Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 8

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4068. A.D. 64.

In this chapter the apostle,

(1,) Demonstrates the excellence of Christ’s priesthood above that of Aaron, in respect of the place where he now officiates, the sacrifice which he offered, and the covenant of which he is the mediator, Hebrews 8:1 , Hebrews 8:2 .

(2,) Shows the excellence of the covenant of grace and the gospel dispensation above the legal covenant and ceremonial dispensation, Hebrews 8:7-13 .

Verse 1

Hebrews 8:1. The apostle having shown that Jesus, as a High-Priest, is superior to all the Levitical high-priests, inasmuch as, like Melchisedec, he is a King, as well as a Priest; nay, a more righteous King than even Melchisedec, being absolutely free from sin, he in this and the following chapter, for the further illustration of the glory of Christ, as a High-Priest, compares his ministrations with those of the Levitical high-priests, both in respect of the place where he officiates, and of the efficacy of his ministrations. Of this chapter there are two general parts. 1st, A further explication of the excellence of the priesthood of Christ, or of Christ himself as vested with that office. 2d, A further confirmation thereof, wherein is introduced the consideration of the two covenants, the old and the new. For to the former was the administration of the Levitical priests confined; of the latter, Christ is our Priest, Mediator, and Surety.

Now of the things which we have spoken Namely, in the preceding part of this discourse; this is the sum Or rather, the chief article, as κεφαλαιον is interpreted by Chrysostom and Theophylact, in which sense the Syriac and Vulgate translations understand the expression. He calls Christ’s sitting down at the right hand of God the chief of all the things he had hitherto mentioned, because it implied, 1st, That the sacrifice of himself which he had offered was accepted of God as a sufficient atonement for the sins of the world. 2d, That he possesses all power in heaven and on earth next to the Father; so that he is able to defend the people for whom he officiates from their enemies, and is authorized by God to acquit and reward them at the final judgment. 3d, That he did not, like the Levitical high-priests, depart out of the most holy place after finishing the atonement, but abideth there always as the minister thereof, to open that holy place to the prayers and other acts of worship performed by his people on earth, and to their persons after death and judgment. We have such a High-Priest One so great and illustrious as hath been described, made after the order, or similitude, of Melchisedec, and by the oath of God himself invested with immortal honours. The expression answers to such a High-Priest became us, (Hebrews 7:26,) and brings to the reader’s recollection the description there given of the High-Priest who could effectually officiate for us. Who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. That is, at the right hand of the visible glory, whereby the divine presence is manifested to the angels in heaven. Of this Stephen had a clear view before he expired; for being full of the Holy Ghost, and looking up steadfastly into heaven, he saw the glory of God, and Jesus at the right hand of God. This sight, it is probable, the apostle himself enjoyed when he was caught up into the third heaven. “That the Deity manifests his presence to his intelligent creatures in a sensible manner, somewhere in the universe, is a notion,” says Macknight, “which has been entertained by all mankind.” Higher expressions cannot be imagined than those here used to lead us into a holy adoration of the tremendous glory intended to be described. And now, what was the glory of the Jewish high-priest, if considered in comparison with that of the Lord Christ, the High-Priest of our profession? The legal priest indeed entered into the holy place made with hands, and presented there the blood of the sacrifices of beasts before the august pledges of the divine presence; but all the while he was there he stood before the typical throne with holy awe and reverence, and immediately on the discharge of his duty was to withdraw, and depart out of the sacred place; but our High-Priest, after he had offered his great sacrifice on the cross, entered with the virtue of his own blood, not into the holy places made with hands, but into heaven itself, not to stand with humble reverence before the throne, but to sit on the throne of God at his right hand, and that for evermore!

