The apostle proceeds to draw out, in contrast with the principles of the first covenant, that which the prophet declared should take its place, or rather that which is the Christian’s portion now that Christ is dead, risen, and ascended. It is the way into the holies now made manifest; the conscience purged by the blood of Christ from dead works to serve the living God; and the eternal inheritance of which they that are called receive the promise.
“The first [covenant] therefore also had ordinances of divine service, and the sanctuary a worldly one. For a tabernacle was formed, the first in which [were] both the candlestick, and the table and the setting forth of the loaves (or, the show-bread), which is called Holy [place]; but after the second veil a tabernacle that is called Holy of holies, having a golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid all round about with gold, in which [were] a golden pot holding the manna, and the rod of Aaron that budded, and the tables of the covenant, and above over it cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; of which things one cannot now speak in detail” (verses 1-5).
Ordinances of divine service the first covenant had in abundance, and most instructive; yet the sanctuary was and could not but be a worldly one. For God was not manifested in flesh here below, nor was man received up in glory. The infinite sacrifice for sin had yet to be offered, in which God is glorified, and whereby He can bless the believer to the uttermost, sin being fully judged in the cross. The veil therefore was still unrent, and the way into the holies neither available nor manifest. As the sanctuary was of the world (verse 6), so the ordinance was carnal (verse 10). All was of the first creation, shadowy and provisional, at best the witness of good things to come, as the tabernacle itself was of testimony, not one thing there of intrinsic excellency or divinely efficacious.
Such is ritualism. Only it is now beyond measure evil for faith and practice: because it is condemned and annulled by the cross of Christ It is despite of the Spirit of grace sent down from heaven; it is the gainsaying of Korah against the true Moses and Aaron — even Christ now on high. The Jewish system had divine sanction till Christ came, accomplished His work, and took His seat on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. Ritualism in the Christian congregation is not only ignorance “but contempt, however unwitting, of the gospel as well as of the church, and what is graver still, of Christ’s work and priesthood. The grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ is virtually denied, yea, and destroyed by it, so far as falsehood can.
When we come to particulars, the character of the first covenant which we have traced generally is no less evident. Thus attention is here drawn briefly to its two divisions, the Holy place (verse 2), and the Holy of Holies, each severed by a door or veil, as we read for the holiest of all, “after the second veil.” Door and veil barred the entrance of man as such. Even the high priest could only enter where the cherubim of glory overshadowed judicially, to put blood on and before the propitiatory, and not without clouds of incense “lest he die.” How contrasted with the bold access by faith we have as a settled title into this grace wherein we stand! For now the veil is rent in twain from top to bottom, ever since Jesus yielded up His spirit on the cross: the unambiguous proof on God’s part that the first covenant is ended, the barrier gone, and the way into the holies laid open to faith.
Not that either part of the tabernacle ceases to yield its instruction to faith: whether the outer, wherein were the candlestick, and the table, and the show-bread; or the inner, with golden censer and the ark of the covenant and its significant contents and surroundings. Of these it was not the Spirit’s purpose here to speak severally. Their import indeed is not uncertain when viewed in the light of Christ, to whom each and all bore witness. For He in the first was attested as both light in the sevenfold power of the Spirit, and nourishment in administrative fulness as Man and for man. In the second, to say nothing of that which maintained intercession, was the display of God in judgment and sovereign government, with the testimony of executive power to make good His will. Within the ark, underneath the throne where His glory shone, were the memorial of His people’s food when passing through the wilderness, the authoritative sign of that power of life and fruit in priestly grace which preserved from judgment, and the tables of the covenant which expressed the rule that menaced transgression with death.
How transcendent the chance when God no longer dwelt in thick darkness — but revealed Himself in Christ, the true Light, having sent Him not only as life but as propitiation for our sins!
