In chapter 1, we saw that because God’s Son was a better everything, it gave Him a name better than the angels (especially one angel in particular that has designs of his own on how things will go). That Son mad propitiation, or atonement for us, and then sat down because that work was finished. As a result, we read in chapter 2 that we need to pay closer attention to the things we have heard about Jesus and the truth that He is God’s chosen method of communicating with us today so that we would not drift away from it. The picture used was that of a safe harbour, and a navigator that was not paying due attention, slipped past the harbour entrance and shipwrecked on the rocks.
Then we are treated by the author to an exposition on Psalm 8, and it is hinted that God has some grand design for humans to be His universal administrators in the age to come. There was a definite statement of how for a short period of time, humans were made lower than the angels, but that in the end we would be at least equal to the angels in status and power. This is a definite thing, according to the author, although for now we do not see that – but we DO see HIM. The Son. We see Jesus, made like a man – one who tasted death for everyone that would ever believe in Him, and who incidentally made everything, including the angels – and He is a kind of forerunner and leader of those coming administrators, the coming priest-kings of the universe that will have sovereignty of, for, and by God.
This makes Jesus our high priest, it says at the end, one who now because he was made like us in that he suffered death, can have mercy on us, and who is faithful to extend to us grace as we are sanctified, that is made holy, like He is holy. Now in chapter 3, the book turns to who this Son Jesus is, and it begins by telling us to consider Him, and compares Him to Moses. Moses gave the Law, the old Covenant. By comparison, Jesus gave the New Covenant. Both were written by the will and hand of God. Both required obedience. As a result, it compares the two covenants and what obedience and disobedience looked like and warranted under each.
Chapter 4 was a basic gospel presentation aimed at those who were intellectually attuned to the message, but had not yet made a commitment to follow the Lord into the redemption He secured by his high priestly sacrifice. The author of Hebrews very clearly showed that Jesus sacrificed Himself so that we could enter His rest for us, and that to enter, we needed to believe Him and what He said. The basic problem that people seem to have when we consider this is is that they all claim to be servants of the Master. But think about this what does it look like from the outside when people either do what they are told so they can be saved or believe and obey so that they are saved and then do the work to please the Master? It’s difficult to tell, because the work completed looks exactly the same, does it not? And yet only faith by grace will save us, not works, so that we can’t brag about how good we are – but if we truly are redeemed, then we can be bold in our approach to His throne and find mercy when we need it.
Chapter 5 went on to talk more about the eternal Son and how he received a new, different, and better priesthood than the Levitical priesthood because He offered a better sacrifice (it was a once-for-all sacrifice) because it was permanent and unlike Levitical sacrifices, was not offered by a sinful priest, but instead the sinless Son, and unlike the animal that was a mere picture or shadow of the sacrifice that Christ would offer, He offered His own life, which was good and acceptable in the eyes of God the Father. As a result, God raised Christ from the dead, and made Him to be high priest of a different, better, and more ancient priesthood, the order of Melchizedek. We looked briefly at the man Melchizedek, and then took a look at what maturity looked at how those who were developing maturity in Christ were engaged in discernment actively at all times, testing whether things were from the Lord or not.
Chapter 6 says some very hard things to hear, and it even sounds like some of those “you can lose your salvation if you aren’t careful” people that I disagree with. You MUST remember that there are three groups of people that would be the target of this sermon. Believers, who I do NOT believe were the target of the harder remarks, those who were intellectually convinced but who had not yet made a life commitment to the Messiah (who the comments ARE aimed at), and finally the basic unbeliever, so just like a standard church congregation today. I think verse 9 said it all – “We are convinced of better things concerning you, things that accompany salvation, even though we are speaking this way.”
Chapter 7 begins the explanation of the harder things that the author was speaking of earlier in the letter, beginning with an individual that has in our study become very important – the person of Melchizedek. Melchizedek is unique in Scripture as a gentile priest, who was the ancient king of the ancient city of Jerusalem, before it was ever called Jerusalem. The author of Hebrews tells us that the Messiah, our Lord Jesus, is a priest forever after the order of this man Melchizedek. He has a great deal to say about him, and why this other and better priesthood is necessary. That brings us to chapter 8, where we are today.
I broke the chapter into the following thought units, or paragraphs, and gave them titles to clarify what I was seeing in the chapter.
