Our True High Priest and the New Covenant
© C.O.Bishop 7/14/17 THCF 7/16/17
We have been studying through the book of Hebrews. Over and over we have seen the theme “Jesus is better” played out in the scripture. Only one exception has been presented: Jesus was not said to be better than Melchisedec. But in every other case, His credentials were shown to far surpass those of all the “heavy-hitters” of Judaism: The Prophets, the Angels, the priesthood, Abraham, Moses…all fell far short of the standard set by Jesus the Messiah.
But now the writer returns to the theme, and sums up the clear Superiority of Jesus over the High Priests of Israel, showing His true office as our High Priest: the mediator of the New Covenant.
Our True High Priest
1Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;
2 A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.
The writer is beginning to wrap up his treatise on the superiority of Jesus the Messiah over every aspect of Judaism. (By the way, please keep in mind that this is in no way a “criticism of Judaism:” All of the Old Testament scriptures are “God-breathed.” Judaism, as taught in the scriptures, was entirely from God, and, collectively, it was the introduction to, and prediction of, the Messiah. But Jesus is the Messiah: no more allegory or foreshadowing is needed: He is the real fulfilment of the promises.)
One thing we touched on earlier, but which is worth repeating: the high priest of the Old Covenant could never sit down, while he was “on the job”: the only “seat” in the Holy of Holies was the Mercy Seat—the “lid” of the Ark of the Covenant…God’s throne on earth. No one ever tried sitting there. People had died under God’s judgment for just touching the ark, even though they had good intentions. Sitting on it would have been a guaranteed path to instant destruction.
So, the point then, is that, in both Hebrews 1:3 and Hebrews 8:1, we see that Jesus finished his work and sat down…and He is still interceding as our High Priest. Hebrews 7:25 says, “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.”. He is still on the job! So…where is he sitting? Both passages make it clear that he is seated at the right hand of the Father.
But, remembering the Holy of Holies—that means he has to be seated in the throne, with God… all of which agrees with John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Jesus simply resumed his seat of authority with the Father, as is His due. He is God the Son. By the way, consider John 5:22, here, too (“All judgment is committed to the Son”)—Jesus is the Judge of all the Earth. He is the one who sits enthroned and will Judge the nations, as well as the hearts of men. The Throne of God truly is his rightful throne.
A person may think through all this material and still find it puzzling how Jesus could be called our High Priest. But consider this: The High Priest of Israel had two specific functions:
- He offered a sacrifice for the nation, once every year, reconciling the nation to God, and
- He represented the nation of Israel before God, interceding on their behalf, in prayer.
Jesus’s sacrifice was Himself: His own body, willingly given; and He is still interceding for us. He is our High Priest!
What is Different about the Priesthood of Jesus?
3 For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.
4 For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law:
5 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.
If Jesus had remained on earth, he could not even serve as a priest, let alone the High Priest: the earthly tabernacle (and later, the Temple,) were served by one family, under the Law. Only a Levite could serve in any capacity. But that tabernacle given by revelation through Moses, was still only a figure, or a shadow, of the real thing: the heavenly throne room with the literal, continual presence of God was the real thing. And that is where Jesus serves today… It is where He came from.
Moses was commanded to make the tabernacle according to the pattern he had seen in his visions on Mount Sinai. He did so, as faithfully as he could. In fact, God says that He put the spirit of wisdom into the men who did the actual work: they had not seen the vision…they could only work from what Moses told them. But evidently God overshadowed their limitations, and supernaturally guided their hands so that the tabernacle actually came out the way Moses had seen it. The result was a very good (though limited) man-made (though God-ordained) copy. It did not and could not serve the same purpose as the real thing, even though God actually appeared in that tabernacle on at least some occasions. Further, we can see here that the priesthood itself was only a foreshadowing of the “real thing”… Jesus; God the Son. All the sacrifices looked forward to the one blood sacrifice that Jesus was to make at the Cross. All the offerings and prayers and rituals were looking forward to Jesus, in his priestly ministry.
In similar manner, we are told that Jesus is the living Word of God, and that the written Word is God’s best communication of Himself to us. It was given through human writers who, just as he overshadowed the human builders of the Tabernacle, were borne along by the Holy Spirit so that the communication was literally the Word of God. We look to the written Word, as unto a light in a dark place, until the true light of the world—the living Word of God—Jesus—returns.
1st Timothy 2:5 states that “…there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the Man, Christ Jesus.” Jesus is the real High Priest. He is the “One Mediator between God and Men.”
The Covenant of Jesus is Better than the Old Covenant
6 But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.
Notice the tenses in the above statement: He has obtained (past tense) a more excellent ministry (than that which employed the human priesthood). He IS (present tense) the mediator of a better covenant, which was (past tense) established upon better promises.
I find it strangely thrilling, to see the precision of God’s Word. Jesus obtained (past tense) through his service and sacrifice, a better ministry, or office, than the one the Old Testament priests held, and which they all served. It was consummated at the Cross. (“It is finished!”)
But He serves now (present tense) in that specific ministry, as the mediator of the New Covenant, which is only begun in the Church Age, and which will find (future tense) completion in the Kingdom Age. But He is already at work, and has been for 2000 years. One of the better promises was that he was to be a High Priest eternally, after the order of Melchisedec. The promise of the coming New Covenant was made six hundred years before Christ. The promise was fulfilled at the Cross—still past tense for us and for the recipients of this epistle. But the mediation of that covenant is present tense, and it never stops to take a break. Our High Priest never gets tired, and His sacrifice transforms the lives of those who place their trust in Him.