The aim of the Holy Spirit, in referring to the first covenant with its ordinances, and especially its sanctuary, becomes now apparent. It was not to speak in detail of the contents of the tabernacle exterior or interior, however symbolically instructive, but of its distinctive contrast as a whole with Christianity. For this, not the church, is the subject of the Epistle to the Hebrews, as it abides a primary truth for any soul, Gentile no less than Jewish, without which (held simply, clearly, and intelligently the doctrine of the church is apt to be a danger rather than a blessing, as it surely is in itself instinct with the love and glory of Christ according to the counsels of God and made good by the indwelling Spirit who baptised all into one body. But where there is repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, the soul under the gospel becomes the object of that grace reigning through righteousness, which gives the access into this favour wherein we stand, as Rom. 5:2 puts it, or, as in our Epistle, the way into the sanctuary, not the holy place but the holiest also, made manifest.
So characteristic of the gospel is this privilege that we find it since the cross almost everywhere, and claimed for all that now believe as their assured portion, by none so much as by the apostle Paul, set as he was for the defence of the gospel and its minister in all the largeness of its scope. Rom. 5 we have just heard. 2 Cor. 3:18 is no less explicit, contrasting the Christian with Israel who could not gaze even on the reflected glory which shone from Moses’ face and required a veil to hide it; whereas we all, beholding the glory of the Lord with unveiled face, are transformed accordingly even as from the Lord the Spirit. Again in Eph. 2:13, 14, 18, “But in Christ Jesus, ye that once were far off are made nigh by (or, in) the blood of Christ; for he is our peace . . . for through him we both have the access through one Spirit unto the Father.” No less plain and decisive is Col. 1:12, 13: “Giving thanks to the Father, who made us meet for a share of the inheritance of the saints in light, who delivered us out of the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love.” 1 Peter 2:9 declares that God called the Christian Jews “out of darkness into his marvellous light even as Christ wrought, who suffered for sins once, that He might bring us to God. Nor is 1 John 1:7 less to the point, where he lays down that, as walking in darkness is the status of those who falsely profess Christ and do not practise the truth, we (Christians) walk in the light as God is in the light, have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth us from all sin. No doubt he says “if “; but this condition is simply if we are real, not nominal merely, in following Christ, and so not walking in darkness but having the light of life (John 8:12).
“Now these things having been thus formed, the priests enter continually into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the services: but into the second the high priest alone once in the year, not without blood, which he offereth for himself and the errors of the people, the Holy Spirit this signifying that the way of (or into) the holies hath not yet been made manifest, while the first tabernacle had Yet a standing the which [is] a parable for the present time according to which32 are offered both gifts and sacrifices, unable as to conscience to perfect the worshipper, [being] only with meats and drinks and divers washings, ordinances of flesh imposed till time of setting right” (verses 6-10).
It will be noticed that it is the present, which the Vulgate and the A.V. alike neglected, though Beza rendered it correctly; yet the present not historical but ethic; for the tabernacle in the wilderness is before the writer, not the temple: so we saw in Heb. 3, 4, and so it is here and throughout. This is evident in the early verses of the chapter, summed up in “these things having been thus formed” or prepared, not only the tabernacle but its furniture; which differed in some essential respects from the temple, for it was the figure of the millennial kingdom and rest, as the tabernacle is of the resources of grace in Christ for the wilderness and its pilgrimage. Hence the ark when set in the temple had neither the golden pot with manna therein nor Aaron’s rod that budded (2 Chron. 5:10), which we find carefully named in verse 4. With such wisdom markedly divine was the scripture inspired in the O.T. as in the N.T.
Nevertheless the law, whatever shadows of heavenly things it afforded, made nothing perfect. And this is demonstrated here by the fact that the priests in their continual entrance go no farther than the first tabernacle or holy place; into the holiest only the high. priest once in the year, and then not apart from blood which he offers for himself and the errors of the people. How far from the gospel which goes out to the ungodly and lost, reconciling to God all that believe in the virtue of the death of His Son!
When Christ came, God was in Him reconciling the world to Himself; but Him both Jew and Gentile rejected and crucified. Under the law God did not reveal Himself, but barred even His people absolutely from His presence; for how could God, if He were dealing with them on the ground of their conduct, make them free of His presence? He dwelt in the thick darkness, and allowed the priests to approach no nearer than the holy place, the high priest alone (type of Christ) entering the holiest but once a year, and then (for he was but a type, and in fact a sinful man) with blood to offer for himself and the people’s sins of ignorance. The barrier was still maintained. But now, and only by the death of Christ, is the veil rent; and the Holy Spirit signifies thereby that the way into the holy places has been and is manifested. It was the death-knell of Judaism, but the foundation of better and heavenly blessing; and as man is put to shame in it, having no part but sins, God is glorified and can thereby work freely in sovereign grace to save alike Jew and Gentile. This is precisely what He is now carrying out in the gospel.
