An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Great Sacrifice
Our present passage is so exceeding full that it is expedient we should reduce our introductory remarks. Perhaps about all it is necessary to say is, that here in Hebrews the apostle is treating of the priestly ministry of Christ, and demonstrating the immeasurable superiority of His sacerdotal functions over those of the legal priests. In the verses which are now to be before us, the apostle makes a definite application of that which has been treated of in the preceding section. A contrast is now drawn between the types and their Antitype. Therein we are shown that inasmuch as the Great Sacrifice which Christ offered unto God was the substance of all the Old Testament shadows, it was efficacious, all-sufficient, final.
In Hebrews 9:1-10 a declaration is made of sundry types and shadows of the law. In Hebrews 9:11-28 a manifestation of the accomplishment of them is seen in the person and work of the Lord Jesus. In this second section we are shown the excellency of Christ’s priesthood in the effecting of those things and the securing of those blessings which Aaron and his sacrificing of animals could not effect and secure. First, the affirmation is made that Christ has entered into the true tabernacle, Heaven itself; that He did so on the ground of His own infinitely meritorious blood, the value of which is evidenced by the fact that it has "obtained eternal redemption" (verses 11,12). Second, confirmation of this is then made: inasmuch as the blood of beasts purified the flesh, much more can the blood of Christ purge the conscience (verses 13,14). Moreover the Mediatorial office which Christ undertook guaranteed our salvation (verse 15). So too the validity of the covenant-testament insured the same (verses 16, 17); as also the types pledged it (verses 19-22).
In Hebrews 9:23 (which properly belonged to our last section) the apostle concludes the main point he has been discussing, namely, that the typical things being purged with animal’s blood, there must needs be a more excellent way of purifying and consecrating heavenly things, and that was by the precious blood of the incarnate Son of God Himself. Having established this fact, he now returns to the other points of difference between the legal priests and Christ. Those priests entered only an earthly tabernacle, but Christ has gone into Heaven itself (verses 24, 25). The entrance of Israel’s high priest into the holy of holies was repeated year by year, but Christ entered once for all (verses 25, 26). This is confirmed by the fact that men die but once, still less could the God-man suffer death repeatedly (verses 27, 28). Hence the blessed issue to all who rest upon the Great Sacrifice is, that He shall appear unto them "without sin unto salvation" (verse 28).
"Therefore (it was) necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these" (verse 23). The opening word denotes that a conclusion is now drawn from the premises just established, a conclusion which has respect unto both parts of the assertion made. In this verse the apostle brings to a head, or sums up, his previous argument concerning the typical purification of all things under the law, and the spiritual purification which has been effected by the sacrifice of Christ. "The general principle involved in these words is, plainly, that in expiation the victim must correspond in dignity to the nature of the offenses expiated, and the value of the blessings secured. Animal blood might expiate ceremonial guilt and secure temporary blessings, but in order to secure the expiation of moral guilt and the attainment of eternal blessings, a nobler victim must bleed" (John Brown).
"Therefore necessary (it was)": the reference is both to the type and the Antitype. It was so from God’s institution and appointment. There was nothing in the nature of the typical objects themselves which demanded a purgation by sacrifice, but, inasmuch as God designed to foreshadow heavenly things by them, it was requisite that they should be purged with blood. Likewise, inasmuch as God ordained that the heavenly things should be purified, it was necessary that a superior sacrifice should be made, for the typical offerings were altogether inadequate to such an end. Such "necessity’’ was relative, and not absolute, for God was never under any compulsion. His infinite wisdom deemed such a method fitting and suited to His glory and the good of His elect.
The "patterns" or "figures" (verse 23) were the things which the apostle had been treating of, namely, the covenant, the book, the people, the tabernacle and all its vessels of ministry. The "things in the heavens" were the everlasting covenant, the Church, and its redemption by Jesus Christ. The "heavenly things" had been designed in the mind of God in all their order, causes, beauty, and tendency unto His own glory, from all eternity; but they were "hid" in Himself (Eph. 3:8-10). Of these was God pleased to grant a typical resemblance, a shadowy similitude, an earthly adumbration, in the calling of Israel, His covenant with them, and the appointing of the tabernacle with its priesthood. By this means He deigned to instruct the early Church, and in their conformity to that typical order of things did their faith and obedience consist; the spiritual meaning of which the Old Testament saints did, in measure, understand (Ps. 119:18).