KV6 – The More Excellent Service
1-3 – A Heavenly High Priest
4-6 – Earthly Types and Shadows
7-13 – A New Covenant that Dissolves the Old
KV6 – The More Excellent Service
The author of this sermon or letter makes a couple of strong points in this chapter. The first of those is that the real High Priest is the High Priest in Heaven, and not on earth, because this Priest did NOT come from the Levitical priestly line. Second, this “more excellent service” of verse 6 is something NEW from the Old Mosaic Law. Verse 6 tells us that it is a “better covenant” and is based on “better promises” than the Old Covenant. The Apostle Paul talked about this in his letter to the Galatians, where some of them wanted to return to the Old Covenant. He pointed out in no uncertain terms that the Old Covenant could NOT save anyone, but that the New Covenant could. So let’s get into the chapter.
1-3 – A Heavenly High Priest
These first three verses are really summing up the last chapter, where we talked about the order of Melchizedek, and how Jesus, the Son of God became the High Priest of that order. We learned that this order is more ancient than the Levitical priests instituted by Moses. We also learned that its symbols were bread and wine, which Jesus used and made ordinances for the New Covenant. We learned that Melchizedek was an archetype of the coming Messiah, our Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus, after offering His own life as a perfect sacrifice to atone for all the sins of all those who would ever believe, ascended into heaven and sat down with God on His throne.
1: Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,
- There is
a key phrase here. “The main
point…is…” When you see these
four words in close proximity and in this order, you can think to yourself
that the author is making a summation of what they have just said. That includes in order:
- We have such a High Priest. Remember, the job of the priest is twofold – they are to stand and present atonement for sinful man to God, and then are to represent God in His dealings with Mankind.
- That High Priest has taken His seat. Anyone who grew up in farm country can tell you that the only time you actually got to sit down was when the work was finished. Our High Priest did His work once for all, and it was effective for all who believe.
- That seat is at the right hand of God. The Majesty in the heavens is a name for God the Father. Why is this important? Well, do you think the King of the Universe will share His throne or even His proximity with just anyone? Of course not. But His Son? You better believe it!
2: a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.
- A minister in the sanctuary. Can anyone guess what “minister” means? The word usage has changed surprisingly little since the days of the Apostles. It means “servant.” The word for sanctuary is hagios, the word translated for holy. In this case it refers to the holy place in what the author calls the “true tabernacle.” The Tabernacle is a reference to the “tent of meeting” that God had Moses build. It was the very first formal place for the worship of Yahweh. From the context here in this verse, I believe it is a reference to the Holiest place, where God sits.
- Which the Lord pitched, not man. This is how we know we are talking about the heavenly tabernacle. God pitched it and not man. I don’t want to make a bigger deal of this than the author does, but this illustrates a principle about the New Covenant under which believers are saved. It is God that did it, not man of whom we may say they had no part in it. What does that say about our salvation? Well, God did it, and not man. And when it says the Lord did it, the very clear reference is to Jesus, from the use in Greek of the word kurios. It is only the work of Jesus that saves us. Think about this for a moment. It is NOT the “sacraments.” It is neither the bread nor the wine in the symbols we share in our communion services. There is no location on earth that we must visit. An example of what I mean is brought to you courtesy of my Systematic Theology professor. It is his assertion that in order to be truly saved, one MUST be water-baptized. According to him, there are notable exceptions, like the thief on the cross. However, I can think of examples beyond just the thief on the cross. What of the Roman soldier that guarded the Apostle James? His life had so impressed his guard, that at the time of James’ execution, that guard chose to die with him as a brother. He never came close to water. Was he unsaved? I don’t think so. More along that line, I have heard that a current recording artist was baptized in the Jordan river where Jesus was baptized like that was some super spiritual thing. You know what, friends? I was baptized in a swimming pool 3 years after the Lord saved me. Was I unsaved for those 3 years? Again, I don’t think so. And was the baptism in the swimming pool of lesser value than the one in the Jordan River? Again, I don’t think so. If a regenerated person is baptized in a bathtub for lack of any other spot, that’s obeying Christ. If an unregenerate person is baptized in the Jordan River, all he got was wet, not saved. I know it sounds like I’m belabouring the point, but I’m not. This is critically important. None of the things like location, works we do, places we are baptized, or sufferings we have undergone save us. GOD saves us, NOT man. Every time.
3: For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer.
- This now starts to look at the logistics of this if you will. A high priest should have something to offer in terms of gifts (the giving of thanks to God) and sacrifices (the atonement for wrongs done). What is being said here is that this New Covenant is no different in terms of the administration of it than the Old Covenant. Our High Priest had to have both things.
