Hebrews 9:1-28


The following passage is taken from Warren Wiesbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament:

We have seen that Christ’s priesthood is better than Aaron’s because it belongs to a better order, that of Melchizedek (chap. 7) and because it is administered under a better covenant, namely the New Covenant (chap. 8). Here in chapter 9 we will see that Christ’s priesthood is superior because it is administered from a better sanctuary.

I.          The Inferior Sanctuary Under the Old Covenant (9:1–10)

The writer gives five reasons why the Old Covenant sanctuary was inferior:

A.   It was on earth (v. 1).

The word “worldly” means “of this world, on the earth.” God gave Moses the pattern from heaven, but Moses built the tabernacle (and Solomon the temple) on earth and of earthly materials. The sanctuary was divinely appointed, and the services were carried on under God’s direction. Still, everything was on the earth. As we shall see in the latter part of this chapter, the new sanctuary is heavenly.

B.   It was but a shadow of things to come (vv. 2–5).

Here the writer describes the arrangement and furnishings of the OT tabernacle. Note that “the first” in vv. 2 and 6 means “the first section of the tabernacle,” the holy place. “The second tabernacle” of v. 7 does not refer to a second tabernacle built after the first one that Moses made; it means the second division of the tabernacle—the holy of holies. The brazen altar and the laver stood in the outer court. The first veil (note v. 3) hung between this outer court and the holy place. In the holy place stood the candlestick, the table of bread, and the incense altar. Behind the second veil was the holy of holies, into which only the high priest could go, and then only on the annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). In the holy of holies stood the ark of the covenant. All these things pointed to Christ and were shadows of the great spiritual realities that God would give in the New Covenant.

C.  It was inaccessible to the people (vv. 6–7).

Only the priests could minister in the court and the holy place, and only the high priest could enter the holy of holies. As we shall see, the heavenly sanctuary is open to all of God’s people.

D.  It was temporary (v. 8).

The veil between men and God reminded the people that the way into God’s presence had not yet been opened. Verse 9 says that while the veil remained, there would still be two parts to the tabernacle—a symbol (figure, parable) of the relationship between Israel and God. When Christ died, the veil was torn and the need for an earthly sanctuary was abolished.

E.   It was ineffective for changing hearts (vv. 9–10).

Day after day, the priests offered the same sacrifices. The blood covered sin but never washed it away. Nor could the blood of animals change the hearts and consciences of the worshipers. These were “carnal ordinances,” that is, ceremonies that dealt with the externals, not the inner person. They were temporary acts, awaiting the full revelation of the grace of God in Jesus Christ at the cross.

II.        The Superior Sanctuary Under the New Covenant (9:11–28)

At v. 11 the picture changes, and the writer explains why the New Covenant sanctuary is superior to the Old and why Christ’s priesthood is superior to Aaron’s.

A.   It is a heavenly sanctuary (v. 11).

Christ is a high priest of good things “that have come to pass.” His heavenly sanctuary is greater and more perfect because it was not made with human hands. The word “building” ought to read “creation”; it is not of this creation because it is of the new creation. The earthly tabernacle belonged to the Old Covenant, the old creation, but Christ’s sanctuary is of the New Covenant, the new creation. See also v. 24.

B.   It is effective for changing lives (vv. 12–23).

What a contrast! The high priest took another creature’s blood into the holy of holies many times during his life; but Jesus took His own blood into God’s presence once for all. The OT sacrifices brought about ceremonial cleansing for the body (v. 13) but could never reach into the heart and conscience. But the blood of Christ, shed once and for all, purges the conscience and gives the believer an unchanging and perfect standing before God. All Jewish ceremonies were but “dead works” in comparison to the living relationship with God under the New Covenant.

Verses 15–23 use the illustration of a testament or will. A person makes a will and determines how to distribute the estate. But the inheritance goes to no one until the person dies. Christ had an eternal inheritance to give to His church, and this inheritance is spelled out in the New Covenant, Christ’s “last will and testament.” For the will to take effect, He had to die. But the amazing thing is this: Christ died to make the will effective, and then came back from the dead to administer His estate personally! Even the first covenant, under Moses, was sealed with blood (Ex. 24:6–8). When the earthly sanctuary was erected, it was also dedicated with blood. But this blood of animals could only bring about ceremonial purity, not inward cleansing.

Verse 23 suggests that Christ’s death even purified the heavenly things. These things may be the heavenly people of God (see 12:22ff; Eph. 2:22) who have been purified by Christ’s blood; or, it may suggest that the presence of Satan in heaven (Rev. 12:3ff) demanded a special cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary.

C.  It is the fulfillment and not the shadow (v. 24).

The Aaronic priests ministered in a tabernacle that was temporary; it pointed to a Christ yet to come. Christ is not ministering in a man-made tabernacle full of earthly imitations; He is ministering in a heavenly sanctuary that is the fulfillment of these OT practices. The high priest sprinkled blood on the mercy seat for the people, but Christ represents us in the very presence of God. What a tragedy it is when people cling to religious ceremonies that please the senses and fail to lay hold, by faith, of the great heavenly ministry of Christ.

D.  It is based on a completed sacrifice (vv. 25–28).

The superiority of Christ’s sacrifice is the theme of chapter 10, but it is also mentioned here. The priest’s work was never done because the sacrifices were never final. Christ’s death was final. He appeared “at the climax of the ages” to put away sin, not merely cover it. The veil has been rent and the way opened into the presence of God. Christ appears in heaven for us; we can come into the presence of God. The OT Jew did not have access to God’s immediate presence; he would not have dared to enter the holy of holies. But because of Christ’s completed work on the cross (“It is finished!”), we have an open path to God through Him.

Note that the word “appear” is used three times in vv. 24–28. We see Christ’s past appearance, which put away sin (v. 26), His present appearance in heaven for us (v. 24), and His future appearance to take us to glory (v. 28). When the high priest disappeared into the tabernacle on the Day of Atonement, the people waited outside expectantly for him to reappear. Perhaps God would refuse the blood and kill the high priest. What joy there was when he came out again! And what joy we will have when our High Priest appears to take us to our eternal holy of holies, to live with Him forever![1]


[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (699–703). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.