The Time of Reformation

Heb. 9:1-10

In this article, we look at the book of Hebrews and the "time of reformation" spoken of by the writer in chapter nine. 

Theme of Hebrews

The over-arching theme of the epistle to the Hebrews is the superiority of Christ and the culmination of God's salvific purpose in him.  Christ is better than the angels (Heb. 1:4-14); he is better and worthy of more glory than Moses (Heb. 3:3); he has a better priesthood (Heb. 7:11-28), and has "obtained a more excellent ministry," and is the mediator of a "better covenant," established upon "better promises" (Heb. 8:6); he is high priest of a "greater and more perfect tabernacle" (Heb. 9:11), and has secured eternal redemption by the blood of "better sacrifices" (Heb. 9:23), by which he has secured for us inheritance in the "better country" (Heb. 11:15) and promise of a "better resurrection" (Heb. 11:35).  The temple service and levitical priesthood were temporary and provisional; they could not take away sins, or perfect the worshipper, but stood merely as prophetic types, imposed until God's "something better" was put in place.  That something better is the New Testament of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.   

Historical Context

The epistle to the Hebrews bears strong evidence of having been written shortly before the persecution under Nero. The epistle is believed by many to have been written by Paul, whose martyrdom, together with that of Peter, would mark the beginning of the persecution under Nero and the beast.[1]  The epistle is written from Italy, and Timothy, who had been arrested, has been set at liberty (Heb. 13:23, 24). Since we do not read of Timothy's arrest during Paul's first trial before Nero, it seems likely that this arrest occurred in connection with Paul's second trial, perhaps when Timothy went to visit Paul in Rome, bringing the parchments and other things Paul requested (II Tim. 4:11-13). That Timothy has been set at liberty shows that general persecution has not yet broken out, although Paul's impending martyrdom means it shortly will.  

Revelation describes a period of political stability in Palestine, during which the mission to the Jews would be carried out, harvesting the "144,000" from the tribes of Israel (Rev. 7: 1-8). The power to put men to death was reposed exclusively in the Roman governor (Jn. 18:31).  While Claudius was on the throne, Christianity was protected by Roman law (the religio licita), which viewed it as a sect of Judaism.  Claudius represented the restraining power of the Roman government.  Claudius is the "angel" of Rev. 20:1, which held the keys of the bottomless pit (political authority over heathendom), and thus bound the dragon (Roman Empire) and beast (persecuting power) from persecuting the church. However, with the death of Claudius, the situation in Palestine and Rome would change. Claudius had banished the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:1); Nero welcomed them back.  Nero's wife, Poppea Sabina, was a Jewish proselyte and Josephus reports that she exerted influence with Nero in favor of the Jews, and the temple in particular.[2]  Faced with belief that he had ordered the burning of Rome, Nero needed someone to fix the blame upon.  Christians became the scapegoat.  The mortal wound received when the persecution over Stephen collapsed, would heal, and the beast revive and rise again to persecute the church anew (Rev. 11:7; 13:3, 14; 17:8; 20:1-3).  

Although unbelieving Jews could not put Christians to death, the epistle makes clear that Hebrew Christians were under a time of increasing pressure and peril.   While our Lord was still on earth, the leaders of the Jews had declared that those confessing Christ were to be "cast out" of the synagogue (Jn. 9:22, 34; 12:42).  This policy did not end, but continued after our Lord's ascension (Jn. 16:1, 2). To be cast out or excommunicated meant the loss of all social standing and many of one's civil rights. Jews in good standing in the synagogue were charged to shun those who were cast out; they were to treat excommunicates as alien sinners and Gentiles, and forbidden to have any dealings with them (cf. Matt. 18:17).[3]   Moreover, leaders of the synagogues had jurisdiction over their countrymen to impose fines, confiscations, and cause them to be scourged with rods or whips.  Hence, even during the period when the Jews were restrained by Roman law, Paul could say "of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned" (II Cor. 11:24, 25). In a word, the Hebrew Christians are suffering and being pressured to return to Moses' law. 

The context of the epistle suggests that much of the controversy and persecution directed against Christians rose in connection with the temple and its service.  Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the hour was coming when worship at the Jerusalem temple would cease (Jn. 4:241).  He repeated this prophecy in the Olivet Discourse days before his arrest (Matt. 23:37-39; 24:1-2, 34).  Stephen repeated these predictions, saying Jesus would destroy the city and temple, and change the customs delivered by Moses (Acts 7:13, 14).  For this saying, Stephen was tried and condemned to death, provoking the great persecution under Caiaphas, Pilate and Saul (Paul).  It is with these circumstances in mind that the prophet Isaiah thus described the nation immediately before its destruction by Rome, when the Jews were persecuting believers, a passage quoted by Stephen at his trial (Acts 8:48): 

"Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build for me? And where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.  He that killeth an ox is an if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog's neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine's blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.  I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear;: but they did evil before mine yes, and chose that in which I delighted not.  Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word: Your brethren that hated you and cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed. A voice a noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the Lord that rendereth recompense to his enemies" (Isa. 66:3-6).

