The Old, the New, and the Once for All
The Old, the New, and the Once for All
“Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle prepared…” (Heb 9:1-2).
The tabernacle was built as an indicator of God's presence among the people. God was very specific about how He wanted it built. Hebrews 9:1-5 sums up the idea. That first covenant had particular "regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary." This was foundational to everything else they did in and around the tabernacle. The priests would perform their regular duties, but the High Priest, only once a year, would go into the Most Holy Place to sprinkle blood on the ark of the covenant, but only after he first offered a sacrifice for himself. This was “imposed until a time for reformation” (vs. 10). That time came through Jesus Christ as He fulfilled the purpose of the Law.
“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb 9:11-14, NASB)
“But when Christ appeared…” (vs. 11) signals the change. Hebrews has already established Jesus as the great High Priest who did not need to offer a sacrifice for Himself — rather He is the sacrifice. The tabernacle associated with Christ is "not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation.” Further, Jesus did not enter it through the blood of animals as prescribed under the Law, but through His own blood, which is far greater than that under the Law. If the blood of the animals sanctified for the cleansing of the flesh, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
The old by itself wouldn’t work, so there a new covenant was necessary — and Christ is the Mediator of this covenant. What validates this covenant is the fact He shed His blood for it. Yet the fact that He shed his blood also means that forgiveness is available to us, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22). Thus, while God made provisions for those who lived under the old covenant, His intention all along was to provide the greatest sacrifice of all. Christ offering Himself would open up heaven itself, the true Holy of Holies, so that we can appear in God's presence.
Once for All
You might have noticed that the term “once” or “once for all” is used several times (is that ironic?). The High Priest would go into the Most Place only once a year (9:7). Christ entered in “once for all” (vs. 12, in contrast to once a year, His sacrifice was “one time for all time”). Jesus did not need to suffer often or offer Himself up once a year. But only one time did He have to do this (vs. 26). Only once did He have to bear the sins of many (vs. 28). And so only once will we die before we face our ultimate judgment (vs. 27).
Hebrews 9 is showing us the way of salvation. The Old Testament sacrifices were never meant to be an end in themselves (see Heb 10). They pointed to the new and better way through Christ. The old sacrifices had to be repeated over an over, never fully accomplishing forgiveness. Christ's sacrifice was perfect, once for all securing for us forgiveness and salvation.
The passage also shows us our purpose. Our consciences are cleansed “from dead works to serve the living God” (v. 14). As always, our task is to serve God, which can only be done through Jesus Christ. Like Isaiah, once we recognize the forgiveness granted by the grace of God, we are in the position we need to be in order to serve, to be able to say, “Here am I, send me.”
God be thanked that we are so blessed to see how God's plan came to fruition through Jesus. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Pet 2:24). A judgment is coming, but we can “eagerly await Him,” knowing that we stand forgiven based upon His perfect sacrifice!