August 5, 2018
Some of us can remember the first installment of the Indiana Jones franchise – Raiders of the Lost Ark. A Lucasfilm aired in 1981, the movie was directed by Stephen Spielberg with the story co-written by George Lucas – both heavy hitters. As a result, the movie made almost $400 million at the box office, the highest grossing film of the year, and won five Academy Awards. Rotten Tomatoes calls it “one of the most consummately entertaining adventure pictures of all time.” High accolades.
You may vaguely remember the storyline, which takes place in the late 1930s. Indiana Jones, an archeology professor, was approached by the US government to find and secure Israel’s lost Ark of the Covenant. You see, the Nazis were racing to find it, believing it would make their army invincible. After all, look what it did for Israel at Jericho. It wasn’t lost on me and others that the Nazis, who murdered 6 million Jews, wanted the Jews’ most precious religious artifact to lead them into battle. It’s a fun movie, although it mingles pagan religious elements, such as the Staff of Ra, the Egyptian sun-god, which would lead them to the Ark’s hiding place. The race took them to Egypt – and of course, in the end, Indiana won, the Nazis were destroyed, and the Ark was recovered.
At the end of the movie, at its recovery, the Ark was shown with enormous supernatural power – but thankfully, it’s now secretly housed in some American warehouse for safekeeping. It does beg two very interesting questions. First, where is the Ark of the Covenant? You should know that it disappeared in 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple and took its contents to Babylon along with people of Judah as he carried them into captivity. There’s no biblical evidence the Ark was taken, but what happened to the Ark? It was never returned. It disappeared. In fact, when the Roman General Pompey invaded Jerusalem in 63 BC, he went into the Holy of Holies and found an empty room.
So again, the first question, where is it? In a US warehouse?…(pic) An apocryphal book says Jeremiah hid it on Mt. Nebo before the Babylonians ransacked the city. Rabbinical literature says King Josiah hid it under the Temple Mount, where it still remains. The area cannot be excavated because of the current Muslim Dome of the Rock problem.
The Ethiopians claim to safely have the Ark in the St. Mary of Zion Cathedral in Aksum, Ethiopia. How did they get it? That’s a long story, but apparently a son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba who visited Solomon carried it back to Ethiopia, leaving a fake in the Temple. Yep, they’ve had it for thousands of years – but no one can see it.
One final guess is that it somehow found its way buried at the base of Mt. Calvary where Jesus’ spilled blood then sprinkled the lid known as the mercy seat. So, the first question, where is the Ark of the Covenant? Second, perhaps more important question is, what does it matter? Oh, I suppose I wouldn’t mind seeing it for its historical significance, but to be clear, it carries no religious importance today. How can I say that? Because it was part of the Old Covenant. The Ark was a golden box which contained the Tablets of Stone upon which were written the Ten Commandments. The lid was called the Mercy Seat, above which were two golden cherubim, between which the Shekinah glory of God resided with His people – don’t miss this – behind the veil. You see – there’s actually an important third question – where does God now reside with His people?
The author of Hebrews has been meticulously reminding us that the obsolete Old Covenant has been both fulfilled and replaced by the New Covenant.
Why was the replacement needed? Because the Old Covenant – with its Law, and Tabernacle, and Levitical priests, and sacrificial system could never take away sin forever. In fact, the whole system simply highlighted humankind’s sinfulness and therefore, their separation from God. While the eternal purpose of God was to have a people for Himself – where He would be their God and they would be His people – the Old Covenant never fully met the demands to make that happen. No, a New Covenant was needed – to bring His people near.
We saw that two weeks ago in Hebrews 8 – the longest OT quote found in the NT. It was a quote of Jeremiah 31. In the midst of the pending Babylonian Captivity, God said, I’m not done with My plan to have a people. I will bring you back, and I will make a New Covenant with you. A New Covenant by which I will take out your hearts of stone, and give you hearts of flesh. My good law will no longer be external, written on tablets of stone, buried in a golden box in a place you cannot come. I will write My good law internally, on your hearts. Further, I will place My Spirit within you, by whom you will obey. You see, the motivation to obey is no longer externally mandated, but internally motivated by love.
