Study of Hebrews
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

Hebrews 8:1-13 – Christ, Priest of a Better Covenant

In Hebrews chapter eight we come to some very important studies.  I hope that we will be able to deal with some of the problems with which we are confronted as a people.

In the last two verses of chapter seven of Hebrews Paul moves from the person of Christ as, of course, our High Priest to His supreme sacrifice on the cross.  This will be the central focus of the next three chapters — the blood of Jesus Christ.  You see it is the sacrifice of Christ that makes His priestly ministry valid.  Without the sacrifice of Christ we would have no priest.

In the first two verses of chapter eight he sums up all that he has been saying about Christ as our High Priest.  The first two verses of chapter eight are the conclusion of chapter five verse ten right up to the end of chapter seven.  Here he has been dealing with Christ as our High Priest. Heb.  8:1,2 says:

Now of the things which we have spoken [i.e., since Heb.5:10] this is the sum [this is the conclusion]: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens: A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.

Now these two verses clearly tell us that we have a sanctuary in heaven. You can’t get around these two verses.  There is a sanctuary in heaven and Christ is the priest in that sanctuary, and this sanctuary was not built by man but by God.  Having summed up his argument he now moves to the sacrifice that the priest has to bring before God.  Look at verse three:

For every high priest is ordained [appointed by God] to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.

Note that word “necessity.” What does it mean? “You have to!” The reason I am emphasizing this is because there are two ideas that have come into the Christian Church which unfortunately are creeping into ours.  One is known as the moral influence theory and the other is known as the governmental theory of the atonement.  These views teach that Christ really did not have to die to save us.  They do away with what we call the legal framework of the atonement.  The moral influence theory teaches that He died simply to show us that He loved us.  And the governmental theory says that He died simply to show us that sin is terrible, but He could save us without dying.  But this text says that it is a necessity that He have sacrifices.

These two theories both have some elements of truth.  It is true that Christ died on the cross to reveal His love.  It is true that His death on the cross shows us that sin is terrible.  But to make that the basis of the atonement is to deny the necessity of the cross.  “Every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices.” Remember that a priest is a mediator between a Holy God and sinful man.  To remove that barrier that has been produced by sin there needs to be a sacrifice.  Turn to Lev.17:11:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement [this is the sacrifice, this is the gift that the priest brings] for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.

There are two things that this text says:

  1. The life of the flesh is the blood.

  2. This blood is what makes atonement.

Now turn to Heb.9:22 where we have the application.  In the earthly sanctuary the priest offered the blood of animals.  In this verse the idea of necessity [Heb.8:3] is brought out very clearly:

And almost all things are by the law purged...

Now the word “purged“ is the same word for “cleansed.” Sinners cannot come to God unless they are cleansed because the law demands that the soul that sins must die.  We are sinners.  We have no right to approach a Holy God.

...and without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.

Please notice that there is a necessity.  Blood makes the atonement.  Blood is the basis of sacrifice.  Not that God is angry.  We must not have the pagan idea that God’s anger had to be appeased.  But God is righteous; He is just.  A just God cannot forgive us by simply excusing sin.  He has to meet His justice.

I had an incident happen to me in Nairobi, Kenya.  I had to find a parking place but there was none.  There was this “no parking” area where an embassy car was parked.  In the Third World, ambassadors and embassy people have what is called diplomatic immunity.  They can break the law and the policeman can’t touch them.  So I said to myself, “If he is an ambassador, so am I.” So I parked my car next to his.  I went to the meeting and when I came back there was a policeman waiting for me.  When I finally came up to the car he said, “Is this your car?”

I said, “Yes.”

He said, “You have broken the law.”

I pointed at the embassy car and said, “So has he.”

The policeman said, “Well, he’s an embassy person.”

I said, “So am I.” I reminded him of a text in Corinthians that says we are ambassadors for Christ.  He saw a Bible in my hand.  He said, “I see that you are a priest.”

I said, “No, I’m a minister of the gospel.”

“I’ll tell you what,” he said, “I have a problem.” He didn’t tell me what the problem was but he was afraid to go to the priest because he was a Roman Catholic.  “If you can forgive me, I will forgive you for parking.” He wanted me to be the mediator.