"The heavenly things." "By heavenly things, I understand all the effects of the counsel of God in Christ, in the redemption, salvation, worship, and eternal glory of the Church; that is, Christ Himself in all His offices, with all the spiritual and eternal effects of them on the souls and consciences of men, with all the worship of God by Him according unto the Gospel. For of all these things, those of the law were the patterns. God did in and by them give a representation of all these things" (John Owen). More specifically Christ Himself and His sacrifice were typified by the legal rites. So also all the spiritual blessings which His mediation has secured are "heavenly things": see John 3:12, Ephesians 1:3, Hebrews 3:1. The Church too (Phil. 3:20) and Heaven itself as the abode of Christ and His redeemed are included (John 14:1-3). But here a difficulty presents itself: how could such objects as those be said to be "purified"?
Of all the things mentioned above not one of them is capable of real purification from uncleanness excepting the Church, that is, the souls and consciences of its members. Yet the difficulty is more seeming than real. The term "purification" has a twofold sense, namely, of external dedication unto God and internal purification, both of which are, generally included in the term "sanctification" as it is used in Scripture. Thus, the covenant, the book of the covenant, the tabernacle, and all its vessels were "purified" in the first sense, that is, solemnly dedicated unto God and His service. In like manner were all the "heavenly things" themselves "purified.’’ Christ was consecrated, dedicated unto God in His own blood: John 17:19, Hebrews 2:10, etc. Heaven itself was dedicated to be an habitation forever unto the mystical body of Christ, in perfect peace with the angels who never sinned: Ephesians 1:10, Hebrews 12:22-24.
Yet there was also an internal "purification" of most of these "heavenly things." The souls and consciences of the members of the Church were really cleansed, purified and sanctified with an inward and spiritual purification: Ephesians 5:25,26, Titus 2:14. It has been "washed" in the blood of Christ (Rev. 1:5) and is thereby cleansed from all sin (1 John 1:7). And Heaven itself, was in some sense purified—as the tabernacle was, because of the sins of the people in whose midst it stood (Lev. 16:16). When the angels apostatized, sin entered Heaven itself, and therefore was not pure in the sight of God (see Job 15:15). And upon the sin of man, a breach was made, enmity ensued, between the holy angels above and fallen men below; so that Heaven was no meet place for an habitation unto them both, until they were reconciled, which was only accomplished in the sacrifice of Christ (Eph. 1:10, Colossians 1:20).
One other detail needs to be considered: "But the heavenly things with better sacrifices." It is the use of the plural number here in connection with the sacrifice of Christ which has occasioned difficulty to some. It is a figure of speech known as an "enallage," the plural being put for the singular by way of emphasis. It is so expressed because the great sacrifice not only confirmed the signification, virtue, and benefits of all others, but exceeded in dignity, design and efficacy all others. Again; under the law there were five chief offerings appointed unto Israel: the burnt, the meal, the peace, the sin, the trespass (see Leviticus 1-5), and in Christ’s great Sacrifice we have the antitype of all five, and hence His has superseded theirs. Thus, the plural, "sacrifices" here emphasizes the one offering of Christ, expresses its superlative excellency, and denotes that it provides the substance of the many shadows under the law.
If the reader will read straight on through Hebrews 9:18-23 he will then be in a position to appreciate the lovely sequel which is recorded in Exodus 24:8-11. A most glorious type was that. There we have a scene for which there is nothing approaching a parallel on all the pages of inspiration until the incarnation of the Son of God be reached. What we have there in Exodus 24 might well be termed the Old Testament Mount of Transfiguration. There we see not only Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, but also seventy "elders" (representatives of the people) in the very presence of God, perfectly at ease, eating and drinking there. The key-word to that marvelous incident is the "Then" at the beginning of verse 9, which brings out the inestimable value of the blood which had been sprinkled, and shows the grand privilege which it had procured, even making possible communion with God. The antitype of this is presented in Hebrews 10:22.
