What does Hebrews chapter 9 mean?The book of Hebrews seeks to reassure persecuted Jewish Christians that Christ, not the Old Testament Law, is God's ultimate plan for their salvation. This is presented mostly by showing how God made clear, in Scripture, His intent to bring about a new covenant. Up to now, the writer of Hebrews has proven his case using various examples and quotations from the Old Testament. In particular, the example of Melchizedek was used to demonstrate that God's final solution for sin was not tied to the priests descended from Aaron. In chapter 8, a quotation from the book of Jeremiah showed how God promised a new covenant free from the limitations of the existing arrangement.
Chapter 9 continues to explain the preeminence of the new covenant by focusing on two aspects: First is the superiority of where the sacrifice for sin is applied in the new covenant. Second is the superiority of Christ's sacrifice, compared to that of the old covenant. This leads, in chapter 10, to a summation of this part of the book of Hebrews.
The instructions God gave to Moses in the Old Testament involved the construction of a tabernacle, or a tent, which was used as a movable temple by the people of Israel. This building contained several artifacts, as well as two rooms. The purpose of these items was symbolism: they were meant to be "shadows" of the future (Hebrews 8:5; 10:1), when Christ would completely fulfill God's plan (Hebrews 9:23–24). According to this chapter, the symbolism here is mostly meant to show how the old covenant is limited. The curtains which designated the Holy Place and Most Holy Place symbolized man's separation from God (Hebrews 9:8). The earthly nature of the temple, as well as the limited nature of the animal sacrifices, pointed to the need for a more permanent, spiritual solution to sin (Hebrews 9:9–10).
Since Christ serves as a high priest in heaven, not on earth, His service is in the "true" holy places (Hebrews 9:11–12). Rather than being a shadow or symbol, Christ's actions are the "real deal."
Christ's sacrifice is also superior to the old covenant's use of animal sacrifices. Priests had to continually offer sacrifices, not only for the sins of the people, but for their own (Hebrews 9:7). Ultimately, the death of an animal could only provide for easing feelings of guilt and ceremonial purity (Hebrews 9:9–10). Animal blood cannot accomplish a change of man from the inside.
In contrast, Christ's sacrifice was perfect and free from sin (Hebrews 7:26). His life was entirely human (Hebrews 4:15). This makes His sacrifice perfect, and an act which only needs to be performed once. This single sacrifice, then, is not only applied in a better "temple" than that on earth, it is also a more effective and more perfect atonement for our sin.
The writer ends this particular section with an analogy about the relationship between death and judgment (Hebrews 9:27–28). Each man, contrary to what other religions teach, experiences a single death and a subsequent judgment. In a parallel way, Christ came to earth in order to die—once for all—and when He comes again, it will not be as a sacrifice. Rather, it will be to finalize God's salvation for those who accept Christ, and the judgment of all those who do not.