Under the old covenant system, there were sacrifices offered regularly to cleanse the sanctuary and atone for the sins of the people (Heb. 9:1–7). However, the repeated nature of these sacrifices, as well as the ongoing presence of the temple with access to God sealed off by curtains, meant that the old covenant sacrifices could not actually accomplish what they pictured. They were meant to last only until the time of “reformation” (vv. 8–10). That time of reformation, of course, is the new covenant in Christ (ch. 8).
Today’s passage reinforces the point that the time of reformation has come in Christ by explaining just what Jesus accomplished in His ministry and where it took place. First, the sprinkling of blood for atonement that Jesus performed occurred not in the earthly old covenant tabernacle but in “the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)” (9:11). This recalls texts such as Hebrews 7:26 and 8:1, which describe Jesus’ present enthronement in heaven and thus point to a heavenly setting for our Lord’s priestly work.
Second, the blood of atonement Jesus applies in the heavenly tabernacle is not the blood of bulls and goats but His own blood (9:12). Jesus alone is both High Priest and the sacrifice offered by the High Priest. And this blood secures an “eternal redemption,” the author writes, for it is the blood of the person of Christ, the eternal Son of God who took on a true human nature, and because it can actually stand in for the death of human beings, whereas the blood of bulls and goats cannot (Acts 20:28; Heb. 2:5–18; 10:4). Jesus shed this blood, sacrificed Himself “through the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:13–14), reminding us that the act of atonement was a work of the entire triune Godhead. God the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit, offered Himself as a sacrifice to God the Father.
This blood purifies our consciences of “dead works” (v. 14), a reference to our sins. John Owen comments: “By ‘dead works,’ sins as unto their guilt and defilement are intended.” And they are dead “because they proceed from a principle of spiritual death, or are the works of them who have no vital principle of holiness in them. . . . Because they are useless and fruitless, as all dead things are. [Because] they deserve death, and tend thereunto.” The death of Christ actually removes from us the guilt of sin, so if we are in Jesus by faith alone, our consciences can no longer condemn us.