By Blake E. Jones
HEBREWS CHAPTER VIII
This chapter is the summary, or perhaps the grand pronouncement, of the writer's efforts of previous chapters. It may well be considered a combination of these two agendas and should be closely tied in to the grand theme of Christ's pre-eminent priesthood. However, we are moving from the fact of His great character and eminent qualities, to the new ministry He initiated. We are looking beyond now, to the new covenant that Jesus administers as High Priest. What an inaugural event the angels must have witnessed, when Jesus rose from the dead. He lead "captivity captive" by capturing death and its binding hostility, and then ascended to Heaven's throne room. He had finished the work of redemption and was ready to put into action a brand new covenant.
I. The Commission of a New Minister (8:1-6)
It seems to me when the writer uses the phrase "such an high priest", he is not merely consolidating the facts of his presentation, but he is expressing an ardent adoration and worship that springs forth from within his spirit. No doubt, we lose much of the writer's feeling and expression by simply reading what has been handed down to us. How often, if the Hebrew writer were speaking to us, would his voice and passion have gripped us and drawn us closer, not to him, but to the throbbing heart of "such an high priest". Oh, God, may our devotion glow with fresh ardor and thrill in this day of cool hearts and dull worship! Thank You, Father, for our majestic, glorious, enthralling High Priest.
It is interesting to note that in these verses there is no argument offered to support the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That seems to be understood as an established, unquestioned fact needing no discussion. We are simply brought to the fact of His personal presence in the heavens. This ascended Lord, now sits "on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty on High". Does He sit inactive and passive? Clearly, the answer is "no". Neither the title "high priest" nor "minister" suggests less than an active, vibrant profession. Jesus has "set down" in the sense that His redemptive work is finished. He has borne man's guilt, crimes, and rebellion in His death on the cross and thus has supplied:
His redemptive work was accomplished to perfection. Jesus had perfectly fulfilled the will of His Father. Thus, God placed Him in the highest position of honour, at His right hand, with the highest name of honour, and with the highest work of honour, the ministry and mediation of the new covenant.
Jesus Christ, the Minister of the new covenant, does not carry out His priestly functions in an earthly tabernacle pitched by man. Rather, He ministers in a sanctuary that God has pitched. Whatever unknowns that may involve in our limited understanding of the heavenly precincts, we are to envision Christ serving in the very Holy of Holies of God's presence. Jesus does not make one yearly entry on the Day of Atonement as the earthly high priests did, but every day is the Day of Atonement under the commission of this new Minister. Thus it is that this priest of the highest order ministers daily in the very Shekinah of God's visible glory the Heavenly Holy of Holies, the true tabernacle itself.
Since Levitical priests had gifts to offer in their symbolic role, it remains that Christ, whom they foreshadowed, must also offer something before the presence of the Almighty. The presentation that Jesus makes is that of His own blood on the great mercy seat. That does not mean Jesus is constantly sacrificing Himself for the sins of men; but that His shed blood remains as if He had been crucified today. On the basis of the merit and meaning of this blood of a sinless One, Christ mediates for mankind before God.
What a substantial ministry is performed by the Minister of the New Covenant. Mr. Carter notes that this is a "very subtle way of saying that the Levitical priesthood was dependent upon the reality of Christ's High Priesthood for its very existence, since it was but a shadow of His. However, it also implies that if men have come to the real, they have no further need of the shadow that it casts."1 What a glorious Minister stands commissioned before God. It is Christ, the very Priest that cast the first shadowy impression that Levitical priests haltingly personified.
II. The Faulting of the Old Covenant (8:7-9)
For our study, we first need to observe God's covenant with His people in the Old Testament. Leviticus 26:3-13 is an extensive lay-out of God's promises if the Israelites would keep His laws. Another impressive list is given in Deuteronomy 28:1-14 where the blessings of diligent observance are contrasted to the curses which are pronounced in the second half of the chapter.
"Under the old covenant God promised to bless the people and they promised to obey His laws. But their promise, while sincere, did not reckon with their inner lawlessness of nature. As in a democracy, laws without the support of the populace can not be successfully enforced, so law without the support of the heart will not be obeyed. The old covenant proved to be formal and external, because the laws were engraved on tables of stone instead of on the fleshly tables of the heart. Conscience compelled a verbal agreement, for the people knew what they ought to do; but at too many points the standards of the law ran counter to their strong inner desires and propensities."2
These insightful words of R. S. Taylor set before us the crying imperfection of the Old Testament provision. "It was faulty because it was limited"3, notes I. C. Holland. We should understand that this is not a criticism of God's initial covenant with His people. This is merely an observation of the Lord's lead-in program. It had its purpose and it realized its goal. It was the elementary and tangible lesson to pave the way and usher in a new and better covenant. It lacked grace to help men perform, and thus, over and over, the covenant was broken and violated by the people of Israel. "It had no power to enable men to perform the obedience which they had promised; and it could not do away with the sins which followed the disobedience of the covenant vows", states Mr. Wiley. "It was inadequate, and while divinely given, it was not God's ultimate purpose for men."4
Mr. Carter's comparison of the covenants may benefit our understanding of God's purpose in ushering in a better administration.
