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The radical change from the Judaic religion to the vital dynamic of Jesus' life required a change of priesthood (7:12), and change of law (7:12), and a change of covenant (7:22). In this section of the epistle (chapter 8) the perpetual priestly ministry of Jesus, the "priest forever" (7:21,24), is emphasized (cf. 8:1,2,6), and this is the context of a "better covenant" (8:6), a "new covenant" (8:8,13), wherein the law of God is no longer externally codified, but is internally personified in Jesus Christ.
As the concept of "covenant" is so prominent in this chapter, it will be instructive to consider some background for this subject.
The Hebrew word for "covenant" is berith, and it is used 285 times in the Old Testament. It is used of bilateral agreements between persons, such as Jacob and Laban (Gen. 31:44-55) and David and Jonathon (I Sam. 20:5-23). Marriage between husband and wife is also regarded as a covenant relationship (Malachi 2:14). Often in both the Hebrew culture and other ancient cultures, such bilateral covenants included terms of agreement, an oath by both parties to keep the agreement, and the slaying of an animal to seal the agreement. This latter feature of the ancient "blood covenant"1 was the basis for the common references to "cutting a covenant."
The primary usage of the Hebrew word berith in the Old Testament is in reference to the unilateral covenants that God established with man. God established a covenant with Noah (Gen. 9:8-17), promising with the sign of a rainbow never to send another flood to destroy all flesh on the earth. God also made a covenant of promise with Abraham (Gen. 17:1-14) to multiply his descendants and make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations. A covenant arrangement was also made with the people of Israel when Moses went before God on Mt. Sinai (Exod. 24:4-8). These unilateral covenants, where God was the superior and authoritative party, could still require a responsibility of the lesser party to respond and participate. The Abrahamic covenant of promise and the Mosaic covenant of law together formed the basis on which the Israelite people considered themselves "the covenant people of God."
The Israelites could not fulfill their commitment (Exod. 19:8; 24:3,7) to keep the requirements of the Mosaic Law. The prophets foretold that God would establish a "new covenant" (Jere. 31:31), an everlasting covenant of peace (cf. Isa. 55:3; Ezek. 37:26-28), that would be a personified "covenant to the people" (Isa. 42:6). The expectation of the Messianic deliverer and the "new covenant" arrangement were merged in Judaic eschatological anticipation.
The Jewish Christians of Judea, to whom this epistle was written, were thoroughly steeped in the Hebrew tradition of God's covenants and the identification of the Jewish peoples as "the covenant people of God." At the same time, the Greek language had become the language of the land of Palestine and the Roman Empire. The concepts of "covenant" in the Greek culture, as expressed in the Greek language, were not the same as the Hebraic concepts. Prior to, and continuing into, the first century A.D. there was an integrative merge of attempting to express Hebraic concepts of God's covenants with man in the Greek language.
The Greek language had two words for "covenant." Bilateral covenant agreements between human parties were referred to with the Greek word suntheke, meaning "to place or put together with" another. Conditions were mutually determined by the parties involved in the arrangement, and a covenant compact or contract (verbal or written) was agreed to by both parties, whether in the context of business, politics, marriage, etc. But this word, suntheke, is never used in the Greek New Testament. Instead, all New Testament references to "covenant" employ the Greek word diatheke, meaning "to put or place through" by a party that holds an authoritative and superior decisive position, whereupon the other parties can either accept or reject any stated conditions or stipulations. All references to such a unilateral diatheke covenant in the Greek culture were in reference to "the last will and testament" of an individual, the conditions of which were to be enforced upon the occasion of the person's death.
Given the Hebraic emphasis on the unilateral covenants that God established with man, it is not difficult to see why the Greek word diatheke was chosen to translate the Hebrew berith throughout the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Greek word diatheke was being invested with a Hebraic meaning that it had never previously conveyed in the Greek language and culture. On only one occasion in the Greek New Testament (Heb. 9:15-22; possibly alluded to in Gal. 3:15) is the Greek concept of diatheke as a "last will and testament" applied to the necessary death of the testator, referring to the death of Jesus Christ.
Within the Greek New Testament the covenant of God with Abraham (cf. Lk. 1:72; Acts 3:25) is regarded as a covenant of promise (cf. Gal. 3:16-19), having permanence and continuity through its fulfillment of the promises in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 1:20). On the other hand, the covenant of God with Israel enacted through Moses at Mt. Sinai is regarded as a temporary covenant of law that was divinely designed with planned obsolescence. It is this Sinaitic covenant that is identified as the "first" or "old covenant" (cf. II Cor. 3:6-14; Gal. 4:24; Heb. 8:7,9,13; 9:15), intended only as a provisional or preliminary agreement to prepare God's people for what God was going to do through His Son, Jesus Christ. The legal context of the Law covenant, with its external codification of performance requirements (cf. II Cor. 3:6), is contrasted with the "new covenant" (cf. II Cor. 3:6; Heb. 9:15; 12:24) of grace in Jesus Christ. There is a radical discontinuity between the old Mosaic covenant of law and the "better covenant" (Heb. 7:22; 8:6) personified in Jesus Christ, who by the Spirit brings life and righteousness (II Cor. 3:6) and an internal provision of the divine character that Law required (Heb. 8:10; 10:16).
