Hebrews 9:5, Matthew 27:51, Genesis 28:12

Jesus is the ladder to God!

After he mentions the contents of the Holy Place and the Most Holy place, the author of Hebrews then describes the gold angels on the mercy seat covering the ark of the covenant. Hebrews 9:5 says, “Above it (the mercy seat) were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” The mercy seat was “…the ornate ‘lid’ for the ark of the covenant, made with the designs of cherubim upon it. The blood of sacrifice was sprinkled upon it for the forgiveness of Israel’s sin on the Day of Atonement (Exodus 25:17–22).  As God looked down into the ark, He saw the symbols of Israel’s sin, rebellion, and failure. But when the blood of sacrifice was applied to the mercy seat, God saw that blood covering over the sin of Israel, and He looked at the blood instead of the sin of Israel.”[1] This was done once a year on the day of atonement. But Jesus does it once for all people, for all time! The sweet smelling aroma from the altar of incense that the priest brought into the Holy of Holies was the center of God’s attention, representing the sacrifice of His only begotten son who was “well pleasing” in life and in death. When God looks down on believers, He doesn’t see our sin, He sees His Son!

Several commentators, including John Calvin, argue that the details of the various items in the tabernacle are not important and the author of Hebrews means to dismiss the importance of seeing Jesus in each and every item. According to these commentators this is what the author of Hebrews means when he closes verse five with the comment, “Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” But I see the author of Hebrews implying just the opposite. The details are important to him and they deserve some attention that’s why he mentions them. He couldn’t speak of them “now” but may have spoken of them later. But now he was interested in pointing out the superiority of Christ to the entire religious system not the particulars. As Fruchtenbaum says, “The point of the whole overview is to show that the old system consisted of a system of barriers between the worshipper and God. The Outer Court separated Gentiles from Jews. The Inner Court separated Levites from non-Levites. The first veil separated priests from non-priests. The second veil separated the High Priest from common priests.”[2]

When Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the Temple was torn in half in the midst of the thunder and lightning of God’s wrath being poured out on Jesus on our behalf. Matthew writes in 27:51, “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” In Genesis we see the “curtain” separating the spiritual realm from the physical realm torn open from top to bottom also. Matthew took the beginning of his statement from Genesis 28:12. It says, “And behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!” Another way to look at the word “ladder” would be a “breach.” Some translations use “stairway.”  It connected the physical world with God at the top of the ascent. The angels ascending and descending were represented by those embroidered on the veil itself. Jesus told Nathaniel “You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” He was making it clear that He was the “breach” between heaven and earth! The only way to the Father is “through” Jesus!

[1] David Guzik, Hebrews, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible (Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik, 2013), Heb 9:1–5.

[2] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 114–115.

Hebrews 9:4, Exodus 30:10, Leviticus 16:17

Christ’s Sacrifice is Sufficient

According to Hebrews 9:4, there were three things in the Ark of the Covenant. It reads, “in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant.” These three items rested in the ark “under” the lid called the mercy seat.  There is much discussion of whether all three item were “within” the Ark or just “beside it.” Many commentators argue from several ancient texts that the Ark only contained the two tablets of the Covenant that Moses brought down from Sinai. The other two items were in the Holy of Holies but beside the ark and not within it. Regardless of their exact location the three items seem to be reminders of Israel’s failure, their sins. Guzik argues, “The manna reminded Israel of God’s provision and their ungratefulness.  Aaron’s rod reminded Israel of their rebellion against God’s authority. The tablets of the covenant reminded Israel of their failure to keep the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law.”[1]

In contrast to human failure with our ingratitude, rebellion, and disobedience is the life of Jesus who did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it on our behalf. This seems to be pictured beautifully by the mercy seat and its function. Hughes argues, “The mercy-seat symbolized Christ’s work. Moreover, Jesus fleshed out the contents of the Ark. He perfectly fulfilled the stone tablets of the Law (Deuteronomy 10:5; Matthew 5:17). Aaron’s staff that budded when it confirmed him as high priest (Numbers 17:1–11) is fully flowered in Christ’s priesthood. And the manna again speaks of him who is the ultimate Bread of Life (cf. Exodus 16:33, 34; John 6:35ff.).”[2]

