COC 31 Hebrews
The Law in Hebrews 7-8
When you think of the term “law” you probably think of a list of moral dos and don’ts. But a large portion of the Law of Moses deals with the issue of fellowship with God through the priests and the sacrifices. After all, the holy God calls Israel to Himself and then places His presence in their midst. That raises a major issue: how could a sinful people like Israel have the presence of God in their midst? How could they relate to a holy God? So the majority of the law of Moses is not spent on little laws like “don’t eat this animal.” The majority of it is spent giving instructions about the tabernacle, the priests, the offerings, and the sacrifices.
Earlier in our study we highlighted two key words regarding Israel. Israel functions as both an instrument and an illustration of the gospel. The Jews are an instrument of blessing to the whole world, primarily because God sent the Messiah through them. They also serve as a very important illustration of how sinful mankind can have fellowship with God.
So the point is this: the Law spends a lot of time talking about the tabernacle, priests, and sacrificial system, and these things are a very important illustration of how God will work so that mankind can have fellowship with God.
Here’s the principle, that we add to your list as #13:
The Law’s system of priests and sacrifices was not a permanent way to have fellowship with God: it was a temporary illustration (picture prophecy) of the true way.
Just one problem: when Jesus came, Israel had to make the switch from the illustration to the reality. They didn’t have to forsake their law – but they did have to realize that Jesus was the fulfillment of their Law. That was extremely difficult for many of them. Here in this section of Hebrews that we’ll examine today, the author of Hebrews is trying to help a Jewish audience understand both the need for the switch (from illustration to fulfillment), and then showing them that Jesus is the answer, the fulfillment.
This morning we’ll follow the thought, beginning in Hebrews 7. This may seem a little bit cloudy at first, but I think if you follow along it will start to become clearer…
A better priest for drawing near to God (7:1-8:1)
- Something greater than the Levitical priesthood exists (7:1-10)
I don’t have time to explore the issue of Melchizedek this morning. But in the last words of chapter 6 we are told that Jesus is a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. And the first 10 verses of chapter 7 demonstrate that a priest according to Melchizedek is greater than a regular Levitical priest, because Abraham – the great-grandfather of Levi – actually paid tithes to Melchizedek. So there is a priesthood that is greater than the Levitical priesthood.
- If a greater priesthood is needed, the Levitical priesthood must not have been able to make people perfect (7:11)
- In the greater priesthood there are different requirements (7:12) [hint of a new, better covenant]
Now what kind of change of requirements are we talking about? READ 7:13-14
- Jesus is from the tribe of Judah (7:13-14)
So there’s one change in the requirements: now there is a more dramatic change described in READ 15-17. Jesus is from the tribe of Judah and that’s different, but also:
- Jesus is a priest forever (7:15-17) He has this on his resume: the power of an indestructible life! Now why does all this matter? READ 18-19.
- The greater priesthood allows us to draw near to God (7:18-19) [another suggestion of a new covenant]
If you look back at the list of principles, let’s read #13 again: The Law’s system of priests and sacrifices was not a permanent way to have fellowship with God: it was a temporary illustration (picture prophecy) of the true way. The greater priesthood allows us to draw near to God.
READ 20-21 There was no oath of office for the priesthood, but…
- God Himself gives the oath appointing Jesus as priest (7:20-21)
So if you put all those things together, you come to this conclusion: READ 22:
- Jesus: the guarantee of a better covenant (7:22) The greater priest is a guarantee that their must be a new, greater covenant also. READ 23-24:
- The former priests died and were replaced: Jesus is the permanent priest (7:23-24)
Now we get to the real point! READ 25-26
- We can draw near to God because we have this holy high priest, Jesus, who is able to save us forever since he lives to make intercession for us. (7:25-26) One other thought about the weakness of the former priests READ 27a:
- The former priests had to offer sacrifices for their own sins. (7:27a)
But because Jesus is holy innocent undefiled separated from sinners, he does not need to do that. Now READ 7:27-8:1
- This priest has come (7:27-8:1) That’s the point: this priest has come, we have this kind of priest.
Now did you catch the other major point that is squeezed in at the end of chapter 7?
