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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 8

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Verses 1-5

The Main Point

Hebrews 8:1. The writer can now determine “the main point” of all that is previously said. As a kind of climax he summarizes the previous arguments for his readers. Centered in all teachings of the previous chapters is the Person of the High Priest. Again he speaks about Him as “such a High Priest” (Hebrews 7:26), firstly emphasizing His Person and then emphasizing His service. Such a One, Who is Son (Hebrews 7:28), and no one else, is that High Priest.

But it is not only an examination of His Person on a distance. Surely, He is exalted far beyond us, though He is also still close to us; yes, He belongs to us. After all, it is said that we “have” Him, right? You are allowed to make use of His service; He is available to you.

It must have been a tremendous encouragement for the Hebrew readers. You should again imagine that these believers were mocked for their faith by their unbelieving countrymen. They believed in an invisible Messiah and were adhering to promises that showed no signs that they were going to be fulfilled.

The unbelieving Jews on the contrary were able to show their temple, their offerings, their priests, their high priests, and their ceremonial service. It looked like they had the right on their side. You could see everything that they were pointing at, while the believing Hebrews could not deliver a single proof of what they saw in faith and what they were adhering to.

As the writer continually was making efforts to guide the eyes of the readers up to heaven, to the Lord Jesus, he does that here as well. He gives the believers the answer they just need to silence their unbelieving countrymen and maybe even more to make an end to their own rising doubts. They are now able to say to their mocking countrymen (and to themselves): We have the substance, you have the shadows; we have Christ, you have ceremonies; we have the Person, you have the picture.

They could even add to that: ‘Our High Priest is seated, because the only sacrifice He offered up has fully met the holy requirements of God. This aspect of His ministry, the offering up of a sacrifice, has been accomplished and never has to be repeated. Your high priest, however, is continually busy; he never rests, because his ministry never leads to perfection and because he himself continually fails. And where does your high priest serve? In a temple on earth, which is also temporary as all things on earth are temporary.’

Besides, he was allowed to come only once a year into the sanctuary. He had to be surrounded by the frankincense and had to carry blood. When he finished that service he came outside again. He had to repeat this ritual each year, because his service was imperfect. And where did our High Priest take his seat? At “the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens”. He is a High Priest Who is connected to the throne of the Majesty.’

As you know, a throne has got to do with reigning. He is King-Priest. He reigns and blesses. The throne is here called ‘the throne of the Majesty’, which refers to impressive greatness, power, excellence. The dignity of His Person and of His service fully meets the Majesty, that is God, Who exceeds endlessly far above all things in glory and greatness. The place where He abides is also appropriate. He is in the heavens, which refers to His lofty position.

The Lord Jesus is seated indeed. That is in regard with His work that has been accomplished for once and for all on the cross. The sacrifice He offered up there, that is He Himself, is perfect and has never to be repeated. In the following chapters the writer will get fully into detail on this wonderful sacrifice.

Hebrews 8:2. However, the Lord Jesus is also “a Minister in the sanctuary”, which means that in another way He is not seated, but is accomplishing His service on behalf of others. The sanctuary is “the true tabernacle”, the true realm of the service.

The sanctuary in the wilderness, the earthly tabernacle, was a real sanctuary. There was nothing lacking, but it was not the ‘true’ sanctuary. In the same way Israel was a real vine, but Christ is the true vine. Israel has never been able to give God that joy He was seeking, due to weakness and sin. Christ on the contrary was able to do that.

Also the true tabernacle was not made by human hands. The earthly tabernacle was, although commanded by God, only built by human hands. That means that it was not everlasting, for it belonged to a perishable creation. Concerning the heavenly and true tabernacle it is different. That one is established by the Lord and therefore not evanescent. And the service there is also kept by a perfect High Priest.

Hebrews 8:3. That brings the writer to the remark about the offering of gifts and sacrifices, for a high priest is always accompanied by an offering. Only on that condition he was allowed to enter the sanctuary. Therefore also Christ had to have something to offer up, for otherwise He would not have been able to serve as High Priest. Well then, Christ has entered the sanctuary on the basis of His own sacrifice. The earthly high priests came with “gifts and sacrifices” as it was commanded in the Old Testament. Christ gave and sacrificed Himself. He is the fulfillment of all Old Testament gifts and sacrifices.

Hebrews 8:4. He achieves His service in heaven on behalf of a heavenly people. On earth He couldn’t be priest, as the writer demonstrated in chapter 7 (Hebrews 7:12-Esther :). How could these believing Jews desire again a system where Christ couldn’t even be priest? On earth the priests exerted their service according to the Levitical order. But if in that order there is no room for the priesthood of Christ and no room for Him to exert it, then there also cannot possibly be room for those who belong to Him. If He cannot be priest on earth and cannot exert His service there, there must be another place for Him to do that. He surely does and that happens in the true sanctuary, which is in heaven.

Each earthly priesthood, as you see that especially in roman-catholicism, is not only a return to the shadow of the Old Testament, but is particularly a practical denial of the priesthood of Christ. Only Christ’s priesthood is valuable to God. Each earthly priesthood is also a presumption of the office and the service that belong to Christ alone. An earthly priest wrongly claims a position between men and God, as if he is better and higher than the people he presumes to represent. He also presumes to represent God towards the people, as if he alone knows the thoughts of God. God does not recognize such priesthood.

