Types in Hebrews - CHAPTER 8 - WHY THE TABERNACLE?

THE interesting question has been often raised, Why is it of the wilderness Tabernacle, and not of the Jerusalem Temple, that the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks? The historical narrative of King David's reign clearly suggests that the Tabernacle represented the divine purpose, and that the Temple was a concession to David's desire and prayer. (2 Samuel 7; 1 Chronicles 17) For God never refuses a "burnt-offering" from the humble and true-hearted. But as God did accept that offering, the question remains, why the Temple has no place in Hebrews. And perhaps one reason may be in order thus to exclude the element of merely superstitious awe which a splendid shrine is fitted to excite. The divine presence alone can constitute "a place of worship" in the deeper, truer sense; and the exhortation to "draw near" raises the question, what and where is "the holy place" which we are bidden to approach? And to this all-important question the ninth chapter supplies the answer.
The veil which was rent when the Saviour died was not the curtain through which "the priests went always into the first tabernacle," but the inner veil which no one but the high priest might pass, and that only on the Day of Atonement. That veil bore testimony to the presence of God, and also to the sinner's unfitness to approach Him. And the rending of it had also a twofold significance. It indicated the fulfillment of the solemn words with which the Lord had turned away from the holy city, "Behold your house is left unto you desolate"; and it symbolized that the true worshipper, being purged from his sin by the sacrifice of Calvary, might enter the divine presence. But though the way is open, who will dare to approach? Hebrews 10:22, which we have been considering, deals only with the worshipper viewed as here on earth, and far more is needed if we are to draw nigh to God.
From the Epistle to the Romans we learn how a sinner can stand before a righteous God, but the Epistle to the Hebrews teaches the far deeper and more amazing truth that he may approach a God of infinite holiness. Nor is this all, for the exhortation reads, "Having boldness to enter into the holy place…let us draw near." How can this be possible? In these days we are accustomed to hear that the solemnities of the Jewish cult belonged to the ignorant childhood of the human race, and that this enlightened age has a worthier estimate of the dignity of man. But such thoughts as these, instead of betokening greater moral enlightenment, give proof of spiritual darkness and death. Those who by faith have learned the meaning of the Cross of Christ can form a far higher estimate of the holiness of God than could the saintliest of saints in a bygone age. In that age His people had to do with a mount that might be touched and that burned with fire, and with blackness and darkness and tempest, and the awful voice which filled their hearts with terror (Chap. 12:18, 19); whereas we in these "last days" are come to eternal realities more awful still, of which those sights and sounds were merely symbols. And to us it is that the exhortation is addressed, "Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire." The secret of our boldness is not to be found in a false estimate of the dignity of man, and still less does it depend on ignoring what is due to the majesty of God. Our confidence is based on knowing our glorious Saviour, and the eternal redemption He has brought us. The confidence of faith has nothing in common with presumption begotten of ignorance and error.
What then are the facts and truths on which our faith intelligently rests? What is the significance of these figurative words - the veil, the blood? As already noticed, the veil had a twofold aspect. It barred the entrance to the holy place, and yet it was the way by which the high-priest passed in. What meaning then shall we give to the words "the veil, that is to say, His flesh"? The word "flesh" sometimes symbolizes our evil nature, but it is never so used in Hebrews. In this Epistle it always signifies the "natural body."1 The rent veil then is the broken body of Christ. It is by "a new and living way" that we approach, but it is in virtue of His death that that way is open to us.
But if the rent veil symbolizes the death of Christ, is the mention of the blood a mere repetition? By no means. It is upon the death of Christ, regarded as a great objective fact, that our redemption rests, whereas the blood always speaks to us of His death in relation to its effects or its application to ourselves. How then are we to understand the words, "Having boldness to enter into the holy place in (virtue of) the blood of Jesus"? How would the Hebrew Christian have interpreted them? Not, we may be sure, by that strange vagary of exegesis, that it was as forerunner of His people raised to all equality with Himself in His High-priestly rank, that Christ entered the heavenlies with His own blood, and that we enter, as His fellow-priests, by the same blood.
