The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews also approaches the reason for Christ in terms of his superiority to the law. The nature of this superiority, however, is radically different from that of the Fourth Gospel.
Unlike the Fourth Gospel’s focus on knowing God, Hebrews is interested in affirming that believers do indeed have an excellent reason to believe that they can approach God with confidence in the troubled times in which they live. Since nothing defiled in either body or mind can attain God’s presence, the required confidence is engendered by a “cleansed conscience,” which can only be found through Christ’s superior sacrifice.
(The Muse of Sarcasm is upon me. The full title of this work is The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews. Except for the fact that it is not an epistle, it was not written by Paul, and it is not addressed to the Hebrews, this is an excellent title.)
Now, back to business.
According to Hebrews, the law states that “almost everything is purified by blood and without blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22). But the offerings of blood under the law were deficient in two ways. First, the law was “only the shadow of the good things to come and not the very image of them” (Heb 10:1-3). This meant that the offerings had to be repeated yearly. In contrast, Christ did not offer himself repeatedly (Heb 9:26, 28):
[for] if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world. But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice.
Second, the efficacy of these offerings under the law was also inferior in the sense that “the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin” (Heb 10:4). In fact, the law was limited in the “present time” to (Heb 9:9-10):
gifts and sacrifices…that cannot perfect the worshiper in conscience 10 but only in matters of food and drink and various ritual washings: regulations concerning the flesh, imposed until the time of the new order.
In contrast, Christ’s work is superior in at least five ways: (1) a superior high priest, (2) a superior offering, (3) a superior (heavenly) sanctuary, (4) a superior manner of making the sacrifice, that is, not through fire but “through the holy Spirit and (5) a superior result (a cleansed conscience and service to God):
11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, 12 he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship a living God.
The expression “dead works” should not be read in opposition to something like “works of faith.” It is a reference to idolatry, the worship of things that do not live. Its opposite is worship of the living God.
The law, then, was good, successfully doing what it was asked to do. But better things were to come, in a “greater and more perfect tabernacle.” Since Christ’s offering was so superior, believers may be confident that they can approach the throne of grace for present needs (Heb 4:16) as well as rest assured of a future in the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:18-24).