When you look ahead to the future, what do you see? In this passage, we see that for those who are in Christ, an eternal inheritance awaits them that Christ’s death secured.


Hebrews 9:15-28

Hebrews 9-13 (WBC)William Lane

Hebrews: Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary, Thomas Schreiner

Hebrews, John Owen

Sermon Transcript

In the 2019 movie Knives Out the question of the inheritance of a wealthy man features prominently. You can imagine if you were the descendant of someone of immense wealth, you might look forward to the day you receive your inheritance. Nonetheless, that movie demonstrates that no earthly inheritance is guaranteed, and even the largest inheritances tend not to last. It has been said of generational wealth that the first generation earns it, the second generation assumes it, and the third generation loses it. As we come to the book of Hebrews today and the passage on which we are focusing, you may notice that it is toward the end of the Bible. Before its time, and before the time of Christ, the people of Israel had themselves received an inheritance from God: The land of Canaan, a strip of land in the Middle East we now know roughly as Palestine, Israel, and parts of other neighboring nations. And God promised they would enjoy long life in that land if they obeyed his commandments. However, even closer to our passage, in chapter 8 the author reminded us that they broke that covenant, and so their inheritance, real and glorious as it was, though they had eagerly waited for it for 40 years in the wilderness prior to it, did not last. Instead, they went into exile, but while in exile, God promised to make a new covenant with them, and verse 15 our passage says that Jesus Christ is now the mediator of that new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance. For what inheritance are you eagerly waiting today? Perhaps you are a descendant of wealth and look forward to that inheritance. Perhaps you are more so a descendant of debt, and feel the weight of having no inheritance for which to eagerly wait. Apart from money, for what are you eagerly waiting? Is it certain; will it last? Do you have hope for the future at all, or is your life characterized more by anxiety and despondency when you think about the future? Whichever the case may be, in this text we encounter a real hope worthy of our eager waiting: The death of Christ has secured our eternal inheritance. To understand that, this passage shows us what death accomplishes in general, what the death of Christ accomplished in particular, and finally, what Christ will do when he comes again.


What death accomplishes in general


I mentioned already that verse 15 speaks of an eternal inheritance, but this promised eternal inheritance is different from the inheritance of Canaan under the Old Covenant in more ways than just its duration. It is also a heavenly inheritance, rather than an earthly one. There is no particular strip of land anywhere on earth that God has promised to his people now. Furthermore, it is an inheritance that those who are called will receive, rather than the nation of Israel generally. There are some from the nation of Israel who God has called to receive this eternal inheritance, but not every Israelite will receive it, and in addition to those God calls out from Israel, God also calls people out from every tribe and language and people and nation in such a way that they come to him willingly. Those of you who are Christians in the room today, you know what that’s like, right? That feeling that though you are genuinely choosing to believe, you are doing so because you are being drawn, like metal to a magnet, by a loving God.


Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant so that those who are called like that might receive not the temporary inheritance of some strip of land in the Middle East, but the eternal inheritance of heaven, because, verse 15, a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant, which is just another way of saying the old covenant, and the death of Christ is what is in view there. The transgressions committed under the first covenant prevented Israel from receiving an eternal inheritance. Long life in the land was only promised on condition of their obedience, while death and curse were threatened if they disobeyed. Sure enough, they did disobey and so transgressed God’s law under the first covenant. They therefore deserved death rather than life, but what our author is saying here is that a death has now occurred in the death of Christ that redeems them from those transgressions! In other words, the death of Christ satisfied the demand of justice stated in the first covenant against their sins. They are now free from its curse!


So to summarize the logic of verse 15 we could just say this: Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant. Why? Because Jesus died. And, to understand why his death inaugurates a new covenant, you have to first understand something of what death accomplishes in general, and that’s where our passages goes next in verse 16. Before we dive into it though, notice in your ESV Bible there just before verse 16, in the last word of verse 15, “covenant”, there is a footnote that says “The Greek word means both covenant and will; also verses 16, 17.” Starting in verse 16, the ESV has chosen to translate that word “will” rather than covenant, and I think what the author is doing here is using the similarities between a will and a covenant, and the fact that the same word in Greek is used for each, to make his point. On the one hand, verse 17 seems to make the most sense when we think of a will, especially given the association with inheritance. If my parents commit certain things to me in their will, those things only become mine when they die. However, in verse 18, our author clearly returns to the first covenant as an example of his point, and there it is clear that the parties who made it did not personally die before the covenant went into effect. The parties were God and the people of Israel, neither of whom could have lived under the first covenant if they both had to die first for it to take effect.


