There is so much more in Hebrews 9 than meets the eye that I’m at a loss for how to meditate on it in a short time. The entire book of Hebrews, and this chapter in some ways in particular, reveal the need for Bible study – not to gather random facts but so that we may better understand the holy facts and visions and stories that are entrusted to us.
It is not really possible to understand the significance or glory of Hebrews 9 if you haven’t first read and absorbed the worship of the Old Testament. I want, therefore, to make a few simple points, wishing that I now had more time to speak of these things in detail.
The first point I want to make is that the tabernacle and temple of the Old Covenant were copies and shadows of the true Temple, or heaven, to which the writer of Hebrews is referring. It’s important to realize that even though the old temple has been destroyed, along with the Old Covenant, never to be resurrected, this does not mean that we should forget about them. The entire old covenantal system of temple, priests, sacrifices, Promised Land, etc. was not simply an exercise in futility. For the ancient Hebrews, these things were truly sacraments, God’s ordained visible means of truly blessing His people through a participation in the True Temple, Priest, Sacrifice, and Heaven to come – which are all Jesus Christ.
This means that a careful study of the Old Testament and its details is important because God is teaching us still through these copies and shadows. All of the artifacts of the Old Testament were not merely random things that had no greater significance but were instead copies and shadows of the greater reality to come, the New Heavens and New Earth that have come through Jesus Christ.
When God commanded Moses to make the first tabernacle, He said to him, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5, quoting Exodus 25:40). Moses’ tabernacle was therefore a copy of the true Tabernacle to come, which means the details are telling us something about Jesus Christ and Heaven. When David prepared for the building of the temple, he passed on the precise plans for the temple to Solomon, plans that “the Lord made me understand in writing, by His hand upon me, all the works of these plans” (1 Chronicles 28:19) and plans he had by the Holy Spirit (28:11).
Therefore, the copies and shadows of the Old Covenant tabernacle and temple, though only copies and shadows, still help us to understand the New Covenant Temple. A patient study of the Temple itself and the items placed in it will not only help you understand Hebrews and Revelation but also Jesus Christ, His Church, and the heavenly worship in which we participate even on earth. A good place to start is Jim Jordan’s Through New Eyes, even though it’s somewhat speculative at times. (By the way, that book is powerful. It was when I was leading a book study over that book that I met and had a chance to know my future wife, the fair Jacqueline – whom I married about 7 months after I had begun the book study!)
If the Old Covenant Temple and worship were copies, then they must have to a large degree reflected what we find in the true Temple and heavenly worship, seen not only in Hebrews but also especially in the book of Revelation. That the plan of the temple can still teach us is seen in the traditional church architecture that was taken from the temple. Traditionally, the church sanctuary is analogous to the Holy of Holies, the nave to the Holy Place, and the narthex to the courtyard. The laver becomes the baptismal font, etc.
The second point I want to make is that when we read about images of heaven in the New Testament, we are not supposed to imagine that the realities they represent are so far removed from us that they are insignificant. Just as it would be easy to dismiss the symbolism and truths of the old temple as irrelevant, it would be easy to dismiss the images of heaven as being so remote in time and place that they also are not relevant. The poor children of God! The foxes have holes and the birds have nests, but we have nowhere to find our Sabbath rest!
But the point of Hebrews is not that only Christ has entered into heaven but that now we can too. Before Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, no human being had been there, at least not in the full sense. But now He has torn down the veil that separates us from the Father, and He has prepared a place for us with Him, even while we are here on earth. If even in the Old Covenant the people of God could come before God and see Him, however dimly, surely we are allowed even closer to Him!
St. Paul says that we are seated in the heavenlies with Christ, and on the Lord’s Day, St. John, while on earth, was able to see Christ in heaven. And we are commanded by the Lord, through the mouth of the writer of Hebrews, to boldly approach the throne of grace. But how could we do this if we did not truly have access to the Lord and to heaven until we died and were resurrected?
If the blood of bulls and goats sanctified for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of the spotless Lamb of God. We, truly, have been cleansed. We, truly, have been invited into the presence of the Father, through the Son, into the Holy of Holies – even while here on earth.
You have been given the most wonderful, incredible standing invitation into the very presence of God. And yet how often we refuse! We are like those invited to the Wedding Feast of the Son, and we all make our petty, earthly excuses for missing out on Heaven. “I’m too busy.” Too busy for what? Too busy to spend a few seconds during the work day to access God’s throne? Too busy when we’re at home, “resting,” to enter into the true Rest that is God’s Presence?
“I’m too tired.” Too tired for true Rest?
“I’m too sinful.” Of course you are! And that’s exactly why you should confess your sins and approach the throne of grace to find cleansing and pardon from those sins.
“I’m not worthy.” Of course you’re not! Which is why you come and sing “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain . . . .”
“But I’m forgetful.” You remember to eat and sleep, don’t you? You’re able to get up in the morning to go to work or to make your doctor’s appointments or tee times, aren’t you? How is it that we can all remember our earthly appointments and yet keep avoiding our standing heavenly ones?
“But I don’t know what to say or do.” Then dedicate yourself to finding out how. Start somewhere, even if only coming in silence to listen. Pour out your heart before God. Read His Word. Ask others who have seen heaven how to approach Him.
I don’t know about you, but I’m out of excuses.
Come to heaven, to God’s throne room, to an innumerable company of angels and saints. Come and perform your heavenly priestly service before the Lord. Come, for all has been made ready.
Prayer: Father, through the blood of the Lamb, allow me and provoke me to come boldly to Your Throne of Grace that I might obtain mercy and find grace to help in my time of need. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
1. Before you come to the Lord today, however you come to Him, meditate first on Who He Is and His offer of access into heaven through His Son.
2. Meditate on some aspect or aspects of the Old Testament temple so that you might better come to Christ in heaven today.
Resolution: I resolve to spend more time today coming before the Presence of the Lord in whatever ways He is telling me to.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day