In our study of Hebrews chapter eight, we will look at the reality of Jesus as our High Priest and how He was promised to the people of Israel.
The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.
In chapter 7, Paul explained how Jesus was declared to be our High Priest by the power of His resurrection and this was compared to the earthly Levitical priesthood. He continues, here, to share some differences. First, we see that Jesus went to heaven and sat down at the Father's right hand. This is a very big detail because the earthly priests that served in the temple and tabernacle never had a chair or sat down. Their work was never done as they were constantly required to offer sacrifices and present offerings for the people. But, the work of Jesus was finished when He was sacrificed on the cross as the atonement for our sins. The second thing we see is that Jesus serves in the "true" tabernacle in heaven. The actual word means "genuine" and is a reminder that the earthly tabernacle was simply a copy of the tabernacle in heaven. In our world today, there are cheap copies of just about everything that we can imagine and most people would rather have the real thing.
Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: 'See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.'
Jesus had to present Himself as our sacrifice because the earthly priests did not have a perfect sacrifice. The earthly tabernacle is described here as a "shadow" of the sanctuary in heaven. As a child, many of us have spent time chasing our shadows for amusement. The attempts of the priests to present sacrifices for sins was much like that in the fact that you can never really catch a shadow. Their sacrifices did not have the power to eliminate sin permanently and so they were continually chasing forgiveness. It is sad to say but the same type of thing is happening even today in the church. There are many people running around trying to do something for God in hopes of finding forgiveness. They will perform all of the rituals on cue but still leave without a realization that Jesus has already done the work. He is the real priest and we must look to Him and His finished work and not the efforts of others (earthly priests) or ourselves. This constant effort is simply like chasing our shadows as a child. When we accept Jesus' finished work, we can have the security in our hearts and minds that the work is finished. We all must ask ourselves the question: Is Jesus real to me or am I just chasing a shadow?
But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.
Just as the real thing is better than a picture or a copy, the new covenant in Jesus is superior to the Mosaic Covenant. In this passage, we see two reasons for its superiority. First, the new covenant has a far better promise in the fact that it guarantees us a restored relationship with God forever. We can know for certain that we will be with God for eternity. The second reason is that the first covenant required continual action on the part of man without man having the power to keep his part of the contract. The Law did not have the power to save as it could only show us our inability to keep it completely.
But God found fault with the people and said: 'The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.'
Paul quotes from the prophet Jeremiah where the people of Israel were told that a better covenant was coming. God explained that a new covenant was coming that did not require continual action on their part. He did this because they (and we) were unable to fulfill our part of the Mosaic Covenant.
'This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.''
God goes on to explain that this new covenant is superior because it promises that God will be with every believer through the Holy Spirit. Jesus referred to the Spirit as the Counselor and we see that it is the job of the Spirit to lead men in the things of God. He goes on to say how the Spirit will guide the believer and not the traditions of men or a religious ruling class. Even today, there is a religious system that attempts to replace the work of the Spirit in the lives of believers. This is "the practices of the Nicolaitans" that Jesus said He hated (see Revelation 2:6).
By calling this covenant 'new', he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.
This new covenant replaced the old which was the law. It is important to understand that it replaced the Law of Moses. In Paul's day, he was constantly facing those who wanted to hold onto the old covenant and blend it with the new. The same thing happens in the church of today and is the reason for the number of splits and factions (denominations) within the family of God. We must embrace the freedom that we have to live in Christ and let go of the old desire to do something to make ourselves more acceptable to God. When we don't embrace that freedom we, in fact, have fallen from grace.