“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands (only a model of the true one) but into heaven itself, so that he might now appear in the presence of God for us.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Everybody wants access to the boss. One of the greatest gifts the leader of an organization has to give is his time and attention. People will compete with one another endlessly for these things because it gives them access to power. And if we can’t have power ourselves, having access to it is a close second. Under the old covenant, access to the time and attention of God was severely limited. Under the new covenant it is not. Let’s talk about why.
This verse is the first in a trio of specific explanations of what we have in the new covenant through Christ that we did not have in the old. I could have treated them all at once in one long post, but I thought it would be better to break them up in order to give each one fully the attention it deserves. These three explanations serve as the penultimate climax of the author’s lengthy argument about why the new covenant is greater than the old covenant. The climax itself will come in the beginning of chapter 10.
For the last several verses, the author has been talking about the old covenant and its various aspects as copies of the things in heaven they are intended to represent. I used the illustration of brand-name versus off-brand products to try to help us wrap our mind around his argument last week. Here, he makes that contrast even more explicit. When Jesus went to offer Himself as a sacrifice in our place – a living and human sacrifice instead of an animal sacrifice – the Law of Moses prescribed that all such rituals took place in the temple. Well, the Law specified the tabernacle, but the temple had replaced the tabernacle as the center of Israel’s spiritual life. But Jesus did not go into the temple. At least, He didn’t go into the physical temple. Instead, Jesus entered the heavenly temple.
There are a couple of things worth observing here to make sure we aren’t thinking something the author never intended for us to think. First, we should not imagine a physical building existing in another realm like something out of the comics. Instead, Jesus spiritually entered the presence of God. Furthermore, when the author talks about heaven here, we should not imagine the same physical place the apostle John describes at the end of Revelation. That place doesn’t exist yet because the time for its creation hasn’t yet come. Instead, heaven here is more simply the place where God dwells. The point here, is that instead of engaging with the earthly copy of these heavenly realities, Jesus went straight for the real thing.
The reason this matters so much is that by doing this, Jesus was gaining for us access to God. Before Jesus – and we’ve talked about this before – no one really had access to God. I mean, technically anyone could still pray to Him and, yes, He engaged with people throughout the stories that unfolded over Israel’s history which are collected in our Old Testament, but in terms of how the people thought about God, very few people really had access to Him. The closest anyone ever got was when the high priest went into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. Practically speaking, this meant no one ever really had access to God directly except for a single day of the year. It’s hard to imagine having a relationship with someone you can only engage with once a year. Yet with the sin constantly standing in the way and never really being removed because of the insufficiency of animal sacrifices, this distance allowed God to engage with us but protected us from the terrible weight of His holiness. To seek to enter into His presence without our sins fully cleansed simply would not have worked.
Jesus fixed this.
Jesus entered the actual presence of God and not the earthly copy of it. Not only did He enter God’s presence once, He took up residence there where He is now constantly interceding on our behalf. When we place ourselves in Him through our confession of faith and Spirit-enabled life of obedience to His command to love one another as He loved us, we have direct access to God the Father through God the Son by the power of God the Spirit – the full, triune personhood of God enabling us to be in the relationship with Him we were designed for in the beginning. This is something that was never possible under the old covenant. This is why God made a new covenant with us through Jesus. Let us make sure we are living new covenant lives, so we can have the access to God we need. The door is open. Jesus has provided us access. Let’s take it.