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, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:1-10, ESV)
Our author is showing still the superiority of Jesus and his priesthood with the covenant it represents to the old covenant with Moses. This covenant had regulations for worship and a place that God’s presence made holy. The Tabernacle was a tent with two compartments, the holy place with the lampstand and table of bread, and really, also, the altar of incense standing before the veil that separated the holy place from the most holy place. The most holy place “had” the altar of incense in that this altar “protected” the most holy place as did the veil or curtain.
Priests went regularly, daily, into the holy place to make sure the lampstand stayed lit and the bread of the presence was replaced with fresh bread and the altar of incense was kept burning. But only the high priest could go into the most holy place and that once a year on the day of atonement to offer the blood of sacrifice for unintentional sins. These were the sins that people genuinely wanted forgiveness for, not hardened rebellion against God’s law that had disregard for forgiveness, indeed scoffed at it. Our author is preparing his readers to think about whether they will repudiate the cross of Christ and following him, a very high-handed or intentional and hardened sin.
God was teaching the people by His Spirit in this Tabernacle arrangement with its sacrifices and cordoned off most holy place that these sacrifices weren’t the ultimate sacrifice in the heavenly Tabernacle. The people’s consciences witnessed to this as they realized time and again through the years that they needed yet another day of atonement to cover their sin. They didn’t experience perfected consciences, consciences that were free of condemnation, fully acquitted of all sin. And their regulations focused their attention on a lot of externals rather than what was going on inside them. A time of reformation was needed and the readers should have recognized that this took place with Jesus’ coming.
Are you relying on rituals to rescue you? You’ve been baptized, perhaps, and take the Lord’s supper. But without a conscience that acquits you of sin you are not realizing a real entrance into heaven’s holy place. If this is the religion you feel ready to abandon, please do. This is not genuine Christianity. Christianity is about the New Covenant blessings of a changed heart and total forgiveness. Real salvation awaits you.