A New Covenant - Part I

Hebrews 8:1-6


(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)

In our last study we examined Hebrews 7:11-28, concentrating particularly on verses 20-28. The writer demonstrated the sufficiency of the person of Jesus Christ and the completeness of His work. Christ was demonstrated as an eternal priest who is not succeeded by any other priest. The writer demonstrated, in verse 25, that Christ is the only priest who can save us permanently; 'Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.' Christ is able to save us 'forever' (completely and permanently).

People still do not understand this truth today. We have denomination after denomination that think we must obey the Ten Commandments, be baptized, confirmed, or blessed by an earthly priest, in order to be saved. But the high priesthood of Christ guarantees us that we can be completely and permanently saved through Him alone because of His present ministry of intercession for us. This does not mean that He is being sacrificed again and again. Rather, He is interceding on our behalf. This truth ties into the illustration given us in Revelation 12:10 where Satan, 'the accuser,' points out our sin to God, but Jesus is there on our behalf, and His presence there is the guarantee that His sacrifice was sufficient to cleanse us from our sins for all eternity.

Concerning Christ's character in verse 26, the writer said, 'For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens.' Christ's superiority over the Levitical priests was demonstrated even in His personal character. For example, while the Levitical priests had to offer sacrifices for their own sin, Christ did not because He was sinless. In like manner, while the Levitical priests had to make continual sacrifices for the sin of the people, Christ gave Himself as a perfect sacrifice '...once for all when He offered up Himself.' The point was clear: Jesus Christ is the one, perfect, superior great high priest who still lives today.

Hebrews 8:1-13

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, a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary that this (high priest) also have something to offer. 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; 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.' 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. 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; 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. '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 upon their hearts. and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, '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.

VERSE 1

Hebrews 8 brings us to the heart of the section of Scripture dealing with the work associated with the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. Verse 1 says, '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.' Literally, the author is saying 'the main point to what has been said and also to what is going to be said is....'

What is the main point? It is that '...we have such a high priest.... .' As one will recall, the writer has used illustrations from the Old Testament to prove Christ's superiority as high priest. In the previous illustrations, the writer has contrasted the Levitical system to that of Christ's priesthood.

Now, in chapter 8, the writer will use the Old Testament to illustrate the similarities between Christ and the Levitical high priests. The whole Levitical system was a shadow of Christ, illustrating His person and work that was to come. This is the reason John the Baptist could introduce Christ as '...the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world' (John 1:29). The Jews would have been ready for such an introduction because they understood the illustration of the lamb taking away sins, because of the Levitical system.

Jesus Himself testified to the fact that the Old Testament pointed to Him in John 5; 'You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life' (vs 39,40). We see that the Old Testament system stands in contrast to Christ, while at the same time, it has many similarities with Christ, because it points toward Christ.

The point in verse one is 'we have such a high priest....' This statement makes this verse pertinent to you and me. The Jewish Christians did not understand this truth as well as they should. They were looking to go back to the earthly system that had a high priest who was physically present. We see the same thing today when people direct their worship through something they can see and touch. Thus, this statement makes this verse very pertinent to you and me.

The writer identifies two characteristics of our high priest. First, He is 'seated.' This action is written in the aorist tense, indicating a completed activity. Notice that nothing is said concerning the sacrifice that is being given on our behalf. Why? Because it is pre-supposed that this has already been done. A high priest would not sit down if he still had sacrifices to offer. This was illustrated in the fact that there was no furniture in the Tabernacle. His work was never done. The opposite is being depicted in verse one. Jesus Christ, our great high priest, is finished with His work. There is no need for further sacrifices.

Many people still do not understand this truth today. A Roman Catholic Mass, a Protestant confirmation class, or promoting salvation by works, are all ways of saying Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross was not enough to save us from our sin. This is the same situation we have in Hebrews 8.

The fact that Christ is 'seated' is stressed five times in the book of Hebrews (1:3,8:1,10:11-12,12:2, and 13:1). Of these references, only 13:1 is not in the aorist tense. 13:1 is written as a present imperative, indicating a commandment. Jesus is commanded to continually sit at the right hand of God the Father. However, the emphasis is still on the finality of Christ's work.

Christ sat down at the 'right hand' of 'the Majesty in the heavens.' When Jesus Christ ascended to heaven he sat down in the position of authority and power (right hand) in the presence of God the Father. This is the most exalted position in heaven, and denotes the greatness of Christ's work. The book of Hebrews continually reiterates the fact that Christ functions as our high priest in the presence of God Himself (4:14,6:20, 7:26, 9:24). First, Jesus Christ died for our sins, and now He functions as our high priest in the presence of God the Father. What an incredible picture!

VERSE 2

In verse 2, Christ is called 'a minister,' and this is where we get the word 'liturgy.' It means 'religious work or service.' Once again, the emphasis is on the priestly ministry that Christ is undertaking.

Where is Christ a minister? The writer uses two expressions that are synonyms for one another. He says Christ is a minister in the '...sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle.' Often this phrase is translated '...even in the true tabernacle,' indicating that the writer is referring to the same place. Some commentators have suggested that the 'sanctuary' or 'tabernacle' is referring to church, or even to Christ's own body. But I believe, based on the context of this section of Hebrews, that the writer is referring to Christ's ministry in the presence of God the Father. He is present at the Holy of Holies where God manifests His full presence and glory. This is the true tabernacle.

