The author of Hebrews turns to a contrast of the old, the earthly shadow (indicated through the adversative use of de). Christ appeared, the substance, the reality has come. This could better be translated, “But Christ has already come as the High Priest of the good things that are already here” (GNT). He has brought the new covenant to fruition and its blessings are already available. This he has accomplished by entering once for all into the holy places by his own sacrifice, thus securing an eternal redemption. Since this was a perfect sacrifice, done once for all, eternal redemption is secured!
The good things that have come are “the decisive cleansing of the conscience and full access to God” (O’Brien, 319) and by implication “eternal redemption” (v. 12) as well as the “promised eternal inheritance” (v. 15)
The argument is “from-the-lesser-to-the-greater” (a foriori; qal wahomer) Since the blood of goats and bulls [etc.] sanctify for the purification of the flesh and make some access possible to the mercy seat – the very presence of God – how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit (i.e., through the power and sustaining of the Holy Spirit; cf. Lane, 240) offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works [cf. 6:1] to serve the living God.
Jesus’ high-priestly work, and hence the inauguration and fulfillment of the new covenant, was by means of his death (as already seen in v.12). This sacrifice is even retrospective and saves also those who sinned under the first covenant (cf. 11:40). He tasted death for everyone (2:9) and is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God (7:25).
Those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance. This inheritance is “equivalent to ‘the world to come’ (2:5), the ‘Sabbath-rest for the people of God’ (4:9), ‘the heavenly Jerusalem’ (12:22)” (Peterson, in loc.)
Many things were purified with blood in the old covenant and this was an indicator that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
Verse 23-26 build the climaxing paragraph. The once for all theme can be seen in 7:27; 9:12, 26; and 10:10. It is sufficient and does not have to be repeated. Again we have an argument “from-the-lesser-to-the-greater.” Since it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, how much more the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. If this is to be seen literally or metaphorically is not clear, yet a metaphorical understanding seems to be more appropriate (Bruce, 229-230). If this reference is metaphorically then the cleansing of God’s people might be implied (idem, 228; cf. O’Brien, 337). Since Christians are the “house of God” (3:6) there is need for inward cleansing “not only so that their approach to God may be free from sin but also that they may be a fit dwelling for him” (O’Brien, 337). Morris on the other hand links other NT theology to this statement in Hebrews (91). He interprets the cleansing of the heavenlies in terms of Eph. 6:12 “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places;” Rom. 8:38-39 “powers”; and Christ’s sufficient sacrifice to “disarm the powers and authorities…triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15) and that through him all things were reconciled “whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20).
In stating that it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment the author reinforces the unrepeatable nature of Christ’s death as well as the significance of such in relation to the judgment of humankind by God. “Since it was impossible for a person to die physically more than once, it is equally impossible to avoid God’s judgment” (O’Brien, 341).
Christ will appear a second time. This signifies the hope of the church. That the Lord of the church will one day return to be united to his people. O’Brien observes this apocalyptic expectation in connection with the priestly theme (342). In e.g. Lev 16:17 we see the people of Israel waiting outside the sanctuary to greet the high priest after his offering to God was accepted. See for example Sirach 50:5 in reference to the high priest Oniad who presided over the Day of Atonement ritual “How glorious he was, surrounded by the people, as he came out of the house of the curtain.”
Since Christ’s sacrifice has been accepted by God, we too eagerly await his return to gather the children of God.
Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
Lane, William L. Hebrews. 9-13. Word Biblical Commentary, v. 47B. Dallas, Tex: Word Books, 1991.
Morris, Leon. “Hebrews.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. With the New International Version of the Holy Bible, Hebrews–Revelation Volume 12. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, v. 12. Ed. Frank Ely Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 1981.
O’Brien, Peter T. The Letter to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; 2010.
Peterson, David. “Hebrews.” New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. Ed. D.A. Carson, et al. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.