A word about Bible Quotes:
The Epistle to the Hebrews is full of references to passages in the Old Testament. The references often appear as short phrases. Writing was very expensive and scrolls were limited in size. The epistles were written to be read in the synagogue. Memorization of much of the Old Testament was common. Therefore writers in the New Testament seldom gave large quotes. They pepper the text with words or phrases that would jog the memory of those already schooled in the scripture. In Chapter 8, verse one refers to Psalm 110, verse 5 to Exodus 25:40. The largest passage quoted in the New Testament is verse 8-12; a complete quote of Jeremiah 31:31-34.
In Chapter 7 the writer spoke of the glory of the Old priesthood and the surpassing glory of Christ as our Great High Priest. He draws attention to some very specific passages and shows us what the Hebrews should have seen, but what has become evident after the resurrection.
Chapter 7 said Christ is a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, which is an eternal priesthood. 7:22 tells us Jesus is the surety or the guarantor of a better covenant. He is both the author of the covenant and the consummation of the covenant. In verse 23 we see that in the New Covenant Jesus Christ is a singular priest. The Levitical priesthood was an endless procession of priests and sacrifices, repeating the exact same offerings for generations after generation. They died so their offices were temporary. Christ in contrast is alive and therefore his Priesthood is without end. Verse 27 says he does not need to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people because Jesus is the sinless great High Priest. His sacrifice has no reference whatsoever to his own sin because he was sinless.
A Levitical priest first had to make sacrifice for his own sin before he could make sacrifices for the people. No Levitical priest was made perfect. The priesthood of Christ is a priesthood of an entirely different kind. Verse 22 declares that Jesus the guarantor of this new and better covenant.
To whom was this written?
The first recipients of this letter were Greek speaking Jews. They believed and held to all the covenants promised in the Old Testament made to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David. It would not be a shock to them if God added another covenant; but what this letter to the Hebrews tells them is that Christ is superior to all of the others and in himself, has done away with the covenant to Moses. Paul refers to the covenant of Moses as the Old Covenant. The Old Testament is the history from creation to Christ and within it is the Old Covenant made on Mount Sanai to the Hebrews. Not everything in the Old Testament is about the Law to Moses.
As we saw last week God entered the world of sinful men and made a way for them to approach him. For the Jews it was probably inconceivable that anything could be better than what they had. God had chosen them. God gave them the tabernacle and the Law; they had the prophets; and angels had brought them revelations directly from God. Their history was filled with God’s direct intervention. How could it be better than that? What they were told here is that all those things are made complete or set aside by a better covenant in Christ. Christ brings better promises. These promises all rest on a single reality, Christ is better. The author begins chapter 8 by summing up the last seven chapters.
Heb 8:1 ¶ Now in the things which we are saying the chief point is this: We have such a high priest, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,
The main point is this: we have such a High Priest. He is a better High Priest. That should be a mantra to you. Not a mindless saying; but a constant affirmation in all that you deal with moment by moment; “We have such a High Priest”. No matter what you go through; no matter what happens in the world or to you, “we have such a High Priest…” We sing the song what a friend we have in Jesus because he is such a High Priest. What do we gain from his priesthood that is better?
Ro 8:31 ¶ What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
Ro 8:32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?
Ro 8:33 Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth;
Ro 8:34 who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died, yes rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
We have such a high Priest!
Ro 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
Ro 8:36 Even as it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
Ro 8:37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
Ro 8:38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
Ro 8:39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Our High Priest is continuously in the presence of the Father, always interceding for us with the Father.
The author of Hebrews offers us this summation: of the things which we have spoken Christ is better that angels, Moses, Aaron, the Law, the sacrifices, the tabernacle, the priesthood, and he is our great High Priest.
In the first study we considered that man has two problems; sin reigns in his life and death reigns in his life. None of the things above that were set in contrast to Christ could free man from sin and death and restore him to open fellowship with God, but we have such a high priest. None of those other things could atone for man’s sins, at best they covered man’s sins, but our High Priest is “One who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;”
That means there are no longer any barriers between the believer in Christ and God. Christ is in heaven. His fellowship with the Father is totally restored and we are in him.
Re 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
Adam and Even were collectively called man (Gen 1:27). “If any man hears my voice” means any human being. Christ will come into him. Does that mean he leaves heaven? If he doesn’t leave heaven and we are in him, where are we? We are in hearing distance from God. We are in his paternal presence as we live and move and have our being and he is caught up in all the details of our life; and we have such a High Priest that the intercession between Father and Son regarding each of us never involves wrath or rejection. It may involve sever chastisement. God’s goal is to purify us. But, we sup with him. Food led man to fall from God. Jesus uses food to describe the intimacy of his involvement in our lives. He goes to the source of the breach and brings the promise of fellowship.