Verse 2

Hebrews 8:2. A minister Λειτουργος , a public minister, who, having entered within the veil, now ministers, or executes, the remaining part of his office in his human nature, representing the merit of his own sacrifice, as the high-priest represented the blood of those sacrifices once a year; of the sanctuary The place of God’s glorious presence, typified by the holy of holies of the Jewish tabernacle and temple, where were the mercy-seat and ark, the symbols of God’s presence with his church; and of the true tabernacle The third heaven, called the true tabernacle or habitation of God, to distinguish it from the Mosaic tabernacle, which was only its representation or shadow, by means of the inhabitation of the glory of the Lord, which heavenly tabernacle the Lord pitched Or fixed; and not man That is, a tabernacle infinitely superior to any which human hands could be concerned in rearing, and proportionable to the boundless wisdom, power, and magnificence of God. In this most holy place our great High-Priest ever lives, happy in his own blessedness and glory, and having the whole administration of things sacred between God and the church committed to him.

Verses 3-4

Hebrews 8:3-4. For every high-priest, &c. As if the apostle had said, And it appears that Christ is a minister, or priest, of the true tabernacle, because he offers sacrifice, which none but the priests might do. Wherefore Greek, οθεν , whence; the whole force of this inference depends on this supposition that all the old typical institutions did represent what was really to be accomplished in Christ; it is of necessity that this man have somewhat to offer For whatever otherwise this glorious person might be, yet a high-priest he could not be, unless he had in his possession somewhat to offer in sacrifice to God, and that was his whole human nature, soul and body. For, or, rather, but, if he were on earth If his priesthood terminated here; he should, or, rather, could, not be a priest Consistently with the Jewish institutions; seeing that there are priests, other priests, that offer according to the law To whom alone this office is allotted. As if he had said, It appears further that Christ was a minister of the heavenly sanctuary, and was to execute his office in heaven; 1st, Because he did not execute it on earth. For though his priesthood may be considered as being in some sense begun on earth, by his offering the sacrifice of himself upon the cross, yet the continuance and consummation of all is in heaven, by his representing there the merit of his sacrifice, and his making continual intercession. 2d, Because there was a priesthood settled on earth already, and there could not be two orders of priesthood divinely appointed officiating on earth together.

Verse 5

Hebrews 8:5. Who serve Which priests, according to the Jewish institutions, serve in the temple, which was not yet destroyed; unto, or, after, the example, or, pattern, and shadow of heavenly things Of gospel mysteries, even of Christ himself, with all that he did and suffered, and still continues to do, including spiritual, evangelical worship, and everlasting glory. In other words, The whole ministry of the Jewish priests was about such things as had only a resemblance and obscure representation of things of the gospel. The word υποδειγμα , rendered example, or pattern, means somewhat expressed by the strokes pencilled out upon a piece of fine linen, which exhibit the figures of leaves and flowers, but have not yet received their splendid colours and curious shades; and σκια , the word rendered shadow, is that shadowy representation which gives some dim and imperfect idea of the body; but not the fine features, not the distinguishing air, none of those living graces, which adorn the real person. Yet both the pattern and shadow lead our minds to something nobler than themselves; the pattern to those spiritual and eternal blessings which complete it, the shadow to that which occasions it. Of the shadow, see on Hebrews 10:1. As Moses was admonished of God Κεχρηματισται , an expression which sometimes signifies to receive an oracle, or a revelation, or divine direction: as Hebrews 11:7, By faith Noah, χρηματισθεις , being directed by a revelation. Sometimes it denotes a direction from an angel, as Acts 10:22, Cornelius, χρηματισθεις υπο αγγελου αγιου , being warned by a holy angel. In the active voice it signifies to deliver an oracle, asHebrews 10:25; Hebrews 10:25, If they did not escape who refused, τον χρηματιζοντα , him delivering oracles on earth. Here the expression means that Moses was divinely instructed, when he was about to make the tabernacle, concerning every part of it, by a model which was shown him in the mount, and which exhibited the form, fashion, dimensions, and all the utensils of it. For see, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern, &c. “The strictness of this charge implying that the tabernacle and its services were intended to be representations of heavenly things, may we not suppose that this purpose was discovered to Moses as the reason of the exactness required, and that the knowledge thereof was preserved among the Jews by tradition. God’s direction to Moses to make all according to the pattern showed him, is here appealed to by the apostle with great propriety, as a proof that the priests worshipped God in the tabernacle with a representation and shadow of heavenly things. For, since by this admonition Moses was required not only to make the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry, exactly according to the pattern showed him in the mount, but also, and indeed chiefly, to appoint the services of the priests in the tabernacles according to that pattern, the strictness of the injunction implied that there was some important reason for this exactness. Now what could that reason be, unless the one assigned by the apostle; namely, that the tabernacle was intended to be a shadow of the heavenly holy place, and the services of the tabernacles to be representations of the ministrations of Messiah as a priest in heaven?” Accordingly the tabernacles are called, Acts 10:23, τα υποδειγματα , the patterns, or representations, of the holy places in the heavens. And Acts 10:24, the holy places made with hands are called αντιτυπα , antitypes of the true. The ministry of the priests in the earthly tabernacles is represented as typical of the ministrations of Christ in heaven, Acts 10:7; and by the absolute exclusion of the priests and people from the most holy place, the representation of heaven, (Acts 10:8,) the Holy Ghost signified that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was yet standing; and ( Act 10:9 ) that the outward tabernacle with its services was a figure for the time then present, by which figure the Jews were taught the inefficacy of all the atonements made by men on earth for cleansing the conscience. To which add, that ( Act 10:11-12 ) Christ is called a High-Priest of good things to come, is said to have entered once into the holy place, and to have obtained eternal redemption for us. “These things show that the ministrations of the Levitical high-priests in the inward tabernacle on earth, were typical of the ministrations of Christ in the true tabernacle, that is, in heaven.” Macknight.

