Hebrews 9:11–15 . . .
“Christ’s Blood in the New Covenant”
Because the old covenant was mediated by sinful priests in an earthly tabernacle and was insufficient to heal the broken relationship between God and man (9:1–10), Christ Jesus became the Mediator of the new covenant. In today's text, the author begins to contrast the work of the priests under the old covenant to Christ’s work under the new covenant. His personal sacrifice served to heal mankind's broken relationship and enable eternal salvation. We'll be shown how the sanctuary revealed as Christ’s tabernacle (9:11, 24) is superior to the old covenant's earthly one. We'll also realize the much better sacrifice (9:12–10:18): Christ’s blood is superior to the blood of animals, and his sacrifice didn't need to be repeated, as did the old covenant's did.
Our text draws a comparison of sacrifices — animal sacrifices in the Old Testament vs. the blood of sinless Jesus in the New Testament. By the way, the words "testament" and "covenant" are used interchangeably in this text; both are translated from the Greek word diatheke. Those animal sacrifices are found in Leviticus 1–7. And v. 13's "ashes of a heifer" reference is detailed in Numbers 19:1–10.
Pointing to Heaven’s Realities (9:11)
We've come to the sweet spot of the author's revelation of the new covenant's superior sanctuary, which he introduces with his dramatic announcement in v. 11:
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation (9:11).
In 9:1–10, the author wrote of the typical significance of the first or old covenant and its transitory use. Now, in vv. 11–15, he speaks of the second or new covenant and its ability to effectively do what the old covenant's sacrifices couldn't: to make atonement for the lost sinner; to "set the prisoner free." The first word "But" is the pivot upon which this argument swings.
Looking closely at the Greek for "high priest," — archiereus from arche, meaning "first in a series, the leader or ruler," plus hiereus, meaning "priest") refers to the priest who was chief over all of Israel's other priests. This office was established by God through Moses' instructions found in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The high priest functioned as the mediator between Father God and Israel, performing sacrifices and rituals as other priests had done. But he also acted to atone for the nation's sins on the annual Day of Atonement. Archiereus is a key word in this epistle; it highlights various characteristics of Jesus' role as the Great High Priest.
The Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:1–34) pointed to the redeeming work of Christ more adequately than any other old covenant sacrifice or ceremony. But, the Day of Atonement was inevitably inadequate, for it wasn't possible for the blood of bulls and goats to atone anyone's sins. The Hebrew verb for "to make atonement" is kaphar, which means "to cover, to make a covering." The Scriptures teach that the sins of Old Testament saints were covered over until Christ came and removed them; it was as if Old Testament sins were forgiven "on credit," with Christ later paying the full debt through his death on the cross.
Indeed, with the arrival of Messiah — the high priest of the new covenant's superior things — he bypassed the old tent and its trappings in this created world and went straight into heaven’s "tent" — the true Holy Place — once and for all. Today's passage focuses on two crucial advantages of this new covenant: Christ serves in a better temple and offers a superior sacrifice. The earthly temple and its furnishings became symbolic of Christ's heavenly tabernacle. Unlike limited and repetitive animal sacrifices, Jesus' solitary death enabled him to completely save us from our sinfulness.
The author doesn't identify "the good things that are already here." It's likely the sum of all that Jesus has won for us by his death and resurrection. He's now our Great High Priest of the new covenant who ministers in a superior sanctuary, which is Father God's throne room. This place where he acts as our agent or mediator is much better than anything made by human hands, such as the old tent, which was only a copy of the true place of worship where Jesus has gone. It's the holiest place of all in which our Lord Jesus sits and works with God in our behalf.
French theologian and pastor, John Calvin (1509–1564), left this for our consideration of "through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with human hands": "Though this passage is variously explained, yet I have no doubt but that he means the body of Christ; for as there was formerly an access for the Levitical high priest to the holy of holies through the sanctuary, so Christ through his own body entered into the glory of heaven; for as he had put on our flesh and in it suffered, he obtained for himself this privilege, that he should appear before God as a Mediator for us."