This summary statement of Hebrews 8:1 is intended to prepare us for everything that follows.
What makes the priesthood of Christ different? We have already been told several things. He is a singular eternal high Priest. He performed the sacrifice once for all. His sacrifice is not with reference to his own sin for he is sinless.
Now we are told that the High Priest is seated at the right hand of the throne of majesty in heaven. Jesus does not rule from Jerusalem, he rules from Heaven. That is obvious to us; but probably it was very unsettling to first century Hebrew Christians who were hoping for the geographical kingdom to happen. The priesthood of old was on earth. The priests on earth had a ministry that simply covered sins; it did not change the sinner.
They were priests because they were born of the tribe of Levi. They were men who were given a priestly responsibility. They did what their fathers did from generation to generation. They died and died and died, but Christ our High Priest who is seated at the right hand of God in majesty on high will never die. This is a completely different thing. By the sacrifice of his body he did not just cover our sins; flesh is the veil that separates us from God. Jesus took upon himself this veil. He became flesh and condemned sin in the flesh by his obedience, so that we, through his blood are given total freedom to come into the presence of God any day, all day.
He is seated in heaven at the right hand of God. A king places his most powerful servant on his right hand. This is the most exalted position a king gives on earth, but in heaven that is where the second person of the Trinity, Jesus in a glorified human body, is seated. The Holy Spirit is saying there is no greater authority in heaven before God than our Great High Priest.
Two things remain:
He is not sitting there passively. He still has two things to complete.
One is the fact that there remains unfulfilled prophecies about his Second Coming that will be fulfilled someday. He has made it clear that he will accomplish all of the Fathers will.
The other is the matter of bringing his people to completion. While his atoning work on the cross is finished, his work as a mediator continues. We are told that Christ is a mediator of a better covenant. He is a mediator between sinners he has redeemed and the Holy Father so that through him the Father sees us as holy. Jesus is the only mediator. He said “no one comes to the Father except through me.” 1 Tim 2:5 says there is one mediator between man and God, Christ Jesus. For a priest to attempt to intercede in the place of Christ or even as a mediator between Christ and man would be to diminish and insult what Christ accomplished on our behalf.
In order for us to be in the presence of God it was first necessary that we be made holy. The fact that we can come boldly before the throne of grace affirms that our righteousness and holiness was accomplished by Christ already. God will not allow sin in his presence. He sees us through the blood of Christ as holy by faith, so that Christ can intercede on our behalf to free the Holy Spirit to do the work of transforming us. We’ll talk more on that when the text addresses it.
The High Priest of old held back the wrath of God as intercessors so Christ’s role as High priest was to hold back, literal to take upon himself the wrath of God, which he did on the cross. He is the propitiator, so that he preserves and protects his own. He pleads our case before the Father. He is our advocate.
Christ is intimately involved in our lives:
Christ is the one who answers for us. I don’t have to explain myself to God. He does the explaining. The intercession of Christ is directed towards the work of perfecting us and completely restoring us to a sinless life in the presence of God. When we understand the intimate details of God toward man, we see the terrible accountability man faces on judgment day; but we also see what was nailed to the cross with Christ; so that we can be made pure and free from condemnation. We are told that on judgment day God will judge the thoughts and intents of man. Jesus says man will give an account of every idol word. Nothing about man escapes God’s attention. In Matt 10:30 Jesus says the very hairs of your head have been numbered.
Ps 139:17 ¶ How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them!
Ps 139:18 If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: When I awake, I am still with thee.
When Christians puzzle over what God is seeking to do in their lives, the answer is here. His goal is to purify our motives and our thoughts. There is no detail about our life that is outside of his domain. As our intercessor those details are his concern. In the light of that we must understand that we have no problem too big for God? He knows and is attending to our motives and intentions? If we are saved Christ has taken all our sins upon himself and he is our advocate before the throne.
As we go through life we may occasionally be surprised by something we do. I hear people say I never thought I was capable of that. God is never surprised. It is his intercession that protects us from ourselves. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened because God knew his thoughts and intentions and allowed him circumstances to happen that cemented his intentions in actions. David understood this and prayed “Lead me in plain paths because of the enemy (Ps 27:11. See also Prov. 3:6).” Among our prayers to our great High Priest includes this hope that God will preserve and protect us from our flesh, even as we wait for him to complete our transformation. We find assurance in knowing this is also Christs prayer for us.
Heb 8:2 A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.
