Hebrews 9:23-24 says that the earthly sanctuary and all its instruments are simply illustrations or symbols of what really exists in heaven.  The earthly tabernacle was cleansed with blood but it was the blood of bulls and goats. The heavenly realities require a much better sacrifice. It says, “Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”

The phrase “in the presence of God” in the last part of this passage is more literally translated as “in the face of God.” This is interesting because this would be significant to the Jews. Twice in the book of Exodus when Moses wanted to see God, God allowed him to see only his back as he passed by Moses who was protected by the cleft of the rock.  In Exodus 33:22-23 God explains to Moses, “While my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” According to verse 20 of that passage no one can see God’s face and live. When the High Priest entered into the presence of God in the Most Holy place, he came sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice. When Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary, he came on the basis of his own blood. But Jesus was simply returning to his rightful place beside the Father. In John 1:1 we read, “In the beginning was the Word (Jesus) and the Word was ‘with’ God.” The Greek phrase “with God” is literally “face to face with God.”

As the High Priest took the blood of the sacrifice into the Most Holy Place on behalf of the people, Jesus returned to his rightful place in heaven with his own blood into the actual presence of God on our behalf. He came to Earth, born of flesh to be as John the Baptist said, “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Stedman says, “The rending of the curtain in the temple at the time of the crucifixion is ample evidence to indicate that the blood shed in the death of Jesus was the moment when full atonement for sin was accomplished.” [1] Like Moses, we can only see God when he passes by us. John says in John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” God, in the person of His Son, passed by over 2000 years ago.  We can see God only when we see Him in Jesus. That’s what Jesus told Phillip when Phillip asked to see God. Jesus said, “If you see me, you see the Father” (John 14:9).

[1] Ray C. Stedman, Hebrews, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 1992), Heb 9:15.