It's important to remember that, in introducing this startling announcement, the author makes three dynamic claims that attest to Jesus being our "merciful and faithful high priest in service to God" (2:17). First, he's the one and only incarnate Son of Father God. Second, he's clearly the exalted Lord who's returned to his heavenly kingdom, continuing the work of salvation, having experienced and appreciated mankind's manner of living through Satanic temptation, spiritual testing, suffering, and death. And, third, he's undoubtedly the promised Messiah who came from David’s tribe of Judah, making him an eternal high priest according to the order of Melchizedek, not from Levi’s tribe, based on Mosaic Law. In all three certifications, the author, herein, artfully depicts Jesus’s atoning death.
The old covenant had flaws and weaknesses in its approach to tabernacle worship. Not only that, it wasn't God's final plan for mankind's salvation. Instead, as Scriptures promise, God has always intended to provide a new covenant, separate from and in place of the old system of priests and sacrifices. Thankfully, Jesus is the solution because he's the "high priest of the good things that are now already here." It's likely that such "good things" refer to the fact that "the ministry Jesus has received is superior" (8:6). And that superior ministry wasn't performed in an old, earthly tabernacle but in a perfect priestly tabernacle that's in his heavenly kingdom.
The Cleansing, Redeeming Blood of Christ (vv. 12–13)
When Great High Priest Jesus arrived, he bypassed the old tent and its trappings along with sacrifices consisting of goat and calf blood. Instead, he used his own blood as the price that sets us free, once and for all. If animal blood and other rituals of purification were effective in cleaning up certain matters of religion and behavior, think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out.
12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean (9:12–13).
Highlighted in v. 12 is the core belief that Jesus’ death secures humanity’s deliverance from sin’s slavery "once for all." The author’s priestly images of a heavenly temple not made with human hands (v. 11), where Jesus, the exalted Son, offers himself as a solitary blood sacrifice in the "Most Holy Place" to deliver us from our slavery to sin (v. 12) and make the foulest clean. Now, in him, we can be right with Father God and can live with him forever. John Calvin adds this in regards to "the blood of goats and calves": "All these things tend to show that the things of Christ so far excel the shadows of the Law that they justly reduce them all to nothing. For what is the value of Christ’s blood, if it be deemed no better than the blood of beasts?" [Note: The author has repeated the word "blood" twenty-three times (in the NIV), as shown on this list.]
In v. 12, the author demonstrates the supremacy and absoluteness of Christ's blood over the old covenant's system. This is extremely important for today's believers to realize and appreciate. Through Jesus' death, our guilt has been atoned for, once for all, for all eternity! Our full penalty has been paid by him who is our Great High Priest and Mediator. There is absolutely nothing we can add to what Christ has done for us and all who follow and believe in him. It's through him only that we have direct access to God!
While the old covenant's earthly high priests offered animal sacrifices once a year (9:7), that ritualistic effort became — at best — a temporary sacrifice that was meant to provide atonement for the people's sins, as well as theirs (7:27). Such yearly endeavors could only serve to outwardly relieve the priests' and people's consciences; they were unable to change what was inside their hearts (9:9–10). But, because Jesus, having absolutely no sin to be forgiven of, offered his one-and-only, personal-and-perfect sacrifice, he had the capacity to completely save people from their sins (7:25), transforming them from the inside out (8:10).
St. Thomas Aquinas provided this outlook: "Then (v. 13) he proves one of the things he had supposed, namely, the statement, having obtained eternal redemption. As if to say: I have said that He wrought eternal redemption by His own blood, in which His greatest efficacy appears. That it is so, I prove by arguing from what is less; because if the blood of brute animals accomplished less, the blood of Christ can accomplish what is greater."
The author emphasizes in v. 13 the difference between the sacrificial blood of animals and of Jesus by first focusing for a moment on the merits of animal sacrifices. While the old covenant's sacrifices were flawed and considerably ineffective, he points out that they did present a measure of power and purity, in that they had the ability to furnish ritual sanctification to cleanse the flesh outwardly. However, such cleanness was entirely external, ceremonial, and temporary. But just think: If animal blood could benefit man to that extent, imagine how immeasurable the power of Christ's blood would be for people! We'll evaluate Christ's power when we read and examine v. 14.
There Is Power in the Blood of Christ (vv. 14–15)
If animal blood and the other rituals of purification were effective in cleaning up certain matters of Israel's religion and behavior, think how much more the blood of Christ cleanses our lives, inside and out. Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live for God and serve him.
14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death from useless rituals, so that we may serve the living God!
