The preparation for understanding Hebrews 8 has been built in Hebrews 7. The writer of Hebrews established that Jesus is part of a different priesthood just like Melchizedek. Jesus’ priesthood is a better priesthood because he holds the priesthood permanently because he is eternal (7:24). Jesus’ priesthood is superior because he is able to completely save those who come near to him because he always lives to make intercession (7:25). His priesthood is better because he does not have to offer sacrifices for himself because he is holy, innocent, unstained, and separated from sinners (7:26-27). Finally, his priesthood is superior because it does not come from the law but from God’s oath made after the law (7:28).
A Different High Priest and Sacrifice (8:1-6)
We can see this connection to chapter seven in verse 1 of chapter 8. “Now the point of what we are saying is this.” The author is funneling our thinking about Jesus into a particular point about Jesus that we needed to see through the lens of Melchizedek. We have a high priest who has sat down at the right of God (1:3). Jesus is a minister (priestly service) in the true tabernacle that was set up by the Lord, not the earthly tabernacle set up by men. But the author wants us to remember that though Jesus has worked in the true tabernacle, he no longer needs to do that. His work is completed and he has sat down at God’s right hand.
Now the author reminds of the work of the priest in the earthly tabernacle in verses 3-5. High priests have something to offer when they perform their priestly function. So it is necessary for Jesus as our high priest to have something to offer. He must have something different to offer that is appropriate to his superior nature. Remember, Jesus is like Melchizedek in his priesthood, not like the Levites in his priesthood (chapter 7). Hebrews 7:27 revealed what gift Jesus offered as high priest: himself. His offering is not like prior high priests. Jesus’ offering was himself. Further, it is clear that Jesus’ work must be different, a heavenly work, because if he were a priest on earth, he would not be priest at all (since he is not from the Levitical order). The author further proves this in verse 5 in noting that these priestly service and tabernacle were a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. The proof is found by quoting from Exodus 25:40 where Moses was instructed by God to make everything according to the pattern shown on the mountain. The whole point is that this Levitical system that we read about in the Hebrew scriptures was always pointing to something to come later. It is a pattern or a mold which something permanent was to come. If you have done orthodontics then you understand this idea. The orthodontist will take a mold of your mouth. Is the mold the goal? No, the mold is necessary to create the retainer. The mold is the pattern and the retainer is the reality. So when God instructed Moses to make everything according to the pattern in Exodus, this decree was indicating that this was foreshadowing something greater to come.
Therefore, in verse 6 we see that Jesus has obtained the more excellent ministry that Moses’ work was pointing toward. Further, the covenant that Jesus mediates is better because it was enacted on better promises. Since Jesus has a superior priesthood, with a superior offering, in a superior sanctuary, then by necessity the covenant Jesus provides is a superior covenant. The writer stacks these words “better” and “more excellent” to emphasize this.
A Different Covenant (8:7-13)
The writer then draws an obvious implication. If there was nothing wrong with the first covenant, there would have been no need to put in place a new covenant. The point relates back to Hebrews 7:11.
Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? (Hebrews 7:11 ESV)
The Law with its Levitical system could not bring people fully to God. It did not provide the access to the Lord that we need. Further, the problem is with the people as noted in verse 8. The Lord finds fault with his people. We do not do what the law says to do. We do not obey and therefore receive life. We disobey and ought to receive the curses and God’s wrath. What was wrong with the first covenant is that there was no solution to our sin problem. The first covenant was incapable of perfection (7:11) and was weak and useless (7:18). The people’s failure to keep the law is evidence of the old covenant’s insufficiency. We need a covenant that can overcome our disobedience. This problem is evident in the quotation of Jeremiah’s prophecy, which the writer of Hebrews quotes in verses 8-12.
The Lord promised a new covenant through the prophet Jeremiah that would be different than the first covenant (8:8-9). You will see that the problem that the writer of Hebrews observes is declared in the prophecy. “For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.” I hope we will see the huge declaration here. God found fault with the people. The people did not continue in the covenant. So God turned away from them. “I showed no concern for them.” This is the problem. The people turned away from the Lord and did not stay faithful to the Lord. So God could not bless them but had to turn away from them. This should be the final word from God. But this is not the final word. Look at what God says he would do in verse 10.
