Teaching series from Hebrews

The Gospel in Symbols

Hebrews 8:1-10:18

Teaching t05000


Remember that the author was writing to Jewish Christians who were well versed in the Old Testament. His aim is to show them that Jesus has fulfilled and superseded the Old Testament way of relating to God. We are coming to perhaps the key section of his case, but it is difficult to understand unless we are familiar with certain material from the Old Testament - namely, the Tabernacle and the rituals which went on in it.

If you have read through this material in Exodus-Deuteronomy, you know how amazingly detailed it is. The architecture of the Tabernacle, the furniture within it (ALTAR, LAVER, INCENSE, SHOWBREAD, ARK, VEILS), the elaborate clothing of the priests and the rituals they had to perform, the various sacrifices (WHOLE BURNT, SIN, WAVE, HEAVE) and festivals - all prescribed in incredible and exacting detail. What is all this about? Was it just an attempt to keep them so busy that they stayed out of trouble?? Was it just an exercise in creativity?

We are dealing with something theologians call TYPOLOGY: a system of symbolic rituals prescribed by God to the Israelites which was designed to teach certain principles about what God is like and the basis upon which he is willing to relate to people. Since most of the Hebrew people were illiterate, this was an excellent pictorial way to teach them this information (GREAT FOR TEACHING CHILDREN, TOO).

This is why God prescribed the details and warned against all innovation (read 8:5 >> NO CREATIVE REDECORATING, RENOVATION). If we are going to relate to God, it must be on his terms, not ours.

But there was also a prophetic element in this material. Since the rituals and articles are only a "copy"/"shadow," they are really pointing to a future event which fulfills them. In this passage, the author shows that this entire Tabernacle system was a picture of the work of Jesus on the cross. We'll look at various passages in Heb.8-10 which explain this.

The Key Symbols of the Tabernacle

Read 9:1, 2. The tabernacle was actually a mobile tent which the Israelites took with them during their wilderness sojourn. (Later a permanent version of it was built in Jerusalem - the Temple.) Whenever the Israelites pitched camp, God specified that the tabernacle was to be erected in the center, to communicate that what went on here was the most important feature of their nation.

There was the outer court, into which all the people were allowed. But there was a thick veil (curtain) which hung between this outer court and the next room, the holy place, into which only the priests could enter. This communicated something we have already studied: God will not deal with us directly because he is holy/righteous and we are sinful. He requires that we deal with him through a mediator of his choice who can go between us and straighten out the problems that exist between him and us.

The holy place had three pieces of furniture: the lamp stand, the altar of incense and the table of showbread. Each of these had symbolic significance, but we don't have time to discuss them...

Read 9:3-5. Architecturally, the lines of the tabernacle led ones eyes to this cubicle - this room, its furniture and what went on in it were the key to its message.

Between the holy place and the next room (the Holy of Holies) hung a second veil which separated the presence of God from everyone. This room was strictly off-limits, and God warned the people that they would die if they came in there for an unauthorized tour (Lev.16:2 >> NADAB & ABIHU [Lev.10:1-3]). Why was God so uptight? The furniture inside explains this...

The ark of the covenant (the "box of the evidence") was small wooden box which contained three things:

A JAR OF MANNA: This was the supernatural food which God provided to sustain the Israelites through the desert. It was health-giving and abundant, yet the people consistently complained about it and said they wished they could go back to Egypt where they had meat. So God said to Moses, "Put some of that manna in the ark. I want it as evidence (Ex.16:32-34)." It symbolized their rejection of God's provision.

AARON'S ROD: This was the staff which signified God's leadership of the people through Moses and Aaron. Throughout this period, the people rose in revolt against their leadership (which was revolt against God). One time, to prove to the people that he was leading through Moses and Aaron, God had the rebels put their staffs in the Tabernacle overnight with Aaron's, and in the morning Aaron's rod had budded. This was proof that God was leading through them. On this occasion, God said, "Put that rod in the ark. I want it as evidence (Num.17:10)." It sumbolized their rebellion against God's leadership.

THE TABLETS OF THE LAW: This refers to the 10 commandments. Even as God wrote them for Moses, the people were breaking them in a wild and idolatrous orgy. Moses got so angry about this when he came back down the mountain that he broke the originals, so God had to make a new set. After he did this, he said, "Put those tablets in the ark. I want it as evidence (Deut.31:26,27)." It symbolized their disobedience to God's law.

On top of the ark were representations of two cherubim. Cherubim are a caste of powerful spirit-beings who serve God, and who are often associated in the Old Testament with the execution of God's judgment. God specified that their faces be turned downward into the contents of the ark. They are focused on the evidence...

