Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 8

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

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Verses 1-13

"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: a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man." Another contrast now appears in ch. 8 between Aaron and Christ: not only is the Priest Himself of a higher and perfect character, but the ministry He introduces is "more excellent" than that of Aaron (see verse 6). But the first verse would focus our attention upon "such an High Priest," exalted to the highest possible place of glory. For if He is indeed "a minister," He is more than that - the Object of fullest worship and adoration. But being "a minister of the sanctuary (or of the holy places) and of the true tabernacle," His ministry is of universal character, eternal, purely and fully of God. The earthly tabernacle was but a faint picture of this, for though God's pattern was followed with utmost care, it was yet actually the work of men's hands, its ministry therefore temporary. For the tabernacle is symbolic of the universe. The inner sanctuary typifies Heaven itself, the ark therein a type of the throne of God. The outer sanctuary would indicate Israel, the priestly nation, as in the millennium, in closest outward relationship to God. The court would speak of the rest of creation. Actually, in the coming day, all of creation will be affected by the High Priestly work of the Lord Jesus, but its character is Heavenly, for He Himself has entered the "Holiest of all," now in the presence of God for us. This is a great, universal ministry, therefore, and not one confined to one nation under heaven.

But in verse 3, a comparison is again noted: "For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this Man have somewhat also to offer." Since this is the necessary character of a priest, then certainly this High Priest must have an offering to present to God. In this case, the apostle does not speak of His offering Himself up in death, but of a present offering. "For if He were on earth, He should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law." Here again is contrast. He could not be an official priest of an earthly sanctuary, for this was confined to the line of Aaron. His official priesthood now is far above this. Note that the verse does not say that He was not a priest on earth; "but if He were on earth He should not be a priest." His present priesthood has no place now on earth, for He is officially High Priest now. As we have seen, in moral character He always was a Priest, but not officially on earth at all. Similarly, even on earth He was actually King of Israel; but He will not officially take His throne as such until a yet future day. These distinctions ought to give no difficulty.

Priests on earth however, who are linked with Israel's legal system, "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 shewed to thee in the mount." The word "example" here may be rightly translated "representation." Moses was given no light or indifferent task. He was not allowed in one iota to change the pattern God gave him, however the children of Israel might have felt about it or considered that some things might he improved upon in their eyes. This was to represent heavenly things, and only God could be depended on to give instructions. How solemn a word for the church today also, as regards true order according to God. Sad indeed that in too many cases man's thoughts have been allowed to qualify and alter the truth of God concerning the order of the church. This is a gross insult to God, and a false representation of His mind and will.

But besides representation the legal system was a "shadow." There was no solid substance in it: this is found only in Christ. The actual substance is heavenly, and the shadow of this was cast on earth, in anticipation of the substance.

"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." His ministry is superior because He is the Mediator of a superior covenant, which is founded upon superior promises. Indeed, the promise to Abraham was long before the law. Moreover, it was an unconditional promise as to Abraham and his seed, while the promise given to Moses was conditional upon the obedience of the people. How vastly inferior this was, for it could introduce no blessing at all. But the new covenant is the actual fulfilment of the magnificent promise to Abraham, which really manifests the heart of God, and the sufficiency of God, - He Himself accomplishing all blessing, with nothing dependent upon the energy or virtue of man. How much sweeter therefore, how much stronger, how much more full of blessing is the ministry of our Lord, the great Mediator of the new covenant.

Not that the new covenant is addressed to Christians, no more than was the Old. Both are definitely Jewish. This is seen clearly in verses 7 to 10. Nevertheless, though we are not therefore under a covenant in any respect, yet the blessings of the new covenant are ministered to Christians by pure grace, through Him Who is Mediator of the new covenant. This is grace, the branches of blessing spreading out over the wall of Jewish separation, and reaching Gentiles, who were not the subjects of promise, nor ever in any covenant relationship with God.

"For if the first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. 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: 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." The first covenant was not faultless, because it could procure no blessing for those who broke it; and of course those to whom it was given proved themselves far from faultless. Consequently, there was ample room for, and necessity of a new covenant. Observe that verse 8 says, "finding fault with them," not with the covenant.

The apostle quotes fromJeremiah 31:1-40; Jeremiah 31:1-40, and of course it is plain that the new covenant was there promised exclusively to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Both are mentioned because of the division of the ten tribes from the two in Rehoboam's time. No tribe will be excluded from the new covenant: in that order of things the division will be Divinely healed. And the terms of the covenant must he in contrast to the terms of the former one, given when God led them out of Egypt. Note the reference here to God's compassionate mercy in liberating them from Egypt, a work altogether of sovereign power and grace, in the face of which Israel yet had the ignorant boldness to choose a covenant of law! They required more than this experience to convince them that the mercy of God was their only source of blessing; and the nation has not learned it yet. But they certainly "continued not" in the first covenant, and God has "regarded them not." This will be so until they cease "going about to establish their own righteousness," and abandon themselves to the mercy of God.

"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 minds, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people: 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. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." How vastly different are the terms of this covenant from those of the old. There is no condition whatever here, that is, nothing based upon the fulfilment of human responsibility. No requirement is stipulated at all as regards Israel: it is entirely a matter of God alone fulfilling the terms. Israel has proven that she is utterly without ability to present to God anything that could possibly deserve His favor; and therefore if she is to be favored, it must be entirely on the ground of God's work. Of course, it is necessary that she be brought down to first acknowledge her utter destitution and helplessness before she will submit to this great and sovereign grace: only thus will she be in a state to give the entire glory to God.

Putting His laws into their minds and writing them in their hearts is a miracle of mercy. Does it not plainly speak of the new birth, a complete changing of the heart in true repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Nothing short of this will do for Israel. and it is just as necessary for every soul of man today. "Except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God" (John 3:3). It is the goodness of God that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4), and it is by the Word of God that new life is given (1 Peter 1:23).

This will be true of "all Israel" in the millennial age. The Gospel will not be preached among them, for all shall know the Lord. How mighty a work of Divine grace in that stubborn nation, so long dealt with in chastisement and affliction before being broken and blessed. Isaiah 66:8 prophesies of the wonder of this great work: "Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children." Such is the blessed work of God within the soul. Verse 10 however also speaks of the actual outward acts of disobedience, and shows that Divine mercy would be required to dismiss these. "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." How God could righteously show this mercy is not here mentioned, but chapters 9 and 10 dwell upon the greatness of the public work that must be done for this, - that is, the wondrous sacrifice of Christ.

"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 legal covenant, not having in it the capacity to endure the stress of man's condition, must be replaced by that which endures. The new covenant necessarily renders the first old, and it will never be revived. The new is not merely a method of patching the old: the old must be entirely discarded. And the new will give place to nothing else: it is perpetually new.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Hebrews 8". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. 1897-1910.