Thus the incarnation was God come to man in Christ; but by the cross man who believes is brought to God, and the way into the holiest in now manifested. In the incarnate Word was divine love and absolute obedience; but the work of atonement was solely in His death. For God was not before glorified as to evil, nor was sin judged to the full, nor consequently the righteous basis laid so that God could be just in justifying the believer: to say nothing of what was of the nearest interest to Himself the Father, raising Christ from the dead and setting Him, the glorified Man, at His own right hand on high, Head over all things to the church which is His body. Hence the notion that the Incarnation was the reconstitution of humanity is a fable opposed to and destructive of the truth: hence no less available to the rationalist than to the ritualist. For it is the alleged ground of blessing without Christ’s sacrifice, or God’s righteousness, or sin’s judgment, or the triumph of grace over evil and Satan in the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Saviour. But it is His death which Scripture reveals as the true groundwork of redemption, though no doubt the glory of His person, true God and perfect man, gave Him the competency, not only to redeem sinners, but to be the Head of the new creation and indeed over all things. Only as raised from the dead and exalted in the heavenly places, is He appointed Head over all things (Eph. 1; Phil. 2; Heb. 1, 2); and this, because, sin having ruined both the heirs and the inheritance, there could be no vindication of God, no adequate and everlasting deliverance for man, without the suffering of death (Heb. 2). It is only thus He became the efficacious centre (John 12:24, 32). He is Son of God, and Son of man.. but all true faith stops not short of His death: else (whatever the motive) it would make light of sin and of the judgment. of God. Compare John 6:35 with 53-56, etc.; 1 John 5:6.
So here we see (verses 8, 9) that, under the law, as the way into the holiest was not manifested, so its gifts and sacrifices could not make the worshipper perfect as to conscience. Now the work, and nothing short of the work, of Christ meets both God and the worshipper, nay the darkest and most distant and defiled of sinners. “Such (or, these things) were some of you; but ye were washed, but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus and by (
ἐν) the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6). The provisions of the law, however admirable as a witness of man’s sinfulness and of a coming Redeemer, were but superficial and temporal, conditioned only by “meats and drinks and divers washings” of an external sort; and consistently they touched no deeper wants than “the errors of the people” (verse 7). They were, as here, styled “ordinances of flesh imposed till a time of rectifying.”
Thus the Holy Spirit pronounces the Levitical institutions, however instructive in their season, essentially provisional and temporary, adapted to man in his weakness, ignorance, and probation. Christ is the intervention of God in man, yet God’s own Son revealing Himself and saving the lost. As John puts it, the law was given by Moses; grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ. Nor was it word only, even if this were, as it really is, God’s word. God has wrought in Christ. Instead of responsible man, tried in every way, and proved failing and guilty in all, we see now by faith the Second man in heaven set down on the right hand of the throne, sin judged in a perfect sacrifice, death vanquished, Satan’s power annulled, God glorified, and the way into the holiest now manifested, to the present blessedness of every believer here below. And these are and are declared to be everlasting realities, in contrast with Israel’s natural and transient privileges in the past, and before the day when they too, repentant and renewed, enter by divine mercy into their portion, even Messiah and the new covenant, which shall never pass away.
“But Christ having come high. priest of the good things to come,33 by the better and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), nor yet by blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, entered once for all into the holies, having found an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and a heifer’s ashes sprinkling those that are defiled sanctifieth unto the cleanliness of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of the Christ, who by an eternal Spirit offered himself spotless to God, cleanse your34 [or our] conscience from dead works to serve a living God (verses 11-14)!
