Hebrews 9:23–24, “23 It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.”
The author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote his letter in order to remind his audience of the superiority of the new covenant to the old one. This audience was questioning its commitment to Christ, and it needed exhortation to remain faithful even though some promises of the new covenant had not yet been fully realized.
In contrast to those who would say that the death of Christ invalidates His claim to be the Mediator of the new covenant, the author of Hebrews argues that it is precisely His death that makes Him the Mediator. For, in His death, He is set apart to be our High Priest (5:8–10). And a new covenant requires a new high priest because of the ineffectual nature of the old covenant priesthood (9:9–10).
The continuity that the work of Christ has with the old covenant guarantees that He is the new covenant Mediator. But it is the discontinuity that guarantees His superiority. Like the old covenant priests, He offered a sacrifice that effects cleansing, but, unlike them, His blood achieves a cleansing of heart and mind (vv. 13–14).
Today we will look at 9:23–24. Verse 23 introduces two questions for us. First, why would the dwelling place of God need to be purified? Is not heaven inherently holy? We must be careful not to assume too much. The earthly places are a copy of the heavenly, but they are only a copy. A copy is similar to the original but not exactly the same. The author is merely pointing out cleansing as a way to tie the work of Christ to the work of the old covenant priesthood. The high priests of old entered the temple only after it was cleansed, and so, to draw the parallel with Christ, the author speaks of Christ’s entering the Holy of Holies in similar terms. When we allow for broad allusions, the second problem of the “better sacrifices” of Christ is also solved. The author is not teaching that Christ made more than one sacrifice (see v. 26). Rather, he uses the plural, “sacrifices,” as a means of comparing Christ’s work in broad fashion with the old covenant sacrifices.
What comes next ought to capture our attention (v. 24). The author would not want us to get bogged down with questions about purifying heaven; rather, he would have us recognize that Christ has appeared in the presence of God to be our advocate with the Father. This is the greatest benefit we now enjoy under the new covenant.
The high priests of old entered into a presence that had only the types and symbols of the immediate presence of God. But Christ, the God-man and Mediator of the new covenant, has entered into the direct, immediate presence of the Father. Remember that if you are in Him, Christ is pleading for you in the direct presence of God.