I said, “I don’t have that authority.” But I referred him to Jesus Christ as his Mediator.

He said, “I thank you for giving me hope.  I tell you what, every time you come and want to park your car here when I’m in charge, you can do it because I will give you that permission.”

What he did was wonderful from a human point of view.  He forgave me. But he didn’t do a right thing.  Was he just in forgiving me? No.  Man can’t do that, because man is a sinner.  But God can’t forgive us by overlooking His justice.  He is a righteous God.  He is a Holy God. He makes it clear that the soul that sinneth it shall die.  He cannot bypass the law.  He is not above the law for that would make Him an unjust God.

What Paul is saying here is that it was necessary that this Priest in heaven, which is Christ, had to also bring a gift.  Now look at verse four:

For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law...

On earth He did not qualify to be a priest.  He did not come to be a priest on earth.  He came to be the sacrifice.  He came to be the Saviour and also He came to be the prophet, a representative of God.  But when He went to heaven, He went to heaven as Priest.  Not according to the law, i.e., the Levitical priesthood, but according to the priesthood of Melchizedek.  Continuing in verse five:

...Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.

In other words, the Levitical priesthood and the sacrifices that they offered were only a shadow, an example, a type.  Christ is the reality.  Christ is not of the Levitical priesthood.  He is not a type but He is the reality. He does not offer sacrifices of bulls and goats and sheep which the Levites did but He offers His own blood.  And we will cover this in chapters 8-10. So what Paul is saying here is that the Levitical priests with their sacrifices were simply an example, a shadow.  Now look at Heb.8:6:

But now [the shadow is over, the reality has come] hath He obtained a more excellent ministry...

There are two priestly ministries, the Levitical and Christ’s, modeled by Melchizedek.  The Levitical priesthood was a type or shadow and had no authority, no power to save.  It was only an example.  It was a symbol.  But Christ’s ministry is real! Therefore it is a more excellent ministry. Remember that Paul is trying to convince the Jewish Christians to raise their eyes from the earthly priests to the heavenly.  That is where the hope of the human race is.  Continuing in verse six: how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.

There are two things here:

  1. A better covenant.

  2. Better promises.

What is he referring to when he says, “A better covenant?” That is the New Covenant.  It is a better covenant than the Old Covenant. Why? Who gave the Old Covenant? God gave it.  Did He give a bad covenant? Then where was the problem in the Old Covenant? The secret is found in the word “promise.” In the Old Covenant, who made the promise? God gave the law but the people made the promise.  What was the promise? “All that you have said we will do.” In the New Covenant the law is the same.  The law in the Old and the New Covenant is not different.  The difference is in the promise.  What makes the New Covenant better? Not the law but the promise.  God gave the law in the Old Covenant but the people made the promise. In the New Covenant God gave the law and God fulfils the promise.

Why was the Old Covenant faulty? Look at verse eight of Hebrews eight for it tells us where the fault was.  Was the fault in the law? No.

For finding fault with them.

It is the promise of men that was faulty.  Could men keep that promise? No.  Did God know it? Yes.  Did the people know it? No.  How do we know that they didn’t know it? You never make a promise of something of which you are not sure.  They were sure that they could keep it.

Every time you make a promise to God you are entering into the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant has nothing to do with time.  The Old Covenant is when you promise God to be good.  Have you ever promised God to be good? Then you are entering the Old Covenant.  The issue is not whether you are sincere. Were the Jews sincere when they make the promise? Yes.  Was Peter sincere when he said, “I will die for you?” Yes.  The problem is that man is not able to fulfil his promises.  Now that is not the real problem.  The problem is when you fail to keep your promise what do you do? You get discouraged. Is there a way out of your failure? The way out is the New Covenant.

