In this passage, the author of Hebrews continues his discussion of Jesus’ priesthood. As he has previously stressed the superiority of Jesus over the angels. And his superiority over Moses. Now he drives home the point that Jesus’ priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood. He is a superior high priest.
The Service of Our High Priest
Now the main 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 a mere human being.Hebrews 8:1-2 NIV
The Main Point
Hebrews has been building to this point. And the author makes that emphatic with his opening words here, “Now the main point of what we are saying is this.” There are all kinds of things that we could derive from the first seven chapters. But it has all been pointing toward the reality of this high priest. One who has set down at the right hand of God and is serving in the heavenly tabernacle.
Hebrews 1:3 looks ahead to the Son sitting down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. And that was after providing purification for sins, a high priestly role. Psalm 110:1, 4, used as source material in Hebrews, looks forward to the Lord sitting at God’s right hand. And becoming a priest after the order of Melchizedek. And in the previous passage, Hebrews 7:11-28, the author affirms that Jesus is our eternal high priest.
A Priest King
Hebrews has exhaustively demonstrated that Jesus is in a place of authority at the right hand of God. He is ruling with God. And he is also a high priest serving at the heavenly sanctuary. These two roles that have previously been separated in the life of God’s people have now been joined into one with Jesus.
Most significantly, he is serving at the heavenly sanctuary. This is described as the true sanctuary rather than the copy built by Moses. The earthy sanctuary had a most holy place, and that was where God was. And there was a holy place and the courtyards. But in the heavenly sanctuary, there is no need for the holy place and courtyards. Because heaven itself is God’s home, the most holy place. There is no “outside”.
The Necessity of a Gift to Offer
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.Hebrews 8:3 NIV
The role of the Levitical priests, especially the high priest, was to offer the sacrificial gifts on the altar. Their offerings were many. And they were offered regularity. Leviticus describes at least five different types of sacrifices that would be made on different occasions, and for different reasons.
So Jesus, as a high priest, needed something to offer. The author here is looking ahead to the coming chapters when he describes this offering in greater detail. But the language he uses indicates that, unlike the gifts of the other priests, it was a single offering. It was the offering of himself as the atoning sacrifice to take away the sin of the world.
A Copy and a Shadow
If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests 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.”Hebrews 8:4-5 NIV
The author here reemphasizes that Jesus is serving in the heavenly sanctuary. And that he is serving under the terms of the new covenant. The old covenant specified who could be a priest, what they would offer, and how they would do so. There was no need under that covenant for a new priesthood. But because of the new covenant described in the following verses, there is a need for a new priest with a new sacrifice.
But that earthly priesthood, along with the sacrifices they offered, and the sanctuary they served at were only copies of the more perfect. They looked ahead to the reality that has come with Jesus, our new High Priest. The next chapter will come back to this idea of the earthly sanctuary being a copy of the heavenly. But for now, the author is content to emphasize that the pattern of the earthly sanctuary was important. Each of the elements that went into it had significance. Even if much of it is lost on us today.
A Superior Ministry
But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.Hebrews 8:6 NIV
The author of Hebrews is making it clear to his audience that what Jesus does for us is superior to what the priest under the old covenant did. In the same way that the new covenant is superior to the old. Most of the rest of this chapter is about the new covenant, and it will be discussed in the next post in this series.
But there are two significant points about it that the author makes here. The first relates to the mediator of the covenants. Hebrews 2:2 implies that the old covenant was mediated through angels. While the new covenant is mediated through Jesus, the Son. This helps to make clear why the author of Hebrews spent so much effort in the first chapter to demonstrate the superiority of the Son of angels. It had, at least in part, to do with the covenants they mediated.
And the second significant point here is that the promises of the new covenant are better than those of the old. Both covenants point to the people under the covenant as being God’s people. People under his care. But the old covenant was focused on an earthly kingdom while the new covenant looks to membership in a heavenly kingdom, the kingdom of God. Under the new covenant, we have the hope of eternal life.
- Hebrews: An Introduction
- Hebrews: The Supremacy of Christ (1:1-4)
- Hebrews: Superior to the Angels (1:5-14)
- Hebrews: A Warning to Pay Attention (2:1-4)
- Hebrews: We See Jesus, Crowned with Glory (2:5-9)
- Hebrews: Made Perfect Through Suffering (2:10-13)
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Fully Human in Every Way (2:14-18)
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Greater Than Moses (3:1-6)
- Hebrews: Failure to Enter God’s Rest (3:7-19)
- Hebrews: Enter God’s Rest (4:1-11)
- Hebrews: the Active Word of God (4:12-13)
- Hebrews: Our Great High Priest (4:14-16)
- Hebrews: Obedience Learned Through Suffering (5:1-10)
- Hebrews: Move Beyond Elementary Teachings (5:11-6:3)
- Hebrews: A Most Explicit Warning (6:4-12)
- Hebrews: An Anchor of Hope for the Soul (6:13-20)
- Hebrews: The Priesthood of Melchizedek (7:1-10)
- Hebrews: A New Priesthood (7:11-28)
- Hebrews: We Do Have Such a High Priest (8:1-6)
- Hebrews: A New Covenant (8:7-13)
- Hebrews: Worship in the Tabernacle (9:1-10)
- Hebrews: The Blood of the New Covenant (9:11-15)
- Hebrews: Entering the Heavenly Sanctuary (9:16-28)
- Hebrews: One Sacrifice for All Time (10:1-18)
- Hebrews: Enter the Most Holy Place (10:19-39)
- Hebrews: The Role Call of Faith (11:1-31)