Recently I read the book ‘Von Rom zu Christus’ (from Rome to Christ). In that book testimonies are written about ex-priests who tell about how they have become liberated from the error of roman-catholicism. One of them tells about how the light of God began to shine more and more in his soul, which made him discover that he was a stranger to God, somebody of whom God said: ‘I never knew you; depart from Me’ (Matthew 7:23).

He summarized all that he had ever done for Him: ‘Am I not your priest? Am I not a clergy man? Look at all offerings I have brought: many years of study, separated from my family and home, the oaths of poverty, obedience and being unmarried. All that I possessed, my will and even my body I have consecrated to you, that I might serve You better! And now You’re telling me that You never knew me? Just remember all the children I baptized, the confessions I took the time to listen to, how many miserable and discouraged souls I have comforted; the coldness, loneliness and ingratitude I endured.’

Despite of the whole litany of good deeds the same judgment was still sounding in his ears: ‘I never knew you.’ An earthly priestly service provides no peace with God, neither to the priest nor to those he acts for as a priest. Peace with God is only to be found in having faith in Christ Who as the perfect priest offered up the perfect sacrifice. In that way this ex-priest also found peace with God.

Hebrews 8:5. This letter was written when the earthly temple service still existed. The writer points at those who serve “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things”. It is tragic though, if you think that there were still so many priests in those days who were achieving a service that makes no sense, neither for God nor for the people. The service on earth was a visible, earthly ‘copy’ of the service that is taking place in heaven. ‘Shadow’ adds that that earthly service is nothing essential in itself, though it refers to a reality. When you see a shadow of a person you don’t see the body, but the shadow certainly refers to the body behind it.

The writer clarifies this teaching with the example of Moses who received instructions from God how to build the tabernacle. When he was with God on the mountain, God showed him the blueprint of the tabernacle. He had to build the tabernacle on earth exactly according to the blueprint he saw on the mountain. He had to carefully make sure that it was built only in that way and absolutely not otherwise.

The tabernacle on earth was a copy and a shadow of what Moses saw on the mountain. But Christ doesn’t serve a copy and shadow on earth, but He serves in the true tabernacle. He doesn’t serve in a copy, but in a better, higher, more perfect heavenly place.

Why should you be connected with priests who serve in a copied sanctuary, while you are allowed to be connected with Christ in the true heavenly sanctuary?

Now read Hebrews 8:1-5 again.

Reflection: What is the main point of the letter?

Verses 6-13

The Old and the New Covenant

Hebrews 8:6. This section is about “a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises”. The “ministry” of the high priesthood of the Lord Jesus is related to that. His ministry is “more excellent” than that of the high priests under the old covenant. That took place on earth and was temporary, while the ministry of the Lord Jesus takes place in heaven and is everlasting. His ministry as a High Priest is that of a Mediator. A mediator is somebody who mediates between two parties that have made an agreement or covenant.

A covenant is a contract between two parties with obligations for each of the parties. The two parties are God on the one hand and His people on the other hand. This covenant originates from God. He determines the obligations, both which He should fulfill and which His people should fulfill. He freely takes His own obligations, while He imposed them on man in the form of commandments. God’s commandments are the conditions of how man is able to deal with God. On that ground God fulfills His promises.

What is now meant by “a better covenant” and by “better promises”? When something is ‘better’, it means that it is better in comparison to something else. You read further about ‘a new covenant’ in comparison to a covenant that God made with His people when they departed from Egypt. The better covenant is better, compared to the old covenant. That was made by God with His people at mount Sinai. Thereby God determined the conditions that the people had to fulfill in order to receive His promises. That promise was the blessing in the land of promise. But the people didn’t fulfill their obligations and therefore the promised blessing could not be given.

Now there is ‘a better covenant’ with ‘better promises’. This better covenant is also accompanied by obligations that are to be complied and also by promises of blessings that the believer receives when he complies with the obligations.

And now the role of the mediator becomes clear. He acts on behalf of both the parties. As “mediator” the Lord Jesus has all features that are fitting to the Being of God. So He knows exactly which holy conditions He has to fulfill. He also has the nature of those on whose behalf He is acting (of course with the exception of sin, Hebrews 4:15). Therefore He can also perfectly meet with the need of man.

Under the new covenant all holy conditions of God are fulfilled by the Mediator. Based on Who the Mediator is and what He has done, God is able to freely give His blessing to everyone who is connected to that Mediator. Therefore the big difference between the old and the new covenant is that under the first or old covenant the blessing was dependent on the response of man, while under the second or new covenant everything is exclusively dependent on God.

Hebrews 8:7. That a second or a new covenant was needed meant that the first one had not delivered the result that was desired. The first covenant was not “faultless”. That was not due to the first covenant, the law, but it was due to man. The second one is indeed faultless, for it is totally outside of man’s responsibility. There was found what was searched for to enable man to yet partake of God’s blessing. This is found in and through the atoning work of Christ.

