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The High Priest of a New Covenant May 7, 2015

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 8.

Summary: The author begins by summarizing the preceding discussion as follows:

  • believers have a high priest – Jesus Christ – who sits at the right hand of God
  • this high priest is a minister of the holy things in His human nature – which was fixed by God alone.

The author then notes that since the sole purpose of the office of a high priest is the offering of gifts and sacrifices, Christ had to offer gifts and sacrifices. Now if Christ had not been exalted to heaven to carry out His work there, then He could only have offered the same sacrifices as the Levitical priests; since He was not of the tribe of Levi, even that option would have been unavailable to Him. Yet it should be noted that the Levitical priests offer sacrifices in a temple that is only an example of the true temple in heaven; since this temple represents the true temple in heaven, God warned Moses to use great caution to make sure no mistake was made in its construction. In contrast, the ministry that Christ has obtained through the call of God is more excellent than the ministry of the Levitical priests; moreover, He is the mediator of a new covenant between God and human beings that is more excellent than the old covenant where the Levitical priests were mediators between God and human beings.

Now the author tells his readers that if the old covenant that God had made with their fathers at Sinai had been faultless, then there would have been no purpose for a new covenant. Yet the author quotes from Jeremiah 31:31-34 to show that God did complain that their fathers broke the old covenant, and so He states the imminent approach of a day when He will make a new covenant with the church of the elect. This new covenant with the elect has the following characteristics:

  • it will be distinct from the old covenant that God had made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the twelve patriarchs when He delivered them from Egypt; they broke that covenant and so God removed His special care from them
  • God will place His laws in the most secret, inner parts of their souls
  • God will renew their natures in His image in righteousness and holiness of truth
  • they will have knowledge of God
  • God will freely pardon their sins.

The author concludes by asserting that the old covenant is growing aged; in contrast, the new covenant is now in force.

Thoughts: In this passage, the author notes that Jesus Christ now serves in “the true tabernacle.” Owen offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 2:

I think that the true tabernacle refers to the human nature of the Lord Christ. He is the only way to approach God in holy worship, as the tabernacle was of old. Christ himself called his own body his temple when referring to the temple of Jerusalem, which was put to the same use as the tabernacle…So he said he dwelt among them. This can only really and substantially happen through Christ. He alone, therefore, is this true tabernacle.

This is an interesting interpretation of this phrase. On the other hand, I believe that “the true tabernacle” refers to heaven itself, which is the dwelling place of God the Father. In particular, I am sure that God the Father – not a human being – established heaven as His dwelling place. Also, this letter clearly states that Jesus Christ currently serves as our high priest in heaven. In addition, verses 2 and 5 seems to support my interpretation of this phrase:

  • it seems strange to assert that Christ is currently serving “in” His human nature – as opposed to heaven itself, which is an actual location
  • it seems strange to assert that buildings are examples of the human nature of Christ – as opposed to heaven itself, which is an actual location.

I hope to meet Owen in the next life so that we can discuss our interpretations of this passage.

In this passage, the author asserts that Jesus Christ is the mediator of a new covenant between God and His people that supersedes His previous covenant with them. Owen offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 8:

God complains that the people broke his covenant. God gives this promise of a new covenant along with a complaint against the people, so that it would be known that this new covenant was the result of his free and sovereign grace. There was nothing in the people to procure it or to qualify them for it.

This passage caused me to delve into the distinction between the old and the new covenants. Now the laws and regulations that constituted the old covenant were inherently holy and good. The old covenant had a fatal flaw, though: God’s people are inherently sinful, and so they were unable to obey these laws and regulations. They performed various external rites in an attempt to overcome their failures, yet these external rites did not address their inherent (internal) sinfulness. Unfortunately, the application of the blessings of the old covenant – including a lasting relationship between God and His people – depended on their obedience.

This paved the way for God to bring glory to Himself by establishing a new covenant with His people; this covenant also included blessings for His people, yet the application of these blessings did not depend on their obedience. Instead, God attacked the problem of the inherent sinfulness of His people with a two-pronged strategy:

  • He caused the application of the blessings of the new covenant to depend on the obedience of Jesus Christ – who was perfectly holy during His time on earth
  • He placed Himself – in the form of the Holy Spirit – in His people so that they – under His guidance – would respond to His grace with thanksgiving; this attitude of thanksgiving would be expressed in actions that constituted obedience to the timeless aspects of the old covenant.

While the sinfulness of God’s people made the old covenant impotent in terms of maintaining His relationship with them, God employed His Son and His Spirit to make the new covenant omnipotent in that regard.

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