Christ's Eternal Priesthood has Superseded the Temporary Priesthood of Aaron.
The more excellent ministry of Christ:
v. 1. Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: we have such an High Priest who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;
v. 2. a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.
v. 3. For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices; wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.
v. 4. For if He were on earth, He should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the Law;
v. 5. who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle; for, See, saith He, that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount.
v. 6. But now hath He obtained a more excellent ministry.
Beginning with chapter 5 the inspired writer has treated of Christ's office of High Priest. He has shown the superiority of Christ, both as to His person and as to His qualifications. He now proceeds to emphasize the greater excellence of the Lord's office from a consideration of the place of His ministry: But the chief point of all that has been said is this, Such a High Priest we have who is seated at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in the heavens. Many considerations have been urged till now to establish the claim of Christ's superior excellence; what has been stated certainly does not lack in force or clearness. But the most persuasive argument, the point that clinches the matter, the thought which forms the headstone of the discussion, is that which the sacred author now offers. With solemn emphasis he says that the High Priest whom we have, in whom we place our trust, is such a one as to occupy a seat at the right hand of the eternal God's majesty in the heavens. The most important part of Christ's office as High Priest, so far as the certainty of faith is concerned, is that which He now performs as our advocate with the Father. His sacrifice here on earth gained salvation for us: our faith clings to the merits of the blood shed for us on Calvary. But we rest our hope of the bliss of heaven in the fact that Christ's intercession for us continues day after day until the glorious consummation of the glory which is ours, though still in hope. For it is because of the fact that Christ is seated at the right hand of the Majesty that He, also according to His human nature, has assumed the free and unlimited use of the divine glory and majesty imparted to it, that His intercession in our behalf avails something, that it has such great and encompassing value. Thus "His sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God proves, 1. that He is higher than all the high priests that ever existed; 2. that the sacrifice which He offered for the sins of the world was sufficient and effectual, and as such accepted by God; 3. that He has all power in the heavens and in the earth, and is able to save and defend to the uttermost all that come to God through Him; 4. that He did not, like the Jewish high priests, depart out of the Holy of Holies after having offered the atonement, but abides there at the throne of God as a continual priest, in the permanent act of offering His crucified body unto God, in behalf of all the succeeding generations of mankind."
Lest his readers fail to grasp the full significance of the distinction implied in this argument, the writer adds: A minister of holy things and of the true tabernacle which the Lord constructed, not man. The word with which Christ is here designated is that used of the officials of a church in the act of worshiping, of priests in the discharge of their duties. Thus Christ is engaged in the service of holy things; He is taking part in ceremonies and in a worship which is infinitely higher than all the services of the earth, even of the ancient Jewish cult. The service of Christ is in the true tabernacle of heaven. The Tabernacle of the children of Israel in the wilderness and during the first centuries in Palestine was symbolical, figurative, typical, foreshadowing the tabernacle, the sanctuary, which was to remain forever. For the old Tabernacle, although built by the command of God and according to designs and plans shown by Him to Moses, was only temporary. The abiding, eternal tabernacle is that above, constructed, built, by the Lord Himself, for His everlasting temple and habitation. See chap. 9:11-24.
The writer now explains his use of the term "servant of worship" with regard to Christ: For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts as well as sacrifices, whence follows the necessity that This One also have something to offer. It was not an idle, meaningless term which the inspired author used when he called Christ a minister of the sanctuary, but was fitting in every way. That was the business of the high priests of old, therein their service consisted, that they offered the gifts and sacrifices of the people to the Lord. We concede the necessity, therefore, of being able to show the Same facts with regard to Christ. And this offers no difficulty, for Christ did have something to offer, chap. 7:27, He accomplished His priestly office by offering up Himself. His own blood, a sacrifice which retains its force in eternity.
