Hebrews 9:15-28

So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words. (Exodus 24:8).

I have been involved in quite a few contracts in my day. As a husband, I entered into a marital contract in the sense of being a co-signer with my wife in a marriage certificate. As a home buyer, I entered into a contract to purchase our house. And in my years as a fire fighter, I negotiated and signed labor contracts with various employers.

In some cases, the negotiations which led up to those various contracts was a pleasant affair. At other times, the negotiations could be rather strained. In one particular instance, an arbitrator was called in to mediate between the opposing positions.

As we come to this section of Hebrews, we find that an arbitrator has been called in to mediate the covenant between God and men. The mediator is Jesus Christ. He is the One who serves as a "go-between."


For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:15).

Jesus is our representative. He is the one who stands in the gap between God and men. He represents God to men and He represents men to God.

The priests served as a type of mediator under the Old Covenant, but their mediation was never completed because they could not actually approach God. They were kept from the presence of God by the veil. Even the high priest who was permitted to do once a year into the presence of God could not serve as the ultimate mediator since their atonement was only sufficient for that one year and since the blood of bulls and calves cannot really take away sin. It took something better. It took a redemption of transgressions.

What are the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant? They are the sins of the Old Testament saints.

Has anyone ever asked you, "How were people saved in the Old Testament?" Here is the answer. They were saved by the redemption that was purchased on the cross.

This is important! People in the Old Testament were never saved by keeping the Law. That type of salvation has been likened to a man who had fallen down a well. He was treading water at the bottom of the well, calling for help, when someone came along and dropped a sheet of paper to him containing, "Ten rules on how to keep out of wells."

Christ does not give us advice on how to save ourselves. He is the rope which draws us up out of the well.



For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it.

For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. (Hebrews 9:16-17).

The New International Version (NIV) has translated the word "covenant" in this passage as "last will and testament", in spite of the fact that the same Greek word (diatheke) is found in the verses immediately prior and immediately after these verses in a context that evidently demands the translation "covenant." I do not mean to attack the NIV. Its easier style of reading makes it enjoyable and a delight. There is nothing wrong with a translation being somewhat interpretive IF the interpretation happens to be correct. However, let me suggest another possible interpretation to this passage.

Since the beginning of the book, the writer to the Hebrews has been contrasting the Old Covenant of Moses with the New Covenant of Christ (see verse 15). I want to suggest that in these verses he continues to do exactly the same thing. Let's look at the passage:

For where there is a covenant... (9:16).

To understand the idea of a covenant, you must go back to the Old Testament where God established a relationship with His people. The word "covenant" first appears in Genesis 6 when the Lord says that He is going to make a covenant with Noah and his family.

This concept is developed more fully when God entered a covenant with Abraham. One of the most dramatic scenes in the Old Testament takes place in Genesis 15 when Abraham sacrifices some animals, cuts their bodies into two parts and then falls into a deep sleep while God's presence passes between the parts.

The implications of this act must be understood in light of ancient customs. When two men desired to enter into a covenant, they would kill an animal, cut it into two parts, and pass between the parts as they recited the terms of the covenant. The implication was that they were swearing a curse upon themselves. If either party broke the covenant, he was saying, "May I also be killed as this animal has been killed and torn apart."

As God passed between the pieces, He was putting a curse upon Himself (that is what an oath is) that He would be cursed before He would break His covenant with Abraham.

So strong was this idea, that throughout the Old Testament you rarely see anyone described as "making" a covenant; instead, they always CUT a covenant. Indeed, there are times when the word "covenant" disappears altogether and only the verb "cut" remains to signify that a covenant has been made (you will not see this in most English translations as the translators have usually added the word "covenant" for the benefit of our understanding).

I am suggesting that when Hebrew says in verse 16, "For where a covenant is..." the writer is still speaking of a covenant - not a last will and testament. Letís continue...

For where a covenant is, THERE MUST OF NECESSITY BE THE DEATH OF THE ONE WHO MADE IT (Hebrews 9:16b).

Once again, our English translation is lacking, although this lack is made up in the form of footnotes in some Bibles. This literally says: For where (there is) a covenant, death is needed to be offered of the covenant-maker.

Note: The Greek word phereshai is the passive infinitive participle of phero and because of the passive can be translated "to be brought or offered" or even "to enter into."

Thus, we could also translated it as: For where (there is) a covenant, it is necessary for death to be entered into with reference to the covenant-maker.

Let's continue to verse 17...

For a covenant is valid only when men are dead... (Hebrew 9:17a).

Once again, we have an unfortunate translation. A more literal one would be: For a covenant over dead bodies is firm.

This CANNOT be a reference to a last will and testament. Neither the context nor the words themselves will permit it. Rather, it is a reference to the fact that a person entering into a covenant does so upon the basis of the death of another and that only as he is identified with that death does the covenant take place.

What am I proposing? That the making of a covenant involves the one who is making it entering into a relationship which identifies him with death.

God did this when He entered into a covenant with Abraham. When He could swear by no greater, He swore by Himself. He was saying in effect, "I swear to God and hope to die!"

Israel did this at the Mosaic covenant, swearing themselves to life and death (Exodus 24:4-8). We shall see this more fully developed in just a moment.

Christ did this on our behalf by dying a death with which we are identified so that we can enter into a new inheritance of life in him (this is introduced in verse 15, explained in verses 16-17 and then illustrated in verses 18-22).

