Priests in “The More Perfect Tent”

A shadow is that shade cast by an object illuminated by some light. By seeing only the shadow it is possible to come to some understanding of what the real object looks like, and possibly identify it. Paul wrote to the Corinthian congregation about some of the limitations upon the early church: “It’s like this: When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now.” [1 Corinthians 13:11, 12 The Living Translation]

In a similar manner Paul writes to the Colossians regarding “shadows” and realities: “For these rules were only shadows of the real thing, Christ himself.” [Colossians 2:17 The Living Translation] It seems Paul has in mind certain features of the Law of Moses that served as prophetic shadows of realities which would occur in the future.

In the entire Bible, there is no book that deals in more detail concerning these “shadows” than Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews. Indeed, in Hebrews 10:1 Paul writes: “For the Law is a shadow of good things in the future, but not the exact image of those things.” [21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures (NCMM), Nazarene Commentary 2000©] Other versions render this: KJV: for the law having a shadow of good things to come; GDS: the law foreshadowed the blessings that were to come; NOR: benefits in store; PME: the law possessed only a dim outline of the benefits Christ would bring; TCN: the law, though able to foreshadow the better system which as coming.

Paul uses another word to indicate such prophetic “shadows.” He calls these “types” and “anti-types.” Hebrews 8:4, 5 lays the ground work for such a teaching on tabernacle shadows: “[These Jewish priests] who worship [God] are an example and a shadow of the heavenly things. It is just as Moses -- when he was about to finish the Tent -- was cautioned by God, “See to it you do everything according to the type shown you in the mountain.” [Exodus 25:40] The Greek word here for “type” is TYPON.

Other versions render this: KJV: pattern; RHM: model; ABUV: example; BAS: design. The Greek is TYPON [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance #5179] is from a root to stamp as in cast a die from which “typewriter” is based. In prophetic matters a “type” is a pattern, outline, or shadow prefiguring something in general representation. Paul here quotes Exodus 25:40 as it is in the Jewish Greek LXX. The Hebrew Text has TABNIYTH [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance #8403] which is literally “structure” but implies model, resemblance, figure, form, likeness, pattern, similitude. [Compare also Exodus 26:30] Numbers 8:4 has it as a “vision.” Stephen also quotes this in Acts 7:44 using TYPON. This is most interesting because Saul of Tarsus was present and thus heard this application.

Paul does this again at Hebrews 9:23, 24: “Therefore, it was indeed a necessity the diagrams of the things in the heavens be cleansed. However, the heavenly things with sacrifices better than [those fleshly offerings]. For Christ did not enter holy places of human construction - which are anti-types of true realities - but rather into the very heavens, now to appear before the person of The God in our behalf.” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©] Here Paul uses “diagram” and “anti-types.”

The general context of these shadows, diagrams, types, and anti-types deal with a High Priest, a Taberacle of Worship, and sacrifices. The bulk of Paul’s main thoughts are found in Hebrews chapters 9 and 10. Some call these “Tabernacle Shadows.” Let us examine these in brief just to get an overall view of these “hard” matters. [Hebrews 5:11]

An Ageless and Ever-living High Priest

Paul first writes about a new and better High Priest:

HE8:1 Now let us summarize what we have been saying: We [Hebrew Christians] have a High Priest, who sat down on the right hand of [Psalm 110:1] the Throne of the Magnificent in the heavens. HE8:2 [He is] a priestly officiant to the people in the Holy Places of the True Tent which the LORD pitched and not any human. HE8:3 For every high priest is ordained to approach [God] with a presentation of gift-offerings and sacrifices. So it was also necessary for [our High Priest] to have something to offer to [God]. HE8:4 Now, if [Jesus] were still on earth he would not be a priest because there are already those [Jewish priests] who approach [God] with gift-offerings according to the Law. HE8:5 [These Jewish priests] who worship [God] are an example and a shadow of the heavenly things. It is just as Moses -- when he was about to finish the Tent -- was cautioned by God, “See to it you do everything according to the type shown you in the mountain.” [Exodus 25:40] HE8:6 However, now [Jesus] has acquired a much different priestly officiate in behalf of the people, as he is a mediator of a much better covenant, which is also lawfully based on superior promises.

Paul writes, “We have a High Priest, who ’sat down on the right hand of The God in Heaven.’ Paul alludes again to Psalm 110:1. Compare the other occurrences at Hebrews 1:3, 13; 10:12, 13. This ‘sitting down at God’s right hand’ occurred upon Christ’s ascension to heaven. [1 Corinthians 15:25; see notes on Ephesians 1:20; Revelation 3:21] As Daniel 7:13 describes our Lord ascended to heaven to take up his own throne in association with “the Throne of the Magnificent.”

