Hebrews 8: The Time is Coming
At the event we call the Last Supper; Jesus took the cup and said: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22) With this statement, Jesus tells the disciples and us He is about to initiate a new covenant. A covenant is a contractual agreement between two parties. It can be accepted or rejected, however, it cannot be altered. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except by me.” (John 14) This way cannot be altered. This is the only way, the narrow way. This covenant is between the Father and the Son. It is not made between God and Israel or between us and God. However, if we are ‘in Christ” everything in this covenant is available to us.
In Hebrews 7:24-28 we are told Jesus as our High Priest lives forever, having a permanent priesthood. He is seated in heaven at the right hand of God, and therefore is able to save to the uttermost- that is forever, permanently. As our High Priest He meets our needs because He, Jesus, the Son of God is the only holy, blameless, pure person who ever lived and is set apart from all sinners. Jesus did not need to offer a sacrifice for His own sins, because He had not ever sinned. He sacrificed Himself, because there was no other sacrifice which would meet the need to cover all the sins of all mankind for all time.
The only work Jesus did as High Priest on earth was at Calvary. His words spoken from the Cross reveal this work:
- Father forgive them. Here is interceding for those who are nailing Him to the cross. ( And you and I are as responsible for His death as the Roman soldiers) The work of our High Priest who lives forever to intercede for us.
- Jesus tells the thief today you will be with me in paradise. This is the work of grace to a dying sinner.
- Jesus speaks to His mother and John to take care of His mother. He is a priest offering comfort.
Next comes His words and cries which speak of His taking on the role of the sacrifice on the altar. Here he becomes the Lamb of God slain as He cries out to God- ‘why hast thou forsaken me? Again Jesus cries out: “I thirst!” One cannot help but remember the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 when the rich man who dies and finds himself in torment, and he cries out to Father Abraham to send Lazarus with just a drop of water to cool his tongue for he is in torment in this flame.
Then at last, Jesus cries out: “it is finished! Father into thy hands I commit my Spirit.” Jesus, the Son of God, our Great High Priest had completed the work necessary to initiate the new covenant. “Once for all” means the cross is a timeless event. This historical, factual event is an intrusion of eternity into time. It reaches back to cover all of history and is the central event of time. It reaches backward to before Jesus came to earth and it reaches forward to today. There is no other event like this in all of history and all of time.
THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST OF A NEW COVENANT
The author of Hebrews has been showing the superiority of Christ from the first chapter of Hebrews. He is the exact representation of God the Father. Jesus, Himself, told Phillip, ‘if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.’ He is superior to angels, Moses and the High Priest in the order of Aaron. He is a High Priest and King in the order of Melchizedek forever.
This is exactly what the author now states in Hebrews 8: 1, 2: “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which God erected, not man.” (New KJV)
Now Jesus had told the disciples on the last night with them as they observed Passover, He was initiating a new covenant sealed in His own blood. We will see this is a new covenant of which God spoke of in Jeremiah 31. Our High Priest, Jesus is superior to any earthly high priest. His sacrifice is perfect and superior to any sacrifice for the blood of animals cannot bring forgiveness of all sins for all times, this is why they were constantly repeating the sacrifices. For these sacrifices were temporary, and incomplete.
The author also states, our Great High Priest is seated in heaven at the right hand of Majesty and serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord not by man. Moses and children of Israel had built a tabernacle, (a portable tent) with all of its furnishings according to the pattern (the blueprint) God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Our Lord Jesus is a superior High Priest who made a superior sacrifice, and serves in a superior sanctuary. Everything else has been a copy of the true tabernacle of the truth of the Lamb of God, slain before the foundation of the earth.
The fact that Our Great High Priest is seated tells us His Work is finished. The priests in the tabernacle and later the temple were never seated for their work was never completed. Jesus is not just seated, He is ‘enthroned”. He is seated at the right hand of God, the Father. This was a fulfillment of the Father’s promise in Psalm 110: 1-“Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies my footstool.”
Our Great High Priest is seated, enthroned in the heavenly sanctuary. He is the Superior Priest in the Superior Sanctuary with a Superior Covenant.
The tabernacle Moses and the children of Israel built in the wilderness was built in three sections. The first section was the outer court into which the people of Israel could come. It contained the bronze altar for sacrifices. God wanted to dwell among His people. How does a holy God dwell among sinful people? First God required the people to sacrifice a perfect animal for their sins. The blood of the animal was important to justify the people before God. Only the finest animal- a perfect one- was good enough. Sacrifices had to be made on a regular basis. The person bringing the offering would put their hand on the head of the lamb while it was killed. This symbolically put the person’s sins onto the animal, and the animal died in his/her place. Jesus is our perfect sacrifice for our sins. His sacrifice covered all sin- past and future. Today we are told to present our bodies a living sacrifice. We will look at the tabernacle next week and what the earthly sanctuary and its furnishings represented. Here the author is making the point, we have a Great High Priest who ministers from a superior sanctuary.
The need for a new covenant was not some new, radical teaching. God foresaw the need. “God found fault with the people of Israel and said, “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. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant and I turned away from them declares the Lord. 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. No longer will a man teach his neighbor or a man his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord’ because they will know Me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” By calling this covenant new, He made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear. “
This quote is from Jeremiah 31, and dates back to 600 BC. Jeremiah was used by the Lord to bring these charges against and proclaim the end of an era. In 70 AD, the temple was destroyed and there has been no temple since built and therefore no sacrifices made in a tabernacle built after the blue print. It has disappeared.
