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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Hebrews 8



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By the eternal priesthood of Christ, the Levitical priesthood of Aaron is abolished; and the temporal covenant with the fathers, by the eternal covenant of the gospel.

Anno Domini 63.

THE apostle, in what goes before, having shewed that Jesus, as an High-priest is superior to all the Levitical high-priests, inasmuch as, like Melchisedec, he is a king as well as a priest; nay, an infinitely more righteous king than even Melchisedec, being absolutely free from sin,—he in this and in the following chapter, for the farther illustration of the glory of Jesus as an high-priest, compares his ministrations with the ministrations of the Levitical high-priests, both in respect of the place where he officiates, and in respect of the efficacy of his ministrations.

His discourse on these subjects the apostle begins with observing, that it is a point of infinite importance to mankind as sinners, that we have in Jesus such an High-priest as our sinful state requires, and as he had described, chap. Hebrews 7:26 namely, an High-priest absolutely sinless, and infinitely greater than all the angels; who having offered one effectual sacrifice for sin, even the sacrifice of himself, sat down in his glorified humanity at the right hand of the manifestation of the divine presence in heaven, Hebrews 8:1.—as the abiding minister, or High-priest of the true holy places which the Lord hath formed, and not man, Hebrews 8:2.—This sitting down of the Son of God our High-priest, at the right hand of theMajesty in the heavens, after offering the sacrifice of himself, the apostle had mentioned, chap. Hebrews 1:3. But it was only as a subject to be afterwards handled. He therefore introduces it in this place in order to a full discussion; and calls it the sum of all the things that he had hitherto mentioned, because it implied, First, that the sacrifice of himself which Jesus offered, on his entering heaven after his resurrection, was accepted of God the Father as a sufficient atonement for the sins of the world.— Secondly, the sitting of our great priest at the right hand of God implies, that he possesses all power in heaven and on earth. So that he is able to defend his faithful people from all their enemies, and to reward them at the judgment.—Thirdly, that our High-priest did not, like the Levitical high-priests, depart out of the most holy place after finishing the atonement, but abideth there always as the great minister or High-priest thereof, to open that holy place to the prayers, and other acts of worship performed by his faithful saints on earth, and to their persons after the general judgment; and to make intercession for the absolute security of their glory, notwithstanding their free agency, for ever and ever.

Of the first of these important matters implied in our High-priest's sitting down at the right hand of God, namely, that he offered the sacrifice of himself, and that that sacrifice was accepted by God the Father as a sufficient atonement for the sins of the world, the apostle treats in this chapter.—Of the second, namely, that he possesseth power as the great Governor and Ruler of all worlds, to save his faithful people, and to give them eternal life, he speaks, chap. Hebrews 9:28.—And of the third, that he is the abiding minister of the heavenly holy place, he discourses, chap. Hebrews 10:19-22.

That Christ has offered an effectual sacrifice for sin, the apostle proves in the following manner: Since every high-priest is constituted to offer both gifts and sacrifices, Messiah, who was constituted by the oath ofGod the Father an High-priest after the similitude of Melchisedec, must of necessity have had some sacrifice to offer, and (as is necessarily implied) did offer the sacrifice of himself, when he died upon the cross on Calvary, Hebrews 8:3.—And that he must have pleaded, and is now pleading, that sacrifice in heaven, is certain; because if the oath of God had respected his being a priest on earth, he could not have been a priest at all: for the only temple of God on earth where he could offer sacrifice, being occupied by priests who officiated according tothe law of Moses, which confined the priest's office to the sons of Aaron, Numbers 3:10 these priests would have hindered Messiah, who was of the tribe of Judah, from ministering as a priest among them, unless Omnipotence had interfered against a then existing law of his own. It is plain, therefore, that if Messiah was not appointed to exercise his priesthood in heaven, he never acted as a priest at all; and the oath of God, constituting him a priest, has not taken effect, Hebrews 8:4.—Farther, to prove that Messiah was to act as an High-priest in heaven, the apostle appealed to the services which the Levitical priests performed according to the law in the inward tabernacle, whose chief use, he tells us, was to be shadows or typical representations of the services to be performed by Christ in heaven. And this affirmation he founds on God's command to Moses, to make all things, not the tabernacles only with their furniture, but the services of the tabernacles also, exactly according to the pattern shewed him on the mount, Hebrews 8:5.

