CHRIST’S MINISTRY IS SUPERIOR BECAUSE HE MINISTERS IN A BETTER SANCTUARY AND MEDIATES A BETTER COVENANT
This section provides a transition from focusing on the superiority of the priesthood of Jesus Christ to the superiority of His New Covenant ministry. Before we dive deeper into the particulars of the New Covenant, we need to follow the author’s argument in developing some of the major implications of Jesus’ current ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, His completed once-for-all sacrifice, and His mediation of a better covenant based on better promises.
Hewitt: It has been shown that Christ has the true qualifications of priesthood and that His priesthood is superior to the Levitical because He Himself is superior to the Levitical priests. The writer now discusses the ministry of the great High Priest and the place in which this ministry is performed. He finds a proof that Christ’s ministry is superior because He ministers in a superior place (viii. 1-6). Further aspects of superiority are seen in the threefold pre-eminence of the new covenant over the old (viii. 7-13). A more detailed description is then given of the earthly and heavenly tabernacles (ix. 1-10) and of the better ministry (ix. 11-28).
Kent: Christ’s ministry operates from a better covenant, in a superior sanctuary, and with an offering whose efficacy is beyond question.
F. F. Bruce: Having established the superiority of the high priesthood of Christ, our author now proceeds to relate His high priesthood to the themes of covenant, sanctuary and sacrifice, with which the Aaronic priesthood was closely bound up.
Constable: In this section the writer first stated (Hebrews 8:1-2) and then explained (Hebrews 8:3-5) Jesus Christ’s better ministry. It is superior in three respects.
– He serves as a seated priest, having finished His work of offering a final sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 8:1).
– He is an enthroned priest, having taken His place at the right hand of God the Father (Hebrews 8:1).
– And He is a heavenly priest, having entered the true sanctuary where He now ministers (Hebrews 8:1-2).
I. (:1-5) CHRIST’S MINISTRY IS SUPERIOR BECAUSE HE MINISTERS IN A BETTER SANCTUARY
A. (:1-2) Three Superlatives Regarding the Ministry of Christ
1. (:1a) Superior Priest
“Now the main point in what has been said is this:
we have such a high priest,”
not so much a summary of what has gone before as instead highlighting the chief point the author wants to make at this point in his argument
Lenski: The main point is not the exaltation of Jesus; this is subsidiary. The main point is his exalted ministration in the heavenly Holy of Holies. For this High-priestly work of his “he sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens as a ministrant of the Holy Place,” etc.
2. (:1b) Enthroned Priest
“who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne
of the Majesty in the heavens,”
sitting down emphasizes the finished work of the offering of the once-for-all sacrifice but does not mean inactivity – for His intercessory work continues; in addition He is reigning from a position of power
Hewitt: Christ has consummated His great sacrificial work on the cross by taking the seat on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. . . the kingly power and dominion of the great High Priest of the Christian Church has crowned the office of priesthood with supreme excellence and dignity.
3. (:2) Heavenly Priest
“a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle,
which the Lord pitched, not man.”
Kent: The sanctuary looks at the priest’s ministry as in the holy presence of God, and the further description as the true tabernacle regards this priest as ministering in the actual dwelling place of God, not the representational one of Old Testament days.
T. C. Edwards: The Jewish priesthood itself teaches the existence of a heavenly sanctuary. All the arrangements of tabernacle and ritual were made after a pattern shown to Moses on Mount Sinai. The priests, in the tabernacle and through their ritual, ministered to the holiest place, as the visible image and outline of the real holiest place – that is, heaven – which the Lord pitched, not man.
B. (:3-5) Three Contrasts Between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant
1. (:3) Contrast in Sacrifices
“For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer.”
Kent: A similar description was given in 5:1. The two terms apparently denote the categories of voluntary thank offerings and required sacrifices for sin.
J. Ligon Duncan: We’re reminded that the very essence of the function of the priesthood is mediation, offering up sacrifices for sins of God’s people unto God, standing in between and offering up prayers and supplications and intercessions and sacrifices to God, Most High, that He would deal graciously and mercifully to His people. That’s the essence of priesthood, to offer that sacrifice, to intercede, to mediate. The author of Hebrews is saying, “Look here, Jesus’ mediation, Jesus’ sacrifice, was not of something else. It was of Himself. It was the perfect sacrifice, the sacrifice of sacrifices, the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.” And again he says, “Show me the sacrifice in the Old Testament that ended all sacrifices.”
2. (:4) Contrast in Service
“Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all,
since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law;”
Kent: the Levitical system was already established, and it left no room for a non-Levite
Mohler: Verses 3 to 5 detail the priest’s duties in the tabernacle. . . Christ is not an earthly priest form the line of Levi that brings his offering to an earthly tabernacle. He ministers in the heavenly tabernacle, so Jesus brings a superior offering.
3. (:5) Contrast in Sanctuary
“who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, ‘See,’ He says, ‘that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.’”
Kent: If (incredible as it seems) service in the heavenly sanctuary be regarded by the readers as something less significant or of less practical relevance than earthly priests, then let them know that the Levitical system was only a reflection of the heavenly reality. It had no real validity of its own. It was merely a copy.