The great, sure, and plain basis of the Epistle is Christ, not reigning yet as Son of David, but arrived at His actual heavenly position. He is High Priest not here below but in the heavenly places. It is no longer a figure in the hand of mortal man on earth, but God’s work of everlasting efficacy in His Son, yet man risen and ascended, by virtue of an atonement, the perfection of which God thus attested, as well as the glory of His person who suffered to the utmost in achieving it; for sin could only thus be absolutely judged and Satan triumphed over by such a sacrifice. Yet while the blessing is fully made known to the believer now, in order to place him in immediate access to God according to the rights of Christ’s glory and of redemption actually accomplished for the soul, the phraseology is purposely such as to hold out and ensure “the coming good things” for His people another day, like “the world to come” in Heb. 2, “the rest that remaineth for the people of God” in Heb. 4, “the age to come” in Heb. 6, and the implied exercise of the Melchizedek priesthood in Heb. 7, to say no more now. They were familiar as promised in the O.T. For the Christian the direct aim is to place him through Christ in present, known, and settled relationship with God in the holiest above.
Accordingly the text runs “by the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not hand-made, that is, not of this creation.” We may make allowance for the difficulty of presenting the force of both this clause. and the preceding one in Latin, which wants the definite article — but Tyndale, Cranmer, the Geneva, and the Authorised ought to have adhered to the sense. The Rhemish, singular to say, has “the” good things to come, but “a” more ample and more perfect tabernacle: why they should have thus halted, it is hard to conceive. “The” greater and more perfect tabernacle is in contrast with the earthly one reared by human hands. High priest and sanctuary are in exact keeping. Christianity is “not of this creation” but divine and heavenly, though for believers here below; as Judaism could not rise above sinful dying man and the earth, whatever its solemn sanction or its rigid separateness. Hence it perfected nothing and could satisfy neither. God when He revealed Himself, nor man when the depth of his need on the one hand and the resources of grace on the other were fully made known. “Due time,” or “season of rectification,” came when Christ., rejected of man, became by His blood-shedding the ground of God’s righteousness. who thereby and forthwith proceeds to justify the believer through faith of Him. And this is here stated in terms of the Epistle to the Roman saints, that the thorough identity of the truth with that set before the Hebrew confessors may be shown without argument.
There is a curious erratum (almost certainly the printer’s) in the middle of Tyndale’s version of verse 12: “we” entered, for “he,” as it unquestionably should be. The error involves the deplorable connection of our having “founde eternall redemcion,” an idea as remote as possible from that faithful translator’s mind. Of course no ancient reading, or version, led to it, but a mere slip of typography overlooked in revision of the proof.
The “blood of goats and calves” was a grave object-lesson for Israel in the days when God condescended to deal with the ignorant and erring by the law and a worldly sanctuary and earthly rites and a high priest compassed with infirmity like the people. Now they slight the grace and truth which came ‘by Jesus Christ, and are pronounced, fruit as well as root and branch, the weak and beggarly elements to which some bearing Christ’s name desire to be in bondage Now the entire system is unbelief and ignorance of Christ who “by his own blood” entered once for all into the holies, having found eternal redemption (verse 12). “For us” is the gratuitous addition of the Geneva Version, followed by the Authorised. Abstractly the statement is no more than is in substance taught elsewhere, notably and yet more forcibly in Heb. 10 of this Epistle. But here it is not only uncalled for as not so written, but improper as going beyond the actual aim of the Holy Ghost who is setting out the intrinsic value of the infinite sacrifice, not its application to any, which follows in its own due time and place.
It may be added that there is no good reason here to give the preposition translated “by” the mere local (10) or instrumental (12) notion of “through,” though capable of either when contextually required. But
διὰ may and does when needed express the circumstantial condition, as in Rom. 2:27, and elsewhere. So it is best understood here. Into the holies (the veil being now rent) He entered once for all. There He abides without change or the need of repetition, indeed contrasted with any such thing; and His own blood was not for Himself, as if He required any sacrificial means of entrance: therewith it was an eternal redemption He found.
