The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Hebrews 8

Heb 8:1

Heb 8: Christ the high priest. See Article, Covenant with Israel (Heb 8).

Vv 1-6: The true high priest and his ministry.

POINT: "Kephalaion". "Chief point" (ASV, Diag), "crowning point" (Roth).

WE DO HAVE SUCH A HIGH PRIEST, WHO SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF THE MAJESTY IN HEAVEN: Once again the wording alludes to Psa 110:1. Jesus is where he is (cp Eph 1:20) because of who he is -- both Son (cp Heb 4:14) and high priest (cp Psa 110:4).

THE MAJESTY IN HEAVEN: A circumlocution for "God" (cp Heb 1:3) -- suggesting a Jewish reluctance to use the name of God directly.

Heb 8:2

AND WHO SERVES IN THE SANCTUARY, THE TRUE TABERNACLE SET UP BY THE LORD, NOT BY MAN: The same point is made in v 5, where the Levitical priests are said to have been concerned with only a copy or shadow of "heavenly" realities. The author takes his idea from the OT where Moses is instructed about building the tabernacle and its furniture by being shown patterns or models. (In addition to Exo 25:40, which the author quotes in v 5, see Exo 25:9; 26:30; 27:8.) What took place in that ritual of the historical tabernacle, but only through pictures and symbols, now actually takes place in the sacrificial work of Christ. The work of our high priest, therefore, concerns not pictures or symbols, but ultimate reality -- the reality of God himself. God's plan is a historical progression from promise to fulfillment. The final and definitive character of the fulfillment is underlined by the fact that our high priest sits at the right hand of God, now fulfilling his ministry of intercession (Heb 7:25).

SANCTUARY: "Hagion" -- which can mean "holy THINGS", "holy PEOPLE", or "holy PLACE" -- the last is intended here, since this is the contextual meaning in Heb 9; 10. The sanctuary, or the Most Holy Place, in Tabernacle and Temple, was the place of God's dwelling, or presence among Israel (Exo 25:8,22). Cp Rev 13:6: "his dwelling place and those who live in heaven".

TRUE: That is, "real" in contrast to "typical" or "shadowy": cp v 5; Heb 9:24.

TABERNACLE: The word "tent" ("skene") is used in Hebrews far more than in any other NT book. It almost always refers to the tabernacle, the predecessor of the permanent temple (see Heb 8:5; Heb 9; 13:10), and invariably is shown to be inferior to the reality it foreshadowed. Ultimately in points forward to the body of believers, wherever they might be (John 4:22-24).

SET UP BY THE LORD: Poss an allusion to the LXX of Num 24:6, where -- figuratively -- the tents of Israel (cp Num 24:5) are said to have been pitched by the LORD.

As will be seen, Christ himself is the true tabernacle (Col 2:9; 3:21; John 1:14) -- greater than the (literal) temple (Mat 12:6; John 2:19). Believers come into Christ, and thus become a part of the true "tabernacle" or "temple" of God (Heb 3:6n; Isa 8:14; 28:16).

Heb 8:3

EVERY HIGH PRIEST IS APPOINTED TO OFFER BOTH GIFTS AND SACRIFICES, AND SO IT WAS NECESSARY FOR THIS ONE ALSO TO HAVE SOMETHING TO OFFER: Cp Heb 5:1. The author has already indicated what that "something" is ("himself" in Heb 7:27), he also here anticipates what he will argue in Heb 9; 10.

GIFTS AND SACRIFICES: This expression (cp Lev 21:6), which occurs also in Heb 5:1; 9:9, is unique to this epistle in the NT. The phrase is a general reference to a variety of sacrifices offered by the priests. "Gifts" = offerings of praise, thanksgiving, and dedication. NOT animal sacrifices. "Sacrifices" = BLOOD-sacrifices, in contrast to "gifts".

THIS ONE: Or "this man" (AV). "Receives sinners" (Luk 15:2). "Never man spoke like..." (Joh 7:46). "No fault in..." (Luk 23:4,14,41). "Has something to offer" (Heb 8:3). "Thru this man... forgiveness" (Act 13:38). "Is worthy of more honor than Moses" (Heb 3:3). "Sat down" (Heb 10:12). "Continues forever" (Heb 7:24). "Was Son of God" (Mar 15:39).

TO HAVE SOMETHING TO OFFER: (1) The HiPr entered the most holy once every year, with blood, to sprinkle on the mercy seat (Heb 9:7; Lev 16:14,15). This is typical of Christ: Heb 9:12; 10:19; 12:24; Eph 2:13; 1Pe 1:2; Rev 1:5. (2) Also, Christ enters heaven as an intercessor, with our prayers (Heb 4:16; 13:15). (3) And thru Christ, we offer praise and good works to God: Heb 13:16; Rom 6:3; 12:1.