No one could mediate regarding the sins of the people except the high priest. He would enter into the Holy of Holies only once a year to bring the blood of the sacrifice and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat. This obligation was solemnly entrusted to Aaron as High Priest and his descendants in each generation. This is recorded in Exodus 30:10. It reads, “Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.” The word “atonement” appears three times in that short verse.  According to Leviticus 16:17, “No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel.” It was the High Priest’s role and his alone. No one else could contribute to the atonement made for the sins of the people but the High Priest. Thus, Christ’s High Priestly commission was His and His alone. No one and nothing can be added to His work on our behalf. To attempt to do so is to defile the process. Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient!

[1] David Guzik, Hebrews, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible (Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik, 2013), Heb 9:1–5.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul, vol. 1, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 225.

Hebrews 9:3-4a, Matthew 3:16-17, Philippians 3:9

Jesus makes me well-pleasing to God

In Hebrews 9:3-4a the author talks about the internal structure of the tabernacle and says, “Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the Ark of the Covenant covered on all sides with gold.”  This verse has caused no little confusion and is often used to show that the New Testament is mistaken.  According to God’s instructions to Moses in Exodus, the altar of incense was placed in the Holy Place not the Most Holy Place. Kistemaker clarifies this problem for us. He writes, “However, on the Day of Atonement the high priest had ‘to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain’ (Lev. 16:12). On that special day, once a year, the censer became the extension of the altar of incense. The smoke of the incense had to conceal the atonement cover of the ark, so that the high priest would not die (v. 13). The function of the altar could not be obstructed by a curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place. Thus, the censer momentarily entered behind the curtain as an extension of the altar of incense.”[1]  Therefore it’s apparent that the function of the altar of incense was related to what lay beyond the second veil in the Holy of Holies and it is appropriate to speak of it as being present there.

The special mixture of fine incense was something that would only be allowed in the tabernacle services. It could not be used in the camp of the Israelites or in the cities after Solomon’s temple was built. It was to be a unique odor that belonged only to God’s service. Like the aroma of all the proper sacrifices in the Old Testament, the odor ascended to God as a “sweet smelling savor.” It was often said to be “well-pleasing to God.” Jesus, the Son of God, is the one person declared by God to be “well-pleasing.” Matthew 3:16-17 “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”

When the High Priest brought the incense into the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, it filled the place with smoke and blurred the view. It’s often suggested that the High Priest’s vision was blurred by the smoke so that he could not see the mercy seat. But it might be that this “pleasing” offering to God served as a covering that covered the sins of the priest and the people that enabled them to escape the consequences of their sin. God only focused on the “sweet smelling savor” of the incense. It served as a covering or “an atonement” allowing God to ignore the sins of the people. Isn’t this what takes place with us? Our sinfulness must be atoned for, “covered” up, so that God will not hold it against us. That is what the sacrificial system pictured from the very beginning. Paul knew that Christ was his only hope for righteousness and in Philippians 3:9 he writes about acceptance from God that was based on “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ.” The sweet smelling aroma of Christ’s sacrifice makes atonement for our sin so when God looks at us, he sees his only son in whom he is well pleased.

[1] Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, Exposition of Hebrews, vol. 15, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 238.

Hebrews 9:1-2, John 6:35, John 6:51

No Jesus, No Life!

The Holy Place in the tabernacle had two items in it that are mentioned by the writer of Hebrews in explaining the superiority of Jesus to the ancient religious rituals of Israel. It contained the lampstand and the table with the twelve loaves of bread. Hebrews 9:1-2 says, “Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place.” The lampstand set up in the Holy Place as the only light by which God’s presence is illuminated in the sanctuary speaks of Jesus being the light of the world. He is the only light by which God can be seen. Being formed like branches of the almond tree with the almond blossoms holding the light represents the unbreakable promise God made to Jeremiah regarding the New Covenant of which Jesus would be the mediator. Jeremiah 1:11-12 says, “And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see? And I said, ‘I see an almond branch.’ Then the LORD said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.’”