Verses 6-7

Hebrews 8:6-7. But now, &c. In this verse begins the second part of the chapter concerning the difference between the two covenants, the old and the new, with the pre-eminence of the latter to the former, and of the ministry of Christ to that of the Jewish high-priests. He hath obtained a more excellent ministry, &c. His priesthood as much excels theirs as the promises of the gospel, whereof he is a surety, excelled those of the law; or, the excellence of his ministry above that of the Levitical priests is in proportion to the excellence of the covenant, whereof he is the Mediator, above the old covenant wherein they had ministered. With this argument the apostle closes his long discourse respecting the pre-eminence of Christ in his office above the high-priests of old, a subject to which he could not give too much evidence, nor too full a confirmation, considering that it was the very hinge on which his whole controversy with the Jews depended. For if that first covenant had been faultless If that dispensation had answered all God’s designs and man’s wants, if it had not been weak and unprofitable; then should no place, &c. “Although the Sinai covenant was well calculated to preserve the Jews from idolatry, and to give them the knowledge of their duty, it was faulty or imperfect in the following respects: 1st, The rites of worship which it enjoined, sanctified only to the purifying of the flesh, but not the consciences of the worshippers. 2d, These rites could be performed nowhere but in the tabernacle, or in the temple, consequently they could not be the religion of mankind. 3d, This covenant had no real sacrifices for sin, consequently it granted no pardon to any sinner. 4th, Its promises were all of a temporal kind. 5th, It required an unsinning obedience, which, in our present state, no one can give; and threatened death for every offence. See Galatians 4:3. No place have been sought for the second Since the first covenant is that which God made with the Israelites at Sinai by the publication of the law, the second covenant must be that which was made with mankind in general, by the publication of the gospel. Accordingly the publication of the gospel was foretold, (Jeremiah 31:31,) under the idea of making a new covenant with the house of Israel, &c., and the gospel itself is called (Isaiah 2:3,) the law which went forth from Zion. But it is to be observed, that the law of Moses is called the first covenant, not merely because it was prior to the gospel, but also because it was in some respects the same with the first covenant under which Adam was placed in paradise; for, like it, it required perfect obedience (in many cases) under the penalty of death, and allowed no pardon to any sinner, however penitent. It is likewise to be observed, that the gospel is called the second covenant, not merely because it was posterior to the law, but also because it is actually the same with the second covenant under which Adam was placed after the fall; for it requires, not a sinless, but a sincere obedience, and grants pardon to sinners on their repentance, see Galatians 3:10. However, though the rigour of the first covenant, (which, properly speaking, was the law of nature written on Adam’s heart,) was mitigated under the second or gospel covenant, by the abolition of its curse, (Galatians 3:13,) its obligation, as a rule of life, never was, nor ever could be cancelled, but its [moral] precepts have constantly remained in force. Hence all the sins which men commit, and which are pardoned under the second covenant, are very properly called transgressions of the first, Hebrews 9:15.”