There had been of old a provisional value attached to the Levitical offerings. “The blood of goats and bulls,” on the day of atonement, etc., had an impressive significance; so had a heifer’s ashes sprinkling those that had been defiled in the wilderness (Num. 19). But if these things sanctified “unto the cleanness of the flesh,” how much more shall the blood of the Christ cleanse your [or, our] conscience from dead works (as all the acts of a sinful nature must be) to serve religiously (
λατρεύειν) a living God? Only consider the Christ, glorious in Himself, in the character of His offering, “who by an eternal Spirit offered Himself spotless to God.” As He stands alone, so does that offering. of Himself and the Holy Spirit’s part in it is marked here as “an Eternal Spirit”: so does eternity characterise this Epistle, and so was the Christ as ever dependent on God thus, while offering Himself up without spot to bear our sins. For here it is the previous act: not
προσήνεγκεν. Compare verse 28, where both occur and in their due relation of course.
Here the Holy Spirit reverts to Christ’s mediation, but avails Himself also of the revelation of inheritance in the close of verse 15 to introduce what was familiar to all, the allusion to a testamentary disposition or will, inasmuch as the Greek word for “covenant” had equally the sense of “testament” in ordinary usage. This accordingly serves to illustrate and confirm the all-importance of Christ’s death, as the hinge of present and everlasting blessing from God, alike the end of the old covenant, and the basis of the new, with the added truth that death as a fact is essential to give validity to a will, which has no operation as long as the devisor is alive. Such is the digression by the way in verses 16, 17.
“And on this account he is mediator of a new covenant, that, death having taken place for redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, those that are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a testament [is], the testator’s death must be brought in; for a testament [is] valid in case of dead persons, since it is never of force while the testator liveth” (verses 15-17).35
It will be observed, that notwithstanding the doubt cast on the rendering of “testament” in the last two verses by many eminent Christians and able scholars, there need be no hesitation in deciding for this sense, as here the sole tenable one. That “covenant” is meant everywhere else in the N.T. as in the O.T. is clear from contextual requirement. The same reason of the context here excludes “covenant” and demands “testament,” but here only. As there has already been given a general view of the other occurrences throughout the later scriptures, it is not needful to repeat it. Let it suffice, without a shade of disrespect for other commentators, to examine these three verses, with what follows them immediately, and judge if there be not proof, that the meaning in either case is certain from evidence as it were on the spot, ample and convincing for every soul subject to Scripture.
For as to verse 15 there ought never to have been a question that “a new covenant” is the real sense, not only because “new” is beyond controversy a reference to the prophecy of Jeremiah, who speaks of a “covenant” and not a testament, but without going from the same clause, because it has a “mediator.” Now a mediator was familiar to the Hebrews in connection with a “covenant.” Nobody, in any people, place, or age, heard of a mediator to a “will.” There is the further disproof in the same verse that we hear of “the first covenant,” which furnishes the reason for an explanation of “a new covenant” if there was to be redemption from the guilt and misery under the first. For the first covenant, as we are elsewhere taught, was a ministration of death and condemnation, as the new is of the Spirit and righteousness (2 Cor. 3).
On every ground “testament” would be here out of place, indefensible, and misleading. “Covenant” alone satisfies every condition of the verse. Death (and what a death!) met “the transgressions that were under the first covenant,” and effected a redemption that answered to the glory of His person and the efficacy of His sacrifice. By virtue of His death Jehovah said according to the prophet (as we have it already cited and shall have it again), Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. such is the voice of the new covenant, in contrast with the old which could only claim obedience, and on failure sentences to die. But His death having taken place, so that law’s authority was established to the uttermost, grace could act freely and grant remission of sins, instead of keeping up their remembrance; yea more, it could righteously vindicate God’s forbearance in the past “for redemption of the transgressions” under the then legal condition, with its penalty of death for the offender. Now on the contrary, death having come in, Christ is Mediator of a new covenant, that the called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. All hangs on Christ and His efficacious death; and those that are called pay earnest heed to the glad tidings of God and await the eternal inheritance that is promised. For the blessing comes of faith, that it may be according to grace: no other way honours Christ to God’s glory, or puts man in his true place.