Nonetheless, death was involved in the making of the first covenant. As verse 18 says, it was not inaugurated without blood. For when Moses had declared all the commandments to the people and they agreed to the covenant, they offered animal sacrifices to God, and Moses took that blood and sprinkled the people along with the various elements of their worship, leading to the summary statement of verse 22: Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. I know I’m throwing a lot at you, so let me try to summarize what I think our author is saying in verses 15-22: Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant now because a covenant, much like a will, does not go into effect without death. Even under the first covenant, animals had to be killed and the people entering into the covenant with God had to be sprinkled with their blood because the people were sinful, and God ordained that he would accept the blood of a sinless substitute in their place, in this case the animals, so that their sins could be forgiven and they could therefore be in covenant relationship with God. But now the death of another sinless substitute has occurred, and this death redeems the people from the transgressions they committed after that first covenant was inaugurated, and therefore this death inaugurates a new covenant.


So what does death in general accomplish in a biblical covenant? It inaugurates the covenant, it puts it into effect, by enabling the forgiveness of the sins of those entering into the covenant with God, and without the shedding of blood, without death, there is no forgiveness of sins. Do you believe that? Many today assume that if a God exists, he must be a pretty nice, forgiving God. So they aren’t really sure whether he does exist, but they assume that if he does, he’d be ok with them. After all, they’re pretty nice people too. If you are here today and you are not a Christian, maybe you would assume that about God as well. But look, we don’t even really believe that about real people. Does anyone really think it would be good if murderers, sex traffickers, white supremacists, and child abusers were simply forgiven? Granted we could rejoice in some level of forgiveness, but what about a forgiveness that requires no penalty, no punishment, for the crimes they have committed? Isn’t that one of the things that often stalls the race conversation in America? At every period of our history at least some of the white majority has wanted to simply move on, forgive and forget the past. And what’s been the cry of many in response? But what about justice? If a judge allowed a murder to simply go free, what would the family of the victim be right to say? What about justice? Is there no justice in the land?


And so, if you think God, to the degree that he exists, must just be a kind of nice, forgiving type, that’s the question I would put to you: What about justice? The fact is, there is a God who exists, who has given us a reasonable law, and we have transgressed it. And the fact is, he is a just God. Justice is not just some social construct; it is a real thing because God is real, and he is just. That’s a good thing; an unjust God would not be worthy of our worship, and the demand of his justice is that transgressions be punished by death, the shedding of blood. But do you see how this God is not only a just God, but a gracious God? He has made a way for those who have transgressed to be forgiven by the shedding of another’s blood. Under the first covenant, that was represented in the death of the calves and goats, whose blood was sprinkled on the people and the instruments of their worship. But under the new covenant, a death has occurred in the death of Christ that redeems the people even from the sins they committed under the first covenant. So let’s look next at what the death of Christ accomplished in particular.


What Christ’s death accomplished in particular


Verse 23 begins by saying that it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with the rites of blood-sprinkling that he just reviewed, which Moses undertook in the inauguration of the first covenant, but then he goes on to say in verse 23 that the heavenly things themselves had to be purified with better sacrifices than these. Then he says that Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. So Moses sprinkled the tent and the vessels used in worship with the blood of the sacrificial animals. But in the last couple chapters of Hebrews, the author keeps reminding us that that tent and the vessels used in it are mere copies of the heavenly things. He told us in chapter 8 that the pattern God gave Moses for that tent was a copy of a heavenly tent. In some mysterious way, the earthly tent and its instruments for worship such as the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the curtain, reflect the heavenly dwelling place of God.


So the logic, then, is that if even the earthly place of worship needed to be purified with the blood sacrifices of animals, then the heavenly original on which it is based must need to be purified with a better sacrifice. So then, verse 24, Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. So what did Christ’s death accomplish in particular? The first thing we can see from these verses is that Christ’s death purified the heavenly tent, heaven itself.


Ok, so track with me here. Why did Moses sprinkle the blood not only on the people themselves, who were sinners, but on the tent and all the vessels used in worship? Tents don’t sin. The vessels used in worship never sinned. Granted that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins, but why does blood need to be shed for objects that never sinned? Because those objects were to be used in worship by sinful people. So without the blood purifying those things, the use of them by sinful people would have defiled them and rendered their worship unacceptable to God.


Many of you here today were with us when we preached through the first few chapters of Leviticus earlier this year. And for those of you who weren’t, I’ll just summarize that one of the offerings was called the sin offering. With the sin offering, the person offering it would kill it, and then the priest would collect the blood, and in the case of the sins of the priest himself or the whole congregation, he would take that blood into the tent of meeting and sprinkle it on the curtain in there. In Leviticus 16, on the day of atonement which occurred once per year, he would even go behind the curtain and sprinkle it on the mercy seat, the lid of the ark of the covenant, the unique dwelling place of God, where he especially made his presence known. What did all that show us? It didn’t in any way imply that our sin defiles God; God is holy, and incapable of being defiled. He doesn’t need to be cleansed. But it did show us that the place in which we meet with God needed to be cleansed. In some mysterious way, the sins of the people of Israel defiled the place in which they met with God. It’s like, and don’t take this literally, it’s like every time they sinned, they splashed excrement on the curtain of the tent, and the way God ordained for that to purified was by the blood of an unblemished sacrifice. So if they wanted to continue meeting with God on earth without being killed by God, not only they, but the tent itself, would need to be purified with the blood of an unblemished sacrifice.


Now what’s our author saying? He’s saying that if those who are called are to receive that eternal inheritance, if they are to meet with God in heaven, then that heavenly tent also needs to be purified with blood, and the only blood that will purify it is the blood of Christ. After he died, he rose again and ascended into heaven, like literally his disciples saw his body going up into the sky and then disappearing beyond their vision, and that body has to be somewhere now. Where is it? In that heavenly tent. And what did Jesus do when he got there? He purified it with his own blood, so that those who are called might receive the promised eternal inheritance, so that we, though sinful in ourselves, might be able to join him there one day without being destroyed by the wrath of a holy and just God.


Now, how many of you have lost sleep over the question of how the heavenly tent will be purified from your sins? My guess at least is that not many of you came to church today with that question burning in your mind. Aren’t our thoughts more typically occupied with questions like, “How am I going to get through this week?” “Why am I so lonely?” “Is there a purpose to my life?” “How can I find true love?” And praise God, the Bible has a lot to say about those questions! They’re good questions! But the Bible isn’t just here to answer the questions we’re already asking. It’s also here to get us to ask questions that often don’t occur to us because we are so out of touch with reality. We think this week and this life are the really big deal, and God could spend all his time convincing you that Jesus solves the problems you already think are the big problems in your life, but in a passage like this God is pealing back the curtain to say, “Hey, there is a whole heavenly realm you aren’t even thinking about, and do you know that for you to enter it, it must first be purified?” That’s a bigger problem than how you’re going to get through this week, and praise God: He has provided the solution in the sacrifice of Christ.


So try this this week: When you encounter a problem, something that makes you sad or anxious or angry, try saying this to yourself and to one another: “But you know, at least the heavenly tent has been purified by the sacrifice of Christ, and that means I am welcome there now. My sins that splattered those walls have been washed away.” Life on earth is always at best a mixed bag. God is a good Father so he gives us good gifts on earth, but it’s just not heaven, and so even at its best, we face sickness, sorrow, pain, and death. But if you know you have a secure home in heaven, how depressed can you really be? How anxious can you really be? The death of Christ in particular accomplished the purification of heaven itself.


And he will never do it again! Look at verse 25: There we read that Christ entered heaven not to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. Under the Old Covenant, when the priest would go into the earthly holy place to purify it with the blood of the sacrificial animals, he would do it, and that counted for the sins of Israel from that prior year, but then he would come back out of the holy place, only to have to do the whole thing over again next year for the sins the people committed that year. But if that’s what Christ was doing, he’d have been going in and out of heaven ever since the foundation of the world, when sin first entered the world, right up through today until he comes again. Parents, think of the work of the Old Testament priest as being like the work you and your kids do to “put away” toys at the end of the night. You clean up, you put them all away, and everything looks great. You can rest…for a few hours, that is, until the next morning, when all the toys get brought out and strewn about all over your floor, only to have to be cleaned up again the next night. That’s how the priests of the Old Testament put away sin, but that’s not what Jesus did.


