The New Covenant (Hebrews 8.1-13)

When a writer takes a reader through a difficult discourse, it’s nice to have a summary every now and then. In Hebrews 8.1-2, we have just that: “ We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.”

This is point is driven by an elaborate analogy between the ancient tabernacle as a model for understanding the “heavenly” temple where Jesus now serves as the great high priest. As the Hebrews preacher develops thesis, he seeks as much of a one for one correspondence between the tabernacle’s priesthood and Jesus’ priesthood. Where it does not match up, the Hebrews writer offers a different explanation, such as Jesus being a priest like Melchizedek.

However, the ancient tabernacle and its priesthood only points to the true temple and its priest. All these former things are only a “copy” and a “shadow” of the real thing. Even the covenant or agreement God with Israel had been but a passing shadow since with Jesus comes a better covenant.

With a long citation from Jeremiah 31.31-34, the Hebrews writer builds his understanding of this “new” covenant. The essential problem with the old covenant was that the people broke it (Heb 8.8, 9). So what would be different with a new one? Jeremiah’s text mentions these

  • God laws would be in their minds and written on their hearts (instead of on stone).
  • “I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
  • All the people will know God!
  • God would forgive completely the people’s sins.

The fundamental difference between the old and the new is the level of the relationship. All these things God sought with his people in the Old Testament; however, because of the people’s inability to meet the demands of the covenant and God’s lack of an adequate mediator, the old covenant was now “ready to disappear.”

With Jesus, God enacted a new covenant with his people.

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