The Christians of Palestine in the first century were caught in this integrative transition of Greek and Hebrew concepts of "covenant". The Pharisaic forms of Judaism, prevalent at the time, had corrupted the Hebraic concepts of "covenant" by casting them in reciprocal contractual categories. The unilateral covenant of promises to Abraham was regarded as conferring unconditional physical rights and privileges to the Jewish peoples, allowing them to leverage God for their fulfillment. The Mosaic covenant of Law was regarded as a contract of bilateral reciprocal conditionalism. "If we do this, God is obliged to do this for us. If God does this, we will worship Him." The legalistic rules and regulations of human performance were regarded as human contingencies of God's activity.
In this context the Palestinian liberationists of the seventh decade of the first century A.D. were attempting to garner support for their revolt against Roman rule, and they wanted the Jewish Christians to join their cause. They might have been saying: "This land is our land. We have exclusive rights, as God's special covenant people, to rule ourselves in our own land, and to reestablish the Jewish religion, as it ought to be. Then, we will do what is right before God, and God will continue to bless us as He promised." These insurrectionists wanted to be assured of everyone's participation in this revolutionary endeavor, and were probably pressuring all the ethnic population of Palestine, including the Jewish Christians, to make a commitment to "sign on" to their "social contract" of liberation that would assuredly result in the renewal of the privileges of God's covenant with the Hebrew people.
Such an historical context allows us to understand why Paul was explaining to the Judean Christians that there was no reason for them to revert back to the Judaic religion, or to engage in the political aspirations of the Zealot revolutionaries to restore Judaic rights and regulations. Paul emphasized to his Christian brethren that as Christians, united with the Spirit of the living Lord Jesus, they were already participating in the "new covenant of God's unilateral action of grace. As Christians, they had an entirely new orientation to God's law, for the law was now a personified provision indwelling them as the Spirit of Christ was available to manifest God's character in their behavior. The Judaic priesthood in the temple in Jerusalem had been superseded by the continuing and eternal priesthood of Christ's heavenly intercession for Christians, whereby He provides and enables everything necessary for the Christian life and Christian worship. Paul wanted the Christians of Palestine to recognize that Jesus is "the better minister of the new covenant."
8:1 The little Jewish lawyer knew how to emphasize his point by using legal and rhetorical methods to bring people's attention back to the central issue. "Now the main point concerning the things being stated" in the foregoing arguments of chapter 7 concerning the permanent and perpetual priesthood of Jesus is that the intercessory priesthood of Jesus continues as the vital dynamic of the Christian life. The headline (the Greek word is derived from kephale, meaning "head"), the primary issue, the principal thing, the "main point" to be emphasized is the ongoing priesthood of the living Lord Jesus. Paul is not summarizing. He is emphasizing.
"We have such a high priest, who has sat down at the right of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens," Previously Paul had written, "For it was fitting for us that we should have such a high priestexalted above the heavens" (7:26). "Such a high priest" was just what we needed, and since we have "such a high priest" we do not need another. There was no need to attempt to restore the high priesthood of Judaism, as the revolutionaries were promoting. There was no need to seek a high priest in speculation about the reinstitution of the priesthood in the future. We presently "have such a high priest" in the person of the risen Lord Jesus who is sufficiently encouraging, sympathizing, sustaining, protecting and empowering the Christians in whom He lives. He is serving, ministering and working as high priest to perform all that God wants to do in Christian lives.
Jesus "has sat down at the right hand" of God. Paul referred to this fact in the introduction of this epistle (1:3), and will do so again on two more occasions (10:12; 12:2) in this letter. These all seem to draw from the imagery of Psalm 110:1 where "the Lord says to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand'." This is the very context of the text that Paul has been emphasizing from Psalm 110:4 concerning the priesthood of Jesus (cf. 5:6,10; 6:20; 7:11-28). The Judaic priests of the Aaronic and Levitical priesthoods never "sat down." There was no place to sit in the Holy Place or the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem temple. The "mercy-seat" (Exod. 25:17-22; Heb. 9:5) was not a place for the high priest to be seated. The old covenant priests were always standing. Their work was never done, as they engaged in their repetitive priestly performances. The figurative language of Jesus "taking His seat at the right hand of God" indicates that He had completed His sacrificial work as priest, and could be seated to continue to function within His "finished work" (cf. Jn. 19:30), continuing His priestly ministry as intercessory advocate (cf. I Jn. 2:1) and empowering agent (cf. Matt. 26:64). That He is seated at God's 'right hand" indicates an operational empowering, for the one who was the "right hand man" of an authority figure had the power to implement His dictates. "All authority is given to Me on heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18), Jesus declared prior to His ascension. The triumphant Christus Victor2 had received His crowning affirmation to assume His royal priesthood. "We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens," Paul wrote earlier (4:14), and we can "therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace" (4:16), where Christ functions as priest in conjunction with the great and eminent Majesty of God the Father.
This continuing transcendent priesthood of Jesus "in the heavens" is the "main point" that Paul is driving home to his readers. In the midst of their ostracism and persecution at the hands of their Jewish kinsmen, they were being tempted by the liberationists to seek an earthly king to rule them in Palestine, and a rejuvenation of the physical high priesthood for the repetitive sacrifices in the temple. To forestall this reversionism, Paul reminds the Palestinian Christians that "we presently have a high priest, the living Lord Jesus, who has finished His sacrificial work, and now functions as the divine King-Priest in the heavens." There is a purposed contrast between the earthly priests functioning in the physical and tangible temple in Jerusalem and the transcendent priest, Jesus Christ, functioning "in the heavens." Such a quasi-spatial differentiation is not to be dismissed as an antiquated concept of a "two-story universe," but is to be understood as the comparative superiority of the divine, eternal priesthood of Christ, beyond all space-time cosmological, geographical, and historical limitations of human priesthoods.