Next, with respect to the efficacy of Christ's ministrations as an High-priest, the apostle observes, that they are as much more excellent than the ministrations of the Levitical High-priests, as the covenant or dispensation of religion of which he is the Mediator or High-Priest, by its better promises, excels the covenant or dispensation of the law, Hebrews 8:6.—which the apostle proves to be not without fault from this circumstance, that if it had contained all the discoveries and promises which God judged necessary to the justification, sanctification, and salvation of sinners, he would not have introduced a second covenant or dispensation of religion, Hebrews 8:7.—Yet that a second covenant or dispensation was to be introduced, is evident from God's own words, Jeremiah 31:31-34 in which he promised a new covenant, Hebrews 8:8.—different from that which he made with the Israelites after bringing them out of Egypt, Hebrews 8:9.—For in the new covenant, Judah and Israel, typifying all the spiritual Israel, are to have the knowledge of God and of his will set forth, not by dark shadows, as in the old covenant, but in the clearest manner. And the pardon which the faithful saints are to receive under that covenant, is not a political but an eternal pardon. So that, as was observed, Hebrews 8:6 it is a covenant established on better promises than the law, Hebrews 8:10-12.—Lastly, the apostle observes, that by saying a new covenant, God has made the covenant of the law old; and thereby has insinuated, that, as a thing decayed and useless, it is to be put out of sight altogether, Hebrews 8:13.—Thus it appears, that the prophet Jeremiah, in the most express terms, has borne testimony to the superior excellence of the new covenant or dispensation of religion, of which Christ is the Minister, Mediator, and High-priest, and also to God's intention of abrogating the former covenant or dispensation, even the whole body of the law of Moses, with all its ineffectual, sacrifices and services.—An argument of this sort, founded on their own scriptures, being so cogent, could not fail to make an impression on the unbelieving Hebrews; and must through divine grace have reconciled such of them to the gospel, as retained any candour or love of truth.

Verse 2

Hebrews 8:2. A minister of the sanctuary, Των αγιων, of holy things, which seems preferable. In the next clause the apostle speaks of the holy places; and from that clause we are to borrow the word αληθινων, and to understand him as Christ's being a minister of the true holy things, and of the true, that is, the heavenly sanctuary. See Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:1; Hebrews 9:11; Hebrews 9:24. John 1:14; John 2:19.

Verse 3

Hebrews 8:3. For every high-priest is ordained, &c.— "For the special business of every high-priest, for which he is appointed and authorized of God, is to present oblations and sacrifices of atonement, which were to be slain andoffered before he carried their blood into the holy place, and in order to his doing so: it was therefore absolutely necessary that, to answer that character, this great gospel High-priest ( τουτον ) of whom we are speaking, should also have a sacrifice to offer, suitable to his dignity as God-Man, and to the glorious state and place of his present ministration; and that he should present it in the heavenly sanctuary before the throne of God, as the ancient typical high-priest did the blood of the legal sacrifices before the mercy-seat in the most holy place."

Verse 4-5

Hebrews 8:4-5. For if he were on earth, "But, we may observe by the way, that if he were always to continue on earth, he could not, in any consistence with the Jewish institutions, have been a priest, to officiate at the temple of God in Jerusalem; as there are already a certain order of priests there, who offer the gifts of the people according to the law; and it is exactly settled, that none of any other family should have access to these services; nor would it have been agreeable to the divine purposes that Jesus should by extraordinary, dispensation have interfered with their peculiar functions, Hebrews 8:5. These he left entirely to those priests who perform divine service to an economy, which contains only the example and shadow of celestial things; as Moses was charged by Jehovah, when he was about to finish the tabernacle; for See, said he, that thou make all things according to the model shewn thee upon the mountain; lest an error which may seem to thee small, should become more material than thou art aware. Now this exactness was required, in special regard to the typical representations couched under these ordinances, the particulars of which Moses himself did not perfectly understand." The word υποδειγματι, rendered example, Hebrews 8:5 is rendered by Dr. Barrow by the very expressive word subindication. From an accurate review of this passage, the connection of the apostle's reasoning seems to be this; "We have an High-priest seated on the right hand of God in heaven, who is first a Minister of the true holy things; and, secondly, of the true holy tabernacle. With respect to the first, the holy things, it was necessary that he should be a minister of these, because (Hebrews 8:3.) every high-priest is constituted for the very purpose of offering these holy things,—gifts and sacrifices. And in the next place, with respect to his being a minister of the true tabernacle, namely, that in heaven; this also is equally necessary, because, Hebrews 8:4 if he were on earth, he could not be a priest officiating in the earthly sanctuary, as not being of the order and family of Aaron."