Heb 8:4

IF HE WERE ON EARTH, HE WOULD NOT BE A PRIEST, FOR THERE ARE ALREADY MEN WHO OFFER THE GIFTS PRESCRIBED BY THE LAW: But the priesthood of Jesus is categorically superior to that of earthly priests: his distinctive offering is not made according to the requirements of the Law of Moses. His work of atonement is of ultimate meaning and hence "heavenly" in contrast to the "earthly" work of the Levitical priesthood. This is forcefully conveyed in the following verses.

Heb 8:5

THEY SERVE AT A SANCTUARY THAT IS A COPY AND SHADOW OF WHAT IS IN HEAVEN: The inferiority of the work of the Levitical priesthood is now stressed by noting that it concerns but a pattern or reflection of the heavenly realities. Their work only prefigured the definitive atoning work of Jesus, which alone is of ultimate significance.

COPY: Gr "hupodeigmati" = representation, delineation, pattern, outline, figure, copy. Sw Heb 4:11; 9;23.

SHADOW: Gr "skia" = shade. That is, not the substance with an independent existence, but dependent for its existence upon the substantial -- which it only patterns. Sw Heb 10:1; Col 2:17.

THIS IS WHY MOSES WAS WARNED WHEN HE WAS ABOUT TO BUILD THE TABERNACLE: "SEE TO IT THAT YOU MAKE EVERYTHING ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN": Cit Exo 25:40. The tabernacle (and it successor, the temple) with its sacrificial ritual (commanded through Moses) was not itself the ultimate reality, but only a "shadow" of it. The contrasting of the earthly and temporal with the heavenly and ultimate occurs again in Heb 9:23; 10:1. Paul can use very similar language, as in Col 2:17, where, speaking of certain items of the Mosaic legislation such as dietary and Sabbath rules, he writes: "These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ."

Heb 8:6


Thus our high priest is concerned with matters altogether superior to the old covenant. His priestly work itself, the new covenant resulting from it, and the promises to which that new covenant points -- in all of this the old pales in comparison to the greater excellence of the new.

MINISTRY: Gr "leitourgia", which is common in the LXX, occurs again in Heb 9:21. The word is generally spiritualized in the NT to refer to Christian ministry (see 2Co 9:12; Phi 2:17,30), but in Luke 1:23 the original sense is retained.

MEDIATOR: Gr "mesites"; occurs first in this verse and reappears in Heb 9:15; 12:24 (cp 1Ti 2:5). The word involves more than the idea of a "middleman." It connotes the accomplishment of salvation and is close to the meaning of "guarantee" in the parallel phrase of Heb 7:22, "the guarantee of a better covenant". See Lesson, Mediatorship of Christ.

FOUNDED: The Greek word underlying founded (or "legally enacted") is "nomotheteo", which occurs also in Heb 7:11, where it refers to the Mosaic legislation. The new covenant thus possesses the same authoritative and binding character in God's will as did the old.

"BETTER PROMISES": This anticipates the content of the quotation from Jer 31, which follows. It also alludes to such realities as "true sabbath rest" (Heb 4:3,9), an unshakable kingdom (Heb 12:28), and the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22).

Heb 8:7

Vv 7-13: The promise of a new covenant. The author now cites an OT passage of major importance in the epistle, Jer 31:31-34. The explicit reference to the new covenant in this text makes it ideal for his purpose. Portions of this same passage are quoted again in 10:16–18. The quotation enables the author to stress the discontinuity between Christianity and the Mosaic law, while at the same time indicating an underlying continuity in God's purposes. What the author has been describing so well is now shown to have been anticipated within the prophetic Scriptures.

FOR IF THERE HAD BEEN NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT FIRST COVENANT, NO PLACE WOULD HAVE BEEN SOUGHT FOR ANOTHER: And yet the hope of a new covenant is precisely what we read about in the prophet Jeremiah. Here is the crux of the whole argument: the old covenant was not, nor ever had it been considered, final! See also Eze 37:26-28; Isa 59:20,21; Rom 11:26,27.

The argument of v 7 is similar to that of Heb 7:11, ie, if the old is sufficient, then why is a further reality mentioned in the text of Scripture?

NOTHING WRONG: The old covenant was indeed "faultless" as to morality (Rom 7:12); nevertheless, it was powerless: it could not save -- because of the weakness of the flesh (Rom 8:3n).

NO PLACE WOULD HAVE BEEN SOUGHT: That is, there would have been no need or occasion...

Heb 8:8

BUT GOD FOUND FAULT WITH THE PEOPLE: The problem, however, lies not simply in the first covenant (which by its nature was only preparatory), but more fundamentally in the people themselves -- this will be evident in the quotation that follows.

This assignment of the real blame to the people rather than to the first covenant is somewhat reminiscent of Paul's vindication of the law in Rom 7:7-12.

V 8b begins the quotation of Jer 31:31-34, which continues thru v 12.

THE TIME IS COMING, DECLARES THE LORD, WHEN I WILL MAKE A NEW COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH: "The time is coming" is a typical introduction to a messianic prophecy. God speaks through the prophet about a future time when a new covenant will be established with his people. The prophet Jeremiah writes in a time of trouble and disillusionment; Judah and Jerusalem have fallen to the invading Babylonians and have been carried off into exile, all this by way of judgment upon the people for their disobedience.