8:2 The risen and living Lord Jesus who now serves as transcendent high priest in the heavens is "a minister in the sanctuary," The word for "minister" is not the same Greek word, diakoneo, used in 1:14 of the angels as "ministering spirits" and in 6:10 of the Hebrew Christians "having ministered and still ministering to the saints." Here Paul uses the Greek word leitourgos, from which the English word "liturgy" is derived. This word refers to the continuing functional activity of Jesus Christ as a priestly ministrant or a temple liturgist attending to His intercessory work. He is doing so "in the sanctuary," in the "holy places" of God's presence where He is "seated at the right hand of God." When Ezekiel made his prophecy of a new, everlasting "covenant of peace," God spoke through him, saying, "I will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place will be with them The nations will know that I am the God who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever" (Ezek. 37:26-28). Jesus ministers as the priestly liturgist in the "sanctuary" of God's presence, which is not located in some far away cosmological location or in an elevated place far above where we now live, but in the heavenly place (cf. Jn. 14:2) and presence of God where all Christians have access "to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus" (10:19).
In synonymous parallelism, Paul indicates that Jesus serves as priest "in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord erected, not man." The physical tabernacle in the old covenant was a temporary tent set-up or pitched in various locations as the Israelites moved from place to place. It was a portable worship place where the Aaronic and Levitical priests served in representing the people before God. In contrast, Paul explains that Jesus is the temple priest in the holy place and Holy of Holies of "the true tabernacle." By referring to the "true" or "real" tabernacle, Paul is not implying that the tabernacle of the old covenant was a "false" tabernacle, but only contrasting the superiority of Christ's priestly work in the reality of God's eternal, spiritual, and heavenly presence with the temporary, transient, preliminary, and imperfect function of the priests in the earthly tabernacle-tent. The heavenly and eternal tabernacle is divinely set-up by the very presence of God, and not a temporary tent erected by man, thinking that the God of the universe could be enclosed in the parameters of a partitioned place. "The Lord of heaven and earth does not dwell in temples made with hands," Paul declared in Athens (Acts 17:24). Later he will write in this epistle, "Christ appeared as high priest" to function in "the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, not of this creation" (9:14). "For He did not enter a holy place made with hands, but into heaven itself, to appear in the presence of God for us" (9:24). Several commentators have attempted to explain Christ's ministry in the tabernacle as  the historical incarnational tabernacling of Jesus in a physical body (cf. Jn. 1:14; II Pet. 1:13,14), or  the Spirit of Christ dwelling spiritually within Christian believers (cf. Rom. 8:9; Eph. 3:17; Col. 3:16; Rev. 21:3), or  Christ's dwelling in the Body of Christ, the Church (cf. I Cor. 3:16; II Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21,22), but all of these interpretive options seem to import ideas not present in this text or its context. The living Lord Jesus continues to function as intercessory priest in the "sanctuary" and "true tabernacle" of God's heavenly presence, which cannot be circumscribed by any place or location. This will be developed more fully in 9:11-28.
8:3 The contrast of Christ's priesthood with the Judaic priesthoods is continued. "For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices;" This is essentially the same statement made in 5:1 (cf. comments), and the same idea will be referred to in 9:9 and 10:11. The Jewish high priests (which might be generically inclusive of all Judaic priests) repetitively and continuously offered a plurality of gifts and sacrifices (the differentiation of which should not be unduly pressed).
Correlatively, "hence the necessity to have something which this One (Christ as high priest) should offer." Since priests are known to make sacrifices for sins, there is a logical necessity that Jesus, as priest, should have something to offer. This "he did once and for all when He offered up Himself" (7:27; cf. 9:14,25,26,28; 10:12). The multiple "gifts and sacrifices" are replaced by a single sacrifice in the death of Jesus Christ. The repetitive sacrifices of the Jewish priests become a single, "once and for all" (cf. 7:27; 9:12, 27, 28) sacrifice in the crucifixion of Jesus that completed and "finished" (cf. Jn. 19:30) all sacrificial necessity, taking the death consequences for the sins of all men for all time, and allowing Christ to function forever in His priestly ministry of intercession for the restoration of humanity.
8:4 Reiteratively (cf. 7:13), Paul states, "For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since those priests are offering the gifts according to the Law." Obviously this does not mean that Jesus was not "on earth," for He did come to earth incarnated as a man (cf. Phil. 2:6-8). The statement means that "if (as is not the case) Jesus was meant to function as an earthly and physical Judaic priest, He would be ineligible and disqualified, since those Judaic priests offering gifts according to the Mosaic Law were required to be from the family of Aaron or the tribe of Levi, and Jesus was descended from Judah (7:14)."
8:5 The Jewish priests are those "who serve as an example and a shadow of the heavenly things." In their temple ministry the old covenant priests served as examples (cf. 4:11) or copies (cf. 9:23); the pictorial pre-figuring that provided a sample and a sketch of what God had predetermined to do in the redemptive and restorative work of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Judaic priesthood and the Law (10:1) were but a "shadow" that foreshadowed the reality that was to be effected in Christ. Paul used the same word when writing to the Colossians, explaining that the old covenant festivals and Sabbath days were "a shadow of what was to come, but the substance belongs to Christ" (Col. 2:17). The substance of God's intent was the reality of Christ's eternal priestly ministry of "heavenly things" while "seated at God's right hand in the heavenlies" (cf. Eph. 1:20; 2:6). The imperfect procedures of the old covenant priesthood served only as "copies of the things in the heavens" (9:23). Again (cf. 8:2), it should be noted that these "heavenly things in the heavens" do not necessarily refer to cosmological location or placement, but rather to the effectual priestly work of Christ in drawing all Christians into the presence of God (cf. 3:1; 12:22).
