by Mike Ratliff
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14 ESV)
Central to Covenant Theology is understanding that the Old Covenant represented the former age. The Ceremonial Law given to the Israelites by Moses consisted of earthy copies of the “heavenly things,” which made up the Old Covenant (Hebrews 9:23). These were “shadows of the good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1). Our Lord spoke often of the age we are in now as “this age,” with an age still to come. The New Covenant is God’s economy in this age. Instead of our faith revolving around the earthy copies of the “heavenly things,” partakers of the New Covenant participate in the reality of “heavenly things” within it. These are the “good things that have come” (Hebrews 9:11). However, those in the New Covenant still look forward to “the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5), which will be their “Sabbath rest” (Hebrews 4:1,9). With this in mind, shouldn’t Christians remain focused on God’s Promises of this “Sabbath rest,” which is to come instead of falling for the deception of the emergents like Brian McLaren who teach that God’s will is for us to be focused on the here and now within a Social Gospel?
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. (Hebrews 9:1-5 ESV)
The Greek word used here translated “covenant” is διαθήκη or diathēkē. This word literally means, “disposition, testament or covenant.” The Old and New Covenants were instituted by God to man. The Old Covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. The elements of this worship consisted of the earthly copies of the “heavenly things” The Temple and the Tabernacle, which preceded it, contained a holy place in which only the priests of God could minister. Separate from it was the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies, which contained the golden altar of incense and the Ark of the Covenant. Only the High Priest once a year on the Day of Atonement could enter this place to burn incense and make a blood sacrifice for the people. Never forget my brethren, this was not the reality of which the New Covenant now consists. Instead, these were merely shadows and copies of heavenly realities. God is Holy and fallen man cannot even approach Him without first making a blood sacrifice.
These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:6-10 ESV)
Do you see that all of this is no longer necessary because the Old Covenant was made null and void by the institution of the New Covenant cut by God at the Cross? The elements of the Old Covenant were symbolic for the present age. Within the Old Covenant, the sacrifices, gifts, washings, dietary compliance were incapable of perfecting the conscience of the worshipper. Instead, these things were imposed on the people until the time of reformation. This “time of reformation was inaugurated by Christ. This present age is described as a time of impure consciences and of separation from access to God. However, through Christ’s work, this present age is passing away. The new time of reformation, which has already been inaugurated, will later be consummated when Christ appears at the “end of the age.” Now do you see why our focus should be on the “age to come” my brethren? What we have in Christ in this age is far superior to what those in the Old Covenant, the former age, had. However, the fulfillment and completion of this reformation awaits the “age to come.”
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11-14 ESV)
How can a Christian read this passage and not praise God? Christ shed His blood at the Cross. Through this, He symbolically entered once for all into the holy places securing an eternal redemption for His people. Christ was our sacrifice, the Lamb of God, who by His shed blood, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without blemish to God in order to purify the conscience of His people from dead works to serve the living God.
The Greek word used here for conscience is συνείδησις or suneidēsis. This word denotes an abiding consciousness whose nature is to bear witness to the subject regarding one’s own conduct in a moral sense. It is self-consciousness, particularly, a knowing with oneself, consciousness; and hence conscience, that faculty of the soul which distinguishes between right and wrong, and prompts to choose the former and avoid the latter. A purified conscience is vital for the spiritual heath of the Christian. It his through this that we are prompted to serve and worship God according to His will not ours. Those who go off on tangents to seek self-fulfillment outside of God’s will do so by damaging their consciences. Hence, when they are confronted about it and rebuked, they respond according the flesh because they have a defiled conscience. It is through proper worship and service to God according to His will, in repentance and faith that we preserve a healthy and purified conscience.
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:15-22 ESV)
Those who claim that Christ’s sacrifice of Himself at the Cross was simply a tragedy that accomplished nothing must not have read this passage. Or, perhaps they don’t understand it because they are not of Christ… In any case, it was the shedding of Christ’s blood that inaugurated the New Covenant and purchased the forgiveness of sins for His people. This is why Paul continually preached Christ and Him crucified. This is the gospel.
Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:23-28 ESV)
Here we see that Christ’s perfect sacrifice at the Cross is entirely sufficient to save His people. He put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. That is, the sin of those for whom He died. This life is short my brethren. When it is over what is next? It is judgment, but for those in Christ, their judgment as already taken place at the Cross. Therefore, those truly in Christ eagerly await His return. When He returns, judgment comes with Him, but not for those partakers of the New Covenant. No, this judgment will be for those outside of it whose sins have not be put away.
Many claim to be children of God who do not know the Saviour. They proclaim that they are Christians, but their lives reveal a pattern of living with a defiled conscience. They indulge the flesh (σάρξ) while offering things at the altar that are only works of it. This message should prompt us to do two things my brethren. We must prayerfully examine ourselves, confess our sins, and walk in repentance and faith before the face of God, our Coram Deo. The second thing is that we should joyfully proclaim the gospel to those lost souls all around us.
Soli Deo Gloria!