This is the promise of the New Covenant that Jesus, the Son of God, brought in His perfect life, death, burial and resurrection. We have seen the entire OT system, to include the Tabernacle, the priests, the sacrifices –were simply types pointing to ultimate fulfillment in Christ. And as such, the Old Covenant has done its work and is now done away – it’s obsolete. The promises of the New Covenant are being brought about in the people of God through the Church. We are His people – who have been brought near. He is our God, we are Hispeople.
Bringing us to our text this morning in Hebrews 9. I know I say this almost every week, but it’s important we remember the context and purpose of the book. The author is writing to Jewish believers who were facing severe persecution. As a result, they were considering quitting Christianity and the New Covenant and returning to Judaism and the Old Covenant. Our author writes to warn them, and encourage them. His encouragement comes like this: Jesus is better. He’s better than the angels who mediated the Old Covenant. He’s better than Moses and Joshua, significant leaders in the Old Covenant. He’s better than Abraham and Aaron. He’s of the priestly order of Melchizedek. He’s better than the Levitical priesthood and the OT sacrifices. His priesthood is better, His sacrifice is better, His Tabernacle is better – it’s not an earthly Tabernacle – it’s a heavenly tent of which the earthly tent was simply a type. My brothers and sisters, Jesus is infinitely better – let’s stick with Him. The author keeps hammering the point – there is no Old Covenant. Continuing today in Hebrews 9:1-10. Read it with me.
The author’s focus in these verses is the Tabernacle and the divine worship – that is, the prescribed worship service and regulations that went on within the Tabernacle. In so doing, his point is, these two things – Tabernacle and worship under the Old Covenant were simply symbols pointing to something much greater. Here’s the outline of the text:
- The Introduction of Old Covenant Types (1)
- The Tabernacle and Its Furnishings (2-5)
- The Tabernacle’s Divine Worship (6 – 7)
- The Symbols of the Tabernacle and Divine Worship (8-10) In other words, what they pointed
The author introduces his topics in verse 1 – some elements of the first or the Old Covenant. Yes, it had regulations of divine worship – that is, how to approach God. And, it had the earthly sanctuary. Earthly meaning, it is of this earth, as opposed to the heavenly sanctuary he talked about in chapter. Then he takes them in reverse order, starting with the Tabernacle and its furnishings in verses 2-5.
For there was a Tabernacle or tent prepared. Notice, he talks about the Tabernacle, not the Temples which followed. Most agree that’s because the Law, the priesthood and the sacrificial system were all introduced at the same time with the plans for the Tabernacle. In other words, the Tabernacle was an integral part of the Old Covenant. There was a tent prepared. He doesn’t go into the composition of the tent – the animal skins and poles and pillars and things like that, so we’ll leave it alone. He doesn’t even talk about the outer courtyard. There became multiple courtyards with the Temple, but just one with Tabernacle, which had the altar for sacrifices and the laver or large bath for cleansing the priests. Rather, he starts in verse 2 with what he calls the outer tent. We might think of it as the first room of the tent – which is called the holy place.
It’s dimensions were 20 cubits long, 10 cubits wide, and 10 cubits high – that is, 30 by 15 by 15 ft. So it wasn’t really that big. In the first room called the holy place was a lampstand made of pure gold and the Table of Showbread. The lampstand is often called the menorah, and had three arms on each side of the main stem – so either six or seven olive oil lamps. Every day, morning and evening, the priests would come in to trim the lamps and fill them with oil. The lamps would burn through the night.
There was also the Table of Showbread. The table was 3 feet long, a foot and a half wide, and a little over two feet high. On it, every Sabbath, a priest would place 12 loaves of sacred bread, make according to a specific recipe, in two rows of 6 each, with pure frankincense in between, likely representing the 12 tribes of Israel. The week-old bread would be eaten by the priests in the Tabernacle when it was replaced with fresh loaves.
