1. Human made. Hebrews 9:1-2.
The first reason that the earthly tabernacle is insufficient is that it was constructed by humans. This is implied in verses 1-2 with the words “an earthly place of holiness” (ESV) and “a tent was prepared.”
The tabernacle was built by Moses and the priests, not by God. This point is explicitly stated in Hebrews 9:11, “not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.”
Being of this earth and being made by humans make it insufficient and inferior to the heavenly tabernacle.
2. Symbolized something greater. Hebrews 9:2-5.
The writer lists all of the articles in the tabernacle. But in Hebrews 9:23 we are told that these articles were simply copies of the heavenly things. These things symbolized a greater fulfilment to come. I believe the writer of Hebrews is declaring that Jesus is the fulfilment of these copies and shadows. Hebrews 9:24.
a. Lampstand. Exodus 25:31-39.
The writer tells us that inside the earthly tabernacle was the lampstand. Jesus is the true light of the world, John 8:12, and those who are in His family are also to lights, Matthew 5:14-16 / Philippians 2:14-15.
b. Table of showbread. Exodus 25:23-30.
Each Sabbath the priest would remove the old loaves and put fresh loaves on the table. Leviticus 24:5-9. The old loaves were eaten by the priests and these loaves were called “the bread of presence.”
Only the priests could eat the bread and it could only be eaten within the tabernacle. Jesus called himself the bread of life who is given to the whole world, John 6:50-51.
c. Altar of incense. Exodus 30:1-9.
The golden altar stood in the holy place just in front of the veil that divided the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place in the tabernacle. Each morning and evening, a priest burned incense on this altar, a picture of intercession and a representation of the people’s prayers going to God, Psalm 141:2 / Revelation 5:8.
On the Day of Atonement, the high priest was to take the coals from the altar of incense and go into the Holy of Holies so that smoke would fill the room and cover the mercy seat. Jesus is our intercessor through whom we have access to God and through whom we offer our prayers to the Father.
d. Ark of the covenant. Exodus 25:10-22.
Finally, the most important piece was the Ark of the Covenant. On the top of the Ark of the Covenant were the cherubim of glory, covering the mercy seat. This was considered the throne of God where God met with His people, Psalm 80:1 / Psalm 99:1.
On the Day of Atonement, the high priest sprinkled blood upon this mercy seat. It is an interesting visualization when we remember that the two tablets of stone, the Law, were inside the Ark of the Covenant.
Therefore, the law was covered by the mercy seat, which on the Day of Atonement, was covered by blood. Jesus is the atonement for our sins, the propitiation for the sin of the whole world, Romans 3:25 / Hebrews 2:17 / 1 John 2:2. Everything in the earthly tabernacle was simply a symbol for a future, greater reality found in Jesus.
3. Inaccessible to the people. Hebrews 9:6-7.
The third point that we learn about the earthly tabernacle was that it did not grant access to the people. Only the priests could go into the first section, the holy place, and perform their duties. Only the high priest could enter into the second section, the Holy of Holies, to offer atonement one time each year. Notice that the atonement was for the “unintentional sins of the people.” Some translations read, “Sins of ignorance.”
The point is that rebellious sins were not being atoned for by the high priest. Atonement was not provided for intentional disobedience. But the people had no access to God to be able to take care of their sins. A priest had to do the work on their behalf to make atonement for their unintentional sins.
Not only that, but the priests themselves had to make offerings for their own sins before they could make sacrifices for the sins of the people. Even the high priest could not enter and perform his duty until he had his sins atoned.
4. Temporary. Hebrews 9:8.
Verse 8 appears to be a key argument that may not be readily understood. The surface point is that there is no way to enter the holy of holies while the first tabernacle stands.
Nor was it revealed that we could enter. As long as the priests were serving in the holy place, the way into the presence of God had not been opened.
But then the beginning of verse 9 says something interesting, “which is symbolic for the present age.” The implication is that things are going to change. While the first tabernacle stands, the way into the presence of God has not been revealed.
Therefore, the first tabernacle must end so that the way to God can be revealed. This is depicted in the temporary nature of the tabernacle system. Further, it is implying that the temple must be destroyed so that the way to God can be revealed.
5. External ministry. Hebrews 9:9-10.
The problem with the first covenant and the tabernacle system is that these things could not perfect the conscience of the worshipper. It only deals with the externals. The consciences were not cleared or cleansed.
The worshippers knew they sinned, but the sacrifice did not resolve the separation from God. It only reminded the worshipper of the sin. These sacrifices did not take care of our moral situation. They only dealt with the regulations of the body.
The superior heavenly sanctuary, Hebrews 9:11-28. Now the writer is going to show us how and why the heavenly sanctuary is far superior to the earthly tabernacle.
1. Heavenly. Hebrews 9:11.
We saw this contrast earlier but now it is explicitly stated. Jesus has appeared as the High Priest over the good things that have come. This happened through the greater and more perfect tent. What makes this tabernacle greater is that it was not made with hands.
Humans did not construct the heavenly sanctuary. It is not of this creation. Jesus is functioning as a High Priest in heaven in the heavenly sanctuary that is not a copy, but the reality.