Jeremiah was sent by God to the people of Israel to give them this message. Let us look at the background of Jeremiah’s message from God to the people of Israel to better understand the New Covenant. The Law of Moses was the first covenant, the Ten Commandments. There is nothing wrong with the Ten Commandments. Notice God did not say He found fault with the commandments, God found fault with the people.
God never intended or expected them to keep the commandments. He knew they could not. God pointed this out to them many times. God gave them the Ten Commandments to show them they could NOT KEEP THEM so they would be ready to receive a Savior who would come ‘in the fullness of time.’ But in prideful confidence they tried to keep it. In doing so, they set up their own standards for themselves, comparing to other men and not a HOLY God. Are we not guilty of the same pridefulness, comparing ourselves to those more openly sinful than ourselves? We do not compare ourselves to Jesus, do we? And our defense is ‘well, no one is perfect.’
Part of Jesus’ teaching ministry was to show them how what they had been told and taught by people and priests of long ago was incorrect, correcting the false teaching. He made it clear- you had to be perfect as God in heaven is perfect. So everyone knew this was impossible for anyone to live without ever breaking one of the Ten Commandments.
Paul writes in Romans 8 the ‘law was powerless,” What does this mean? Again Paul writes ‘through the law we became conscious of sin.’ (Romans 3) In Galatians 3 Paul also writes: “Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to all who believe. But before came, we kept under guard by the law, kept for faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under the schoolmaster.”
When I first went to AA, I was taught the 12 steps. The first step was to admit I was powerless over alcohol and my life had become unmanageable. The second step was that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. The third step was to make a decision to turn my life over to God as I came to understand Him. The Lord’s strength is made perfect in weakness. So when I am weak, I am strong.
When Jeremiah came with God’s message, the people had reached new depths of sinfulness and depravity, worshipping the gods of the heathens. As a result they were carried captive into Babylon.
God through Jeremiah was informing the people of a New Covenant to come, a permanent covenant.
Now here is where it gets difficult to understand. God, through Jeremiah is promising a time in the future with a new, better covenant with Israel speaks of restoration in the future.
Today the church of true believers is experiencing the blessings of this new covenant, while Israel by and large is not experiencing these blessings. Jesus Christ the mediator of this New Covenant. So what does this mean? How do we reconcile this promise to Israel with what we now see?
I believe we can understand this by understanding God’s principle of taking the Gospel to ‘the Jews first.’ John tells us in John 1, Jesus came to His own people, but they received Him not. He sent out His disciples only to Israel. (Matt. 10:5-6) When Jesus got ready to ascend back to heaven, He commanded the disciples to begin in Jerusalem first. Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost was addressed to Jews and to Gentiles who were Jewish converts. Peter stated this principle in Acts 3: 25, 26, when he said the Gospel went to the Jews first.
But we know the nation of Israel has rejected the message and the messengers, although there were individual Jews being saved. We then see in the history of the church as recorded in Acts, the gospel moved out to Judea, and Samaria and then to the Gentiles in Acts 10.
Now let us go back to the time of the Ten Commandments in Exodus and listen to a statement made by the people. “So Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has said we will do.” Notice they said with one voice – WE WILL DO. BUT THEY DID NOT!
The Ten Commandments had barely been engraved in stone, when they broke them. When Moses threw down the commandments in anger, the stone tablets God had engraved were broken- which shows they were never kept from the very beginning. It is one thing to say I will or we will and then it is quite another thing to do it. It was impossible for man to keep the 10 Commandments. And God made provisions for the forgiveness of sins even then with the sacrificial system.
But herein lies the power of the New Covenant. God says “I will” several times. This means this New Covenant is all of God. It is all of Grace. This is God saying “I WILL:
- I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel.
- I will put my laws in their mind and write them in their hearts.
- I will be their God.
- I will be merciful to their unrighteousness.
- I will remember their sins no more.
This new covenant is a covenant wholly of God’s grace. “For by grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.”
God’s grace says, the work is done- believe and you will live.
The Law of Moses could not provide the power needed for obedience. We need a new heart and new nature to replace our sinful hearts and sinful nature. We are then partakers of the divine nature. The laws were external they could not provide the power. The new divine nature within the believer works in both the desire and will to do God’s pleasure.
The Old Covenant was written on stone tablets and was external only. The New Covenant is written on our minds and in our hearts. God’s grace makes possible an internal transformation that makes a surrendered believer more and more like Jesus. (2 Cor. 3:18)
The problem Hebrews was addressing 2000 years ago is still a problem for believers today. We are saved by the New Covenant by grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s finished work. But as we begin our new walk and the sanctification process, we often fall back to the old external covenant. Paul said, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? These early Jews who had become Christians were tempted to work hard to keep the Law of Moses.
When you are tempted to do this – repeat the following truth:
“ I have been crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ liveth in me: and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20 KJV) This verse seems a paradox, does it not? I am crucified but alive. This reminds me the Christian life is about dying to our old nature, the flesh. The motivation Jesus, the Son of God had for dying in my place taking my sins was His love for me. I now share my life with Him and He shares His life with me. He says He gives me HIS peace. I am told the love of God is shed abroad in my heart by the Spirit… I also know the faith by which I received the saving grace was a gift from Him. Ephesians 2: 8& 9 tell me this truth. So the faith is the faith He gave me- His faith. Now Peter tells me it is my responsibility’ to add to this faith- goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and godliness, kindness; and to kindness, love. ‘This will make us more effective and productive in producing fruit which brings glory to God.
By sharing His life with me, Christ has given me the desire and the will to do God’s good pleasure. The picture of a marriage is applicable here, as we are two people sharing the same life. And as I spend time with him the following process takes place: “Now the Lord is Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. But we all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor. 3:18.)