HIGH PRIEST OF A NEW COVENANT

Hebrews 8:1-13

Central to the structure of Godís relationship with men was the concept of the covenant. A covenant was more than just a treaty. It was both a legal contract and a formalized bond of life and death sealed with an oath.

The mediator of such a covenant was the priest. He was the one who would represent man to God and God to men. He officiated over the sacrifice and he brought the blood to the altar. He went into the presence of God on behalf of men.

In the last chapter, we saw that Jesus was our high priest. His priesthood was not of the Aaronic priesthood, for he was not a descendant of Levi. His priesthood was of a much older line of priests ó one that went all the way back to the days of Abraham. His was of the Melchizedek priesthood.

 

A BETTER HIGH PRIEST

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, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. (Hebrews 8:1-2).

Everything that has been said in Hebrews up to this point has been to bring us to this one main point ó we have a high priest in the person of Jesus. We saw at the very beginning of this epistle that God has spoken in a Son who sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. This is now repeated nearly word for word. We have come full circle to see Jesus.

It is one thing to see Jesus as our high priest. It is quite another to see Him as our high priest who has taken His seat. The one thing that no Old Testament priest ever did was to take his seat. Priests in the temple always stood. There were no seats in the temple or the tabernacle. The only seat was Godís seat - the mercy seat. This was the lid of the Ark of the Covenant and no priest would ever have dreamed of even touching the Ark let alone actually sitting on it. But Jesus did exactly that. He is the priest who sat down. And notice where it was that He sat ó at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.

Just in case you didnít hear that, it is repeated for us in verse two. The place where Jesus sat as our high priest was not in any earthly tabernacle or temple. His place of honor was in heaven itself.

We will be seeing a contrast in the next two chapters between that which is in heaven verses that which in on earth.

On Earth

In Heaven

High priest after the order of Aaron

High priest after the order of Melchizedek

Never sat down, but was constantly ministering in the temple

He has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens

An earthly temple built by human hands

The true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man

There are two things of which we ought to take note with regard to Jesus sitting at the right hand of God.

1. To be seated at the right hand was to be seated in the place of honor. The right hand was used for fellowship and for eating. The left hand was used for more mundane tasks. Jesus has been given the place of honor in heaven.

2. In the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of Israel, it was the custom for two scribes to sit on either side of the judges of that court. The scribe who sat on the right hand side would write the acquittals. The scribe who sat on the left hand side would write the condemnations.

Jesus has been given the seat of pardon. His ministry has been one of bringing pardon and forgiveness to men.

But that is not all. In Revelation 3:21 Jesus promises that to Him who overcomes, I will grant to sit with Me in My throne. There is coming a day when we shall not only see Jesus seated at the right hand of God, but when we shall sit with Him. This is not because we are good or deserving, but because He has been good and deserving in our place.

The place of Christís ministry is in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man (8:2). This is in contrast to the tabernacle which Moses erected in the wilderness.

The Earthly Tabernacle

The Heavenly Tabernacle

The sanctuary and tabernacle which Moses pitched in the wilderness

The sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man

The shadow

The real after which the shadow is patterned

Old Covenant

New Covenant

This will be more fully developed in the next chapter. The point is that the Tabernacle which Moses built and the Temple which eventually replaced it were only scale replicas of the true heavenly reality.

Does this mean that there is a literal temple in heaven? It might. You go to the book of Revelation and look over Johnís shoulder to see what he saw in his heavenly vision and you will see a description of the Temple. But more importantly, the Tabernacle and the Temple both pictured the heavenly reality of what Jesus has done in our salvation.

You want to know about redemption? Look at the Tabernacle, for it is pictured there. Propitiation is represented on the altar. A substitutionary atonement is seen in the sacrifice lamb.

Everything in and about the Tabernacle was representative of the spiritual reality that we have in Christ.

 

A BETTER SACRIFICE

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. (Hebrews 8:3).

The major function of any priest was the administration of gifts and sacrifices. That was in their job description. Sometimes these were big sacrifices like an oxen or a bull and sometimes they were little sacrifices like a pigeon or a dove. But they always offered sacrifices.

For Jesus to be a priest means that He also had to offer a sacrifice. But He did not offer an animal. He offered Himself. He is the high priest who sacrificed Himself, placing Himself upon the altar of Godís holy condemnation.

 

A BETTER TABERNACLE

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; 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." (Hebrews 8:4-5).

The realm of Jesusí priesthood is not on earth. This is evident because there already exists an earthly priesthood and Jesus did not fit the criteria for that priesthood. He was from the wrong tribe. He was from the tribe of Judah while all priests descended from the tribe of Levi.

The reason we can say that Jesus is a legitimate priest is because His priesthood is heavenly in nature. Notice the continuation of the contrast that was introduced in verse 2.

The Earthly Tabernacle

The Heavenly Tabernacle

The sanctuary and tabernacle which Moses pitched in the wilderness

The sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man (8:2)

The shadow (8:2)

The real after which the shadow is patterned

Old Covenant

New Covenant

A copy and shadow of the heavenly things (8:4)

The reality after which the earthly things were copied

The pattern which was shown to Moses on the holy mountain (8:5)

The reality from which the pattern is derived.

The earthly Tabernacle and Temple were nothing but shadows. A shadow has no independent substance or existence. When a shadow exists, it is evidence of a reality which created that shadow.

When Moses was given the directions for building the Tabernacle, they were extremely precise as to the dimensions and the building materials. He was warned not to deviate from this pattern. Why was this so important? It was because it was all a shadow of a spiritual reality.