Thus, Paul declares that the glorified Lord became “a priestly officiant to the People. That is a heavenly minister [KJV] or administrator [BER] to God’s People. The Greek is LEITOURGOS [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance #3011] and means literally “a public servant (or, worker)” in matters related to temple worship. This priestly service was to take place “in the Holy Places of the True Tent.” Or, “real Tabernacle.” Paul hints then that the Tabernacle was a type of a heavenly sanctuary.

The word “tent” is to occur 10 times. [See notes on Hebrews 9:2, 3, 6, 8, 11, 21; 13:10.] In Hebrews 9:11 this is called the “greater and more perfect tent.” The reference is to the Tabernacle of Moses. In Leviticus 1:1 it is called “tent of meeting” where Israel assembled unto their God. It will be most beneficial to read Exodus chapters 25-27. Paul will go on to discuss these matters in detail in chapter 9. But, this tent or tabernacle here is one of a celestial kind as it was put up by God Himself. Paul writes, “… which the Lord [YHWH] pitched and not any human.” [Compare similar language on another subject at 2 Corinthians 5:1, 2.]

Paul now states that every Jewish priest is ordained to approach God with presentations of sin-offerings. [Hebrews 5:1] Compare Numbers chapter 18 for a description of these offerings.

In order for Christ to follow the shadow “it was also necessary for [our High Priest] to have something to offer to [God].” What this offering is Paul will go on to explain in chapter 9, though the idea was already introduced in Hebrews 1:3.

That this priestly service with its Tabernacle were shadows Paul so states when he says they were an “example and a shadow of the heavenly things.” Paul will go on to develop this idea in Hebrews 9:9, 24. He uses this same thought in Colossians 2:17, “These are but a shadow of future things, the reality of the Messiah.” [Compare notes on Hebrews 10:1.] Judging from these remarks the tent and priestly service are examples and shadows of “heavenly things” involving the services of the great High Priest Christ.

In contrast to the services of the Jewish high priest on Atonement Day, Jesus “has acquired a much different priestly officiate in behalf of the people as he is a mediator of a much better covenant lawfully based on superior promises.” [Hebrews 2:24; 1 Timothy 2:4] Why it can be called a “better covenant” is to be explained in Hebrews 7:22 and Hebrews 9:15. Paul has already discussed God’s oath and a better promise given in Psalm 110:4. [Compare notes on Hebrews 6:13-20 and Hebrews 7:18-25.] The “better promises” may also include the heavenly glory of the children of God. [See notes on Romans 8:17 in NAZARENE COMMENTARY 2000©.] But what was this sin-offering and where was it presented?

A Perfect Sacrifice

Paul now goes on to draw a parallel between those animal sacrifices offered up by the Aaronic high priest of the Day of Atonement. He writes regarding Christ:

HE9:12 he entered -- not with the blood of goats and young bulls, but rather with his own blood - only once into [the Tabernacle’s] holy rooms, having found an ageless ransom. HE9:13 For, if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, upon those sharing in the communion sanctifies cleanses regarding the flesh, HE9:14 rather how much more [will] the blood of the Christ -- who through an ageless pneuma approached The God with himself [as an] unblemished [offering] - cleanse our consciences from dead works leading to sacred worship of a Living God?

Messiah’s blood was to be “poured out” [Isaiah 53:12; Hebrews 9:22] just as the blood of the ancient animal sacrifices. [Hebrews 13:11-13] Since Paul writes that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom” it seems fair to conclude that here in Hebrews 9:12 he means the value or purchasing power of his blood. In similar fashion the Jewish high priest only took a token of the blood of bulls and goats into the Tabernacle to sprinkle it in the Most Holy. Note how Jesus omits “blood” in Luke 24:38.

Paul makes makes it clear that Christ only had to do this once. He also makes clear that Christ entered these anti-typical “holy rooms” indicating both compartments of the Tabernacle foreshadowed a heavenly arrangement involving Christ as both the High Priest and the Sin-Offering. This is described as “an ageless ransom.” [The Greek for “ransom” here is LYTROSIN, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance # 3085. For details research LYTRO or 3085. Compare notes on Hebrews 10:17 and Romans 11:27. (Isaiah 45:17; Daniel 9:24)]

This sin offering Paul writes, “Sanctifies regarding a fleshly cleansing.” That is the sanctity of those who serve as priests.” The Williams translation renders this, “make them holy so as to bring about ceremonial purity.” [Numbers 19:17, 19] This offering was the purchasing power of “the blood of the Christ” by an everlasting, self-sacrificing disposition or attitude. [Philippians 2:5-7]

Thus, Christ, having entered the heavenly first anti-typical room of the celestial Tabernacle “Approached The God with himself [as an] unblemished [offering].” And by such an offering to God within the heavenly Most Holy, the priestly Christ “cleansed our consciences from dead works.” [Hebrews 10:2; 1 John 1:7] The conscience is one of the key elements to that forgiveness which results from the unblemished sacrificial offering of Christ. Evidently, the animal sacrifices did not satisfy the Hebrew conscience as to perfect forgiveness to the extent of clearing the conscience completely.