2. Service deals with sin. Hebrews 9:12-15.
Jesus’ priesthood is superior because it effectively deals with sin and the heavenly sanctuary is superior because that is where true atonement is made. Jesus entered the holy places, not with the blood of animals, but with His own blood.
It is His own blood that effectively deals with sin, bringing us eternal redemption. The blood of animals cannot solve the problem of sin. Jesus’ sacrifice is superior to the sacrifice of animals.
Further, the blood of Jesus gives purification that the blood of animals was unable to accomplish. The blood of animals brought purification of the flesh, Hebrews 9:13.
If the blood of animals can deal with the ceremonial defilement and purification rituals for the externals, then how much more can the blood of Jesus deal with our sins? The writer goes further that it is the blood of Jesus that is able to purify our ‘consciences from dead works’.
The blood of Christ cleanses our consciences! This is the essence of the grace of God. We can forget about our sins. We are able to let violations go. We do not need to hold on to the guilt. We do not need to be reminded of our sins on a regular basis.
The sacrifice of Jesus truly takes our sins away. We have been cleansed from our sinfulness to serve the living God. The blood of Jesus has the power to cleanse our hearts and guilty consciences. It is wrong for us to continue to carry the weight of our sins when the blood of Jesus has taken those sins away!
How can we act like the blood of Jesus is insufficient for our sins? We are either acting arrogantly, selfishly or pitifully to think that we cannot move forward from the things that we have done wrong in our past.
Why would we want to keep rehearsing and reliving our mistakes? Let the blood of Jesus cleanse your conscience! We are acting like we are under the old covenant, constantly reminding ourselves of our sins. The blood of Jesus is sufficient.
Jesus has brought us the new covenant, Hebrews 9:15 and through His calling, we receive the promised eternal inheritance. Jesus’ death has redeemed us. Through Jesus, we are set free. Through Jesus we have forgiveness. Through Jesus, we are redeemed.
This new covenant could come about only through a better sacrifice, something far superior to animals. The author begins by using an illustration of the legal customs of the day. He uses the example of a will because the Greek word for covenant could also mean will. It was a contract that became valid only when someone died, Hebrews 9:16-17.
The Sinai covenant also involved death, the death of animals, Hebrews 9:18-20 / Exodus 24:5-8.
The Law of Moses required blood in its rituals of cleansing, Hebrews 9:21-22. Obviously, drops of blood do not make anything physically clean.
What the Israelites needed was a spiritual cleansing, an elimination of spiritual defilement, imperfection, sin, guilt and anything that separated them from God. They needed forgiveness.
Physical blood cannot change spiritual realities, and animal sacrifices cannot eliminate sin, Hebrews 10:4, but the old covenant nevertheless prescribed animal sacrifices for forgiveness, Hebrews 9:22. Just as the tabernacle itself pictured a heavenly reality, these animal sacrifices pictured a death that would be effective in removing sin.
The earthly tabernacle had to be ritually purified by animal sacrifices, but the heavenly holy place required a far better sacrifice, Hebrews 9:23. The spiritual barrier between God and humans required a spiritual sacrifice, someone with a perfect conscience, totally without sin.
Jesus was not dealing with a physical, symbolic copy, Hebrews 9:24. He was not working with external rituals. Rather, He was dealing with the real spiritual problem, and He did His work in heaven. It was a better place and a better sacrifice.
Humans are both matter and spirit, Christ’s work was both physical and spiritual. He became fully human, mortal and physical, in order to redeem humans.
But His redemption had to be on the spiritual level as well, a conscience untainted by sin, a life willingly offered on behalf of others, a being worthy of entering heaven itself to intercede for humans. He offered himself, both body and spirit.
Jesus Christ now appears for us in heaven to help us, Hebrews 9:24. He is the God-man who bridges the gap between God and humans. His work is fully effective, for all time.
Once was enough, unlike the work of the Levitical priests, who had to repeat the same rituals over and over again, Hebrews 9:25. By this, the Holy Spirit was showing that their work was not effective. True cleansing was possible only through a better sacrifice, a better priest, and a better covenant.
Jesus did not go to heaven to perform endless rituals. He is not copying the old covenant, because the old covenant had only temporary substitutes, Hebrews 9:25. Jesus does not have to suffer forever to rescue us from sin, Hebrews 9:26. He gave himself once, and that was enough.
“He has appeared once for all.” When? “At the end of the ages.” Why? “To do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself,” Hebrews 9:26.
Even 1,950 years ago, believers were living in the “end of the ages”, “in these last days,” Hebrews 1:2. The old era was fading away, a new age had begun with Jesus Christ. The spiritual world was radically different. The sacrifice of all time had been given.
But the story is not yet done. Just as ordinary humans appear once, and then will appear again in the judgment, so also with Christ.
Each person dies for his or her own sins, but Jesus died for others. Each person will face the judgment for his or her sins, but Jesus will be the Judge.
His death took away the sins of all who believe in Him, and when He appears again, He will not be bringing their sins against them. Rather, He will be bringing eternal salvation for all who trust in Him.