1 TNow 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, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 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. 5 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.” 6 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. 7 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 that everything about Jesus is “new and improved.” Jesus didn’t just provide man with one more option among many. No, He made possible the one and only means by which sinful men and women could be restored to a right relationship with God.
Unlike the priests who served in the Tabernacle in the wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus ministers in the divine Tabernacle of God located in heaven. His is not an earthly or temporal ministry, but a heavenly and 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 and for all.
In this first section of chapter eight, the author continues to establish Jesus as superior to all and everyone else. 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 one priest: Jesus. And what sets this new high priest apart is that He will never die or need to be replaced. Unlike Aaron and his successors, Jesus died but rose again. His earthly ministry ended in death but was followed by His resurrection and ascension. Now, He is seated at the right hand of God the Father and intercedes on behalf of all those who have placed their faith in Him as Savior.
Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. – Romans 8:34 ESV
The new covenant that Jesus inaugurated by the shedding of His blood on a Roman cross requires no more daily sacrifices for sin. Under the old covenant, the people of Israel were required to offer repeated sacrifices day after day and year after year because their sins never ceased and their atonement was never full or complete. They were in constant need of purification and forgiveness, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV).
Under the old covenant, the rituals and rites performed by Aaron and his sons were incapable of providing inner purification. They were primarily ceremonial in nature and dealt with the external problem of uncleanness or impurity.
For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them. For that old system deals only with food and drink and various cleansing ceremonies—physical regulations that were in effect only until a better system could be established. – Hebrews 9:9-10 ESV
During the days of the Tabernacle and the Temple, the simple act of touching a forbidden object or eating one of many prohibited foods could render someone unclean and unworthy to enter God’s presence. Purification was necessary but the process only produced a temporary state of acceptability before God. It could do nothing to change the condition of the human heart. The entire process could only make the individual acceptable to God but could not produce a permanent state of righteousness.
So, something better was needed and God provided it. This better covenant administered by a better high priest had been part of God’s plan from the very beginning. All that came before it was intended to be a foreshadowing of something better to come. The Mosaic Law, the Tabernacle, and the sacrificial system were earthly representations of the heavenly realm.
Chapter eight discloses that the high priest of the new covenant sits at the right hand of God in a heavenly Tabernacle, not an earthly one. The Tabernacle in the wilderness was a replica of the real thing, what the author describes as “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5 ESV).
And over the centuries, the millions of animal sacrifices offered in both the Tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem were simply foreshadowings of a better sacrifice 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 from sin’s condemnation but were not intended to offer a permanent fix. That is why the sacrifices were “continually offered every year” (Hebrews 10:1 ESV). In his gospel, Luke records the words Jesus spoke to His disciples on the night He shared His last Passover meal with them.
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 temporary relief from the condemnation of sin. But with His death, Jesus provided a permanent solution to man’s sin problem. Rather than sinful men having to try and earn a right standing with God through self-effort, Jesus provided the gift of His own righteousness. He took on man’s sin and, in exchange, gave the formerly condemned 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).
And Paul 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 could reveal sin but could not remove it. It could display what righteousness looked like but was not able to produce righteousness in a man’s heart. It all 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’s interesting to note that when Jesus walked this earth, He offered the following 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). To deny the presence of sin is to live a lie, and the apostle warns that it is tantamount to calling God a liar.
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 covenant with its laws, rules, and regulations. They must give up the hope of achieving righteousness in their own effort and receive by faith the new covenant that Christ has made possible through His blood.
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
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.