is necessary, given the poverty of education these days, to begin with an
introduction on the subject of symbolic communication. For thousands of years
even the most illiterate peasant was taught to interpret the meanings of
various symbols. Even in our day things like flags carry a meaning far beyond
their making. The subject is complex, but for our purposes we may note three
the pictures tell a story. When a story is told with symbols, we are
meant to assign an interpretation to those symbols.
one of the major uses of symbols is to make that story bite into your
heart and mind. (How do you feel about flag burning?)
as stated here, God uses this technique to show us the core of his message
for us – as explained here by Paul.
is amusing to note that some commentators can see this clearly in Hebrews – but
not in Revelation. Others see it in Revelation, but not here. In simplicity
of mind and heart, then, let us see what the Apostle has to say to us.
1Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also
an earthly sanctuary. 2A tabernacle was set up. In its first room
were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the
Holy Place. 3Behind the second curtain was a room
called the Most Holy Place, 4which had the golden altar of incense
and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of
manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 5Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the
atonement cover.£ But we cannot discuss these things in
6When everything had been arranged like this, the priests
entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only
once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the
sins the people had committed in ignorance. 8The Holy Spirit was
showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been
disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. 9This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the
gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the
worshiper. 10They are only a matter of food and drink
and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of
the new order.
11When Christ came as high priest of the
good things that are already here,£
he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made,
that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he
entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained
eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of
a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that
they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of
Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God,
cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,£ so that we may serve the living God!
15For this reason Christ is the mediator of
a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal
inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins
committed under the first covenant.
16In the case of a will,£ it is necessary to prove the death of the
one who made it, 17because a will is in force only when
somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect
without blood. 19When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the
law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water,
scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the
people. 20He said, “This is the blood of the
covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.”£ 21In the same way, he sprinkled with the
blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with
blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
23It was necessary, then, for the copies of
the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly
things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy
of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s
presence. 25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and
again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood
that is not his own. 26Then Christ would have had to suffer many
times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at
the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27Just
as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many
people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring
salvation to those who are waiting for him.
see here the penultimate picture. God has laid out for the Jews (and for us)
the picture of the redemption. It was portrayed in the Tabernacle and Temple
for us. We can but summarize its points, but (as we shall see) the story told
in these pictures still has meaning for us today.
in his passionate lament of ill fortune gives the desire of many of us: if
only I could argue my case in front of God.
How can I do that? How can I ever approach the Lord of All? The Old Testament
laid out a way – but at each step the way becomes progressively more
no one but the people of God (the Jews) may even begin to approach him.
the great majority can only approach God to the first step. They did this
by purifying themselves and bringing their sacrifices to the priests.
the priests could go beyond the outer courtyard. If you were a priest,
you could go into the Holy Place. There you would find two things: a
lampstand, giving light, and the bread on the table.
only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, of which we will say
this still apply today? It surely does. No one but the people of God can
count on being heard. But we can take the next step, being of a royal
priesthood – we can go into the Holy Place. There we will find light (the Word
of God) and bread – his providence for us. But, as yet, we cannot enter the
Holy of Holies – only Jesus does that.
Journey to the center
is also a picture of our becoming mature in Christ:
as babes, we begin with repentance and confession, which with the cleansing
of baptism (symbolism!) allows us to be named among the people of God.
so that we might mature, we take in the light of the word and the bread of
his providential care. We are priests, so we do what priests do. We
offer sacrifices (our good works) and prayers (as we intercede for
is only when we bump up against the Holy of Holies that we are still
forbidden. But there is meaning there too. Our High Priest, Jesus Christ, has
gone in. And just as the high priest in the Old Testament went in once per
year, Christ has gone in to present sacrifice only once – his blood, on the
Cross. Just like those high priests, his sacrifice was indeed blood.
At the center, what do you find?
you could look inside the Holy of Holies, what would you find?
