Different Priest; Different Covenant

Posted: June 21, 2009 in Hebrews

Hebrews 8:1-13, “Different Priest; Different Covenant”

“Is it live or is it Memorex?” For those of us who remember such things as recordable cassettes :), this was the slogan (usually along with some poor soul’s wine glass shattering) for Memorex cassette tapes (or VHS tapes later on). They claimed the recording quality was so good, we’d never be able to tell the difference…until CD’s came out. Once you heard what digital recording was like, the “hiss” became all too loud & obvious.

With apologies to the author of Hebrews, that may be similar to what some think about the comparisons of the priesthoods between the Levites & Jesus. Nearly every chapter in the letter has introduced the concept of Jesus as our High Priest in some fashion & in Ch 7 the writer fills out the comparison. Jesus isn’t a High Priest according to the Levitical law, but according to the order of Melchizedek: He’s a King AND Priest – the king of peace & king of righteousness – His priesthood has no end – His priesthood is acknowledged as greater by none other than Abraham – He is a perfect priest, superior to the Levite priests in every way & including the sacrifice He offers, which is sufficient once for all time.

To those Jewish Christians who were contemplating a return to Judaism, the author of Hebrews has been hammering home the point: there’s nothing in Judaism to return to! It’s not like they can choose the sacrifice of the Son of God one day & the sacrifice of a goat the next. Jesus is fully superior to anything the old covenant had to offer, and now that He has been fully revealed, the imperfections (the “hiss”) of the old covenant cannot be ignored. As we’ll see through today (and the following chapters), one reason the old covenant was given was that the Israelites would understand it was merely a shadow of things to come; an inferior copy ultimately to introduce them to the true work done by our Savior.

Thus here in Ch 8, the author makes this comparison plain. We have a different kind of priest Who mediates & administers a different kind of covenant. Not different as in ‘apples & oranges’, but different as in ‘apple-flavored-drink & real apples’ or ‘grainy cassette tape vs. the real deal live.’ Jesus is far superior to every high priest & the covenant before Him!

Hebrews 8 (NKJV)
1 Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,

A. The “main point” of what? The main point of the arguments made up to & through this point in the letter. We have a perfect High Priest! Everything that we absolutely need from our High Priest (whether or not we understand we need it) is provided for in Christ Jesus. We have “such a high priest” – the perfect High Priest Whose work is everlasting and sufficient in every way.

B. “seated”: speaks of the finality of His work. Jesus always lives to make intercession Heb 7:25), and is active in that way. But the work of the sacrifice is complete! Jesus never needs to bring another offering for sin. He is finished & He is seated…

C. “right hand”: speaks of His favored position. Jesus is the Chosen Anointed One of God the Father – the right hand is the privileged & honored position…

D. “throne of the Majesty”: God the Father… He is on the throne! Always sovereign…

E. “in the heavens”: this is the location – speaks of the Ascension of Christ. Jesus died – Jesus rose – Jesus lives and will never die again…

2 a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.

A. Jesus isn’t just Majestic; He’s a “Minister” – not the normal word we see in NT, but still a reference to a “servant” – in this case, someone who serves many people, used throughout the LXX as a reference to priestly functions. Emphasizes again Jesus’ priesthood is of the order of Melchizedek: king and priest.

B. Minister of what? The “sanctuary & true tabernacle”… There is another sanctuary in the heavens built by God. What was built by Moses was a type & shadow (vs. 5) of what God had already created in the heavenlies. What’s it like? Stay tuned till Ch 9.
__a. The point? This “true tabernacle” (tent) is where Jesus serves as the priestly minister. He doesn’t serve in the copy here on earth; His ministry is exalted to a far superior place – the very throne room and sanctuary of God Almighty.
__b. Does location matter? After all, Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the time was coming when it didn’t matter where we worshipped God, as long as believers worshipped Him in spirit & in truth (John 4:24). Understand the subject here isn’t one of worship; it’s one of priestly service. The offering had to be made – and it had to be made in the right place. You bet location matters! For someone coming from a Jewish background, this idea would have been astounding. The Holy of holies was so revered that only one person could go into the room one day every year, and only in the right way…yet it’s not even the true tabernacle! How much MORE holy would the true tabernacle & sanctuary of the Lord God be? And that is where Jesus serves as High Priest, seated at the right hand of God because His sacrifice was so perfectly sufficient… … (Again, the refrain: Jesus is superior!)

3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer.

A. High priests offer gifts & sacrifices – that’s just what they do. Jesus isn’t any different; He offers a gift…Himself!

4 For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law;

A. In His earthly ministry, Jesus didn’t serve as a Levitical priest. His offering of the sacrifice was not done in the Temple, etc…Jesus wasn’t qualified to do so! He is the Perfect & Superior High Priest, but His qualifications were of the order of Melchizedek; not Levi/Aaron. The Levitical priests do it according to the Law; Jesus fulfills the Law of the covenant and institutes a new covenant…

B. BTW – great clue to the writing of the epistle. Note the present tense regarding the priests “who offer the gifts”, i.e. the gifts were still being offered. Had to have been written prior to 70AD.