"In the first place, the old covenant was external and disciplinary (Gal. 3:24). The new is internal and gracious. The old was compulsion. The new is impulsion. The old promised. The new fulfilled the promise. The old directed. The new delivers. The old was a shadow of the new cast before. The new is the reality that cast that shadow. The old was temporary, dispensational. The new is eternal timeless. The old was preparatory. The new is final."5
Orten Wiley's comparison adds further insight as we wrap up this division.
"1. The first was temporary...the second is the final and enduring expression of the grace of God.
2. The old covenant was national...the new covenant deals with the individual.
3. The former covenant had reference to material things and was based upon secular promises. The new covenant is spiritual, for material things cannot satisfy the souls of men.
4. The Mosaic covenant ...could give neither the power nor the disposition to obey the commands...In the new covenant the law of God is written within, and...gives the disposition to obedience within the heart.
5. The former covenant could not...take away sin....The new covenant was established by Christ, who "once in the end of the world hath appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (9:26).
6. The old covenant was limited to the sons of Abraham after the flesh; the new covenant is universal in its scope."6
While this is the general pattern, or the norm, for Old Testament religion, it must be accepted that some lived beyond their time in their close and intimate walk with the Lord. (Our danger is not living beyond our time, but spiritually behind it.) Perhaps to unduly stress the Old Covenant's external nature fails to reckon with some measure of inner reality. Dr. Allan Brown notes that God required Old Testament believers to love Him with their whole heart. Thus, an inner quality must, of necessity, be present. In David's prayer for forgiveness, He asks for a restoration of joy, which clearly marks that which is inward. Since faith was the criteria for approval before God, it seems that some measure of internal religion must have been present. The point is, however, that Old Testament system was wrapped in external ceremonies, rituals, object lessons and visible proofs of Divine favour. It was fraught with outward observances and temporal blessings that were not to be carried over into the glorious beauty of a new covenant when the Holy Spirit would indwell the believer by faith.
Thus, with the blazing glory of a better covenant, better promises and a better hope, the old covenant fades into history and is no longer needed. Some want to resurrect a health, wealth and prosperity gospel that smacks of the old covenant, but have they missed the inner glow of the spiritual covenant and relationship with Jesus Christ? In an analogy used by Dr. Wingrove Taylor in his preaching, they are to be pitied as men still carrying flashlights around when the noonday sun is shining in its full brilliance.
III. The Blessings under the New Administration (8:10-13)
How wonderful it is to be looking at this new covenant from the Calvary-side of this glorious administration. Peter writes that the prophets "enquired and searched diligently" into this salvation and "prophesied of the grace that should come unto you" (I Peter 1:10). Likely Jeremiah strained to see this covenant when God revealed to him what the Hebrew writer has copied from Jeremiah 31:31-34. Ezekial's heart must have mused over the contemplation of inspiration as he declared for God,
"Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgements, and do them ...and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses" (Ezekial 36:25-27).
A. The New Administration's Purpose Inner, Heartfelt Religion (vs. 10)
In the verses at hand, there are great benefits named for us to enjoy since the old covenant has vanished away. It appears that the goal of this new covenant is for an inner, personal, relationship with God, for its laws are "written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart" (II Cor. 3:3). The import of this can not be too highly stressed. This is the beacon call of inner religion. So much, even in our day of better promises, lacks the warm throb of vital religion. There are religious creeds, membership vows, church rituals and traditions, norms of behaviour and status quo expectancies, but what are these more than Old Testament religion? Many, many are the people who even claim the new birth, but their lives have not manifested the reality of God's laws written within. They lack the life-changing verity of being a new creature in Christ Jesus. They have a form but deny the power thereof. They need to find the know-so assurance of acceptance in the beloved, and the captivation of love that draws them to holy living and personal devotion to Jesus Christ. Vic Reasoner states, "While chronologically we are under the new age of the Spirit, it is possible experientially to still be under Old Testament religion. This was a theme of John Fletcher's ministry. Concerning the new covenant he exclaimed, "What a privilege! And how many nominal Christians live below it; yea, below the privileges of the very heathens"."7
There is wrapped up in this blessing of the better covenant, all that the work of the Holy Spirit can accomplish in the soul of the believer. Inner religion is a change from death unto life, such that man stands before God, just as if he had never sinned. Right living is placed on his account. No wonder God says, "I will be their God and they shall be my people". The basis for that affinity is found in this initial sanctification which sets the Christian apart as belonging especially to God, since the Holy Spirit has come as the giver of life. The Holy Spirit's presence must, without doubt, bring God's holy design as directives to one's innermost being, for God the Holy Spirit cannot deny Himself. In a growing understanding of Scripture and the things of God, more and more of these laws become apparent to the new convert, and in love and devotion, he follows their dictates. However, there is more that the Third Person of the Trinity designs to accomplish within man's soul. The rival nature, or principle of evil, continues to war against those laws written in the believer's heart. In the better promises, there is the glorious design of God to cleanse and purify the soul until a holy law stands without the contagion of enmity from within. Again, in the words of R. S. Taylor, "A holiness which is merely outward and formal cannot satisfy either God or man. There must be not only complete conformity to but affinity with the laws of God, in the very secret springs of man's being. Then the covenant will be kept; and best of all, kept joyfully."8
B. The New Administration's Plan Personal Access and Acquaintance (vs.11)
Prior to the inception of the better covenant, man must approach God through an earthly go-between, namely the priest. As was stated in chapter 7, verse 19, "the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God." Note that, "We draw nigh to God". "Personal, direct fellowship with God: this is the crowning blessing of the new covenant, to which the Epistle to the Hebrews very specially points the way",9 writes Andrew Murray. How I worship the Lord for the high privilege of approaching "the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" through the merit of my great High Priest. Here is the message of verse eleven, where the honour of knowing God is expressed.
