The High Priest of a Better Covenant, 1-13

8:1 Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We have such a high priest, one who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 8:2 a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up.

The main point – or ‘summary’ (Coverdale: ‘pith’).

The Majesty in heaven – ‘a reverential paraphrasis for the name of God’ (F.F. Bruce).

‘The word majesty, when applied to God, is always a declaration of his greatness and an invitation to worship. The same is true when the Bible speaks of God as being on high and in heaven; the thought here is not that God is far distant from us in space, but that he is far above us in greatness, and therefore is to be adored. “Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise.” (Ps 48:1) “The LORD is the great God, the great King…Come, let us bow down in worship.” (Ps 95:3,6) The Christian’s instincts of trust and worship are stimulated very powerfully by knowledge of the greatness of God.’ (Packer, Knowing God)

Who serves – Whereas leiturgos, in the LXX, is sometimes used in connection with ‘priests’ in (Isa. 61:6), it is also used more generally for ‘servants’ (Josh. 1:1; Ezra 7:24).

In the New Testament:

‘The word for ‘minister’ (leitourgos) has occurred once before in this epistle in Heb 1:7, referring to the angels in a quotation from Psalm 104:4. Paul uses the word of his own Christian ministry (Rom. 15:16) and of Epaphroditus’ service (Phil. 2:25). He even uses it of the secular authorities in Romans 13:6. In the present context, however, the ministry in view is especially in holy things, as the context shows.’ (Guthrie, TNTC)

According to the Orthodox Study Bible, since the Lord Jesus Christ is ‘a priest forever’ (Heb 7:17,21), it is ‘unthinkable’ that he would not serve liturgically.  As priest, then, he is also a liturgist (lit. ‘leitourgos‘) of the sanctuary.

Sanctuaryhagion – sacred place or sanctuary. ‘The idea is, that the Lord Jesus, the great High Priest, has entered into the Holy of Holies in heaven, of which that in the tabernacle was an emblem.’ (Barnes)

The true tabernacle – ‘real’, ‘the only one which is not an imitation of something better than itself, the only one whose durability comes anywhere near to matching the eternity of the living and true God whose dwelling-place it is.’ (F. F. Bruce)

‘The real tabernacle in heaven, of which that among the Hebrews was but this type. The word tabernacle means, properly, a booth, hut, or tent, and was applied to the tent which Moses was directed to build as the place for the worship of God. That tabernacle, as the temple was afterwards, was regarded as the peculiar abode of God on earth. Here the reference is to heaven, as the dwelling place of God, of which that tabernacle was the emblem or symbol. It is called the “true tabernacle,” as it is the real dwelling of God, of which the one made by Moses was but the emblem. It is not moveable and perishable like that made by man, but is unchanging and eternal.’ (Barnes)

‘It may be asked, whether the tabernacle built by Moses was a false one, and presumptuously constructed, for there is an implied contrast in the words? To this I answer, that to us mentioned here is not set in opposition to what is false, but only to what is typical; as we find in Jn 1:17 “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Then the old tabernacle was not the empty inventions of man, but the effigy of the heavenly tabernacle. As, however, a shadow differs from the substance, and the sign from the thing signified, the Apostle denies it to have been the true tabernacle, as though he had said, that it was only a shadow.’ (Calvin)

‘Under the law everything was shadow, under the gospel all is truth and reality. We have now the true Israel, the true deliverance, the true manna, the true tabernacle, the true Jerusalem, the true righteousness, the true atonement for sin, the true a spiritual and reasonable service, the worship in spirit and in truth.’ (Superville)

8:3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. So this one too had to have something to offer. 8:4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest, since there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 8:5 The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, just as Moses was warned by God as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For he says, “See that you make everything according to the design shown to you on the mountain.”

This one too had to have something to offer – The NET translation here is consistent with F. F. Bruce’s comment that there is no indication in the text that Christ is repeatedly presenting his offering.  In fact, this has been explicitly excluded by Heb 7:27.

He would not be a priest – In fact, he was not from a priestly tribe, Heb 7:14.  But that fact demonstrates a limitation of the earthly priesthood, rather than of the priesthood of Christ.

The earthly sanctuary is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary – The implication (in Ex 25:9, 40; 26:30; 27:8) is that Moses was shown something like a ‘model’ of the sanctuary.  The earthly sanctuary may be thought of, then, as a scaled-down replica of the heavenly sanctuary.

8:6 But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises.

Jesus has obtained a superior ministry – In that he ministers as high priest in the ‘heavenly’ sanctuary, rather than in its earthly replica.

The covenant that he mediates is also better

‘Christ is the Mediator par excellence,…typified in the ” reconciling rainbow ” encircling the throne, or in the ladder of Jacob’s vision conjoining sundered heaven and earth–one, to borrow a fine coinage of Tyndale, who is the perfect Atonemalcer, conserving the interests of both parties for whom He acts. Intensely zealous that God’s honour should contract no stain, this ideal Mediator, having secured that supreme end, will with equal zeal seek the offender’s rescue and reclamation. Such an unique Intermediary evangelical faith recognises in her beloved Lord.’ (E.K. Simpson)

The better promises are those entailed in the new covenant, as the writer will proceed to show.