This paves the way for “a royal priesthood” to render “sacred worship of a Living God.” With this Peter also agreed, for he wrote: “You are a holy priesthood - a royal priesthood, a holy nation - to offer up spiritual sacrifices.” [1 Peter 2:5, 9; Hebrews 3:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22] Paul is to write more about these offerings in Hebrews 13:10, 15, 16 where he sees the Church serving, not in the celestial Tabernacle, but in the earthly Courtyard where the Altar and Water Basin were located. [Compare Hebrews 10:20; Revelation 11:2] So, what is this Tabernacle? Where is it located and who serves there?

A Celestial Tabernacle

Paul now continues to explain what the Mosaic Tabernacle shadowed or typified:

HE9:23 Therefore, it was indeed a necessity the diagrams of the things in the heavens be cleansed. However, the heavenly things with sacrifices better than [those fleshly offerings]. HE9:24 For Christ did not enter holy places of human construction - which are anti-types of true realities - but rather into the very heavens, now to appear before the person of The God in our behalf. HE9:25 And not that he should offered up himself many times, just as the high priest enters the holy rooms annually with other blood. HE9:26 Otherwise it would be necessary for [Christ] to suffer [death] many times from the beginning of humanity. But now in contrast, [Christ] has become visible at the consummation of the period by abolishing the Sin through his own sacrifice. HE9:27 Also, accordingly, it is determined that humans die once, but after this [death] a judgment. HE9:28 And just so, also, the Christ - having sacrificed himself once to bear the sins of many - will become visible a second time [apart from sin] to those earnestly awaiting for him unto salvation.

The Mosaic Tabernacle with its Courtyard of worship was a diagram, or a parable, type, shadow, of heavenly and spiritual matters pertaining to worship in the New Covenant and future beneficiaries in “the inhabited earth to come.” [Hebrews 2:5] These heavenly things have to be prepared, indeed, cleansed by sacrifices of much greater value than those animals slaughtered on the Jewish Day of Atonement.

The ancient courtyard where Levitical priests functioned for many centuries was a type of a place or arrangement where what Peter called the “royal priesthood” might function. In that ancient courtyard there were two means of “cleansing” - the blood from the Altar of sacrifice and the water basin where both the priests and the offerings were bathed.

Paul has previously mentioned the blood of young bulls and goats. Thus, he means these [plural] types which pre-figure the one Sacrifice of Christ. Though Messiah’s sacrifice is once of human blood shed on the Tree it has a plural value affecting, first, the Church, and then after, humankind in general. Note the “heavenly things” required their own “cleansing.” Not only earth, but also “heaven” needed a reconciliation or re-gathering as Ephesians 1:10 and Colossians 1:16 show.

“Christ did not enter holy places of human construction [like Moses’ tabernacle] … which are anti-types of true realities but into the very Heavens themselves.” The Greek is plural, thus “holy places” - meaning the first and second compartment. Jesus never entered these “during the days of his flesh,” as he was not a Jewish priest. [Hebrews 7:13; 8:2] This would seem to suggest that the entire Tabernacle with both of its rooms or compartments were types of heavenly realities.

On the original Day of Atonement the high priest Aaron first cleansed himself at the water basin in the courtyard. He then took the blood from the altar in this same courtyard and approached the Tabernacle proper. He entered the first compartment with its room covered with golden-threaded cherubim illuminated seven candles. He approached the second curtain and with incense from the smoking altar he prepared his way for entry into the Most Holy. Once inside that Most Holy room illuminated by the Shekinah Light, he sprinkled the blood which he had brought from the courtyard.

Even so, Christ “Now appeared before the person of The God in our behalf.” The phrase “person of” is literally “to the face of the.” There is an echo of Daniel 7:13, 14 here which foretold the heavenly ascension of someone human-like: “I continued to observe in my night visions, and, look! with the clouds of the Sky someone like a Son of Humankind was arriving. He was brought to the Ancient of Days. The angels brought him into the Presence of the One. And to this Son of Humankind there were given government and dignity and a realm, so that peoples, nations and languages should all serve him. His government is an everlasting government that will never pass away, and his realm one that will never be brought to ruin.”. [Compare the heavenly scene upon Christ’s ascension in Revelation chapters 4 and 5.]