Verse 6

Hebrews 8:6. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, This now seems to depend on Hebrews 8:1. Now that he is set on the right hand of the throne, &c. The more excellent ministry is that which is more excellent than that of the high-priests under the law, who performed divine service to the exemplifying and shadowing forth the heavenly things, or great realities performed by Christ. The peculiar covenant of Moses was a covenant which contained the promises of a long life and plenty in the land of Canaan: the covenant made by Christ, or brought from God, and offered to the world by him, was a covenant by which God engaged himself to grant immortal life in heaven to all who obeyed the conditions of it. Now as the engagement of a grant of immortal life is better than the engagement for a present life only, so the covenant which offers better terms must be a better covenant; and the Mediator of the better covenant is most to be preferred. See ch. Hebrews 7:16. The new covenant was established upon so much better promises, as the promise of eternal life, with perfect felicityin heaven, is better than that of long life with temporal felicity on earth. The will of God promulged to mankind, with a promise or sanction of eternal life to be bestowed on all that would observe it, is properly a law: when therefore these promises are thus annexed to the covenant of Christ, they are justly said to be established by law. See ch. Hebrews 9:15. 1 Timothy 2:5.

Verse 7

Hebrews 8:7.— Mr. Peirce is of opinion, that what follows, to the end of this chapter, is a digression, or an argument brought in by the apostle incidentally, upon his having said that Christ had obtained a more excellent ministry than the priests under the law. It was a natural inference, that if his ministry was more excellent than theirs, the covenant of which he was Mediator was more excellent than that under which they ministered. But the thing being of great importance to his subject, he does not content himself with the bare mention of the inference, but expatiates in the distinct proof and confirmation of it; shewing that God, during that covenant, spoke of it as very defective, and of another more perfect which was to succeed it.

For if that first covenant had been faultless, "For if the former Sinai covenant had been free from all defects, as to its establishment, light, grace, and efficacy for perfecting the state of the church, which indeed it never was designed for, however good it was in itself, and however fit to answer its particular ends, to which undoubtedly it was well suited, as Godhimself was the author of it: if, I say, it had not been insufficient to answer all the ends of his grace towards his faithful people in their church-state upon earth, then there certainly would have been no occasion for the wisdom of God to have contrived, nor for his people to have desired, another more spiritual and complete administration of the covenant of grace upon earth; nor would there have been any room for introducing it under the gospel state, as it was plain there was." Instead of had been faultless, Dr. Heylin reads, had been imperfec

Verse 8

Hebrews 8:8. For finding fault with them, &c.— "For God having accused and reproved the Jews by the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah 31:31, &c. for their transgressions of that covenant, (he says,) Observe with attention, wonder, and joy, The days are coming and hastening on apace, (says the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth,) even the days of the Messiah, whom you expect to come, when I will assuredly set up a near covenant-dispensation; and I will establish it with my faithful people, who yield to be saved by grace, and perseveringly cleave to me in faith, both with those who are among the ten tribes of Israel, and with those of the house of Judah, including that of Benjamin, who in all their turns have shamefully violated my present covenant with them: and I will make it not with those only who belong to any of these tribes, but with all my spiritual Israel who were typified by them; and who under the gospel state, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, shall be called the Israel of God. Galatians 6:16." That the true Israel of God, of what nation soever, are to be included under these characters or descriptions of Israel and Judeah, appears; because the persons here intended, are those who through grace would receive the laws of Jehovah into their mind and hearts; which cannot be said of the whole body of Israel after the flesh, much less of every one of them, but holds good of all the spiritual Israel, whether Jews or Gentiles, and of none but them.

