Hebrews Chapter 8

Series: Hebrews Commentary


Chapter 8



“The writer to the Hebrews has finished describing the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek in all its glory.  He has described it as the priesthood which is forever; the priesthood that God confirmed with an oath; the priesthood that is founded on personal greatness and not on any legal appointment or racial qualification; the priesthood which death cannot touch; the priesthood which is able to offer a sacrifice that never needs to be repeated; the priesthood which is so pure that it has no necessity to offer sacrifice for any sins of its own.  Now he makes and underlies his great claim.  ‘It is’ he says, ‘a priest precisely like that that we have in Jesus’ (8:1) (William Barclay p. 86).   Verses 3-5 point out that Christ occupies a much higher position and serves as high priest in the realm of true spiritual realities while the Levitical priests served in the “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (4-5). 


“Having set forth the superiority of Christ to prophets, angels, Moses, and Aaron, the epistle now considers how this leads to the inescapable conclusion that Christ as the believer’s high priest performs an incomparably better priestly ministry.  This ministry operates from a better covenant, in a superior sanctuary, and with an offering whose efficacy is beyond question” (Kent p. 145). 


At this point it appears that the Holy Spirit switches from Jesus’ priestly office, which He has abundantly proven (4:14-7:28), to His more excellent service in that office.  Three reasons are presented to prove that His ministry is superior to that of the Levitical priests:  1.  Because this ministry involves a better covenant (8:6).  2.  Jesus serves in a superior sanctuary (9:1ff).  3.  And because Jesus offers a sacrifice whose efficacy is beyond question (10:1ff).


8:1 “Now the main point in what has been said is this”:  “The crowning point” (Rhm).  “The chief or main point, the principal thing” (Thayer).  “The pith of all that we have been saying is this” (Mon).   “The main point to remember is that Christ ministers in the heavenly sanctuary and not in an earthly tabernacle made with hands” (Wilson p. 95).  “Not only is Christ personally, as a high priest, above the sons of Aaron, but the service and ordinances of the covenant to which His high priesthood belongs are better than those of that to which they belong” (Alford p. 1514).   “The author is not just providing a summation of previous material, but is picking out the main point of the discussion presently being conducted” (Kent p. 146).  Notice how the Holy Spirit helps us understand the revelation that is being given, if there is a main point, then He points it out. 


8:1 “We have such a high priest”:  Such as the one described in 7:26.  The ideal high priest has been described and that ideal priest is not a product of fantasy or wishful thinking, rather we actually do have such a high priest!  If men were to describe the ideal mediator between God and man, they would simply describe the qualities that Jesus already possesses and exercises. “Who has taken His seat”:  This emphasizes the present operation of Christ’s priesthood on the believer’s behalf.  He is not still making a sacrifice, rather He is seated and ruling (1:3; 10:12-13).  We should note that this is something that the Levitical priests never did while serving; rather, they stood day by day offering the same sacrifices (10:11).  “Both seated and serving, therefore, our Lord is contrasted with the temporal high priests who found no chair within the holy of holies, thus was never permitted to remain except for a short period of time” (Coffman p. 166).  In other passages, this sitting down also includes the idea of ruling (Acts 2:30; Isaiah 9:7; Luke 1:32).  This also denotes that His sacrificial work is finished.  “Jesus’ session at God’s right hand is indicative that He is an exalted and kingly High Priest” (Reese p. 125). 


The Premillennial idea is that Jesus is not presently ruling as King and will only rule when He comes again and establishes an earthly kingdom for 1000 years,  yet Jesus is both a Priest and a King at the same time (Zechariah 6:12-13; Psalm 110:4), if He is not ruling as King then how can He be ministering as Priest?   Jesus is presently seated and ruling on David’s throne (Acts 2:30), for David’s throne and God’s throne were synonymous in the Old Testament (1 Kings 2:12; 1 Chronicles 29:23).