A better sacrifice for sins (7:27)
READ 7:27 This point is only mentioned here, because it will be expanded on in chapters 9-10. So for now we just want to note that not only is there a better priest, but there is also a better sacrifice for sins. It’s superiority is clearly seen in the fact that it is once-for-all. It never has to be repeated, because Jesus fully accomplished propitiation with the one sacrifice of Himself. You see the wonder there: The perfect high priest that we needed is also the perfect sacrifice. The phrase at the end of verse 27 is staggering: he offered up himself. The great high priest – the one with the power of an indestructible life – lays down upon the altar and becomes the sacrifice.
Now let’s READ 8:2-5.
A true tabernacle for drawing near to God (8:2-5)
You see the key words in verse 2: true tabernacle. Just as the Levitical priesthood was not the ultimate priesthood, and the sacrifices were not the ultimate sacrifice, so the tabernacle that God instructed Israel to build in the wilderness was not the ultimate dwelling place of God. It was not the ultimate place of fellowship with God.
You see how in verse 5 the author of Hebrews plays off of the words in Exodus 25:40. There in Exodus 25:40 God gave to Moses instructions about the furniture in the tabernacle. And God told him See that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain. And the author of Hebrews is essentially saying that the pattern Moses was shown was the pattern of the heavenly things. I’m not sure that means that all of the things in the tabernacle are literally found in heaven too – the point is that the pieces of furniture in the tabernacle were types, they were picture prophecies of spiritual realities in heaven.
Earlier in verse 5 he uses the words copy and shadow. The word copy can mean like an example or a model; it can also mean a sketch of something. And then the word shadow means – shadow. A shadow is cast by its object, the real thing; it can tell you something about the real thing; but it isn’t the real thing. So the tabernacle and the items involved were sketches, shadows, to illustrate and teach us about the true realities of heaven.
The great climax of the gospel is not for you to go stand outside a large tent and see the glory of God appear in a cloud above it. The great climax of the gospel is for you to spend eternity in fellowship with God, a fellowship so tender and so personal that Revelation 21 says “God Himself will be among them and He will wipe every tear from their eyes.” That tent was just a picture, an illustration of the true tabernacle, the presence of God where we will spend eternity in fellowship with Him.
A better covenant (8:6-13)
When verse 7 speaks of the “first” covenant, he is referring to the Law of Moses. It was never meant to be a covenant of salvation: it included promised blessing and curses for obedience or disobedience, and it included instructions about a sacrificial system that allowed a temporary fellowship with God. But it was not a covenant of salvation: it was preparation for the covenant of salvation that was coming.
So verse 6 says that Jesus is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. This new covenant is simply the promise of salvation for those who trust in the death of Christ as the atonement for their sins. So why are the promises of the new covenant better?
Verse 9 notes that because of Israel’s rebellion they ended up set aside by God – they end up receiving the curses of the covenant instead of the blessings. In other words, the first covenant could be annulled, it could be broken, you could end up cursed. This new covenant will be permanent.
Verse 10 says that the new covenant is internal: it is written on the heart.
Verse 11 says that the new covenant is personal: it involves an individual, personal relationship with God.
Verse 12 says that the new covenant is redemptive: it provides real, permanent forgiveness of sins.
A better priest, a better sacrifice, the true tabernacle, and a better covenant. The Law’s system of priests and sacrifices was not a permanent way to have fellowship with God: it was a temporary illustration (picture prophecy) of the true way. When Jesus came, the true way arrived.
Now before we try to draw all these things into a conclusion, let me just comment on verse 13. Here you have very strong words about the Mosaic covenant: it is becoming obsolete, growing old, and ready to disappear. Several times in these chapters we’ve seen the word: better. Something better has come. That all makes it sound like God really blew it with the old covenant; he tried, but he really botched that one. Then he tried again, and his next try has been much better. So now the previous try needs to become obsolete. Let’s just forget about that failed attempt.