Do you understand what God is saying through this? In pictorial form, he is explaining the serious problem he has with the Israelites. They have violated God's righteousness by rejecting his provision, revolting against his leadership, and breaking his moral law. And because of this, they deserve to die. It's as though the cherubim are looking at this evidence and saying, "What's wrong with these people? We've never found it necessary to rebel against God. When is God going to judge these people who do all this wickedness?"

And, of course, this is our problem too. We talk a lot in our society about guilt feelings and how destructive they are, and how to get rid of them. And most of this discussion treats guilt as an entirely psychological issue. But God wants us to know that there is such a thing as TRUE MORAL GUILT - objective guilt before him, because of sin which violates his character and which he must judge. This is our dilemma with God, not that we are already are God or have God in us but are ignorant of this (NEW AGE), not that we simply have low self-esteem which can be cured by positive self-talk, but that we are guilty before a holy God and under his judgment.

The final article is the mercy (atonement) seat, the lid which laid on top of the contents of the box and between the ark and the cherubim. It was what was poured out over this lid that provided hope for the nation of Israel. Read 9:6,7. All year long the Holy of Holies would lie empty. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Lev.16,17), God had the High Priest enact a ritual that got them off the hook for that year (EXPLAIN RITUAL >> BLOOD OF SUBSTITUTE "COVERS" THEIR SIN SO THEY ARE EXEMPT FROM JUDGMENT).

>> So the typology of the tabernacle was a marvelous explanation of the most important teaching in the Bible: that because humans are sinful and God is holy, he may be approached only by means of the death of a substitute that he provides.

The Shortcomings of the Tabernacle System

>> The tabernacle teaches these principles with tremendous clarity, but it has some serious shortcomings, which the author points out...

Read 9:8-10. The fact that the veils remained between God and the people proved that this system was not God's ultimate answer. It was only a symbolic ritual until the real solution appeared.

Read 10:1-3. It could not forgive people of their sins; it only reminded them of their sins. These sacrifices never really forgave anyone's sins. If they had, the sacrifices would have ended. But the very ongoing nature of the system proved that it was ineffective. It only reminded the people of their sins and their need for the real forgiveness it couldn't provide.

And there is an obvious reason why it could not forgive sins. Read 10:4. Its sacrifices were ineffective because they were animals. How can the death of a dumb animal pay for the sins of freely choosing human beings?? It can't and it didn't. It was only a type, a prophetic picture which taught how God viewed sin and how he would one day pay for it himself.

Jesus' Fulfillment of the Tabernacle System

Read 10:5-9. He took on a body to fulfill what the animal sacrifices foreshadowed. This is why Jesus became a man. The Old Testament itself foresaw the limitations of the sacrificial system, and predicted that it would one day be replaced. That's why Ps.40 predicted that God would send his own Son to become a human, to pay the penalty for our sins himself.

That's why Isaiah predicted 800 years before Jesus that God would fulfill the tabernacle system through a Person (Isaiah 53:5,6).

That's why John the Baptist identified Jesus as "the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John1:29)."

That's why Jesus insisted that the purpose of his coming was not to be a king or a great teacher, etc., but to "give my life as a ransom for many (Mk.10:45)."

That's why when Jesus cried out just before he died "Tetelestai!" ("It is finished!" "Paid in full!") - he had done what the sacrifices foreshadowed.

That's why the veil of the Temple was ripped wide open the moment that Jesus uttered this cry (Mt.27:50,51). The real payment had been made, and now the way to God is wide open to those who come to him through Jesus and his sacrifice.

That's why Jesus was raised from the dead - to demonstrate that his sacrifice for our sins has been accepted by God (Rom.4:25). Just as the re-emergence of the high priest on the Day of Atonement proved that his sacrifice for the sins of the people had been accepted, so Jesus' re-emergence from the dead after his death proved that his sacrifice for our sins has been accepted. If his sacrifice had been inadequate in any way, he would have never have gotten out of the grave.

And since his body fulfilled the animal sacrifices, his death is a permanent sacrifice which makes available a permanent salvation (10:10-18).

PERMANENT SACRIFICE: Read 10:11-13. Notice the contrasts. The Levitical priests never stopped offering sacrifices because they never forgave sin. But Jesus offered his sacrifice once for all (people & time) and never needs to offer it again.

PERMANENT SALVATION: As a result, you can be permanently included as a member of God's family (vs 10), you can be made permanently acceptable to God (vs14), and God will never again remember any of your sins against you (vs18). He cleans out the "box of evidence" and throws it away!!

GOSPEL: You may think, "This sounds too good to be true." But how could it be any more clear than it is in this passage? God is truly into offering you a blank check to cover all of your sin debt. But you must choose to receive it by acknowledging to God that deserve his judgment for your TRUE MORAL GUILT, and humbly asking him to apply Jesus' sacrifice to your sins. In the moment that you do that, God will forgive you permanently and begin a relationship with you that is life-changing!

NEXT WEEK: More implications...