Consider Hebrews 10:19-22 (ESV)
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
This passage is referencing the Day of Atonement also called Yom Kippur.
Context. We go back to the days of Moses beginning with the tabernacle, which is sort of a mobile temple. The tabernacle was divided into two areas. The larger area was the Holy Place. One moved from the outer courtyard into the enclosed Holy Place. The second area was the Holy of Holies, an inner sanctuary where the very presence of God dwelt. The High Priest moved from the Holy Place into the presence of God in the Holy of Holies through a curtain on the Day of Atonement.
Under the Covenant with the people of Israel, the High Priest entered into the presence of God through the curtain in the tabernacle that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Under the New Covenant, the curtain is the flesh of Christ. Jesus, the way, the truth and the life, is the new and living way that enables a believer to enter into ‘the holy places’, into the presence of God.
This is very good.
More context. We also have the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people. God’s people lived under Levitical law. Exodus 19:5-6
5 “‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
Sometimes the chosen people broke the law. This was not good, so God provided the Priesthood.
The High Priest was from the tribe of Levi. The first high priest was Aaron, the older brother of Moses. The role of the high priest was very important. His purpose was to bridge the gap between the people of Israel and God that came as a result of the law being broken.
Now we come to the Day of Atonement which occurs once every Hebrew calendar year. It was the holiest day of the Hebrew year. It was a very important day for the people of Israel, because on this day all their past sins would be forgiven. This is the day when a comprehensive act of atonement was made for the entire nation.
Preparations for Yom Kippur were made by both the people of Israel and the High Priest. The High Priest would change out of his high priestly garments into the more ordinary garments of a priest as a sign of humility. A bullock was sacrificed to provide atonement for the high priest and the priesthood. A first goat was sacrificed to provide atonement for the sins of the nation of Israel. Without the shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness of sins. During the ceremony, the High Priest, with the blood collected from the animal sacrifices, entered first into the Holy Place of the tabernacle, and then passed through the inner curtain, into the Holies of Holies, into the very presence of God. As part of the ceremony, the sacrificial blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat and before the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. The blood would also be sprinkled in other locations of the tabernacle, in effect, purifying or cleansing the Tabernacle.
Under the Covenant with the people of Israel, the blood of animals was sprinkled to cleanse the Tabernacle. Under the New Covenant, the blood of Jesus sprinkles our hearts clean. Because we are forgiven, we may enter through the curtain into the presence of God.
Again, this is very good.
Back to Yom Kippur. Later in the ceremony, outside of the tabernacle, the High Priest confesses the sins of the nation onto a second goat in front of the nation of Israel. This second goat is the scapegoat. The second goat is then taken out into the wilderness never to be seen again. This portion of the ceremony provided a visual reminder to the people that their sins were removed.
Now let’s take a look at the work of Christ. The argument made in the Book of Hebrews is that Jesus is a new High Priest. A High Priest on the order of Melchizedek. A priesthood which is greater than the Levitical priesthood.
Because Jesus was sinless, he did not require a blood sacrifice. For the sins of the people, all people, he became the blood sacrifice. He also takes on the role of the scapegoat, taking on the sins of the people.
Jesus is then both the superior High Priest, and the superior blood sacrifice. Jesus’ work achieves a superior result. The law is fulfilled and we enter into a new era of grace.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews is saying that Jesus is the new and living way, and that he has opened up the curtain to allow us access into the very presence of God. This privilege is made possible for us because we have been sprinkled clean by the sacrificial blood of Christ. Right now.
Christians, in Christ, we are a royal priesthood and a Holy Nation. (See 1 Peter 2:9) Share the love.