"For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (verse 24). The opening "For" denotes that a further reason is being advanced to demonstrate the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice over those which were offered under the law. In verse 23 this was shown by its power to "purify" better objects than the typical offerings could dedicate or cleanse. Here the proof is drawn from the place which Christ entered after He had offered Himself a sacrifice unto God, namely, into Heaven itself. That which was the peculiar dignity of the high priest of Israel, and wherein the principal discharge of his duty did consist, was that he entered that sacred abode where the typical and visible representation of the presence of God was made. The antitype of this is what is here before us.
"For Christ." The Mediator is again denominated by His official title. In addition to our notes thereon under verse 14, we may point out that this title "The Anointed" imports three things. First, the offices or functions which the Son of God undertook for the salvation of His people. These were three in number and each was foreshadowed of old: the prophetic (1 Kings 19:16, Psalm 105:15), the priestly (Lev. 8:12,30; Psalm 133:2), the kingly (1 Sam. 10:1, 16:13). Second, the right which He has to undertake those functions: He who "anointed" Christ was the Father (Acts 10:38), thereby appointing and authorizing Him (Heb. 5:5). Third, His ability to perform those functions whereunto He was anointed: therefore did He declare "the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach" etc. (Luke 4:18). That expression "the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me" referred to that Divine enduement which had been conferred upon Him: cf. John 3:34.
"For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, the figures of the true." The negative is first expressed in order to emphasize the contrast which follows. Three things are here said of respect to its institution, it was the "holy of holies," and that, because it had been dedicated as the chamber where the special pledges of God’s presence were given. Second, as to its fabric, though framed by Divine command, it was but of human workmanship, "made with hands." Third, as to its principal end or design, it was a resemblance or figure of heavenly things. From the Sept. translation of "holy of holies" by "the holy places," it seems that they used the plural number to supply the lack in the Greek language of a suitable superlative.
"But into Heaven itself." This entrance of Christ into the celestial Sanctuary is to be distinguished from His entering "once into the holy place" of verse 12. In our exposition of that verse we sought to show at some length that the reference there is to what took place immediately after the Savior expired upon the cross, when, in fulfillment of the type of Leviticus 16:14, He appeared before the Father to present to Him the memorial of His completed satisfaction. Aaron’s entrance into the holy of holies was not for the purpose of making atonement—that was effected outside (Lev. 16:11)—but to present to God an atonement already accomplished. Nor could Aaron’s passing within the veil, clad only in his "linen" garments (Lev. 16:4 and contrast Exodus 28:2—etc.), possibly be a figure of Christ’s triumphant admission into heaven with all the jubilation belonging to a coronation day. We must constantly distinguish between Christ as the antitype of Aaron, and Christ as the antitype of Melchizedek. Aaron pointed to nothing after Christ’s resurrection; Melchizedek did. The "once" of Hebrews 9:12 emphasizes the finality of Christ’s sacrifice. His "entrance" here in Hebrews 9:24 was for the purpose of intercession, which is continuous: Hebrews 7:25.
The entrance of our royal High Priest into heaven was necessary for rendering His sacrifice effective in the application of the benefits of it to the Church. As John Owen pointed out, the entrance of Christ into heaven on His ascension, may be considered two ways. "1. As it was regal, glorious and triumphant; so it belonged to His kingly office, as that wherein He triumphed over all the enemies of the Church: see it described in Ephesians 4:8-10 from Psalm 68:18. Satan, the world, death and hell being conquered, and all power committed to Him, He entered triumphantly into heaven. So it was regal. 2. As it was sacerdotal. Peace and reconciliation being made by the blood of the cross, the covenant being confirmed, eternal redemption obtained, He entered as our High Priest into the holy place, the temple of God above, to make His sacrifice effectual to His Church, and to apply the benefits of it thereunto."
