Tag Archives: Sacrifices

The Typology of Hebrews 9


Perhaps more than any other book of the Bible, Hebrews highlights for us what is known as biblical typology. Typology in the Bible is a method of interpreting Scripture in the light of Scripture itself wherein a relationship is established between people, places, events, or institutions and other people, places, events or institutions. The relationship represents an argument from the lesser to the greater and is often found in discussion of how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament. Usually, the lesser (type) points to the greater (antitype) and most often refers to either Christ or His work on the cross.

Typology has sometimes been accused of being allegorical, but this is a misrepresentation because typology finds its foundation in actual, historical people, places, events, or institutions. Sometimes typology is clearly spelled out for the biblical student such as in John 3:14-15 where Jesus says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” So Jesus identifies the event of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness as the type, and the event of His crucifixion as the antitype. Likewise, the representation of the serpent being “lifted up” finds its greater reality in the “lifting up” of Christ on the cross. In typology, much like in the reading of parables, it’s important not to force every single detail from the lesser into the reality of the greater. So in this example, there is no reason to force meaning of the use of the serpent onto Christ beyond what is expressed by Scripture.

Sometimes, typology is not quite as clear as the explicit example mentioned above and this is perhaps where some have entered into a zone of speculation, which unfortunately has likely led to criticism of typology as means to biblical interpretation. One classic example of this erroneous use of relationships is the scarlet cord hung from Rahab’s window during the Israelite’s siege on Jericho (see Joshua 2):18). Some have ventured into the realm of allegory by suggesting that the cord represents the blood of the Passover lamb and ultimately the blood of Christ. As this reasoning goes, Rahab and her family were saved on the basis of Christ’s blood, which is symbolized in the scarlet cord. As interesting as this sounds, it’s highly speculative and has difficulty connecting the lesser to the greater.

With these examples and warnings in mind, we come to the book of Hebrews and find typology consolidated for us by the author. Typology in Hebrews really comes to the forefront in chapter 3, so there is much that could be said concerning the wilderness generation, Moses, the Sabbath rest of God, not to mention the typological relationship between Christ and the Levitical priesthood and Christ and Melchizedek. Leaving those discussions for another day, we come to Hebrews chapter 9 to find the consolidation of many Old Testament types with their greater reality, their antitype, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Note how this chapter begins:

“Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.”

The first 10 verses of the chapter lay the groundwork for our discussion by presenting the details of the sacrificial system under the Old Covenant. The author has spent the previous chapters highlighting the superiority of Christ as the new and better High Priest, superior over the Levitical priesthood, as well as His superiority over the Melchizedekian priesthood which was the basis for the oath of Christ’s own Priesthood (Psalm 110). In this chapter, he builds upon the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant by reminding his readers of the bloody, repeated sacrifices that were commanded under the Old Covenant.

Though summarized above, the details of the sacrifices under the Old Covenant can be found in the books of the Law, namely Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Obviously a reading of those books would only aide in our understanding of what is being discussed in the introduction to chapter 9 of Hebrews; more on that in a minute. Without going into great detail, we may observe that the Old Covenant sacrificial system involved a priest, a tabernacle (later a temple) divided by a veil into an outer (Holy Place) and inner (Most Holy Place) section, sacrifices (bulls, goats, lambs, etc.), and various appurtenances such as an altar, the ark of the covenant, cherubim over the mercy seat, lampstand, table, and showbread.

The process of sacrifice is summarized in verses 6-10 as the priest is said to have gone in regularly into the first section. These were the daily sacrifices as required under the law. Only the high priest, once a year, could enter into the Most Holy Place with blood; first for himself and then for the unintentional sins of the people. Even within this description we see the narrowing of the process from priests to priest, from the outer area to the inner area and from regular sacrifices to once a year. Entering into the Most Holy was an exclusive, rare occasion and is so described by the author of Hebrews.

Key to our discussion here and to the meaning of the passage, particularly the mention of the Old Covenant sacrificial details are verses 8-9a, “By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age).” The author here, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit has indicated for us that all the Old Covenant sacrifices, tabernacles, priesthoods, etc. were “symbolic for the present age.” The actual word being used here is parabole (ESV renders this – symbolic), from which we get our word parable. As it relates to our discussion of typology, often times Scripture uses different words to express this relationship, whether it be type (Romans 5:14), shadow (Col. 2:17), copy (Hebrews 8:5), or parabole meaning symbol as in this passage; other words used include: prefigured, symbolizes, representation, or pattern, to name a few. So then we see that the summary given in verses 1-7 is actually a cliff-notes version of the Old Covenant sacrificial system which collectively pointed towards Christ in a typological manner and individually certain features (people, places, events, institutions) were a type, literally a parable, pointing forward to Christ.

This should radically transform how we read our Old Testaments. Instead of getting bogged down or even avoiding books such as Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, or even Deuteronomy, we should rejoice as we read through them knowing that the pictures being painted through the brushstrokes of the Holy Spirit leave us with the expectation of something far greater than the blood of bulls and goats, the imperfection of the priests, the repetitive nature of the sacrifices, or the restricted access to the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. All of those things (and more) are but a shadow or type of the greater reality that is in Jesus Christ. When you read these Old Testament books, fight against the desire to get lost or to let your mind wander. Instead, ask how the bloody sacrifices are insufficient and conversely how Christ’s is far superior. Take note of the endless work of the priests in contrast to finished work of Christ who is now seated at the right hand of the Father after making His sacrifice once for all. Observe how God was so detailed in His description of the tabernacle and know that its beauty pales in comparison with the True Tabernacle, the one made without human hands. All Scripture is God-Breathed, not just the parts we may prefer or find interesting and all Scripture points to Christ because all of the promises of God find their yes and amen in Him.