The Perfect Tabernacle
But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 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, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another—He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.
When we read the Book of Hebrews, we are struck by all the comparisons made between Jesus and people, places and things in the Old Testament and that Jesus is superior in every comparisons He is greater than the angels which mediated the first covenant. He is greater than Moses, Aaron and Joshua. He has a better High Priesthood, offers a better sacrifice and is the better offering for sin, etc. Another word which describes the Book is “perfect.” Jesus is the perfect God who is the express image of the Father. (Hebrews 1:3)The Book of Hebrews upholds the equality of the Holy Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So Jesus Christ is perfectly God because God is perfect by definition as well as His being.
Jesus is also the perfect man as well. Hebrews tells us that Jesus fully shared our humanity, including his being able to tempted, to suffer, and to learn obedience. Yet, Unlike Adam, He did not yield to sin when He was tempted. (Hebrews 4:15) So Jesus is both perfect as God and as man. Both were necessary for our reconciliation.
So what do we mean when we say “perfect.” Our English “perfect” is an imprecise and insufficient translation of the Greek word “telos” and other words formed from this root. The group of “telos” words used in the New Testament has a rich meaning. “Telos” has the basic meaning of “completion.” the compound “suntelia” in Hebrews 9:26 in the passage we just read is translated this way. It can be used to describe a building which has finished being built and is working as designed. All buildings begin with a plan drawn up by an architect who has the vision to see what the finished structure looks like and how it will work. Plans are drawn up for both the big picture as well as the sub-assemblies which show the details. These sub-assemblies are then contracted out and are built. Then they are assembled together into the building until it is finished. During the building, some external support structures such as scaffolding are employed.
Often, the finished building is found do be deficient in one way or another. the mistake might be in the original plans or an error in assembly. The building is then “not complete” in the sense that it was not perfect as designed. These flaws have to be remedied before the building is truly complete and ready to be used. We must remember that this is because manmade buildings are built by flawed men. This is certainly not the case with God who is perfect in His being and omnicompetent at both the planning level as well as the execution of this plan. Whatever God plans will surely come to pass and will work exactly as designed down to the last detail. This is why Scripture can say that Jesus Christ was slain from the foundation of the world. This does not mean that He died before the creation. Jesus certainly died on a cross outside Jerusalem at Passover almost 2000 years ago. But what God has designed and willed is already complete and perfect even before it works itself out in human history.
A perfect God, complete in Himself, created the world through the Son with Cavalry in mind. Jesus did not die on the cross as the result of some chance act of cruel men who misunderstood or hated Him and decided to crucify Him. The completion of this plan came with Jesus declaring: “It is finished” which uses a verb in the “telos” family. (tetelesthai) The plan of salvation which was perfectly designed before the foundation of the world was executed perfectly.
If the plan and the execution of the plan was perfect, so were the intermediate steps as well. But perhaps we should see the Old Testament in the way we see the scaffolding. God did indeed speak in times past at various times, places and means, and He did so perfectly and it accomplished perfectly what He had ordained until the time that He spoke more completely by and in Christ. The tabernacle in the Wilderness which was built by the exact specification of God was a shadow or model of the perfect tabernacle. (Exodus 25:9, Hebrews 8:5) The offerings of the blood of animals on its altar pointed to the time that Jesus would become the perfect offering for our sin. Aaron and the priesthood worked as designed and pointed to a time that the perfect High Priest Jesus would come. Jesus perfectly obeyed the Father. Everything was done perfectly and on time.