There are other ways out that are not helpful.  Let me give you two.  For example: the Jews.  What did the Jews do when they failed to keep their promise? They took the law of God and they brought it down and reduced it to the level of man by rules and they kept those rules and they thought that they were keeping the promise.  Here is an example of an individual who thought he was keeping the covenant as a promise.  Turn to Phil.3:6 (last part):

...touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

Who is saying this? About whom? This is Paul himself before he was converted. This is the mistake of the Jews.  The Jews did not admit that they had broken the covenant.  This was their mistake.  They covered up their failure by reducing the law of God to human rules.  See Matt.15:1-5.  Here Jesus sums up the issue very clearly.

Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, [these were representatives of the Sanhedrin, in those days the General Conference] ‘Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.’

These are some of the rules that the Jews had made.  They had misinterpreted the law that God had given.  From a health law they made it into a law of salvation.

But He answered and said unto them, ‘Why do you also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour your father and mother: and, He that curseth father and mother: let him die the death.  But you say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free.’

In other words, here is a law that they could not keep but they reduced it into a rule which they could keep and Jesus says:

You have broken the law of God by the tradition of man.  Thus you have made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. [This is a problem that we can do ourselves.] You hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; [notice this is outward religion] but their heart is far from me.  But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

We must be very careful that we do not make the same mistake.  It is easy to take the law of God and reduce it to rules that you and I can keep and then bluff ourselves that we are keeping the law.  We must remember that it is only by the grace of God, only Christ in me that can fulfil the law.

Go back to Hebrews chapter eight.  One way of getting around the Old Covenant is to reduce the Old Covenant, the law of the Old Covenant into human rules. One way is to cover up.  The other way is to get discouraged and say, “It is no use,” and then give up your Christianity.  Both ways are wrong. There is a solution.  The solution is the New Covenant.  Why? Because it is based on a better promise.  Look at Heb.8:9:

Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

They failed in the Old Covenant but God gave them a promise.  The promise is found in Jeremiah and in Isaiah and now it is given to us.

This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days says the Lord.

When the Old Covenant failed did God give you up? No.  He makes a New Covenant.  By the way, the Old Covenant was essential.  It was essential because for four hundred years the Jews were in Egypt and the Egyptian religion taught that man is able to save himself.  And this self-dependent pagan religion had to be destroyed in their thinking.  The Old Covenant was given to them for that purpose.  It was to destroy confidence in themselves.

Peter promised Jesus at the Last Supper, “I will never forsake you. I will die for you.” Was he sincere? Yes.  Did he mean what he said? Yes.  He entered into and Old Covenant promise.  Did he keep it? No.  He chopped one man’s ear, that’s all.  He had failed to see Christ’s mission but was he really willing to die? No.  He denied Jesus three times. Remember what Jesus said at the Lord’s Supper.  He said, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” In other words: “Peter, you will break your promise.” “When you are converted, strengthen the brethren.”

What did Jesus mean, “when you are converted“? When you have lost all confidence in self.  That is why after the resurrection Jesus cornered Peter in John twenty-one and asked him three times, “Do you love Me?” Peter had to admit he did not love with agape.  But he said, “Lord, you know it.” That’s why Christ could now say, “Feed My lambs and feed my sheep.” The Jews, and you and I and every human being cannot enter into the New Covenant unless we have lost confidence in ourselves.

Now, lets go to see the New Covenant.  Verses seven to nine tells us that the Old Covenant was faulty and our only hope is in the New Covenant.  Look at Heb.  8:10-13.  In these four verses you will discover four provisions in the New Covenant

The first provision is:

I will put my laws into your mind and I will write them in your heart.

That’s the first provision.  In the Old Covenant God gave the law on tables of stone.  It was a necessary requirement then.  Rules on tables of stone.  What does it mean when the New Covenant says, “I will put my laws in your mind and in your heart.”? It means that God will put in our hearts the desire to obey.  Is the desire to sin natural in us? Yes. I don’t have to teach people to desire to sin.  I don’t have to have promotional programs for sinning.  It’s a natural desire.  We have to push people to be good.  God said, “I will put in your heart a desire to love God and to love your neighbour.” In other words, law-keeping will become a spontaneous and natural thing in the converted person.  It won’t become rules.

