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Hebrews 8

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Verse 1






Now in the things which we are saying the chief point is this: we have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. (Hebrews 8:1-2)

Jerden notes that:

This passage does not present a recapitulation of topics already considered; it emphasizes as the crowning topic in connection with our Lord's priesthood, the fact that he has been made higher than the heavens.[1]

Two words in these verses challenge our attention because of the paradox, Hebrews 8:1 presenting our Lord as "seated," whereas Hebrews 8:2 hails him as a "minister of the sanctuary," that is, "a servant." Both seated and serving, therefore, our Lord is contrasted with the temporal high priests who found no chair within the Holy of Holies, thus never being seated, and never permitted to remain except for a short period of time. The seated and serving Christ, on the other hand, abides in perfect and eternal control of the ministry on behalf of man which does not require that he busy himself with this or that, but which service has already been essentially completed, requiring only his presence upon the throne of God to assure its perfect administration and efficacy.


The reference in this place to existence of a heavenly temple or tabernacle requires that any notion of a literal or actual temple or court in some particular locale beyond the earth's atmosphere be refuted. It is the conviction of this writer that such language is used by the Holy Spirit in order to bring down to the level of human comprehension those heavenly realities which are not capable of any complete finite understanding, and that the eloquent words used in the sacred text are accommodated to man's weakness and limitations, and that the marvelous realities thus described are fantastically beyond the total human knowledge of them, the very power and ability of language itself, as a means of communication, being helpless to transmit anything more than a typical or suggestive outline of the things that are in the heavens. Therefore, with the deepest reverence and humility, people should strive in these matters to think God's thoughts after Him, and not to crush the knowledge of that upper and better world into the straitjacket of its revealing metaphor.

The whole earth is seen as God's temple in Psalms 29, and a mighty thunderstorm in the wilderness is envisioned as actually taking place within the temple. "In his temple doth every one speak of his glory. The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King forever" (Psalms 29:9,10). Micaiah saw a vision of the Almighty hold court in heaven: "I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left" (1 Kings 22:19). Isaiah's vision of God's throne (Isaiah 6:1ff) located it within the temple and stressed the service of the seraphim, mentioning the Lord's train, the smoke of incense, and the live coals on the altar. Ezekiel beheld God's throne above the firmament as having the appearance of a sapphire stone, and as the appearance of fire, and as of the brightness of the rainbow, a very high eminence, being invariably above even the heads of the cherubim (Ezekiel 1:26-28; 10:1). Psalms 11:4 has "The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord's throne is in heaven." Micah saw the Lord's "holy temple" as far above the earth from which the Lord would come down and tread "upon the high places of the earth" (Micah 1:2,3). Habakkuk has the renowned call to worship, "But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him" (Habakkuk 2:20). From all these and many other references, should it be concluded that there is literally a temple in heaven? No. These revelations symbolize and typify facts and realities beyond any intellectual grasp. That such a conclusion is true appears from the surpassingly extensive vision of the apostle John concerning the Holy City coming down from God out of heaven, in which it is categorically stated, "I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb, are the temple thereof" (Revelation 21:22).

We have such a high priest refers to our Lord whose character and office have already been shown to be so far above that of any other. An excellent summary of the superiority of our high priest is that of Garbett, appended here.

In human priests, if the most extravagant claims were admitted, it would yet be true that the dignity is only in the office, and not in the men. But when we turn to the true High Priest, how different it is! Here is not only the glory of the office, but the glory of the Person, infinitely qualified in his deity to stand between the justice of God and the whole human race.

He is no mere dying man like an earthly high priest, but clothed with "the power of an endless life."

He was not made after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the oath of God himself, "a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."

He hath not entered into the tabernacle made with hands, with the blood of bulls and goats, "but with his own blood he entered once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us."

He is not one among many, like earthly high priests, but is alone in his own single, unequaled majesty, "the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."

He does not fill a delegated office, like earthly priests, but fulfills his own office, and that so perfectly that he "is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him."

He needs not daily, as earthly priests, to seek forgiveness for his own sins, but is "holy, harmless, and undefiled, and separate from sinners."

