The Old and the New
Now even the first covenant had regulations for divine worship and for the earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle (sacred tent) was put up, the outer one or first section, in which were the lampstand and the table with [its loaves of] the sacred showbread; this is called the Holy Place. Behind the second veil there was another tabernacle [the inner one or second section] known as the Holy of Holies, [a]having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered entirely with gold. This contained a golden jar which held the manna, and the rod of Aaron that sprouted, and the [two stone] tablets of the covenant [inscribed with the Ten Commandments]; and above the ark were the [golden] cherubim of glory overshadowing [b]the mercy seat; but we cannot now go into detail about these things.
Now when these things have been prepared in this way, the priests continually enter the outer [or first section of the] tabernacle [that is, the Holy Place] performing [their ritual acts of] the divine worship, but into the second [inner tabernacle, the Holy of Holies], only the high priest enters [and then only] once a year, and never without [bringing a sacrifice of] blood, which he offers [as a substitutionary atonement] for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. By this the Holy Spirit signifies that the way into the Holy Place [the true Holy of Holies and the presence of God] has not yet been disclosed as long as the [c]first or outer tabernacle is still standing [that is, as long as the Levitical system of worship remains a recognized institution], for this [first or outer tabernacle] is a symbol [that is, an archetype or paradigm] for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which are incapable of perfecting the conscience and renewing the [inner self of the] worshiper. For they [the gifts, sacrifices, and ceremonies] deal only with [clean and unclean] food and drink and various ritual washings, [mere] external regulations for the body imposed [to help the worshipers] until the time of reformation [that is, the time of the new order when Christ will establish the reality of what these things foreshadow—a better covenant].
But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things to come [that is, true spiritual worship], He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not a part of this [material] creation. He went once for all into the Holy Place [the Holy of Holies of heaven, into the presence of God], and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, having obtained and secured eternal redemption [that is, the salvation of all who personally believe in Him as Savior]. For if the sprinkling of [ceremonially] defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a [burnt] heifer is sufficient for the cleansing of the body, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal [Holy] Spirit willingly offered Himself unblemished [that is, without moral or spiritual imperfection as a sacrifice] to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works and lifeless observances to serve the ever living God?
For this reason He is the Mediator and Negotiator of a new covenant [that is, an entirely new agreement uniting God and man], so that those who have been called [by God] may receive [the fulfillment of] the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has taken place [as the payment] which redeems them from the sins committed under the obsolete first covenant.
- Hebrews 9:4 The Greek participle translated “having” probably conveys the notion of “associated with it” and hence refers to the fact that the altar of incense, although located in the Holy Place according to Ex 30:6, here does not refer to location but to use, given the fact that the incense wafted behind the veil into the Holy of Holies.
- Hebrews 9:5 I.e. the lid of the ark where blood was sprinkled by the high priest.
- Hebrews 9:8 During the age of the old covenant a worshiper had no direct access to God.