This passage surveys the whole period from the cross to Christ's second coming and the destruction of Jerusalem.  It shows Jewish obstinacy and rebellion in clinging to the dead ritual of the law, rejecting Christ, and persecuting believers.  The passage makes unmistakably clear God's attitude toward the law during the period from the cross to the destruction of Jerusalem: it was abominated as an implicit denial of Christ.  This brings us to

The Time of Reformation

The epistle to the Hebrews says that the temple service was imposed (e.g. was to be obeyed) until the time of reformation: 

"Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.  For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread; which is called the sanctuary.  And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; and over it the cherabims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.
Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost thus signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices that could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience; which stood only in meats and drinks, and diverse washings, and carnal ordinances imposed on them until the time of reformation" (Heb. 9:1-10).

Notice that the whole passage is set in the past tense:   

Thus, the thrust of the whole passage is to demonstrate that temple service belonged to another time and to another people.  "The first covenant had ordinances imposed on them until the time of reformation."  There is no indication that the writer identifies either himself or his readers with the Old Testament or the temple system.  For him, it is entirely a thing of the past. He does not say it is imposed upon us, but was imposed on them.  This does not mean the temple service was not on-going, for indeed it was. Unbelieving Jews continued to cling to the dead body of Moses, supposing that in it they were justified with God. But for Christians, the ceremonial law had no claim or demand, but stood merely as a relic of the past with which they were not to become entangled in again. "For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor" (Gal. 2:18). 

Subject of the Reformation

Next, let us consider the substance of the reformation.  What things had Christ come to reform?  The writer lists the following items as belonging to the former dispensation: 

In the epistle to the Colossians, Paul addressed the issue of the law, saying, "let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ" (Col. 2:16, 17). The ritual and observances of the law stood as shadows, looking ahead to Christ. The shadow ends where the body (substance) begins.  Since Paul tells Christians not to become inveigled in the law, it is clear that he considered the shadow past, and the body and substance of redemption as having arrived. Indeed, the writer of Hebrews says this very thing: 

"But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" (Heb. 9:11, 12).

Notice the verb tense in this passage: 

In other words, the whole substance of the law looked to the work of Christ upon the cross, and was fulfilled in his death, burial, and resurrection. 



First covenant

Worldly sanctuary

Priestly service

Appointed days and feasts

Animal sacrifices

Diverse washings

Dietary restrictions

Misc. carnal ordinances


The Shadow Ended at the Cross

Body & Substance


New Covenant

Heavenly Sanctuary

High Priesthood of Christ

His own Blood


Eternal Redemption

Perfected Forever 


Let's look at the feasts of the Jews just to make sure this point is clear and that these all looked ahead to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  There were three major feasts of the Jews and one fast.  These were 

That these were fulfilled in Christ is apparent from the following verses: 

We sometimes hear that the Feast of Tabernacles symbolized the general resurrection, but I find no support for this.  Zechariah uses the Feast of Tabernacles as a symbol to describe New Testament worship commemorating the salvation of Christ, saying, those nations that keep not the Feast of Tabernacles will be plagued: 

"In that day thee shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness…And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain…this shall be the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles" (Zech. 13:1; 14:16, 19).

Clearly, this shows that Tabernacles is a commemoration of our deliverance from sin (the second Exodus), not a looking forward to our resurrection. 

All things associated with the first covenant pointed to Christ upon the cross, and were thus cast in the past tense by the writer of Hebrews, Christ being come the High Priest of good things to come. 

Entering the Most Holy

The epistle to the Hebrews attaches symbolism to the tabernacle. The tabernacle was divided into two sections: The first tabernacle is called "Holy place."  In this section the priests went daily about their ministry. The second tabernacle, called the Holy of Holies, was separated from the first by a veil, into which the High Priest alone went once a year. God's presence was within the Holy of Holies, above the Mercy Seat between the cheribim.  The stranger that drew nigh was to be put to death (Num. 1:51; 3:10, 38). The point of this symbolism was to show that the way into God's presence was not open to the worshipper under the Mosaic system of animal sacrifices, for the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins (Heb. 10: 1-4).  The high priest, who entered annually into the Holy of Holies, depicted Christ, who would carry his blood into God's presence by his death on Calvary.  Thus, when Jesus died, the veil in the temple was "rent in twain" from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51), showing that the atonement was made (Rom. 5:11) and the way into God's presence was now legally and covenantally opened by Jesus' death.   