Verses 8-9

Hebrews 8:8-9. For In this verse the apostle enters upon the proof of his argument proposed in that foregoing, namely, that the first covenant was not faultless, or every way sufficient for the end God had in view, because there was cause for the introduction of another. For finding fault with them Namely, the people; he saith, Behold the days come, &c. This is translated by Grotius and others, Finding fault, he saith to them, and understood of finding fault with the former covenant. But it seems much more proper to understand it of God’s finding fault with the Jews, (as he evidently does in the words preceding those here quoted, Jeremiah 31:29-30,) for using the proverb, against which he expresses so much displeasure, in Ezekiel 18:2. And in the words themselves he also finds fault with them for breaking this covenant, though he had, with so much tender care, brought them out of Egypt. It is true, the first covenant was not every way perfect with respect to God’s general end toward his church; yet it may not be proper to say that God complained of it; whereas God, in this testimony, actually complains of the people that they brake his covenant, and expresses his indignation thereon, saying, I regarded them not. He saith By the Prophet Jeremiah, in that celebrated text, which undoubtedly refers to the gospel dispensation; Behold As if he had said, Because the covenant, which they were under before, was not the means of reforming them, but, notwithstanding it, they were rebellious still; therefore the days come Namely, of the gospel; when I will make a new covenant Not new in regard of the substance of it, but the manner of its dispensation; 1st, Being ratified by the death of Christ; 2d, Freed from the burdensome rites and ceremonies of the law; 3d, Containing a more full and clear revelation of the mysteries of religion, and a more perfect description of it as spiritual, and having its seat chiefly in men’s hearts; 4th, Attended with larger influences of the Spirit; 5th, Extended to all men; 6th, Never to be abolished. With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah That is, with the whole Jewish nation, including descendants from both these houses. For although the houses of Israel and Judah had existed separately, the one from the other, from the time of the first Jeroboam, yet after the captivity of the ten tribes, who composed the house of Israel, such of them as joined themselves to the house of Judah, were so mixed with them as not to be distinguished from them. Not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers But differing from it in the circumstances above mentioned, and in others declared afterward; when I took them by the hand With the care and tenderness of a parent; or manifested my infinite condescension and almighty power in their deliverance; because they continued not Or, in which covenant of mine they did not continue; while their deliverance was fresh in their memory they obeyed, but presently after they shook off the yoke, and did not abide by the terms of the covenant. And I regarded them not Greek, καγω ημελησα αυτων , I neglected them. So that the covenant was soon entirely broken. The passage here quoted stands thus in Jeremiah, Which my covenant they brake, though I was a husband to them, saith the Lord. The apostle’s translation of it is that of the LXX. And to reconcile it with the Hebrew text, Pocock (in his Miscel., chap. 1) observes, that in the eastern languages, letters of the same organ, as they are called, being often interchanged, the Hebrew word, בעל , bagnal, to be a husband, is the same with the Arabic word, בהל , bahal, which signifies to refuse, despise, nauseate. So that the Hebrew clause will bear to be translated as the apostle and the LXX. have done, I neglected them, I nauseated them. See note on Jeremiah 31:31, &c.