God is going to put his laws into their minds and write his laws on their hearts. This is what the people were supposed to do for themselves in the first covenant. God commanded them to put these laws on their hearts (Deuteronomy 6:6; 11:18). But now God himself will write his laws on the hearts and minds of the people. God’s law are going to be imprinted on the people’s hearts. The people who are in relationship with God in the new covenant are not going to see the covenant as duty and obligation. The covenant is going to be their hearts’ desire. No one in this covenant will see the laws of God as a burden. Further, we see in verse 11 that no one in the covenant will be teaching another person in the covenant to know the Lord. Under the first covenant, a person could be circumcised thus making them members of the covenant community but not love the Lord or know the Lord. But in the new covenant only those who know the Lord will belong to the covenant. Belonging to the Lord is far more than an awareness of God’s laws. Belonging to the covenant is far more than understanding the obligations of the covenant. Belonging to the Lord would not be expressed by external activities.
This is a weighty declaration and an important difference between the two covenants. We do not belong to the covenant of Christ because we have been baptized. We do not belong to the covenant because we come to worship on Sundays. We do not belong to the covenant because we sit on the pews. We do not belong to the covenant because we are always here when the doors are open. We belong to the covenant when the desires of our heart are to obey the Lord. We belong to the covenant when we see God’s laws in our hearts and in our minds. We belong to the covenant when we know the Lord. Belonging to the covenant is not seen in mere external measurements. We belong to the Lord when the laws of God are not an external practice (a bunch of do and do not rules) but his laws are internalized, transforming us into the image of his Son (2 Corinthians 3:18). These are the ones who will receive God’s mercy and God will no longer remember their sins (8:12).
This is what we truly need. This is the kind of covenant we need. We need a Savior who brings a covenant that does not require perfect obedience. We need a covenant that can fully deal with our sins. Please think about this: in this covenant your sins are not remembered by God. This is exactly what we need. We can be brought near to God even in our sins because in this covenant God will be merciful toward our sins and no longer remember them. Don’t you wish you could just start over with some people? Wouldn’t it be great to have a fresh start? With God, we can. With God we get the fresh start that we need.
Since we have a new and superior covenant, the first covenant is obsolete. We must bask in the glory of the new covenant established by our great high priest, Jesus. We have encouragement because our sins have been taken away. We have a fresh start with God. Perfection is not the requirement for us. But just because perfection is not the standard, God did describe a standard to belong to the covenant. The key characteristics of God’s people is that the law is internalized. The law is written on their minds and hearts. Our greatest goal then needs to be the internalization of God’s word so that he will write his words on our hearts. This is why we preach from scriptures, line by line. This is why we need more time together in God’s word, whether worship or Bible classes. This is why we need to get our Bibles open at home. This is why I encouraged everyone to buy a new Bible that they can take notes in so that the excitement in God’s word will continue. We need God’s word in our lives to such a degree that it completely changes who we are.
We need to think about how we perceive God’s word. Think about how you look at your copies of God’s word. There are two potential approaches. One approach is like the approach of the first covenant. The law was something known but never changed the hearts of the people. Transformation never occurred. A veil remained over the hearts of Israel so that they lost the promised land and missed Jesus when he came. We can do the same thing. We can have a copy of God’s word but treat it like a reference work. God’s word is like a research book. We look at it and check it when we need something in our life or when someone is talking to us about spiritual things. But it is not a book that we enjoy or consume. We treat it like a dictionary. No one reads the dictionary. We just use a dictionary as a reference work when needed. But God says in the new covenant that this is not how his people will look his word. The word of God will be written on the heart. This means we do not look at God’s word as a reference work. Rather, we look at God’s word as our very life. We look at God’s word as the only way for us to know the God who saved us. We see God’s word as something that is needed for life and godliness, transforming us so that we can one day see our Lord face to face. Friends, embrace the word of God. Taste the word of God. Experience the word of God. Immerse yourself in the word of God. It is not a Bible. It is God’s life to you. It is our oxygen. It is our food. It is our water. It is everything. Do not neglect the hope you have in God’s word.