But I think you understand that this is not at all the case. Far from being a failure, the Mosaic Covenant was exactly what God designed it to be as a preparation for the new covenant. The new covenant was not a second try. The new covenant was the plan all along, and the Mosaic covenant was part of the preparation for it. The Mosaic Covenant was the picture prophecy – the new covenant is the fulfillment. The fulfillment is obviously better: because it’s the fulfillment! That doesn’t mean the picture prophecy was bad; it doesn’t mean the copy and the shadow was a failure. It simply means that the reality has come.
Suppose I go to a conference, and come home a few days later on a bright sunny day, and my wife comes out the front door, and comes down the sidewalk to give me a hug. And when I get to her, I get down on my knees and I hug her shadow on the sidewalk. You would immediately question my sanity. Yet that is what many people did when Jesus came: the reality was there – yet they rejected the reality and held tightly to the shadow.
I’m simply emphasizing that these statements in Hebrews 8:13 do not mean that the Mosaic Covenant was a failure or a mistake or misguided. It did exactly what God intended for it to do, in preparation for the new covenant.
So we’ve seen today that the priests of the law of Moses have been replaced by the priest, Jesus Christ. He is an eternal priest, a permanent priest, a sinless priest, appointed by the oath of God, who offered the sacrifice of himself once for all; and he is our priest, so that we truly can draw near to God. The old sacrifices have been replaced by the one, perfect and effectual sacrifice of Jesus. The earthly tabernacle is no longer significant because now we know that the true tabernacle is heaven, the presence of God, where we will spend eternity in fellowship with Him because of Jesus. And all of this is promised to us in the new covenant: a permanent covenant that is personal, internal, and redemptive. It brings genuine, permanent forgiveness of sins and eternal life in fellowship with God.
Now why does the author of Hebrews write these things? Too often Hebrews is viewed as a sort of theology book. Most study Bibles outline the letter in terms of what it teaches about Jesus. But it isn’t primarily a theology lesson about Jesus: it is a sermon of encouragement and exhortation to Christians who are struggling, who are under pressure, who are discouraged. It’s a sermon for Christians who want to give up. It weaves explanations of Christ’s greatness with powerful warnings and encouragements. The message is pretty simple: “You’re discouraged, you’re disheartened, you feel like giving up: now look at Jesus, look at how amazing He is; look at this great salvation. Look at what you have in Jesus: and stick with it! It’s worth it!” When you focus your attention on how amazing Jesus is and how great this salvation is, you’ll gladly follow him, no matter what the path holds for you.
Let me just sample a bit of this for you: READ 2:17-18. READ 4:14-16. But now let’s see how our section today fits in: READ 6:17-20. That’s what leads right into READ 8:1-2 And then we can skip ahead and READ 12:1-2. All this theology in Hebrews has a very practical purpose: when you’re disheartened and discouraged or disillusions and confused or frustrated and overwhelmed, fill your heart with great truths about the person and work of Jesus. Look unto Jesus, your great high priest, your perfect sacrifice, your anchor within the place of the presence of God, your intercessor, your helper.
Questions for Application and Discussion
Hebrews is written to Christians who want to give up. The message is summarized with the words “hold fast” in 3:6 and 3:14. Read Hebrews 1:1-14, 2:10-18, and 4:14-16 and make a list of the ways the author is motivating the readers to “hold fast your confidence and the boast of your hope firm until the end.”
1:2 Jesus is heir of all things
1:2 Jesus is creator
1:3 Jesus upholds all things by the word of his power
1:8 deity and kingship of Christ
1:9 gladness (12:2 joy)
1:10-12 transient nature of the things of this life vs. eternal nature of Christ (II Cor. 4:17-18)
1:13 ultimate triumph of Jesus
1:14 it’s a side point, peripheral point, but still encouraging: the ministry of the angels
2:10 suffering was a critical part, essential part, of Christ’s triumph (perfection, reaching the end of his mission)
2:11-14 the kinship with Jesus Christ as God’s children
2:15 victory over fear of death
2:17 empathy of Christ (mercy)
2:18 empathy leads to aid
4:14 hints at same point as end of chpt 6 – Jesus entry ahead of us (as chpt 12, author, trailblazer)
4:16 we can come with confidence (because he has gone before as our high priest); he will give mercy and grace to help because he is sympathetic