Among the denominations of Christendom, one of the most overlooked lessons of the book of Hebrews is the statement in chapter 9:8-9 to the effect that the first tabernacle (the one revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and constructed under his supervision, Exodus 25-40) was intended to serve as a figure for the time of the church. (The Greek word for “figure” is para-bolay, a parable or comparison.)
The tabernacle – or since the time of Solomon, the temple – was the single most visible symbol of Hebrew religious identity for most Jews, especially since Herod had rebuilt and enlarged it, beginning before the birth of Jesus. By using the word tabernacle (“tent”) instead of “temple” and by describing it as a “figure,” the Holy Spirit is emphasizing the temporary, impermanent character of everything associated with it (i.e., the whole Jewish religion). This is why the inspired writer makes the point in verses 9-10 that the offerings and sacrifices required by Moses’ law could not “perfect” those who offered them, and why they were to be offered ONLY until the “time of reformation.” (The time of reformation is a fascinating expression, which literally means “to thoroughly straighten out,” in the sense of correcting or improving something that is inadequate!)
In verse 11, the coming of the Christ had signaled the arrival of that time of reformation and the coming of a better tabernacle (the church). Because HE is the high priest of the “good things to come” – everything that the old covenant had prefigured – HIS offering is able to provide eternal redemption (vs. 12) instead of the temporary redemption provided by the sacrifices and offerings of Moses’ law (vs. 25).
Jesus stated plainly in Matthew 5:17 that He came to “fulfill” that law, not to destroy it – the error of our friends in the denominations lies in failing to recognize the lesson from Hebrews 7:12 – that with a change in priesthood comes a change in the law that authorizes that priesthood, so that we are not under the authority of the ten commandments (or ANY of the old testament’s directions), but the authority of the law of Christ (cf. Galatians 6:2).
Hebrews 9:13-22 reinforces the point that what Jesus offers surpasses any blessing a Jew could receive through observing Moses’ law by emphasizing the superiority of everything He provides:
- In vv. 13-14 and 18-22, Jesus offers “better” blood than the sacrifices of bulls and goats, because His blood can cleanse our souls of sin, rather than simply purify the flesh in a ceremonial sense;
- In verse 15, He is the mediator of a “better” covenant (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34) than the one given through Moses, because it is able to permanently redeem us from the consequences of transgressions.
The summary of these thoughts comes in vv. 23-28, where the Holy Spirit shows that everything about the law of Moses and the practice of Judaism was meant to serve as a pattern of better things to come through the Messiah, Who could take care of the problem of our sins permanently!