Hebrews 8:8. The Lord already announced this new covenant through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-Nahum :). The announcement of that was on the one hand a tremendous promise, but on the other hand it was an admonition to Israel. After all, if they had complied with the obligations of the old covenant they would have received that which was promised and a new covenant was not necessary.

It is important now that you notice with whom the old covenant was made and with whom the new covenant will be made. The old covenant was made with Israel at mount Sinai. That becomes evident from Hebrews 8:9. According to Hebrews 8:8 the new covenant will also be made with Israel. It is not made with the church, unlike what you probably hear or read sometimes. The church surely enjoys all privileges that belong to the new covenant, because its foundation is the blood of Christ. Though the church enjoys all the privileges in the spirit, in a spiritual way and not in the letter, like Israel soon will literally and tangibly enjoy that blessing on earth.

The new covenant will be formally made with Israel in the millennial kingdom of peace. Then the house of Israel, the ten tribes, and the house of Judah, the two tribes, will be united as one nation. When you read through Jeremiah 30-31, from which the writer quotes here, you will see that those chapters are filled with information about the return of Israel to the land where the promises of God will be fulfilled. In the quotation here it appears who will do that. You read seven times: ‘I will.’ That is the adequate guarantee for the fulfillment of the new covenant.

Hebrews 8:9. That sounds and is totally different than the old covenant at mount Sinai. There all the people of Israel said three times that they would do everything that the Lord had spoken (Exodus 19:8; Exodus 24:3Exodus 24:7). But even before they received God’s conditions in the law they already had broken them by making the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-Deuteronomy :).

Then God “took them by the hand”, for they couldn’t live up to the obedience that they had threefold committed themselves to. He led them through the wilderness to the land. But because they continuously broke His covenant, God couldn’t regard them anymore to bless them. He had to disregard them.

But He didn’t do that for ever, for God Himself comes with a new covenant. And that new covenant is “not like” the old covenant. A new one but according to the old covenant would have the same miserable result.

Hebrews 8:10. This new covenant is different because it is not dependent on the responsibility of man, but on the grace of God. In that grace the Son of God fulfilled all conditions through His work on the cross.

This new covenant is made with Israel “after those days”, those are the days after the dispersion and anguish of Israel. ‘After those days’ the days of the millennial kingdom of joy and righteousness will come under the Messiah. They will be able to enjoy the outward blessing, because inwardly also a great change has happened to them. The law was imposed on the people of Israel under the old covenant as a heavy yoke that they could not bear (Acts 15:10). In the new covenant Israel has been inwardly purified and reconciled and has received a new nature that desires to do God’s will.

As a result of God’s work God will put His ”laws into their minds”, which means that their whole mind will be determined by that. God will also work that His laws will be written “on their hearts”, which means that they will obey them with love and that all their actions will be characterized by it.

The law will not then be a yoke anymore, but they will cherish it in their heart as it was with Christ (Psalms 40:8) and they will be able to fulfill the law. They shall obey, not out of fear for punishment, but out of love to God. Then the relationship between the people and God will be restored. God will be the God of His people and they will be His people.

Hebrews 8:11. The new covenant, the law in their mind and heart, will mark all the relations of the people. It will be the principle of both the social and the religious life of Israel in the millennial kingdom. Under the new covenant there is no middle class of lawyers anymore who will have to present the law to their countrymen to know the Lord, which is to involve Him in everything of their lives. In the millennial kingdom that will not be necessary at all.

Everyone will act from a personal relationship with God and not through mediators. In civil relationships everyone, in his dealing as “fellow citizen”, shall be guided by the knowledge of God and from the fellowship with Him and not by selfishness. Everyone shall deal with others as “brother” in the religious life, in order to honor God together according to the knowledge he has of God and from the fellowship with Him. A self-willed religion will not occur.

Hebrews 8:12. In that marvelous situation there is nothing that can bring a separation between God and His people. God has cast all their sins in the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) and will never come back on it again. The fact that He will remember their sins no more is something else than that He forgets them. It means that He will not pay attention to those sins anymore, because they are removed through the work of the Lord Jesus. That is the basis of His graceful dealings in future. What will be true for the people in future you’re already allowed to acknowledge now: the assurance of the forgiveness of your sins.

Hebrews 8:13. After the extensive and instructive quotation, the writer concludes this chapter by repeating to say what he also said before this quotation in Hebrews 8:7. There he spoke about a ‘first’ and a ‘second’ (covenant); here he speaks about a ‘new’ and an ‘old’ (covenant). When you speak about ‘a new’ you declare the previous one to be ‘old’. Something that is old, has had its time. It is visible from its look that something is out of date; it is “obsolete”. That’s what was the matter with the first covenant.

It is also said additionally that it is “ready to disappear”. The best way to interpret this, is to see it as an allusion to the coming devastation of Jerusalem in the time this letter was written. That devastation was going to happen in the year 70, which made it completely impossible to maintain something from the Old Testament.

Now read Hebrews 8:6-13 again.

Reflection: What are the differences between the old and the new covenant?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Hebrews 8". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/hebrews-8.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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