The present tenses of the verbs describing the Jewish priests "serving" and "offering" (vs. 4) in their priestly duties, seems to indicate that the priesthood was still functioning in the temple at Jerusalem when this epistle was written, prior to 70 A.D. Paul wanted the Jerusalem Christians to know that the religious procedures taking place within the temple walls were only a preliminary sampling of the eternal and heavenly spiritual realities of the priestly ministry of Christ in their lives. There was no reason for them to even consider reverting back to the shadow-pictures of Judaism as the socio-political activists were encouraging them to do. They already had the superior provision of eternal spiritual realities in Jesus Christ.
To illustrate that the function of the priests in the tabernacle and temple were but preliminary prototype models, Paul refers to the occasion when "Moses had been warned when he was about to erect the tabernacle;" Although Bezalel (cf. Exod. 31:2; 35:30; 36:1,2; 38:22) was actually the construction supervisor for the tabernacle, he constructed it under the authority of Moses. God had warned Moses, "saying, 'SEE THAT YOU MAKE ALL THINGS ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN HAVING BEEN SHOWN TO YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN'." This quotation from Exodus 25:40 was utilized by Paul to document that the old covenant priesthood in the tabernacle was but a "pattern" or a "type" (the Greek word is tupos, from which we derive the English word "type," which is the translation in Romans 5:14) of the heavenly priesthood of Jesus. Some have speculated that God showed Moses a model or a "blueprint" of the prescribed tabernacle, either in tangible form or as a mental image, while on Mt. Sinai. This would add another prior "copy" to the sequence of tabernacles. More likely, Paul is keying off of the words "type" and "copy" (or "example") to emphasize the well-known Jewish interpretation that the tangible tabernacle and temple of Judaism were but representative of the heavenly presence and dwelling of God. In the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon, Solomon says, "You commanded me to build a temple on Your holy mountain, a copy of the sacred tabernacle which You prepared from the very first" (9:8). Philo, the Jewish commentator and philosopher from Alexandria (c. 20 B.C. 50 A.D.), wrote, "We ought to look upon the universal world as the highest and truest temple of God, having for its most holy place that most sacred part of the essence of all existing things, namely, the heaven"3 Still, Paul's documentary quotation seems somewhat convoluted. In fact, Exodus 25:40 seems to refer to the superiority of the Mosaic tabernacle, based on revealed heavenly realities, whereas Paul seems to be using it to refer to the inferiority of the Mosaic tabernacle, based on revealed heavenly realities in Christ. But the point Paul is making is quite evident: the tabernacle and the temple of the Old Testament were used by God as a preliminary pictorial pattern, a preparatory pre-figuring paradigm, of the perfect, permanent and perpetual priesthood of Jesus Christ in the heavenly presence of God. Why would the Judean Christians want to revert back to pictures and patterns of religious priesthood when the reality of Christ's functional priesthood was operative in them by the Spirit?
8:6 "But now," logically and chronologically, "He" (Jesus) "has obtained a more excellent ministry," By the sacrificial "offering of Himself" (7:27), setting in motion His "finished work" (cf. Jn. 19:30), Jesus has obtained (cf. 11:25) a superior and eternally effectual priestly ministry of expressing the grace of God intercessorily in Christian lives. Everything that is legitimately called "Christian" is made operative by the high priestly intercession of the Spirit of Christ, whether it is prayer, worship, fellowship, service, the expression of divine character in the behavior of Christians, etc. The "more excellent" priestly ministry of the risen Lord is the eternally effectual dynamic of Christianity.
This is integrally related, "inasmuch as He (Christ) is also mediator of a better covenant," The eternal priesthood of Jesus takes place in the context of a superior unilateral covenant arrangement between God and man, "put through" by God's grace initiative in His Son, Jesus Christ. A "mediator" is one who "stands in the middle," in this case between God and man, to negotiate or effect the terms of a covenant. Writing to Timothy, Paul referred to "the one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus" (I Tim. 2:5). As the God-man mediator, Jesus could represent both parties in order to reconcile man with God. But "having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Rom. 5:10). Jesus is not just the historic redemptive mediator between God and man, but He is presently the dynamic "mediator of the new covenant" (9:15; 12:24). The eternal Christ continues to mediate the new covenant in the sense of being the effecter, the enactor, the energizer, the facilitator, the implementer, the actuator, the guarantor (7:22) of this new and final covenant between God and man, the integral reality and activity of which is inherent in His own Being, and does not function without Him. This is a "better covenant" because it has superseded the old Mosaic covenant with its legally mandated priesthoods, replacing it with a covenant arrangement wherein God's grace is operative in the redemptive and restorative activity of Jesus Christ.
