Studies in the Book of Hebrews—Chapter 8

The Mediator of
a Better Covenant


VERSES 1,2  “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; A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.”

‘We have such an high priest.’ Throughout the seventh chapter Paul tells about this wonderful High Priest, that had been appointed by God, and that was the antitype of Melchisedec, who had no predecessors or successors in the priesthood, and who was a king as well as a priest—a royal priest. The fact that Jesus is a royal priest is further established by the explanation that he is now ‘set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.’

Despite his exaltation Jesus is still a ‘minister,’ a servant, of the sanctuary. But now there is a different sanctuary, the true tabernacle—the antitype of the Tabernacle constructed by man in the wilderness of Sinai. This true tabernacle is ‘pitched’ by God. In reality it is a condition, not a place. The first ‘holy,’ is the Spirit-begotten condition of New Creatures, while the ‘holiest of all’ is heaven itself, where Jesus appeared in the presence of God for us.

VERSES 3,4  “Every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law.”

The principal work of the typical priests was to ‘offer gifts and sacrifices.’ All of these were typical and pointed forward to the sacrificial work of Christ. In the type, there were the Atonement Day sacrifices as well as those subsequent to the Day of Atonement. Those offered on the Day of Atonement typified the sacrifices offered by the antitypical priesthood for the sins of both the church and the world, while those subsequent thereto pointed forward to the fact that the people in presenting themselves to the Lord during the millennium would do so in recognition of the sacrifice which had been previously offered for them by the antitypical High Priest.

To fulfill these types, it was necessary, Paul declares, that Jesus ‘have somewhat also to offer.’ It was for this reason, other scriptures reveal, that he was “made flesh.” (John 1:14) It was his own flesh—not that of bulls and goats—that Jesus laid down in death, and it is on the basis of the merit of this sacrifice that he now has appeared in the presence of God for the church, and will later appear for the entire world of mankind.

The sacrificial work in the type, particularly that of the Day of Atonement, was concealed from the view of the camp of Israel. In the antitype, while Jesus actually died in view of the people, they did not realize the significance of his death, for the meaning was concealed from them.

In the type, after the slaying of the animals, the priest took the blood into the Most Holy and there sprinkled it on the Mercy Seat. Antitypically, this was accomplished by Jesus when, after his resurrection, he entered into the presence of God for us; for it was then that he had somewhat also to offer—sufficient, indeed, to effect the reconciliation of both the church and the world. Thus, as Paul shows, the priestly office of this age and of the next age, is on a much higher plane, a spiritual plane. He agrees that if Jesus were on earth, as a man, he would not be eligible to serve as a priest; but this is not important, for the purpose of that typical priesthood had been served.

VERSES 5,6  “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. 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.”

The Tabernacle and its services were intended by the Lord to be illustrations of better—‘heavenly’—things to come and for that reason he gave Moses such specific instruction to have everything according to the pattern which had been shown to him. It was probably difficult for Jewish converts who had been accustomed to the typical arrangements, which had been in force during the Jewish Age, to realize that they were merely illustrative of the spiritual things of this age.

Every feature of God’s dealings with Israel foreshadowed better things to come (Heb. 10:1), including the covenant into which they entered with the Lord at Sinai. Paul reminds the Hebrews that God had promised a ‘better covenant,’ and that Jesus was its Mediator. He explains that this better covenant is established upon better promises. God promised the Israelites that if they could keep the Law Covenant they would live. But they were unable to live up to its perfect requirements, and the sacrifices of bulls and goats which were made each year on their behalf failed to take away their sins; so they remained under condemnation to death. The promises of life under the New Covenant are ‘better’ because an adequate provision has been made to take away the people’s sin—the provision of the blood of Christ.

VERSES 7,8  “If that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. 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.”

The first covenant was not ‘faultless’ because of the sinful condition of those with whom it was made, and because the sacrifices which accompanied it had no power to remove their sin. Paul reasons that God’s promise of a New Covenant was tantamount to ‘finding fault’ with the old. The thought is not that of scolding, but as the words literally state, a fault had been found in the old covenant. God knew from the beginning that this fault existed. It was not a fault in his part of the covenant, but in theirs; for they were unable to keep their part of it.

Not understanding the plan of God, many have supposed that Paul, in his reference to God’s promise of the New Covenant, is implying that this promised covenant had already been inaugurated, and that the Hebrew’s relationship to God was through this new arrangement. A careful study reveals, however, that this is not the case.