C. The New Administration's Platform Mercy and Grace (vs.12)
Finally, verse 12 sets forth God's method of administering this unfathomable covenant. Where the Old Testament propounded "death without mercy", the new covenant offers mercy to the unlovely and the unlikely. Thank God for being born in the dispensation of grace when the offers of mercy are extended freely to broken mankind. It is the Christian's happy testimony that God remember's his sins and iniquities no more. That is tantamount to saying that they are no longer accounted for; the ledger is empty; the records show no unrighteous deeds under the believer's name. In the courts of Heaven, under the blessings of the merciful administrative covenant, through the satisfying merit of Christ's blood, the believer's criminal record of infractions and crimes against a holy God has been wiped clean and the case declared closed. It does not mean that part of God's omniscience has been blocked out, but rather that such a complete pardon has been granted that it is as if I had never sinned. Glory be to Jesus Christ, forever and ever, world without end!
What a grand administration has been set before us in this chapter. What unthinkable folly it would be to go back to the stiff and cold corpse of an old and lifeless administration. The cross, which separates the two covenants, effected the death of the first and the life-giving power of the second. Sad to say, but there are some who, after knowing the blessings of the better covenant, have dragged their feet, rejected light, failed to obey, and broken from the New Administration. They are no longer under the shadow of the cross, and the blood of Christ no longer covers them since they have entered willing rebellion. They are trampling underfoot the blood of the covenant and counting it an unholy thing. They have lost their first love and need to "do their first works over". I think one most miserable outcome is the person who still wants to retain some form of outer religion, after the loss of heartfelt reality within his heart. He may fiercely claim, and harshly impose, his external standards to cover up the lack within his soul. He is miserable, struggling to look good, powerless in the gospel, a stumbling block to others, outside of the blood covenant and without eternal life in his soul. Oh, that these Hebrews would see that going back to Judaism would be embracing the cold corpse of what is past. It would be spiritually powerless and an unsatisfying disappointment. They would be grasping for what had "vanished away". Dear Reader, are you living in the power of the Gospel? Are you living this side of the cross experientially? Do you know the inner thrill and throb of vital religion? Do you love God with all your heart, until you serve Him because you love Him or are you living merely an external form? The "Door" is open for you to approach the presence of God.
Today, as I have worked on this chapter dealing with a new administrative covenant, the 42nd president of the United States has taken his oath of office. For the next four years, Americans will discover the leadership of a new administration under a change in political parties.
With the rending of the temple vail, and the subsequent ascension of Christ, a new spiritual administration was inaugurated that brought in a glorious agenda of grace. Thank God there is not one covenant promise which has not been kept. Oh, the glory of the angel band as it strikes up the celestial "Hail to the Chief" and sings "Holy, Holy, Holy" to the great Minister of the New Administration.
1. Charles Carter, The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MichiganWilliam B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972) Vol. VI, p. 101.
2. Quoted in Ray Crooks, Ed., Adult Teacher's Insights, Studies in Hebrew, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1992) Vol. 15, No. 3, p. 49.
3. I. C. Holland, Ray Crooks, Ed., Adult Teacher's Insights, Studies in Hebrew, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1992) Vol. 15, No. 3, p. 48.
4. H. Orten Wiley, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1959) p. 270.
5. Charles Carter, The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972) Vol. VI, pp. 106-107.
6. H. Orten Wiley, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1959) pp. 271-272.
7. Vic Reasoner, Ray Crooks, Ed., Adult Teacher's Insights, Studies in Hebrew, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1992) Vol. 15, No. 3, p. 50.
8. Quoted in Ray Crooks, Ed., Adult Teacher's Insights, Studies in Hebrew, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1992) Vol. 15, No. 3, p. 49.
9. Andrew Murray, The Holiest of All, (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., n.d.) pp. 275-276.