Hebrews 8:1-6 (NLT)
Christ Is Our High Priest
1 Here is the main
point: We have a High Priest who sat down in the place of honor beside the throne of the majestic God in heaven. 2 There he ministers in the heavenly Tabernacle, the true place of worship that was built by the Lord and not by human hands. 3 And since every high priest is required to offer gifts and sacrifices, our High Priest must make an offering, too. 4 If he were here on earth, he would not even be a priest, since there already are priests who offer the gifts required by the law. 5 They serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven. For when Moses was getting ready to build the Tabernacle, God gave him this warning: “Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern I have shown you here on the mountain.” 6 But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises.
V1, In the verses that follow, Christ’s ministry is shown to be superior to Aaron’s because He officiates in a better sanctuary (vv. 1–5) and in connection with a better covenant (vv. 7–13).
Now the writer has come to the main point of his argument. He is not summarizing what has been said but stating the main thesis to which he has been leading in the Epistle.
“We have a High Priest.” There is a triumphant note in the words we have. They are an answer to those Jewish people who taunted the early Christians with the words, “We have the tabernacle; we have the priesthood; we have the offerings; we have the ceremonies; we have the temple; we have the beautiful priestly garments.” The believers’ confident answer is, “Yes, you have the shadows but we have the fulfillment. You have the ceremonies but we have Christ. You have the pictures but we have the Person. And our High Priest is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. No other high priest ever sat down in recognition of a finished work, and none ever held such a place of honor and power.”
V5, The tabernacle on earth was a replica of the heavenly sanctuary. Its layout depicted the manner in which God’s covenant people could approach Him in worship. First there was the door of the outer court, then the altar of burnt offering, then the laver. After that the priests entered the Holy Place and the high priest entered the Most Holy Place where God manifested himself.
The tabernacle was never intended to be the ultimate sanctuary. It was only a copy and shadow. When God called Moses up to Mount Sinai and told him to build the tabernacle, He gave him a definite blueprint to follow. This pattern was a type of a higher, heavenly, spiritual reality.
Why does the writer emphasize this so forcefully? Simply to impress on the minds of any who might be tempted to go back to Judaism that they were leaving the substance for the shadows when they should be going on from shadow to substance.
V6, This verse forms a transition between the subject of the superior sanctuary and the discussion of the better covenant.
First, there is a comparison. Christ’s ministry is as superior to the ministry of the Aaronic priests as the covenant He meditates is superior to the old one.
Second, a reason is given: the covenant is better because it is enacted on better promises.
Christ’s ministry is infinitely better. He offered Himself, not an animal. He presented the value of His own blood, not the blood of bulls and goats. He put away sins, not merely covered them. He gave believers a perfect conscience, not an annual reminder of sins. He opened the way for us to enter into the presence of God, not to stand outside at a distance.
He is also Mediator of a better covenant. As Mediator He stands between God and man to bridge the gap of estrangement.
Griffith Thomas compares the covenants succinctly:
The covenant is “better” because it is absolute not conditional, spiritual not carnal, universal not local, eternal not temporal, individual not national, internal not external.
It is a better covenant because it is founded on better promises. The covenant of law promised blessing for obedience but threatened death for disobedience. It required righteousness but did not give the ability to produce it.
The New Covenant is an unconditional covenant of grace. It imputes righteousness where there is none. It teaches men to live righteously, empowers them to do so, and rewards them when they do
The New Covenant
A covenant is a binding agreement and relationship between two parties. God is a covenant-making God; he forms agreements and relationships with people. God made a covenant with Noah and his family (Gen 6:18; 9:9), and later with all the creatures of the earth (Gen 9:11-17).
God covenanted with Abraham to give him and his descendants the land of Canaan and to multiply those descendants greatly (Gen 15:18; 17:2-21).
God reiterated and expanded this covenant at Mount Sinai with the whole nation of Israel (Exod 19–20), promising to be their God and challenging them to be obedient to him. This covenant was often broken, with the people failing to live up to their obligations (see Exod 32; Jer 11:10; 34:18; Mal 2:8).
God also made a covenant with David that his descendants would be established forever as kings (2 Sam 7:9-16).
The OT also speaks of a new covenant to be established with God’s people (Jer 31:31-34), a covenant in which the people would all know God, would have the law of God internalized by receiving God’s Spirit (Ezek 37:1-14; 2 Cor 3:1-18), and would be decisively forgiven for their sins (8:7-12).
With his sacrificial death, Jesus established this new covenant between God and those who respond in faith. He is the guarantor and mediator of this covenant, established by indisputable promises of God (7:22; 8:6; 12:24).
God has called us to a covenant relationship with himself, a meaningful agreement in which we know God, have his laws written on our hearts, and have our sins decisively forgiven by the sacrifice of Christ.