A BETTER COVENANT Hebrews 7–8
“The ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which He is made Mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises” (Heb. 8:6).Because of Jesus, God remembers our sins no more.
Christ is no levitical priest; His priesthood is of a totally different order (7:1–11). Thus every element of the Mosaic system is also replaced: its ineffective Law (vv. 12–19), its mortal priesthood (vv. 21–28), its inadequate gifts and sacrifices (8:1–6). Christ has instituted the promised New Covenant, which brings forgiveness and renewal to all who believe (vv. 7–13).
Understanding the Text
“This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High” Heb. 7:1. Hebrews 6:20 says Jesus is a High Priest in the “order of Melchizedek.” His priesthood was traced to Melchizedek, not to Aaron. Even before explaining the implications, the writer took pains to show the Melchizedekian priesthood is greater than Aaronic. This man, who appears briefly in the Old Testament account of Abraham’s life (Gen. 14:18–21), was a king (Heb. 7:2). Since no mention is made of his birth or death in the Old Testament, he appears in Scripture as a “priest forever” (v. 3). Since Abraham, the ancestor of Aaron, paid tithes to Melchizedek, the implication is that Aaron, in the person of his forefather, conceded his superiority (vv. 4–10). Even today a person’s family name has significance. That’s one reason why a Japanese firm recently bought a controlling interest in a Rockefeller holding company. With it, they purchased the right to use the name “Rockefeller” in their marketing! The family line—the name of the person to whom one’s identity can be traced—was particularly significant in Judaism. And thus the writer took great pains to show that Jesus’ priesthood is not Aaronic, but can be traced back to a more ancient and honorable name. For us the name to which we trace our identity is Jesus Christ. We hold up that name whenever we identify ourselves as Christians. Because Christ’s name is so honorable, it is vital that everything we do makes it shine even brighter. And that nothing we do tarnishes a single letter. “When there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law” Heb. 7:11–17. The argument may seem obscure to us, but was very clear to the first-century Jewish reader. The Law given by Moses was a carefully designed system that governed the whole of the believer’s relationship with God and with others. The priesthood was an integral part of that system: it was designed for the system, and the system was designed for it. If the priesthood changed, then everything else in the Old Testament system was affected. Compare the motor of your car. If the transmission is a certain size, it is because it was made to fit the size and the engine of the model car you drive. If you change the transmission size, it’s clear you have to change vehicles if it is to fit. Hebrews tells us that God has provided a whole new vehicle in which we who believe in Christ travel now with Him. The old model, that of Old Testament Law, is obsolete. With the change in priesthood, everything has changed. This is to be true of our lives as well. When Jesus enters our lives, everything changes—and is to change. We can’t go on the way we have been. Jesus’ own “indestructible life” is ours. We must learn to make everything harmonize with Jesus, who has entered our life to make us fresh, holy, and new. “The Law made nothing perfect” Heb. 7:18–19. The loss of the Law was no disaster, for it was “weak and useless.” Here again the writer included the whole system, with its code of conduct, its priesthood, its sacrifices, and its worship. The Old Testament system did not succeed in making men better, or bringing them closer to God. This is something for us to remember. Rules and regulations are no help if we want to draw near to God. What counts is the work Jesus has done for us on the cross. And the work Christ is still doing as High Priest, dispensing both mercy and grace to help us in our time of need (4:16). “Jesus lives forever” Heb. 7:20–25. The quote from Psalm 110:4 makes a vital point. God provided us a Priest who could guarantee us salvation, for He made an oath that “You are a Priest forever.” Only in someone who lives forever could this promise be realized. And only God the Son, Jesus, who does live on, could have a permanent priesthood. What does the permanent priesthood mean to us? The other day I read of a legal battle going on to break a will. There’s a good chance that the deceased’s plans to disburse his estate will not be carried out. The resurrection of Jesus to the role of High Priest tells us that God guarantees that the purposes He had in mind in Christ’s death will be fulfilled. Jesus died to make heaven’s riches ours. And He rose from the dead to supervise the distribution of those riches Himself! No wonder the writer said that “He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him.” His living presence certifies that all we need to guarantee our salvation will be provided by Him. And note that “save completely.” We are not just saved by Jesus from punishment for our sins. We are being saved from sin’s insidious control of our thoughts and actions daily. Jesus is the source of our forgiveness, and the source of our transformation as well. “He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself” Heb. 7:26–28. With the change in the priesthood all the elements of the Old Testament system were replaced. The inadequate sacrifices of the old system were replaced by Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself for our sins.
Advertising Age pointed out long ago that the two most attractive things a seller can say about his product are “New!” and “Free!” But that’s not always the case. I have a six-year-old van, with about 70,000 miles on it. I don’t want a new one. I plan to keep this one till it runs up at least 300,000 miles. Why get something new if what you have works perfectly well? Yet that’s just the point the writer was making in Hebrews 8. The old system of Law didn’t work (vv. 7, 9, 13). The covenant made by Moses, called the Old Covenant here, was “obsolete and aging” almost before it was given. What makes the New Covenant God has made with us in Christ superior? Two things. It provides complete and full forgiveness for all our wicked acts (v. 12). Because Christ has paid for our sins, God is no longer obligated to “remember”—in the sense of punish—our sins. And, the New Covenant operates to “put My laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts.” The Old Covenant engraved standards that human beings proved unable to meet on tablets of stone. The New Covenent engraves the desire to please God in our inmost being, and moves us to do the very things Law demanded, but could not produce. When it comes to faith, “New!” truly is a sell word. Those who have tried everything else, and failed to become the kind of person they, and God, want them to be, can turn to Jesus and find themselves forgiven and renewed. And, in case you didn’t notice, the other sell word applies too. The salvation offered us in Christ, costs us nothing. Hebrews 8:1–6 reminds us that everything in the Old Testament system had significance, but that the significance was primarily symbolic. The gifts and offerings made by Old Testament priests were vivid illustrations of what Jesus would do in the heavenly sanctuary of which the earthly tabernacle and temple were merely “copies and shadows.” Christ is the reality, and His work has won us a full salvation.
The best advertisement for Christianity is the new and improved Christian.
“We ought to be Christians in large type, so that it would not be necessary for others to be long in our society, or to regard us through spectacles, in order to detect our true discipleship. The message of our lives should resemble the big advertisements which can be read on the street by all who pass by.”—F.B. Meyer