Yesterday we read in chapter 8 that the tabernacle was a shadow and copy of the true tabernacle. Here in chapter 9, we see in what way it was a mere shadow and copy of the real thing.
The ark of the covenant was a symbol of the presence of God. He was said to be enthroned on the cherubim that sat on the cover of the ark. The ark itself was placed in the Most Holy Place, and therefore the Most Holy Place was considered to be the place where God dwelt in the tabernacle.
Because of this not just anyone could enter the holy places. Only the priests could enter the Holy Place, the section just outside the Most Holy Place. And only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and that only once a year on the Day of Atonement in which sacrifices were offered for the sins of the people.
And the writer of Hebrews tells us,
The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. (8)
In other words, the first tabernacle was in a sense a barrier to a relationship with God. People were actually physically blocked off from his presence by the curtain that hung between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. For that matter, most people couldn’t even get as far as the Holy Place.
The same was true of Solomon’s temple, Ezra’s temple, and Herod’s temple which replaced the tabernacle. The physical barrier was a picture of the spiritual barrier that hung between us and God in heaven. Our sins separated us from him.
But as we will see in the next part, Jesus tore that barrier down. All I’ll point out at this point are two things the writer of Hebrews brings up. That in order to enter the Most Holy Place, the priests had to pass two things: a lampstand whose light never went out, and the bread consecrated to God. Is it any coincidence that Jesus called himself the light of the world and the bread of life? In order to go into the presence of God, you must go through Jesus.
And just as the high priest needed to bring blood when entering the Most Holy Place as an atonement for the Israelite’s sins, so Jesus entered the Most Holy Place in heaven with his own blood to atone for our sins.
Now because of what Jesus has done, we have free access to the Father.
It’s hard to fathom as a Christian not having that access. But for many years, people simply didn’t have it. So as Paul wrote, and as I recall as Christmas season draws to a close:
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (II Corinthians 9:15)