The shadows of the Old Testament were designed to point to the reality that is in Christ. He is the real thing which gives the shadow its shape and form. He defines the shadow.

Did you ever see the stage play version of Peter Pan? He was the little boy who had determined not to grow up. We have already likened the Hebrews to that little boy in this desire ó they wanted to remain in the babyhood of the Old Testament Covenant. But here is another likeness. In the stage play, Peter Pan attempts to capture his shadow and to sew it back onto himself. It is rather silly to our way of thinking, because that is not what you do with shadows. But it was equally silly on the part of the Hebrews, for they were attempting to "sew back on" their shadow of the Old Covenant stipulations.

 

A BETTER COVENANT

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. (Hebrews 8:6).

The priests were the mediators of a covenant. God had established His covenant with the nation of Israel. There were stipulations to this covenant relationship and it was the duty of the priest to mediate the sacrificial and ceremonial aspects of these stipulations.

There is nothing wrong with the Old Covenant. It was made between a holy God and His covenant people. But today there is a better covenant ó a New Covenant.

When you use the word "new" in the Greek language, you can use one of two words:

Neos - New in the sense of production - "I have a new car." You might have a new car, but it only means that it is new in the sense that you have it and you did not have it before.

Kainos - New in the sense of quality - "This is a new invention." This is new in the sense that it has not been previous known.

The New Covenant is new in the kainos sense. It is a new thing which was previously unknown. God has done something new in Christ that He had never done before. It is both new and it is better.

What makes the New Covenant better? It is better because it has been enacted on better promises. What those promises are we shall see in just a minute. But the first and most obvious promise of the Old Covenant is that there would be a New Covenant to replace it.

 

THE OLD COVENANT ASSUMED A BETTER COVENANT TO COME

For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.

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; 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. (Hebrews 8:7-9).

One of the Old Covenant promises was that there would eventually come a day when a New Covenant was established. The promise of this coming New Covenant can be found in several places in the Old Testament.

Donít miss the implications of this! The fact that a New Covenant was promised which would replace the Old Covenant assumes that there is a problem in the Old Covenant which needs to be remedied by the New Covenant. Youíve heard the old saying, "If itís not broken, donít fix it." If the Old Covenant was not somehow lacking, then there would have been no need for a New Covenant to be given to take its place.

The fact that a New Covenant was promised while the Old Covenant was still in effect assumes that there was a need for something better than the Old Covenant that was in place. The writer to the Hebrews points this out by quoting a portion of the promise:

The Old Covenant

The New Covenant

If that first covenant had been faultless...

...there would have been no occasion sought for a second

For finding fault with them...

"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..."

"...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,"

This will be a continuing covenant which will last forever.

 

WHAT MAKES THE NEW COVENANT BETTER

"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. 11 And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, Ďknow the Lord,í for all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. 12 For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more."

When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. (Hebrews 8:10-13).

We have already noted that the New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant. Now we shall see four specific reasons why this is so.

  1. The New Covenant is Better because it is an Internal Covenant: I will put my laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts (8:10).
  2. The participant in the New Covenant has something that the believer of past ages never had. He has the Holy Spirit living within him. He has the Keeper of the Covenant indwelling him. And that makes a big difference. It means that God has gifted His people in a special way, working from the inside out.

  3. The New Covenant is Better because it in All-Inclusive: And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, Ďknow the Lord,í for all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them (8:11).
  4. The Old Covenant was primarily Jewish in scope. It was focused upon the land of Israel and upon the sacrifices that took place in Jerusalem. If you wanted to enter the Old Covenant and were not Jewish, you had to proselyte to Judaism. This called for circumcision and an adherence to the Law.

    But this changes with the New Covenant. Even though it is made with the House of Judah and with the House of Israel, it looks outward to the world to invite all men to enter the Kingdom.

  5. The New Covenant is Better because it Forgives Sins: For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more (8:12).
  6. The Israelites broke the Old Covenant. God wrote His commands on tablets of stone and when the Israelites disobeyed, Moses took the tablets and shattered them. But the New Covenant is not written upon tablets of stone. It is written in menís hearts. And because it is written in menís hearts, it brings with it the means of fulfilling its obligations.

    How can you possibly fulfill the obligations of the New Covenant? It is only by trusting in the One who fulfilled them on your behalf. That is what verse 12 says: For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.

    This was the greatest failure of the Old Covenant. It could not forgive sins. It could temporarily cover sins with animal sacrifices that looked forward to a future fulfillment. But the blood of sheep and goats can never take away sin. For this there needed to be a New Covenant relationship.

  7. The New Covenant is Better because is does not become Obsolete: When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear (8:13).

All other things being equal, new is better than old. A new dress versus an old dress. A new loaf of bread is better than an old crusty one. People naturally gravitate to that which is new. The fact that a New Covenant was promised indicates that the Old Covenant would be rendered obsolete.

Notice the tense which the writer uses. It is the present tense. It denotes continuing action in the present time. As he was writing these words, something was taking place on the horizon that was making the Old Covenant obsolete and which would eventually cause it to disappear. What is this things that was going to happen? It would be the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. Within a few short years, the Roman legions under General Titus would besiege the city and take it. The temple would be burnt to the ground. And the sacrifices and all of its ceremony and ritual would cease.

The days of the Old Covenant are gone. We are to live by the Spirit, trusting in His power and walking in the light of His teaching. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and has brought us into a New Covenant relationship with Himself. And therefore we are called to hold onto Jesus.


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