Hebrews 9: Symbolism Over Substance

Hebrews 9: Symbolism Over Substance

American politicians (and I guess politicians everywhere) love symbolism. Symbolism makes people feel good without actually doing or changing anything.

With the sacrifice of Jesus, the symbolic (note the change in terminology) items and deeds of the Law were done away with. I call them symbolic because they only pointed as a shadow to the perfect and final covenant which was to follow in Christ (cf Col 2:16-17).

Once the substance of the symbolic is come, blind adherence to the former becomes symbolism. It is a clinging to something that has no substance or power. While the Jews stubbornly held on to the Law of Moses and its empty rituals, these Hebrew Christians were in danger of turning loose of the substance and returning to symbolism.

To dissuade these beleaguered brethren from returning to the emptiness of the Old Covenant, the writer returns to his theme, Jesus is better! Consider some of the following texts:

“For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes a heifer… sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ… cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (v 13-14). Note also the power ascribed to the blood of Jesus, that it redeems those who died under the previous covenant and rewards those who never lived under it (v 15).

Give attention also to the testament itself. Where there is a testament, there must be the death of the testator, for a testament is of no force while the one who made it lives. But who or what died in the first testament? Calves and goats (vv 18-20).

The author returns to the symbolic nature of the original covenant, describing them as “copies of the things in the heavens” (v 23). He then speaks of Christ not serving in some limited way as an earthly mediary between humanity and divinity, but rather appearing in the very presence of God in heaven on our behalf (v 24).

Finally, the eternality of Christ’s service as high priest is contrasted with the temporal Levitical service (vv 25-26).

Forsake the symbolic! Jesus is the substance! The real and eternal deal!

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