This is very important. The tabernacle or tent is the tent of meeting. God told Moses to set up the tabernacle in the wilderness where he would meet his people. This was where the sacrifices would be accomplished. Here is where the priests would fulfill their ministry. Now we are being told that Christ fulfils his ministry in a tabernacle where God meets sinners. But it is not a tabernacle on earth; it is a tabernacle in heaven. It is not just like the earthly tabernacle; it is superior. The tabernacle on earth was not the place where full salvation was accomplished. The true tabernacle is in heaven and it is not made by man, it is only made by God. We see in this a new creation or perhaps a recreation. God is putting things back into correct relationship to himself. The initiative can only be his because he is the offended party.
Heb 8:3 For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.
The point here is that when the priest went into the tabernacle, he did not go in empty handed. He took a sacrifice. What Jesus had to offer is the subject of chapters 9 and 10.
Heb 8:4 For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law:
If Christ were on the earth he would not be a priest. He is not qualified to be a priest. He is not a Levite; he is of the tribe of Judah. He doesn’t meet the requirements of the Levitical priesthood. The Law stipulates that through Aaron the tribe of Levy would be the priests. If the tabernacle on earth is of unending importance, then Christ is not even a priest according to the Law. But the tabernacle on the earth covers the violations of the Law of Moses. That is the Law of sin and death. It does not deliver man. It condemns him and covers him so he can dwell with God on earth without suffering from God’s wrath. But our High Priest is in heaven.
Heb 8:5 who serve that which is a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, even as Moses is warned of God when he is about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was showed thee in the mount.
God told Moses that a pattern for the tabernacle existed and he was to copy it exactly. The tabernacle and priesthood on earth were parables. They pointed to a reality beyond themselves. They pointed to the need for man to be free from sin and death and united to God, but they were powerless to bring those things to pass.
The last two studies should have made this clear. The writer of Hebrews is saying they should have seen that there had to be something more. Natural man was still trapped in his sins. In his heart he continually resisted God’s will because he by nature was self-willed and always served his own appetites and ambitions. How could he ever become a person whose life was caught up in love for God or become a person whose constant prayer was “thy will be done.” The natural man couldn’t. It was impossible.
God for his part was Holy and needed to redeem man so man could be holy in his presence. The command was always there “Be holy for I am holy.” The old priesthood could have filled the ocean with the blood of animals and it would not have been enough. A thousand generations could have repeated the sacrifices, but it wouldn’t change the real problem; man is a sinner and the wages of sin is death. The Law of Moses could not justify man and it had no power to change his heart.
They should have seen the inadequacy of the tabernacle. It had the glory of God in it, but it was actually pointing to something else. The earthly priests were a copy and a shadow. They were real but not ultimate reality. They point to something more real.
Heb 8:5….. See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was showed thee in the mount.
The writer is saying if they had read Exodus carefully they would have seen that when God told Moses to build the tabernacle he told him to build it according to a pattern. Make it like this: a blue print. Where was the real? From the very beginning the earthly tabernacle was a pattern for something in heaven. We will look at that in detail in our Exodus study on Wednesday nights. It is chapter 25 to 40 with a couple of chapters in the middle dealing with the golden calf incident. As I said God’s revelation is given in the midst of an ongoing history so human events are mixed with an ongoing revelation.
Exodus gives intimate details of everything from the boards, to the curtains and the rings to the curtains; furniture, mercy seat, and all the rest.
Ex 25:40 And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was showed thee in the mount.
A tabernacle today represents something spiritual or religious to most people but in scripture is simply means a tent. This is the tent of meeting where God meets with his people.
Israel needed a tent because they were wandering in the wilderness and could not build a temple. The tabernacle was mobile and could travel with them. This does not mean a blanket over a rope. Many of the Bedouins still reside in tents that are like traveling palaces. They are spacious. They have giant rugs and pillows, and are very comfortable. Tents vary with rank and power. The Tabernacle was a visible symbol of great rank and power. What they lack was a permanent source of water. Bedouins must continue to move for grazing ground and water for their flocks and herds.
This is what the tabernacle was like. It was a massive tent that was ornate in beauty. It was the type of tent that royalty would have traveled in. It demonstrates to everyone that someone of great wealth and power was in their presence. But it was a type and pattern of something else. It was where God met the people through the blood of the sacrifices.
Adam and Eve got the death sentence the day they sinned, but God set the pattern by killing an innocent animal and clothing them with the skins. Perhaps there is a connection with Leviticus where the priests kept the skins of most sacrifices. Adam and Eve were clothed in the sense that the sacrifice paid or compensated for them. Verse six concludes what he has said.
Heb 8:6 ¶ But now hath he obtained a ministry the more excellent, by so much as he is also the mediator of a better covenant, which hath been enacted upon better promises.
Jesus serves in the heavenly presence of God. In every step the priest took to access God; and to mediate the promises given by God through Moses, Jesus is superior. Every covenant requires a mediator. In the first covenant Moses was the mediator. He set down the terms by which the covenant would operate. The priest interceded with sacrifices when the terms of the covenant were violated. This was the law. In the New Covenant Jesus is both the mediator and the priest. What he does according to Romans chapter three is to provide us with righteousness apart from the law, by grace through faith. This is an exceedingly better promise.