Christ entered Heaven as the great High Priest of His Church, as the Mediator of the new covenant, as the "Forerunner" of His people (Heb. 6:20), as their "Advocate" (1 John 2:1), and the "Firstborn of many brethren." His design in so doing was "to appear in the presence of God for us." This He does "now," at the present season, and always. What the typical priest did was of no continuance. But this "now" is expressive of the whole season and duration of time from the entrance of Christ into heaven to the consummation of all things. Absolutely, His entrance into Heaven had other ends in view (John 17:5, Hebrews 1:3—"upholding" etc.), but to appear before God for His people as their High Priest, was the only end or object of His entering Heaven, considered as God’s "Temple," where is the "throne of grace." How this manifests Christ’s full assurance of the success of His undertaking, His complete discharge from all that guilt which had been imputed to Him. Had He not made a full end of our sins, He could not have appeared with confidence as our Surety in the presence of God!
"To appear in the presence of God for us." This is an act of His sacerdotal office. Not only is it our High Priest who does so "appear," but He doth so as the High Priest of His Church. Nevertheless, it is such an act as necessarily implies the offering of Himself as a sacrifice for sin antecedent thereto, for it was with the blood of the atoning sacrifice that Aaron entered into the holy place (Lev. 16) as the head and representative of the people. In this appearance Christ presents Himself to God "as a lamb that had been slain" (Rev. 5:6)! It is that which gives validity and efficacy to His "appearing." The word "appear" is a forensic one, as of an Attorney before the Judge. He has gone there to seek from God and dispense to His people those blessings which He purchased for them. He has gone there to plead the infinite merits of His sacrifice, as a permanent reason why they should be saved: Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25. This supplies the great testimony to the continuance of Christ’s love, care and compassion toward the Church: it is their interests which He promotes.
"Nor yet that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others" (verse 25). In this verse the apostle does two things: meets an objection which might be made, and continues to demonstrate the superior excellency of the Great Sacrifice. The objection could be framed thus: If Aaron’s entrance into the holy of holies was a type of Christ’s entering heaven, then must He, like the legal high priest, enter oft. This the apostle here denies. Such a conclusion by no means follows, in fact, is utterly erroneous. God did not require this from Christ, there was no need of it, and, as he shows in the next verse, it was impossible that He should.
Such is the absolute perfection of the one offering of Christ, that it stands in need of, that it will admit of, no repetition in any kind. Therefore does the apostle declare that if it be despised or neglected, "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" (Heb. 10:26). This absolute perfection of the one offering of Christ arises from, first, the dignity of His person: Acts 20:28. It was the God-man who obeyed, suffered and died: nothing superior, nothing equal, could again be offered. Second, from the nature of the sacrifice itself. In the internal gracious workings of Christ, grace and obedience could never be more glorified than they had been by Immanuel Himself. So too, in the punishment He underwent: He suffered to the full, the whole curse of the law; hence, any further offering or atonement would be highly blasphemous. Third, from the love of the Father unto Him and delight in Him. In His one offering God was well pleased, and in it He rests. Hence the impossibility of any repetition—condensed from John Owen.
"Nor yet that He should offer Himself often." In these positive and pointed words the Holy Spirit has plainly anticipated and repudiated the blasphemous practice of the Papists, who in their daily "mass" pretend to sacrifice Christ afresh, and by their "priests" present Him as an offering to God, claiming that the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the real flesh and blood of Christ. Therefore are they guilty of the unspeakably dreadful sin of crucifying to themselves the Son of God afresh, and putting Him to an open shame (Heb. 6:6), for by their pretended "real sacrifice of Christ" they, through their daily repetition of it, deny its sufficiency and finality (Heb. 10:2), degrading it below that of the annual atonement of Israel, which was made by the blood of beasts.