He does not minister afar off from God, like earthly priests, but is already "made higher than the heavens," and at the right hand of his Father pleads evermore for us.

He needs not to repeat his daily offerings, as earthly priests, but has made atonement, once, "when he offered up himself." And lastly,

He has no infirmity, like earthly priests, but is the Son of God, himself God, blessed forevermore - omnipotent, omnipresent, infinite! Who perfect as he? and what wonder that, thus perfect, he should govern as well as atone? - not only priest, but King - nay, bearing on his head the triple crown of glory - Prophet, Priest, King.[2]

At this point, the author of Hebrews had overwhelmingly proved that any of the Jewish Christians, tempted to revert to Judaism, had received in such a high priest as Jesus far more than they had given up through renunciation of Judaism. He does not stop here, however, but goes ahead with an analysis of certain other contrasts between Jesus and the Levitical high priest.

[1] C. Jerden, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 21, Hebrews, p. 212.

[2] Garbett, Biblical Illustrator (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1967), Vol. 1, Hebrews, p. 616.

Verse 3

For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is necessary that this high priest also have somewhat to offer.

The ambiguity of this verse is attested by monumental mistranslation of it by an author whose sincerity and scholarship are above question, namely, J. B. Phillips, in his "Letters to Young Churches," who translates thus, "It follows, therefore, that in these holy places this man has something that he is offering."[3">Hebrews 8:3).">[3] This cannot be correct, because our author rejects any idea of a continual offering on the part of our Lord who offered his blood "once for all" (Hebrews 7:27). Bruce noted that the tense and mood of the Greek verb "to offer" in this clause also exclude the idea of a continual offering.[4] He also calls attention to a footnote in the New English Bible (1961) with a suggested rendition of the clause that would make the situation completely unambiguous: "this one too must have had something to offer."[5]

For notes on "gifts and sacrifices" see under Hebrews 5:1.

[3">Hebrews 8:3).">[3] Phillips' New Testament (Hebrews 8:3).

[4] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 164.

[5] Ibid., p. 164.

Verse 4

Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, seeing there are those who offer gifts according to the law.

Jesus could not have been a priest on earth because he did not belong to the priestly family, nor even to the tribe from which that family descended. Christ's priesthood was of a different order altogether, being after the order of Melchizedek. The importance of this is in the bearing it has on the purpose for which the Son of God came into the world. It had absolutely nothing to do with being a priestly Messiah on earth, as some supposed; nor was it to reign upon the earth as a secular monarch. Dr. James D. Bales noted that "Christ could not possibly have been crowned king on earth during his personal ministry, since the law could not have been taken away prior to his death (Colossians 2:14; Ephesians 2:13-16)."[6] Bales indicated the true reason why Jesus came, not to be priest, not to reign as a literal king on a throne on earth, "but to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Hebrews 9:26,27).

Verse 5

Who serve that which is a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, even as Moses is warned of God when he is about to make the tabernacle; for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was showed thee in the mount.


All things according to the pattern must be hailed as one of the most significant statements in Hebrews. The instructions of God to Moses to which reference is here made are found in Exodus 25:40; and this reiteration of them in the New Testament is of the utmost consequence. If God required Moses to proceed exactly according to the pattern God showed him, it is also required of worshipers today that they do all things according to the pattern God has revealed. It is of no great concern how God showed Moses the pattern; and we may therefore reject the speculations of people on that point and dwell upon the far more important fact that there was a pattern and that God required the strictest adherence to it in the things Moses made.

One of the great delusions of modern worshipers is the fallacy that there is no pattern, actually, and that it makes no difference what people do religiously, just so they are sincere in it; but this text reveals God as a pattern-minded God. How could God be supposed to be otherwise? If God made a mosquito or an eclipse of the sun, the divine pattern is always followed. God never created a round snowflake, nor a cubical planet, nor a quadramaculatus mosquito without four spots on his wings. The tiniest bird is constructed according to an invariable pattern; and of all the billions of South Carolina wrens that God ever made, every single one of them warbled his plaintive little melody in the key of G. Dr. Leonidas Holland of David Lipscomb College discovered that about the wrens during thirty-five years of study. If God takes such care in his making of birds, or of working honey bees, not one of which was ever discovered without a sting, how could it ever be thought true that God does not care about how men shall worship? Even of those types and shadows made by Moses, God was jealous of the strict adherence to the divine pattern; and a part of the wickedness of Ahaz, king of Israel, was his rejection of the divine pattern of the altar and fashioning one like the pagan altar in Damascus (2 Kings 16:10,11). And if God cared about that, does he not care if the prayers of which that altar was only a type shall be offered through the one Mediator God established, and not through the saints of all ages?