4-6 – Earthly Types and Shadows
Here we need to consider something. We speak primarily of two covenants in this consideration, which theologians through history have called the Old and the New Covenants. BOTH have value and meaning in time, but more importantly the two are in complete union in relation to each other. We do not have two different Gods administering two different covenants. Men (Andy Stanley to name one) have tried to dissociate the two from each other, and this is never good. It leads to a very old heresy called Marcionism, named after its father, Marcion, which attempts to remove the Old Covenant from Christianity, and this results in something called Antinomianism, or “without law,” which is an erroneous belief that Christians are not obligated to follow God’s law, including the moral law as reflected in the ten commandments.
In my years as a Christian (more than 34 now), I have heard it put this way – The New is in the Old contained, and the Old is by the New explained. (I’ve heard a variation based on the concealed/revealed rhyming couplet as well.) If this is indeed the case, as I contend, then we should be able to see this in the relation between the two covenants. And for the record, I have never seen that little phrase be wrong in 34 years, even if it too me a little while to figure out a meaning or three. This next section is an example of this.
4: Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law;
- And this is no ordinary priesthood and no ordinary covenant that is done with manmade things. Note the conditional “IF.” IF He were on earth, He would not even BE a priest under the Law, which we have discussed repeatedly as the Mosaic Law, or the Old Covenant. Moses said that the priests that administered that covenant were from the tribe of Levi where he himself and his brother Aaron were from. Our High Priest is from Judah, the son of David according to the flesh.
5: who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.”
- And that priesthood under the Old Covenant serve only a shadow and copy of the heavenly reality. Do you see that? What God actually did was give Moses (and those who worked with him) a pattern based on heavenly objects that already existed there. All we have here is a shadow or a type (Exo. 25:29). Our High Priest did His work here on the earth, but He did it with things that would be accepted by the Divine Sovereign. In terms of Gift, He gave His sinless life, lived completely in accordance with the will of God. In terms of Sacrifice, He offered that sinless life and gave it up for us, bringing His own blood as the perfect sacrifice. As Moses did not depart from the works that God showed him to perform, so Jesus did not ever depart from the works that God showed Him to do. The Levitical priests served only types and shadows, while our High Priest served the God of Heaven, His Father.
6: But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.
- As a result of that heavenly work of reality (of which these types and shadows in the Old Covenant all speak), Jesus has obtained that “more excellent ministry” of that “better covenant” that is based on “better promises.” And what is that particular service that He renders? MEDIATOR. The Greek literally means, “a go-between.” Where man has a need to be reconciled to God, Jesus has provided the reconciliation. Where God needs to forgive man of their sins, Jesus has provided the forgiveness. And because He is ALSO God and shares the ability with the Father to be everywhere at once, AND because of the substitutionary sacrifice that Jesus made on the behalf of all those that would ever believe in Him, that forgiveness and reconciliation is possible, and only under the New Covenant that was paid for by His own sacrifice of His own blood, which He brought into that true and heavenly tabernacle as the High Priest of the Order of Melchizedek, once for all, so that all who believe are His.
7-13 – A New Covenant that Dissolves the Old
This brings me to the third thought unit that I saw this time. The author of Hebrews here exposits Jeremiah 31:31-34 for us, and shows what he means. It turns out that this New covenant was indeed foreseen and forecast, and by more than just Jeremiah, which is the Old Testament prophet that he chooses to use to make the point of the Holy Spirit as the true and heavenly author of this book. He shows the need for something new, explains just what it will be, and then explains its effects on the old. Let’s have a look.
7: For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.
- Here we see that the details of things. The first covenant, or the Mosaic, or the Old Covenant was not faultless. Although it doesn’t say why here, it has before, and the main fault is that it did not atone for sins. There was no clause in the Law that could actually set things right in terms of making them right before God, the only way to escape the wrath of God. Also, it could not perfect, or sanctify anything. Given that is these things are the specific needs of sinners, that’s a BIG deal.
- This occasioned the second covenant, the New Covenant. This covenant did both atone for sins and make sinners right before a holy and wrathful God, and it makes those who will follow the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit by faith (that firm persuasion of Jesus in His role as Messiah) holy! Given that we are unable to do that ourselves, THAT is a deal.
- The next set of verses are all about the New covenant compared with the Old.