"As the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others." On these words William Gouge beautifully pointed out that, "Herein we have an evidence of God’s tender respect to man in sparing his blood. Though man were ordained a priest to typify Christ’s priesthood, though man in that function were to appear before God, though he were to bear their names, yea, and their sins (Ex. 28:38), all of which Christ did, yet when it came to the shedding of his blood, as Christ did His, God spared him, and accepted the blood of beasts, as He accepted the ram for Isaac (Gen. 22:13). How this magnifies God’s love to us, who was so tender of man, and yet spared not His own Son (Rom. 8:32)!"
"For then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (verse 26). This verse consists of two parts. First, a reason is given confirming the assertion made in verse 25: had Christ been obliged to "offer Himself often" to God, then must He have "suffered" afresh "from the foundation of the world," that is, died afresh in each generation of human history. Second, a confirmation of that reason taken from the appointment of God: only once, and that in the fullness of time, did Christ come to earth to be a sacrifice for the sins of His people. Thus the apostle exposes the gross absurdity of the objection he met in verse 25: to admit that, would be to say Christ’s blood had no more efficacy than that which the Jewish high priest offered.
The force of the apostle’s argument rests upon two evident suppositions. First, that the "offering" (verse 25) and "suffering" (verse 26) of Christ are inseparable. It was in and by His suffering that the Lord Jesus offered Himself unto God, and that because He was Himself both the Priest and the Sacrifice. Aaron "offered" repeatedly, yet he never once "suffered," for he was not the sacrifice itself. It was the bullock which was slain, that suffered. But Christ being both Priest and Sacrifice could not "offer" without "suffering," and herein does the force of the argument principally consist. The very especial nature of Christ’s offering or sacrifice, which was by the shedding of His blood in death, precluded a repetition thereof.
Second, the apostle’s argument here is also built on the fact that there was a necessity for the expiation of the sin of all that were to be saved from the foundation of the world. Sin entered the world immediately after it was founded, by the apostasy of our first parents. Notwithstanding, numbers of sinners, as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and the spiritual remnant in Israel had their sins pardoned and were eternally saved; yet no sacrifice which they offered could remit moral guilt or redeem their souls. No; their salvation was also effected by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ. Hence it follows unavoidably that unless the merits of His own one offering extended unto the taking away of all their sins, then either He must have suffered often, or they perish. Contrariwise, seeing that elect sinners were saved through Christ "from the foundation of the world," much more will the virtues of the Great Sacrifice extend unto the end of the world.
"But now," not at the beginning of human history; "once," that is, once for all, never to be repeated; "in the end of the world," or in "the fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4). This expression "end of the world" or more literally, "consummation of the ages" is here used antithetically from "since the foundation of the world" which usually has reference to the first entrance of sin into the world. and God’s dispensation of grace in Christ thereon; as "before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4, etc.) expresses eternity and God’s counsels therein. The Divine distinctions of time with respect to God’s grace toward His Church, may be referred to three general heads: that before the law, during the law, and since the incarnation of Christ unto the end of the world. This last season, absolutely considered, is called the "fullness of times" (Eph. 1:10), when all that God had designed in the dispensation of His grace was come to a head, and wherein no alteration should be made till the earth was no more.
"Hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." He "appeared" here on earth (the Greek word is quite different from the one used in verse 24): of old He had been obscurely shadowed forth in types, but now He was "manifest in flesh" (1 Tim. 3:10). The end or purpose of this appearing of Christ was to "put away sin"—the Greek word is a very strong one, and is rendered "disannuling" in Hebrews 7:18. Let it be carefully noted that this declaration is made only as it respects the Church of Christ. He made a complete atonement for all the sin of all His people, receiving its wages, expiating its guilt, destroying its dominion. The results are that, when God applies to the penitent believer the virtues of Christ’s sacrifice, all condemnation is removed (Rom. 8:1), and its reigning power is destroyed (Rom. 6:14).
"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; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (verses 27, 28). In these verses the apostle concludes his exposition of the causes, nature, designs and efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ, wherewith the new covenant was dedicated and confirmed. In them a three-fold confirmation is made of the uniqueness and sufficiency of the Savior’s atonement. First a comparison is drawn: pointed by the "as" and "so". Second a declaration is made as to why Christ died: it was to "bear the sins of many." Third, the resultant consequence of this is stated at the end of verse 28.