I once debated a friend who labored under the idea that "entering the Most Holy Place" signified actual entrance into heaven. Since this did not occur until the general resurrection in AD 70, he argued that the Old Law was still valid until then.  However, this belies a fundamental mistake. The two sections of the tabernacle represent the two covenants and systems of worship, one that could not make the worshipper perfect, and the other that can.  The first tabernacle symbolized the Old Testament, which could not take away sins.  The second tabernacle symbolizes the New Testament, in which we are "perfected forever" by the sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 10:14). Milton Terry thus writes: 

"The holy place represents the period of Mosaism, that intermediate stage of revelation and law, when many a type and symbol foreshadowed the better tings to come, and the exceptional entrance of the high priest once a year within the veil signified that 'the way of the holies was not yet made manifest' (Heb. 9:8).
The Holy of Holies represents the Messianic aeon, when the Christian believer, having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19), is conceived to 'have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22).'"[4] 
Jameson, Brown, and Faucett says the same: 
"The Old Testament economy is represented by the holy place, the New Testament economy by the Holy of Holies. Redemption, by Christ, has opened the Holy of Holies (access to heaven by faith now, Hbr 4:16, 7:19, 25, 22; by sight hereafter).” Jameson, Brown, and Faucett in loc.)

The relevant facts represented and symbolized by the two sections of the tabernacle may be portrayed thus: 

The Tabernacle and the Two Covenants

“We have now received the atonement” - Rom. 5:11 

Holy Place – Old Testamento:p>


Most Holy Place – New Testament

“Time Then Present”


“Time of Reformation”

Worldly Sanctuary


Heavenly Sanctuary / Spiritual Temple

Way to Holiest Closed


Holiest Opened by Jesus’ Death

Could Not Perfect (save)


Hath Perfected Forever (Heb. 10:14))

During the Old Testament period, the worshipper remained in a condition of legal estrangement, banishment, and exile from God, unable to enter his presence because of sin.  The New Testament marks the time when reconciliation has been made, the veil of separation “rent in twain,” and man can come into God’s presence free from the taint of sin. 


If Christians could not legally and covenantally enter the Most Holy Place prior to AD 70, then the New Testament was not yet in force.  But the writer of Hebrews makes clear that that the New Testament came into force at the Testator's (Jesus') death (Heb. 9:17).  But as the New Testament verily came into force with Jesus' death, then were believers admitted into the presence of God, cleansed and justified from sin before AD 70.  The writer thus encourages believers to have "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus," signifying that they should boldly embrace the New Covenant, leaving behind the relics of Moses without hesitation or fear.  

The Coming of Christ to Save his People

Isaiah's prophesy, above, about the Jews' clinging to the priestly service, while rejecting Christ and persecuting Christians, held out the promise of Christ's coming to save his people and destroy the city and temple.   

"Your brethren that hated you and cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed. A voice a noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the Lord that rendereth recompense to his enemies" (Isa. 66:5, 6). 

This same promise is repeated several times to the Hebrew Christians. 

"'Thou hast put all things under his feet.' For in that he put all things in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was make e a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man." (Heb. 2:8, 9).

This verse implies that although Christ has not yet put his enemies beneath his feet, he soon will.   Meanwhile, having made the atonement, he is coregent with God, seated at his right hand. 

"So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Heb. 9:28).

This verse teaches the same as above: Christ died for man's sins and has so entered heaven, but will shortly appear to save his people from their persecutors. 

"For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry" (Heb. 10:38).

Here we see that the persecution of the end time - the mystery of iniquity - was already evincing itself. Hebrew Christians needed patience to endure their suffering and plight until Christ's coming to save them. 

"Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.  And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Heb.12:26-28).

This is a quote from the prophet Haggai, who makes clear that shaking of heaven and earth would not only overthrow the Jews, but the thrones and kingdoms of the heathen (Hag. 2:6, 7, 21, 22).  "Heaven and earth" here thus clearly signify, not the Jewish temple and economy, but the political powers of the world.   The "new heavens and earth" would follow the overthrow of the persecutors, heralding the kingdom and dominion of Christ, who rules the nations with a rod of iron. 


The "time of reformation" describes the New Testament gospel of Christ.span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  The Old Testament was done away at the Cross and the New assumed its place.

[1] Peter and Paul both foretold their martyrdom (II Tim. 4:6; II Pet. 1:14; cf. Jn. 21:18, 19) and are best understood as the "two witnesses" whose deaths would mark the beginning of the persecution under Nero (Rev. 11:3-10). 

[2] "This was granted in order to gratify Poppea, Nero's wife, who was a religious woman, and had requested these favors of Nero."  Josephus, Ant. XX, viii, 11.

[3] It is probable that this is at least part of the meaning of the "mark of the beast" in Rev. 13:16-18, by which the "false prophet" caused men to receive a mark without which no man might buy or sell: viz., a test imposed by rulers of the synagogue requiring men to renounce Christ and profess obedience to the law

[4] Milton Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics (Hunt & Eason, 1890), p. 275


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