8:1 “At the right hand of the throne”:  If Psalm 110:4 is presently fulfilled in Jesus then so is verse 110:1. “Of the Majesty in the heavens”:  1:3.  “Infinitely above all other priests in this one grand respect, He exercises His priesthood in heaven, not in the earthly ‘holiest place’.  The Levitical high priest, even when they entered the holiest once a year, only stood for a brief space before the symbol of God’s throne; but Jesus sits on the throne of the Divine Majesty in the heaven itself, and this forever” (Wilson p. 95).  This priest does not minister far from God, like earthly priests, but is at the right hand of God.


“Behind the current presentation, there is an implication that one reason some readers were tempted to return to the Old Jewish system was that they could actually see they had a priest who functioned on their behalf at the altar and in the sanctuary?  Were some of the potential defectors thinking, ‘Has anyone ever actually seen Jesus doing His high priestly work?’” (Reese pp. 124-125).


8:2 “A minister in the sanctuary”: The term sanctuary (hagion) means a sacred thing or spot.  It is a term used of the entire earthly sanctuary (tabernacle 9:1), and both compartments within that tabernacle (9:2-3).  Finally, it is also used, both here and in Hebrews 9:24, of heaven itself.  “Like the Old Testament priest entered a very holy place in order to minister, in a similar fashion, Jesus has entered and officiates in the very presence of God.  There is no holier place than that!” (Reese p. 125). “And in the true tabernacle”:  We should note that the earthly tabernacle was something planned by God (Exodus 25-40), hence the term “true” here does not mean true as opposed to false.  Rather, here the term “true” means “ideal, genuine” (Vine p. 158).  “Perfect and substantial, as opposed to the imperfect and unsubstantial” (Milligan p. 218).  The idea is that the tabernacle and its two compartments were only types of far more important heavenly realities.  The holy of holies was a figure of heaven, and the holy place was a figure of the New Testament Church. “Which the Lord pitched, not man”:  As noted above, the tabernacle in the wilderness was planned by God (8:5), yet human hands put it together; such is not the case with heaven.


  • The Holy of holies was a figure of heaven, with the mercy seat being a figure of God’s throne (Exodus 25:22; Leviticus 16:14-16; Hebrews 9:12; 4:16).
  • The first compartment, the holy place, is a figure of the New Testament Church.  Both are called the “house of God” (1 Samuel 1:7; 2:22; 1 Timothy 3:15).  Both are called the “temple of God” (Zechariah 6:12-13; 1 Corinthians 3:16).  God dwelled in both (Exodus 40:34-35; 2 Chronicles 6:2; 7:15-16; Ephesians 2:19-22).  The tabernacle was called the “tent of meeting” (Exodus 29:42), and God and man “meet” in Christ (Ephesians 2:16).
  • In the first compartment the priests continually ministered.  In comparison, the church is a kingdom of ministering priests (1 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 13:15).
  • Before the priests could enter and serve in the tabernacle, they were required to wash in the laver (Exodus 30:18-21).  Before one today can serve God, they also must be washed in the laver of regeneration (baptism) (Titus 3:5; Hebrews 10:22; Acts 2:38,41,47).
  •  The tabernacle was sprinkled with blood (Hebrews 9:19-21); the Church was purchased with the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28).
  • The tabernacle and temple were built according to a divine pattern (Exodus 25:9; 1 Chronicles 28:12-19), as is the Church (Ephesians 3:10-11).
  • The Lord pitched the true tabernacle, the Church was built by Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18).
  • Christ ministers in the holy of holies (heaven), while Jesus is pictured as ministering over the house of God (Hebrews 3:6; 10:21).
  • The only way into the holy of holies was first through the holy place.  The only way into heaven is through the Church (the body of Christ) (Ephesians 5:23). 