This better covenant is one "which has been enacted on better promises." The new covenant has been rightfully and properly established in accord with God's character. What, then, are the "better promises" which underlie and are intrinsic within the new covenant? If these are "better promises," what are they better than? Are they "better promises" than those offered in the Abrahamic covenant of promise? No, for Paul explained that what we have in Christ is the fulfillment of the promises of God to Abraham (cf. Rom. 4:1-25; Gal. 3:15-29). Are these "better promises" than were available in the old Mosaic covenant of Law (cf. Exod. 29:45,46; 34:6,7)? Yes, in the sense that the spiritual provision for the fulfillment of the promises made to Moses was not inherent in the performance-oriented stipulations of the Law, and only the dynamic provision of God's grace in Jesus Christ allows for the fulfillment of God's promises to restore mankind. The "better promises" are certainly to be interpretatively aligned with those made through Jeremiah concerning forgiveness, the internal reality of the law, and the personal relationship with God in the new covenant (Jere. 31:31-34; quoted in the following verses of 8:8-12). And within the historical context of this epistle, the "better promises" of this final and ultimate "better covenant" in Jesus Christ were certainly better than the false promises of the Zealot nationalists who were promising the restoration of the benefits of the old covenant Law and priesthoods nothing but vacuous promises concerning a covenant that could not produce what it promised. Since "all the promises of God are fulfilled in Jesus Christ" (II Cor. 1:20), and the Judean Christians had, by receiving Christ in faith, become "heirs according to promise" (Gal. 3:29), to "receive the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Heb. 9:15), there was nothing "better" to receive that the fulfillment of the promises of Christ's "more excellent priestly ministry" in their lives.
8:7 Returning to the inadequacy of the old Mosaic covenant compared to the complete sufficiency of the new covenant, Paul argues, "For if that first (covenant) was faultless, no place for a second would have been sought." This is essentially the same logic that Paul had expressed concerning the imperfection of the priesthood in 7:11. Paul is logically defending and documenting his assertion of a "better covenant" (vs. 6) in Jesus Christ. "If (as was not the case) that first covenant (cf. 9:15), that old Mosaic covenant of Law (cf. Ps. 78:10), had not been faulty, flawed and defective in its functional provision If the covenant of Sinai had not been inadequate, ineffective and impotent to provide what man required for restoration to God's intended objective for mankind If the covenant of Law could have led man to God's perfect end (which it could not; cf. 7:19), then there would have been no need or occasion to look for and seek a second or subsequent covenant." But the Mosaic covenant was preliminary, provisional, and preparatory, intended to be pro tempore (for a temporary period of time) with planned obsolescence, because there was no functional provision whereby man could perform behaviorally in accord with God's character.
8:8 The inadequacy of the old covenant to provide the functional ability to behave as God intended is evident, "For finding fault, He (God) says to them (the Hebrew people), 'BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD, AND I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH;'" Did God "find fault" in the Hebrew people, or in the basic nature of the old covenant itself that He had unilaterally established? Primarily, the "fault" (same Greek root word as in previous verse 7), the inadequacy, was in the impotent inability of the Law to make men perfect (7:19). Only secondarily was there responsible fault and culpability in the Israelite people in repetitively acting unfaithfully in their covenant relationship with God (vs. 9; cf. 4:11; I Cor. 10:1-12).
Paul then proceeds to quote the prolonged passage of Jeremiah 31:31-34 from the Septuagint (LXX). This, by the way, is the longest quotation from the Old Testament within the New Testament. It is also important to consider the greater context of these words, for the prophecy of Jeremiah is decidedly Messianic. The "coming days" that God spoke of through the prophet Jeremiah had already come when Paul wrote this letter. Paul began the epistle by writing, "God, after He spoke in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son" (Heb. 1:1,2). These were also the "last days" spoken of by the prophet Joel (cf. Joel 2:38; Acts 2:16,17). The "coming days" had come in Christ! The "new covenant" had been brought into being, accomplished in the very Being of Jesus Christ, with the full provision of grace to bring God's perfect end to mankind. The "new covenant" is not the "old covenant" renewed, reconstituted, refurbished, or reformed. There is a radical replacement of the old covenant by the new covenant, a definite discontinuity between law and grace. But the "new covenant" brings all God's people, the divided houses of Israel and Judah within Hebrew history, and the ethnic division of mankind as Jew and Gentile (cf. Gal. 3:7-20; Eph. 2:11-22), into a unified covenant family, operating by the sufficient dynamic of the life and priestly ministry of Jesus Christ.
8:9 The "new covenant" that God declares He will establish is "NOT LIKE THE COVENANT I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS ON THE DAY WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND TO LEAD THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT." It is obvious that the covenant being referred to is the Mosaic covenant, for that was the covenant inaugurated at the exodus of the Israelite people from bondage in Egypt. Though both were unilateral covenants of God, the old covenant of law was "not like" the new covenant of grace in terms of their functional provision. The old covenant was purposefully temporary, comprised of externally codified rules and regulations inculcating human performance of the "works" of the Law, in order to expose the inability of the Israelite people to generate the character of God in their behavior, unto the glory of God. The new covenant, on the other hand, is eternal, comprised of the internal presence and function of the life of the risen Lord Jesus, the very Being of God in action, expressing His grace ability to manifest the character of God in Christian people, unto the glory of God. The two covenants are "not like" one another. They are opposite of each other in a polarized dichotomy of functional provision.