5 who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”

A. Where did the Jewish high priests serve? The temple. As grand & glorious as Herod’s temple was (it took 40 years to build!), it was still only a loose copy – based upon previous temples, and based upon the tabernacle built by Moses. Yet even that was a copy! As grand & symbolic as the descriptions of the tabernacle are (Exo 25-40), it was still just a type and a shadow of what already was built by God in the heavens.

B. Quote – probably Exo 25:40…God emphasized this point with Moses a minimum of 3 times. He was not to vary one iota from what God had shown him (probably in a vision) on Mt. Sinai. Why? Because God was obviously creating a picture of what the heavenly sanctuary is like. We pick our paint colors & carpet patterns on our own, no big deal. And that’s ok because this is a building in which we worship God; it’s not a copy of the sanctuary of God where the blood of the atonement needs to be placed on the mercy seat. For THAT place, it’d better be done according to the commandments of God b/c the only way we can approach God is upon His holy terms through His marvelous grace. Everything about the Tabernacle spoke of Jesus – His divinity, sacrifice, purity, holiness, judgment, etc. It had to be made absolutely right. But even then, it’s only a shadow; Jesus in His far superior priesthood ministers in the substance.

6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.

A. Better ministry: it’s “more excellent” because it’s not the shadow. Jesus’ ministry is the true ministry of the priest. He brought the only sufficient sacrifice. He has the better work & service.

B. “Better covenant…promises”: How much better? In what ways? This is what the writer will describe in the rest of Ch 8. Jesus’ work, authority, and qualifications as High Priest are better in every respect, and it’s only logical that the Covenant He brings & promises He makes would be far superior to what came before.

C. Jesus is our Mediator! ‘Great! What’s a mediator?’ 🙂 A mediator is a person sent on behalf of another to ratify a treaty or covenant/contract (like an arbiter). We need a covenant with God & we need someone to bring that covenant to us & take our need for forgiveness to God. Who’s our arbiter? Jesus! Jesus is the one mediator between God & man (1 Tim 2:5)…no other mediator will do. Moses doesn’t work b/c he was the mediator of the old covenant – but now there’s a better one, instituted by a better priest, mediated by a better Mediator.

7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.

A. How can the 1st covenant have fault? Doesn’t the Scriptures proclaim that “the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul” (Ps 19:7)? Absolutely. Didn’t Paul affirm that the law is good? “Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law…” (Rom 7:7). We know that the law of God absolutely does convert the soul because it condemns us and brings us to the feet of the only One who can save us (Christ Jesus). The law of God came from God; so we know it must be good! So what exactly is the fault with the 1st covenant? The law cannot justify us; it just leaves us condemned. Under the law, we see our sin for what it is: sheer selfish rebellion against the Creator God of the Universe… We are left condemned, crying out for grace – but grace isn’t found in the law. What we need for true forgiveness from sin is justification/imputed righteousness. We need to be declared right in the sight of God. That never comes through the law of Moses; only via the grace of Jesus Christ. John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. []

B. Because there is indeed this fault, there is a need for a 2nd covenant…a 2nd priesthood…promises based upon the sure person & sacrifice of the Son of God Himself…
__a. Note this reemphasizes a crucial point about the necessity of the grace of Christ: If the keeping the law was enough to satisfy the righteous judgment of God (no matter how difficult it may have been), the 2nd covenant of grace would never have been necessary. But keeping the law isn’t sufficient! It doesn’t matter how many laws we’ve kept if we’re already guilty of breaking others…thus it’s like we’ve broken the whole thing – we’ve already incurred the justified wrath of God with one sin (Jas 2:10). And even beyond our known sins, every single human being is born a sinner because we are born with a fallen nature (Rom 5:12). Thus we are out of reach of the law; we MUST have grace.
__b. Legalism NEVER works. NEVER. If legalism earned our salvation, we’d never have seen Jesus die on the cross. It’s ONLY through His grace we are saved…

C. Author of Hebrews is going to highlight prophecies showing that they were to expect a day when the old covenant would change & that a new covenant was coming… Specifically the lengthy quote of Jer 31:31-34 beginning in vs. 8.

8 Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 9 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.

A. Original context of Jer 31? Jeremiah was of course one of the final prophets God gave the people before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. Much of his prophecy dealt with how God would discipline the people through captivity (ultimately pointing toward the Great Tribulation), and then restore the people back to the land (many times referencing the Millennial kingdom). In Jer 29, God gives Jer a series of letters preparing various people in Judah for eventual capture by the Babylonians – but God also defines their time there as limited (70 years – vs. 10). In Jer 30, God comes out of that with very hopeful prophecies that both Judah AND Israel will be returned to the land. There will be tribulation, but God will bring healing. Jer 31 continues that thought, declaring a new covenant between God and with Israel & Judah – emphasizing God’s love for them & desire for them to serve Him alone.