Verse 10

Hebrews 8:10. For this is the covenant that I will make after those days In the times of the Messiah; I will put my laws into their mind I will open the eyes of their understanding, and give them light to discern the true, full, spiritual meaning thereof; and write them in their hearts So that they shall love them, and shall experience inwardly, and practise outwardly, whatsoever I command. They shall have that love to me and all mankind shed abroad in their hearts, which shall be a never-failing spring of piety and virtue within them, and which, of my mercy and grace, I will accept as the fulfilling of the law. The words are an allusion to the writing of the law on the two tables of stone. And I will be to them a God Their all- sufficient portion, preserver, and rewarder; and they shall be to me a people My beloved, loving, and obedient children. Or the former clause may signify, They shall know, fear, love, and serve me willingly and acceptably as their God, and I will protect, guide, govern, bless, and save them as my people.

Verses 11-12

Hebrews 8:11-12. And they Who are under this covenant; shall not teach That is, shall not any more have need to teach; every man his neighbour, &c., saying, Know the Lord Though in other respects they will have need to teach each other to their lives’ end; yet they shall not need to teach each other the knowledge of the Lord; for this they shall possess; yea, all real Christians, who believe in Jesus as the true Messiah, with a living faith, a faith working by love, shall know me Even as a pardoning God, (Hebrews 8:12,) and therefore savingly; from the least to the greatest From the babe in Christ, the little children spoken of by St. John, whose sins are forgiven them; unto such as are of full age; strong in the Lord, and deeply experienced in his ways. See 1 John 2:12-14. Or, by the least may be meant the poor and despised, and by the greatest, persons of wealth, authority, and power. In this order, the saving knowledge of God ever did, and ever will proceed; not from the greatest to the least, but from the least to the greatest; from the poor to the rich; from the low to the high; that no flesh may glory in his presence. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness I will pardon and accept them through my Son, in consequence of their repentance and faith in him; or, I will justify them, and give them peace with myself, and thus will make them wise unto salvation, truly holy and happy. Observe, reader, justification and peace with God is the root of all true knowledge of God and conformity to him. This, therefore, is God’s method; First, a sinner, being brought to true repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, is pardoned; then he knows God as gracious and merciful; then God’s laws are written on his heart; he is God’s, and God is his. And their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more Namely, so as to punish them. In the Hebrew of Jeremiah, this passage runs thus; I will forgive their iniquity, and will remember their sin no more. Probably the apostle translated the prophet’s words freely, to show, that, under the new covenant, every kind of sin is freely forgiven to the truly penitent and believing, which was not the case under the former covenant.

Verse 13

Hebrews 8:13. In that he saith, A new covenant In that he expresses himself in this manner; he hath made the first old He hath manifested it to be old, or he hath shown that it is disannulled and out of date. Now that which decayeth, &c. That which is antiquated, and of no further use; is ready to vanish away As the Mosaic dispensation did soon after, when the temple was destroyed. “The Sinai covenant, before it was abrogated by Christ, was become old, or useless, in three respects; 1st, By its curse condemning every transgressor to death without mercy, it was designed to show the necessity of seeking justification from the mercy of God. But that necessity being more directly declared in the gospel, there was no reason for continuing the former covenant, after the second covenant was fully and universally published. 2d, The covenant of the law was introduced to prefigure the good things to come under the covenant of the gospel. But when these good things were actually bestowed, there was no longer any use for the typical services of the law. 3d, The Jewish doctors, by teaching that pardon was to be obtained only by the Levitical sacrifices, and the Judaizing Christians, by affirming that under the gospel itself men are pardoned only through the efficacy of these sacrifices, both the one and the other had corrupted the law; on which account, it was fit to lay it aside as a thing whose tendency now was to nourish superstition.” Macknight.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Hebrews 8". Benson's Commentary. 1857.