Study 6, part 2: Christ Enters the Heavenly Tabernacle

Study Series Note: This study is one in a series of studies on the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.). Previous studies focused on the Creation and the Garden of Eden as a Temple.

The last study was devoted to the tabernacle, the portable tent temple, which the Lord established as a place to dwell with the people of Israel. (If you haven’t already, you can read the first part of study six here: Understanding the concept of holiness was shown to be crucial for understanding the function of the tabernacle. The tabernacle (along with the later temple) and its priesthood mediated the holiness of God to his wayward people.

Although priests were intermediaries, they still had to go through many rituals to be able to move across the buffers to holiness. They still needed to offer sacrifices for their own sins, and certain actions rendered them unfit for the priesthood. The Book of Hebrews presents Jesus as the perfect high priest who is able to enter the true heavenly tabernacle.

Hebrews 7:23-8:6:  The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (ESV)

In this passage, Jesus is described as the perfect high priest who enters into the true tabernacle of God’s heavenly presence. His priesthood is described as better for several reasons: 1) Jesus lives forever [v. 24-25] so he is able to continually intercede for his people. 2) Jesus does not need to offer up sacrifices for his own sins first because he was sinless [v. 26] nor does he need to make an offering for sins daily since he offered himself once for all [v. 27]. 3) Jesus serves at the right hand of God in the heavenly dwelling [v. 8:1-2]. 4) Jesus mediates a better [new] covenant [8:6].

In study 1, we discussed how basic temple theology holds that the earthly temple was a point of connection to the true heavenly tabernacle/temple. (You can review that study here: The above passage in Hebrews uses this heaven-earth connection to present Jesus as permanently bridging the gap between a holy God and sinful people. The “buffers” to God’s holiness that the earthly tabernacle provided are no longer needed if worshipers have been fully forgiven and made clean in the true heavenly tabernacle. Jesus fulfills the whole temple and priestly system because his ministry happens in the true glorious presence of the Holy God in heaven. In this true tabernacle, Jesus permanently removes the sins that separate us from a holy God. This removal of sins is not by the blood of a sacrificial animal, but by the blood of the holy Son of God who forever intercedes for humanity as the Son of Man.

What does Jesus’ ministry in heaven reveal about God’s character? (Suggested answers: God is loving in addition to being holy. Unlike human priests, Christ as the Son of God could grant a permanent forgiveness and grace, so God’s faithfulness overcomes human weakness.)

The author of Hebrews drew upon common ideas about holiness, the tabernacle, and the priesthood to present Jesus as the perfect mediator between a holy God and fallen people. Jesus provides eternal access and forgiveness to all those who call upon him.

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