8:3 “For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices”:  The very purpose of such an office is to offer sacrifices.  A similar description is given in 5:1.  “The two terms apparently denote the categories of voluntary thank offerings and required sacrifices for sin.  Inasmuch as the offering of sacrifices is the very essence of being a priest, it follows that Christ must also have something to offer” (Kent p. 147). “Hence it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer”: The reader should note that the tense of the verb here “offer” refers to a one time event and excludes all thought of a continuous offering.  Yet the term “offer” in the first part of this verse is in the present tense.  When the Holy Spirit spoke, the Levitical priests were continually offering gifts and sacrifices.  “In heaven, Jesus does continue to intercede for men; He does continue to mediate on their behalf; He does not continue to offer gifts and sacrifices” (Reese p. 127). 


8:4 “Now if He were on earth”:  An argument that the writer might be addressing is the complaint that one can identify and be comforted far more by an earthly high priest.  This is the same complaint that we hear today, “I could have far greater trust in a God that I could see”.  Yet, people fail to realize that Jesus being on earth would have disadvantages for us! “He would not be a priest at all”:  This point has previously been made in 7:12-14.  Jesus is from the wrong tribe to be part of the Levitical priesthood.  “Even if He were still on earth, and even if such a priesthood as the Levitical were still valid after Calvary, Jesus could not even be an ordinary priest, let alone a high priest” (Reese p. 127).  As a side note, remember Premillenialists have Jesus being a King on the earth, yet this verse makes it clear that Jesus could not be a priest on the earth.  This demonstrates that Jesus’ reign is not earthly.


God bound Himself by His own laws.  He did not ignore the regulations for the priests that He set down in the Old Testament, and did not have the attitude that such regulations could be set aside so His Son could be a priest on the earth.


8:4 “Since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law”:   “Most writers suppose the present tense verb here is reflective of the fact that when Hebrews was written, the Temple was still standing, and the Jewish sacrifices were still being offered.  Once the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70, then the Levitical system ceased to be operative” (Reese p. 127). 


8:5 “Who serve a copy”: Here the Holy Spirit makes the point that an earthly priesthood is not an advantage, rather such priests only ministered in a tabernacle.  Then the temple which was a mere copy of the reality is represented.   The term “copy” means an “imitation, shadowy outline, a sketch-plan”.  “A sign suggestive of anything.  A shadow has no substance in itself, no independent existence.  It merely gives assurance that there is a reality to cast it, but itself is nothing solid or real.  So the tabernacle gave assurance of the existence of a real dwelling of God which itself was not” (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 322).


8:5 “And shadow”:  “A reflection, a phantom, a silhouette” (Barclay p. 88).  “A glimpse and shadow” (Rhm); “A mere outline and shadow” (Mof); “Only a pattern or reproduction” (Phi).  Other passages make the same point.  The Old Testament was merely a outline or shadow of a greater reality to come (Colossians 2:16-17).  So why in the world would one want to remain with the shadow?  The words rendered “copy” and “shadow” are nearly synonymous and are like our English words “likeness, copy, and imitation”.  “It may be fairly well detailed, but it is not the original” (Reese p. 127).  “Many of the Old Testament institutions were ‘types” or ‘previews of coming attractions’” (p. 127).  “Of the heavenly things”:  Jesus is presently serving in the reality that the Law shadowed, which means that Christians are actually enjoying the substance to which the Old Testament rites looked and predicted.  The New Covenant is a covenant of “heavenly things” (Ephesians 2:1-10).  Sometimes people are discouraged that we do not live in the day and age of the miraculous, yet we do live in a time when we can enjoy the fulfillment of God’s purposes, not a mere copy of a reality yet to come. 


8:5 “Just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle”:  The verse about to be quoted is Exodus 25:40.  Yet the Holy Spirit confirms that the events surrounding the construction of the tabernacle really did happen. 


One might ask, why does the Holy Spirit go back to what Moses was told?  The purpose of the quotation to follow is to prove from the Old Testament that the Levitical priest actually did serve in a copy and shadow of heavenly realities.  When Moses was commanded by God to construct the first tabernacle, he was commanded to follow a detailed “pattern”.  The term “pattern” necessarily infers that this structure was not an original, but only an earthly copy.  Before the tabernacle was constructed, heaven already existed, and God’s plan for saving man in Christ with the New Testament Church was already planned before the tabernacle was even erected (Ephesians 3:10-11).


