Worship under the Old Covenant was complicated and ‘gory’! It involved much ornate furniture, gold and silver, curtains and veils, associated equipment and utensils, and a pair of very exclusive rooms. Into one room, only the priests ‘on duty’ were permitted to go (v6) – that was the ‘Outer Room’ or the ‘Holy Place’. Even then, they had only been ‘qualified’ to enter that room after a sacrifice for sins had been performed on the large altar outside the temple, and after an elaborate washing ceremony in a large bath.
The ‘Most Holy Place’ or ‘Holy of Holies’ or ‘Inner Room’ was reserved for the high priest: one man on one occasion during the year – the Day of Atonement. Animal blood was sprinkled on the almost untouched golden ‘Atonement Cover’ of the Ark of the Covenant, meant to deflect the wrath of a God of Justice from the rightful perpetrators of their sins. The owner of that blood had nominally paid that price. But everyone knew that this was mere ritual – that those sins had not gone away and that consciences would remain burdened. Food, drink, and ceremonial washings just wouldn’t do it!
Christ then came as the “…High Priest of the good things that are now already here” (v11). We are already living in the immense benefits of his priesthood and covenant. He avoided the earthly temple and went straight into the greater, more perfect one in heaven – the one mysteriously not part of this creation and not made with human hands. Christ entered heaven itself and now appears for us in God’s everlasting presence.
The blood He needed to offer was not that of goats and bulls (Leviticus 17:11) but it was his own – of infinite value – gaining eternal redemption. This sacrifice, offered up to the Father by the operation of the Holy Spirit and applied to us directly by that same Spirit, was key to the salvation of the world. It removed all barriers to our relationship with the Father, joining us to him; it made atonement (or at-one-ment).
Christ is therefore not only the priest, but also the sacrifice. By his blood, the ransom was paid, which released us from our bondage to sin, condemnation, and judgment. A price paid to God the Father. Unlike the Old Covenant sacrifices, this one was perfect, sufficient, and enduring for ever. It does the whole job!
It was a one-off and now it is finished. Jesus Christ will never ever need to suffer and die again – never ever! “He has appeared once for all time… to do away with sin… and to take away the sins of many.” This phrase is key to our entire understanding of genuine atonement and forgiveness.
He will return once more – not to be sacrificed again – to bring the fullness of salvation and to usher in the beginning of the new age in a new heaven and a new earth.