12 – The Offered High Priest

The high priests who were under the Sinai covenant could not come before God without offerings for the sins of themselves and the people. But it was different with Jesus. When Jesus was presented before the “Majesty in the heavens,” He too had to come with an offering. It was “necessary that this high priest [Jesus] also have something to offer.”8:3 However, it was not “offerings” in the plural, but in the singular, for He offered Himself once for all time. And it was not an offering for His own sins, for He was without sin.

The earthly priests “served a copy and shadow of heavenly things,”8:5 and thus their function was an illustration of that which was to come after them. They were in preparation for that which casts the shadow. And that which casts the shadow was the offering of Jesus on the cross. The insufficiency of their offerings and priesthood exemplified the necessity of the offering of Jesus that was yet to come.

Moses was instructed that he “make all things according to the pattern”8:5 (Ex 25:40). The “pattern” was for the tabernacle and the order of priesthood for Aaron and his sons. If the pattern was not followed, then the people would have been confused concerning the substance that was to come. The people would have had a distorted view of the “excellent ministry” of Jesus and His offering. Their function according to the pattern was maintained in order to present a true understanding of the substance that was to come. For this reason, therefore, we understand that the pattern for priesthood that was given at Mt. Sinai was not from man, but from God.

In chapter 7 Jesus was the guarantee of a better covenant.”7:22   In chapter 8 He is the mediator of a better covenant.”8:6   God’s personal oath that established Jesus as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek guaranteed the better covenant that we now have with God. Because of this guarantee, “He has obtained a more excellent ministry”8:6 of mediatorship of a new covenant. “Therefore, He is able also to save those to the uttermost who come to God through Him, seeing He always lives to make intercession ….”7:25 And since “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” then we do not hesitate to approach God through Jesus Christ (1 Tm 2:5). There is absolutely no other medium through whom men must approach God (At 4:12).

The expectation of the Israelites was encouraged by one very important fact concerning the conditions for keeping the first covenant. In order to keep the covenant, and in order to find redemption through animal sacrifices, the conditions of the covenant had to be kept perfectly. But the people knew that this was an impossibility. In reference to the law of the covenant, the people knew “that a man is not justified by works of law” (Gl 2:16).   One cannot be justified by perfect keeping of law simply because it is impossible for any man to live perfectly under law. All sin (Rm 3:23). And one sin makes a lawbreaker, and a violator of the conditions of the covenant.

So the Hebrew writer introduces his readers to the “fault” of the law of the Sinai covenant. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for the second.”8:7 This statement might lead us to conclude that there was a problem both with the covenant and the law by which the people were to live in order to keep the covenant.   But this would be a wrong conclusion.   We must not conclude that there was any fault with either. On the contrary, “the [Sinai law] is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Rm 7:12). The Sinai law and covenant were perfect for what they were designed to accomplish.

Paul explained, The law was our headmaster to bring us [Jews] to Christ so that we might be justified by faith” (Gl 3:24). One of the purposes of the Sinai law was to preserve the faithful of Israel until the coming of the Redeemer. When that to which Israel was brought finally arrived, then there was a change.   Paul continued, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a headmaster (Gl 3:25).   The headmaster (the law) served its purpose. And once the purpose was fulfilled, then there was no more a need for the Sinai law.

The fault was not with the law, but with the people who were under the law. There was no possible way for them to justify themselves through perfect law-keeping, though the Jews were to keep the law as best they could until it had accomplished its purpose (See Gl 2:16).

The Hebrew writer clarified the problem of the Jews’ efforts to keep the law: “For finding fault with them,” he explained, “… the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant ….”8:8 The fault was with the people who could not live sinlessly under the law. Regardless of what law God would give to man, we must understand that no law is given by God for the purpose of producing salvation. On the contrary, law in and of itself brings death, for no one can keep law perfectly in order to justify himself before God.

The reason law cannot produce salvation is because those to whom the law is given are at fault. Those who lived under the Sinai law knew this. And for this reason, Paul reasoned with some Jews on his first mission journey that by Jesus “all who believe are justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses (At 13:39).

There should be no difficultly in understanding the Holy Spirit’s argument on this main point. Since there is no justification under law through perfect obedience, then there is no salvation under law alone. Something else is needed to maintain our covenant relationship with God. A new law and covenant were needed. And that which was needed with law was an eternal atoning sacrifice that was sufficient to continue redemption to those who violate law.

Since the honest sinners under the Sinai law knew this, they groaned for deliverance from law in order to be justified by mercy and grace. Several centuries after the giving of the Sinai law, and the failure of those who lived under that law who were on their way into Babylonian captivity because they lived contrary to the law, God promised through Jeremiah, “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah ….”8:8 (See Jr 31:31).

At the time the Hebrew writer penned the above quotation from Jeremiah 31, the spiritual relief had already come through Jesus. The new covenant came with Jesus. And with the new covenant, there came a new law. So the writer concluded with the following statement: “‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete.”8:13   At the time he wrote these words, the old was “becoming obsolete and growing old.”8:13 It was “ready to vanish away.”8:13

At the time the letter of Hebrews was written, the old Sinai law had years before been nailed to the cross in A.D. 30.   The new covenant was in force.   However, at the time he wrote, the priests of the Sinai law were continuing to “offer gifts according to the law.”8:4 But this ministry of offering the blood of bulls and goats was also about to conclude within less than a decade after the letter of Hebrews was written. The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 would bring a total end to the Sinai priesthood ministry in that the temple and the altar would be completely destroyed.   The Jewish priesthood would be either killed in the destruction or dispersed throughout the world as slaves of the Roman Empire.

We conclude, therefore, that a subliminal purpose for the writing of the letter of Hebrews was to save lives, particularly the lives of those Christian Jews in Jerusalem who persisted in continuing the offering of the sacrifices at the temple altar (See At 21:17-25). The writer pleads his case for Jesus in order to discourage the first Jewish recipients throughout the Roman Empire from going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and to participate in the offerings that had long vanished away in Christ (See Gl 3:26-29).

God gave the Jews forty years to transition from the cross in A.D. 30 to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The death of the covenant and law came with the establishment of the new high priest in heaven. It was now time for all Israel to flee from all the shadows of God’s covenant with national Israel that was established 1445 years before at Mount Sinai.   The historical statement of God in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was that His covenant and law with national Israel were over. Through the Hebrew writer, God was telling potential apostate Jewish Christians not to turn back to that which will physically terminate in the destruction of Jerusalem.10:39


[Next lecture:  December 25]

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