"FOR THEY DID NOT CONTINUE IN MY COVENANT, AND I DISREGARDED THEM, SAYS THE LORD." The Israelite people did not continue, remain, or "abide in" the conditions of the covenant that they so confidently committed themselves to perform (cf. Exod. 19:8; 24:3,7). Though they were responsible and culpable for their faithless disobedience, it simply revealed the weakness and inadequacy of the covenant of law to provide any functional dynamic for keeping the law. This entire phrase in the Septuagint takes wide latitude of liberty from, if it is not a gross perversion of, the original Hebrew text, which reads, "They broke My covenant, even though I was a husband to them, says Jehovah." But if we take the Greek words as Paul quoted them from the Septuagint, we must carefully note that the word that describes God's response to the disobedience of the Hebrew people is capable of a wide variety of meanings. Etymologically it means, "to have no care about," but it can be translated "to disregard," "to pay no attention to" (cf. Matt. 22:5), "to neglect" (cf. Heb. 2:3), "to be disinterested or disgusted," or even "to reject, abandon, or give up on." Since Paul, in his letter to the Romans, asked the question, "God has not rejected His people, has He?", and then responded, "May it never be!" (Romans 11:1), it is not likely that Paul considered God's response to Israel to be that of rejection. Rather, it is more likely that Paul thought that God had "disregarded" the Hebrew people, that by regarding them as having served His prefiguring purpose. Now, in conjunction with all the rest of mankind, for "God is not one to show partiality" (Acts 10:34), the Jewish people have the same opportunity to receive Jesus Christ and participate in the new covenant as anyone else.
8:10 "FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD;" In the Hebrew text the word for "making" a covenant is the Hebrew word for "cutting" a covenant, hearkening back to the ancient practice of the sacrificial "cutting" of a "blood covenant" .4 In the case of the "new covenant" the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in "offering Himself" (7:27) serves as the defining unilateral establishment of God's final, eternal covenant with mankind. The "house of Israel" was used as an inclusive reference to the "people of God." In the "new covenant" the "people of God" are all Christians who have received Jesus Christ as their life. To the Romans, Paul explained, "they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel" (Rom. 9:6), for all who are in Christ are God's people (Rom. 9:25). The "Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16) is now the community of Christians in whom "God rules" (yisra-el, the Hebrew word for Israel, seems to have an etymological meaning of "God rules") through the Lordship of Jesus Christ. During the very time that Paul wrote this epistle to the Hebrew Christians in Palestine, he explained to the Christian brethren in Rome, "I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel" (Acts 28:20). In other words, Paul regarded Jesus Christ, and his own participation "in Christ", to be the fulfillment of "the hope of Israel" everything that Israel was promised and expected. The "new covenant" would be effected "after those days;" after the preparatory and pre-figuring days of the old covenant (B.C.), when "in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, to redeem them under the Law" (Gal. 4:4,5).
The positive content of the new covenant was promised by God through Jeremiah, "I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS, AND I WILL WRITE THEM UPON THEIR HEARTS." Here is the promise of a "change of law" that Paul indicated was necessary in 7:12, for the externally codified Law of behavioral rules and regulations "made nothing perfect" (7:19). The old covenant Law could not restore mankind to the perfect end-objective for which God had created them. But in the "new covenant", the law, which expresses the character of God, is no longer externally codified but is internally personified, as the dynamic of Christ's life becomes the functional provision to express God's character of godliness. "We have been granted everything pertaining to life and godliness" (II Pet. 1:3). The new covenant is "not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (II Cor. 3:6). The law is no longer letters engraved on stone tablets, but now in the new covenant the dynamic of deity has engraved God's presence and character upon our minds and hearts. Christians no longer have hearts that are "desperately wicked" (Jere. 17:9), but have been "given a new heart" because God has put His Spirit, the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9), into our hearts in order to cause us "to walk in His statutes and observe His commandments" (Ezek. 11:19,20; 36:26,27), i.e. to function in the expression of His character. It is important to note that this implantation of God's law in Christians is not an objectified legal imputation of Christ's law-keeping put on our account in the heavenly bookkeeping department (as has been such a prominent thought in Protestant theology). Neither is this engravature of God's law in the "inner man" (cf. Eph. 3:16) an event that is yet future for the Christian in an alleged physical millennial kingdom. The internally personified law of Jesus Christ is presently experientially operative in every Christian, allowing for the expression of godly character as Christ continues His intercessory priestly ministry in the Christian life.
Continuing to explain what would transpire in the "new covenant", God says through Jeremiah, "AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE." God's intent from the beginning was to have a covenant relationship with humanity wherein they would function by His dynamic to express His character unto His glory. "They will be My people, and I will be their God" (cf. Exod. 6:7; 29:45,46; Lev. 26:12; Deut. 26:18; Jere. 24:7; 31:33; Ezek. 11:20; 37:23). The unfaithfulness of the people of Israel, in even failing to desire such a relationship, was graphically illustrated by the prophet Hosea marrying a prostitute (representing Israel), and naming his first son, Lo-ammi, meaning "you are not My people, and I am not your God" (Hosea 1:9,10). This illustrates the "disregard" (cf. vs. 9) that God had for old covenant Israel. In the new covenant, Christians are "the people of God, a people for God's own possession" (I Pet. 2:9,10) in a covenant that is not legal and contractual, but personal and relational the continuum of which will be eternal (cf. Rev. 21:3).
8:11 In this new covenant that Jeremiah prophesied of, "THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERY ONE HIS NEIGHBOR, AND EVERY ONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, 'KNOW THE LORD,' FOR ALL SHALL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM." The essence of all human religion is an attempt on man's part to "know God," and then to tell others (their neighbors and brothers) how they might "know God." The old covenant of Judaism was a law-based religion that exhorted each generation to instruct future generations to "know God" (cf. Deut 4:9,10; 6:20-25; 11:19), by reviewing their history, and explaining their theology, and admonishing moral conformity to the Law. The new covenant of Christianity is not essentially a belief-system or a moral code that can be instructively taught, cognitively known, and behaviorally applied. It is the dynamic presence and activity of the living Lord Jesus, who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn. 14:6). Christianity is not a collection of propositions, precepts and principles, but the living Person of Jesus Christ.