In connection with this thought, that Christ is actually making an offering, the sacred writer adds: And, indeed, if He were on earth, He would not even be a priest, since there are men that offer up gifts according to the Law. If this fact is accepted as the truth, that Christ is our High Priest, it is in heaven that He must be exercising His ministry. At the time when this epistle was written, the Jewish Temple was still standing, and all the ordinances of the Jewish worship were still in force. This included that the work of the priests was still performed by the members of the tribe of Levi. The Jewish Ceremonial Law excluded men of every other tribe from the office of priests, and Jesus, as a member of the tribe of Judah, could not have performed the ministry of the Levitical priesthood. Only men whose descent from Lev. could be definitely proved from the genealogical tables were permitted to offer up the sacrifices of the people in the Temple.
But far from detracting from the importance of Jesus, this fact rather brought out His excellency all the more: Who serve a mere type and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses received instructions when he was about to construct the Tabernacle; for, See, said He, that thou make everything according to the type that was shown to thee on the mountain. The priests of the Old Testament were busily serving, indeed, but their entire service, as they knew, was a mere outline and shadow prophetical of the heavenly things which were to be revealed in the Messiah. That fact distinguished their entire service: their work had no substance in itself, no independent existence, Their ministry would have been valueless without the hope of the coming fulfillment of all types and examples. The same lesson is drawn from the manner in which Moses prepared for the building of the Tabernacle. When he consulted with God, he was given the command to construct the Tabernacle and provide all its equipment, not according to his own ideas and designs, but according to the outline and patterns shown him on the mountain, Exo_25:40. It is immaterial whether these sketches were shown to Moses in a vision or delivered to him by the hand of angels. The fact remains that God communicated to him in such a way as to make His will known to him, and that Moses had a clear idea of the will of God with regard to the entire structure and all its appointments. On the same order as the service of Moses on this occasion was the entire ministry of the Old Testament priests; all the acts of worship performed by them were mere types or patterns, whether they were concerned with sacrifices or with the burning of incense or with the ceremonies of the great festivals. While the writer, then, readily concedes that Jesus did not belong to the priests of the Levitical order, he emphasizes all the more strongly: But, as it is, He has obtained a more excellent ministry. The fact that the ministry of Christ is now being carried on in heaven, and that it represents the fulfillment of all the types and figures of the Old Testament, elevates it high above all the Temple services of the Levitical priesthood.
The proof that Christ's ministry has fully replaced that of the Levitical priesthood:
v. 6. (But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry,) by how much also he is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.
v. 7. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.
v. 8. For, finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah;
v. 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 continued not in My covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.
v. 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 write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people;
v. 11. and they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest.
v. 12. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
v. 13. In that He saith, a new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.
The truth that we have a more excellent High Priest is established not only by the fact of His occupying the place of honor at the right hand of the Majesty, but also by the fact of His being our Mediator: But as it is, He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which is established upon better promises. As it is now, since Christ is not on earth, the greater superiority of His ministry appears at once, because that which is heavenly and real is more excellent than that which is here on earth and merely figurative. His office is so much more excellent in the same degree as His mediatorship refers to a better covenant, deals with matters that have been established or enacted, that rest upon a more solid foundation. The promises of the Gospel are better, more excellent, than the demands of the Law; the offer to impart salvation full and free is better than the absolute insistence upon perfection of works. Note: Christ is our Mediator; He represents not only the fulfillment of the work of Aaron, but He is also the true antitype of Moses, the mediator of the Old Testament, Exo_20:19; Gal_3:19. He stands between God and men, 1Ti_2:5, mediating between these two parties, having brought about the reconciliation between them by His sacrifice on the cross.
That the New Testament covenant is based upon better promises than that of the Old appears from a simple historical fact: For if that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place be sought for a second. If the ancient covenant of the Law, as made upon Sinai, had been fully sufficient, had met with all demands for the salvation of men, if there had not been a single flaw in this demand for perfection in restoring the right relation between God and man, then there would have been neither need nor occasion for a second covenant, and God would naturally not have made provision for proclaiming a new covenant. Note that the demand for a covenant which would bring about the restoration of the true spiritual fellowship with God and make it permanent did not originate with man, but with God, who alone is the Author of our salvation.