Last week I received a letter.  You see, last August I took a week of prayer at Weimar and the head of the NEWSTART program, the doctor there, wrote to me and said, “Can you please help us.  How do we practice righteousness by faith in our institution?” So I wrote back to him and said, “You can’t practice righteousness by faith in an institution and I will tell you why.  Righteousness by faith is something that comes from the heart. You cannot practice righteousness by faith by rules.”

I gave him an example.  I was there for a week and I could observe some things.  There are some students that have come to Weimar on their own.  They don’t need the rules that you have made.  They don’t need it because for them, they don’t want to break those rules.  Their desire is to get a Christian education and they find your rules in harmony with what they have come there for.  But there were three students there who were sent there by their parents to be reformed.  One of them was from Idaho, a girl. The other two were boys.

The girl came up to me and said, “When you go back to Idaho don’t ever tell my mother that Weimar is a wonderful place.”

I said, “Why?”

She said, “I don’t want to go through hell for another three years.” To her, Weimar was “hell.”

But the other kids said, “Boy, this is heaven on earth.”

What was the difference? The difference is that there had been a transformation of the heart.  What the New Covenant does is, it doesn’t give you rules, it creates in you a desire and longing to do what is right.  It becomes spontaneous. We don’t have to push people.  So one of the provisions is that God creates a people who will have the same motivation that God has for us. So you get the idea that Christ’s thoughts become our thoughts.  His desires will become our desires.  His goals will become our goals.  And Christ’s goal was to live for the Father and the human race.

I came down not to do my will but the will of My Father.

Did Christ enjoy doing the will of the Father? Or was it a burden to Him? Did He enjoy doing it? That was His joy.  And so the Ten Commandments no longer becomes rules to the New Covenant people.  It becomes a delight. What did David say?

I delight to do Thy will, Oh my God.

David was talking about the New Covenant relationship.  This is the difference between the people under the Old Covenant and those under the New.  The Old Covenant people do good things because it is a necessity.  They have to pay tithe, otherwise they would not have their ticket to heaven, maybe because their church has told them that.  They have to do this and they have to do that and it’s a drudgery.  So please remember that the first provision of the New Covenant is the change of motivation towards God’s ideals as revealed in the Ten Commandments.

The second provision is:

I will be their God and they shall be My people.

That’s the second half of verse ten.  What does that mean? Remember what Jesus said to His disciples.  “I don’t treat you like servants. I treat you like a friend.  I tell you everything I know.” What God is saying here is that, “I don’t regard you as sinners.  I don’t regard you as enemies.  I regard you as my children.  I will be your God and you will be my people.” Turn to 1 John 3:1-3.  This is what God had in mind in this second provision.

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God [Not the enemies of God.  Not the curse of God]: therefore, the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.

When we talk to God, we don’t talk to Him as a judge or a lawgiver but as a Father who loves us and who will do anything for our benefit.  Look at verse two:

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.  And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.

John is saying here that every man who has this wonderful hope of being one with God wants to live the life of God, a life of purity.  Go to Rom. 8:16,17 saying the same thing:

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together..

Do we have to suffer in this world.  Yes.  Why? Because we are on enemy territory.  The world is under the evil one.  But who are under the New Covenant? We are God’s people and He is our God.  And God is able to save us. When He comes we shall be delivered.  So number two provision is that God has identified Himself with us.  He is our God.  We are His people.  He has brought us back into His fold.  God created us in Adam as our God and Creator. Adam turned his back to God.  Through that we ran away from God.  Now God comes back and says, “I want to bring you back into my fold and I can do it in a legal way because of the sacrifice of Christ.” That’s the second provision.

Now let’s look at the third provision in verse eleven:

And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

What does Paul mean here? There will be a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is not a head knowledge like we study about Australia and about the people of Australia.  It is a dynamic relationship between you and God.  The New Covenant does not put a distance between you and God.  In the Old Covenant God was up there and we were down here and we had to obey Him or He would zap us.  In the New Covenant God and we are one, united together, and we don’t have to admonish, “Please know God,” for every one from the least to the greatest will know Him.  In other words, we will have a personal knowledge of Him.  That is why our studies are not enough. You need to take these studies and become acquainted personally with Jesus Christ.  He must personally become your God.

