Earlier in this series we discussed the origin and etymology of the words “Hebrews”, “Israelites”, and “Jews”. All 3 of these names generally refer to the same group of people and are sometimes used interchangeably. However, each was derived in a different way and during a different period of history. This got me thinking… is there any particular reason why this Bible book is named “Hebrews” rather than “Israelites” or “Jews”? Could it be more than just random chance? There is no definitive reason that I know of, but I do have an interesting theory.
When used in the Old Testament, the term “Hebrews” is mostly spoken by those from other nations. The Canaanites, Egyptians, Philistines, and perhaps others referred to the children of God as the “Hebrews”. In so doing, they were designating them as foreigners. The word “Hebrews” carries the connotation of an outsider or someone who is out of place.
Now follow me here… could it be that a reason this book is called “Hebrews” is because it highlights a subset of the Jews that were estranged from the larger population? Because they had turned away from the traditional observance of Judaism and had instead placed their faith in Jesus, these Messianic Jews were fiercely ostracized and persecuted by their kinsmen. These believing Jews were shunned and despised as foreigners by their own people. Though they were technically descendants of Abraham, they didn’t belong anymore.
In the same way, the Bible calls Christians of all ages strangers and pilgrims. Our citizenship is in heaven, not on earth. This planet is merely a temporary abode. We as born again believers should act and speak differently than the lost world around us, which in turn makes us a strange and peculiar people. The Bible warns that we will be hated by others. We are foreigners living on the earth, destined to soon return to our heavenly homeland. We are, in this sense, like these Hebrews. Okay… I digress.
The sermon today is called “A Better Sanctuary”. We will be discussing several aspects of the tabernacle. This passage serves as a transition point in the writer’s discourse about Jesus.
I. THE ARRANGEMENT OF THE SANCTUARY (v1-5)
The first covenant - that is the Law of Moses - included “regulations” that pertained to worship in the earthly sanctuary or tabernacle. This tabernacle, and later the temples, were carefully designed according to the pattern given by God. It was divided into 2 rooms with particular items or furnishings in each.
The outer room of the tabernacle was called the Holy Place. According to the writer, in this room there were 2 items of furniture - the lampstand and the table of showbread. Priests would enter this room on a daily basis to minister before the LORD. The inner room of the tabernacle was called the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest was allowed to enter this room once a year on the Day of Atonement. According to the writer, there were 2 furnishings in this room also - the altar of incense and the ark of the covenant. Inside the ark were 3 items - the stone tablets upon which God had written the 10 commandments, a jar of manna from the exodus, and Aaron’s budding rod. The ark was overshadowed by cherubim.
The arrangement of the furniture described in this passage differs slightly from the original design given by God in the Old Testament. The book of Exodus places the altar of incense in the Holy Place instead of the Holy of Holies. This discrepancy has been explained in a number of ways. Perhaps the most plausible is that, on the Day of Atonement, the altar of incense was temporarily moved from its usual position outside of the veil into the Holy of Holies. There are multiple verses in Scripture that lend support to this theory. Because this special arrangement of the furnishings better demonstrated his point, perhaps the writer of Hebrews described it in this way rather than the normal arrangement recorded by Moses.
II. THE WORK OF THE SANCTUARY (v6-7)
The priests entered the outer room of the tabernacle - the Holy Place - “continually” in order to perform acts of “divine worship”. Each day - once in the morning and again in the evening - a selected priest would go in and tend to the lampstand and altar of incense. The lampstand was to remain lit perpetually and incense was to be offered twice daily. On a weekly basis, that is every Sabbath day, the priest would change out the showbread as well.
Only the high priest was allowed to enter the inner room of the tabernacle - the Holy of Holies. What’s more, he only did so “once a year”. Before going in, special sacrifices were made on the brazen altar in the outer courtyard. The high priest then carried some of the blood from these slain animals with him into the Holy of Holies. He could not enter without this blood. Once inside, he sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant as an offering to atone for himself and the “sins of the people”.
III. THE LIMITATIONS OF THE SANCTUARY (v8-10)
The Holy Spirit signifies 2 limitations of the earthly tabernacle or temple. The first is that it doesn’t provide the true “way into the holy place”. So long as the tabernacle is standing - either physically or symbolically - many will mistakenly view it as the agency into God’s presence. In fact, it is only a “symbol for the present time”. Access to the LORD is not restricted by the tabernacle or its related laws.
The second limitation is that the “gifts and sacrifices” offered in the tabernacle are unable to “make the worshiper perfect in conscience”. This inability has been mentioned already in previous chapters. The offerings rendered in the earthly sanctuary pertain only to physical and temporal things such as “food and drink and various washings”. These needed to be reformed in order to affect eternal and spiritual cleansing and forgiveness within the heart of the believer.
IV. THE ENTRY INTO ANOTHER SANCTUARY (v11-12)
With this statement the author of Hebrews concludes his lengthy and comprehensive presentation of Jesus Christ as the Great High Priest “of the good things to come”. Through His death, Jesus entered by the true way into the “greater and more perfect tabernacle” where God the Father dwells. This heavenly tabernacle was not made by human hands and is not of this created world.
The focus now turns to Jesus as the redeeming sacrifice for mankind. The high priest was required to carry the shed blood of “goats and calves” with him into earthly Holy of Holies. So also Christ was unable to enter the heavenly sanctuary apart from the shedding of “His own blood”. Jesus, the Lamb of God, offered Himself as a sacrifice to God in order to obtain “eternal redemption” for humanity.
The tabernacle or temple was the place where, under the old covenant, priests offered sacrifices to God. Both of these things - the priests and the sacrifices - foreshadowed the work of Christ and the New Covenant that He established. Chapters 7 & 8 highlighted Jesus’ role as our High Priest. The remainder of chapter 9 and most of chapter 10 presents Jesus as our perfect and pleasing sacrifice. He is both the giver and the gift simultaneously! Jesus gave Himself for us!