In 9:1-10 our author describes the earthly sanctuary, the tabernacle and its furnishings, and this along with the function of the high priest. He then makes note of its limitations - "the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper", v9. Still, it remained in service "until the time of the new order", v10. Now, in v11-14, our author describes the new order, he describes the perfection of "the greater and more perfect tabernacle" and of the "eternal redemption" made possibly through the sacrifice of Christ.
v11. In Leviticus chapter 16 we are told of how, on the day of atonement, the high priest, after performing complicated sacrificial rites, moved through the tabernacle to arrive in the Holy of Holies before the presence of the Lord. The writer of Hebrews takes up this image and points out that Christ, as a high priest who has saved his people through his own perfect sacrifice, has similarly arrived in the presence of the "Living God", having passed through the divine canopy, a heavenly tent not made with hands.
v12. Israel's high priest offered a series of animal sacrifices before entering the tabernacle's inner sanctuary and passing through to the Holy of Holies. Jesus, on the other hand, has offered his own blood-sacrifice; he gave himself up to the cross. Unlike the sacrifices of Israel's high priest, Jesus' sacrifice achieves an eternal salvation and so he has entered the Holy of Holies without the need to move out again and repeat the sacrifice. Jesus' high priestly sacrificial work is complete and so he now dwells permanently in God's presence.
v13. The old sacrificial system, with its shedding of blood, ashing, sprinkling of blood, or sprinkling of the water of purification, had only a limited effect. The sacrificial system could only deal with cultic impurity caused by the inadvertent breaking of the law. Ritual cleansing (the writer uses the word "sanctify", but only in a limited sense), for example, could purify a person where they had come into contact with a corpse. So, the system could make a person "outwardly clean", but was quite unable to deal with the stain of sin wilfully committed. The problem is, we have all knowingly broken God's perfect law.
v14. Our author now underline the superior nature of Christ's sacrifice. Christ's blood-sacrifice involved, not just the shedding of his physical blood, but the giving up of his whole spiritual being. The NIV capitalizes "Spirit" here in the sense of involving the Holy Spirit in Christ's sacrifice, but the writer is most likely speaking about Christ's eternal spiritual self. Yet, not only did Christ's sacrifice involve the offering of his eternal self, his offering was a morally blameless, perfect sacrifice. The consequence of Christ's sacrifice for those in a relationship with him, involves spiritual cleansing, an inward cleansing of the soul, a washing away of the stain of sin, not just a washing away of outward ritual impurity. As a result of this cleansing, believers begin to live in a Christlike way; we begin to be merciful as he is merciful.
In our passage for study, we are presented with a comparison between the character and benefits of Israel's sacrificial system and the character and benefits of Christ's sacrifice. Israel's high priest served in a man-made structure, a mere tent. He offered sacrifices which, although unblemished, were just animals, and he was forced to offer these sacrifices repeatedly. On the other hand, Christ, our high priest, has entered God's heavenly dwelling, a divine canopy. He has offered his eternal spiritual self, a perfect sacrifice, and one that does not need to be repeated. Israel's high priest could only achieve ritual purity for the people. Christ, our high priest, offered a sacrifice for sins which has completely cleansed his people from sin and obtained for us an eternal redemption that actually expresses itself in a renewed life of service to God.
It's hard to believe that we could ever forget Christ's high priestly work and move back toward Israel's limited cultic system. Yet it's easy to do just that. Those of a catholic background can see the Mass, the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, as some outward act that can "sanctify" them, yet of itself it can only make us "outwardly clean." Those with a free-church background can see church attendance, Bible reading, even godly-living, as a mechanism for either gaining, maintaining or progressing their standing in the sight of the living God. Yet the truth is, that although our piety may be worthy in itself, it cannot "cleanse our consciences", obtain our "eternal redemption", nor empower us to "serve the living God."
Of our cleansing from sin Isaac Watts wrote: "But Christ, the heavenly Lamb, takes all our sins away, A sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they" (the blood of beasts). Sin no longer has a claim over us; we no longer stand guilty before the living God. "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Of our redemption we are reminded that we who were once slaves, separated from the mercy and kindness of the living God, are now free. When Christ sets us free, we are free indeed.
Of our service to the Lord we understand that our lives will never be lived in perfect harmony with God's will, but Christ certainly makes it possible for us to live with compassion.
Consider how church traditions can replace the substance of redemption in Christ's faithfulness.