Applying the principle of a divine pattern to the realities of the new covenant, one can be certain that there is a plan of salvation, even if it is not called that in the New Testament. That "plan of salvation" can be discovered by studying the examples of conversion recorded in the book of Acts; and, from this, it appears that every person converted under the preaching of the apostles and inspired evangelists, without exception: (1) heard the word of God; (2) believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; (3) confessed the Saviour's name before people; (4) repented of their sins; (5) were baptized into Christ; (6) became members of the body of Christ; and (7) received the Holy Spirit, continuing stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and in the breaking of bread and in prayers. If there is any other way to be saved from alien sins, the scriptures have no record of it. See more on this, including scripture text under Hebrews 10:26.

And regarding the worship, is there a pattern of scriptural worship? Of course there is. The New Testament declares that God must be worshiped "in Spirit and in truth" (John 4:24); that teaching human commandments for doctrine constitutes "vain worship" (Mark 7:7); that "God is not worshipped with men's hands" (Acts 17:24,25); that man shall not "add unto these things" (Revelation 22:18); that one who "abideth not in the teaching of Christ hath not God" (2 John 1:1:9); that men "make the commandment of God of none effect" by their traditions (Matthew 15:6); and that all Christians should learn "not to go beyond the things which are written" (1 Corinthians 4:6). If such scriptures as these do not provide warning against departure from God's pattern of worship, it is hard to imagine how a warning could be stated. But what is that pattern? God is to be worshipped: (1) through prayers (Acts 2:46; 2 Thessalonians 5:17; 1 Corinthians 14:15); (2) through observance of the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7; 2:46; 1 Corinthians 11:28); (3) by giving of one's means to support the truth (Acts 20:35; 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:7-14); (4) in reading, studying, teaching and preaching God's word (Acts 2:46; 20:7; 2 Timothy 4:2); and (5) by the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs unto God (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19; 1 Corinthians 14:15).

Furthermore, there is a clearly revealed pattern for every component of Christian worship, as for example, the singing. Not even all singing is acceptable, for God requires only psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Unspiritual songs do not meet the requirements; and, as for instrumental music, it was never part of the worship of Christians until centuries after Christ. There is a pattern for baptism; and for details on that, see under "Six Fundamentals" in Hebrews 6. The Lord's Supper also was designed with regard to a heavenly pattern. The so-called emblems are not many but only two, bread and wine; and the primitive church observed it not every day, but upon a fixed day. Pliny the Younger (A.D. 63-112), in his letter to the Emperor Trajan stated that the guilt of Christians had amounted only to this, "that on an appointed day ... they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak, and to recite a hymn antiphonally to Christ as God, etc."[7] Thus from the shadow of the first century comes the certain word that the Christians met on a fixed or "appointed day," just like they still do; and the New Testament reveals that day to have been on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). Pliny's letter goes on to say that the Christians, at those appointed meetings, partook of food "of an ordinary and harmless kind"; and thus it may be concluded that from apostolic times, the Lord's Supper was observed weekly by Christians on the first day of every week.

Nor is that all. There is a pattern of Christian living, a pattern to be observed in giving of one's means to support the gospel, a pattern of prayers, which must be "in the name of" Christ, a pattern of preaching, and a pattern of decency and decorum for public worship, and even specific instructions for ushers at the public assemblies of the church! (James 2:1-3). It is the life-work of every Christian to learn and follow the pattern of heavenly things in the religion of Christ.

[6] James D. Bales, Hebrews Sermonized (Searcy, Arkansas: Bales Book Store, 1955), p. 43.

