Why does the heavenly holy place need to be cleansed?

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God FOR US.  Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own,  for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,  so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. —Hebrews 9:23-28 

John Piper, in a sermon “What Christ Did at the End of the Age”

This is troubling at first and then tremendously comforting. It’s troubling because it raises the question why the heavenly holy place would need to be cleansed You see verse 23 says that the copies of heaven must be cleansed with the blood of animals, but “the heavenly things themselves [have to be cleansed] with better sacrifices.” Why is that? Is heaven defiled? Is there sin in heaven? Some have suggested that it’s because Satan has been there. Others have suggested that it’s because there are “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Maybe. But I think the most important thing to see is what verse 24 focuses on. Why did Christ enter [that heavenly] holy place with his better sacrifice the sacrifice of himself? It was “now to appear in the presence of God for us.” The words “for us” give the key to why there has to be cleansing in heaven. We are going to be there.

Here is a great comfort and encouragement to us. It is not complimentary. But it is wonderfully hope-giving. If you want to be made much of, rather than having the mercy of God made much of, you will not want to listen to this. But if you love the mercy of God and admit the misery of your own condition, you will love this. Verse 24 says that Christ enters the holy place of heaven with his better sacrifice “to appear in the presence of God for us.” This means that he will cleanse us there. We are what needs cleansing. And to the degree that we might defile heaven, Christ in that sense cleanses heaven.

Now listen to this. He is speaking to those of you (all of us, in our clear moments) who feel so dirty and so deeply bad that you would only pollute heaven if you got there. O how many people are kept away from Christ because of this! I pray that you will see what an invitation this is. This is God’s way of saying: “Come, you dirty ones. Come, you defiled, you deeply evil ones. Come, you who have soiled yourselves and who have been stained by others. Come to my heaven! For my Son is there. And he has not died in vain. He stands guard over my holy place, not to keep you out, but to make you clean so that you can be with me in perfect holiness forever. Come.

This is why he died. I did not send him to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners (Luke 5:32). Come.” Underline those words at the end of verse 24 “for us.” “Now to appear in the presence of God for us.”


One thought on “Why does the heavenly holy place need to be cleansed?

  1. Luke 5:32 was quoted incorrectly. Not trying to disagree with you just for the sake of being right but for the sake of Biblical accuracy, I just didn’t know if you knew that. Thank you for the article.

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