over us. How all of this was accomplished by the Redeemer, we have shown in our articles upon His "Satisfaction." This "redemption" is eternal, which is in contrast from Israel’s of old—after their deliverance from Egypt they became in bondage to the Philistines and others. As the blood of Christ can never lose its efficacy, so none redeemed by Him can ever again be brought under sin’s dominion.
"For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ" (verses 13, 14). Having again demonstrated the pre-eminency of our Priest in verses 11, 12, the apostle now exhibits the superior efficacy of His sacrifice. By a synecdoche all sacrifices of expiation and all ordinances of purification appointed under the law are here summarized: the blood of lambs, etc., being included. The particular reference in the "ashes of an heifer" being to Numbers 19:2-17, with which should be carefully compared John 13:1-15. It is principally the use of the ordinance of Numbers 19 which is here in view. An heifer having been burned, its ashes were preserved, that, being mixed with pure water, they might be sprinkled on persons who had become legally unclean. When an Israelite, through contact with death, became ceremonially defiled, he was cut off from all the public worship of Jehovah; but when he carried out the instructions of Numbers 19 he was restored.
Those "ashes," then, were a most merciful provision of God; without them, all acceptable worship had soon ceased. They had an efficacy, for they availed to the purifying of the flesh, which was a temporary, external and ceremonial cleansing. Typically, they pointed to that spiritual, inward and eternal cleansing which the blood of Christ provides. "The defilements which befall believers are many, and some of them unavoidable whilst they live in this world: yea, the best of their services have defilements adhering to them. Were it not that the blood of Christ, in its purifying virtue, is in a continual readiness unto faith, that God therein had opened a fountain for sin and uncleanness, the worship of the church would not be acceptable unto Him. In a constant application thereunto, doth the exercise of faith much consist" (John Owen).
"How much more shall the blood of Christ," etc. If the blood and ashes of beasts, under the appointment of God, were efficacious unto an external and temporary justification and sanctification—that is, the removal of both guilt and ceremonial pollution—how much more shall the sacrifice of Him who was promised of old, was the Anointed and therefore the One ordained and accepted of God, effectually and eternally cleanse those to whom it is applied
"The blood of Christ is comprehensive of all that He did and suffered in order unto our redemption, inasmuch as the shedding of it was the way and means whereby He offered Himself (in and by it) unto God" (John Owen).
"Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself." There has been considerable difference of opinion as to whether the "eternal Spirit" has reference to the Divine nature of Christ animating and sustaining His humanity, or to the third Person of the Trinity. That which settles the point for us is this: Christ "offered Himself" to God: that is, in His entire person, while acting in His mediatorial office. As the Mediator, He took upon Him the "form of a servant," and therefore was He filled and energized by the Spirit in all that He did. Christ was "obedient unto death:" as He was subject to the Spirit in going into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1), so the Spirit led Him a willing victim to the cross. This wondrous statement shows us the perfect cooperation of the Eternal Three, concurring in the great work of redemption.
Christ offered Himself "without spot," to God. There is a double reference in these words: unto the purity of His person, and to the holiness of His life. There is both a moral and a legal sense to the expression. It speaks of Christ’s fitness and meetness to be a sacrifice for our sins. Not only was there no blemish in His nature and no defect in His character, but there was every moral excellence. He had fulfilled the law in thought, word and deed, having loved the Lord His God with all His heart and His neighbor as Himself. Therefore was He fully qualified to act for His people.
"Purge your conscience from dead works." This is one of the effects produced by Christ’s sacrifice, an effect which the legal ordinances were incapable of securing. Because Christ’s sacrifice has expiated our sins, when the Spirit applies its virtues to the heart, that is, when He gives faith to appropriate them, our sense of guilt is removed, peace is communicated, and we are enabled to approach God not only without dread, but as joyous worshippers. The "conscience" is here specially singled out (cf. Hebrews 10:22 for the larger meaning) because it is the proper seat of the guilt of sin, charging it on the soul, and hindering an approach unto God. By "dead works" are meant our sins as unto their guilt and defilement—cf. our comments on Hebrews 6:1. True believers are delivered from the curse of the law, which is death.
"To serve the living God," not simply in outward form but in sincerity and in truth. This is the advantage and blessing which we receive from our conscience being purged. Christians have both the right and the liberty to "serve God." The "living God" cannot be served by those who are dead in sins, and therefore alienated from Him. But the sacrifice of Christ has purchased the gift of the Spirit unto all for whom He died, and the Spirit renews and equips the saint for acceptable worship. "This is the end of our purgation: for we are not washed by Christ that we may plunge ourselves again into new filth, but that our purity may serve to glorify God" (John Calvin). Under the word "serve" is comprised all the duties which we owe unto God, not only as His creatures, but as His children. Then let us earnestly seek grace to put Romans 12:1 into daily practice.