Verse 10

Hebrews 8:10. For this is the covenant, &c.— "This new covenant shall be of a much better tenor than that: for this is the sum and substance of the covenant which I will make with all my spiritual Israel who perseveringly yield to myfree grace, under the gospel state, says the great Jehovah; I will enlighten and renew their understandings, that they may behold the spirituality, purity, and extent of the morallaw, by an inward operation upon their minds; and will give them a plain insight into the doctrine of salvation by the Messiah: and I will not only set these things with the clearest and strongest evidence before their minds; but will furthermore make a thorough change upon their wills, affections, and all the practical powers of their souls, by engraving my law and gospel, not (as I did the law of the ten commandments) by a miraculous impression upon tables of stone, but by a supernatural gracious operation of my Spirit, who shall write them in the fleshly tables of their hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3.) to guide and govern them in all their ways. And, according to this new and better covenant, I will be to them anall-sufficient God, in a way of protection, favour, and blessing; and will own them, and perform all things for them as their God: and they, if they perseveringly cleave to me, shall be inclined and enabled, by my grace, to answer their obligations to me, in faith and love, duty and obedience, owning me in a becoming profession of my name as my people."

Verse 11

Hebrews 8:11. And they shall not teach every man We are not to suppose that these words are designed to exclude all public and private, ministerial, family, and social instruction: for this is enforced in the New Testament institution of a gospel ministry, to continue to the consummation of all things (Matthew 28:20. Ephesians 4:11-13.); and in the obligation which it has laid upon Christian parents to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4.); as also in the directions which are given in this very epistle (ch. Hebrews 3:13 and Hebrews 10:24-25.) to private Christians, to exhort one another daily, &c. This passage therefore must be taken, either in a comparative sense, as such expressions often are (see Isaiah 43:18. Jeremiah 23:18. Matthew 9:13.); or else with reference to that manner of teaching which was used and rested in under the obscurities of the Old Testament dispensation, and the corrupt interpretations of the Jewish doctors; or both may be included.

Verse 13

Hebrews 8:13. He hath made the first old. St. Paul in another place calls the Jewish ceremonial law weak and beggarly elements; and, ch. Hebrews 7:18 of this epistle, he says, There is a disannulling of that commandment for the weakness and un-profitableness thereof. Agreeably to this, he here speaks of it as waxing old, in which case things become weak and useless, and so are ready to be laid aside, or put out of sight. So it is with an old garment, as he uses that similitude, ch. Hebrews 1:11 or, with men worn out with old age, who are just dropping into the grave. Whichever allusion the apostle might intend, they seem to be in the right, who think that the apostle here refers to the speedy destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, whereby an end was put to the services prescribed by the law of Moses.

Inferences.—How glorious is the Lord Jesus Christ in his present ministration, as our great High-priest! He continues to exercise this office, in the tabernacle of his miraculously formed human body, at the right hand of God the Father in the heavenly sanctuary; and there presents the merit of his atoning sacrifice in his intercession. How necessary for us, as well as honourable to him, was his entering into the holiest of all, to fulfil that important part of his office! This could not have been finished by his continuing on earth; because there were

Aaronical priests, which order he was not of, but infinitely superior to; and none but those of that order could legally officiate in the earthly sanctuary; and heaven itself was the only proper place for him to appear in for this purpose. And how much more excellent is his sacrifice, than all the offerings of former high-priests, as to its dignity, and the sanctuary in which it is presented to God! They were mere shadows of what is done by Christ; but the perfection and glory of all is accomplished in him, as the Mediator of the new covenant.—How close should we keep to divine revelation in every thing that pertains to the service of God! As Moses was to make all things, relating to the tabernacle, exactly according to the pattern which God had shewn him in the mount; so all our worship is to be according to institution, without any addition, alteration, or abatement.—How much better is the gospel dispensation of the covenant of grace, than that which was made with Israel at mount Sinai! It has a better Mediator, and stands on the foot of better promises. It contains rich and free, clear and express promises of a spiritual relation to God, as the God of his faithful people, to be their portion, and to engage their love and duty to him; and promises of mercy to forgive all their iniquities, and not to remember any of their sins against them; and to lead them into a plain and saving acquaintance with himself in Christ, and to write his law and gospel in their hearts. O the happiness of those who are in covenant with God! O blessed tenor of this pure unmixed dispensation of the new covenant! It shall never wax old or vanish away, like the Sinai covenant; but shall abide in full force, virtue, and vigour, as the last and most perfect administration of grace in this world; and shall remain, till it issue in the everlasting happiness of all the faithful saints of God in the world to come.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, We have in this chapter a summary of the foregoing observations: Now of the things which we have spoken, this is the sum: we have such an High-priest, so great and glorious, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, invested with all power and authority to secure all blessedness for his faithful saints in time and in eternity; a minister of the sanctuary, officiating as our High-priest in heaven, which the Jewish sanctuary typified, and of the true tabernacle in his human nature, of which the earthly tabernacle was the figure, which the Lord pitched, and not man, having prepared for him a body, wherein the fulness of the Godhead should reside. And with what confidence should this inspire us, when we consider who now ministers for us before the throne of God!