Verse 3-5 are the focus of the Tabernacle, and the author’s attention. Behind the second veil – stop right there. The first veil was between the courtyard and the holy place. The second veil was between the holy place and the most holy place. Behind the second veil was a tent or room called the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was cube – 15 by 15 by 15 ft. In it, our author says, were two pieces of furniture.
The first in verse 4 is the golden altar of incense. Twice each day, the incense, according to a specific recipe, was refreshed and burned. This is what Zacharias was doing in Luke 1 when he went into the Temple to care for the altar of incense. It was then he was told by an angel that he and Elizabeth, his barren wife, would have a son – John the Baptist.
Well, there is a small challenge here. Clearly, in Exodus and Leviticus, the altar of incense was in the holy place, not the Holy of Holies. So why did our author place it within the Most Holy Place? Most agree because it was right in from of that second veil, which meant its incense was intended for the Holy of Holies, but you couldn’t have the priests going into the Holy of Holies every day – that was only for the High Priest once a year. Further, when the High Priest did enter on the Day of Atonement, he would take some of the incense with him into the Holy of Holies.
But the most important piece of furniture in the Holy of Holies was, of course, the Ark of the Covenant. We’ve talked about it a lot. It was a box made of acacia wood, covered in pure gold. It was about 4 feet long, and a little over 2 feet wide and 2 feet high. As we’ve seen, inside were the two tablets of stone, in which were written the Ten Commandments, inscribed by the very finger of God. Also there was the jar of manna. You’ll remember manna was the wafer-like bread from heaven that God fed to the Israelites for their 40 years of wilderness wanderings. There was also Aaron’s budding rod. What’s that about? You’ll remember in Numbers 17 there was a group of people who challenged Aaron’s leadership – that is, being named the High Priest. Led by Korah, God checked their rebellion with a plague. Right after the plague ended, God told them to get twelve rods – one from a leader of each tribe – and place them in the Tabernacle. The next day, the one that sprouted buds would be the tribe God had chosen for the priesthood. Of course, it was Aaron’s rod that budded. So that rod was placed in the Ark of the Covenant.
Verse 5 speaks of the pure golden cherubim that were placed on top of the lid of the Ark of the Covenant called the Mercy Seat. These angelic beings faced each other, but had their faces downward, and their wings came together and overshadowed the Mercy Seat. It was within those overshadowing wings that the glory cloud of God resided – symbolizing His presence with His people – which is why they are called the cherubim of glory.
So that’s the description the author gives. He says there’s much more he could say in detail about these things, but now wasn’t the time. Bringing us to the regulation for divine worship within the Tabernacle, verses 6 and 7.
Verse 6 talks about what goes on in the Holy Place – the outer tent. And there, the priests enter continually – actually daily – to perform their functions. But please notice, they were not allowed behind the second veil, into the Holy of Holies.
Nope, verse 7 says into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking the blood of the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement – first the blood from a bull for his own sins and that of his family – and second the blood of the goat for the sins of the people. What are these sins committed in ignorance? First, notice even ignorant sins incur guilt. But second, sins of ignorance most agree are sins committed unintentionally. Again, that doesn’t mean they aren’t sins – they are – nor that the sinner didn’t know they were sins – they did. The idea is these are not sins committed with a high hand, meaning fully aware of your rebellion against God. Yes, I know this is wrong, and I don’t care, God. I’m doing it anyway.
The point of all of this – both the physical setup of the Tabernacle and the regulations for worship is separateness. The people weren’t allowed within either tent – the outer or the inner. And even the priests weren’t allowed into the Holy of Holies, where the presence of God resided. Oh no, that was for the High Priest and only once a year. We’ve talked about this before – even though God was the God of the Israelites, they could only come so close because of their sinfulness.
Which brings us to our last point – what all this signifies in verses 8-10. Again, the point is – you couldn’t get to the holy place or the most holy place under the Old Covenant – not while it was still around. Look atverse 8 – “The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing.” Meaning, while the Old Covenant was still in effect, you could not go there. The way to God was barred.
