An understanding of practically all of the Epistle to the Hebrews is necessary before we can hope to make this text clear to ourselves. Briefly, the epistle talks about a two-fold priesthood. The former priesthood was a material one, with material adornment, tabernacle, sacrifices and with pardon found in ritual; material were all its appointments. The new order is a spiritual priesthood, with spiritual adornments, spiritual tabernacle and sacrifices—spiritual in all that pertains to it. Christ, in the exercise of His priestly office, in the sacrifice on the cross, was not adorned with silk and gold and precious stones, but with divine love, wisdom, patience, obedience and all virtues. His adornment was apparent to none but God and possessors of the Spirit, for it was spiritual.
Christ sacrificed not goats nor calves nor birds; not bread; not blood nor flesh, as did Aaron and his posterity: Christ offered His own Body and Blood, and the manner of the sacrifice was spiritual; for it took place through the Holy Spirit, as here stated. Although the Body and Blood of Christ were visible the same as any other material object, the fact that He offered them as a sacrifice was not obvious to the naked eye. It was not a visible sacrifice, as in the case of offerings at the hands of Aaron. Then the goat or calf, the flesh and blood, were material sacrifices visibly offered, and recognized as sacrifices. But Christ offered Himself spiritually before God. His sacrifice was perceptible to no mortal.
Similarly, we Christians, the posterity of Christ our Aaron, offer up our own bodies. Our offering is likewise a spiritual sacrifice, or, as Saint Paul has it, a "reasonable service"; for we make it in spirit, and it is beheld by God alone.
Again, in the new order, the tabernacle or house is spiritual; for it is heaven, or the presence of God. Christ hung upon a cross; He was not offered in a temple. He was offered before the eyes of God, and there He still abides. The cross is an altar in a spiritual sense. The material cross was indeed visible, but none knew it as Christ's altar. Again, His prayer, His sprinkled Blood, His burnt incense, were all spiritual, for it was all made through His spirit.
Accordingly, the fruit and blessing of His sacrifice, the forgiveness of our sins and our justification, are likewise spiritual. The priesthood of Christ is true spiritual remission, sanctification and absolution. These are effective before God—whether we be outwardly holy or not. Christ's Blood has obtained for us pardon forever, and we are acceptable to God. God will forgive our sins for the sake of that Blood so long as its power and its intercession for grace on our behalf shall last, which is forever. Therefore, we are forever holy and blessed before God.
This is the substance of the text. Now we will briefly consider its parts.
First it says, "But Christ having come a high priest of the good things to come." When Christ came upon the cross no one beheld Him as He went before God in the Holy Spirit, adorned with every grace and virtue, a true High Priest. The blessings created by Him are not temporal—a merely formal pardon—but they are "blessings to come"; namely, blessings which are spiritual and eternal. They are blessings to come, not because we must await the life to come before we can have forgiveness and all the blessings of divine grace, but because now we possess them only in faith. They are as yet hidden, to be revealed in the future life.
Then the text says, "Through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation." The apostle who wrote the book of Hebrews does not name the tabernacle he mentions; nor can he, so strange is its nature! It exists only in the sight of God, and is ours in faith, to be revealed hereafter. It is not made with hands, like the Jewish tabernacle. The old tabernacle, like all buildings of its nature, necessarily was made of wood and other earthly materials created by God. God says in Isaiah 66, "What manner of house will you build unto Me?... For all these things has My hand made, and so all these things came to be." But that greater tabernacle has no visible form for us to see. God shall reveal it. As Christ's words say, "I go and prepare a place for you."
Then the text says, "Nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption." According to Leviticus sixteen, the high priest must once a year enter into the holy place with the blood of rams and other offerings, and with these make formal reconciliation for the people. This ceremony pointed to Christ, the true Priest, who once died for us, to obtain for us the true atonement. But the former sacrifice, having to be repeated every year, was but a temporary and imperfect atonement; it did not eternally suffice, as does the atonement of Christ. For though we fall and sin repeatedly, we have confidence that the Blood of Christ does not fall or sin; it remains steadfast before God, and the expiation is perpetual and eternal. Under its sway, grace is perpetually renewed, without work or merit on our part, provided we do not stand aloof in unbelief.
Then we hear the text say, "For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the Blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" Christ, who is so much better in God’s sight than the ashes of the red heifer, and the blood of bulls and goats, purifies the conscience of dead works; that is, of sins meriting death, and of works performed in sin and therefore dead. Christ purifies from these, that we may serve the living God by living works.
Therefore it says, "for this cause He is the mediator of a new testament, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance." Christ is our Mediator through His Blood; by it our conscience is freed from sin in the sight of God. God promises the Spirit through the Blood of Christ. All, however, do not receive Him. Only those called to be heirs eternal, the elect, will persevere in the Spirit forever.
We find, then, in this excellent Epistle, the comforting doctrine taught that Christ is He whom we should know as the Priest and Bishop of our souls; that no sin is forgiven, nor the Holy Spirit given, by reason of works or merit on our part, but alone through the Blood of Christ, and that only to those in whom God has worked faith.
God keep us in this faith in the one Mediator, that we may partake in the heavenly Sanctuary to come, not only for this earth, but to all eternity. Amen.
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