The Epistle to the Hebrews was written to encourage Jewish believers who had professed faith in Christ not to backslide from Him in order to return to the still impressive Temple rituals of pre–A.D. 70 Judaism. What the inspired writer says in this chapter is this: “Do not abandon the full reality in order to follow a mere copy.” That would be as foolish as preferring a photograph of your fiancée to her personal presence!
Let us say that the young woman (or man) to whom you are engaged is studying in another country. You would almost certainly have a framed picture of her or him in your room. There is nothing unusual about that. But here is what would indeed be most unusual: what if she graduated; you were married and went on your honeymoon. But then, instead of going into the same room, you would say: “Since I have this framed photograph of you (a very good one that cost a lot of money), it is not necessary for us to be together physically. I shall be in the room next door with the photograph.” I suppose such a strange approach is theoretically possible, but I have never heard of it happening!
Now the writer to the Hebrews in effect says: “For you to turn your back on the Incarnate Christ and His ultimate blood-sacrifice in order to participate in ceremonies that were originally given to point to Him, is to exchange a mere shadow for the satisfying flesh-and-blood reality for which it stands.” That is what is being stressed in Hebrews chapters 7 through 10. In each of these chapters, the sacred writer shows how far the reality of the Incarnate Christ surpasses the best ordinances of ancient Judaism, which served as foreshadowings of the Lord.
Hebrews 9:9 tells us that what value these tabernacle appointments and ceremonies did have (for, after all, they were appointed by God through Moses) was to serve as “a figure for the time then present.” This word translated “figure” in the Authorized Version is in the Greek original “parable.” A parable is a teaching device to convey some important spiritual truth by means of something from our normal, daily experience, so that we can be lifted from “the lower into the higher,” or from shadows to reality. That was the great value of the tabernacle and the holiest place of all (Heb. 9:3), the ark of the covenant (v. 4), and the high priest bringing in the blood once a year (v. 7). They were “parables” or pointers to what the Lord Jesus would do in the fullness of the time (Gal. 4:4) to bring His people into the glories of heaven, and the glories of heaven into their consciences (Heb. 9:9).
Honored as these appointments were, they would have to be displaced from center-stage in order to make room for the supreme reality of which they were parables. To return to our initial illustration of strange views of marriage, what reasonable person would ever say: “We do not really need to have the wedding ceremony today, since we both attended the rehearsal last night?” How many fathers-in-law would willingly pay for a rehearsal if they knew it were not to issue in a real wedding? (Yes, in some cases they would be better off to do so; but that is with the non-availability of foresight and the depressing uselessness — humanly speaking — of hindsight!) No doubt, rehearsals are necessary, but then the time comes to get on with the real thing! And to get on with the real thing, one must remove preliminary things. Hebrews 9:8 thus states clearly that “the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing.”
The following verses (9:9–28) demonstrate that what the inspired author is talking about is the immediate access given to believers to the very throne of God through the finished sacrifice of Christ, something that was not available under the earlier tabernacle sacrifices.
We may summarize this glorious difference by thinking of that to which the earthly tabernacle/temple pointed and also to that which the animal sacrificial blood pointed. The pointers or parables are infinitely surpassed by the reality for which they stood; therein lies the fuller access to the heart of God. Hebrews 9:11 speaks of Christ, “the high priest of good things to come” having replaced the humanly constructed building (or “worldly sanctuary,” Heb. 9:1) with “a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands … .” Precisely what is this “tabernacle not made with hands”?
Jesus Christ was clearly speaking of Himself, when, at the beginning of His ministry, He said: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). And John showed that the
Incarnate Christ fulfilled all that the tabernacle had stood for: “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us …” (John 1:14). He accomplished in His human nature, in closest personal union with His eternal deity, what only the God-man could accomplish, and what anything less could only point towards. He perfectly fulfilled the holy will of God for a life of sinless devotion and total obedience, and then paid the infinite penalty for sin against that law. In so doing, He reconciled us, body and soul, to God, and now gives us immediate access to the heart and eternal favor of the heavenly Father. To turn our backs on that for something considerably less would constitute a supreme disaster, one that we will not contemplate if we fix our eyes on Him.