7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.
8 For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
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.
This was God’s revelation to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34) of the coming New Covenant… with whom? The Church? No, he said, here, in verse 8 (quoting Jeremiah 31:31) that the covenant was with Israel (the northern ten tribes) and Judah (the southern nation), and then reiterates it in verse 10. That promise was not to the Church! (Read on!)
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
He says that GOD found fault with the Old Covenant. But how could He? He was its author! The fault was not a moral failure, nor a design failure: it did exactly what it was designed to do: it drove believers to see their need for a savior. When will the New Covenant occur? After his return: this is a Kingdom age promise. How can we tell the time for sure? Read the next verse:
11 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.
12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
When, on this earth will every single Jew know Jesus and have the Law of God written in each of their individual hearts? This can only be the Kingdom Age. Has the Kingdom age begun? Absolutely not! Paul warned the church that they not be tricked in that regard…there are a number of things that have to occur first, including the removal of the Church, the revelation of the antichrist, and the terrible seven-year tribulation in which half the world’s population will perish. The new Covenant for Israel will begin shortly after the return of the Lord Jesus.
Has the New Covenant begun for the Church? Absolutely! In fact, that New Covenant is the only one we have, in this age, as Jewish or Gentile believers. Israel had been looking forward to the whole New Covenant as promised, for 600 years, or thereabout, when Jesus announced the good news of the Kingdom. And they rejected it.
The Covenant still stands, but it will only be ratified with the Coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation. Not before. The Church-age believers experience two small parts of that promise, though vital ones:
- In this age, every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit: no exceptions. That will apparently be true in the Kingdom age as well.
- In this age, (and all of them, for that matter), the believer stands righteous before God, by imputed righteousness, not by the works which they may or may not accomplish. God remembers our sins no more. But in the kingdom age, God will not rub Israel’s collective nose in the dirt of their past sins. They will simply stand righteous before Him, in Christ. And that is our current standing—“in Christ!”
The Old Covenant was passing away—and is now obsolete.
13 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.
This is the final warning that the Old Covenant was about to expire: it had reached its “pull-date”, as it were. The Kingdom age was not being offered to that generation any more. And the Temple (though the readers did not know it, of course) was about to be destroyed. There would no longer exist on earth even the shadow of reality that the temple in Jerusalem had represented for so many years. There would literally be no way to return to their old way of life.
So, the only way these Hebrew believers could enter into the New Covenant was to believe fully in the Person of Christ, and enter into the New Covenant as it applies to the Church. The New Covenant, as initially offered to Israel, had been temporarily withdrawn.
The promise still stands, and it will definitely be fulfilled, to the letter, but, just as the promise of the land was offered to the Israelites who left Egypt with Moses, and, because of unbelief, they failed to enter in; the generation of Jews who were personally approached by the Messiah also rejected His offer through unbelief, and, in turn, were refused the Kingdom. Could they repent and believe? Certainly, but now they enter in along with the Gentiles, and have the same status as the Gentiles. The ultimate promise of the land and the Earthly Kingdom will not be fulfilled, nor even offered again, until Jesus returns.
Conclusion: What can we do (or not do) about the New Covenant?
One thing that keeps coming up is the temptation to go back under the Law, when God says, right here in this passage, that we are not to do so: that the Law never could change a life, and that Grace has always been the means by which we are saved…and that the Law has, in fact, become obsolete. We need to be vigilant against the kind of thinking that insists that our standing with God—our position in Him—is dependent upon our behavior—our walk with Him. Only our state—our current condition—is dependent upon our walk.
Remember that Israel, as a nation, is and has been the “Chosen People” of God whether or not they are in a good relationship with Him. He has never “dropped them and chosen someone else.” But His blessing, on a year by year basis, as a nation, has definitely been based on their walk with Him. When God warned Israel, saying, in effect, “if you obey Me, I will bless you; if you disobey Me I will curse you”, it never affected their position as the Chosen People of God. It changed their condition, as blessed or cursed…which is a huge issue all by itself.
God still defends Israel, as His People, though they have been in terrible condition, spiritually, for thousands of years. And the day is coming (soon, I hope) when they will awaken, nationally, and stand again as the people of God.
We have an even more precious position—the Jews and Gentiles called out of the World over the last 2000 years, are called the Church: the Body of Christ—the Bride of Christ. He sees us as being already perfect in Him, and already seated with Him in Heaven, though our experience may be quite different, at times, here on Earth.
Our position in Him is perfect and eternally secure. Our condition may vary wildly. But we don’t want our condition to be vacillating like that! We want to have a blessed relationship with the Savior, not a rocky, shabby relationship that dishonors Him by our bad behavior.
So, out of love to the Savior, not out of fear of the Judge, let’s look to our lives, and learn to walk in obedience by faith.
Attempting to live a holy life in our own strength is not pleasing to Him, as He has already told us we cannot do it. So, we confess that we cannot live holy lives on our own. We ask Him to take control and live through us. We read His Word, to see how to live; we join in fellowship with other believers to encourage one another; and we confess our sins when we fail. But we don’t waste time groveling over our failures: we stand up by faith, and walk again, knowing that even our fumbling attempts to walk by faith are pleasing to Him.
Let’s walk together, encouraging one another; blessing one another, as we seek to walk with Him. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn away into self-effort, self-improvement and self-righteousness.
Lord Jesus, draw us into full faith, and teach us to walk with you in obedience by Faith.