Because verse 8-12 are a quotation of Jeremiah 31:31-34, I always like to do a verse-to-verse comparison of how it read when Jeremiah wrote it and how the Holy Spirit sheds new light on it. This is always instructive to me, so I share the method with you.
|Jeremiah 31||Hebrews 8|
|31: “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,||8: For finding fault with them, He says, “Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect A new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah;|
|32: not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.||9: Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers ON the day when I took them by the hand TO lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in MY covenant, And I did not care for them, says the Lord.|
|33: “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.||10: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, says the Lord: I will put MY laws into their minds, And I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be MY people.|
|34a: They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,”||11: “And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ For all will know ME, From the least to the greatest of them.|
|34b: declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”||12: “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.”|
8: The very first thing we should notice in Hebrews 8 is that the Holy Spirit is explaining through the author of the letter that this quotation is what deals with the complaint, the fault that the LORD finds with the Old Covenant by describing the New Covenant. Here, God speaking through the prophet Jeremiah says that He will put in place a New Covenant with both Israel and Judah. This takes away the argument that Judean exclusivists would have expressed, and quite frankly takes the argument of Armstrongism (aka British Israelism) out of the equation. Both parties would have argued that the 10 tribes went into captivity and were lost, but those of us who understand that there would have been a migration of people in Israel that wanted to follow YHWH to Judah, and a simultaneous migration to the north from Judah that did NOT want to follow the ways of YHWH. The 10 tribes were never “lost.” I am a Gentile, and I have no need (according to Col. 3:11 among other places) to be anything else. So the New Covenant will be made to include all of the original nation, at the very least.
9: To differentiate this New Covenant, God tells us that THIS Covenant is DIFFERENT than the first one that God references as the one He made with the people when He brought them out of Egypt, and that is a specific reference to the Mosaic Covenant. This covenant, God informs us, they BROKE in Jeremiah. Notice the difference between Hebrews 8:9, “They did not continue in My covenant, and I did not care for them.” It sounds like a business arrangement. Jeremiah puts a stronger impression in my mind in verse 32: “My covenant that they BROKE, although I was a husband to them.” The intimacy that God describes applies to the new covenant as well. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.
10: Both Jeremiah and the author of Hebrews say a mouthful! God will put His law into the minds of His chosen people. He will write them on their hearts. He will be the God of this chosen people! And those people will be HIS! And it gets even better.
11: This verse outright says that there will be no unbelievers among those people. There will be no need to teach people about the Gospel, because everyone will know and believe it, from the least to the greatest. That tells us that there will be a variance in what some will know and experience, but they will ALL get to know and experience God Himself.
12: The reason here that God Himself gives for this? His mercy. He will forgive their wrong deeds, and will forget not only the deeds, but the nature that made that people sinners. Now let me ask. Is god able to “forget” pieces of information? I don’t know, but it is something that could be taken a number of ways. I think the best way to think about this is that God will not give that knowledge any weight or expression for those that have this New Covenant apply to their own lives. The reason I say that is that I don’t think God can actually “forget.” We need for a brief moment to consider the attribute of God called Omniscience. An old western series used a conjured word: “disremember.” A choice not to recall it. Because God is omniscient. He knows all things. He can’t just forget things. He can, however, choose what weight and influence that information receives, and if will receive none in His new order, then it is the same as if He forgot.
13: When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
- This is a critical point, and some as we have discussed, have missed the point of this statement. This New Covenant does NOT ABOLISH the LAW. As the Greek implies, it makes the Law and its purpose obsolete because it replaces it with a mind and heart that WANT to serve God, as opposed to a drudgery to follow. It simply isn’t needed to compel willing participants in holiness and purity. Now the Old is “ready to disappear.” It has not yet disappeared, because our hearts are not yet made perfect in the glory of His holiness. We have not yet been glorified.
I must add to this that the way of salvation has always been by the grace of God, by faith in Christ alone, even if it was looking forward to Christ’s sacrifice as we now look back on those events. Adam and Eve, Abel, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and a whole host of others all believed and it was counted to them as righteousness. Through Abraham, all nations were blessed – with the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ. And all those who believe through all of time will know the promise of this New Covenant. His Law is in our thoughts to guide our actions, and it is in our hearts to guide our desires. He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.
As His people, we are called to a better covenant, based on better promises, leading to a better service for Him. Oh, I’m sorry, did you think this was about sitting on clouds playing harps? Oh no, dear friends. We are called to serve Him – and we will WANT to do it. And even if you don’t right now, you WILL want to, because He is at work in us, both in the willing and the doing of His good pleasure.
If I can draw any application from this, it is to do just that – serve him, and learn to be willing to be doing His good pleasure.
And that’s chapter 8!