This fact is now established by reference to a long passage in the Old Testament Scripture, namely, Jer_31:31-34 : For, finding fault with them [the people of the first covenant], God says, Behold, the days come, says the Lord, when I will conclude upon the house of Israel and upon the house of Judah a new covenant, not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, because they remained not in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. There is here a fine change of object, the blame, instead of striking the covenant with its imperfections, falling upon those whose imperfections and sinfulness made it impossible for them to be saved by means of this covenant. The old covenant was insufficient because it did not provide for enabling the people to live up to its terms, and the people are blameworthy because they are willful transgressors of the Law. But the words of the prophecy, although addressed to Judah and Israel according to the flesh, in their real import concern the spiritual Judah and Israel only. Upon these the Lord wants to conclude a new covenant, one which would be fully sufficient for all needs of mankind. One covenant the Lord had made with their fathers at the time when He led them out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, with a strong arm. It was in the third month after the beginning of the journey that the Lord made known to them His holy will in a body of precepts which included not only the Moral Law, but the Ceremonial and Civil Law as well. The loving care which the Lord showed toward His people in those days is well expressed in the words that He took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, an exhibition of tender solicitude which should have kept them faithful to their God. But the people did not remain in His covenant; in insolent disobedience they transgressed His holy Lam and repudiated the Lord of their salvation. And therefore the Lord disregarded and rejected them, giving them at first into the hands of their enemies and finally permitting them to be dragged into shameful captivity. So much for the covenant of the Old Testament.
But now comes the comforting prophecy: For this is the covenant which I will covenant with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: Giving My laws into their mind and I will write them upon their heart, and I will be to them for God, and they will be to Me for a people; and they shall not teach, every man his fellow-citizen and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for all will acknowledge Me, from the smallest to the largest of them; for merciful will I be to their iniquities, and their sins will I no longer remember. The true spiritual house of Israel, the congregation of believers as it was found in the midst of God's people at all times, received this promise as the covenant of the Lord in their interest Three points stand out in this covenant which the Lord published among His people at the time of the Gospel proclamation. "It is inward or spiritual; it is individual and therefore universal; it is gracious and provides forgiveness. " (Dods.) He wanted to give this new commandment, the Gospel-message, into their mind, so that they would be sure to understand it; He wanted to write it upon their heart, so that they would be sure to keep it in loving memory. The Christian religion is in no way a matter of outward forms and ceremonies, but of the spirit and desires of man. Man's mill is so influenced by the Gospel proclamation that it conforms to that of God, and thus God is acknowledged by him as the true God, He, in turn, acknowledging and accepting the believers as His people. It is true that this was also the aim of the Old Testament covenant, but it was impossible for the Law to bring about this relation between God and man. Another feature of the new covenant is that it is not a matter of a people or race as a body politic, instructed by special scribes and priests whose instructions were necessary as mediatory actions. The fact made it imperative for every man to instruct his neighbor and brother as best he could. Now, however, that the Gospel-message has gone forth, there is such a wide distribution of divine light that intermediate services are no longer required, and all the people, from the least to the greatest, may know and accept the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. But the fundamental fact, which also gives the true value to the entire covenant, is this, that God's grace and mercy, the forgiveness of sins, is the essential topic of the Gospel; for the sake of Christ He is merciful to our iniquities and remembers our sins no more. The quoting of the entire passage from the prophet makes the force of the argument all the greater.
The writer, therefore, is right in drawing the conclusion: By saying "a new covenant," He antiquates the first; but that which is antiquated and aged is on the verge of disappearance. Since God expressly mentions a new covenant which He intends to make, He brands the first or former, that which was in force in the Old Testament, as old. Even in the time of Jeremiah the fact that a new covenant was required showed that the old was antiquated, had outlived its usefulness, could not possibly bring men to perfection. But as it is true of other matters, so it is true of this, that things which are antiquated and old cannot expect a much longer life; they must expect to be discarded and to be replaced with something new. Note: The covenant of God's grace and mercy in the Gospel is the comfort of all believers. Instead of the Law with its threats and condemnations we have the Gospel with its offer of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Through this glorious truth we have the right knowledge of God and are God's people.
The writer finds a further proof for the more excellent ministry of Christ in the fact that His work is now being done in heaven and shows that Christ as the Mediator of men has fully replaced and superseded every priest of the Old Testament.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Hebrews 8". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany