Online Bible Commentary
Christ’s Sacrifice Provides Forgiveness
Hebrews 9:16 In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19 When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, "This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep." 21 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (NIV)
In this section of the book of Hebrews the writer is proclaiming the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice. In the previous passage he wrote that Christ’s sacrifice provides cleansing of the conscience. In this passage he writes that Christ’s sacrifice provides complete forgiveness.
The writer begins with comparing a will to a covenant. A last will and testament is a type of covenant, an agreement. The Greek word translated “covenant” is “diatheke” which means covenant, will, or testament. A will is an agreement that a person, upon his death, will bless others in exchange for something of value that has been received by the person who dies. The value may be no more that a relationship as a friend or relative, or it may be a favor that has been bestowed. A will only becomes effective upon a death. A covenant is the same type of agreement. It only becomes effective upon a death.
The Old Covenant was an agreement between God and his people, the Israelites. It stated that God would bless his people in return for their favor, of obedience. The Israelites “all responded together ‘We will do everything the Lord has said.’ So Moses brought their answer back to God” (Ex. 19:8). An agreement, or covenant, was formed. But it only became effective upon a death.
A will only becomes effective by death (vv. 16-17). Just like a will, the “first covenant” (v. 18a), the Old Covenant, only became effective by death, or “blood’ (v. 18b). Therefore, after Moses “proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people” (v. 19a), he made the covenant effective by a blood offering. “He took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people” (v. 19b).The blood was proof of a death. In the same way a death certificate serves as proof of death where the case of a will is involved.
Moses made it clear to the people that they had entered a covenant with God with the words “which God has commanded you to keep” (v. 20). He then “sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies” (v. 21) to make the covenant effective. The Old Covenant, the law, required that most everything “be cleansed with blood” (v. 22a). “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (v. 22b).
So the relationship between death, or blood, and covenant is very important. Blood must be shed in order to make a covenant effective. Moses shed the blood of calves to make the Old Covenant effective. God shed the blood of His only Son, Jesus Christ, to make the New Covenant effective. It is necessary for a blood sacrifice to be made to make covenants effective. Otherwise, there is no agreement. Without an agreement there is no forgiveness. Our part of the New Covenant agreement is to believe in Christ as our Lord and Savior.
The Old Covenant provided for a type of forgiveness. It was temporary. It had to be repeated continuously. It provided a forgiveness of sin by covering the sin. This forgiveness was not complete. It was only a ceremonial cleansing. It did not cleanse the conscience of the sinner and it did not remove the sin permanently.
Christ’s New Covenant was superior. His sacrifice cleansed the conscience and removed the sin permanently. His blood was shed once, for all. It never had to be repeated. His sacrifice was like Him, perfect. Christ’s sacrifice provides forgiveness, total and complete forgiveness.