Covenants And Temples (Hebrews 9:1-28)

9:1 Even that first covenant had rules and regulations about how to worship and how to set up an earthly sanctuary for God. 2 In the Book of Exodus, we read how the first tent (tabernacle) was set aside for worship—we call it the holy place—how inside it they placed an oil lamp, a table, and the bread that was consecrated to God.

3 Behind a second dividing curtain, there was another tent which is called the most holy place. 4 In there they placed the golden incense altar and the golden ark of the covenant. Inside the ark were the golden urn that contained manna (the miraculous food God gave our ancestors in the desert), Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant that Moses brought down from the mountain. 5 Above the ark were the golden images of heavenly beings of glory who shadowed the mercy seat.

THE COURT. It’s for everyone. People offer sacrifices here.

THE HOLY PLACE. In the veiled holy place was the golden candlestick of seven branches; the golden altar, or altar of incense; a gold-plated table with twelve loaves of bread representing the twelve tribes of Israel (see Exodus 35 to Exodus 40:1.)

THE HOLIEST PLACE (the holy of holies). Behind another veil, there was a golden censer to burn incense; the gold-plated ark of the covenant with the tablets of the Law, Aaron’s budding rod, and a pot of manna; and golden symbols of the glory of God looking over the ark. This was sacred ground. The rabbis wrote of how the high priest did not prolong his prayer in the Holy of Holies because people think he had been killed. When he emerged he threw a party for his friends, because he had survived the presence of God.

I cannot go into any greater detail about this now. 6 When all is prepared as it is supposed to be, the priests go back and forth daily into the first tent (the holy place) to carry out the duties described in the law. 7 But once a year, the high priest goes alone into that second tent, the most holy place, with blood to offer for himself and the unwitting errors (sins of ignorance) of the people.

8 As long as that first tent is standing, the Holy Spirit shows us, the way into the most holy place has not yet been revealed to us. 9 That first tent symbolizes the present time, when gifts and sacrifices can be offered; but it can’t change the heart and conscience of the worshiper. 10 These gifts and sacrifices deal only with regulations for the body—food and drink and various kinds of ritual cleansings necessary until the time comes to make things truly right.

11 When the Anointed One arrived as High Priest of the good things that are to come, He entered through a greater and more perfect sanctuary that was not part of the earthly creation or made by human hands. 12 He entered once for all time into the most holy place—entering, not with the blood of goats or calves or some other prescribed animal, but offering His own blood and thus obtaining redemption for us for all time.

13 Think about it: if the blood of bulls or of goats, or the sprinkling of ashes from a heifer, restores the defiled to bodily cleanliness and wholeness; 14 then how much more powerful is the blood of the Anointed One, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself as a spotless sacrifice to God, purifying your conscience from the dead things of the world to the service of the living God?

15 This is why Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant: through His death, He delivered us from the sins that we had built up under the first covenant, and His death has made it possible for all who are called to receive God’s promised inheritance. 16 For whenever there is a testament—a will—the death of the one who made it must be confirmed 17 because a will takes effect only at the death of its maker; it has no validity as long as the maker is still alive.

18 Even the first testament—the first covenant—required blood to be put into action. 19 When Moses had given all the laws of God to the people, he took the blood of calves and of goats, water, hyssop, and scarlet wool; and he sprinkled the scroll and all the people, 20 telling them, “This is the blood of the covenant that God has commanded for us.” 21 In the same way, he also sprinkled blood upon the sanctuary and upon the vessels used in worship. 22 Under the law, it’s almost the case that everything is purified in connection with blood; without the shedding of blood, sin cannot be forgiven.

This was a saying among the Jews: "There is no atonement but by blood." Paul is not introducing a concept that was new to them. He was explaining how Jesus fulfilled the need for blood to be shed for forgiveness.

23 Since what was given in the old covenant was the earthly sketch of the heavenly reality, this was sufficient to cleanse the earthly sanctuary; but in heaven, a more perfect sacrifice was needed. 24 The Anointed One did not enter into handcrafted sacred spaces—imperfect copies of heavenly originals—but into heaven itself, where He stands in the presence of God on our behalf.

25 There He does not offer Himself over and over as a sacrifice (as the high priest on earth does when he enters the most holy place each year with blood other than his own) 26 because that would require His repeated suffering since the beginning of the world. No, He has appeared once now, at the end of the age, to abolish sin offerings forever by offering Himself as a sacrifice.

Adam Clarke quotes Cyril with a good summary of what all these things mean: "Although Christ be but one, yet he is understood by us under a variety of forms. He is the Tabernacle, on account of the human body in which he dwelt. He is the Table, because he is our Bread of life. He is the Ark which has the law of God enclosed within, because he is the Word of the Father. He is the Candlestick, because he is our spiritual light. He is the Altar of incense, because he is the sweet-smelling odor of sanctification. He is the Altar of burnt-offering, because he is the victim, by death on the cross, for the sins of the whole world."

27 Just as mortals are appointed to die once and then to experience a judgment, 28 so the Anointed One, our Liberating King, was offered once in death to bear the sins of many and will appear a second time, not to deal again with sin, but to rescue those who eagerly await His return.

Our next passage has more to add on sacrifices and covenants. I am going to wait until then to address this more deeply. There was something about this passage that caught my eye, and I want to take some time to explore this.

Hebrews 9:1 Even that first covenant had rules and regulations about how to worship and how to set up an earthly sanctuary for God.

Earthly sanctuaries for God have been set up from the beginning.