Christians, within the new covenant, are those who "know God." "You have come to know God, or rather to be known by God," Paul told the Galatians (Gal. 4:9). Jesus told His disciples, "If you know Me, you know the Father" (Jn. 14:7). "This is eternal life, that they know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent" (Jn. 17:3). It is interesting to note that the Greek words for "know" are different in the first and second parts of this sentence (ginosko and eideo). Some have differentiated between a Gnostic knowing of God and a relational knowing of God, but we must not make too much of these different Greek words, since they are often used synonymously, and the two words are the same in the Hebrew text. The point of Jeremiah's prophecy seems to be that the new covenant will not be a religion based on instructional education of epistemological ideology, but will instead by an intimate relational knowing of spiritual union (cf. I Cor. 6:17) between God and man, wherein Christians are "taught of the Lord" (cf. Isa. 54:13; I Thess. 4:9) by the Spirit. Jesus told the disciples, "The Holy Spirit will teach you all things" (Jn. 14:26). "The Spirit of Truth will guide you into all truth" (Jn. 16:13). Later, the apostle John would write, "The anointing (of the Spirit) abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you, but His anointing teaches you about all things" (I Jn. 2:27). This does not mean that Christians do not need teaching from those spiritually gifted as "teachers" (cf. Rom. 12:7; Eph. 4:11), as previously noted in the need of the recipients of this epistle "for some one to teach them" (5:12). But Christians do "know God" (cf. Gal. 4:9; I Jn. 2:3), "from the least to the greatest of them," whatever their natural abilities, social strata, or spiritual maturity, and can "listen under God" (Greek word hupakouo) in obedience to be receptive to God's activity in causing them to be and to do all that He wants to be and do in them.
8:12 "FOR I WILL BE MERCIFUL TO THEIR INIQUITIES, AND I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SIN NO MORE." The unrighteousness of sin, which is contrary to and violates the character of God, has alienated (cf. Col. 1:21) man from God. The sacrifices offered by the old covenant priests could "not take away sins" (10:4), could not bring forgiveness (10:18), could not make men perfect (7:11; 10:1), and could not make men righteous (Gal. 2:21). Conversely, in the new covenant the alienation from God because of sin has been resolved in reconciliation, for "although you were formerly alienated, He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach" (Col. 1:20-22). The mercy of God in Jesus Christ extends forgiveness to mankind, no longer necessitating any more offering for sin (10:18), and "perfecting for all time those who are sanctified" (10:14) in Christ.
That God "remembers our sins no more" does not indicate that the recollection of such is erased from God's memory, for this would impinge on the omniscience of God. Nor does it mean that God is henceforth indifferent to sin, for sin is always contrary to the character of God and He hates (cf. Prov. 6:16) unrighteousness and all that is not derived from His own Being. Rather, it means that God no longer holds our sins against us, for the price and penalty of death for sin has been paid once and for all by the death of Jesus Christ, allowing for His continued "finished work" (cf. Jn. 19:30) via the ongoing priestly ministry of Jesus.
8:13 Paul adds a concluding commentary to the extended quotation just cited from Jeremiah, explaining, "When He (God) said, 'a new (covenant),' He has made the first (covenant) antiquated." When God declared through Jeremiah that there would be a "new covenant" (Jere. 31:31), this logically indicates that the first covenant, the old covenant, the Mosaic covenant of Law, is displaced and replaced when the new covenant is inaugurated. The new covenant (He Kaine Diatheke, the Greek title of "The New Testament") supersedes the old preparatory arrangement of the old covenant, which was designed with planned obsolescence. Paul was advising the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem that the old covenant was a thing of the past out-dated, antiquated, and obsolete. The old covenant had served its provisional purpose and was now untenable, invalidated and nullified. It had been "set aside" (7:18) annulled, abrogated, and abolished. There was no reason for the Palestinian Christians to seek to restore the old covenant procedures, as the zealots were promising to do as a consequence of their revolt against Rome. But, if the old covenant was cancelled by the redemptive and restorative work of Jesus Christ, the Hebrew Christians in Judea might have asked, "Why is the religion of Judaism still functioning in Palestine, and why are the Jewish priests still performing their procedures in the temple at Jerusalem?"
Paul explains that as a consequence of the already accomplished antiquation of the old covenant, "the thing being antiquated and growing old is near to disappearing." The old covenant was dying of old age. Its temporal and temporary purpose had been expended. It was no longer viable. The Greek word translated "growing old" is the word from which we derive the English word "geriatrics." The old covenant was in its "dying days." It had been superseded, and was, at the time this letter was written, being "fazed out" and eliminated. It was "near to disappearing," Paul wrote. How near? The time for the disappearance of all the religious activities of the old covenant was imminent when Paul wrote this letter. In just a few years (perhaps five or less), the whole of Palestine was destroyed, and the people who remained to fight against the Roman armies were decimated and annihilated in the Jewish wars of 66-70 A.D. The temple was demolished and laid desolate. The Jewish priesthoods vanished (cf. Lk. 24:31; James 4:14), and all Judaic practices were terminated.
Did Paul have an intuitive suspicion that the Jewish revolt against Rome was going to fail? that the entire Jewish enterprise was going to be eliminated? that a catastrophic judgment was going to come upon the Jewish rebels of Judea (as Jesus seems to have foretold; cf. Matt. 24,25)? We do not know the answers to those questions, but certainly seems to indicate that the old covenant was "on its last legs," antiquated and geriatric, and would soon meet its terminal demise and disappear.