Throughout the epistle the followers of the Master, his ‘brethren,’ are depicted not as those in the camp of Israel being blessed, but as a part of the antitypical priesthood. In the type on the Day of Atonement only the high priest could enter into the Most Holy, and in the antitype Paul encourages us to follow Christ, our ‘Forerunner,’ into the antitypical holiest of all. In that typical arrangement there were priests, sacrifices, a tabernacle, and a covenant. In the antitype, we have all these, and the church is associated with Jesus in the priesthood, the sacrifices, the heavenly tabernacle, and with him will, during the thousand years of the kingdom, administer the laws of the New Covenant.

The making of the typical Law Covenant began when first the Lord “took them by the hand” out of Egypt, and then took Moses up into the mount and gave him the Law. (Jer. 31:32) Following, there was the sacrifice of animals and the providing of blood by which the people and the book of the Law were sprinkled. That which took a matter of days in type requires the entire Gospel Age in the antitype. With the sacrificial work—the ‘better sacrifices’—of the age complete, then will come the inauguration of the covenant, first with ‘the house of Israel and the house of Judah,’ and ultimately with all mankind.

VERSES 9,10  “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. 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.”

‘Not according.’ The Law of the old covenant was written on stone (the Ten Commandments) and the various ordinances were recorded either on clay tablets or parchment. But the writing of the laws of the New Covenant will not be according to this manner, for the promise is that it shall be written in the hearts of the people, implying their restoration to the original image of God in which Adam was created. Adam was in a covenant relationship with the Lord before he fell.—Hos. 6:7 (Marginal Translation)

In II Corinthians 3:3 Paul speaks of the “epistle of Christ,” not engraven on stone, but “in fleshy tables of the heart.” Then he explains that we are made “able ministers of the new testament,” or New Covenant. (vs. 6) Some have mistaken this as proof that the promises of the New Covenant are now being fulfilled in the experiences of true Christians. But in this lesson Paul is not referring particularly to the promise of Jeremiah 31:31-34, which he quotes in Hebrews, but is taking a lesson from the writing of the Law on the tables of stone. Antitypically, it is this work which is now being done: and just as the typical tables of stone were prepared prior to the inauguration of the old covenant, so Paul is describing a work which is now going on prior to the inauguration of the New Covenant; namely, the preparation of the church to be the ‘able ministers’ of that covenant when it is put into operation for the blessing of the people.

VERSE 11  “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.”

This promise will become literally true when the ministers of the New Covenant have made their “calling and election sure” and it is finally made with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. (II Pet. 1:10) Of that time, it is promised that the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. (Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14) Herein is a very obvious proof that this covenant has not as yet been put into operation. If it had begun to function at the First Advent as an agency of reconciliation between God and men, as some claim, how utterly it has failed to accomplish the purpose God designed for it, as outlined in this verse! But there can be no failure in the plans and purposes of God, and when this covenant is inaugurated the whole world will indeed learn to know him and be reconciled to him; those who willfully resist Divine grace being destroyed from among the people.—Acts 3:23

VERSE 12  “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”

“This is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins,” writes Paul in Romans 11:27. In this eleventh chapter, he explains that the blindness, iniquity, and ungodliness of Israel, or Jacob, shall be turned away by the “Deliverer” that is to come “out of Sion,” which, as he explains, is to occur following the time when the “fulness of the Gentiles” has come in. (Rom. 11:25-28) Thus does Paul locate the time for the fulfillment of God’s promise of the New Covenant and its sin-cleansing powers as following the work of the present Gospel Age, the work of calling out from the world the Zion class, the ‘little flock,’ which is to live and reign with Christ, and with him, as the great ‘Deliverer’ and ‘Mediator,’ ministers of the New Covenant.

VERSE 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.”

How keen is Paul’s reasoning, that the Law Covenant was made ‘old’ simply by God’s promise of a new one. When God declares a fact it is established. From God’s standpoint, it had served its purpose. Israel had been cast off; and when the time should come for him to again deal with this people whom he still loved for the “fathers’ sakes,” it would be under the arrangements of the New Covenant. (Rom. 11:28) Then their sins, which caused them to be rejected, will be taken away and they shall once more be his people, and he shall be their God.—Jer. 31:33,34

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