Lesson 27

The Epistle to the Hebrews

World English Bible translation

 Today's Scripture

9:1 Now indeed even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service, and an earthly sanctuary. 9:2 For there was a tabernacle prepared. In the first part were the lampstand, the table, and the show bread; which is called the Holy Place. 9:3 After the second veil was the tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, 9:4 having a golden altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which was a golden pot holding the manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; 9:5 and above it cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat, of which things we can't now speak in detail.

Today's Lesson  

The Epistle to the Hebrews continues to compare the New Covenant of Christ with the Old Covenant of the Law of Moses. Having established the priesthood of Christ, the letter has advanced to comparing the covenant and sacrifice that Christ established. For where there has been a change of priest, there must necessarily be a change in the law.


When Moses received the Law at Sinai, he was given explicit instructions on the building of a tabernacle (or tent) for the worship of the Lord. Exact specifications were laid out for every part of this tabernacle. This earthly tabernacle was a shadow of a heavenly tabernacle, one made by the hand of God. In this heavenly tabernacle, Christ offered his own blood as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. When the Father accepted this sacrifice, Jesus sat down on the right hand of the throne of God.


Now this tabernacle that is examined is the tabernacle of Moses. This letter does not compare the Temple of Jerusalem to the heavens; it compares the tabernacle of scripture. This approach is consistent with the theory that the audience to which this letter is written is a congregation of Hebrews in some city remote from Jerusalem, perhaps in Alexandria. If this letter had been written to a congregation in Jerusalem, the chances are much higher that the letter would have been written comparing the heavens with the Jerusalem temple. Or, if the letter had been written after 70 AD when the temple was destroyed by the Romans the Epistle to the Hebrews would have certainly mentioned this even if it had been written to Jerusalem.


However, this letter appears to have been written to a group whose experience of worship under the Law of Moses is dominated by Scripture. So the author describes the tabernacle that Moses was instructed to build at Sinai. He describes the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies as they are described in the Old Testament.


The tabernacle of Moses, like the temple that followed its form, was a series of progressively restrictive spaces. There was a point at which all people could draw close, a point at which only Israelites could approach, a point at which only men could go further, still closer where only the priest could venture and finally the Holy of Holies where only the high priest could enter. A veil separated the place of God from the eyes of the people. The people were held at a distance from the holy places.


We have a tendency to think of the tabernacle and the temple as a Jewish version of our own churches. The tabernacle was not a church. There were moments of religious drama, but there were not weekly services such as Christians experience. Of course, the main difference would have been that the altar of the tabernacle was quite different from the "altar" of a Christian church. On this altar, the flesh of real animal sacrifices was repeatedly offered to satisfy the debt of sin of the people.


As we read these descriptions of the tabernacle, let us look at them from the fresh perspective that this epistle deserves. The lampstand, the show bread and the golden altar of incense do not have their Christian equivalence. We must avoid forcing them into our own frame of reference. These things are a shadow of the heavenly tabernacle not a Christian Church.


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