In our study of Hebrews chapter nine, we look at the fact that Christ's blood paid for our salvation once and for all. In chapter eight, we saw that Jesus is a superior High Priest and now we see that the sacrifice that He offered was far superior to that of the Levitical priesthood.
"Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now." NIV translation
Paul begins by explaining the general setup of the earthly tabernacle of the Mosaic Law. He describes the physical tabernacle and its separate rooms and what they contained. We notice that in the Most Holy Place was the ark of the covenant. The word ark refers to a coffin and over this coffin was where God met with the high priest. The altar of incense was the prayer altar and it was here that the prayers were lifted up to God.
"When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing." NIV translation
All the priests were allowed to enter the outer room to perform their service to God but only the high priest could enter the inner room and only once each year. This Day of Atonement required much preparation with blood to cover the sins of the high priest as well as the people. These regulations were showing that it was just a temporary way of entering the presence of God and that a better way was yet to come.
"This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings - external regulations applying until the time of the new order." NIV translation
The sacrifices and rituals were required to be performed but they were outward things and could not clean man's conscience. The conscience is a God-given mechanism which lets us know basic truths such as right from wrong. No matter what ritual man went through, deep down they knew that they were still the same.
Even today, there is a spirit of religion that attempts to place people back under a similar type of system of rituals and outward actions. This has entered the church (body of Christ) and has brought in people that really do not have a relationship with Him. As Paul described here, they have some rituals but deep down inside they do not have a clear conscience with God and continue to walk in bondage instead of the freedom of Christ.