Hebrews 9:23, Cosmology, and defiled heavenly things?

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Gwallard

Puritan Board Freshman
Previous thread on the same topic:

I couldn't find a definite answer in that thread, and there may not be one without great mystery, but I thought I would try. A friend of mine and I were talking about this recently, and we came up with a few different answers.

The "Problem": Coming from Hebrews 9:23, why do the heavenly things need purifying, when we often think of the heavenly things as already pure?

Elaboration: Hebrews 9:23 says "Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves [to be purified] with better sacrifices than these." (brackets are my addition). Undeniably, the heavenly tabernacle was purified with the blood of Christ. The earthly tabernacle was the dwelling place of God with man and a copy of the heavenly tabernacle which Moses saw on Mt. Sinai, and it is easily understood why the earthly tabernacle needed purification - it was defiled by the sin of the people. This is the purpose of the sin offering of Leviticus 4 and the day of atonement, plus part of all the other rites of the Israelite system - to set apart Israel and the tabernacle from the sinful world. We don't usually think

But when we think of "heaven and earth" being created, we usually think of it either 1) heaven (the sky and space) and earth (the world), or 2) heaven (the invisible realm/throne room of God) and earth (the visible realm, with space, sky, and world). I take it as the second option, because it seems to agree with 2 Chron 6:18 "“But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!" and many other texts of Scripture.

So, Old Testament Biblical Cosmology seems to think that there is some type of invisible heavenly realm where God is seated in his throne-room. It is here that Satan comes to accuse the people of God (Job 1,2; Zech 3), and where Isaiah saw his life-changing vision (Isaiah 6). And then there is the visible heavens and earth, where we live. In the Old Testament, it seems like Sheol was like a common realm, where all the dead went, but now that Christ has come, believers who die in the New Testament age go directly to be with Christ, and unbelievers must be in either a separate sphere of the invisible realm, or in the same realm in some level of torment (but not Hell). But Hebrews would indicate that Christ is in the heavenly realms, where the true tabernacle was seen on the mountain. I've always considered this heavenly realm to be undefiled, especially the heavenly tabernacle to be undefiled, but Hebrews 9:23 seems to think differently?

Maybe the purification of the heavenly tabernacle was...
1) the casting out of Satan (and his demons?), who fell like lightening from his accusing seat at the throne room. (see Eph 2:2 with Eph 6:12)
2) the casting out or separating of the souls destined to Hell from those destined for the New Heavens and New Earth
3) the making of the heavenly tabernacle into a holy thing, rather than a "common" thing.
4) the tabernacle, made of living stones of the people of God, was purified by Christ when he entered heaven.

#1 feels likely, but Eph 6:12 doesn't seem to really agree - Satan somehow seems to be in the heavenly places still.
#2 Could be true, and it might give a good explanation of 1 Peter 3:18ff, but it feels speculative.
#3 This one is confusing to me, because how could the heavenly tabernacle be common? I suppose God was not yet dwelling in it?
#4 This seems to say that the heavenly tabernacle was always thought of in terms of the church and it's purification. Problems of time ("the temple is not yet completely built, because not everyone has been saved yet; how could Jesus have purified the temple once in Heb 9:23, when it was not finished?") are not problems for God, although Christ is certainly physically in that realm, so there must be a time element. Still, I think this could be true, but I don't much know how to even talk about it or explain it.

Other questions:
The interaction between the heavenly places and earth seem to be a lot more fluid than I realized before. Satan (heavenly) influenced Adam and Eve (earthly) in the beginning, and I've always considered the heaven-to-earth interaction to be more or less fluid. But #2 and #4 are making me wonder how much influence the earthly has on the heavenly: if a living stone on earth sins, was it to the defilement of the heavenly tabernacle that Jesus needed to purify? Obviously, God cannot be defiled or corrupted, but maybe the realm around him? If so, would that explain the covering of the angels eyes and feet with their wings?

I don't know, y'all, just an interesting conversation about a verse I've never considered before. Thoughts?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I must be seeing something differently. Heaven's "furnishment" is Christ himself. All the earthly furniture of the Tabernacle pointed not to this or that heavenly particular, but to Christ himself. He it was who was sanctified with the perfect sacrifice, who entered in with his own blood.

But if you must have other furnishment of the heavenly Temple, it is the saints. They also, if they will have place in the heavenly Temple, needs be sanctified to perfection. Earthly tabernacles are filled with some inanimate things, but also with priests (sinners & imperfect). The inanimate things are there for the living furnishments to use. But in heaven there is one Priest, and the rest of the attendants have the status once reserved for the priesthood. They are the living stones, the lively instruments for heaven's praises (another argument for getting rid of musical instruments perhaps?).

I just think the direction the question thinks to take us is misguided, if looking for such item-analogues in heavenly places separate from the One who serves as both Access and Object of worship. That which was ideally sanctified for heavenly service was Him. He is the furnishment in heaven for us.
 

Gwallard

Puritan Board Freshman
I must be seeing something differently. Heaven's "furnishment" is Christ himself. All the earthly furniture of the Tabernacle pointed not to this or that heavenly particular, but to Christ himself. He it was who was sanctified with the perfect sacrifice, who entered in with his own blood.

