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.
This section is one that is often a surprise to people not familiar with the relationship between Old and New Testaments. As we go through this chapter, we will be challenged to see things the way God views them, and to be quite candid, things aren’t always what they at first appear to be. These first two verses give us a bit of that; notice that there is a difference between the tabernacle that Jesus is serving in as high priest, and the earthly one. For starters, Jesus isn’t in Jerusalem, nor is He serving in a place made by human hands, but by God Himself. Finally, notice that the tabernacle He is in is “true”. If Jesus is in the true sanctuary, what does that say about the one in the Old Testament?
Fasten your seat belts, we are about to find out!
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 priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law.
The offerings and gifts that the earthly priests sacrificed were prescribed by the same Law that established their office and Jesus, because He is from the tribe of Judah, could never have been a priest, and since He is an entirely different kind of priest, He has a different kind of offering. Jesus did not offer sacrifices consisting of animals for atonement to put off the penalty for sins, He offered Himself, and took sin away entirely.
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.” 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.
How surprising it would have been for those first recipients of this message to learn that their beloved Temple in their beloved Jerusalem was only a shadow of the real thing. I am often amazed today when I listen to people discuss the rebuilding of this Temple in the future, as though the Temple were the real thing… but it was never the real thing; it’s but a mere copy or shadow of the reality that is in heaven… and do you know what? So were the sacrifices, the priests and even the Law itself. Of course, Jesus is superior to the Levites; He is the real thing, while they were shadows of what would come one day. Of course, Jesus was the superior sacrifice; for His was the one that takes away sin. Of course, the New Covenant is superior to the Old, for the New Covenant is the real deal and the Old Covenant was but a shadow of the reality that was to come, and it was set to pass away.
None of this should really be a shock to anyone, for the Old Covenant Law was entirely earthly; physical. It never promised to take away our sins, it never promised eternal life. These things weren’t even ideas that were in play anywhere at that time. The rules and regulations are but a shadow of the reality of having God’s laws written on our hearts. Most importantly, the Old Covenant and its system of laws and sacrifices and the Temple all speak of Jesus Christ who was to come one day.
For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:
“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
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.
Hebrews 8:7-9; c.f. Jeremiah 31:31-32
Something was wrong with the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses. The prophet Jeremiah foretold of its end, and the author of Hebrews is telling us clearly and unambiguously that the end has come. I’m always amazed that more of us can’t seem to comprehend this. So many Christian doctrinal traditions treat the New Covenant as little more than addendum to the Old. Others add elements of the Old into the New almost on a whim; how clear does it need to be?
This is the covenant I will establish with the people 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 they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘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.”
Hebrews 8:10-12; c.f. Jeremiah 31:33-34
This is the rest of the quotation from Jeremiah 31:31-34, note that he described features of the New Covenant that were never present in the Old. Notice also that this entire quotation is cited by our author here in Hebrews as an accomplished fact, and not something still off in the future, as some would claim it to be today. If you still aren’t convinced, there is one more verse in this chapter:
By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
The Old Covenant is called “obsolete and outdated.” Some might suggest that it will “soon disappear” but it still hasn’t; if you are thinking along these lines, think again.
Within just a few years of the time Hebrews was written, the Romans sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and scattered the people who were fortunate enough to survive the siege, and the Old Covenant has not been practiced from that day until this. Gone are the sacrifices, the offerings, the priests, the tabernacle, the holy place and all the rest of the system that was completely, totally and utterly replaced by the work of Jesus Christ, our great high priest who reigns even now at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven… and all of that was foretold centuries before by the prophets.