Studies In Hebrews #4
Hebrews 7:1-10:18 discusses the priesthood of Christ and stresses its superiority to the priesthood of Aaron. We have already seen in chapter 7 the greatness of Jesus' priesthood. Beginning in chapter 8 we have a detailed discussion of the priestly work of Jesus. The writer develops three major ideas: tabernacle, covenant and sacrifice. The tabernacle was the place of the priests' work and the place where man had access to God, the covenant set forth the terms by which people could be acceptable to God and the sacrifices provided the means whereby people could approach God. The author of Hebrews considers these three ideas to show the superiority of Christ's priesthood to that of Aaron.
A More Excellent Ministry (8:1-6a)
After showing in chapter 7 the greatness of Jesus' priesthood the writer now wants his readers to understand that "we have such a high priest" (8:1). His words in chapter 7 were not expressing the rank Jesus will one day possess. Jesus NOW is serving as a great High Priest. Jesus NOW has "a ministry the more excellent" (8:6a).
This ministry of Jesus is a superior ministry because of the place of His work. He discharges the duties of His office in the "true tabernacle" (8:2). That which is genuine and not a fake or a cheap imitation is called the true thing. Jesus serves as a High Priest in the true, genuine, authentic, tabernacle "which the Lord pitched, not man" (8:2). Priest after the order of Aaron served in a tabernacle which was merely "a copy and shadow of the heavenly things" (8:5). Their tabernacle was a prototype of the true sanctuary. Thus we understand the injunction God gave Moses in the mount: "make all things according to the pattern" (8:5; cf.Ex.25:9,40; 26:30; 27:8; Num.8:4). Moses did not build the true tabernacle. He built, by God's directions, a cheap imitation of the true tabernacle which the Lord Himself built.
What is the true tabernacle? It is implied in these verses that it is heaven itself (8:1,2,5). Later the writer refers to it as "the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation" (9:11). Further he said, "For Christ entered not into a holy place made with hands, like in pattern to the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us" (9:24). Jesus now serves as our High Priest in the true, heavenly, tabernacle. At the right hand of God He is continually prepared to make intercession for us (cf.8:1; 7:25). The tabernacle of the Jews was to serve as a miniature heaven on earth - an earthly model of God's true throne and sanctuary. A "greater and more perfect tabernacle" was needed since Jesus could not be a priest at all in the earthly tabernacle since He was from the tribe of Judah (8:4; 7:14).
The ministry of Jesus, and thus His priesthood, is superior to that of Aaron since the place of His ministry is far superior to that of Aaron.
A Better Covenant (8:6b-13)
We noticed in chapter 7 that since the priesthood had been changed, "there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (7:12). Our writer explained by showing Jesus to be from the tribe of Judah (7:13,14). Aaron could not serve as priest under any other law than the law of Moses, and no non-Levitical priest could serve under the law of Moses (cf.Num.18:7). If the priesthood has changed there has of necessity been a change of law as well. The writer of Hebrews now considers this new covenant.
Jesus has already been shown to be the "surety (guarantee) of a better covenant" (7:22). He is now said to be the "mediator of a better covenant, which hath been enacted upon better promises" (8:6b). A mediator is a go-between, one who mediates. In this context Christ is the mediator between God and man (1 Tim.2:5).
Since "the law made nothing perfect" (7:19) and since its sacrifices could not "make perfect them that draw nigh" (10:1), the first covenant was judged faulty and a place had to be sought for a second, "better covenant" (8:7,8). It seems the "better promises" upon which this new covenant was enacted are the things found in Jeremiah's prophecy which our writer quotes (8:8-12) and which we now analyze.
The covenant Jesus mediated is not only a better covenant, but it is also a new covenant. "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (8:8). In the Greek language there are two words for "new". One (KAINOS) means new in kind or character. This is the word used here as well as in verse 13 and in 9:15. The other word (NEOS) signifies new in respect of time (it is often translated "younger" in the N.T.). This word is used in 12:24 when the writer speaks of Jesus being the "mediator of a new covenant". The covenant is new in both kind (character) and in respect to time.
Being new, it would have the following new distinguishing qualities:
Different: This new covenant was promised to be "not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers" (8:9). Jehovah promised to make it different from the first covenant, which was faulty (cf.8:7,8). The first was a covenant of law; the second is a covenant of grace and faith (cf.Rom. 3:24,27; 8:2). The first was only for the Jews; the second is for all people of all nations and, therefore, it is evangelistic in nature since through it people enter this new spiritual relationship with God. The fact it is a "better" covenant shows it is a "different" covenant.
Spiritual: "I will put my laws into their mind, and on their heart also will I write them" (8:10). Under the first covenant the law pertained mainly to external rites and ceremonies, to controlling the outer, physical man. The new covenant would be different in that it would relate particularly to the inner man, and would be designed to control the heart. It regulates the conscience and the principles of the soul rather than merely external matters.
This new covenant would not be written on tables of stone or brass, but on the heart of man itself. There it would be written in more longer lasting characters than if engraved on tables of stone.
Clearly the prophet was emphasizing in these words the spiritual nature of the new covenant.
Their God - My People: "I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people" (8:10). This same goal was to be achieved under the first covenant. There God said, "I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God" (Ex.6:7). There was a difference, however. Under the first covenant they were a physical nation, separated from others by natural birth and divine selection as a nation. Under the new covenant they are His by a spiritual birth (John 3:1-7), a new creation (2 Cor.5:16,17), individuals who offer themselves willingly to become the spiritual nation of Israel. The relationship spoken of here is different since it is strictly spiritual in nature.
All Shall Know Me: "They shall not teach every man his fellow-citizen, and every man his brother saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest of them" (8:11). Under the first covenant the individuals were physically born into the family of God's people. The males were circumcised on the eighth day and later they were taught to know Jehovah and His law. The order was: birth (to Jewish parents), circumcision (for the males), teaching (of God and His law). Under the new covenant things are completely turned around. For one to be in covenant relationship with God they must first learn of God and His will for us today (cf.Mk.16:15,16; Rom.10:13,14). We must then undergo a spiritual circumcision, a cutting off in the heart of our affections for the sinful things of this life (cf.Rom.2:28,29; Col.2:11,12). Finally we must experience a new, spiritual birth (John 3:1-7). It is by this new birth that one enters into God's new spiritual family.
Sins Remembered No More: One of the chief flaws of the first covenant was the fact it could not provide redemption for its people. "In those sacrifices there is a remembrance made of sins year by year" (10:3). Those sacrifices only typified and awaited the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross of Calvary. For the new covenant God promised, "I will be merciful too their iniquities, and their sins will I remember no more" (8:12). Now complete remission of sins is possible (Acts 2:38); that is, they can be blotted out (Acts 3:19) and remembered no more against us. A true spiritual relationship between God as Father and the sinner as son (or daughter), based on a knowledge of God and the complete forgiveness of sins, is certainly better promises than were offered in the first covenant.
Since the new covenant, that which sets forth the terms for people to be acceptable to God, is superior to the first covenant, the priesthood of Jesus is superior to that of Aaron.
By Alex Ogden
From Expository Files 1.7; July, 1994