[7] Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1947), p. 6.

Verse 6

But now hath he obtained a ministry the more excellent, by so much as he is also the mediator of a better covenant, which hath been enacted upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second.

Particularly interesting in these two verses is the mention of two, and only two, covenants, designated "the first" and "the second." Now God made a covenant with Noah (Genesis 6:18; 9:9), and two covenants with Abraham (Genesis 17:2,10; 15:18ff), and a covenant of salt (Numbers 18:19; Leviticus 2:13), and a covenant of the everlasting priesthood (Numbers 25:13); but the "first covenant" of these verses is none of these covenants. It is the covenant so great and extensive that it overshadows all such lesser covenants and is known as "the first covenant." The student needs to identify that first covenant in order to know which was annulled. That first covenant was made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31ff), the mention of the house of Judah being significant to distinguish that first covenant from anything pertaining exclusively to the priesthood, the covenant of the priesthood having been made with the house of Levi, not with the house of Judah. The first covenant may be further identified in that it was the covenant that had the Decalogue. Note, "And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone" (Deuteronomy 4:13). That this ten commandments covenant is the one in view by the author of Hebrews is evident and becomes certain in the light of his mention of "the tables of the covenant" being placed within the ark of the covenant (Hebrews 9:4). The first covenant was identified by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31ff), as the one made when God took Israel by the hand to lead them out of Egypt; and God's instructions to Moses regarding the Decalogue specifically identified the tables of stone (on which the Decalogue was inscribed) as basic components of that first covenant.

And the Lord said unto Moses, Write thou these words; for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with the house of Israel. And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:2,28).

Summarizing these marks of identification of "the first covenant," the one which was annulled, we have the following: (1) It was the one made with Israel AND JUDAH. (2) It was the one that had the Decalogue as a basic component. (3) It was the one made at the time of Israel's coming out of Egypt. (4) It was the one said by God himself to be with Moses (with "thee"), as well as with Israel (Exodus 24:27).

Therefore, "the first covenant," as used in these verses, means the whole religious system of the Jews, the Decalogue, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the tabernacle ritual, the temple services (as later developed), the statutes, and the judgments, and the commandments, and embracing the entire ceremonial and moral constitution of Judaism. (See under Hebrews 7:11,12.) The thesis of the author of Hebrews in the verses before us is that a second, or new, covenant has superseded and replaced the first, or old, covenant. This was accomplished when Jesus Christ appeared, suffered, died, rose from the dead, ascended on high, and gathered up in himself all that was of any value in the old covenant, making his teachings alone to be the basis of eternal redemption. Whatever moral precepts of the Old Testament were brought over into the New Testament (and there were many of these, such as prohibitions against murder, adultery, theft, covetousness, etc.), those precepts now derive their authority from Christ, not Moses. Just so, those things of the Old Testament that did not find their place in the new institution, such as sabbath keeping, animal sacrifice, burning of incense, etc., are therefore now void of any authority at all and are to be totally rejected.

The author of Hebrews at this point defends himself against a reaction of shock in the minds of his readers at so bold and forthright a proposition that the entire old covenant had been abolished; and he does this by an appeal to Jeremiah's famous prophecy which had foretold this very thing. That magnificent, comprehensive prophecy of Jeremiah should have been well known to all Israel, especially to that portion which had accepted Christianity; but the widespread ignorance of it even today suggests that many had simply overlooked it.

The author will now quote Jeremiah's prophecy; but before taking up a discussion of it, one other matter should be noted, and that is the implication of fault in the old covenant. How could it have been at fault, seeing God himself had given it? Its fault lay in the temporary character of it, the law being "added because of transgression until the seed should come" (Galatians 3:19ff), and never being intended as a permanent solution of man's spiritual problems. Just as a contractor first builds a scaffold around a building to be erected, removing the scaffolding when the building is completed; just so, God erected the law as a scaffold which, from the first, was designed to be removed as soon as "the seed" which is Christ should appear. Next is Jeremiah's prophecy.