8:7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one.

‘If the old covenant had been perfect, it would not have required to be superseded by a new one.’ (F.F. Bruce)

8:8 But showing its fault, God says to them,

The author now introduces the longest quotation in the NT (Jer 31:31-34)

God found fault with the people – A textual variant would lead to the translation, ‘God found fault with it [the old covenant]’.  The Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament suggests that this is the preferred reading, given that v7 has just implied that the first covenant was flawed, and that v13 will assert that it has been made ‘obsolete’.

“Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.

I will make a new covenant – in contrast to the old covenant, the ratification of which is recorded in Ex 24:1-8 (cf. Heb 9:18-20).

‘Two-thirds of the NT uses of the word covenant appear in the epistle to the Hebrews. The dominant image patterns there identify the NT covenant as “new” (Heb 8:8,13; 12:24; 9:15) and “better.” (Heb 7:22; 8:6) In terms of the theological argument of Hebrews, the new covenant is better because it is final, permanent and once-for-all, as well as being secured and mediated by Christ instead of by human priests and the sacrifices they performed. The imagery surrounding the covenant in Hebrews is thus strongly tied to sacrifice.

Other NT passages reinforce the motifs that reach their definitive expression in Hebrews. Elsewhere too, the covenant is declared to be “new.” (Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6) As in Hebrews, the covenant is associated with blood. (Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25) By implication the OT sign of the covenant, circumcision, gives way to communion as the sign of the new covenant.’ (1 Cor 11:25) (DBI)

With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – It is difficult to see, in the light of this, how the present passage could reasonably be used to support the doctrine of ‘supercessionism’ – ‘the influential idea that Christians (the people of “the new covenant”) have replaced Jews (the people of “the old covenant”) as the people of God’ – as Jesper Svartvik claims.  See the discussion on the following verse.

‘Nothing is specifically mentioned about the way Gentiles come to share in its blessings (cf. Gal. 3–4; Rom. 9–11). However, it is quite clear that anyone who has confidence in Jesus Christ and what he achieved will share in the fulfilment of God’s promises to his ancient people (e.g. Heb 3:14; 4:3; 5:9; 7:25).’ (NBC)

8:9 “It will not be like the covenant that I made with their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not continue in my covenant and I had no regard for them, says the Lord.

I turned away from them – the LXX, on which this quotation is based, appears to have mistranslated the text in Jeremiah 31:32 at this point.  It seems, as Swete suggested back in 1900, that the translator of the LXX read ‘baal’ (husband, lord), as ‘gaal’.  Interestingly, George Guthrie (Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament) does not seem to be minded to attempt to resolve this ‘discrepancy’.

Calvin briefly notes: ‘the prophet says something a little different in Hebrew, but it is of no concern with the present question.’

8:10 “For this is the covenant that I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and I will inscribe them on their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people.

By means of the new covenant, a new relationship between God and his people would be established.  As F.F. Bruce observes, this would involve: (a) God’s laws being put in their minds and inscribed on their hearts; (b) the knowledge of God as a matter of personal experience (v11); (c) their sins will be remembered no more (v12).  These are the new covenant’s ‘better promises’.

‘Ministers are herein to imitate God, and, to their best endeavour, to instruct people in the mysteries of godliness, and to teach them what to believe and practice, and then to stir them up in act and deed, to do what they are instructed to do. Their labor otherwise is likely to be in vain. Neglect of this course is a main cause that men fall into as many errors as they do in these days.’ William Gouge (1575-1653)

8:11 “And there will be no need at all for each one to teach his countryman or each one to teach his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest.

Clearly, an experiential knowledge is spoken of here.

8:12 “For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer.”
8:13 When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear.

He speaks – Passing over the human author, Jeremiah, our writer ascribes the prophecy (which itself is punctuated with ‘thus says the Lord’) to the God.

Obsolete – the same term is used in Heb 1:11, in which the author quotes Psa 102:26.

‘To our author, the new covenant involves the abolition of the old sacrificial order because of a perfect and unrepeatable sacrifice, and a high-priestly ministry discharged in the heavenly, no longer in an earthly, sanctuary on the basis of that sacrifice by a priest of a different line from Aaron’s.’ (F. F.  Bruce)

About to disappear – ‘It cannot be proved from these words that the Jerusalem temple was still standing and its sacrificial ritual still being carried on.  They could simply mean that by predicting the inauguration of a new covenant Jeremiah in effect announced the impending dissolution of the old order.  They do indeed have that meaning.  But if in fact the Jerusalem temple was still standing, if the priests of Aaron’s line were still discharging their sacrificial duties there, then our author’s words would be all the more telling.’ (F.F. Bruce, who draws a parallel not only with the words of Jesus, who predicted the downfall of the temple, Mk 13:2; Jn 2:19, but also with those of Stephen, Acts 6:24).