Commentary on Hebrews 8 King James Version
Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;
2 A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.
3 For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.
4 For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law:
5 Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, 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.
6 But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.
7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.
8 For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
9 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, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.
The problem of its relationship to the faith of Israel was raised early by the communities who followed Jesus as messiah. The book of the Acts records a conference in Jerusalem which mediated between the converts of Paul and the mainly Jewish converts in Palestine. Paul himself was adamant that Jesus messiah was the end of the Torah, and gave his version of God’s overall strategy in calling first Israel then Gentiles to faith. The writer of Hebrews has a distinctive view of this key relationship, no less radical than that of Paul: the requirements of Torah, especially the ritual requirements, are in his view a shadowy prototype of the greater revelation through Jesus. They have the dignity of foreshadowing God’s rescuing action in Jesus, but now that the real thing has arrived, they have served their purpose, and can be left behind. To this end the writer introduces in this section the Greeks words hupodeigma = representation, design; and skia = the shadow cast by an object; which are used to describe the Temple worship of Israel.
Jesus, the high priest after the style of Melchisedec, ministers in God’s court in the place of honour. This is called the “real tent” (kjv true tabernacle) with reference to the tent of the Ark, which is now described as pitched by human beings, whereas the real tent is pitched by God. Moses had a preview of this heavenly reality on Sinai, and was instructed to make the earthly tent in its pattern.
But Jesus’ priestly ministry has to be real: it is not merely an honour granted to him, but an effective priesthood. He is the mediator of a new covenant between God and humanity. The word translated mediator, Greek mesites, is not used in classical Greek, indeed not much at all outside of Jewish and Christian writings. The Greek translation of the Jewish Bible uses it once only in Job 9:33:
“For God is not human like me: impossible for me to answer him /or appear alongside him in court/ There is no arbiter (mesites) between us/ to lay his hand on us both/ to stay his rod from me/ or keep away his daunting terrors” The role of the mesites is sketched here, all the more powerfully for there is no one to play it.
The new covenant replaces the old which had been broken by the people in their worship of the golden calf. The writer finds the terms of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31, perhaps the most direct and moving prophecies of God’s new relationship with his people.
- The Torah will be placed in the minds and hearts of the people.
- So that they will know they are God’s people.
- There will be no need for Torah instruction
- for all classes of the people will have their own knowledge of God
- And God will totally forgive their sin
These are claimed as the benefits of the new covenant through Jesus, while the old covenant is consigned to the past.