Verse 8

For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold the days come, saith the Lord, That I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers In the day that I took them by the hand to lead them forth out of the land of Egypt; For they continued not in my covenant, And I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

This is from Jeremiah 31:31ff and is quoted by the author as scriptural proof that the abrogation of the old covenant is nothing which should shock his readers, since God long ago had prophesied in this very place that it would be abrogated and replaced with a new covenant. To be sure, the author could have quoted some very convincing and powerful words of Christ and his apostles as sufficient authority for hailing the old covenant as obsolete and abolished; but it should be kept in mind that he was addressing a group of people who had a strong emotional tie with the Old Testament, and it was therefore better procedure on his part to prove his proposition from the Old Testament.

For proper identification of the "covenant" Jeremiah had in mind, the one to be abrogated, see under Hebrews 8:1-7. Two basic reasons why the old covenant was abolished are: (1) God promised that he would make a new one, which he would not have done if the old one had been faultless. (2) Israel themselves had broken the old covenant by not continuing in it; and it is pertinent to observe that it was preponderantly the "moral" part of the covenant that Israel had so wantonly violated. The ceremonial was precisely the part of the law they kept best; and, since it was their breaking of the covenant that God made one of the reasons for changing it, it is most illogical to suppose God abrogated only the ritual, or ceremonial, or priestly part of the covenant. It would require a volume to recount the extent of Israel's rebellion, stubbornness, idolatry, murder, adultery, and wickedness of every description, and their perpetual unwillingness to honor the covenant God had given them. Rather than attempting it, we shall allow the words of one of their most illustrious prophets to stand uncontradicted to the effect that Israel certainly failed to keep the covenant. "For they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord."

In the KJV, the last clause of 9 reads, "Although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 31:32 KJV). We shall leave it to the translators to choose between the renditions, but the thought from the KJV is quite significant. It stresses the tender and intimate relationship between God and Israel, as represented under the metaphor of a husband and his wife; and Paul shows that God honored that spiritual marriage to the extent of dying upon the cross (in the person of his Son) in order to bring about the legal cancellation of the marriage contract with Israel (Romans 7:1-4). After discussing God's law on marriage, Paul said, "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ" (Romans 7:4). Thus, sinful as Israel was, God did not dissolve his marriage with them except on the basis of his own death in the person of Christ.

Verse 10

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, And on their heart also will I write them: And I will be to them a God, And they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his fellow-citizen, And every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: For all shall know me, From the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and their sins will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. But that which is becoming old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away.

Here is given the balance of Jeremiah's prophecy of the new covenant, recorded in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Although said to be made "with the house of Israel," this new covenant has a much wider application than the old, the new Israel being in no way limited to the physical descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3:29, etc.); and yet, significantly, Israel is not excluded. The more spiritual nature of the new covenant is stressed, being founded upon the spirit rather than upon the letter; but perhaps the most astounding thing in the prophecy is the statement that there will be no need to teach men, saying, "Know the Lord," since all will already know him. How can such a thing be? Only by the requirement that one must know the Lord BEFORE he can enter his kingdom, can these words be true. This focuses attention upon the vast difference between the old and new covenants with regard to the manner of entering them. Men were physically born into the old covenant, circumcised the eighth day, and thus grew up as members of that religious community; and, as a result, all manner of irreligious and unconverted persons were legally associated with the old Israel. Thus it can never be in the new covenant. Infant membership in the new covenant is impossible, for one must know the Lord before he can enter the kingdom. As the apostle John expressed it,

But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12,13).

Only in the light of what is required BEFORE a person can become a child of God, and which requirement totally excludes infants and all others not of accountable age, do the words of Jeremiah's remarkable prophecy become clear.

Nigh unto vanishing away affords the strongest possible evidence that Hebrews was written before the destruction of Jerusalem and the cessation of the temple services; for if those events had already happened, it would be absolutely unaccountable how the author could have made such a statement as this. What a remarkable proof of his inspiration came in the sudden, total, and summary removal of all the salient features of the old economy when Jerusalem was destroyed so soon after these words were written. Our author said that it was "nigh unto vanishing away"; and within a span of five years, all that impressive ceremonial was utterly wiped away from the face of the earth, never to appear again!

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Hebrews 8". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.