A Little Bible Study in the Book of Hebrews
My Bible-in-a-year reading plan has me read through a book of the Old Testament (over the course of several days), and then a book of the New Testament, back and forth through the Bible. Wisdom books (Psalms, Proverbs, etc) are coupled with each day's reading. Having just read through the OT book of Leviticus, I am now reading through the NT book of Hebrews. It really is a wonderful juxtaposition. Hebrews reads far more powerfully having just read about the Old Covenant sacrificial system and the various categories of laws associated with Israel living as a holy people.
In speaking of the OT sacrificial system, including the ministry of the priests (the descendants of Aaron) the book of Hebrews reiterates the truth stated over and over in the book of Exodus in the instructions about building the tabernacle. The tabernacle was all to be patterned on a heavenly reality that was revealed to Moses on Mt Sinai. The references in Exodus (25:9, 25:40, 26:30, 27:8) I had noticed before, but I never saw a reference that the Aaronic priesthood was also patterned on a heavenly reality.
But that is exactly the argument that the author of Hebrews is making, namely that the earthly priesthood of Aaron and his sons was a type of the perfect priestly ministry of Jesus (see Hebrews 7:26-8:7). If the physical structure of the tabernacle was modeled on a greater reality, it only makes sense that the ministry of the priests that served in that earthly tabernacle was likewise modeled on a greater reality. Aaron served in a tabernacle made with hands that was a copy and shadow of heavenly things. Jesus serves as High Priest of those heavenly realities: But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12)
Okay, fine. Well and good. But it's the other angle the writer of Hebrews works that caught me by surprise this time around. The earthly-heavenly relationship is also worked along the 4th dimension, the dimension of time vis-à-vis eternity. Jesus' priestly ministry isn't superior to the ministry of Aaron simply because it is heavenly rather than earthly. It is also superior because it is eternal and not of limited duration. But, of course, Heaven is the realm of eternity for God, who is eternal, abides there. At his ascension, our Lord Jesus entered that heavenly realm and sat down at God's right hand. Hebrews is intent to let us know that Jesus can save to the uttermost because he always lives to make intercession for those who draw near to God through him (Heb 7:25). This is why he brings in that mysterious character from Genesis, Melchizedek, and the OT references to him (“you are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek”). Jesus is our great High Priest forever.
But there is another mention of this superiority of Jesus' eternal priesthood that is tucked in chapter nine. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section [of the tabernacle, the Holy Place], performing their ritual duties, but into the second [part of the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies] only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic or the present age). (Hebrews 9:6-9a) It's the parenthetical that gets me. If the first section represents the present age, it seems implied that the second section, the Holy of Holies, represents the eternal age to come. Jesus has already passed through that veil between the two sections in his death, resurrection, and ascension. He has entered in, and because he has made a way for us through his flesh (see 10:20), we now have a hope that is anchored in him within the veil (6:19-20).
Our hope is sure and will not give way, because He will not give way. Ever. And when death comes to us, He will raise us up and bring us on the other side of the veil/curtain to be with Him forever.
Thanks be to God.