15For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance — now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (9:14–15).
The author now makes a comparison between the efficacy of sacrificing the blood of animals and that of the blood sacrifice of Messiah. The former could cleanse only ceremonial defilement while the latter cleanses actual sin. And the reason why the blood of Messiah is so much more beneficial is stated by the writer in his words "who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God."
Jesus moved ahead in the power of the Holy Spirit, obtaining our redemption for us. In the middle of v. 14 we find the author's bold assertion that through the work of our Great High Priest, those who trust in him have their consciences cleansed from "acts that lead to death." The old covenant, whether through tabernacle worship or the Levitical priesthood filled with rituals and laws, couldn't permanently cleanse people's sins, remove their sin guilt, or fully purify their defiled consciences. Only Christ could do that under the new covenant, as a result of his sacrifice. Everyone who trusts in Jesus knows that their sins have been forgiven, and they should experience cleansed consciences. 𝄞 "Would you be free from the burden of sin? Would you over evil a victory win? There is indeed power, power, wonder-working power in his blood!"
Billy Graham (1918–2018) set out the importance of having a clear conscience: "To have a guilty conscience is a feeling. Psychologists may define it as a guilt complex, and may seek to rationalize away the sense of guilt. But once it has been awakened through the application of the law of God, no explanation will quiet the insistent voice of conscience."
Christ's sacrifice cleanses our consciences from "acts that lead to death." He thereby enables us to worship and serve the living God (note the exclamation mark at the end of v. 14 in the NIV). Such sinful acts, leading to death (referred to as "dead works" in other versions), might include "sins of the flesh," which are what gives pleasure to bodily desires. The "dead works" of rituals and laws would leave something unresolved in our spirits. Our sins of the flesh would remain in us if we relied only on sacrificial rituals. Thankfully, Christ's blood cleanses us spiritually, in a way those animal sacrifices never could.
Remember: Jesus was both human and God, perfect and absolutely free of sin. There are three reasons why Jesus' blood is so special: (1) By the Spirit, Jesus offered himself as Messiah, that is, the Christ, enabling him to collaborate with God; (2) he freely offered himself, agreeing to be the true and complete sacrifice for everyone's sins; and (3) he was perfect and free of sin, while offering himself to God as the one perfect "sin sacrifice" for all, which fulfilled God's plan for mankind. So Jesus, and only Jesus, can cleanse our consciences through his blood sacrifice. And doing so he makes us right with God. So, do you value his shed blood above all else?
It can be said of the term, "Christ is the mediator of a new covenant," that Jesus accomplished the task of acting as our Mediator through his death and resurrection. His heavenly mediation handiwork relies on his perfect sacrifice. Although those old covenant sacrifices provided ritual purity, they couldn't change people on the inside by removing the grave and unmanageable penalty of their sinfulness. The solitary blood sacrifice of Christ, on the other hand, accomplishes what those other sacrifices couldn't; it permits the new covenant to be transformed into the "promised eternal inheritance" (v. 15) that God has always planned and provided for mankind. Note: This epistle's audience were persecuted Jewish Christians. The "promised eternal inheritance" reference was to remind them that they weren't abandoning their Jewish roots by following Jesus. His sacrifice was a divine occasion that supernaturally and powerfully provides forgiveness of all sins.
Let's get personal! Having died for our sins, Lord Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of our heavenly Father. Jesus entered Father God's presence after securing our eternal redemption. It wasn't through animal sacrifices but by the shedding of his blood. If trivial, routine, animal sacrifices — "the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer" — served to bring about external bodily cleansings, how much more would our Christ Jesus achieve through his personal sacrifice!
Our Lord, through his incarnation, became qualified to be the Passover Lamb of God; through his death he'd atone for our sins, once for all. He was also qualified to serve as our Great High Priest. God pursues us in our relationship with Jesus; by means of his death and resurrection, he's provided forgiveness for our sins; we gain intimate fellowship for us and all who believe in him and accept his generous, extremely valuable gift of salvation.
- Q. 1 In comparison to the old covenant's cleansing, why does Christ's sacrifice have an everlasting result?
- Q. 2 How is Christ's mediation like a "ransom" (v. 15)?
New International Version (NIV) or view it in a different version by clicking here.
— Listen to chapter 9, narrated by Max McLean.