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Volume 8, Issue 1: Exegetica

Purged With Blood / Hebrews 9:13-22

Jim Nance

The author of this epistle to the Hebrews has already demonstrated in many ways the superiority of Jesus Christ: as God's Son He is superior to angels; as Son over the house of God, He is superior to Moses the servant in the house; as the one who truly gives rest to God's people, He is superior to Joshua; called by God with an oath as High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, He is superior to the Levitical priests; and as Minister of the heavenly tabernacle, He is superior to the ministers of the earthly one. In this section he now begins to prove the superiority of Christ as Sacrifice over the animal sacrifices of the Levitical administration.

"For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your consciences from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb. 9:13-14). The blood of bulls and goats probably refers to the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest would sprinkle the blood of a bull and a goat on the mercy seat in the Most Holy Place for the cleansing of the people (cf. Lev. 16:14-16, 30). The ashes of a heifer were used in this way: "Whoever in the open field touches one who is slain by a sword or who has died, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. And for an unclean person they shall take some of the ashes of the heifer burnt for purification from sin, and running water shall be put on them in a vessel" (Num. 19:16-17). We see that in this ceremony God provided for the people running water and the ingredients of soap ashes mixed perhaps with some animal fatto purify their flesh from dead bodies. They were made both ceremonially clean and physically clean. And if those made unclean through dead bodies could have their skin cleansed by the bloody sacrifice of mere animals, then certainly those made unclean through the dead works of sin may have their consciences cleansed by the offering and application of the blood of the True and Perfect Sacrifice, Jesus Christ.
Please notice that we have been cleansed, not as an end in itself, but so that we can serve God, just as Joseph the prisoner was cleaned up so that he could serve Pharaoh (Gen. 41:14). Similarly, Paul wrote that Christ "gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14).
The author now momentarily shifts pictures, from Christ's death as a cleansing sacrifice under a covenant, to His death as a testator granting inheritance through a will. "And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives" (Heb. 9:15-17). The picture of a testament or a will is perhaps more clear than that of a covenant in demonstrating the free grace of God, the consent of the heir not being necessary to the making of the will, as the consent of both parties usually is in a covenant (such as in a covenant of marriage). This picture also helps to demonstrate the guarantee of the promise: once the testator dies, the will can no longer be changed; the one to whom the inheritance is promised cannot legally be denied it. Even so God the Father has called His own people, including those who had sinned under the first covenant, to now receive the free inheritance of eternal life, promised in His Son's will and guaranteed through His death.
In order for members of that first covenant to have a picture of what God would do for them in the sacrificial death of the Promised One, "not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, 'This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you'" (Heb. 9:18-20). The author has in mind the twenty-fourth chapter of Exodus, where Moses took half of the blood and sprinkled it on the altar he had made at the foot of Mount Sinai, and the other half he sprinkled on the people to whom he read the law. This double application perhaps signified the dual work of Christ's blood, the blood applied to the altar for atonement and the blood applied to the people for cleansing, looking forward to both our justification and our sanctification.
"Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purged with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no remission" (Heb. 9:21-22). The author returns to the sacrificial work of the high priest on the Day of Atonement, as directed by Moses (cf. Lev. 16:16), the point being made, of course, that all people and all items used in service to God are defiled until they are atoned for by blood. But knowing that it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sin, you who would seek to serve God must have your sins purged with blood of a better Sacrifice: the blood of Christ.

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