It is noteworthy that the only book of the New Testament which tells of the high-priest-hood of Christ never once refers explicitly to the priesthood of His people; for it is as worshippers that we are bidden to draw near. No less noteworthy is it that, as we have seen, Aaron laid aside his high-priestly garments before he passed within the veil with the blood of the sin-offering, thus indicating (for such is the exquisite accuracy of the types of Scripture) that his act, though typical of the work of Christ, was not typical of His High-priestly work. For it was not as High-priest that Christ entered the heavenlies "by His own blood." Aaron's entering in was a continually repeated ordinance, and this because the typical sin-offerings could not "take away sins"; but Christ's entering in was a never-to-be repeated act. And then it was that, having for ever put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, He was "called" of God High-priest after the order of Melchisedek.2
Can we doubt then that the Hebrew Christians, reading the verse in the light of the types, and marking, as they would, the significance of the words here employed, in contrast with those used of Christ's entering the heavenlies,3 would read the exhortation thus: "Having therefore, brethren, boldness in virtue of the blood of Jesus to enter into the holy place…let us draw near"? Our confidence depends on what the death of Christ is to us, and what it is to God on our behalf. And this we learn from the preceding verses. Verse 14 declares that "by one offering He hath perfected for ever the sanctified ones." And the seventeenth verse adds, "And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." Worshippers perfected, and sins forgotten - this is what the blood has gained for us. What ground there is here for "boldness"! And yet even this is not enough. Not even all this wonderful provision would be sufficient hence the added words, "And having a Great Priest over the house of God." For the sanctuary is heaven itself, where the glorious beings whose home is there fall upon their faces as they worship. (Revelation 7:11; 11:16)
The Jew understood, though we Gentiles miss it, the difference between a sanctuary and a synagogue. In the loose sense in which we use that phrase, every synagogue was "a place of worship," but in fact the only sanctuary was the holy Temple. And when, in speaking of the time when men should no longer worship in Jerusalem, the Lord declared that "the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth," He did not mean to teach that synagogues would become sanctuaries, but that spiritual worshippers, having access to the true and heavenly sanctuary, would no longer need "a sanctuary of this world." "I have many things to say, but ye cannot bear them now," explains the gap in His teaching here. That Jerusalem was no longer to be the place of worship must have seemed indeed "a hard saying" to His hearers. But not until the Spirit of truth had come to lead His people into all truth, could they bear the revelation that heaven itself was to be the place of worship for those whom the Father sought to worship Him. Till then, the words would have had no meaning for His disciples.
With the great majority of Christians, they have no meaning still. But "true worshippers" understand them; and whether they bow in a stately cathedral, or "by a river-side where prayer is wont to be made," they know what it means to "worship the Father in spirit and in truth." But the religion of Christendom, with its sham priests and its "sanctuaries of this world," denies the work of Christ, and is utterly antichristian. For, as Bishop Lightfoot of Durham writes, "It (the kingdom of Christ) has no sacred days or seasons, no special sanctuaries, because every time and every place alike are holy. Above all it has no sacerdotal system. It interposes no sacrificial tribe or class between God and man…For conducting religious worship it became necessary to appoint special officers. But the priestly functions and privileges of the Christian people are never regarded as transferred or even delegated to these officers…the sacerdotal title is never once conferred upon them. The only priests under the Gospel, designated as such in the New Testament, are the saints, the members of the Christian brotherhood. As individuals all Christians are priests alike."4
Such is the security of the Christian's position; such the solemnity and dignity of Christian worship. How natural the added exhortation, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope." And the note that vibrates through it all is this word "boldness."5 But as "all people of discernment" know, in religion everything is unreal, and words are never to be taken at their face value! So the chapter turns aside at once to warn us that boldness is not for such as we are, and that our confession should be pitched in a minor key! I appeal to the reader whether this is not the meaning usually put upon the passage. But what is the Apostle's own statement of its purpose? The thirty-fifth verse gives the answer: "Therefore cast not away your boldness which hath great recompense of reward." The very words which are used to undermine faith are intended as a warning against allowing faith to falter.
The willful sin here warned against was turning back to Judaism, that religion which Christ by His coming had fulfilled. It was to set up again "the first tabernacle" - the place of service of sacrificing priests, and thus to deny that the way into the holiest was open. And this was to tread under foot the Son of God, to treat His blood as common - no better than that of calves and goats, and to do despite to the Spirit of grace. As Dean Alford puts it, "It is the sin of apostasy from Christ back to the state which preceded the reception of Christ, viz. Judaism."6
And this could have but one ending - divine vengeance: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (verses 30, 31). But while thus warning them of the issue of that false path, he had no fear of their pursuing it (verses 32-34). And so, in still more explicit words, he again reminds them of the Christian hope (verses 35-37). These words recall the parenthesis of chapters 3 and 4 about the Sabbath-rest, and they may conveniently be considered in connection with it.