Read the Passage: Hebrews 8
Listen to the Redeemed Mind Podcast: Hebrews 8
A Better Priest (8:1–2)
Beginning back in Heb. 4:14, the author started exploring and explaining the priesthood of Jesus. In this investigation, we saw Jesus’ sympathy and compassion as High Priest (cf. Heb. 4:14–16), Jesus’ qualifications and call as High Priest (cf. Heb. 5:1–11) and Jesus’ order and greatness as High Priest (cf. Heb. 7:1–28). While the author will continue to discuss aspects of Jesus’ priesthood though Heb. 10:18, the climax of the author’s teaching about Jesus being High Priest is here in Heb. 8:1–13. In short, the focus of this brief chapter is the New Covenant, which was mediated by Jesus. Observe that the New Covenant was first discussed in the Old Testament in passages such as Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 11:19–20; 36:27, it was cited by Jesus when He prescribed the Lord’s Supper (cf. Matt. 26:28; Luke 22:20), and it was mentioned by Paul several times in his epistles (cf. 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6).
The author begins chapter eight with the statement, “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying” (Heb. 8:1). In other words, the author has finally arrived at his central message—not only of this section of his letter (cf. Heb. 4:14–10:18), but also of the entire book of Hebrews. Indeed, from the very beginning of this book the author has been arguing that Jesus Christ is preeminent and that He is the High Priest who has made atonement for the sins of mankind. The author explains his main point, writing that Jesus is “seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary” (Heb. 8:1–2). The fact that Jesus is seated, which was first mentioned back at Heb. 1:3, 13, implies that Christ has completed His task of mediation. In contrast, the Levitical priests would never sit in the Temple, for their sacrifices were constant, imperfect, and temporary.
A Better Ministry (8:3–6)
In Heb. 8:3–6 the author notes that, as a High Priest, Jesus needed to offer something as a sacrifice, for this is what priests did, especially the High Priest (cf. Heb. 8:3). Note, however, that that which Christ offered is different from that which earthly priests offered, for Jesus did not qualify to be a priest under the Old Covenant, as He was not from the tribe of Levi. In short, the author’s argument here is that the covenant that Jesus fulfilled is both different and better than the Mosaic covenant. Although he will unpack this in more detail in the following chapter, in this present passage the author notes that Christ serves in “the true tabernacle” (Heb. 8:2), while the Levitical priests only “serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5). Therefore, Jesus has “a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Heb. 8:6).
A Better Covenant (8:7–13)
In Heb. 8:7–13 the author shows that the New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant. The majority of this passage consists of a citation of Jer. 31:31–34 (cf. Heb. 8:8–12). At Heb. 8:7 the author notes that the Mosaic covenant was not “faultless.” Here the author is not implying that the first covenant was defective; instead, he is observing, as he did back in Heb. 7:11, that the Old Covenant does not provide salvation. Note, however, that the Mosaic covenant was not designed as a means of salvation; rather, it was given by God to highlight mankind’s need of salvation (cf. Acts 13:39; Rom. 3:20, 28; Gal. 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10–11, 21). The fault with the Old Covenant, then, was actually with the people, and not with God. Indeed, the author refers to God “finding fault with them,” (Heb. 8:8) not with the covenant itself, and he notes “they did not continue” in the Old Covenant (Heb. 8:9). Said differently, the Old Covenant did exactly what it was supposed to do—that is, it highlighted mankind’s need of salvation and it foreshadowed the New Covenant.
In Heb. 8:13 the author writes that the New Covenant “has made the first obsolete.” In describing the first covenant as obsolete, the author is teaching that the ceremonial aspects of the Old Covenant have been fulfilled in Christ; therefore, the ceremonial law is no longer needed. In comparing the two covenants, then, it is clear that the New Covenant is better: (1) in scope, as the old was national and the new is universal; (2) in form, as the old sacrificed lambs and the new sacrificed the Son of God; (3) in agency, as the old was mediated by Moses and the new is mediated by Jesus; (4) in emphasis as the old emphasized laws and the new emphasizes grace; (5) in focus, as the old focused on external conformity and the new focuses on inward transformation; (6) in effect as the old resulted in few being saved and the new results in many being redeemed; and (7) in design, as the old was a temporary tutor and the new is an eternal blessing.
- How do most Christians view the Old Testament? How were people saved during the Old Testament era?
- What is the New Covenant? How does the New Covenant differ from the Old Covenant?
- What is the significance of Jesus being described as seated at God’s right hand (cf. Acts 7:55)?
- Are you ever tempted to view the moral law as a self-centered means to salvation or to sanctification?
- If God’s intent was always to give a New Covenant, why did He begin redemption history with the Old Covenant?