But if you must have other furnishment of the heavenly Temple, it is the saints. They also, if they will have place in the heavenly Temple, needs be sanctified to perfection. Earthly tabernacles are filled with some inanimate things, but also with priests (sinners & imperfect). The inanimate things are there for the living furnishments to use. But in heaven there is one Priest, and the rest of the attendants have the status once reserved for the priesthood. They are the living stones, the lively instruments for heaven's praises (another argument for getting rid of musical instruments perhaps?).

I just think the direction the question thinks to take us is misguided, if looking for such item-analogues in heavenly places separate from the One who serves as both Access and Object of worship. That which was ideally sanctified for heavenly service was Him. He is the furnishment in heaven for us.
Brother! Thank you for always answering thoughtfully. I really am grateful for your kindness in this.

To reply - the heavenly temple may only be speaking of Christ or his saints, although that is something different than I have heard before! Biblical cosmology is not really something I'm very certain about in the specifics, but considering Christ's human nature is somewhere, I'd say he's in a physical place right now. And, if we go to him directly after we die, then our spirits go to that physical place as well. But since Christ is now at the right hand of the Father, it would make some sense that he and his church are in that heavenly realm.

If I'm getting what your saying, though, Christ is the temple (John 2:18ff), and the pattern that Moses saw on the mountain was merely a blueprint, or it actually was Christ somehow. That may be, but Hebrews 8-9 would definitely be confusing to me if that was the case: (8:1-2) "Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest [Christ], one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man." These two verses are two distinct things, Christ, and the holy place. Maybe we could say that Jesus was the true tent, because he "tabernacled" (ἐσκήνωσεν in John 1:14) among us, but that Christ ministers in the holy places doesn't make sense yet. Is that to say that Christ ministers in his human nature, as the 2nd person of the trinity dwells in that temple? If so, then was the sacrifice of Christ a sacrifice to purify his human nature (defiled by sin while around sinful humans) as well for dwelling in heaven? Can the human nature be considered a "thing" like this?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Heaven is the holy place. Is it possible to conceive of that place having some kind of "spiritual geography," by which these dimensional coordinates are not those cooordinates? OK, but we're talking about heaven using analogous terms, not effectively describing what Paul explains as being indescribable, 1Cor.2:19; cf. 2Cor.12:4. By way of comparison, in the OT God described the New Covenant age under terms and figures the Old Covenant people were familiar with, using the temple, the land, and many other familiar things as vehicles for description.

But Jesus was clear when he said that the old wineskins had to be replaced: the old forms had to give way for the new, and as Christ he was not obligated to reuse Moses' formulae. The New Covenant isn't: the Old Covenant replicated, just on a more massive scale. The old representations of what was coming in fulfillment are correctly understood as analogues, the way a toddler's building block set is an analogy to fundamental arithmetic operations that eventually result in space travel or molecular engineering. Looking back at our tiny selves, we can see now the promise in those toys, and it was more than we might eventually build a house with real bricks instead of legos. (compare Paul's use of the term "basic/elementary principles" Gal.4 & Col.2).

It makes sense to us now to envision a heavenly gathering, in a spiritual temple, someplace so commodious it can contain every elect person who ever lives, plus the angels and the Person of Christ on whom is everyone's attention. But no matter what, the reality will exceed all human imagination. We accept that God speaks to us (to use Calvin's phrasing) by accommodated language, he lisps to us in baby-talk.

As to what precisely was "purified" for heaven's use, we first need understanding of what purification was for under the Old Covenant. Everything associated with the Tabernacle/Temple had to be set-apart, made holy, established as "clean" and "pure." Anything in this fallen world and native to it that has not gone through such a process is not ready for the use God has prepared for it. It must be dedicated, and there was a process appointed for that sanctification as part of the Old Covenant ceremony.

It is not the case that Jesus' human-nature was defiled, nor was it even in a "neutral" state. His Personal holiness sanctified his humanity; even as that uncorrupted humanity was subjected to all the ills and miseries that beset us clothed in our humanity. We have no personal, intrinsic holiness by which to sanctify our humanity. Thus, Jesus takes on our exact humanity under the present fallen condition, yet he is without sin; his humanity undergoes suffering and death, but not through his desert, nor due to some demerit inhabiting his flesh. His flesh does not require some act of spiritual cleansing or renewal.

It is not his glorification by resurrection that constitutes his purification or sanctification. He is sanctified by his own death, by his own blood, Heb.9:22. It is not the case that anything pertaining to himself needed purification, but that anything sanctified under Old Covenant rules required the purification of blood. Sanctification--the formal act of setting apart anything or anyone as holy to the Lord, exclusive to his use--this is what is in view with respect to purification as it pertains to Christ. It is by his sacrifice that God makes his Act of covenanting (a New Covenant in my blood); compare to the covenanting found in Gen.15. God acts formally not for his own satisfaction, but in order to show us his seriousness.

Then, once Christ has risen from the dead, our great High Priest goes up in his Ascension and takes his seat, having entered in the holy-of-holies, the throne room of God (mercy seat), sprinkling his own blood (as it were) then settling him there where grace for us abounds. His shed blood being the Act that sanctified himself, his sanctified Presence sanctifies the heavenlies.

The writer to the Hebrews does not want his audience to take their eyes off Jesus for one minute, to consider what "impure" (or potentially impure) things are in heaven and require improvement. It is a matter of effecting in heaven and for heaven the sanctifying property of his sacrifice. The already-pure essence of heaven's places and heaven's worship are (in a word) expressly devoted and made (if possible!) even more holy and excellent through the surpassing excellence of the precious blood of Christ, 1Pet.1:19.
 
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