• Genesis 1 describes how God went about turning the earth into a sanctuary, a cosmic temple, into which he was going to dwell and reign (which is the idea captured by “resting” on the 7th day.) After creation was over, the temple was ready. God moved in. We see this happen again in the tabernacle. Eventually, Solomon built a temple that expanded on the tabernacle (at least in size and wealth).

Temples, or earthly sanctuaries, were a HUGE deal to the Jewish people. Adam Clarke notes that “the Jews believe that the tabernacle was an epitome of the world.”

My question is this: if the Old Covenant had a sanctuary, does the New Covenant have one as well? The writer of Hebrews has used language that things in the Old Covenant were sketches and types and shadows of what was to come.

God does not dwell in temples made by human hands (Acts 7:48). But the New Testament makes clear there is still a place where He dwells: in our body. The writers didn’t mean to suggest that God is not everywhere, or that there are “hot spots” where we can connect better with God, like good Wifi. It’s language that reminds us how seriously we are supposed to take the presence of God: our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. There are no days off from the Holy of Holies. It’s on 24/7 now.

The Bible uses ‘body’ in two ways: us individually, and the church corporately. Sometimes it’s hard to know which passages refer to what, but we know that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19), and the church is God’s body on earth (Romans 12:5,1 Corinthians 12:12–27, Ephesians 3:6 and 5:23, Colossians 1:18 and Colossians 1:24.) I Peter 2:5 combines these images: we are the living stones that build the house of God.

If the Old Covenant offered shadows and signs that foreshadow the New Covenant, perhaps there is something about the Old Temples that can give us some insight into the ordering of the New Temples.

A temple is a testimony. Historically, the architecture sent a message, from the tabernacle to temples and cathedrals. The name sends a message. The reputation of the people walking in sends a message. The lyrics and style of the music sends a message. The outreach in the community sends a message. It’s supposed to be a “city on a hill” that shines light into the darkness. Yes, it’s just a thing, but it’s a thing loaded with meaning.

The temple of our lives and our churches are testimonies also. We are cautioned in Scripture not to take God’s name in vain. God’s name is His reputation based on His character. “Taking the name” of God means claiming we are one of His and taking the mantle of reputation on us. We are ambassadors. Ambassadors inescapably make a claim that when you see me, you see the person I represent. We “take God’s name” and carry it with us.

When we build a church as a place to gather and worship Jesus, we take His name for our church. It is a fair assumption for people to make that when they visit our church, they will interact with representatives of Jesus.

A temple is a testimony. God does not needs our bodies or our churches in order to be present in the world, and His power and glory is not concentrated in a particular geographic location. That was the shadow. But our temples still stand for something. We must take them seriously.

A temple is a place of sacrifice. I Peter 2:5 says we are spiritual stones, “built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Romans 12:1 says we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices. It's not that there are no more sacrifices; there are just no more sacrifices for the remission of sin. There is still a sacrifice we offer: ourselves.

• As a response, not to get God to respond

• Not to pay off a debt, but to celebrate a debt forgiven.

• We put ourselves, not a substitute, on the altar.

• We don’t give a portion; we give all.

• We don’t do it once a week or a month or a year. We die daily (1 Corinthians 15:31).

Old Covenant sacrifice foreshadowed Jesus’ sacrifice once and for all (more on that another week), but it also foreshadowed our worship that will no longer cost us merely something. Now it will cost us everything.

“If there be any lesson which comes out of this great truth of Christians as temples, it is not a lesson of pluming ourselves on our dignity, or losing ourselves in the mysticisms which lie near this truth, but it is the hard lesson - If a temple, then an altar; if an altar, then a sacrifice. ‘Ye are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, that ye may offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God…’ all for the sake and by the might of that dear Lord who has given Himself a bleeding sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, that we might offer a… sacrifice of thanks and praise and self-surrender unto Him...” – MacLaren’s Expositions

A temple is a place of worship.

A. Transformative – In offering the sacrifice of our lives as a continual act of worship, we are transformed into the image of Christ. We become what we worship. Psalm 115:8 says, “Those who make [idols] will be like them, as will all those who trust in them.” Greg Beale wrote a book entitled We Become What We Worship. His basic premise is simple: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” Tim Keller writes in his book on Jonah, “To find out which deity Jonah had offended, they did not need to ask, ‘What is your god’s name?’ All they had to ask was who [Jonah] was. In their minds, human identity factors were inextricably linked to what you worshipped. Who you were and what you worshipped were just two sides of the same coin.” Our minds are always being transformed; our image is always being conformed. It’s not a question of if that is happening. It’s a question of what we will look like when the transformation is done.

B. Expressive - By ‘expressive’ I mean New Covenant worshippers walk the talk. Our heart is expressed in our hands. We are known by our fruit. We all express something about who we are by what we do. That’s inescapable. (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45).

C. Communal – New Covenant worship is certainly not less than personal worship, but it’s more than that. It requires community. (Acts 2:46-47; Hebrews 10:25). It’s not a biblical option. There was no concept in the early church that one could thrive as a Christian without being in steady, purposeful, close church community.

• New Covenant Community corrals our theology. Our crazy ideas are supposed to be constrained in community.

• New Covenant Community builds godly friendships/peer groups. There is something really, really important about the steady influence of godly peers.

• New Covenant Community establishes norms. We navigate the world with a lot of assumptions about what is normal and good. Who forms them?

• New Covenant Community offers accountability. We are all on the same page (basically) about who God is and what He has called us to do. Community let’s us encourage, challenge, applaud, confront, cry, laugh.

• New Covenant Community bears each other’s burdens. Life is hard. Life is harder alone. This is so important that the law of Christ is fulfilled when we bear each other’s burdens!