No less determinate is the meaning of what follows in verses 16, 17, the idea of the inheritance naturally suggesting a will, which comes into force by the death of him who made it. The general principle is laid down in the broadest terms — and these can only mean, without strain of known phraseology, a “testament,” not a covenant. “For where a testament [is], the testator’s death must be brought in; for a testament [is] valid in case of dead persons, since it is never of force while the testator liveth.” Now this, which is an axiom and universally applicable to a will, is notoriously untrue of covenants in general; so much so, that it would be hard to point out a single covenant so established among men. For it would assume the necessity of everyone’s death who made a covenant to ensure its operation. Who ever heard of such a covenant? Yet the rendering would imply that it is true of any covenant, and of all. Hence to understand “covenant” in these verses has led many from the appropriate sense of “the testator” to substitute for “the covenanter” (here obviously impossible) “the covenanting victim . . . . . that which establishes the covenant,” or some equivalent phrase; a sense which appears in no writing sacred or profane, and is easily shown to be ungrammatical, especially as being inconsistent with the middle voice. Quite as great violence is done to
ἐπὶ νεκροῖς in verse 17, which cannot, express “over animals slain,” but “when men are dead,” or the like meaning.
Now our Lord in Luke 22:29 (to say nothing of John 14:27) prepares the way for the technical term here twice given as “testator.” There He was in the act of devising; here it is in its regular form and force, though of course not that exclusively. But no Greek, if he read the sentence simply as it stands in these two verses, would hesitate to take it substantially as given in the A. and R.Vv. It is the equally sure sense of covenant in verse 15, as before also; and no less clearly is covenant understood in verse 18 and expressed in verse 20 (as it should be) and in 10:20. “Testament” here is through neglect of the context, which in every other place of Scripture, save verses 16, 17, needs “covenant.” What has a testament to do with blood-shedding? A hard and fast uniformity has its snares as well as a too great facility of change; both are to be shunned as unfaithful to the written word, which is as profound as it is simple, being God’s word.
From the digression, which avails itself of a testamentary disposal coming into force only after death to bring out the blessing from Christ’s death, we return to the far more usual notion of covenant in the verses which follow. Accordingly “blood” again resumes its place. This of course is quite foreign to the associations of a will, but most familiar to all acquainted with the ancient covenant of the law.
“Whence not even hath the first [covenant] been inaugurated without blood. For every injunction having been spoken according to law by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of the calves and the 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 which God enjoined as to you. And the tabernacle too and all the vessels of the ministry he likewise sprinkled with the blood. And almost all things are purified by blood according to the law, and apart from blood-shedding no remission taketh place” (verses 18-22).
There are here three distinct uses of blood in the Levitical economy, all of them solemn and momentous, the last of them leading the way into the fundamental blessing of the new covenant which the gospel announces to every believer.
1. The first covenant was inaugurated with blood, as we read in Ex. 24. This is not redemption, but in the strongest contrast with it. The type of redemption had been already given (Ex. 12, 14) in the blood of the paschal lamb, followed by the passage of the Red Sea: the blood which sheltered from the judgment of God; and the power which thereon set the people free from their enemies destroyed for ever. But now Israel far from God had accepted to stand on the condition of their own obedience, Ex. 19; and God had spoken those ten words which would put the people to the proof. Here accordingly (Ex. 24) the covenant receives its seal in blood. “And Moses took half of the blood and put it in a bason; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people; and they said, All that Jehovah hath spoken will we do and be obedient. And Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold, the blood of the covenant which Jehovah hath made with you concerning all these words.” It was the old covenant, not the new; the law, not redemption. The blood which, as this Epistle states, was sprinkled on the book and all the people, simply set forth death as the penalty of disobedience. Hence it was in no way propitiatory but penal.
2. Attention is drawn to Moses sprinkling the tabernacle also, and all the vessels of the ministry in like manner with the blood. That this is distinct from the inauguration of the law should be clear, if only from the fact that neither the tabernacle nor the vessels appertaining to it yet existed. There was of necessity this provision against the defilement of the meeting-place with God, and the vessels for service: without the sprinkling of the blood all must have contracted defilement, because a sinful people were concerned, and God was holy. And this was so true that it is added as a fact that with blood almost all things are purified according to the law. Yet it is not stated absolutely, for water was employed in some cases, fire in others; both figurative of death, and the latter in its extreme form as divine judgment. How blessed for us is the gift of grace where judgment was felt in a perfection unknown and impossible elsewhere! “This is be that came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by (
ἐν) the water only, but by the water and by the blood.” He expiates as well as purifies, and both by virtue of His death. Out of His pierced side came blood and water.
