“Under the arrangements for worship, the priests went regularly into the holy place to perform their sacred duties. Only the high priest was allowed into the Holiest of All once a year with sacrificial blood. This he offered for his own sins and for those of the people. Through this, the Holy Spirit signified the way into the Holiest of All was not open while the old covenant was still in force. The tabernacle served as a parable in that era of Israel’s history in which gifts and sacrifices were repeatedly offered. But the old system was powerless to cleanse and renew the conscience. It consisted of ceremonial rules and regulations which were in force only until the new covenant set things right.” (paraphrased)
Having described what the tabernacle contained, the writer now clarifies their function. After the tabernacle was erected and equipped, the priests began performing their daily routine in the holy place. The priest’s sacrificial responsibilities are described in detail in Numbers 28-29. There were daily and weekly duties as well. Twice daily they trimmed the lamps. They burned incense. Morning and evening they offered sacrifices. Each Sabbath they replaced the showbread. These four obligations signify man’s need for spiritual illumination, prayer, atonement, and communion with God.
The high priest held no position of secular authority. His status and responsibilities centered on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This special day was established by God, not the priests. In this comprehensive ceremony, sins of both the priests and the people were atoned for (Lev. 16:33). Some abstained from food for ten days prior to this event, but everyone fasted on Yom Kippur.
Because The Day of Atonement was the apex of the Jewish year, the greatest privilege of any high priest was the opportunity to serve the Lord on this holy day (Lev. 16). The elaborate dress of the high priest distinguished him from all other priests (Ex. 28). Ordinary priests were not allowed to enter the Holiest of All. In fact, everything connected with the innermost sanctuary suggested strict exclusivity. Although the high priest had limited access to this inner sanctum, admittance mandated that he go in:
3. wearing the specified attire
4. with sacrificial blood and incense
5. only once yearly – on the Day of Atonement
The high priest’s solitary visit to the Holiest of All signifies Christ alone is qualified to appear before God on behalf of the people. But unlike Jesus, the high priest was as much a sinner as the people he represented. He dared not atone for the sins of others without first atoning for his own. The “errors” referred to here are sins committed in ignorance (agnoematon) as opposed to crimes and open rebellion against God. For such deliberate defiance, no sacrifice was allowed (Num. 15:30-31 & Heb. 10:26).
On Yom Kippur, the duties of the high priest required that he:
~ select a bullock and two goats
~ take off his high priestly regalia and wash himself
~ put on white linen garments
~ sacrifice the bullock for his own sins and for his household
~ fill a censer of coals from the altar of sacrifice
~ bring the blood of the bullock and enter the Holiest of All
~ spread fine incense upon the hot coals
~ sprinkle the blood seven times before the mercy seat and directly upon it
~ return and sacrifice the goat as a sin offering for the people
~ go into to the Holiest of All with the goat’s blood
~ spatter the goat’s blood as he did with the bullock’s blood
~ enter again into The Holy Place
~ sanctify the sacrificial altar by applying the blood of both animals
~ disperse this blood on the altar seven times
~ transfer all the sins of the people to the scapegoat
~ instruct someone to lead the goat into the desert to “bear away” the people’s sins
~ remove his linen garments and washes himself
~ dress again in his high-priestly garments
~ make a burnt offering for both himself and the people
~ arrange for the carcasses of the sacrificial animals to be burned outside the camp
~ conclude this day assured atonement has been accomplished for another year (Lev. 16:34)
Tabernacle ritualism served as a powerful object lesson to highlight human limitation and imperfection. Through strict ceremonialism the Holy Spirit taught access to Jehovah was extremely restricted. With Christ as our Great High Priest, all obstructions are now removed. The Holy Spirit creates in individuals the desire to converse directly with God. This was impossible as long as the Levitical system continued as Israel’s religious institution. Today, the Spirit of God encourages everyone to come and worship the One represented by the mercy seat. Although the golden ark was inaccessible, Christ is finer than gold and instantly available to everyone (I Pet. 1:18).
The word “figure” (parabole) refers to innovative instruction. A parabole is earthly symbolism that helps define heavenly realities. The successive sacrifices and endless rituals which continued for centuries were powerless to reach the hearts of either priests or people. Animal sacrifices could not remove the guilt of sin. Had they done so, additional sacrifices would have been unnecessary. Repetitive offerings proved peace of mind was illusive under the Levitical system. The primary defect of all ritualistic worship is that it cannot cleanse the conscience of the practitioners. The Levitical system did not fully expiate sins because animal sacrifices failed to relieve a guilty conscience. While they had some value regarding external sanctification, they were powerless to effect internal regeneration.
In the New Testament, the word “conscience” is always suneidesin, defined as the process of thought which distinguishes between what is morally good and evil. It serves as the barometer by which humans gauge sensitivity to sin. Paul desired to serve God with a good conscience (II Tim. 1:3) and to hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience (9:9). The wonderful peace of God is only possible through justification by faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1).
Even though Levitical laws regarding food and cleansings were God-given and specific, their typological value was obscure. Laws regarding food could no more nourish a soul than water could cleanse a heart. Perpetual washing and bathing were emblematic of the need for a clean heart and a right spirit (Ps. 51:10).
God gave Israel her laws for another important reason. Their burdensome rules and regulations were designed to keep the Jews separate from the pagan nations surrounding them. In this regard, the law was somewhat successful. But as the nation of Israel grew older, the temple aristocracy grew more egocentric. The myriads of trivial impositions they added to the original Levitical laws became a burden too heavy for the nation to bear (Acts 15:10). Jesus reminded the Pharisees they had forgotten about the more important aspects of the law, such as mercy and faith (Mt. 23:23). Infatuated with superficial prohibitions, they accused His disciples of eating with unwashed hands (Mt. 15:2). Jesus referred to them as blind guides who outwardly appeared righteous to men, but inwardly are full of hypocrisy and sin (Mt. 23:24-28). The religious leaders asked Jesus if they themselves were “spiritually blind” (Jn. 9:40-41). Apparently they were. Their narcissism and lack of spiritual insight led them to crucify their own Messiah.
If the dramatic pageantry of tabernacle ritualism was inadequate, how completely adequate are the realities they symbolize. In contrast, the kingdom of God does not focus on legalities, but on righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). Paul admonishes the Colossian Believers to be unconcerned about Levitical restrictions, for they served only as a shadow of better things to come (2:16-17).
“The time of reformation” is diorthoseos and means “setting things right.” It is from this term the English word orthopedics is derived, for it includes the idea of straightening a misshapen arm or leg. This era of “correcting twisted theology” began with the birth of God’s Son. In contrast to superficial ritual cleansings, Jesus reforms human beings from the inside out.
QUESTIONS: THE HOLIEST OF ALL
1. The religious leaders accused Jesus’ disciples of:
E. eating with unwashed hands
2. Jesus reminded the religious leaders that aspects of the law, like mercy and faith, were of greater value than trivial rules and regulations. True or False?
3. The conscience functions as a barometer of a person’s sensitivity to____________.
4. According to the section you just read, a parable is an ___________________________which can help define ______________________________________.
5. Who creates in us the desire to converse with God?
B. Christian friends
C. The Holy Spirit
6. The high priest dared not atone for the sins of others before atoning for whose sins?
7. Like all the other animals, the scapegoat was also killed and sacrificed on the altar.
True or False?
8. Yom Kippur is:
A. All Saints Day
B. The Day of Atonement
E. None of the above
9. The regular duties of priests included:
A. trimming the lamps
B. replacing the showbread
C. offering incense
D. offering sacrifices
E. all of the above