After establishing that Jesus is not only a high priest for God’s people but a better high priest, the writer of Hebrews goes on to establish that everything about Jesus being our high priest is better than what the Jews had with their high priest.
“Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We have this kind of high priest. He sat down at the right side of the throne of the majesty in the heavens. He’s serving as a priest in the holy place, which is the true meeting tent that God, not any human being, set up. Every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices. So it’s necessary for this high priest also to have something to offer. If he was located on earth, he wouldn’t be a priest because there are already others who offer gifts based on the Law.” (Hebrews 8:1-4 CEB)
The high priests of Israel initially served in a tent that people made, following in every detail “the pattern that I [God] showed you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5). Later, although not mentioned by our writer, the priests served in a temple, a building that Solomon had constructed. But our high priest serves in “the true meeting tent that God, not any human being, set up”. It is a “heavenly meeting tent” (Hebrews 8:5). It is in the presence of God himself.
Although a better high priest, if Jesus was located on earth he could not be a high priest because under the Law he couldn’t serve in this capacity. This is why the writer has established in the previous chapters that Jesus is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
High priests serve to offer the gifts and sacrifices. Although only introduced here, our writer will go on to show that Jesus, our high priest, does offer gifts and sacrifices – that of his own blood. The point, though, that he wished to establish is that Jesus is not inferior in any way to the Levitical high priests. He had a better place to serve and he offered sacrifices. Jesus has a better priestly service…and he has given God’s people a better covenant.
“But now, Jesus has received a superior priestly service just as he arranged a better covenant that is enacted with better promises. If the first covenant had been without fault, it wouldn’t have made sense to expect a second.” (Hebrews 8:6-7)
You can almost hear those who first heard this begin to question: why do we need another covenant? God established his covenant with us on Mount Sinai. What could be better than that?
But, our writer says, the covenant from Mount Sinai wasn’t perfect. And to establish this point he quotes from one of the Jews’ own prophets (Jeremiah 31:31-34). God told Israel through Jeremiah that he would make a new covenant with his people, not like the first one. The Israelites were constantly breaking the first one. In this new one God’s law would be placed on the hearts and minds of his people. And there would no longer be a remembrance of sins.
A new covenant based on forgiveness. This meant that sacrifices wouldn’t need to be offered continually for the sins of the people (he will explain this in the next chapters). But if there was a ‘new’ covenant, what would happen to the old one?
“When it says new, it makes the first obsolete. And if something is old and outdated, it’s close to disappearing.” (Hebrews 8:13)
That the old covenant was “close to disappearing” refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Roman army just a few years after this. It was the destruction of the temple that brought an end, once and for all, to the old covenant, the high priest and the animal sacrifices.
We are no longer under the old law. We have a new covenant. It is a better covenant. It has better promises. And it has a better high priest.
Readings for next week: Hebrews 6-10