I remember a statement that Billy Graham made some years ago.  There was an argument in those days that God is dead.  Robinson, the British scholar, is the one that came up with this idea.  At that time, somebody asked Billy Graham, “How do you know that God is still living?” He didn’t give any texts.  He said, “I know because I talked with Him this morning.” There was that relationship and we need to know God by this personal relationship.

Now we come to the fourth provision in verse twelve:

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.

What is it that is preventing us from coming to God? When God created Adam and Eve, they had a living relationship.  God and Adam and Eve would meet together every evening and have a talk.  What happened when Adam and Eve sinned and God came to visit them? Did they run to Him? No.  Why? They were afraid.  What was the problem? They had sinned.  You know when children have done wrong and they see their dad or mom, they hide.  You can tell that something has gone wrong.  The barrier between us and God has been removed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.

Please notice that Paul is using different words here.  “Unrighteousness” is a deliberate disobedience.  “Our sins” is missing the mark or our failure to reach the goals that God desires.  “Our iniquities” have to do with our sinfulness.  The word “iniquity” simply means “bent” or our innate sinfulness.  All these are barriers between a Holy God and sinful man.  And God says, “I will remember them no more.” In other words, in Christ we stand perfect.  We stand perfect in nature. We stand perfect in character.  We stand perfect in performance—in Christ.  We can come to Christ without any barrier and, of course, Paul will bring this out a little more clearly in chapters nine and ten.  Let me remind you of chapter ten and the first few verses:

For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. [These sacrifices of the earthly sanctuary did not make the sinners perfect.] For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged or cleansed would have had no more consciousness of sins.

But the earthly sacrifices did not do that.  When you come to God in the name of Christ, God looks at you as if you were perfect.  And so that’s number 4, “There is no more remembrance of sin.” As we look at this fourth provision I want to remind you of chapter seven verse twenty-eight where Paul moves from the priesthood of Christ to His sacrifice:

For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity [they were weak, they were sinners]; but the word of the oath [which is the New Covenant], which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.

The actual text says, “He is perfect forever.” We have a perfect priest forever and we come to God through Him.  The conclusion of chapter eight is verse thirteen:

In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old.  Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.

There in Africa, where there is much poverty, they wear clothes and shoes until they are absolutely useless.  I was born there and I have that habit too.  My wife sees holes in my shoes and she says, “You need to get a new pair.”

I say, “No, these are good enough.” One day they just disappear. I tell you, shoes are very precious to the Africans.  So what do they do when they go to church? They walk barefooted and carry their shoes in their hands, not because it’s hot like some kids do here but because the soles of your feet can be replaced by your body but the soles of your shoes cost money.  So they take them off.  The question is here in America, we don’t use shoes until they wear out.  Next year there is a new fashion.  So what do we do? We give them to Dorcas [the Dorcas Society] so we can buy new shoes.

What Paul is saying here is that, “In a culture where things were getting old, what do you do with clothes that are now full of holes and torn?” You don’t give them to Dorcas.  You throw them away.  The Old Covenant is ready to be thrown away.  It has had its use.  It is worn out.  It cannot save us.  It is not permanent.  We must put on the New Covenant.

Now the New Covenant never gets old.  And in the New Earth you can pick those beautiful flowers and they will never fade.  And you won’t need artificial flowers any more folks.  And you will not need sham or pretend righteousness.

So please remember that chapter eight concludes that we must give up the Old Covenant for the New Covenant.  The Old has passed away.  The New has come.  This applied to the Jews of Paul’s day and it must also apply to us.  We must give up the Old for the New.

In concluding, I will say this much: you cannot say, “I want both covenants.” You have to give up one for the other.  You cannot say, “I plus Christ.” That won’t work.  It is, “Not I (which is the Old Covenant), but Christ.” May God help us that we will become New Covenant people and, when we do, we will not need incentives because God will write the law in the heart.  We will not have to tell people, “Know the Lord.” We will not have to push them because, from the least to the greatest, we will know the Lord.  The greatest need of this church, for every believer, is to enter fully into the New Covenant experience and the full provision that God has given us.  May God bless us.

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