Rather, verse 26: He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. Rather than having Jesus constantly go in and out of heaven since sin entered the world, God appointed a day, at the end of the ages, which has now come, on which Christ died, rose again, and entered the heavenly tent in our human flesh, and by that one sacrifice, by that death he died on earth, and by that offering of himself that he then took to heaven, he has put away the sins of those who are called. Do you see then, why turning from Christ makes so little sense? What else can put away your sin? You can try to put it away by just drowning out the sound of your conscience. You can try to gather around you the voices of others who will calm and quiet your conscience by telling you that things God calls sin aren’t actually sin. You can try to put away your sin by covering it up with good works. Maybe you tell yourself you will leave Christ, but you’ll still live a life of justice and mercy. If that were all it took to put away your sins, Jesus never would have died a sacrificial death and ascended into heaven to present his offering there. He would have just come and taught you how to live a life of love, justice, and mercy, he would have given you an example of it in his own life, and then he would have died peacefully in his sleep. But that’s not what happened. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin, so Jesus shed his blood to cleanse heaven itself from the defilement of the sins of those who are called and to put away their sins once and for all. The world often appears more “fun” than the life of faith in Christ, but there is a much deeper joy and peace to be found in Christ who has truly put away sin by the sacrifice of himself than there is in all the counterfeit ways we try to put it away ourselves. Christ’s death in particular accomplished the purification of heaven itself and the putting away of all the sins of those who are called forever. Like toys that have been put away for good, God is never going to get out your sins again and condemn you with them if you respond to his call by putting your faith in Christ. The putting away of your sins is finished, and so what is there left to do for you to receive the promised eternal inheritance? Let’s look last at what Christ will do when he comes again.


What Christ will do when he comes again


Before we get right into what Christ will do when he comes again, verse 27 begins an analogy: Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment. Let’s pause there for a moment. In a church like ours, the median age is below the average of most churches around the world. On one level, we love that: Young people tend to imbue a church with a sense of life and energy that sometimes can feel lacking when a church ages. That said, it is not without its liabilities, and one of them is that in our church like ours, it can be easier to forget death. But as the Hebrews were contemplating turning from Christ, and as we today might contemplate turning from him, verse 27 confronts us: It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment. The Bible doesn’t give us a lot of specifics about our lives on this earth. You can’t find a verse that says whether you’ll get married, who you’ll marry if you do, what job you’ll get, where you’ll live, how much money you’ll make, or a host of other things to which we tend to devote our attention. God has appointed every one of those things already, but he doesn’t tell us in advance exactly what he’s appointed for you. Nonetheless, on the list of things God has appointed for your future if you are a human, there are two you can know for certain, and they aren’t death and taxes, though that’s half right. They are death and judgment. One day you will die, and after that, you will be judged by God for the life you lived on earth.


Remember that when you are tempted to turn from Christ. I’ve already talked about how turning from Christ cannot really put away our sin, so why is tempting? Why do some do it? Is it not because we lose sight of this simple fact? It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment. We get caught up in making a name for ourselves on earth, being free of the struggle against sin, enjoying the pleasures this life has to offer, securing comfort and a future for ourselves on earth, our health in this life or even the future of our family on this earth. Maybe we’ll get some of that, maybe we won’t; again, we don’t know what God has appointed for such things. But what good will any of it be, even if we get it all, for the two things we know God has appointed? Death and judgment. None of these things can save us from death, and none of them will tip the scales of God’s justice in our favor when we appear before him for judgment. Nor does this passage or any other passage in all the Bible hold out to us any hope that after we die, we can always repent or improve ourselves then and get a second chance at the judgment. This is it. You’ve got this life. And look, I can’t make you believe the gospel, but can I at least encourage you to make up your mind about it? One of the things you and I should definitely be able to agree on, whatever you believe about the gospel, is that you and I will die, and after that, we won’t be changing our minds about anything.