First, the comparison. This is between the death of men by the decretory sentence of God, and the offering of Christ by God’s appointment. "It is appointed unto men once to die." That "appointment" was a penal one, being the sentence and curse of the broken law (Gen. 2:17), consisting of two parts: temporal death and eternal judgment. Death is not the result of chance, nor is it a "debt of nature," a condition to which man was made subject by the law of his creation. Death is something more than the result of physiological law: the same God who sustained Methusalah for well nigh a thousand years, would have sustained Adam’s body for all eternity had he never fallen. Sinless angels are immortal. Death is the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23). The case of Enoch and Elijah, Lazarus and that generation of believers alive on earth at the return of Christ (1 Cor. 15:51), are only exceptions to the common rule, by mere acts of Divine sovereignty.
"After this the judgment." This, by the same Divine, unalterable constitution, is also "appointed" unto all: Acts 17:31. Death does not make an end of man, but is subservient to something else, which is equally certain and inevitable in its own season. As death leaves men, so shall judgment find them. This "judgment" is here opposed to the "salvation" of believers at the second appearing of Christ. It is the judgment of the wicked at the last great day: Romans 2:5. It will be the executing upon them of the condemnatory sentence of the law, the irrevocable curse of God—eternal banishment from Him, for indescribable and eternal torments to be inflicted upon them.
"So Christ was once offered." As the death-sentence, as a penal infliction, was passed upon all of Adam’s descendants (Rom. 5:12) viewed as criminals, as having broken the law in the person of their federal head, so Christ was "appointed" or sentenced by God, the Judge of all, to undergo the curse of the law, on the behalf and in the stead of those whom He represented. "So Christ was once offered to bear the sin of many." Here we see that deliverance from the curse which the wisdom and grace of God provided for His elect. The Anointed One, as the High Priest of His people, presented to God an all-sufficient and final satisfaction for all the sins of all who have been, from eternity, given to Him by the Father. Thus verses 27, 28 present the antithesis of the Law and the Gospel, as it relates to "men" indefinitely, and to the "many" specifically. The sins of many He "bare"—had imputed to Him, received the punishment of, and fully expiated—in His own body on the tree (1 Pet. 2:24).
"And unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation." This needs to be interpreted in harmony with its context, and as furnishing the antitype of what is found in Leviticus 16. The word for "appear" here is not the one commonly used for the return of Christ—it means "to be seen." When Aaron disappeared within the veil, the people waited with eager expectation until he came out again to bless them. So Christ, having made atonement, and gone into heaven, shall yet re-appear and be seen by those who wait for Him. As men after death, must yet appear the "second time" in their body, to undergo condemnation therein; so Christ shall appear the second time, to bestow on God’s elect eternal salvation.
"Unto them that look for Him:" that is, all the redeemed, the "many" whose sins He bore. Though the vision tarry, they wait for it (Hab. 2:3). Five things are included in this word "look for." First, the steadfast faith of His appearing, resting with implicit confidence on His promise in John 14:2, 3. Second, a real love unto it: 2 Timothy 4:8. Third, an ardent longing after it, so that they cry, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20). Fourth, a patient waiting for it, in the midst of many discouragements: James 5:7, 8. Fifth, a personal preparation for it: Matthew 25:10, Luke 12:35-37.
"Without (imputed) sin, unto salvation." Hereby Christ’s second advent is contrasted from His first. When he appeared the first time, it was with "sin" upon Him (John 1:29) as the Surety of sinners. Therefore was He the Man of sorrows, and afflicted from His youth up (Ps. 88:15). But He will re-appear in a very different state: as the Conqueror of sin and Satan, the Savior of His people, the King of kings and Lord of lords. At His return, the efficacy of His once-for-all offering will be openly manifested. The question of His peoples’ sins having been finally settled at the cross, He will then glorify His redeemed. "For our conversation is in heaven: from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile ,body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself" (Phil. 3:20, 21).