Heb 8:9

IT WILL NOT BE LIKE THE COVENANT I MADE WITH THEIR FOREFATHERS WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND TO LEAD THEM OUT OF EGYPT, BECAUSE THEY DID NOT REMAIN FAITHFUL TO MY COVENANT, AND I TURNED AWAY FROM THEM, DECLARES THE LORD: The root problem, and the reason why the new covenant will be unlike the old (for the old, see Exo 19:5), is because the people of Israel did not "continue in" God's covenant. The old covenant was unable to produce obedience, and hence judgment came upon the nation. But the new covenant will be able to accomplish what the old could not...

Heb 8:10

THIS IS THE COVENANT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AFTER THAT TIME, DECLARES THE LORD. I WILL PUT MY LAWS IN THEIR MINDS AND WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS. I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE: The new covenant, however, will do something new, and necessary: it will produce true righteousness, the personal knowledge of the Lord, and effective forgiveness of sins. Such results are the "better promises" referred to in v 6 -- which are now experienced by the people of God, the ecclesia. This is the meaning of Jesus Christ and his finished work of atonement, for he is "the guarantee of a better covenant" (Heb 7:22), "the mediator of a new covenant" (Heb 9:15).

I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS: Cp 2Co 3:3: "You are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." Thus even Gentiles may become Jews "inwardly", being "circumcised" in their hearts (cp Rom 2:28,29).

I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE: This is, of course, the foundation of the Abrahamic promises: Gen 17:7,8.

"Although Jeremiah is the only OT writer to refer explicitly to a NEW covenant in the future, Ezekiel apparently had a similar expectation. He speaks of an 'eternal covenant' (cp Heb 13:20) which the Lord will establish and which will involve transformation, knowledge of the Lord, and the forgiveness of sins (Eze 11:19,20; 16:60-63; 36:26-29; 37:26-28, including the words 'they will be my people, and I will be their God'). Other prophets foresee similar circumstances (eg, Isa 54:13; cp reference to the 'covenant of peace' in 54:10; 27:9, quoted in Rom 11:27)" (NIBC).

The idea of the "new covenant" is of course found elsewhere in the NT. In the words of Jesus at his "passover", the new covenant is referred to in both Luke 22:20 and 1Co 11:25. Paul refers to it in 2Co 3:6 (cp his explicit reference to the "old covenant" in 2Co 3:14). A similar contrast between two covenants is found in Gal 4:24-26. Nowhere, outside of Hebrews, however, do we encounter the quotation of this passage or the argument based upon it that we have here (cp also Heb 9:15; 10:16-18; 12:24).

Heb 8:11

Vv 11,12: Our author capitalizes upon Jeremiah's reference to the new covenant. A new situation is in view within the Scriptures of the old covenant itself, a situation that envisages a new kind of living, a new spiritual possibility, and a new experience of a definitive forgiveness of sins. Knowledge of the Lord becomes the possession of all, and the cleansing of sin becomes a reality at the deepest level. It is this that Jeremiah looked for, and it is this that has come to the readers in Christ (see the application of the passage to the readers in Heb 10:15–18). But if the latter statement is true, the implications for the old covenant are startling.

THEY WILL ALL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST OF THEM TO THE GREATEST: God will give Israel special "teachers" (Jer 23:3,4; Isa 30:14-21; 54:13); thus they will be led into the "new covenant" -- along with the Gentile believers.

Heb 8:12

I WILL FORGIVE THEIR WICKEDNESS AND WILL REMEMBER THEIR SINS NO MORE: In contrast to the Law, where sins were remembered, year to year: Heb 10:3.

Heb 8:13

BY CALLING THIS COVENANT "NEW," HE HAS MADE THE FIRST ONE OBSOLETE; AND WHAT IS OBSOLETE AND AGING WILL SOON DISAPPEAR: The same God who brought the old covenant into existence in anticipation of the new has now brought the fulfillment of the new. But the new, in turn, is so much better than the old that the old must give way to it. The purpose of the old has been accomplished, and hence it will soon disappear.

MADE: "Pronounced" (NEB), "rendered" (Diag), declared only by God's decree... even in Jeremiah's day!

FIRST: Used repeatedly in the argument that follows in a way that implies it is outmoded (cp Heb 9:1,15,18; 10:9).

OBSOLETE AND AGING: The Law has now grown old, been set aside, and will shortly (ie, 70 AD) disappear altogether. See Heb 12:26-29 and Hag 2:6n. Promised in Dan 8:9-12,24; 9:26. "They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up" (Isa 50:9).

SOON: This seems to fix the date of the writing of Hebrews: we are near the destruction of Jerusalem, and hence the temple, in 70 AD, and the writer may be thinking of the prophecy of Jesus about the fall of Jerusalem (Mark 13:2). If Hebrews were written AFTER the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, the writer could hardly have avoided referring explicitly to the historical confirmation of his argument.

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