Hebrews 9:24 says, 'Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.' This is the same idea we have in 8:2. Christ, at this very moment, is serving as our high priest in the true tabernacle which is in God's presence, and is not in a tabernacle made by hands like the one used by Levitical priests.

VERSE 3

In verse 3, the writer brings us to the subject of the offering; 'For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary that this high-priest also have something to offer.' Since every high priest had to offer gifts and sacrifices, Christ had to offer something as well. This is the same idea we learned in 5:1. The writer does not elaborate on Christ's sacrifice in verse 3 because He has already addressed this subject (7:27).

It is interesting how specific God is. As one will note in verse 3 that the phrase 'to offer' is used twice. The first time it is mentioned, it is written in the present tense, meaning it is a continual activity. Every high priest in the Levitical system was to be continually offering sacrifices. But in the last use, it is written in the aorist tense, which denotes a completed activity. The stress is that Jesus Christ offered a one time sacrifice, which was able to save the whole world, past, present, and future, from sin.

VERSE 4

In verse 4, the writer reiterates something we have already seen in chapter 7; '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.' First, if Christ would have attempted to be a priest under the Levitical system, He would not have succeeded because He was disqualified by His birth line. Christ was born into the line of the tribe Judah, not Levi.

Secondly, the Law made no provision for the kind of sacrifice that Christ offered. The Law said nothing about a priest who would offer Himself as the one, perfect sacrifice. There were animal sacrifices, and grain sacrifices, but there was no mention of a human sacrifice.

Verse 4 simply states that Christ was not qualified under Mosaic Law. We need to understand that. There are some Christians today who try to bring bits and pieces of the Mosaic Law into Christianity. They do not understand that if the Mosaic Law is in force today, Jesus Christ is not qualified to be our priest.

VERSE 5

The writer continues in verse 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.'' The Mosaic Law was only a 'shadow' of reality. It was a sketchy reflection of the true salvation that is offered through Jesus Christ. The word the writer uses is 'skea.' This is what was meant by the warning given to Moses. God wanted him to make the tabernacle like reality, but it was only a shadow (skea) of what would be. This idea is like an outline taken of a child's head on black construction paper. One can tell who the child is-the nose, the forehead, the chin...etc. But we can not tell what the child's eyes look like, or if he has freckles, or what color his hair is. The outline is only a shadow of the reality of the child.

The Levitical law only gave an outline of what Christ would bring. But the Jews wanted to hang on to the outline and reject the reality. It is as if your child brought home an outline of himself and you hung it on the wall and rejected your real child in favor of the outline. You are probably thinking 'That would be ridiculous.' But that is exactly what the Jews were doing, and what the church today is doing as well.

The writer quotes from Exodus 25:40, explaining that Moses got a blue print for the tabernacle from God. The point driven home is that we are to worship God according to His instruction. There was no freedom for Moses to make adjustments or innovations in the building of the tabernacle. Sometimes we think 'Is it really so important that we know all the details of how the Jews worshipped God, and how we are to worship God? Why does everything have to be complicated. We could make it much simpler.' Again, if we are going to worship God, we must worship Him according to His instruction. God never said, 'You worship Me in your way, and those people over there can worship Me in their way.' He says we must worship Him 'in spirit and truth' (John 4:24).

Man has come up with a formula for worship that goes something like this: come to church on Sunday, sit in a pew, sing a few hymns, keep yourself from falling asleep during a boring sermon, shake a few hands, and go home. We focus on the external instead of coming to worship God in submission to the Spirit. This is exactly what the Jews were doing in Hebrews. We come to a certain building at a certain time and place, and we trick ourselves into thinking that this is worship. We must learn that we can only worship God in the way He deems acceptable.

VERSE 6

In verse 6, the writer proves that Christ supersedes the sketch of the Old Testament system: '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.' Christ goes beyond the worship system of the Jews by obtaining a 'more excellent ministry.' How does He obtain a 'more excellent ministry'? 'He is the mediator of a better covenant.' Why is it a better covenant? It has been 'enacted on better promises.' One can clearly see that the stress of verse 6 is that Christ's ministry is 'better,' 'excellent,' and superior in every way.

Christ is the 'mediator'-the go between -the middle man, in His ministry. This ties to what is said in Galatians 3:19 where Moses is called the ,'mediator' of the Law. The Law was through Moses. We see this in John 1:17; 'For the Law was through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.' The truth is clear: Christ is the mediator of a superior covenant, and this is the focus of the writer beginning in Hebrews 8. The word 'covenant,' 'deotheka,' is used no less than a dozen times in Hebrews 8 and 9. If we understand that there is a new covenant in effect, we should understand that the Levitical system is no longer in operation.

What are the 'better promises' of the new covenant of Jesus Christ? God takes it upon Himself to promise something regardless of our faithfulness. That is the reason it is secure. The New covenant does not depend on the faithfulness of man, but on the faithfulness of God. This was the flaw in the Mosaic system-it underscored the faithlessness of mankind.



Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.

INDIAN HILLS COMMUNITY CHURCH
1000 South 84th St., Lincoln, NE 68510-4499
Phone: 402-483-4541 · Fax: 402-483-6716
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