Death and judgment are final, and just like that, now into verse 28: So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. I told you that not much of what God has appointed in our lives is certain, but these two things are: Death and judgment. Well now we see we can add another certainty to the future, another feature of God’s appointment that he has let us in on ahead of time: Christ already died once, though his death was unique: His death was to bear the sins of many and he died for them, so that the judgment those sins deserved, he bore, for the many who are called. That is so final that he is not going to pop in and out of heaven repeatedly from this day forward. But, he will appear one more time, not to go back to the cross, pay for the sins committed since the first sacrifice, and then rise, ascend, and purify heaven itself once again. No; all that work is done! Instead, he will come again not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. In other words, he will come to bring the eternal inheritance. He will come to bring heaven down with him, that we might be with him in the presence of our Father forever not only in some strip of land in the Middle East, but in an entirely remade new heaven and new earth, in which righteousness dwells.


Are you waiting eagerly for that day? Notice, the text doesn’t say that we are fighting for that day or even working for that day. We know now sadly that people are fighting over that Old Covenant strip of land in the Middle East, and many are dying in the process. But as Christians, we don’t need to fight for an inheritance on earth. What did Jesus say? “Blessed are the meek, for they shall” what? “Inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5). As Christians we bless those who curse us and pray for those who persecute us. When someone slaps us on one cheek, we give them the other, and as we’ll see in chapter 10 of Hebrews even, when our property is plundered, we joyfully accept it. Brothers and sisters, don’t waste your life exacting revenge for every way you’ve been wronged or accumulating for yourself more assets and more security on this earth. The biggest and most secure inheritances of this life will one day perish. Set your sights on your eternal inheritance, and wait eagerly for Jesus to bring it. Not only do we not fight for this inheritance; we also don’t work for it. It’s an inheritance, not a wage. Granted that because death and judgment are certain, we must work the works of him who is light while it is still day (John 9:4). But the good works we do as Christians and as a church at best testify to this coming kingdom. They do not build it or bring it down to earth.


So let me ask you again: For what are you eagerly waiting? It’s worth recognizing that Jesus is coming a second time not to save everyone, but to save those who eagerly waiting for him. Those who grew up in church, who maybe even professed faith once and got baptized, but who now are more consumed by the expectation of wealth, retirement, and even generations of descendants on earth than they are with the return of Christ should not expect to be saved by him when he appears a second time. And yet I am ashamed to admit how often my hopes for the future get fixated on a lease renewal, a bigger church, or a bigger paycheck. Let me close, then, with just a few ideas of ways we can strengthen our eager expectation for the coming of Christ:


First, and perhaps unsurprisingly, we should do what we are doing this morning. We should gather for worship. When we sing together, we cultivate an appetite for what we will spend eternity doing when Jesus returns: Singing God’s praise. When we read the Bible aloud and hear it preached, we are having our minds renewed from the message we receive from the world all week that the here and now is what really matters, and our hope for the future is something on this earth, to the message that eternity is far longer, the day on which our eternal state will be fixed is fast approaching as our death and judgment approach, and Jesus is coming a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. When we take the Lord’s Supper, we always leave hungry, because we are looking forward to the day we will eat with him in a new heaven and new earth. Every worship gathering should leave you hungry for heaven. So first, gather for worship. Second, engage in the spiritual discipline of fasting. When we fast, we intentionally abstain from some good gift of God, most commonly food, to train our bodies and minds that there here we have no lasting satisfaction, but we are eagerly waiting for the day we will never hunger again. Third, give your money away. Every time you give to your local church, you are spending that money in such a way that it produces no earthly benefit to you. You are investing it in that future inheritance, and where your money is, there your heart goes also. Spend it all on stuff here on earth, and you will tend to eagerly wait for a return on your investment in this life. Store it up in heaven, and it helps you eagerly wait for the second coming of Christ. Fourth, pray. Again, when you pray, it doesn’t give you the “this world” buzz of a TV show, but it cultivates your appetite for heaven as you enjoy communion with the God of heaven, whose presence we now enjoy under the new covenant, through our mediator, Jesus Christ. As you get closer and closer to Jesus Christ in prayer, you will want to see him face to face more and more.


That’s our eternal inheritance brothers and sisters. It is real, and the death of Christ has secured it for us. Just as the first covenant was only inaugurated with the death of sacrificial animals, so the new covenant has been inaugurated with a better sacrifice, the sacrifice of Christ himself, who has entered once for all not into some tent on earth, but into heaven itself, to purify it and to put away all our sins. There is no further sacrifice for sin needed or possible, so now when he appears a second time, it will not be to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. So let’s wait eagerly for him.