Verse 9 – the outer tabernacle is a symbol for the present time – that is, while it was standing. Make sure you catch what he’s saying. The outer tent, that is, the holy place, was a symbol of the present time – while the Tabernacle was standing. The outer tent in a sense was a symbol of the Old Covenant. The priests were allowed to come in and worship – but not to the very presence of God. Access was denied. You could only come so close.
Andrew Murray says it like this, “The veil was the symbol of separation between a holy God and sinful man; they cannot dwell together…God called man to come and worship and serve Him, and yet he might not come too near: the veil kept him at a distance…Love calls the sinner near; righteousness keeps him back.”
Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience. That’s the whole challenge. The way into the presence of God required a sacrifice that would first make atonement for the sinner and second, clear the conscience of the sinner. One of my commentaries suggested that our guilty consciences of sin acted as the veil that kept us from the presence of God. The Old Covenant could not do nothing about that. In fact, the Old Covenant was a constant reminder that you could not enter. There was a barrier erected – the first and second veils to us – constant reminders of our sinfulness – our sullied consciences that kept us from the presence of God.
Not only that, the very Day of Atonement – offered year after never-ending year – was a constant reminder of our sinfulness. Because people kept committing sins and those sins needed constant, never-ending sacrifices for atonement and forgiveness. The whole system was a reminder of our constant and consistent failure. You see, verse 10 – all those food and drink offerings in addition to the sacrifices – all those washings and regulations for the body were imposed for the external. They never cleansed the conscience. They were, in fact, constant reminders of our failure.
That is, until the time of reformation. That’s simply a way of referring to the internal reform made possible by the coming of the New Covenant Jesus brought. We can actually have cleansed, purified consciences – made so by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Himself. That sacrifice was offered – not in an earthly tabernacle, but a heavenly tabernacle, where we find mercy and our sins forgiven, never to be remembered – that is, never to be held to our account.
And so don’t miss this – the Holy of Holies becomes a symbol of the New Covenant. Yes, the high priest went into the presence of God only once a year. We weren’t allowed. But now, our Great High Priest has gone before us, as a forerunner, destroying the veil – making access to the presence of God a reality in our lives. We don’t need earthly priests – we have a Great High Priest named Jesus. He has entered the heavenly tabernacle with the offering of Hisown blood, the blood of the new covenant. Do you see – under the old covenant, you could come, but only so close. Under the New Covenant – we come into the very presence of God.
So, we don’t need anything from the Old Covenant. We don’t need the tabernacle. We don’t need the sacrifices. We don’t need the Ark of the Covenant where the blood was sprinkled year after year. Who cares where that bloody thing is? Think about this. Every year the high priest went in, and sprinkled blood from the bulls and the goats. There’s no indication the blood was ever cleaned up. For centuries, blood was sprinkled – so even if you could find the Ark, it would be a bloody mess – as a reminder of our sinfulness. But Christ has made a sacrifice, once-for-all – and our sins are remembered no more. And now He is seated at the Father’s right hand, making intercession for us – His people. We can actually draw near. That second veil of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, signifying access to the Father. What did the Jews do? Enter in? No, they sowed it right back up – re-erected the barrier. Which is what you do every time you remember and wallow in past, forgiven sin.
Let me close with this. Jesus did what all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant could never do. He didn’t just merely cover our sins – He took them in His own body to the cross – removing them by His substitutionary death. One author says this:
“Think of the most terrible thing you have ever done—the dark secret that haunts your nights, the great truth that if people really knew they would condemn you. God, who knows that secret and who does see that sin, has placed it upon His own Son so that you will not be condemned. He goes on to quote Paul’s great truth in Colossians 2:13-14:
13When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,
14having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
Under the provisions of the New Covenant – through the blood of His Son – God had forgiven all our sins – there is nothing He holds to our account.
The old saying is true – why should we remember what He has forgotten?
1 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. 2 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. 3 Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, 4 having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. 5 Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 7 but into the second onlythe 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. 8 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 9 (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time ofreformation.