The context indicates why sacrifices (plural) are needed:
And according to the law almost all things are purified (καθαρίζεται) with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified (καθαρίζεσθαι) with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. (Hebrews 9:22-23 NKJV)
"Almost all" things means there are some things purified without blood.
First, the writer speaks of purification and remission, two separate actions and earlier wrote of the priestly service in both the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. The Most Holy Place is accessed once a year and deals with atonement for sin; the Holy Place is accessed every day for offering incense and prayer.1
It is true that the sacrifice for remission was a once-for-all (singular) action. However, the writer of the letter begins by making statements against taking this passage in that context:
Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. (Hebrews 9:1-5 NKJV)
The passage opens by describing the Most Holy Place, and then states what follows is not meant to give any more details of those things. Since the Most Holy Place is entered only on the Day of Atonement, the writer has in effect stated they are not considering the Day of Atonement sacrifices.
Second, the writer states that according to the Law almost all things are purified by blood. This means there are some things not purified by blood (according to the Law).
The Gospel provides examples of two methods of purification outside the Law. First:
And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean (καθαρίσαι).” Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed (καθαρίσθητι).” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed (ἐκαθαρίσθη). And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:2-4 NKJV)
The leper was purified by Jesus (not by the Law). His purification was based on two things:
- The will of Jesus to purify him (not according to the Law).
- The touch of Jesus (without the shedding of any blood).
Having been purified, Jesus instructs the man to make the offering according to the Law (Leviticus 14). This event (or one similar) is recorded in Mark (1:40-44) and Luke (5:12-14).
It is important to recognize a distinction between atonement and purification. The Day of Atonement literally Yom Kaphur, means day covering. The Mercy Seat which covered The Law was sprinkled with blood. Whatever purification resulted was partial. It did not remove sin: sin was placed on the live goat and was released. A heavenly purification should not merely cover and separate sin (the example from the Day of Atonement) it should remove it completely.
There is a second method described of purification without the shedding of blood in the Gospel:
Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed (ἐκαθαρίσθησαν). And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:12-19 NKJV)
In this event, ten lepers were purified by Jesus. Unlike the leper's who were purified by physical touch, these were purified by the Word of God. The leper’s purification required three things:
- The will of Jesus to have mercy on them (not according to the Law).
- The Word of Jesus (without the shedding of blood).
- The faith of the lepers who believed Jesus had purified them.
In this case it was the spoken Word (of Jesus) which brought about their purification. The leper's faith was also part of the process. Their purification comes when they leave to show themselves to the priests. One comes back to make a "sacrifice" to Jesus:
Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. (Hebrews 13:15 NKJV)
A "better" sacrifice is one that does not require the shedding of blood. The leper who returned was purified and he offered a sacrifice of praise.
The earthly tabernacle given through Moses served as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.
who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:5 NKJV)
Jesus, the prophet like Moses came to earth; He spoke and taught and gave examples of how things can be purified without the shedding of blood:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son... (Hebrews 1:1-2 NKJV)
The writer of Hebrews does not identify which things in heaven need to be purified, only that there are some. The Gospel gives us an example of how the heavenly purification will take place: by the touch of Jesus and by His Word. For example, the Church will be purified by His Word:
that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:26-27 NKJV)
1. Luke 1:8-10