Five Minute Devotions: Hebrews 8
Hebrews 8 is a comparison of the Old Testament priesthood with the priesthood of Jesus, and through that, a comparison of the two covenants. The author says that the Old Covenant ministry was meant to be a shadow and a copy of the heavenly reality of Christ’s priesthood and ministry (Hebrews 8:1-6). But now, that heavenly reality is breaking through to earth. Christ has proclaimed a New Covenant, which will lead to reconciliation with his people and cause the Old Covenant to pass away (Hebrews 8:7-13).
A Better Priesthood
One of the more interesting concepts raised by the author of Hebrews is that the Old Covenant priesthood was actually modeled off the heavenly priesthood of Jesus. In this way, the priesthood of Jesus isn’t a switch from the Old Covenant to the New. The Old Covenant priesthood was simply an earthly testament to what Christ was doing in heaven and would do on earth.
At the beginning of verse five, the author writes that all the Old Testament sacrifices “serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5a). He or she even insinuates that the reason that Yahweh was so precise with the dimensions and decorations of the Tabernacle was because it, in some way, represented this heavenly reality.
So then, the author’s conclusion is that Jesus Christ is part of an older and better priesthood—a heavenly priesthood that is breaking through to earth and abolishing the need for the interim priesthood of Aaron. His main point is this:
We have this kind of high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens – Hebrews 8:1
This contrast with the Old Covenant priests is inescapable. They did not sit. They did not rest. Their work was never finished, never complete. Christ offers his sacrifice and he sits. The work is done. The sacrifices complete. He is a better priest because he has ended the sacrifices.
A Better Covenant
Just as the Old Covenant priesthood looked forward to the deeper reality of Christ, so too the Old Covenant promises can only be fulfilled in Christ. The second half of Hebrews 8 is an extended quotation of Jeremiah 31:31-34. In this passage, Yahweh explicitly says that this Old Covenant shall not last.
See, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors – Hebrews 8:8-9
And then Jeremiah tells us the result of this covenant.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. – Hebrews 8:10
It’s not about the law being written on tablets of stone. It’s about the law being written in the hearts of men. This New Covenant will be one that works from the inside out, where men and women are empowered by the Holy Spirit within them. It will be a return of God’s presence to his people: he will be their God; they will be his people.
Jesus, thank you for your mediation of this better covenant. Draw us closer to you. Help us to rely on your grace.
Do you think that the “house of Israel” refers only to Jewish people? Or are Gentiles a part of this community that the author, through Jeremiah, is talking about?
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