Lane: The contrast developed is not simply between an earthly copy and a heavenly archetype but between a historical situation in the past and one that succeeded it in time. During the former situation, marked by the ministry of the Levitical priests, there was no entrance into the real, heavenly presence of God; full entrance into the eternal presence of God was made possible only with the life and redemptive accomplishment of Jesus. . .
In Hebrews 8:1-5 the primitive Christian confession of Jesus as the one who has taken his seat at God’s right hand is reinterpreted in the light of the theme of heavenly sanctuary and liturgy. The development of this theme, which dominates the argument in Hebrews 8:1 to Hebrews 9:28, is clearly the central and most distinctive aspect of the writer’s interpretation of the saving work of Christ…. By means of a typological interpretation of the OT, the writer asserts that Christ has achieved what the sacrificial action of the high priest on the great Day of Atonement only foreshadowed. His entrance into the heavenly sanctuary, which is the true tabernacle where he has unrestricted access to the eternal presence of God, demonstrates the eschatological superiority of his priestly service to the ministry of the Levitical high priests. The priestly ministry of Christ in the celestial sanctuary is of capital importance in the thought of Hebrews.
John Piper: In the New Testament, all the focus is on the reality of the glory of Christ, not the shadow and copy of religious objects and forms. It is stunning how indifferent the New Testament is to such things: there is no authorization in the New Testament for worship buildings, or worship dress, or worship times, or worship music, or worship liturgy or worship size or thirty-five-minute sermons, or Advent poems or choirs or instruments or candles. In fact, the act of getting together as Christians in the New Testament to sing or pray or hear the word of God is never even called worship. I wonder if we do not distort the Biblical meaning of “worship” by using the word almost entirely for an event for which the New Testament never uses the word.
But all of this makes us very free and, perhaps, very frightened. Free to find place and time and dress and size and music and elements and objects that help us orient radically toward the supremacy of God in Christ. And frightened, perhaps, because almost every worship tradition we have is culturally shaped rather than Biblically commanded. The command is a radical connection of love and trust and obedience to Jesus Christ in all of life.
There’s a reason for this radical spirituality of worship in the New Testament. And the reason is this. The New Testament is a missionary document. The message of this book is meant to be carried to every people on earth and incarnated in every culture in the world. And that is why our High Priest came and ended tabernacle, and sacrifices and feasts and vestments and dietary laws and circumcision and priesthood. The Old Testament was mainly a come-and-see religion. The New Testament is mainly a go-and-tell religion. And to make that possible, the Son of God has not abolished worship, but made it the kind of radically spiritual engagement with God in Christ that can and must happen in every culture on the earth. Worship is not trivialized in the New Testament, but intensified, deepened, and made the radical fuel and goal of all missions.
The frightening freedom of worship in the New Testament is a missionary mandate. We must not lock this gospel treasure in any cultural straitjacket. Rather let us find the place, the time, the dress, the forms, the music that kindles and carries a passion for the supremacy of God in all things. And may our communion with the living God be so real and the Spirit of God so powerfully present that the heart of what we do becomes the joy of all the peoples we are called to reach.”
II. (:6) CHRIST’S MINISTRY IS SUPERIOR BECAUSE HE MEDIATES A BETTER COVENANT
A. Better Ministry
“But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry,”
R. Kent Hughes: To possess the benefits of a perfect sacrifice, administered by a perfect priest serving in perfect session, in the perfect substantiality of the ultimate real sanctuary built not by man but by God, was, and is, a grace that came for the first time through the New Covenant in Christ. It is no mere shadow. It is the real thing – “the true tabernacle set up by the Lord” (v. 2) – eternally substantial. And it is ours!
Leon Morris: The ministry of priests in a sanctuary made according to the heavenly pattern is obviously one of great dignity. But the author’s point is that Jesus’ ministry in the heavenly archetype is of incomparably greater dignity and worth.
Lenski: Why should any of the readers turn from Jesus for the mere reason that he is not and can never be a high priest like those of their nation who served only in the sketch and shadow of the true Tabernacle and not perceive that this inability means that “he has obtained a more excellent ministration.”
Better Ministry is proved by:
B. Better Covenant
“by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant,”
Mohler: Because Christ has fulfilled the tabernacle’s purpose, we can draw near to the very throne of God. Heaven is God’s true tabernacle. This great truth permeates the pages of the Old Testament. The King who ransoms his people from their iniquities and brings them peace with God has ushered in the new covenant by his blood. And that covenant is of far greater excellence than the first.
Better Covenant is proved by:
C. Better Promises
“which has been enacted on better promises.”
Hewitt: The Mosaic covenant was a covenant of law, but the new is a covenant of promise and the Son of God is the surety that the promises will be fulfilled. The old covenant though educative was impotent and temporary, the new covenant is redemptive, dynamic and eternal.
F. F. Bruce: What the better promises are on which this better covenant is established will appear in the quotation from Jer. 31:3ff. which follows in verses 8-12. For the better covenant of which our Lord is Mediator is the new covenant foretold by Jeremiah.
Leon Morris: the better promises may be held to refer to the concentration on spiritual things in the new covenant (there is a good deal about possessing the land and the like in the old covenant) and in its unconditional nature.