What does Hebrews 9:17 really mean?

Hebrews 9:17 is about the significance of a will in relationship to the death of the one who made it, highlighting the concept that a covenant is only in effect after the death of the one who established it.

17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive.


Setting the Scene for Hebrews 9:17

In Hebrews chapter 9, the scene is set in the context of the tabernacle, the sacred tent used by the Israelites for worship in the wilderness. The author of Hebrews is explaining the significance of the tabernacle and its rituals in relation to the new covenant brought by Jesus Christ. The scene includes the high priest, who is performing the annual ritual of entering the Most Holy Place with the blood of sacrificial animals to atone for the sins of the people.

The high priest, dressed in his sacred garments, carefully follows the prescribed rituals as he approaches the mercy seat in the Most Holy Place. The room is filled with the scent of burning incense and the soft glow of the golden lampstand. The presence of God is palpable in this sacred space, and the people outside wait in anticipation for the priest to emerge, signifying that their sins have been temporarily atoned for.

As the high priest exits the Most Holy Place, the people bow their heads in reverence, knowing that their sins have been covered for another year. The scene is a powerful reminder of the need for a perfect sacrifice to cleanse humanity from sin once and for all, a need that is ultimately fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

What is Hebrews 9:17 about?

This verse is a powerful reminder about the nature of a will and its execution. The author of Hebrews uses the analogy of a will to convey the idea that the promises or agreements made by an individual only become valid and effective after death. Just like a will outlines the distribution of belongings and assets after the individual’s passing, the promises or covenants made by God with humanity are fulfilled through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Through this verse, we are encouraged to reflect on the concept of legacy and the significance of fulfilling promises or commitments even beyond one’s lifetime. It prompts us to consider the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus to bring about the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation for mankind. Additionally, this verse highlights the assurance that God’s promises are unwavering and sure, irrespective of the passage of time or the circumstances we find ourselves in. Hebrews 9:17 invites us to delve deeper into the profound theological implications it carries. How does this verse challenge our understanding of time, legacy, and fulfillment? What does it reveal about the redemptive work of Christ and the unchanging nature of God’s promises? We should embrace the message of hope and certainty embedded in this verse, knowing that just as a will comes into effect at the appointed time, so too does God’s plan for our salvation manifest in His perfect timing.

Understanding what Hebrews 9:17 really means

The Book of Hebrews, a letter in the New Testament, addresses Jewish Christians facing persecution and the temptation to revert to Judaism. Hebrews 9 delves into the old covenant, sacrifices, and the new covenant through Jesus Christ. The phrase “A will is in force only when somebody has died” emphasizes that a testament becomes effective only after the testator’s death, highlighting Jesus’ crucial role in activating the new covenant. Similarly, “It never takes effect while the one who made it is living” reinforces that the benefits of a will are only accessible post the testator’s death, mirroring the sacrificial system and Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.

In Galatians 3:15, Paul discusses the permanence of human covenants, emphasizing the seriousness of God’s promises. Matthew 26:28 links Jesus’ blood to the establishment of the new covenant, crucial for the forgiveness of sins. Romans 6:23 complements this by highlighting that eternal life in Christ Jesus is a gift made possible through Jesus’ sacrificial death. The analogy of a will and testament remains relevant in modern legal systems, making the concept easily relatable to contemporary audiences.

The idea of sacrifice and the profound price paid for our salvation resonates deeply in a world seeking meaning and purpose. Recognizing that Jesus’ death was essential to activate the new covenant deepens appreciation for His sacrifice’s gravity and significance. Consider a family awaiting an inheritance, unable to access it until the benefactor’s passing. Similarly, Christians live in the assurance of the new covenant, activated by Jesus’ death, promising eternal life and a restored relationship with God.

Hebrews 9:17 powerfully reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice’s necessity for the new covenant to take effect. It draws a clear parallel to legal principles, making the concept relatable and understandable. This verse, alongside related passages, showcases the depth of God’s love and the lengths He went to secure our salvation. The imagery of a will coming into effect post the testator’s death vividly illustrates the profound impact of Jesus’ sacrifice on our eternal destiny.

How can we ensure our lives are pleasing to God?

We can ensure our lives are pleasing to God by recognizing the importance of the blood of Christ in securing our redemption from sins. The verse highlights the significance of blood in making a covenant valid. This points to the necessity of Jesus shedding His blood on the cross to establish the New Covenant, through which we are reconciled with God. We demonstrate our faithfulness and gratitude towards God by acknowledging the sacrificial death of Christ and accepting His atonement for our sins.

Furthermore, living a life that is pleasing to God involves walking in obedience to His will and following the example set by Jesus. We demonstrate our love for God and show our commitment to living in a way that honors Him by striving to live in accordance with His commandments and teachings. Our actions, fueled by our faith and guided by the principles of love, humility, and righteousness, bear witness to our desire to please God and glorify His name in all that we do. Constant effort to cultivate a deep relationship with God through prayer, studying His Word, and seeking His guidance in all aspects of our lives ultimately ensures that our lives are pleasing to Him. We can be confident that our lives are a pleasing offering to God by staying connected to Him and aligning our thoughts, words, and deeds with His divine will.


Live each moment as if it were your last. Use your time wisely to spread kindness and positivity in the world. Do not wait to fulfill your purpose, for tomorrow is not guaranteed. Will you seize the day and make a difference in the lives of others?