Christ Sealed the New Covenant with His Blood Once and for All

Hebrews 9:11-15

The Navarre Bible

[11] But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tents (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) [12] he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. [13] For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, [14] how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. [15] Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenants.

**************************** Commentary:

11-14. The sacrifices of the Old Law could only promise ephemeral benefits, whereas Christ's redemptive sacrifice obtained for man, once and for all, "the good things to come", that is, the heavenly and eternal benefits proper to the messianic age--sanctifying grace and entry to heaven. Like the high priest on the Day of Atonement, Christ entered once for all into the Holy of Holies, through the curtain. This sanctuary which he entered is the heavenly one; that is why it is "greater and more perfect" and not made by men (cf. 8:2). Christ passed through the heavens into the very presence of the Father (cf. 7:26) and is seated in heaven at his right hand (cf. 8:1).

Many Fathers, Doctors of the Church and modern scholars see the expression "through the greater and more perfect tent" as referring to the sacred humanity of our Lord, virginally conceived in the womb of Mary, that is, "not made with hands". The tent or tabernacle would be our Lord's body, in which the Godhead dwells. The text then says that it is "not of this creation", because Jesus as man was conceived without the action of a man and without original sin: he did not follow "the law of nature which holds sway in the created world" (Theodoret, "Interpretatio Ep. ad Hebraeos, ad loc."). In this case the inspired text would be saying that Christ redeemed us by means of his human nature (cf. v. 12). However, the words "through the greater and more perfect tent" can also be understood as referring to heaven, in the sense of a greater and more perfect sanctuary. In any event, whether by passing through the heavens or through his most sacred body, Christ achieved Redemption by offering his own blood. This does not have a temporary value--like the blood of animals shed each year when the priest entered the Holy of Holies: Jesus secured eternal Redemption. In the Old Law the Jews were cleansed by the blood of sacrificed animals from legal impurities which prevented them from taking part in the liturgy; but Christ's blood does so much more, for it cleanses man of his sins. "Do you want to know how effective the blood of Christ is? Let us go back to the symbols which foretold it and remind ourselves of the ancient accounts of (the Jews in) Egypt. Moses told them to kill a year-old lamb and put its blood on the two doorposts and the lintel of each house [...]. Would you like an additional way to appreciate the power of Christ's blood? See where it flowed from, what its source is. It began to flow from the very Cross and its source was the Lord's side. For, as the Gospel says, when our Lord was already dead, one of the soldiers went up to him with a lance and pierced his side and at once there came out water and blood--water, the symbol of Baptism; blood, the symbol of the Eucharist. The soldier pierced his side, he opened a breach in the wall of the holy temple, and there I discover the hidden treasure and I rejoice at the treasure I have found" (Chrysostom, "Baptismal Catechesis", III, 13-19). And so the Church includes in the prayers it recommends to be said after Mass, one which reads: "I beseech thee, most sweet Lord Jesus, may your passion be the virtue which strengthens, protects and defends me; your wounds, food and drink to nourish, inebriate and delight me; your death, everlasting life for me; your cross, my eternal glory" ("Roman Missal of St Pius V", recommended prayer of thanksgiving after Mass).

12. "Thus securing an eternal redemption": the Greek text uses "having found", here translated as "securing". St John Chrysostom points out that the verb "to find" in this context has a shade of meaning that implies finding something unexpected: the reference is tofinding, "as it were, something very unknown and very unexpected" ("Hom. on Heb, ad loc."). However, taking into account the whole context and the possible Hebraic background of the expression, the verb "to find" is synonymous with "to search keenly, to reach, to attain": in other words, Christ eagerly sought to redeem man and he did so by his sacrifice. The verse refers to an "eternal" redemption, in contrast to the provisional nature of Mosaic sacrifices.

13. These words refer to a ceremony of purification described in the Old Testament (cf. Num 19). To cleanse a person from certain transgressions of the Law, the Israelites could avail of certain expiatory ablutions. There were done with water mixed with the ashes of a heifer, which the high priest had sacrificed in front of the tabernacle and then burned in its entirety. Into the fire cedar-wood, hyssop and scarlet wool (9:19) had also to be thrown. Thus lustral water was only useful for legal purification or "purification of the flesh", as distinct from purification of the spirit.

14. The Messiah acts "through the eternal Spirit", which may be taken as a reference to the Holy Spirit, as St Thomas, for example, interprets it: "Christ shed his blood, because the Holy Spirit did so; that is to say, it was by the Spirit's influence and prompting, that is, out of love of God and love of neighbor, that he did what he did. For it is the Spirit who purifies" ("Commentary on Heb, ad loc.").

Pope John Paul II has referred to this text to show the presence of the Holy Spirit in the redemptive sacrifice of the Incarnate Word: "In the sacrifice of the Son of Man the Holy Spirit is present and active just as he acted in Jesus' conception, in his coming into the world, in his hidden life and in his public ministry. According to the Letter to the Hebrews, on the way to his 'departure' through Gethsemani and Golgotha, the same "Jesus Christ" in his own humanity "opened himself totally" to this "action of the Spirit-Paraclete", who from suffering enables eternal salvific love to spring forth" ("Dominum et Vivificantem", 40).

