How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
In Hebrews 9, the writer shifts from a focus on the high priestly status of Jesus to the sacrifice that Jesus offers as our High Priest. The writer begins by calling to mind the tabernacle, God’s mobile house in the Old Testament, and the holiday Yom Kippur. The nature and purpose of Yom Kippur is described in Leviticus 16.
In this passage, we learn that once a year on Yom Kippur, the Israelite high priest was to offer a specific set of sacrifices. The high priest entered the innermost part of the tabernacle, where God’s presence dwelt, and sprinkled the blood of these sacrifices all around for the purpose of cleansing the tabernacle. This may seem a bit counterintuitive to us as we think of blood as more of a staining agent than a cleansing agent. But this wasn’t the kind of cleansing that would take away stains, rather, this was a cleansing that would take away sins. The high priest was required to do this each year because the tabernacle needed to be cleansed of the Israelites’ sin that had polluted the place where God’s presence dwelt. This annual cleansing was the way that a holy God could live in the midst of a sinful people.
It’s important to note that the blood of these sacrifices did not actually cleanse the Israelites of their sins. It cleansed the tabernacle of the Israelites’ sins. English translations of the Bible sometimes mask this. When the Hebrew verb kipper, translated as “cleanse” or “make atonement,” is used in reference to the tabernacle, it is often followed by what is called a direct-object marker that clarifies “this is what is being cleansed.” On the other hand, when the verb kipper is used in reference to people, it is always followed by one of two different prepositions that mean “on behalf of” or “for the benefit of.” The point is that the blood of these sacrifices was never intended to cleanse people of their sins. It could only cleanse the tabernacle for the benefit of people so that God could continue to dwell among them.
In Hebrews 9, the writer picks up on this background in order to explain why Jesus’ sacrifice is so critically important. Jesus’ blood accomplishes things that
the blood of the Yom Kippur sacrifices could never do. His blood cleanses the tabernacle in Heaven in preparation for our arrival (Hebrews 9:11-12, 23-26) while also cleansing the innermost parts of people—our consciences—so that we can become tabernacles for His Holy Spirit (Hebrews 9:14; 1 Corinthians 6:19).
WORSHIP IN THE EARTHLY TABERNACLE
1 Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. 2 A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. 3 Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, 4 which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 5 Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.
6 When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7 But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. 8 The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. 9 This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
THE BLOOD OF CHRIST
11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
One purpose of the Israelites’ sacrificial system was to cleanse the tabernacle where God resided. Why do you think that blood was used as the cleansing agent?
Jesus’ blood not only cleanses our consciences, it also makes our bodies into dwelling places for the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). With this in mind, what might you need to change about how you treat your body (i.e., food, exercise, substances, sexual purity)? How does this affect your view of your physical body?
We often fall prey to believing that we have to work hard to make ourselves good enough for God. But rituals and rules have never cleansed people’s hearts—only the blood of Jesus can do this. Take a moment to reflect on what Jesus’ death means to you. Journal a prayer of confession to Jesus. Ask Him to forgive your sins that are causing you to carry guilt and shame. Thank Him for His deliverance.