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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Please explain the meaning of the purification mentioned in Hebrews 1:3.
The text reads: “After [the Son] had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”* The verse combines two elements: Cleansing and exaltation, but it does not specifically state how the purification happens. In order to clarify the text, let’s examine two other passages where those elements are also present, then explore the significance of purification in Hebrews.
1. Cleansing and Sacrifice: Notice these two passages: “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (10:12). “[Christ] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2). The first passage reads “one sacrifice for sins” instead of the “purification for sins,” thus clarifying its meaning. The second one establishes that the sacrifice was Christ’s death on the cross; He made purification for sin in the sense that He offered Himself as a sacrificial victim. The cleansing/atoning sacrifice was offered once. In His exaltation He continues to officiate as our high priest in the heavenly sanctuary (8:2). This work is directly connected to our cleansing from sin.
2. Cleansing and the First Covenant: It is through Christ’s sacrifice that the sins committed under the first covenant were finally forgiven: “Now that [Christ] has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (9:15). According to Hebrews the sins committed under the first covenant needed cleansing because the blood of bulls and goats could not remove sin or purify sinners. The sacrifice of Christ legitimized the cleansing performed in type under the first covenant. This was a cleansing of sins committed under the old covenant as transgressions of the covenant law. This retrospective effect of the cleansing power of the sacrifice of Christ is not unique to Hebrews; it is implied elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. Rom. 3:25; Acts 17:30).
3. Cleansing of Believers: The purification of sin through the sacrifice of Christ is effective today for those who believe. The cleansing power of the cross now applies to those who find in Christ their Savior and heavenly High Priest: “The blood of Christ … [will] cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Heb. 9:14). All are called to repent from their dead works (6:1) and are assured that they will experience purification through Christ. This present cleansing is an intrinsic part of the intercessory work of Christ at the right hand of God (7:25), and addresses not only our past sins but also the nondeliberate sins committed during our Christian pilgrimage (10:26). In that journey we must “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (12:1). Through the power of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, where He bore the sins of many (9:28), our sins are forgiven by God. In the Israelite system this was represented through the daily services. The sacrifice of Christ and His mediation fulfill the typological significance of the daily services.
4. Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary: The cleansing power of Christ’s sacrifice also has a future expression, represented in the cleansing ritual of the Day of Atonement: “It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these” (9:23). This passage clearly presupposes a typological interpretation of the Day of Atonement. By referring to the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, the apostle is pointing to the consummation of the cleansing effectiveness of the death or sacrifice of Christ that will result in the vindication of God and His people, and in the consummation of their salvation at His second coming (9:28).
This cleansing also looks forward to the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom (12:28) and to the moment when all the enemies of Christ will “be made his footstool” (10:13; cf. 2:14), that is to say, when He fully and finally defeats them. This executive judgment “will consume the enemies of God” (10:27) in the final cleansing of the universe from the presence of sin and evil powers.
*All scripture quotations in this article are from the Holy Bible, New International Version (NIV).