Thursday Hebrews: A Ministry That is Much More Excellent (v. 8:1-7)

God’s Word

[1] Now 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)

Review

[v. 1] “Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest…”With the beginning of chapter eight, the writer of Hebrews pauses, let’s everyone catch their breath and then starts to pull the last few chapters together.  He has gone on and on about priests, but now he is underlining the main point.  We have one of these priests.  And yes, this priest is Jesus Christ.

But here’s the next thing to consider.  The wording of verse 8:1 — “such a high priest” — tells us that we have a specifically different type of high priest.  And what we need to understand here is the type of priest we have.  Well, what we have is a “priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek” (v. 5:6).

[v. 1] “…one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,” – Jesus is a different type of priest.  He’s not a priest of the order of Aaron, from the tribe of Levi.  Genealogically, He doesn’t meet the qualifications.  He also isn’t a priest limited to serve only a certain amount of time.  No, He is a priest that serves forever.  He’s outside the Levitical priesthood serving in a better way.  This passage underscores this point.  He continues His service now, as He will forever seated at the right hand of God.

[v. 2] “a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.” – The Levitical priests had rules and instructions to follow to ensure that the sacrifices being made would be pleasing to God.  These practices weren’t wrong — after all, God commanded and ordained them — but these practices were temporary, and as we will read below, a “shadow” of the real thing.  They were a replication or picture of what Jesus Christ is doing for us now in heaven.  Right now, Jesus Christ is a “minister in the holy places, in the true tent.”

[v. 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.” – As Hebrews 5:1 tells us,

“For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”

This was the role of the Levitical priest, “to act on behalf of men in relation to God.”  Jesus, in His role as High Priest does this as well, but remember, He’s a different kind of priest.

[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.” – Jesus Christ didn’t come to earth to just “do what the Levitical priests were doing.”  As the writer of Hebrews reminds us here in verse 4, “if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all,” with the point being “there are priests who offer gifts according to the law.”

[v. 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.’” -The rituals the Levitical priests performed were ordained by God and they were performed where specified by God, but these rituals were only “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.”  The tent and everything that was made and everything that was done were “according to the pattern…shown you on the mountain.”  These things are pointing us to something else: “the heavenly things.”

[v. 6-7] “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.  For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.” – So what is being copied and shadowed as referred to in verse 5?  The answer is Jesus Christ.  Jesus, as our High Priest, has a “ministry that is as much more excellent than the old.”  Why is it better?  Because “the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.”

Summary

Folks, this isn’t easy-peasy Christianity 101.  I want to jokingly refer back to Hebrews 5:11 where the writer says,

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.

The writer was trying to cover this stuff all the way back in chapter 5, but it’s fairly deep, so he walked the audience back through a check of their faith and then walked them (and us) step-by-step through a comparison of how Jesus is a much better high priest than a Levitical one.  And here we are being told that the covenant He mediates is a much better one the the old version.  Again, this is fairly deep stuff.

So what do we take away from this?  Well, first off, Lord willing, we are going to discuss old covenant – new covenant stuff once more next week.  This is important and complicated stuff, so I plan to re-address verses six and seven again next time.

The second thing I take away is this:  Jesus is not only a better priest than the Levites, He’s also a better priest than whatever we could do.  Often times, because we are aware that we can talk to God, we use this access to somehow replace Jesus, in His role as high priest, with ourselves.  We think that what we do earns our keep.  We think that somehow we play a key role in this saving work that God does.  But we are wrong about this.

If the Levites, who were wholly dedicated to the priesthood, could not perfect how the job was done, then how can we expect to perform this role perfectly?  Well, we shouldn’t think that because we can’t fulfill the role.  Yes, we are able to have access to God, but this access is granted after we are called by the Spirit and after the saving work of the Son has been done.

Amen and amen.


“Thursday Hebrews” is a weekly Bible study series from the book of Hebrews.  All Bible quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible translation.  You can read all of the posts in this series by clicking here.  You can catch up on chapters 1 -7 by clicking here.

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