The Son of God desired that the Holy Spirit should turn his death into a perfect sacrifice. Only Christ "in his humanity was worthy to become this sacrifice, for "he alone" was 'without blemish' (Heb 9:14). But he offered it 'through the eternal Spirit', which means that the Holy Spirit acted in a special way in this absolute self-giving of the Son of Man, in order to transform this suffering into redemptive love" ("ibid.").

It is also possible that "the eternal Spirit" is a more general reference to the Godhead present in Christ; in which case it would be the same as saying that Christ, being God and man, offered himself as an unblemished victim and therefore this offering was infinitely efficacious. Thus, as Pius XII says, Christ "labored unceasingly by prayer and self-sacrifice for the salvation of souls until, hanging on the Cross, he offered himself as a victim unblemished in God's sight, that he might purify our consciences and set them free from lifeless observances to serve the living God. All men were thus rescued from the path of ruin and perdition and set once more on the way to God, to whom they were now to give due glory by co-operating personally in their sanctification, making their own the holiness that springs from the blood of the unspotted Lamb" ("Mediator Dei", 1).

Christ's sacrifice purifies us completely, thereby rendering us fit to worship the living God. As St Alphonsus puts it, "Jesus Christ offered himself to God pure and without the trace of a fault; otherwise he would not have been a worthy mediator, would not have been capable of reconciling God and sinful man, nor would his blood have had the power to purify and cleanse our conscience from 'dead works', that is, from sins which are given that name because (our) works are in no way meritorious or else are worthy of eternal punishment. 'So that you might serve the living God"' ("Reflections on the Passion", 9, 2).

15-22. The covenant is shown to be new because it has been ratified by the death and by the shedding of the blood of the testator or mediator. "Man, having fallen into sin, was in debt to divine justice and was the enemy of God. The Son of God came into the world and clothed himself in human flesh; being both God and man he became the mediator between man and God, the representative of both sides, so as to restore peace between them and obtain divine grace for man, giving himself as an offering to pay man's debt with his blood and his death. This reconciliation was prefigured in the Old Testament in all the sacrifices that were offered in that period and in all the symbols which God ordained--the tabernacle, the altar, the veil, the lampstand, the thurible and the ark where the rod of Aaron and the tables of the Law were kept. All these were a sign and type of the Promised redemption; and it was because that redemption would come about through the blood of Christ that God specified the blood of animals--a symbol of the blood of the divine Lamb--and laid it down that all the symbolic objects mentioned above should be sprinkled with blood: 'Hence even the first Covenant was not ratified without blood"' ("ibid.", 9, 2).

For a third time Christ is stated to be the mediator of a New Covenant. Hebrews 7:22 and 8:6 say that he is the mediator of a better covenant because it can give eternal life. Here, as in 12:24, it is explained that Christ is the mediator of a New Covenant, ratified by blood which gives an eternal inheritance. The emphasis is on the sacrificial aspect: Christ is the mediator insofar as he is the atoning victim and at the same time the offerer of the sacrifice: in his sacrifice he is both priest and victim. "Christ is priest indeed; but he is priest for us, not for himself. It is in the name of the whole human race that he offers prayer and acts of human religious homage to his Eternal Father. He is likewise victim; but victim for us, since he substitutes himself for guilty mankind. Now the Apostle's exhortation, 'Yours is to be the same mind as Christ Jesus showed ' (Phil 2:5), requires all Christians, so far as human power allows, to reproduce in themselves the sentiments that Christ had when he was offering himself in sacrifice--sentiments of humility, of adoration, praise, and thanksgiving to the divine Majesty. It requires them also to become victims, as it were; cultivating a spirit of self-denial according to the precepts of the Gospel, willingly doing works of penance, detesting and expiating their sins" ("Mediator Dei", 22). Christ's sacrifice is not only effective to forgive our sins; it is a manifestation of our Redeemer's love for us and it sets an example which we should follow. "And if God forgives us our sins it is so that we might use the time that remains to us in his service and love. And the Apostle concludes, saying, 'Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant.' Our Redeemer, captivated by his boundlesslove for us, chose to rescue us, at the cost of his blood, from eternal death; and he succeeded in doing so, for if we serve him faithfully until we die we shall obtain from the Lord forgiveness and eternal life. Such were the terms of the testament, mediation or compact between Jesus Christ and God" ("Reflections on the Passion", 9, 2).

15-17. As the RSV note points out the Greek word can be translated as either "covenant" or "will". The context and the parallel with the covenant of Sinai suggest the idea of covenant or pact, since the covenant with the chosen people was an unilateral pact, that is, a concession granted by God; however, it too can also be taken in a broad sense as a "will". Both the word "mediator" and the word "testator" (the one who makes the will) applied here to Christ serve to emphasize that his death needed to involve the shedding of blood. His is a death whereby we are called to "receive the promised eternal inheritance": "The work of our Redemption has been accomplished. We are now children of God, because Jesus has died for us and his death has ransomed us. "Empti enim estis pretio magno!" (1 Cor 6:20), you and I have been bought at a great price. "We must bring into our life, to make them our own, the life and death of Christ. We must die through mortification and penance, so that Christ may live in us through Love. And then follow in the footsteps of Christ, with a zeal to co-redeem all mankind" (J. Escriva, "The Way of the Cross", XIV). **************************** Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentarymade by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock,Co. Dublin, Ireland. Printed in Hungary.

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