The covenant of old was not without its fault. It wasn’t faulty in that it failed to operate. It did what it was intended to do. God created it and God intended that it would be transitory. It was never intended to be the final covenant. It was never intended to be the once for all. The problem was that it had no power to reach a point of conclusion. When Jesus said on the cross “It is finished” that alone concluded the problem of sin and death.
1Co 15:54 But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
1Co 15:55 O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?
1Co 15:56 The sting of death is sin; and the power of sin is the law:
1Co 15:57 but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Co 15:58 ¶ Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord.
Three things are conquered here: sin, death, and vanity. Now we are pregnant with eternal purpose in Christ.
Heb 8:7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second.
Since we have confessed him as our Lord and savior he has forgiven us. The old system offered no hope because it never ended. The old system had daily, weekly, monthly and an annual sacrifice; it had sacrifices for holy days and other things. As soon as the sacrifices were made they committed more sins that were added to their account as a nation and as individuals. What verse 7 says, is that they should have seen the futility in an endless system that never finished anything. If it had been faultless there would be no need for another. It would have succeeded and concluded itself. The author says they should have seen this, but not only should they have seen it; they were told it in scripture. The author is about to quote a whole passage; Jeremiah 31:31-34, the largest quote in the New Testament. We’ll look at that in detail later. What it told them was God would provide another covenant.
HEB 8:8 For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
He identifies the fault as them. The problem was they were fallen men who were self-centered, ambitious and pursued what was right in their own eyes. They were full of lust, full of hate, driven by the desire for power; and focused on their own appetites, all of which made it impossible for the Old Covenant to work. The fault was never with the law. It was man’s inability to keep the Law.
Ro 7:12 Therefore the law indeed is holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good.
Ro 7:13 Did then that which is good become death to me? May it never be! But sin, that it might be shown to be sin, by working death to me through that which is good; that through the commandment sin might become exceeding sinful
The point of the Law was to take away all pretense and expose man for what he is. His guilt was laid bare and he had to sacrifice an expensive animal to get it covered. That was better than the alternative, but it left them always needing something more.
The word “new” here is not a renewed covenant, such as you see where God calls the Hebrews to return to him. The Greek here means qualitatively different. Something of a different order than what came before. Notice also who the New Covenant is with? It is Israel. The church is not Israel. We’ll come back to that.
Heb 8:9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.
The New Covenant cannot be in accordance with the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant did not enable the people to keep the law? No one was ever made righteous or justified by the law. It set a standard and they fell short of it. Consequently they abandoned it time and again.
In Hebrews 3:10-12 the author warned them not to do exactly what the Hebrews did in the Old Covenant.
Heb 3:10 Wherefore I was displeased with this generation, And said, They do always err in their heart: But they did not know my ways;
Heb 3:11 As I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.
Heb 3:12 Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God:
The New is created because that problem existed in the Old. The natural man, being self-centered, naturally has an evil heart of unbelief. He lives for himself and does not see that he was made to live for God, on God’s terms. He always falls away from God. Paul says to be carnally minded is death and enmity with God. There is no reconciliation possible. Why is the warning here? The Hebrew Christians still had the temple and they lived in the land. They were weighing options and trying to figure out what part of the old system they should hold onto. The answer is clear. None of it! It didn’t work. Why? Under the Old Covenant the Hebrew continued to be natural men. They walked after the flesh.
This was what the Holy Spirit was sorting out for the Hebrew. This was a real battle. Once they received the Holy Spirit the Spirit began the battle of bringing them to the point of seeing their flesh crucified in Christ (Rom. 6) and in this, seeing that they were called to be new creatures in Christ. In this context they were to walk away from the old Law of Sin and Death and finding completion in the Law of the Spirit and Life.
Ga 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
Ga 5:17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
Ga 5:18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
In Gal 3 Paul rebukes the Galatians for being bewitched into believing another gospel which was not another gospel. People who were trying to get the church to follow the laws of Moses had seduced them into keeping Sabbath worship and getting circumcision. Paul asks a pointed question: having begun in the Spirit, will you now be made perfect in the flesh? He lamented that he might have preached to them in vain and warned them to leave the legalists and let God judge them when he returned in wrath in the Second Coming.
Jeremiah prophesied that God had a solution to man’s problems and it required something completely qualitatively different.
What the author is implying here is a need for a covenant that can keep them from disregarding it and going after false idols. They could not continue in the old. Does this imply that the new covenant is intended to cause them to continue in it? If the failure of the old was that they walked away from it the new must remedy that problem. Can the New Covenant do that? This is the point the author will be building on.