8:5 “‘See’, He says, ‘That you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain’”


The term “all things” indicates that not only the tabernacle itself, but everything that went with it and everything that was put inside it.  The Greek word for “pattern” means “type, figure, form”, such as an impression made by a die. 


Observe that Moses was commanded to follow a precise pattern.  The New Testament Church also has a pattern (1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2:15; 3:14).  In fact, the New Testament is filled with “patterns”, such as a pattern for marriage, our relationship to government, how to treat others, what to do to be saved, and so on.  Wilson correctly notes that Moses was forbidden from introducing an innovation into the construction of the tabernacle or its worship.  If human innovations were forbidden to be added to the earthly copy, then how much more the heavenly original?  Moses would not have dared alter the construction, arrangement, or worship of the tabernacle, yet the world is filled with religious people who seem to think that it is spiritual to add all sorts of human innovations to the work and worship of the Church.  Would Moses have been impressed by argument that went something like, “Let’s change some things in the tabernacle so that it is more attractive to non-Jews, young couples, mothers with small children, or teenagers”?  Would it have been Scriptural to have the tabernacle serve as a multipurpose building for the Israelites?  How about turning the courtyard that surrounded it into recreational uses?  Or the altar of burnt offering into a BBQ for family picnics? 


8:6 “But now”: This is in contrast to the Levitical priests who were still serving as a copy.


8:6 “He has obtained a more excellent ministry”:  That is, He offered a superior sacrifice that never needs to be offered again.  He offered a sacrifice that actually does forgive sin.  He serves in a higher sphere (heaven).  He is a priest of a much higher order.  His ministry will never end.  “By as much as He is also the mediator”:  The term “mediator” means “a go-between” or one “in the middle”.  One who stands in the middle between two people to bring them together.  Further, in legal Greek the “mesites”, was a sponsor, a guarantor, or a surety.  He posted bail for a friend who was on trial; he guaranteed a debt or overdraft.  He was the man who would be willing to pay his friend’s debt to make things right again (See Barclay p. 89).  Moses had been the mediator for the Old Testament (Galatians 3:19).  Note that there is only one mediator (1 Timothy 2:4-6; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). 


8:6 “Of a better covenant”:  The “better” covenant is the new covenant or the New Testament (9:15).  It must be a better covenant since Jesus is the mediator and the writer further points out the superiority of the new covenant in the next statement. “Which has been enacted”:  The term “enacted” is a legal term that means “to impose a law”.  The New Testament is a law.   This is the same word used in 7:11 when we were told that the people “received” the Law.  Notice the tense “has been”; by the time that this letter is written the new covenant is already in operation, and has been operating since the cross (Hebrews 9:15-17). “On better promises”:  The better promises include those mentioned in Jeremiah 31:31-34, including:


  • Salvation for those of all nations (Mark 16:15-16).
  • A complete removal of sin (Hebrews 10:11-14).
  • A high priest at the right hand of God to always help (Hebrews 4:14-16).
  • Direct access to God (Hebrews 8:11; 1 John 2:2).
  • A covenant that contains all the truth (John 16:13).


“The superiority of this covenant lies in the fact that its promises are guaranteed by the perfect satisfaction which has been rendered to God by its Mediator on behalf of those He represented” (Wilson p. 98).  “Should someone wonder why a ‘better covenant’ than the Mosaic Covenant was needed, the writer proceeds to explain” (Reese p. 130).


8:7 “For if that first covenant”:  The first covenant in this section of Scripture is clearly identified as the covenant made with Israel at Sinai.  The first covenant is associated with the Levitical priesthood who served in an earthly tabernacle (8:3-5; 9:1-6).  It is also associated with the covenant made with Israel after they came out of Egyptian bondage (8:9). 


