Life-Study of Hebrewsby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In this message we come to Hebrews 9:1-15, a passage of Scripture which is very difficult to understand. In 9:1-3 we see that there were two tabernacles. Hebrews 9:1 says, “Then indeed the first covenant has ordinances of service, and its sanctuary, a sanctuary of this world.” The sanctuary here is the entire tabernacle (Exo. 25:8-9), including the first tabernacle which is called the Holy Place (v. 2) and the second tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies (v. 3). Verse 2 says, “For a tabernacle was prepared, the first, in which were both the lampstand and the table and the loaves set forth, which is called the Holy Place.” When I read this verse in the past, I was bothered. According to the knowledge that I had of Exodus, there was only one tabernacle. If there was only one tabernacle, how then could this verse speak of “the first”? By the term “Holy Place” in this verse we can understand that the first tabernacle was that part of the unique tabernacle which was called the Holy Place. Verse 3 says, “And after the second veil, a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies.” The Holy of Holies was the second tabernacle. Hence, we have the first tabernacle, the Holy Place, and the second tabernacle, the Holy of Holies.
These two tabernacles are symbols of two covenants. The Holy Place is a symbol of the old covenant and the Holy of Holies a symbol of the new covenant. Although it is difficult to realize the true significance of these covenants, it is easy to understand them if we consider the tabernacle. According to 9:2, in the Holy Place, the symbol of the old covenant, there were the lampstand and the table. These two things were good, but they were far off from God’s presence. Although a person could find nourishment at the table and enlightenment at the lampstand, he had no way to contact God. In the Holy Place there was neither God’s presence nor the way to come into His presence. Moreover, in the Holy Place there was no oracle, no place for the divine speaking of God. Where there is the oracle, there is God’s speaking. But in the Holy Place there was no divine speaking. Furthermore, there was no meeting with God in the Holy Place. The highest blessing is to meet with God. However, no one in the Holy Place could say that there he was meeting with God, for there was no way to meet Him in the Holy Place. Therefore, with respect to the Holy Place, there were four no’s: no presence of God, no way to contact God, no oracle for the speaking of God, and no meeting with God.
This is a true picture of today’s religion. When you were in the denominations, did you have either the presence of God or the way to come into His presence? Did you have the oracle where there was the divine speaking? Although there was a pulpit and the speaking of a theologian, there was no oracle with the divine speaking. Then how about meeting with God? Although the Holy Place is good and in it we may have nourishment and enlightenment, there is no presence of God, no way to come into His presence, no divine speaking, and no meeting with God. How pitiful!
We need to remember that the book of Hebrews was written to the Hebrew Christians who were staggering in the Holy Place. They were uncertain whether to come forward to the Holy of Holies or to shrink back from the Holy Place to the outer court. This means that they were on the border between the old covenant and the new covenant. The writer of Hebrews was marvelous and full of patience; he did not write superficially but in a very deep way. His writing was so deep that during the past nineteen centuries most of his readers have not fully realized what he said.
We have seen that the Holy of Holies signified the new covenant. What was in the Holy of Holies? Hebrews 9:4 speaks of the Holy of Holies as “having a golden altar.” The golden altar, which was the incense altar, was not in the Holy of Holies, but it belonged to the Holy of Holies. Notice that it does not say that the incense altar was in the Holy of Holies, but that the Holy of Holies had the incense altar. What is the function of the incense altar? It provides the way to come into God’s presence. The incense altar signifies the proper prayer with Christ in resurrection as the incense for our acceptance. Hence, it is the entrance into God’s presence. When I was in religion as a youth, I was taught to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” Although we prayed a great deal in that way, we never entered into the Holy of Holies. Actually, the more we prayed in that way, the more we remained in the outer court, or even outside the outer court. That is not the experience of the incense altar. When we pray in the Lord’s name with Him as the fragrant resurrection frankincense, we immediately enter into the Holy of Holies.
In 9:4 we see that in the Holy of Holies was also “the ark of the covenant covered round in every part with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant.” Above the ark were “cherubim of glory overshadowing the propitiation-cover” (v. 5). Here in the Holy of Holies we not only have the entrance into God’s presence but God’s presence itself. Over the ark was the lid called the propitiation-cover, which was the place of the divine oracle of God’s speaking. It is here that we have God’s speaking. It is here that we meet with God and have fellowship and communion with Him. This is the new covenant symbolized by the Holy of Holies.
We all need to consider where we are. Are we Christians in a place where there is some amount of nourishment and enlightenment but no entrance into God’s presence, no presence of God, no speaking of God, and no way to meet with God? Are we in that place or in the place where it is so easy to come into God’s presence, have His speaking, and meet and have fellowship with Him? If you are in this place, then you are in the Holy of Holies.
The two tabernacles are not only symbols of two covenants but also types of two ages, two dispensations—the old testament dispensation and the new testament dispensation. If you are in the Holy Place, it means that you are in the old age, in the old dispensation. If you are in the Holy of Holies, then you are in the new age, in the new dispensation. At this point we need to read verses 8 and 9. “The Holy Spirit showing by this, that the way of the Holy of Holies has not yet been manifested while the first tabernacle still has its standing; which is a figure for the present time, according to which both gifts and sacrifices are offered, which, as to the conscience, are unable to perfect him who serves.” The word “which” at the beginning of verse 9 refers to the tabernacle mentioned in verse 8. This tabernacle was a “figure for the present time,” a type of an age, a dispensation. The “present time” means the new testament age, not the old testament age then present as indicated by the words “then present” in the King James translation. There are different translations of verse 9. Some render “the time then present” for “the present time,” considering that this refers to the old testament age. But according to the Greek, the tabernacle is “a figure of the present time,” which is the new testament age. By this one verse we are certain that the Holy Place was a type of an age. In this principle, the Holy of Holies must also be a symbol of an age.
The Holy Place was a symbol of the old covenant, which covered the entire old testament age. Eventually, the old covenant and the old testament age are one and the same. When a person was under the old covenant, he was in the old testament age. When he came into the new covenant, he came into the new testament age. The covenant and the age are one; they are inseparable. Without the age, there is no practical application of the covenant. The Holy Place, symbolizing the old covenant, symbolizes the old testament age. The Holy of Holies, symbolizing the new covenant, symbolizes the new testament age. Now the difficult point to understand is this: what is realized today in the new testament age was altogether a symbol in the old testament age. In the old testament age there were the shadows, but in the new testament age there are the realities. In the old testament age there was the covering of sins, which was a figure of the forgiveness of sins. In the old testament age there was the law of letters, which was a figure of the law of life in the new testament age. In the old testament age God was God to His people and His people were a people to Him according to the written law. That was a symbol that today in the new testament age God is God to us and we are a people to Him according to the law of life. Moreover, in the old testament age the priests taught the people to know God according to the law of letters. That was a shadow of the inward ability to know God in life according to the law of life. Therefore, everything in the new testament age was symbolized by the items in the old testament age. The Holy Place was a symbol of the old covenant and, at the same time, it was also a type of the new testament age. But the Bible does not say that the Holy of Holies was a type of the new testament age. In principle, the two tabernacles are both symbols of the two ages. In actuality, however, the Holy of Holies was not a type but a reality. Only the Holy Place was a type of the present age. Hence, this message is entitled, “The Type of the Old Covenant and the Reality of the New Covenant.”
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