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. (Hebrews 9:24)
In chapter 9 of the book of Hebrews we have learned that as the first covenant demanded death (shed blood) for purification, the new covenant also required death (blood) for forgiveness of sin. While the sacrifice of animals under the first covenant temporarily atoned for sin, that which these sacrifices pointed to – the single sacrifice of Jesus Christ, offered once-for-all – effectively put away sin forever. The types and shadows of the old covenant were ritually purified by the sacrifice of animals, but the sacrifice of Jesus purifies the sinner’s conscience from dead works to serve the living God (9:14). We have found Jesus to be the greater mediator of this greater covenant that assures an eternal inheritance to those who are called (9:15-17).
As we continue our study of the author’s discourse on the greater high priesthood of Jesus, we will find in verses 23-24 that Jesus’s blood cleanses the heavenly tabernacle. But what is this referring to? Varied interpretations of these verses have been offered to answer some challenging questions. For example, what are the plural “better sacrifices” mentioned in verse 23? If Jesus is the once-for-all sacrifice, what else is included among these “better sacrifices?” An even more challenging question arises from the cleansing of the tabernacle; while we understand why the earthly tent required cleansing, is this text implying that the heavenly tabernacle also needed to be cleansed from defilement? We will discuss some of the interpretations of these verses on Sunday.
The most important point of verse 24 that must not be overlooked however, is that Jesus now appears in the presence of God on our behalf. Mark those words, on our behalf. It is not remarkable to understand how Jesus could ascend into heaven to the right hand of God and be accepted into His immediate presence for his own sake; however, it is quite astounding to think about Him doing so, on our behalf, that is, as our representative. Are we fully aware of the implications of this? Knowing that Jesus died, rose, and was accepted into the presence of God, gives us great confidence. Not once in 2000 years has Jesus’s sacrifice not been enough or required a supplement. Not once in 2000 years has Jesus ever had to leave His throne to rework or retry the case of God’s elect. This means that all believers can know with utmost certainty, even now, that we are accepted into God’s presence and will remain so on Judgment Day.
As the high priest of Israel appeared before the presence of God, on the Day of Atonement, as the representative of his people, so Jesus entered heaven itself as our representative. Like the people who eagerly waited for the priest to emerge from the Most Holy Place, indicating his (and their) acceptance by God, so we eagerly await the Day when Jesus will come again a second time, not having anything to do with sin (as all that was necessary was accomplished in His first coming), but to save us and bring us to our eternal home.