Notes on Hebrews
This chapter eight of Hebrews concludes the section covering the priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is really a summation of all that was said in the three chapters that precede it: “Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum,” or this is the chief point (v. 1). That is, the Lord Jesus as priest has sat down at the right hand of God to enter upon His priestly ministry. He is now suitably seated in the true tabernacle to administer the benefits of His atonement to His beloved people. These benefits are described in verse 6 as a better ministry, a better covenant and better promises.
There was a Greek philosophy which taught that the world in which we live is but a world of shadows. Somewhere there is a real world of which our world is but a mere reflection. The writer applies this to the Old Testament priesthood. It was but a shadow. It, with all its rituals, pointed to the Priesthood of Christ which was the real substance. In this connection the writer combines two Greek words in verse 5. The first is the word Hupodigma, translated here example. It means simply a sketch, a plan. It is the word used by an architect for the rough sketch of a building. The second word is Skia, translated shadow. This word really means a reflection, a phantom or silhouette. It has the connotation of that which is unreal. Such was the Aaronic priesthood.
The writer uses a wonderful word in verse 6 to describe the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the word Mesites, translated Mediator. It comes from the root Mesos, meaning Middle and suggests one who stands in the middle. It describes one who brings together two parties in reconciliation. Christ bridges the gap; He spans the gulf; He bridges the chasm between God and man. Let us now look at the three better things:
The Better Ministry
It is superior to the ministry of the Old Testament priests because it is exercised in a better sanctuary (v. 2). Its superiority is seen in its quality. It is a ministry that bestows rich and lasting benefits because it is based on a superior sacrifice (v. 3). It is a ministry of love, sympathy and succour that no earthly priest could ever give. It is therefore sufficient to meet our need the whole way home.
The Better Covenant
It is indeed interesting to note the word used here for covenant. The usual word for covenant or agreement is Suntheke. This word describes an agreement entered into by two parties on equal terms. It is also used to describe a marriage contract. But this is not the word used here. It is the word Diatheke. The difference between this word and Suntheke is that in this agreement the parties do not enter into it on equal terms. One party defines the terms of the agreement and the other party either accepts or rejects it.
In classical Greek this word was used to describe a will. In fact it is so used in chapter 9. We know that one party defines the terms of the will. By using this word the writer is seeking to emphasize that man did not make a bargain with God. He is saying rather that the terms of the covenant were developed by God. They cannot be altered by man. Man had no say in their preparation.
It also says that this covenant is new. There are two words for new in the New Testament. The first is the word Neos which means new at a point of time. The pencil is new at the time it is manufactured. It may be exactly the same as the one that went before, but it is still new. The other word is Kainos which means new in nature and quality. This is the word used here.
How then is this covenant new?
First, it is new in its perimeter. It is to include the House of Israel and the House of Judah. We may add here that all the redeemed share its blessings. It is indeed remarkable that the two clauses used by Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:14 that divided the nation are in direct contrast to what is said by and of our Lord with a view to reuniting the nation. Rehoboam said “I will add to your yoke,” our Lord said, “My yoke is easy.” Rehoboam said, “I will chastise you with scorpions,” of our Lord it is said, “the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.”
Second, it is new in its performance. Its fulness is described and assured in verses 10-13. It had been predicted in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and established on the solid foundation of our Lord’s atoning death (Luke 22:20). As to its contents, it is a revelation of the love and mercy of God (v. 12). It reveals the will of God, to be kept in the mind and treasured in the heart (v. 10). It brings
God nearer to man to be loved and known (v. 11) and removes all barriers to a realization of fellowship with God (v. 12).
Third, it is new in its program. The first covenant that was established at Sinai simply assured the people of perpetuity in the land and a long and prosperous life on earth if they kept it. But the new deals with spiritual blessings that effect a change of heart (v. 10), of relationship (v. 10), of mind (v. 11) and of standing (v. 12). The first covenant said, “Thou shalt not” and “Thou shalt.” In the new covenant God says, “I will.” The first covenant contained forms and rituals which were of a temporary nature and suitable for the childhood development of mankind (Gal. 4). The new has the fuller revelation of God which is suited to lead us to maturity in our relationship with God. It is interesting to note that the Spirit’s coming on the day of Pentecost was on the anniversary of the giving of the Law at Sinai. His coming was to make effective the truths of the new covenant in the lives of the people of God.
In describing the old covenant the writer uses two very descriptive words. The first is Geraskon, translated here “to wax old.” It means to age unto decay. It suggests that which had been useful in the past is now decadent and useless.
The second word is Aphanismos, translated here “to vanish away.” Barclay gives us some light on this word. He says, “It is used for wiping out a city, obliterating an inscription, or abolishing a law.” In choosing this word the writer is saying that the new covenant is so complete and new in quality that it cancels the old covenant and makes it redundant.
At the beginning of the chapter we are introduced to the One who established the new covenant. We are given two pictures of Him, even our Lord Jesus. In the one we see His Majesty and in the other we see His Ministry. It is indeed remarkable that these two thoughts are brought together for they seldom are. No one combined the function of a king and the function of a servant so beautifully as did our Lord. A beautiful Old Testament illustration of this combination is seen in 2 Samuel 5:2. David had just been made king after the death of Saul. The tribes remind him of the words spoken to Him by the Lord, “Thou shalt feed My people Israel (the servant) and shalt be a captain over Israel” (the king). The motto of the prince of Wales was, “I serve.” But no one combines those qualities so effectively as does our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Better Promises
Three of these are mentioned by Jeremiah, the first is the law written on the heart (v. 10). The child is controlled by positive “do’s” and “don’ts”: the man by moral and spiritual principles. “During the pupilage of the Old Testament saints the divine laws were written “in tables of stone.” For the New Testament church which (dispensationally) has reached manhood, they are inscribed in tables that are hearts of flesh (2 Cor. 3:3). The ascendency of ritualism in any Christian church means therefore a return to “childish things” of the old covenant, a going back to the swaddling clothes of religious babyhood” (Pulpit Commentary).
The second is the knowledge of God. The Old Testament saint had a very dim apprehension of divine things. God revealed Himself by His identification with certain of His saints, He was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But the fuller revelation of God awaited the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He fully declared the Father. Now there is the knowledge of introduction which means salvation (John 17:3), the knowledge of communion (2 Peter 1:3), and the knowledge of God that leads to happy fruitful living (2 Pet. 1:5-8).
The third is the full forgiveness of sins. While this is the last mentioned it is the first in our spiritual experience. It is the removal of the barrier to reconciliation with God. This is followed by moral and spiritual renewal that enables God to write His laws upon the heart and flood the mind with Divine Light.