In the previous part of Hebrews 9, the writer of Hebrews has gone into some of the details of the Wilderness Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was designed to be portable as Israel was still in the wilderness and had not yet found rest in Canaan land. It is interesting to note that Hebrews mentions nothing about Solomon’s Temple. Neither does He mention the Second Temple which was greatly embellished by Herod which had just finished completion just prior to the writing of Hebrews. One would think that the Wilderness Tabernacle would have been a shadow of one of these Temples. But, alas, they were part of the scaffolding also. These Temples point forward as did the Wilderness Tabernacle of a far greater purpose which God had designed. All the services of the Tabernacle point to Jesus. All those who served and the sacrifices of the altar point to Jesus. Jesus is the all in all. All these things pointed to the need of a perfect mediator, a perfect offering, a perfect High Priest, a perfect Moses, a perfect Joshua which is what they were designed for. So the Tabernacle of the wilderness was perfect in the sense it accomplished everything it was designed to do. But now that the final completion of the plan to which these things pointed had come to pass, their was no need for them any more. Like scaffolding, they could now be torn down. This is why the writer of Hebrews says that they were now ready to pass away. (Hebrews 8:13)
Jesus is this perfect tabernacle. (See John 2:19-21) He is eternal and not created. Everything designed by human hands will decay and perish. There were once seven wonders of the ancient world. The only one still standing is the Great Pyramid, but even here, the body of Pharaoh Khufu has been snatched, his treasures robbed, and only a few of the glittering capstone still gleans in the sun. No human building lasts forever. But Jesus abides for ever. He is ever in the presence of the Father. He is always there to hear our prayers and make intercession for us. But what He does not have to do is to offer sacrifice in our behalf. This is an important truth t grasp. Hebrews tells us that He offered Himself once for our sins. That one day was at Cavalry. The Greek word “hapax” has the meaning of “once for all time” in it. There is no need to repeat the sacrifice of Christ in a Mass. Christ cannot be crucified again as Hebrews 6 tells us. A perfect and efficacious sacrifice need only be offered once.
This sacrifice is said to have been offered at the end of the world (Hebrews 9:26). The time of this sacrifice was ordained from the foundation of the world, but Jesus did not offer himself in history at this time. But the one sacrifice He would offer covered those who had faith in the sacrifice Jesus would offer on the cross. In the meanwhile the animal sacrifices reminded them of this. Christ does not need to be crucified again today, seeing we only need look back to Cavalry.
We already mentioned that word “sunetelia” earlier and how it is translated here as “completion” or “end.” This causes a little confusion as it has been two thousand years since Christ died for our sins. By our sense of time, we would think that the end would have come by now. Christians believe that at the end of this world (age), Christ will return and usher in the new age. In fact, it is this very hope that sustains us even as we see the death rattle of this world today. Christ is coming. This truth has sustained Christian for this long period. Many Christians have suffered and died for the faith, emboldened to taste death by faith inn Christ and His return. We should note, however, that God’s conception of time, seeing that He is eternal, is different than ours. Also, when we remember that God’s plan for His return and the ushering in of the new age is already complete and will surely come to pass. So we should be eagerly expecting His return to complete the work of our own perfection. Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:6 that “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. His work is already in a sense already complete is us, is being completed in us, and will be completed in the day Jesus returns. Here Hebrews reminds us that when He returns His return is without sin unto salvation. This means that the work of salvation will be completed in us and we will be without sin. This is our eager expectation.
But this passage gives us a sober reminder in the oft-quoted Hebrews 9:27:
Hebrews 9:27 (NKJV)
And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,
Hebrews constantly warns us of the dangers of losing our faith and falling away. He follows with the hope that those who eagerly await Him will be blessed. But there is always the danger of dying without Jesus. The Jesus who was once and for all time offered gives us hope. But judgment awaits those who fail to believe or turn away from Jesus. When the disobedient Israelites died in the wilderness, the judgment was their death. It says nothing about where these people will spend eternity. But here, death and judgment are separated as separate events. Hebrews talks about a judgment beyond death. Hebrews 6:2 talks about a judgment which lasts for eternity. Jesus affirms of hell’s existence where their worm does not die, where there is weeping wailing and gnashing of teeth. Think of the rich man in hell being tormented in the flames in Luke 16:23-28. the punishment of one who has known the truth of Christ and falls away will suffer a far sorer punishment for apostacy than Israel in the Wilderness because we have received the more complete understanding of the truth. They heard the Word of God through Moses at various times or at other times in places through a prophet. (Hebrews 10:29-31)But we have heard of the Son directly and completely. So one of the tests we need apply to our faith is “Are we eagerly awaiting His return?” If we are not, we need to remind ourselves to make pur calling and election sure. (2 Peter 1:10)