The writer of Hebrews sets up a comparison between:
- the Old Testament priests and Jesus
- the tabernacle (temple) on earth and the tabernacle in heaven.
- the old covenant and the new covenant.
What is the relationship between the earthly tabernacle and the heavenly tabernacle? The central role of a priest was to serve as the mediator (go-between) of God’s covenant with His people. How is Jesus a greater priest and mediator than Israel’s priests? How is the new covenant, which was mediated by Jesus, better than the old covenant (Old Testament, 10 Commandments)?
Put yourself in the shoes of the early Jewish Christians. You are being persecuted for your faith in Christ and you are considering a return to the traditional Judaism you grew up with. How does what you’ve read work to convince you not to go back?
Verses 1-7 describes in great detail the layout of the tabernacle and the role of the priests who entered the inner room on the Day of Atonement to offer the blood of the sacrifice for the sins of the people. God used the old covenant, the old priests, and the old sacrifices to teach us something about himself. What do these old rituals teach us about God and how we are to relate to him? What couldn’t these old rituals do? Who were these rituals pointing to? How does Christ complete the Old Testament rituals?
The original readers of the book of Hebrews were Jewish Christians who were considering abandoning their faith in Jesus because of persecution and returning to the safe confines of the Judaism of their youth. This book was written to encourage them to hang on to Jesus. The fact that Jesus completes the traditions and promises of the Old Testament is central to the author’s argument. In other words, if you give up Jesus there is no Judaism to return.
In today’s reading, the author compares their old Judaism to the their new faith in Jesus Christ. What do the first covenant and the new covenant (covenant = special agreement or relationship between God and his people) mediated by Jesus have in common? In what way is the new covenant superior to the first covenant? How are the sacrifices and man-made sanctuary (Most Holy Place in the temple) related to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (see verse 23-25)? In what way is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross superior to the sacrifices offered in the Old Testament?
Why wouldn’t it make sense for the readers of the book of Hebrews to go back to Old Testament Judaism?
The central argument of the book of Hebrews is this: you can’t go back to the Judaism of the Old Testament because the Old Testament (referred to as the law) is “a shadow of the good things that are coming.” Jesus is those good things that are coming. In other words, the Old Testament foreshadows Jesus. If you lose Jesus, you lose the hope of the Old Testament.
Why is it important to remember that the special sacrifices for the sins of the people had to be offered year after year in the Old Testament? What can’t the blood of bulls and goats do (see verse 4)? In what ways do the sacrifices from the Old Testament point to Jesus’ sacrifice? Why is Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross superior to the old sacrifices of bulls and goats?
The priests and the sacrifices they offered in the Old Testament were important because they pointed the people of Israel to the ultimate priest and sacrifice, Jesus Christ. The sacrifices and priests were “copies” of the real thing. How is Jesus (the priest of verses 12-14) superior to the Old Testament priests (the priests of verse 11)? What was Jesus able to do that the Old Testament priests could not?
In the first covenant (think Old Testament Law, the 10 Commandments) the people of Israel were given the law of God and commanded to keep it. They could not do it, for the law’s first purpose was to show us how sinful we are and how much we need a savior. Verses 15-18 describes the new covenant that Jesus created that the Old Testament prophets, Jeremiah in this case, predicated would come.
What will this new covenant do that the first covenant could not do?
What follows in verses 19 and 20 is a description of the Day of Atonement from the Old Testament with a new twist. In the Old Testament Law, each year the high priest was to make a sacrifice for the sins of the nation and enter the Most Holy Place in the temple and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the Ark of the Covenant. This was the only time in the year that the priest could enter this Most Holy Place and he could not enter without blood.
Both the priest and the Most Holy Place in the temple were copies of the real thing. The true priest is Jesus and the true Most Holy Place is the presence of God in heaven. What are we permitted to do today that the High Priest from the Old Testament could not do? Whose blood made it possible? Now that Jesus has come, how should we approach God? Why should we not give up following Jesus?
Today’s reading begins with a quite a stark warning:
Hebrews 10:26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sin is left.
The truth that the author refers to is Jesus and the sin he speaks of is abandoning Jesus. If we don’t have Jesus, we have no sacrifice left for our sin. What are we left with if there is no sacrifice for sin?
Now put yourselves again in the shoes of the original readers of the book of Hebrews. They are a group of Jewish Christians who are struggling under persecution. How do verses 26-31 serve as a warning to you?
What does the writer of Hebrews want these struggling Christians to remember in verses 32-34? What is promised to those who persevere in their faith?
There is a certain freedom in the gospel if we understand it correctly. Once we were alienated from God and under the curse of death because of our sin. But when we could not save ourselves, Jesus stepped out of heaven, lived the righteous life we did not live and died a death of judgment that we should have died. Jesus died to set us free. We do not have to pay for our sins. Our sins are forgiven. It is a free gift from God.
This is a beautiful, but dangerous truth. It has been feared by Christian leaders for centuries. If you tell people they are free, won’t they just go crazy and do whatever they want?
What does Paul tell us that our freedom is for? How can you summarize God’s will for your life or his law in a single command? How can we live out this command? What power does God give us to walk this path?
What remains in us, even after we become Christians, that battles the Holy Spirit? What does the sinful nature (or flesh depending on your Bible translation) push us to do? How does these acts of the sinful nature contrast to the “fruit of the Spirit”?
Sometimes the struggle in being a Christian is to believe in who you are and what you already have because of Jesus. What has already happened to every Christian according in verse 24? How would our lives be different if we actually believed this?