I’ve been asked a few times about the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection: Why is it so celebrated if our sins were paid for on the cross? What did it accomplish? Why was it necessary? While there are a variety of responses to this (Jesus’ victory over death, an affirmation of His deity, a taste of the coming redemption of our bodies, etc.), in this post I’ll focus on what we learn about the work of Christ in Hebrews 7–10, where the ministry of the Levitical priests of the Mosaic Covenant is compared with “the more excellent ministry” of Christ in the New Covenant.
Hebrews explains that God gave explicit instructions to Moses for building the tabernacle because it was to be a place where the Levitical priests would serve a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” God used this “copy and shadow” to teach His people about their real need for sacrifice, and to prepare them for when Jesus would one day be acting as our living priest—not with sacrifices “which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings,” but with an efficacious sacrifice; not in a “copy and shadow,” but in God’s presence—because of the resurrection:
When Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?...
[I]t was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with [the blood of calves and goats], but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own...but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (9:11–26)
Not only was it necessary for Christ to enter heaven with the blood of His covenant on our behalf, but He also continues to intercede on our behalf:
The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (7:23–25)
Christ’s intercession for us in heaven before the Father is necessary for our eternal salvation. Only Christ’s death could serve as our needed sacrifice, but only Christ’s resurrection could make Him our living priest.
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (10:19–23)