The weakness of the Law

  1. List and define the 2 weaknesses of the old Levitical system as mentioned in Hebrews 9:6–10. List and define how Jesus as priest and sacrifice is described as superior in 9:11–15. Compare and contrast the 2 systems. How is Jesus superior to the old system? What does Jesus accomplish that cannot be accomplished within the limitations of the old system? What does it mean that a Christian can have his conscience purified from dead works? What are “dead works”? What is a “mediator” and how does this role fit in the concept of covenant? What impact should this material have on Christian life today?

The old Levitical system could never be the final resting point for humanity. In Hebrews 9:6-10, we see the priests had to continually work, and would never have rest. With the Old Levitical system, “by its perpetual need for new sacrifices, it demonstrates its inadequacy.”[1] With the old system it was essentially trying to plug the hole in a dam with ones finger while Jesus’ death created a whole new dam as a replacement for our sins. As such, Jesus occupied a priesthood of an entirely different degree, one for all time, and as the author of Hebrews put in other places, in the order of Melchizidek. Verses 6-10 establish the failings of the old system which could by their very nature only be temporary and then we see the superiority of Jesus.

Jesus accomplished the eternal redemption through the sacrifice of his own life(v. 12) and as such cleansed all of humanity from sin. This is not to say we are perfect now, but rather that we now have access to God through our High Priest, Jesus Christ. This is done through what the pastor describes as the cleansing of our conscience from dead works, and in order to understand it fully, we must understand the concept of dead works.

In the context of the chapter, one’s conscience is simply our inner being, our heart, in essence who we truly are. Prior to Jesus, any person has the taint of sin on them and as such even the good things we do are tainted. They may be good, but only so far as it serves ourselves, we think we do good but Isaiah would see the reality, that our good deeds are but dirty rags we give to God (Isaiah 64:6). Gareth Cockerill gives an apt description of these dead works when he says, “By ‘dead works’ the pastor is not referring to the rituals of the Old Covenant but to the sin from which those rituals could not cleanse the inner person.”[2] So we see our hearts, our inner beings unable to be cleansed by the law, but able to be cleansed by Jesus so we can finally do things from pure motives.

This is how Jesus as mediator is the one who bridged the gap between God and humanity. He performed the duties necessary to be the perfect sacrifice, and was able to be the substitutionary death on behalf of humanity. Jesus is the one who offers the ability to be cleansed from sin. This is not to say we can be perfect on this side of heaven, Christians today can benefit from knowing that we are now capable of doing things that are truly good to God without the taint of sin entangling every single thing we do.

[1] Guthrie, George, The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews, Grand Rapids: Zondervan House Publishing, 1998. 326.

[2] Cockerill, Gareth, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman Publishing Company, 2012, 401.

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