Thus, verses 16 and 17 are demonstrating that there MUST be DEATH in the making of a covenant. The death of a lamb was not enough. It took the death of the Lamb of God - Jesus Christ the righteous One.

Interpretation #1: Speaking of a Last Will & Testament

Interpretation #2: Speaking of Identification with Death in making a Covenant

Author changes his meaning in the use of the term "covenant"

Consistent use of the term "covenant" throughout the chapter

Ties in with the verse 15 which speaks of the promise of the eternal inheritance

We do not receive our inheritance as a last will and testament, but because of our union with Christ ó we are co-inheritors with Him

This does not fit with the verses which follow that speak of the people of Israel being sprinkled with blood.

The concept of being identified with death carries over to the following verses where the Israelites were sprinkled with blood and identified with death.



Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood.

For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you."

And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood.

And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:18-22).

The importance of death in a covenant runs through all the covenants of the ancient world. Even today we speak of signing your name in blood. What do we mean by this? We mean that it is an unbreakable signature.

All covenants in the ancient world were signed with blood. They involved a sacrifice. Animals were cut into two pieces. The parties of the covenant would walk between the pieces of the animals while reciting the terms of the covenant. This is illustrated in the case of Moses.

Remember when Moses had come back down from Mount Sinai with the Law of God? He read that Law to all of the people of Israel and then bound them in their relationship with God by means of a covenant. To accomplish this required a ceremony of blood. Several animals were killed and their blood was taken and sprinkled on the people and the tabernacle and the vessels and even the book of the Law. Imagine this bloody mess! After all, there is nothing that stains as much as blood. There was blood on nearly everything. Nor was this an isolated instance. The writer sums up in verse 22 - whenever you have cleansing, there is blood. And whenever you have forgiveness, there is blood.

No Blood = No forgiveness

In all of the Old Testament, there was never a covenant made that did not involve a sacrifice and the taking of a life. When sins were forgiven, it was only on the basis of a slain animal.



Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. (Hebrews 9:23).

The premise that we saw in verses 16-17 is that all covenants require a death. This was illustrated in verses 18-22 in the case of Moses who sprinkled the people and the tabernacle and nearly everything in blood. Now we come to a resulting principle. It is that the New Covenant required the shedding of blood.






Resulting Principle

All Covenants require death

Illustrated by Moses in the wilderness

The New Covenant required death

Once again we see the concept of the earthly copies verses the heavenly realities. It is bound in the truth that the earthly physical ordinances were only symbols of a spiritual reality.

The Old Covenant

The New Covenant

Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these... (9:23).

...but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these (9:23).

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one... (9:24).

...but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us (9:24).

Nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own... (9:25).

...but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (9:26).

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment... (9:27). Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him (9:28).


Here is the principle. The Old Testament required the shedding of blood and the taking of a life. For the New Covenant to be a better covenant, it required the shedding of better blood and the taking of a better life.


For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own.

Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Hebrews 9:24-26).

This section contains two negative and two corresponding positives. It tells us what Christ did NOT do versus what He DID do.

1. When we speak of Christ making a sacrifice for sins, we are not to understand that he entered into a tabernacle or a temple in the same way that the high priest did. The place of His sacrifice was not in the earthly realm but in the heavenly realm.

2. Neither are we to understand that the sacrifice of Jesus would have to be repeated on a regular basis. His offering was once and for all. This is the basic problem with the Roman Catholic view of the Eucharist. They view it as the regular unbloody sacrifice of Christ. But His sacrifice was once and for all. It needs never to be repeated.

Notice that the death of Christ is said to have taken place at the consummation of the ages. There was something completing about the death of Christ. It has brought us into the realm of the last days. The past ages have been consummated in Him.



And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. (Hebrews 9:27-20).

We now come full circle with regard to our discussion about the sacrifice of Jesus. We have seen it necessity, its location and its sufficiency. Now we see its continuing result.





The Necessity of the Sacrifice

The Location of the Sacrifice

The Sufficiency of the Sacrifice

The Result of the Sacrifice

If the copies needed a death, then the reality behind the copied needed a more significant death.

Not in an earthly place of worship, but into heaven itself.

Not once a year as the high priest is accustomed to do, but once and for all.

Christ has come the first time to bear sins; He will return the second time for salvation without reference to sin.

The eschatology of the Old Testament is very simple. They were not divided into Amillennial or Premillennial or Post Millennial. There was not a Pretribulational Rapture or a Post Tribulational Rapture or any other kind of Rapture. There were only two points to their eschatology:

(1) You die.

(2) Then comes the Judgment.

The writer to the Hebrews affirms this eschatology. It applies to men in general and it also applies to Jesus Christ. However we are not merely told that Jesus died and that He will one day return in judgment. Rather we see that these two points were combined for Jesus ON THE CROSS.

The Principle for Men in General

The Principle for Jesus

It is appointed to men once to die...

Christ died upon the cross

And after this the judgment

He was offered to bear the sins of many

Do you see the point? The eschatology of Jesus with regard to sin and judgment was completed upon the cross. We look forward to His Second Coming. And that coming will be in contrast to His first coming.

Christís First Coming

Christís Second Coming

He came to be an atonement for sin

He will come without reference to sin

He came to purchase our salvation

He will come that we might realize the fulness of our salvation

But this is not true for everyone. There will be some for whom Christís future coming will be with reference to judgment. The same coming that will be salvation for some will mean judgment for others. What makes the difference? It is how you perceive Christ. Is He just a man, or is He your Lord and Savior? Do you eagerly await Him? Are you looking for the salvation that He provides?

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