On the table lay twelve loaves of bread. Each loaf represented one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Just as the lampstand represented God’s promises to his people that would be part of the New Covenant that Jeremiah foretold to Israel, the table with the twelve loaves also speaks of the promises of God. Like the manna in the wilderness, it was the faithful provision that God had promised to a wayward people. That bread sustained God’s people while wandering through the wilderness. God proved faithful with his promise. But the table of 12 loaves in the holy place pointed forward to the future Messiah and his fulfillment of the covenant. Remember, the New Covenant is far superior to the Old. Looking back at Hebrews 8:6, were reminded that all this is simply to illustrate the superiority of Jesus’ ministry and his promises over those of the Jewish system. It says, “Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.”

The priests would eat this bread in the Holy Place but would refresh it every seven days. Girdwood writes, “This table was evidently used for nothing but holding these loaves. It came to be called ‘the table for setting out the consecrated bread’ (2 Chr 29:18). It is not difficult to see a connection between this weekly replenishing of bread and the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper in the early church (Luke 22:14–20; 1 Cor 11:23–34; Acts 2:42; 20:7).”[1] We need frequent reminders that God’s promises will never fail. In John 6:35, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Later, in verse 51, he said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Hughes says, “He is the true spiritual sustenance of his people, and apart from him there is no life.”[2]

[1] James Girdwood and Peter Verkruyse, Hebrews, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997), Heb 9:2.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul, vol. 1, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 224.

Hebrews 9:1-2, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Jeremiah 1:11-12

Jesus & Almonds promise everlasting life!

In Chapter 9, the author of Hebrews takes a closer look at the Old Covenant worship system and then compares it to the New Covenant in order to illuminate the superiority of the new one. He begins by pointing out the items that were placed in the tabernacle. He first mentions the two items that were placed behind the first set of curtains that was referred to as “the Holy Place.” Hebrews 9:1-2 says, “Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place.” The tabernacle and all its accouterments were pictures of Christ’s work in the world. The Priests served in the tabernacle but Jesus served the world. Although the author of Hebrews does not mention the specific role each item played in its relationship to Jesus, it’s apparent that he wants to imply such simply by observing the overall theme of the superiority of Jesus to the Jewish religious system. Further, at the end of verse five, he explains that it’s not his intention to discuss the details of each item in his letter. He says, “Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” There are several obvious connections to Jesus in these places of worship.

The lampstand speaks of Jesus in at least two ways. First, the lampstand provided the only light in the tabernacle. According to Exodus, it had to be tended daily by the sons of Aaron (Exodus 27;20) and refreshed morning and evening and was never allowed to go out. Jesus came into the world as light into darkness.  John tells us that when Jesus came into the world, he was the “light of the world.” He adds in John 1:5 that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” It will never go out! Just as the lampstand was the only light in the tabernacle by which the presence of God was illuminated, so too is Jesus the only light in the world by which God is illuminated for all mankind. In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul explains that the “good news” about Jesus is the light. He writes about those who do not believe, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Second, God’s instructions about the design of the lampstand are very specific. It was to be shaped like a tree with six branches along with the central stem. At the end of each branch was a candle holder (fire holder) that was to be of one specific design. Exodus 25:33 says the lights would be placed in what would look like “almond blossoms.” The almond blossom and fruit were the first to bloom in the spring. It was the “first fruits.” Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:20. Jesus is the guarantee of God’s promise of everlasting life for believers. Jesus promised to prepare a place for us with him in heaven and will take us to himself. This guarantee is illustrated by the almond tree. The almond tree is mentioned several times in the Bible but one of the more significant times is in Jeremiah 1:11-12. “And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see? And I said, ‘I see an almond branch.’ Then the LORD said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.’” I like the way one writer answers questions about the bible on this website: https://www.gotquestions.org/lampstand-Bible.html. He says, “The most important thing to note about the lampstand is that it points to Christ, as do all the elements of the tabernacle. The Bible is from beginning to end a testimony about Christ and God’s merciful plan of redemption.”

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