B. God makes this covenant with Israel & Judah (shows reconciliation between the divided nations!) – is this only for Israel & Judah? Of course not; it’s also for the Church… It’s the foundation of our relationship in Christ… Symbolized through communion… Does this mean we ought to think of the Church as a NT substitute for Israel & Judah? Absolutely not…there are promises from God to ethnic Israel that are already answered in Christ Jesus, but yet to be fulfilled in time (the main point of Rom 11).
__a. How can we be so sure? Keep the original intended audience for this letter in mind: Jewish Christians…hence the name “Hebrews”. Of course the writer is going to make reference to Israel & Judah; he’s been doing the same thing throughout the letter so far in comparing Jesus to the Law… Other passages in the Scripture make it plain – the new covenant begins with Israel; it proceeds to the world. Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. [] Jesus explicitly commissioned the apostles to make disciples of ALL the nations (Matt 28:19); He told them to start in Judea & proceed out to the earth from there (Acts 1:8). The new covenant has been made available to Israel, but they (except for a remnant) rejected it; we (the rest of the Church – mainly Gentiles) have been grafted into these promises (Rom 11:17).

C. The point of vss. 8-9? That Israel & Judah broke the original covenant. They disregarded God & thus God disregarded them. God had given them freedom from Egypt – a home & inheritance in Israel – and a special relationship with God Himself. Yet they “did not continue” in that relationship – they ignored the law of God – they sacrificed to idols – they took the gracious covenant of God & trashed it. Obviously a new covenant was needed…
__a. Before we get too cocky as Gentiles, let’s remember we were no better. Gentiles may not have had a covenant with God, but we were given the testimony of God through creation (Rom 1) & we still rebelled violently against everything we knew about God. Instead of submitting to Him & humbly seeking His face, we set up idols in our own hearts – we dishonored our parents given us by God – we lusted after people & possessions. We are fully guilty of our own sins, and we are in desperate need of a Savior!

– 1 cause of the covenant; 4 main benefits
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

A. The cause? God. “I will make…” The Mosaic covenant was conditional (see Deut 28 – “if you” repeated 6 times). This covenant is UNconditional & based solely upon the work & will of God! Jesus Himself provides the surety for us (Heb 7:22).
__a. This covenant will not be broken! Amen!!

B. Benefit #1? The law is no longer externally enforced; the people are internally changed…

C. Benefit #2? The relationship with God that the Israelites discarded will be renewed & those who are covenant with God will be the people of God.

11 None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.

A. Benefit #3? Knowledge of God is not restricted to only the kings & priests; we are all a royal priesthood of believers & all Christians know God…

12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

A. Benefit #4? Sins are no longer temporarily set aside through ongoing sacrifice; it’s permanently atoned for through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus…

B. To what extent has Jesus paid the price for your sins? So much so that God no longer even remembers them! I.e., He’ll never bring them up against you for all of eternity – Psalm 103:11-12 (11) For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; (12) As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. [] Through Jesus Christ, we have been pardoned; our sins are completely & utterly forgiven!

13 In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

A. How ready was it to “vanish away”? Enough for the Temple to be completely destroyed in 70AD – Jews couldn’t offer sacrifices there if they wanted to! … The point? The author is saying, “Don’t go back!” To those Jewish Christians who still considered offering sacrifices at the Temple, this is one more appeal (1) showing it’s not necessary, & (2) it ought not even be an option to a Christian.

So which is better? The Memorex grainy hiss or the truth?  The new covenant is far better! Fully made available to us through the one High Priest who mediates it: Jesus Christ.

Vs 1-6: Jesus is a different kind of priest. He’s the perfect priest that ministers in truth; not in shadows…
Vs 7-13: Jesus mediates a different kind of covenant. The first is made obsolete because everything hinted at in the old is fulfilled in the new. Laws on our heart – real relationship with & knowledge of God – true forgiveness of sins.

So what? So this is our Priest & this is our Covenant! We’re recipients of the promise because we’ve been adopted into the family of God through Jesus Christ… If you’re a born-again believer, you can be assured that your sins have been completely atoned for, because your High Priest ministers in truth – and His blood has satisfied the righteous wrath of God… Your relationship with God is not based upon your actions – His love for you is not based upon your worthiness (because you have none); it’s based upon Christ Jesus & the covenant into which He’s included you! This is glorious! …

What if you’re not a born-again believer? (If you haven’t turned away from your sins & placed all your hope & trust into Jesus Christ as the Son of God risen from the dead…) Then you are outside of the covenant. You don’t have the perfect High Priest mediating for you. Your sins still place you squarely within the judgment of God. That’s not God’s will for you! God desires the whole world to come to repentance…including you. Turn away from your sins & turn to Jesus today. He offers you grace, forgiveness, new life – and an incredible covenant of mercy, relationship, and peace with God.

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