Summary: A more excellent Ministry based on a better Covenant founded on better promises.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
This is the “sum” of all that the writer has been saying so far: “We have such a high priest…” (Hebrews 8:1a). Jesus, our high priest, is ‘holy, innocent, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens’ (cf. Hebrews 7:26). He is “seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Hebrews 8:1b; cf. Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 12:2).
“He is a minister of the sanctuary” (Hebrews 8:2a). This sanctuary is the “true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man” (Hebrews 8:2b; cf. Hebrews 9:11). The tabernacle in the wilderness, and the Temple in Jerusalem, were erected according to the command and pattern of God: but they were only meant to serve as “an example and shadow of heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5).
Now, just as the high priests in the earthly tabernacle and Temple were “ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices” (Hebrews 8:3a), so it was incumbent upon Jesus to, literally, “have had something to offer” (Hebrews 8:3b). Note the tense: this was the once for all, never to be repeated, offering of His own blood upon the altar (cf. Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 10:10). Having already ‘purged our sins’ (cf. Hebrews 1:3; cf. Hebrews 9:26b), He now appears in the presence of God on our behalf (cf. Hebrews 9:24b) and makes intercession for us (cf. Romans 8:34).
At the time of our writer’s writing (Hebrews 8:4), the Levitical priesthood was continuing to make offerings and sacrifices: but, even if He was still upon earth, Jesus would not have qualified to conduct these since He is not of the tribe of Levi (cf. Hebrews 7:14). No, Jesus’ priesthood is of quite another order (cf. Hebrews 7:17): which ensures that we lift our eyes above the earthly and temporary into heaven itself (Hebrews 9:24).
Jesus’ “has obtained a more excellent ministry” in proportion to “how much also He is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). The shadow gives way to the reality. “For if that first (covenant) had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for the second” (Hebrews 8:7).
In Hebrews 8:8-12, our writer goes on to quote the ‘new covenant’ text (of Jeremiah 31:31-34) in full. First, the LORD “will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Hebrews 8:8; cf. Jeremiah 31:31). Within two to three verses, we are looking at one “house of Israel” (Hebrews 8:10a; cf. Jeremiah 31:33a).
This new covenant is so much superior to the old, that now the LORD will write His laws upon the hearts of His people (Hebrews 8:10b; cf. Jeremiah 31:33b). This internalising of the otherwise impossible law points forward to the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (cf. Ezekiel 36:27). No longer is God’s law written upon tables of stone, but upon human hearts (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:3)!
Furthermore, the promise is made, “and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Hebrews 8:10c; cf. Jeremiah 31:33c; Ezekiel 11:19-20; Revelation 21:3). This internalisation of the covenant is seen, too, in the redundancy of teachers (Hebrews 8:11; cf. Jeremiah 31:34a; 1 John 2:27)! Then the LORD says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sins will I remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12; cf. Jeremiah 31:34b).
Although it was ratified by blood (cf. Exodus 24:6-8), the people were unable to keep the Mosaic covenant (Hebrews 8:9; cf. Jeremiah 31:32). So, the LORD is here introducing a “new” covenant, rendering the “old” obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).
The new covenant, too, was ratified by blood. The blood of Jesus! ‘For this is my blood of the new covenant,’ says Jesus, ‘which is shed for many for the remission of sins’ (Matthew 26:28). Amen.