The Epistle to the Hebrews


Chapter 8


1Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. 3For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer.

The writer had just previously stated how it was fitting to have "a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself" (Hebrews 7:26-27), therefore he now clarifies his main point, namely, that Yeshua is that high priest. Subsequent to Yeshua's ascension, and parallel to his kingly reign from the heavens, is his ministry of intercession as high priest in the heavenly tabernacle. The writer is using rather lofty and mystical terms but his intention is to explain how the Melchizedekian priesthood can exist and how Yeshua can minister as Melchizedekian priest and yet not contradict the Torah. The difficulty is resolved by the fact that the Melchizedekian priesthood does not replace the Aaronic priesthood but is administered on a different level and in a different location. The sanctuary and tabernacle in which the Melchizedekian service is carried out is not in the
Jerusalem Temple but the tabernacle in the heavens. The writer also alludes to the sacrifice that Yeshua has offered, which he will expand upon later.

A Copy and a Shadow

4Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; 5who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, "
SEE," He says, "THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN."

Interestingly, contrary to what is commonly assumed by Christian commentators, the writer does not indicate that the Aaronic priesthood is done away with. Rather, the writer emphasizes that there already are priests here on earth, the Aaronic priests. He makes it clear that Yeshua would not be a priest if he were on earth, not only because he does not descend from the tribe of Levi, but also because there already are priests for the earth. The Temple in Jerusalem is a reflection of the heavenly tabernacle. 

A Better Covenant

6But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. 

The better covenant that the writer is referring to is the promised New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34. The New Covenant contains much better promises than the previous national covenant made with Israel: the Mosaic covenant. We would do well to look at the superiority of the New Covenant not in a supersessional or dispensational sense but rather with the dichotomy of this age and the age to come in view. This is best exemplified in the concepts of what the writer to the Hebrews calls "protos" and "deutero."

The Protos and Deutero

7For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. 

At the beginning of our study, we looked at how in Jewish thinking there are really two periods of time in human history: this age and the age to come. The writer to the Hebrews has devised a clever way to understand this concept. He uses the Greek word "protos" to describe and identify This World and the Greek word "deutero" to describe and identify the World to Come. The words protos and deutero simply mean "first" and "second" but, as we'll see, the writer uses them as short-hand terms referring to things of this age and the age to come. We should note that in this verse the word "covenant" is not actually in the original Greek text. This is because he is not only referring to the protos (first) covenant but to everything that encompasses the protos system.

The Protos (First)
 
 This Age
 The Torah written on stone
 The Mosaic Covenant
 The Aaronic Priesthood
 The Jerusalem Temple
 The animal sacrifices
 The fallen state of man
 Mortality
 The Messiah is hidden in the Torah
 Under the condemnation of the Torah
 No regenerative work of the Spirit
 
The Deutero (Second)

 The Age to Come
 The Torah written on human hearts
 The New Covenant
 The Melchizedekian Priesthood
 The Heavenly Tabernacle
 The one sacrifice of Messiah
 The glorified state of man
 Immortality
 The Messiah is revealed in the Torah
 Under God's forgiveness and grace
 The regenerative work of the Spirit
 

The Deutero Covenant

8For finding fault with them, He says, "BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD, WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH; 9NOT LIKE THE COVENANT WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS ON THE DAY WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND TO LEAD THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT; FOR THEY DID NOT CONTINUE IN MY COVENANT, AND I DID NOT CARE FOR THEM, SAYS THE LORD. 10"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 I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS. AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 11"AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN, AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, 'KNOW THE LORD,' FOR ALL WILL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM. 12"FOR I WILL BE MERCIFUL TO THEIR INIQUITIES, AND I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SINS NO MORE."

The fault that the writer references in verse 8 is the fallen state of man. Human beings, apart from the deutero work of the Spirit based upon the deutero sacrifice of the Messiah, have no hope of entering in to the age to come. All of the elements of the protos can never bring about the deutero. What specific aspect of the protos required God to make sure there would be a deutero? Did God make a mistake by giving the Torah and the (Mosaic) covenant associated with the Torah? No, the covenant He gave at Sinai was not faulty. Rather the people to whom He made the covenant with can be faulted because man is a fallen creature. The Mosaic covenant, which we can call the protos covenant, does not promise any internal work of the Spirit. The covenant God made with Israel at Sinai is made up of two very simple stipulations: 

1) Obey the Torah and you will be blessed.
2) Disobey the Torah and you will be cursed.

The "problem" with the covenant from our perspective is that we are sinful people and will always fall into disobedience of God's perfect Torah. This does not leave us in a very hopeful position. Let's make sure to remember that God's covenants are eternal and cannot be changed. God cannot simply change the Torah to make it easier or for any other reason. The Creator cannot change and the expression of that Creator, the Torah, cannot change. On the other hand, God can change His creation, that is, His people. Let's take a look at the writer's quote of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and see what the better promises of this better covenant actually are. Firstly, we should note that the covenant is made with Israel, not some new entity. It will not be like the covenant He made at Sinai because Israel broke that covenant. This new covenant will be characterized by the Torah written on the hearts of Israel. Not only that, this is a covenant made with all of Israel, from the least to the greatest, for all will "know" God. To "know" God is to be in covenant relationship with God. How will all this be made possible? Verse 34 states that God will remember their sins no more. To quote the Apostle Paul: "all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:26). Israel as a nation will experience what the remnant in each generation has been given a taste of. The better promises of the better covenant are that God will change the hearts of all Israel, so that Israel will live in obedience to the Torah, thus forever receiving the blessings of the first covenant.

Out with the Old, in with the New

13When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete but whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.

The word "covenant" is, again, not actually in the text of the Greek manuscripts. Why do you think the writer did not include the word "covenant" even though he had just referenced the "new covenant" of Jeremiah? Likely because he is not merely referring to the covenant but to all of the elements of the deutero. The very fact that there is a coming new covenant must indicate a coming new order. The protos is made obsolete by the deutero. We could paraphrase this verse this way:




By saying "a new," God essentially made the whole protos system obsolete since there is a promise of better age, and when something is obsolete, it will one day completely disappear. (paraphrase of Hebrews 8:13)

The protos, in reality, has not disappeared yet but, with the first coming of the Messiah, it is as if the "future has invaded the present" and we have a guarantee of the better covenant; through Yeshua we have a guarantee of the deutero.