Hebrews 9:8–10, “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).[a] According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.”

Jeremiah prophesied that a new covenant would come and replace the old covenant (Jer. 31; Heb. 8). This new covenant would be superior because it would bring the reality of atonement instead of just offering a vague hope of future reconciliation between God and man.

The new covenant had to come and do away with the animal sacrifices because they could not permanently restore the relationship between God and man. A different sacrifice was needed to do this.

This is the theme of Hebrews 9 and 10. While the author of Hebrews has already touched on the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice (7:27–28), in these chapters he describes it in great detail because it is one way in which the new covenant is far superior to the old.

In 9:1–7, the author gives us some details concerning the arena in which the old covenant sacrifices were made, and he reminds us that the high priest entered the holiest place only once a year for the sins of the people (vv. 6–7). These details are not incidental but have purpose beyond the rituals themselves. Ultimately, these details show the Israelites’ need for a perfect sacrifice (10:1–4), and they instruct the people of God about life under the new covenant’s administration. This purpose was not invented by the author. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit who revealed certain things to him through the details of the Law. We are told in 9:8, for example, that the Holy Spirit gave the Day of Atonement to show us that as long as the holy place stood (the “first section”), there was no access into the Holy of Holies.

This first section is “symbolic” of the present, new covenant, era (9:9). The word translated as “symbolic” is actually translated elsewhere as “parable.” The first section of the tabernacle (and later the temple), with its limited access, is a parable for us in the new covenant. In other words, the details of the Law tell us about life in the new covenant and how it differs from life under the old covenant.

Although there was no access to the holy places while the first section was still standing under the old covenant, the curtain has now been ripped open in Christ’s atonement (Mark 15:38). We now have access to the Holy of Holies. This, along with the fact that imperfect sacrifices were offered under the old covenant (vv. 9–10), shows us in a concrete way that the new covenant is vastly superior to the old.

Coram Deo

It can be difficult to wade through the details of the Law. The customs seem so foreign to us that we are tempted just to skim over them. But, as the author of Hebrews tells us, the details of the Law are important. Pray that you would be concerned for the details of the Law so that you might know the full counsel of God’s Word.

Imperfect Sacrifices, Copyright (2020), Ligonier Ministries.

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