HIGH PRIEST OF A BETTER COVENANT
Main Point of the Letter
These verses continue the discussion of Jesus as the Christian’s high priest. But it moves the argument further to a high point. Hebrews 7:28 stated that God the Father appointed God the Son as the high priest of believers and he had been made perfect forever. Chapter 8 verse 1 picks up that thought saying we have such a high priest, meaning the perfect son appointed by God the Father. Further, Jesus ministers as our high priest in heaven.
This verse has as its background Psalm 110:1. Remember that much of Hebrews is an expository sermon based on Psalm 110. That verse says “The LORD says to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” But look also at Zechariah 6:12-13. There the picture is of one who shall sit and rule on a throne. But there also be a priest on his throne. This is a picture of the office of the king and the office of the priest coming together. They came together in Jesus. So, Hebrews sees Jesus on the throne at the right hand of the Father both as place of exaltation and priestly service.
Verse 2 tells us that Jesus’ ministry for us is not on earth, but in heaven. He calls it “the holy places”, the true tent, set up by God. The “tent” is a reference to the Tabernacle. It was the moveable tent that God directed Moses to build so God could “dwell in their midst”. (Exodus 25:8) The priests ministered at the Tabernacle.
Now skip down to verse 5. It says the old testament priests served a shadow and a copy of the heavenly things. The throne of God, where God’s presence is, and the area around it are a tabernacle in heaven. God dwells there and he is worshipped by all of those who are in heaven. Revelation gives us some pictures of this. In chapter 4, John saw a throne and one seated on the throne. (Revelation 4:2-3) All around the throne were other thrones and those who sat on them worshipped God. The living creatures around the throne also worshipped God.
Since the tabernacle was a shadow and a copy of God’s throne in heaven, God instructed Moses to make all of the items exactly as God said. In Exodus 25:9, God told Moses “Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so shall you make it.:” And God specified how the tent should be made, and the court yard, and all the furnishings. God would dwell there so it had to reflect the dwelling place of God in heaven.
But Jesus ministers in the holy place that is the “true tent” set up by the Lord. This means heaven, where God dwells. Jesus is at God’s right hand ministering for us. Just as the Old Testament sacrifices were types of his sacrifice, so the Old Testament priests were types of Jesus as high priest. In other words, Jesus fulfilled by the sacrificial system and the priesthood.
By calling heaven the true tent, he is not saying the Tabernacle was a false tent. Rather he means heaven is the perfect holy place and the Tabernacle was an imperfect holy place.
The ministry of the priest
Verse 3 reminds us that the job of the high priest as to offer gifts and sacrifices to God at the tabernacle. Therefore, since Jesus is a priest (“this priest”) must also have something to offer. And verse 4 tells us Jesus would not be a priest if he served on earth, but he did not qualify as a priest on earth. And, if you reflect on the 4 gospel accounts, you will remember that Jesus never attempted to act as a priest. He acted as a teacher and healer. The inference here is rather subtle, but the point is that Jesus, offered his sacrifice in heaven. Yes, he died on a cross on earth, but he presented himself to the Father in heaven, the true tent, as a sacrifice for us. Therefore, his ministry is in heaven.
A Better Covenant
Verse 6 tells us that the new covenant he mediates is better than the old covenant. In fact he says it is “much more excellent” than the old covenant. And we know it is better, as verse 7 says, because if the first covenant had been faultless, or perfect, there would have been no need for a second covenant.
Having made the statement that the new covenant is better than the old covenant, he offers proof from the Old Testament as is his style. That proof is Jeremiah 31:31-34.
The writer begins this quote by saying “He (God) finds fault with them when he says”, meaning he blames sinful Israel for failing to keep the covenant. The context for Jeremiah 31 is that some of the Israelites had already gone into exile and captivity. The remainder would go soon. God had declared judgment on them for failing to keep the covenant. He told them they would go into captivity for 70 years. Then, beginning in chapter 30, God said he would restore the fortunes of Israel. Beginning in 31:31, Jeremiah related God’s promise to make a new covenant. The writer of Hebrews began his quote at that point. By doing so, he shows that God promised long ago to bring another, new covenant, and that it would not be like the old covenant because God’s people did not keep it. (Hebrews 8:9)
The fact that God announced his intention to make a new covenant way back in the time of Jeremiah, shows that God always intended the old covenant to be temporary.
The greatest difference would be that God would put his laws into their, and our, minds and hearts. (10) And all who enter into this covenant will know God. (11)
The Israelites were to teach the covenant law to their children, they were to wear it on their hands and heads. But God will write the new covenant in the hearts of believers. By the death of Christ, he killed our sin and enabled us to live for righteousness. The Holy Spirit dwells in us, constantly reminding us of God’s standards of holiness and urging us to be holy. Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on on the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:5)
No human being in his or her flesh can live up to God’s standards. Every one of them will sin. Every one of them will break the covenant. Only by changing us through and in Christ can we rise above the sin nature and live for God. Only because the Holy Spirit in us enables us can we live in a way that glorifies God. So, don’t try to reach God by our goodness apart from Christ. It won’t work. Instead, believe in Christ and trust him to save you from sin and death. Then live in the power of the Holy Spirit rather than in your own strength.
The Old Covenant is Obsolete
The New Covenant makes the Old Covenant obsolete. Even in his time, the writer of Hebrews saw it vanishing away, disappearing. “Obsolete” means God does not intend any further use for the old covenant and its sacrifices to achieve redemption. The new covenant in Christ supercedes the Old Covenant. There is no going back.
Jesus, of course, saw to it that the old covenant would vanish. He did this by destroying the temple through the Roman army in 70 A. D. He foretold it in Matthew 24:2, when he said there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down. He foretold it by saying in John 2:19, “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”. His priesthood for believers supercedes and replaces the old priesthood of the temple and tabernacle.