Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. – Hebrews 8:1-7 ESV
A better covenant. A better high priest. A better ministry. A better promise. Everything about Jesus is better. To borrow from an age-old, tried and true advertising slogan, you might say it is “new and improved”. Jesus didn’t just provide man with another option among many. He provided the one and only option for men to be made right with God. Unlike the priests who served in the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus ministers in the heavenly tabernacle of God, seated at the very side of His Father. His is not an earthly, temporal ministry, but a heavenly, eternal one. He is no longer offering up sacrifices to appease or propitiate God, because His death fully paid the penalty for sin and satisfied the just demands of a righteous God – once for all.
In this section of chapter eight, the author continues to establish Jesus as better. But he does so by contrasting the old covenant with the new covenant. In verses 22-28 of chapter seven, he pointed out that Jesus is “the guarantor of a better covenant”. This new covenant only requires on priest: Jesus. It’s high priest will never die or need to be replaced. It requires no more daily sacrifices for sin. In chapter eight, we are told that the high priest of the new covenant sits at the right hand of God in a heavenly tabernacle, not an earthly one. It is the real thing, not a replica or poor reflection. The original tabernacle and temple were intended to serve as “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5 ESV). The millions of animal sacrifices offered in those two structures over the centuries were simply a foreshadowing of what was to come. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV). They could provide temporary atonement or relief, but were never a permanent fix. That is why the sacrifices were “continually offered every year” (Hebrews 10:1 ESV). In his gospel, Luke records the words of Jesus to His disciples on the night He shared the passover meal with them for the last time. “After supper he took another cup of wine and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant between God and his people – an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for’” (Luke 22:20 NLT). With the death of Jesus, a new covenant was made between God and man. It replaced the old covenant. Why? Because it provided a better way for men to be made right with God. In fact, it provided the only way for men to be made right with God. Under the old covenant, the shedding of blood provided a temporary relief from the condemnation of sin. But with His death, Jesus provided a permanent solution to man’s sin problem. Rather than man having to try and earn a right standing with God through his own efforts, Jesus provided the gift of His righteousness. He took on man’s sin and gave His righteousness in return. That is why Paul wrote, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). He further elaborates on this point in his letter to the Romans.
The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 NLT
In chapter nine, the author of Hebrews continues his elaboration on the point that Jesus was the better mediator of a better covenant. “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:15 ESV). It was not that the old covenant was bad. It was simply that it was incomplete. It pointed to something better to come. It was a foreshadowing of something greater to be revealed. It revealed man’s sinfulness so that he would understand his desperate need for a Savior. It is interesting to note that when Jesus walked this earth, He made the sad commentary on the spiritual state of man: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mark 2:17 NLT). His point? Those who think they are without sin and in no need of a Savior, will never turn to Him. It is those who are “weary and carry heavy burdens” (Matthew 11:29) who will find rest for their souls. The apostle John wrote, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth” (1 John 1:8 NLT). “If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts” (1 John 1:10 NLT). Jesus offers a better ministry as a better high priest and the mediator of a better covenant based on better promises. But to take advantage of it, men must recognize their sin and their desperate need for a Savior. They must desire something better. They must turn from the old and receive by faith the new that is offered to them through Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).