“And apart from blood-shedding no remission taketh place.” Here we come in type to the grand truth which vindicated God in all His moral being and brings effectual blessing to guilty man if he bow to God. It is not sprinkling with blood here, but shedding of blood without which remission cannot be. It is the efficacy of the blood shed once for all, presented to God, and bringing to man remission: the ground of divine righteousness, when human righteousness had been proved wholly at fault — the righteousness of God unto all, and upon all those that believe, rolling away every distinction, that God may bless any, as He surely does all that believe.
We come next to most important inferences from the intervention of God in Christ, His death and blood-shedding. The typical institutions of the tabernacle are judged in their true character, as man is. The most solemn and instructive shadows, which confessed sin in man and looked for mercy in God, pointed to but were absorbed in the reality that is already come in Him, who suffered for sins on the cross, and is now risen and entered once for all into the true and heavenly sanctuary, having obtained everlasting redemption.
“[It was] necessary therefore that the copies of the things in the heavens should be cleansed with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ entered not into holy places made with hand, figures of the true, but into heaven itself now to appear before (to be shown to) the face of God for us; nor that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy places year by year with blood of others: else he must have often suffered since [the] world’s foundation. But now once at a consummation of the ages he hath been manifested for putting away of sin by his sacrifice. And inasmuch as it is laid-up for man once to die and after this judgment, so Christ also, having been once offered to bear [the] sins of many, shall a second time appear apart from sin to those that await him for salvation” (verses 23-27).
When God gave Israel under law a tabernacle of witness, it was of necessity, unless He would compromise His holiness, that the need of sacrifice should be everywhere impressed. Not only could not the Israelite approach God without a burnt-offering, even if he needed no sin-offering, but the earthly copies of the heavenly originals, which Moses saw on high and followed in the construction of the sanctuary and its contents, required purification. Yet the blood of earthly victims was but formal. It could not purge the conscience, only the flesh. Its purification was for a time and of an external character. It was therefore provisional at Lest, and could satisfy neither God nor conscience awakened to see sins in His light. Hence the veil subsisted, which signified that man could not draw near to God. But the death of Christ rent the veil, which signifies that the believer is free and invited to draw near boldly; for instead of his sins, the blood of Christ is before God.
This changes everything, not yet to sight as it will “be when Christ returns in power and glory, but to faith even now and for ever. For the everlasting effect of God’s work in Christ is a cardinal truth in this Epistle, as also is our association with Him on high. Hence there is defilement on that sanctuary as the effect of our connection with it whilst we are passing through the wilderness. Every need is met by the blood of Christ, which purified the sanctuary as completely as it cleanses us from all sin. Whatever sin or Satan could do to sully has been counteracted by sacrifices better than creature ever offered. And Christ entered heaven itself to be presented manifestly to the face of God on our behalf. There He is for us before God in all the efficacy of His work, in all the acceptance of His person. In Him God came out to replace shadows of good things, and alas! realities of evil, by His own work of redemption; and now in Him man is gone within the holiest. “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (John 13:31); as our Lord added, “God shall glorify him in himself, and shall glorify him immediately.” This was done, and is true ever since His ascension, instead of being deferred to the day when His world-kingdom shall come, as come it will in due time (Rev. 11:15). Such is our unchanging representative in the presence of God.
Mark also the pointed contrast with Jewish sacrifice in verses 25, 26. Repetition was the inevitable fact even in their weightiest rites, as on the great day of atonement. It is the blessed truth of the gospel that Christ’s one offering is complete and everlasting in its effect for everyone that believes. Indeed the Holy Spirit deigns to show the impossibility of a repeated offering on His part, because. it would also involve His often suffering. Even the feeble believers who crave a fresh work for each fresh failure must resent as intolerable all thought of His suffering again. Anything of repetition in His case is therefore a merely natural and unbelieving sentiment. The essence of the truth of His work is that now once at a consummation of the ages He has been manifested for putting away of sin by His sacrifice.