As we study the details of this chapter, we must not lose perspective of the "big picture," the over-all theme of the eternal priesthood of Jesus. The "main point", Paul explains, is the present, on-going, continuous, and eternal priestly ministry of the living Lord Jesus Christ. And this priestly ministry transpires within the context of a relational and dynamic "new covenant" arrangement with mankind that has been unilaterally determined by God, and yet is interactive.
Paul wanted the Palestinian Christians to take their focus off of the physical practices of the Jewish priests in the physical location of the temple in Jerusalem. He wanted them to "think outside the box", so to speak, and focus on the priesthood of Jesus that is outside of time and space. God cannot be contained in a tabernacle "pitched by man" (8:2) or a "temple made with hands" (9:11). The present function of the risen Lord as intercessory priest is in the heavenlies (8:1,5), in the presence of God (9:24), where Christians are presently seated in Christ (Eph. 2:6). This is not a cosmological location or a geographical place. It is a spiritual reality, in contrast to the physical realities of the old covenant.
Christ functions on the basis of His "finished work" (cf. Jn. 19:30), having made the sufficient sinless sacrifice for the sins of all mankind (to be developed further in chapters 9 and 10), and now continuing His priestly work of intercession (7:25) as the permanent and perpetual priest of God. Jesus in us, as us, and through us is intercessorily praying our prayers (cf. Rom. 8:26,27); intercessorily worshipping the Father in our worship (cf. Jn. 4:23,24); intercessorily making the sacrifice of praise (cf. Heb. 13:15); intercessorily proclaiming Himself as the Self-revelation of God in our witness and evangelism (cf. Acts 1:8); intercessorily fellowshipping with other Christians in whom He lives (cf. I Jn. 1:3); intercessorily living out His life through us (cf. Gal. 2:20); intercessorily laying down His life for others (cf. I Jn. 3:16). The priestly ministry of Jesus, the "Son made perfect forever" (7:28), provides the divine dynamic for the "perfecting" of humanity (cf. 7:11,19; 9:9), the process of perfection that the Hebrew Christians were encouraged to pursue (6:1). The continuing priestly ministry of Jesus allows mankind to function in accord with the end-objective of God, to allow the all-glorious character of God to be expressed in His people unto His glory. And this can only happen when Deity is functioning within humanity, when Christ is living out His life in Christians. "He who began a good work in you will perfect it" (Phil. 1:6). The continuous and eternal priestly ministry of Jesus is the dynamic of all Christian reality and activity!
Within the new covenant priesthood of Jesus the concept of "law" has been radically changed (7:12). The law is no longer an externally codified inculcation for performance "works" of conformity to the prescribed rules and regulations. Rather, the "law is put into our minds and written on our hearts" (8:10; 10:16) in an internally personified (Jesus) provision of the grace expression of God's character. These concepts of "law" and "covenant" are antithetically juxtaposed one to the other.
In a law-based, legal and contractual concept of covenant there is the bilateral "bargaining power" of an "If...then..." conditionalism. "If you do this, then God will love you, or bless you." "If God does this, then I will serve Him." Such conditional terms of performance and meritorious action provide the basis for "legalism." The imperatives become a contingency for the indicatives. The "performance imperatives" (what some might call "categorical imperatives") indicate the willingness to engage in reciprocated action. Based on the performance of such imperatives one has "rights" of expectation, or even of leverage for the performance of the other party. Obedience is regarded as the obligatory performance conformity to the prescribed rulers and regulations, the principles and precepts of the Law.
In a grace-based, relational and ontological perspective of covenant the unilateral covenant concept is retained, while still allowing for interactive responsibility. The contractual "If...then..." stipulations are displaced by the "I AMI will" of God's declaration and active sufficiency. "I AM God, and I will act out of My own Being, consistent with My own Being." The ontological dynamic of divine grace still allows for human receptivity of God's activity in faith. The indicative of God's presence and function provide the context for the imperatives. "God is the God of grace." "Jesus Christ is Lord." God acts indicative of His own Being. He does what He does, because He is who He is. Out of His own Being He acts in expression of His own character in consistent self-revelation. Because He has given Himself to man through His son, Jesus Christ, He consistently issue "grace imperatives" with the expectation of consistency with His character. He is the dynamic of His own demands. He is the expression of His own expectations. There should be no self-orientation of "What's in it for me?", nor any regard for personal "rights" by which one establishes contingencies or leverage. The other-orientation of God's love (I Jn. 4:8,16) is the basis for the love obligation of consistency with God's character. Obedience is not performance conformity to the external codes of conduct, but is an internal and relational "listening under" (Greek hupakouo) to understand the next opportunity to allow for receptivity to His activity in the "obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). Our response-ability allows for the freedom and joy of recognizing, "I can't; but He can!"
This part of the epistle was very timely for the Jerusalem Christians. The time was very near when the old covenant law and priesthood would vanish in 70 A.D. But these words are just as pertinent to Christians in every age, who are naturally prone to turn God's grace covenant into a legal contract of behavioral performance. Even the prevailing streams of contemporary theology (both Dispensation theology and Covenant theology) have a tendency to drift into fallacious concepts of covenant, law and priesthoods. The need of the hour is to recognize that the vital dynamic of all Christian life, activity and ministry is the continuing and eternal intercessory priesthood of the living Christ.
H. Clay, The Blood Covenant: A Primitive Rite and Its Bearing