“altar of incense.” Incense (symbolically) represents prayer. So this is
the altar at which our prayers are presented.
also see the Ark of the Covenant.
about that ark? What does it mean to us?
the ark you would find three things: manna (which symbolizes God’s care
for us), Aaron’s staff (which represents the miracles of God) and the
stone tablets of the Law (which are there to remind us of our sin). These
then are witnesses to us; hence it is often called the Ark of the Testimony.
cover of the ark has two names: “atonement cover” and “mercy seat.” Here
we find that God covers over our sins, and thus we have mercy.
that cover are the cherubim “of the Glory.” It is indeed the glory of God
that we are in his care, kept by his power and reminded of our sins – so
that we may obtain mercy and grace.
one thing: there is no lampstand. The glory of God is its light. Of this we
shall speak more later.
can see many parallels to the New Covenant here as well. Indeed, symbolic
language takes us deep in meaning.
The New Covenant
uses the term “covenant” in some verses; the same Greek word is translated
“will” in other verses. It is the fact that the first covenant was implemented
with blood (of animals); the new covenant was implemented with the blood of
covenant has a mediator. Now, it is clear that a mediator is one who goes
between two others – in this case, between us and God. A mediator cannot
be a mediator and at the same time one of the parties being mediated.
But only one who was divine could possibly mediate with God. Do you not
see that God (who is one) must have at least two persons? (The trinity is
a great mystery).
see that this covenant is effective on death, as a will would be. But do
you not also see that – like a will – it causes some to inherit and some
to be cut off? Those who genuinely believe in Him will inherit. Those
who do not – the terms of the will are quite clear on this – are cut off.
please, that Christ did not “become” the High Priest – he came as
the High Priest. This was God’s plan from the very beginning of time.
steps to the Holy of Holies also show us the path to Christian maturity.
begin in the outer court. How? By repentance and confession (the acts of
purification) and baptism (the rite of purification) we present ourselves
to the priests (the church).
continue into the Holy Place – but not with empty hands. We come in
presenting our sacrifices (the good works) and incense (prayers)
– there is still one place we cannot go. The Holy of Holies is reserved
for Christ. As yet.
When He returns
often heard that the curtain of the Temple was ripped (top to bottom) so that
we might go into the Holy of Holies. This is not so. It was ripped so that HE
might go in. As yet we are not there. But the time is coming:
22I did not see a temple in the city,
because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the
glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth
will bring their splendor into it. 25On no day will its gates ever
be shut, for there will be no night there. 26The glory and
honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what
is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s
book of life. (Revelation 21:22-27)
will that day bring?
is no temple in that city – for there will be no need for it.
way to God will be completely open to us – as we will reign with Christ.
who are in that city will be completely pure.
have only the faintest glimpse of the glory to come – the glory God will show
when all barriers between him and his children are taken away.
So what should we do about all this? May I suggest that
we consider this in three steps: what we should do now; how we should look to
his return, and the reward to come.
are indeed a royal priesthood; that carries its own implications.
must continue to “present sacrifices” – the good works which every
Christian should find at hand to do.
must also “present incense” – our prayers to God, especially on behalf of
Watch for his imminent return
is not a passive waiting for his arrival. The time God gives the church is
running out; the Father alone knows when. But until then there is work to do:
that his return is imminent, is there any excuse for our slack in seeking
and saving the lost?
return might be this very day. Is your life in such order that you would
welcome him – or beg a few days longer to make things right?
as in all things, we should bathe these things in prayer. We should pray
for the lost – and pray for our correction.
Ours the Cross, the grave, the skies
then, can we say to the lost? I would sum it up for you in three steps:
the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Ours is the
Cross, on which our Savior and High Priest shed his blood, so that we (and
they) might be forgiven.
New Covenant – the church – was instituted as a will is enforced: on the
death of the one who wrote it. By his death he conquered death. The time
of his return is – “soon.” It will be a glory to his saints and doom to
those who refuse him.
matter hangs together. From the beginning this was God’s plan; he portrayed
it to the Jews of old. He has now committed it to us. Let us therefore do His
will – until He comes.