“In the end of the world” is surely as misleading as unwarrantable. All the older English versions are vague, if not precisely alike. Wiclif and the Rhemish would have done better if they had adhered yet more closely to the Vulgate; though it is pretty clear that Jerome did not understand the sense more than they. The Revisers have rightly given “of the ages.” These ages were the dispensations in which God had been putting to the proof sinful man, who had been tried in every possible way, and failed in each and all. There had been the promises, the law, the prophets, the kings, etc. God had sought fruit; but instead of paying His dues, His servants had received rebuff, mockery, and murder. Last of all He sent His Son. This gave occasion to a worse iniquity. Not only did men fail in duty, and spurn His envoys in contempt of Himself; they rejected the Christ of God, they turned God in His person out of the world, they crucified Him who was not only their own Messiah but divine love in Him, God in Him reconciling the world, not imputing their trespasses.
On that very cross where man slew the Lord Jesus, God by Him wrought redemption. His love rose above the world’s enmity, and now sends the glad tidings of His grace to His enemies: such is the virtue of Christ’s sacrifice, that it can bring to God the foulest without spot or stain. Yet so much the more ruinous will it be for those that believe not. Far better to be a heathen that never heard the gospel than to be a christened man neglecting so great salvation. The day will come when the new heavens and new earth will display the reconciling power of Christ’s sacrifice, for every trace of sin will then have vanished from the world. And this is the full force of John 1:29, as of our verse 26 also. Yet the gospel meanwhile is the message of God to any and there is no difference of Jew or Greek, for the same Lord of all is rich toward all that call upon Him. The more you hate your sins, the better for your soul if you are at the feet of Jesus. The Holy Spirit in quickening discovers to us our exceeding evil, where previously we may have deceived ourselves and gone on hard or haughty. But through the sacrifice of Christ God can afford and loves to send forgiveness commensurate with His person and work. It is well to judge oneself for one’s sins; but God will act according to His own estimate of Christ’s death for us.
The last verse is little understood in general. There is a striking contrast between “men” as such and believers. Hence “judgment” is necessarily to be taken as destruction to the false hopes of nature. Compare John 5:22-29, where it will “be apparent that anarthrous or not makes no difference in respect of its unutterable solemnity to the unbeliever. Not to see the opposition between men” as they are now naturally, and “those that await him is to be wholly unintelligent of the context. For it sets the portion of “men,” with death and judgment before them, in the most forcible comparison with those who have Christ once for all offered to bear the sins of many, and about to appear a second time apart from sin to those that await Him for salvation.
It is untrue that believers are all to die. 1 Cor. 15:51 explicitly contradicts it; and 1 Thess. 4, 2 Cor. 5, imply the reverse. “We shall not all sleep.” Equally certain is it that the believer does not come into “judgment” (John 5:24), where also the word is anarthrous, as the meaning indeed requires in both scriptures. The believer shall be manifested, and give account, but come into judgment. of no kind whatever. His resurrection, if he die instead of being alive and changed, is “of life,” not “of judgment” like that of the wicked. So the prayer of Psalm 143:2 expresses far more of truth than these low traditional views which confound men as such with believers, who await the Lord apart from sin for salvation. Christ’s one offering at His first advent was to bear the sins of many, i.e. of the believers. Hence when He comes a second time, He has no more to do with sin, having already been a sacrifice for it; but apart from it He shall appear to those that await Him, solely His own and not mankind indiscriminately, not for judgment. but for salvation, which is in contrast with it as distinctly as eternal life is in John 5
32 Text. Rec. has
ὃν with several later uncials and most cursives, etc., meaning “in which” time; but the critics read JP with A B Dp.m. many cursives, etc., as in the version. In verse 10 the Text. Rec. or even B is unreliable.
33 Some ancient witnesses have already “come,”
γενομένων, which seems a correction to make the phrase exclusively Christian.
34 Some authorities add “and true”; but this appears to be imported from 1 Thess. 1:9, where it is quite appropriate for souls once heathen, while those who had been Jews needed to think of God as “living.” Copyists and Editors are divided between “our” and “your.”
35 There is no need in Hellenistic Greek to make the last clause a question, as Bengel, Lachmann, and Delitzsch; still less should one misconstrue the adverb like the Vulgate, Erasmus, Luther, Cranmer, the Genevese, and the Rhemish versions.