The High Priest of a New Covenant, 1-13

Heb 8:1 The point of what we are saying is this: we do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,

‘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)

Heb 8:2 and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.

Who servesleitourgos.

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 – ‘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 apiritual and reasonable service, the worship in spirit and in truth.’ (Superville)

Heb 8:3 Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer.

Heb 8:4 If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law.

Heb 8:5 They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”

Heb 8:6 But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.

Heb 8:7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.

Heb 8:8 But God found fault with the people and said: “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”

The author now introduces the longest quotation in the NT.

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’.

I will make a new covenant ‘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)

Heb 8:9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares 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.’

Heb 8:10 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

‘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)

Heb 8:11 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

Heb 8:12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Heb 8:13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

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