Bible Book Studies: Hebrews 8

In Chapter 8, the author continues his main objective for the entire book – discussing the superiority of Jesus. So far he has proposed that Jesus is superior to all creation, to angels, to Moses, and to any high priest who has ever lived. In Chapter 7 he identified Jesus as the one that Psalm 110 spoke of as the descendant of David who would be a priest on the order of Melchizedek. The final point from Chapter 7 (verses 26-27) is that all other priests are flawed mortals who must atone for their own sins before being able to offer atonement for others. Jesus, on the other hand, is immortal and perfect – “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” Here is how the author continues his argument.

1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

The author’s main point here is to contrast the old covenant (the Old Testament) with the new covenant (Jesus the Messiah). First he points out that the old law was established (in part) to provide a picture of the heavenly realms to us. It foreshadowed things to come. He quotes Exodus 25:40 in which God tells Moses that he is to be very careful to construct and implement all of the parts and processes of the tabernacle according to a very specific set of plans that God showed Moses following the giving of the ten commandments. This is not the only place where God reminded Moses to follow the plans exactly (see Exodus 25:9, 26:30, 27:8, and Numbers 8:4. See also 1 Chronicles 28:11-19 where David also described a specific temple plan revealed to him by God). The Old Testament was always intended to point forward to a future time in which the heavenly realms would be more clearly seen. This is why God is so adamant throughout the Old Testament regarding obedience. When we disobey, we mar the image that He is desiring to provide to the world. The author continues…

6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9  not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11  And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12  For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

His second point here is that the old covenant was, by design, flawed and was never intended to be permanent. That is not to say that it was wrong – just insufficient to God’s ultimate purpose. Again the author quotes scripture to support his point, this time coming from Jeremiah 31:31-34. This Old Testament passage specifically promises that God will provide a new covenant relationship in which the covenant will not be written on stone tablets (as the ten commandments were) but would be written on peoples hearts, and they would not need others to teach it to them, but would have personal knowledge of God and He would “remember their sins no more.” This is a unique position in which to be, in comparison with the old covenant, which requires repeated sacrifice for sin and human intermediaries (priests) between humans and God. It implies that the new covenant will involve 1) a permanent sacrifice to cover sin once and for all, and 2) the ability for anyone to be in personal communication/communion with God. This exactly describes the position Christians find themselves as they have been redeemed by the sacrificed blood of Jesus, who conquered death and continues to live, thereby making the sacrifice permanently valid, and whose resurrection and ascension to the right-hand of God enabled the coming ministry/personal indwelling of each believer by the Holy Spirit (see John 16:7-15).

The author’s final point in Chapter 8 is found in the final verse.

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Thirdly, he emphasizes that the coming of the new covenant (through Jesus) replaces the old covenant. This is an important point to be made to the original recipients of this letter. The Jews who were the first Christians, and those Jews who were seeking understanding about Jesus, needed to be reminded that the works required by the old covenant are not necessary to obtain righteousness in God’s sight. It’s no longer about what you do, it’s about whether or not you allow Jesus’ work on the cross and through his resurrection to be sufficient (through faith alone). Now the righteous works you do are not to earn your place in heaven, but out of gratitude and recognition of your responsibility to obey as a citizen of heaven (the kingdom of God).

As we’ve seen through the rest of the book so far, the argument or thought doesn’t end here. We’ll continue unpacking the author’s points in Chapter 9 next time.

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