Hebrews 8:1-13

The head, crowning, chief, principal, or most important point is: “We have such a high priest, one who has sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” The “throne” is representative of royal authority, and Jesus’ being at the right hand of “the throne of the Majesty” identifies him as sharing kingly authority with the “Majesty,” his Father, who is the supreme Sovereign. Thus the writer of Hebrews indicated that Jesus Christ is like Melchizedek in being both king and priest, greatly transcending the dignity and authority of the levitical priesthood. (8:1)

Unlike the priests in the line of Aaron, Jesus Christ does not serve in a “tent” that humans set up (as in the case of the “tent” or tabernacle that was constructed in the wilderness and which served as the first sanctuary for the Israelites). His sacred service is performed in “the true tent which the Lord, not man, set up.” Jesus Christ functions as a “minister of the holy [places] and of the true tent.” Possibly the plural for “holy” is used because there were two compartments (the Holy and the Most Holy) in the tent or tabernacle that served as the sanctuary for the Israelites and which tent was but a pattern for heavenly realities. Likely the conjunction “and” (kaí) that precedes “of the true tent” here means “even,” identifying the “holy [places],” or the heavenly sanctuary, as the “true tent” or the real temple (not one of human construction where God would merely be present in a representative way). The heavenly sanctuary exists because of what God has done, and there he is personally present. (8:2)

For every high priest, their appointed service included offering gifts and sacrifices. The “gifts” may here refer to voluntary offerings such as those presented to express thanksgiving. Sacrifices would include those the priests offered for the sins of the people generally or whenever fellow Israelites or they themselves had committed certain sins. When functioning as high priest, Jesus Christ would not be exempt from the sacrificial service, but he also needed to have something to offer. (8:3)

If Jesus Christ had then been on the earth, he would not have served in the capacity of a priest, as the law given to the Israelites designated the descendants of Aaron as authorized to offer gifts or sacrifices. (8:4) Their sacred service, however, was performed in a “pattern,” “model,” or “copy” and “shadow of the heavenly [places],” meaning the heavenly sanctuary (possibly regarded as having compartments). The original “tent” where the levitical priests served was but a model of the far grander heavenly reality, the true sanctuary where God is personally present. That “tent” was a “shadow,” providing a very limited image of the real sanctuary. Its being referred to as a shadow could also call attention to its temporary nature. Shadows vanish, but the reality remains. (8:5)

To establish that the tent was a model and a shadow, the writer of Hebrews quoted the divine directive given to Moses when about to erect it, “See that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” (8:5; Exodus 25:40, LXX) These words suggest that Moses had been given a vision of what the sanctuary and everything associated with it should look like. What he saw, though, would not have been the reality but a pattern of the reality, for he was not transported to the heavenly realm. (8:5)

The words “now, however,” introduce Jesus’ priestly service as a contrast to that of the levitical priests. Under the law covenant that was concluded with the Israelites through Moses as mediator (one who functioned as an intermediary between God and the people), the levitical priests had their sacred duties assigned to them and carried these out in a mere copy of the real sanctuary. Jesus Christ does not serve in a model but in the heavenly reality. So he has obtained a ministry of excelling superiority. Correspondingly, in view of Jesus’ superior priestly service, the covenant for which he functions as mediator is better than the law covenant and is established on better promises. These better promises relate to the benefits all persons who are under the new covenant come to enjoy. God, by means of his spirit, makes his commands the dominant governing principle of their thinking and in an integral part of their inmost selves, motivating them to conduct themselves aright. They come to “know” him or come to enjoy a relationship with him as approved persons, for they are granted complete forgiveness of sins. (8:6)

If the “first” covenant (the law covenant) had proved to be “faultless” from the standpoint of producing a cleansed people with an acceptable standing before God as his children, there would not have been a need to seek or to look for a “second” covenant. (8:7) The law covenant, however, did not produce an approved people who were fully acceptable to God. “He,” as the writer of Hebrews concluded from the words of Jeremiah 31:31-34 (38:31-34, LXX), “finds fault with them.” The fault lay with the people, for they transgressed the commands they were obligated to obey. In their conduct and standing before God, they definitely were not like the acceptable people who would come into existence through the new covenant that he promised to conclude “with the house of Israel” and “with the house of Judah.” (8:8)

With minor variations in wording, the quotation from Jeremiah 31:31-34 (38:31-34, LXX) is the same as that of the extant Septuagint text. “‘Look! Days are coming,’ says the Lord [YHWH, Hebrew text], ‘and I will conclude a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day of my grasping their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, because they did not continue in my covenant, and [so] I was unconcerned for them,’ says the Lord [YHWH, Hebrew text]. ‘For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ says the Lord [YHWH, Hebrew text], ‘imparting my laws to their mind, and on their hearts I will write them. And I will become God to them and they will become a people to me. And by no means will each one teach his fellow citizen [neighbor, according to many later manuscripts] and each one to his brother, saying, “Know the Lord [YHWH, Hebrew text],” for all will know me, from the least to their greatest, because I will be kind respecting their injustices, and by no means will I still remember their sins.’” (8:8-12)

More than six centuries passed before these words about the making of a new covenant (the new solemn agreement that God makes with all whom he recognizes as his people) were fulfilled. The first ones to be granted the opportunity to be beneficiaries of the new covenant were Israelites from all the tribes. So it proved to be true that this covenant was concluded with the “house of Israel” and with the “house of Judah.” (8:8)

Unlike the violators of the requirements of the law covenant who ceased to benefit from God’s loving concern, the beneficiaries of the new covenant would earnestly desire to do what is right. They would not be ignorant of his laws, for they would be receptive to his putting what he required of them into their minds. He would also write his laws on their hearts. These laws would then prove to be the motivating principle in their inmost selves, prompting them to think, speak, and act uprightly. Unlike the faithless Israelites, the beneficiaries of the new covenant would acknowledge YHWH as their God, and he would recognize them as his people. (8:9, 10)

None of those under the new covenant would need to tell any of their fellows to “know” God (YHWH), for all of them (whether regarded as great or as insignificant) would have an approved relationship with him. He would graciously extend his kindness or mercy to them, not continuing to hold their wrongs against them but granting them complete forgiveness of their sins. (8:11, 12)

God’s speaking of a new covenant meant that the law covenant (the “first” covenant) had been made old, and whatever is made old continues to age, nearing the point of disappearing. The book of Hebrews represents the services at the temple as still continuing. So, from outward appearances, the law covenant, with its requirements for a priesthood and sacrifices, gave no tangible indication of vanishing. The introduction of the new covenant made it certain that the law covenant would disappear. With the destruction of the temple in the year 70 CE, the priestly services, which were specifically outlined in the law, came to an end. Thus, in its application, the law then disappeared. (8:13)