Meditations in Hebrews 8: 36. The Heavenly ‘Sanctuary’
Heb 8:1,2 The point of what we are saying is this: 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.
Continuity: We always try to understand the continuity or flow of argument as a book moves on chapter by chapter. The writer feels he needs to emphasise where he’s got to in this somewhat complex theology: “The point of what we are saying is this:” (v.1a) The link to the present argument goes back to v.24-26 where he declared, “because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need–one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” I have underlined the key words.
Jesus the Intercessor: These words put Jesus above any existing priesthood: he is eternal and he lives in heaven where he intercedes on our behalf to the Father: “We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,” (v.1b) The apostle John was later to write, “if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) Our present writer now reconfirms where Jesus is, that he is able to do this: “and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.” (v.2) He wants to draw a parallel while making a distinction between the old priesthood and Jesus. “the true tabernacle” obviously refers to heaven so while the human priesthood had operated in an earthly man-constructed tabernacle (and later Temple), Jesus operates from within heaven.
Distinctions: But then he says something which at first sight appears confusing but then you realise he is again emphasizing the distinction between the heavenly ministry and the earthly ministry: “Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer.” (v.3) Now this is quite significant because as he looks back on the earthly priesthood, he realises that its entire function was to bring people to God in an acceptable manner according to the Law, and that was by presenting sacrifices for sins and offerings to maintain fellowship. That’s what the earthly priesthood did.
But then he turns to Jesus: “If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law.” (v.4) The temptation is to rush on by but each of these verses is significant in what it says. If Jesus was back on earth, there would be no need or no point in him bringing offerings because the existing priesthood was already doing that.
Representatives or Reflections: That priesthood and their function though, were simply doing something that reflected what goes on in heaven – what Jesus has done. “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” (v.5 quoting Ex 25:40) The Tabernacle design originated in heaven, it was God (or His angels) who conveyed it to Moses and it is supposed to be a simple representation on earth of what goes on in heaven.
This is a big thing to understand. The sacrifices for sin were a physical representation of what Jesus has done; they pointed forward. The destruction of the Temple in AD70 by the Romans after the Jewish revolt, may have been allowed by God because the reality is that it was no longer needed and this book is the treatise that should have convinced the Jews that sacrifices (which is what the Temple was all about) were no longer needed because of what Jesus had achieved.
A Superior Covenant: The writer is relentless in pursing his argument. “But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.” (v.6) He is about to embark on a fresh path of application of Old Testament scriptures, which we will start to look at in the next study, but his point or purpose is laid out here in verse 6. The key words are ‘ministry and ‘covenant’ and so he will be pointing out that there already actually was a second covenant highlighted in the Old Testament (the first covenant being that established on Mount Sinai (Ex 19-23) and Jesus mediates or applies that second covenant which is a much superior covenant.
Why is it superior? Because of what God promised in it. If you have never walked this particular path before you are about the enter a new world of wonders. This is the covenant that you and I live by and we do it because God promised it in the Old Testament. Jesus died to establish the basis of it, and then the Holy Spirit administers it. We are about to embark on a journey which is easier going than the recent ones, but which in many ways is more profound and more wonderful. Stay with me.