Paul argues that it was necessary for Christ to only do this once. Only once would he enter this Celestial Tabernacle to offer up a Sin-offering. Thus, Jesus Christ “became visible at the consummation of the period,” meaning that SYNTELEIA back there at the end of the last days of the Jewish Temple Age. [Matthew 24:3; Daniel 9:26, 27; Luke 21:20-24] This first visible appearance “abolished [Adamic] sin through his own sacrifice.” [Isaiah 53:12; Daniel 9:24; Romans 5:12-14] Though “it was determined that humans die once” because of this Adamic sin, Christ’s one offering makes it possible for a resurrection unto judgment. [1 Corinthians 15:20-22; Acts 17:31; Matthew 12:36, 37, 41, 42; Romans 2:15, 16; Revelation 20:11-13]

Just so, Jesus “sacrificed himself once to bear the sins of many.” The wording in Greek is POLLON [many] and not “all” [PANTA]. The Nazarene himself taught that his ransom would benefit “many” and not result in “universal salvation.” [Compare Matthew 20:28, POLLON]

Christ will become “visible a second time” Paul writes contrasting the first appearance with the second. The first with a “sin-offering” and the second without such. The Greek here for “visible” is OPHTHESETAI [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance # 3700 which means “to gaze with eyes wide-open at something remarkable”]. The parousia, or Return of Christ, will be visible and not invisible. Daniel 12:1 foretold this “appearing” [JPS Tanakh] of Messiah.

Jesus the Nazarene had taught the same thing, but also included the response of those not “earnestly awaiting for him unto salvation.” Jesus foretold: “The sign of the Son of Humankind will become visible in the Sky, and then all earth’s tribes will beat themselves in great lamentation. They will see the Son of Humankind arriving upon the clouds of the Sky with glorious power.” [Matthew 24:30, 31; Titus 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8; 1 John 2:28; 3:2]

The glorified Lord comes now to gather to himself the true members of what Peter had called a “royal priesthood.” These he raises or raptures from their previous service in that earthly courtyard, now to begin to officiate as heavenly priests! [Revelation 11:2, 12, 13; 20:4]

Heavenly Worship-Services to Benefit Humankind

Paul does not here in Hebrews go into that future blessing of such a heavenly priesthood serving within this “better and more perfect Tent.” He does allude to these blessed promises benefiting humankind at Hebrews 11:39, 40. It is left to the beloved Apostle John to describe the descent of a glorious City like a golden cube coming to rest on its beautiful foundation here on earth. From inside this City and that new “Temple” embodied in God Himself and His Son, Jesus the Lamb will flow a living giving River.

Ezekiel the prophet, in the context of giving the precise measurements of some future Temple of Yehowah, gave his inspired description:

1Then the man brought me back to the entrance of the Temple. There I saw a stream flowing eastward from beneath the Temple threshold. This stream then passed to the right of the altar on its south side. 2The man brought me outside the wall through the north gateway and led me around to the eastern entrance. There I could see the stream flowing out through the south side of the east gateway. … 7Suddenly, to my surprise, many trees were now growing on both sides of the river! [Ezekiel 47:1-2, 7; The Living Translation]

John echoes these words when he describes what comes from this Place:

1And the angel showed me a pure river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2coursing down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations. [Revelation 22:1, 2 TLT]

This healing River of Life flows from the Temple embodied in God Almighty and the Lamb. [Revelation 21:22; 22:1] Our imagination is simply carried away when we try to envision the global results of these glorious blessings that come from the Heavenly Temple of God! [Isaiah 65:17-24] Surely all humankind will “learn righteousness”! [Isaiah 26:9] Surely, the “knowledge of God” will fill the globe like a great deluge! [Isaiah 11:9]

How blessed we are to now behold with our spiritual comprehension the “realities of Christ” as an ever-enduring High Priest. [Hebrews 10:1; Colossians 2:17] How blessed we are to now serve in the “courtyard” of that “more perfect Tent”! [Hebrews 10:19; Revelation 11:2] We bathe our bodies in the cleansing Waters from the Basin. Our consciences experience the Sprinkling of that Blood. We approach “our Altar” with our sacrifices of lips spreading the glorious Evangel. To this Altar we bring our possessions as gifts of charity to the Saints! [Hebrews 10:19, 34; 13:10, 15, 16] O, how we long to be robed in white, crowned in gold, bowing before the Throne, ready to serve as priests in that “more perfect Tent.”

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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