2nd, The apostle proceeds,

1. To set forth the office of the high-priest, and Christ's conformity thereto. For every high-priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices, the blood of which he afterwards carried into the holy place: wherefore it is of necessity that this glorious person have somewhat also to offer, a sacrifice suitable to his dignity, with the blood of which he might appear within the veil, before the throne of God in glory. For if he were on earth, and had continued here below, he should not be a priest, nor could have discharged that most peculiar part of his pontifical office, the appearing within the veil with the blood of the sacrifice, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law, and none of any other tribe but that of Levi could be admitted there: who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, that priesthood and service being entirely typical of Christ, 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. Necessary therefore was it that Christ, having offered his own body a sacrifice on the cross, should, with the blood which he hath shed, appear in the presence of God, and discharge that glorious high-priesthood whereunto he had been appointed.

2. He shews the transcendent excellency of the ministry of Christ above that of the sons of Aaron, as being the Mediator of a better covenant, established upon better promises, the covenant of grace as revealed in the gospel, far exceeding the Sinai covenant, whether considered as a political covenant of peculiarity, and ensuring to the people temporal blessings, merely on the condition of an external obedience to the letter of the law: or if we consider it in its more extensive sense, as including spiritual and eternal blessings; yet as that dispensation was clothed in darkness and terror, the gospel dispensation far exceeds it, as containing a more clear revelation of God's grace, extending his gospel promises to Gentiles as well as Jews, being accompanied with a more abundant measure of the Spirit, and more particularly and fully leading the soul to seek and expect, not so much temporal, as spiritual and heavenly blessings. For if that first covenant, entered into with the Jews at Sinai, had been faultless, (for however well suited to answer the purposes of God at that time, yet it was deficient, and wanted much of that light and clearness with which afterwards God intended to reveal his designs of grace,)—could that covenant, I say, have been sufficient to accomplish the great ends that God had in view, then should no place have been sought for the second, as we find was the case. For, God finding fault with them, and reproving the Jews by the prophet Jeremiah, he saith, behold the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant, &c. a covenant reaching to all the spiritual Israel, Gentiles as well as Jews: 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, but unfaithfully departed from it, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord; withdrew my favour from them, and no longer, as a husband, vouchsafed to them my love and protection. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord, with the spiritual Israel of all nations, who yield to my grace; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts, giving them the clearest views of my designs of grace, and engaging their souls to my love and service by the powerful operations of my Spirit; and I will be to them a God, reconciled to them in the Beloved, and causing them to experience my continual protection and blessing; and they shall be to me a people, engaged to serve me by the most powerful ties of gratitude as well as duty. And they shall not need to teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, as under the former dispensation, where all the typical service required constant explication; but under the clearer dispensation of light and truth in the gospel this would be less necessary; not that the ministry of the word, or private instructions among Christians, should be set aside, but that in those days the knowledge of divine things should be more universally diffused, and all believers be under the more abundant teachings of the Spirit: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest, as their reconciled God and Father in the great Redeemer. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, through the propitiation of their great High-priest, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more, pardoning them freely and fully. Now in that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old, abolishing the Mosaic dispensation, because of its weakness and unprofitableness. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old, as is the case with the Jewish economy at present, like a person dying with age, is ready to vanish away, the time being at hand, when, by the destruction of the temple, the whole service must cease, never to be resumed again. Note; The dispensation of the covenant of grace, under which we live, should be matter of our unspeakable comfort and unceasing thankfulness, wherein all the riches of God's grace, without a veil, are laid open before his believing people.


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Hebrews 8:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

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