8:7 “Had been faultless”:  In some sense the first covenant was faulty.  Reese reminds us that there is no comfort here for those who believe that Christianity is the product of evolutionary development.  The first covenant was given by God Himself, and was perfect for the purpose that it was given (Romans 7:12; Galatians 3:19-24).  Yet it was not designed to provide a perfect sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:1-4).  The Law was “perfect” for the purpose that it filled in God’s plan.  The problem was that many Jews were acting like, and insisting, that the Law be the final covenant. 


“This is the same sort of argument as pursed in 7:11.  There the author argued that the Levitical system must have been envisioned by God as inadequate, inasmuch as He announced a replacement with a different kind of priest.  Here the reasoning is that the Mosaic covenant must not have been able to accomplish all that was needed, since God saw fit to plan another covenant.  Even during Old Testament times, such a replacement was declared by Jeremiah; and ever since that prophetic announcement spiritually sensitive Israelites were looking for that place in history when the promise would be fulfilled” (Kent p. 151). 


8:7 “Sought for a second”:  Notice that the Holy Spirit only sees two major divisions in the history of God’s people.  We have a “first” and a “second” covenant.  The Holy Spirit does not view the New Testament and Old Testament as being one covenant. 


8:8 “For finding fault with them”:  The actual “fault” was not in the covenant itself but in the people who did not keep their part of the agreement.  The true cause of failure lay in the character of the people, not in the Law, which was holy, righteous, and good.  If man would not sin or enter into rebellion against God, then the first covenant would have been all man needed, but human rebellion (which is man’s fault), makes a true sacrifice for such sins necessary.  The first covenant did not have such a sacrifice.  “He says”:  Verses 8-12 follows the quotation of Jeremiah 31:31-34, the classic New Covenant prophecy. 


Historical Background


“In the days of Jeremiah God announced a new covenant.  Those were dark days for the nation of Israel.  The northern kingdom had already been led captive by the Assyrians.  The southern kingdom (Judah) was nearing its destruction by the Babylonians.  Jeremiah began his ministry during the reign of Josiah, and lived into the period of the seventy-year captivity.  He had witnessed the revival that occurred when the law was rediscovered in Josiah’s eighteenth year (2 Kings 22-23); but he must also have been aware that the spiritual awakening was not permanent.  It was just a matter of time until judgment would fall upon the nation.  Jeremiah himself lived to see the captivity begin.  It was during those days that he received the prophecy of the new covenant, recorded in Jeremiah 31:31-34” (Kent p. 152). 


“God speaking through the prophet said that both Israel and Judah would return from their captivities, and then God would give the suffering nation a New Covenant in which there would be an accomplishment of those things which the Mosaic Covenant was never able to do” (Reese p. 132).


8:8 “Behold, days are coming, says the Lord”:  600 years will pass from when this prophecy was stated to when Jesus died on the cross.  These coming days are the same as the “good things to come” of Hebrews 9:11.  This prophecy was also spoken by God Himself (2 Peter 1:20-21). “When I will effect a New Covenant”:  The word “effect” means to bring something to accomplishment.  This covenant is the fulfillment of the final promise given to Abraham, that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Galatians 3:16; Acts 3:25). “With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah”:  The nation of Israel would once again be reunited into one group under this new covenant.  Other passages inform us that the new covenant includes all of God’s people, both Jews and Gentiles.  All baptized believers are added to one body (Ephesians 2:11ff).  That body is the church (Ephesians 1:22-23), which is also the new Israel of God (1 Peter 2:5,9-10; Galatians 6:16). 


Seeing that God mentions both the house of Israel and the house of Judah certain millennial theories think that the New Covenant will not be effected till the beginning of a supposed Millennium at the end of time.  Yet this contradicts verse 8:6 where Jesus is presently the mediator of the New Covenant.  Secondly, if the New Covenant will not be established until the end of time, then why was it wrong for these Christians to go back to the first covenant, if such a situation is not the first covenant--- the very one they should have been part of?  Only if the New Covenant were already in force when Hebrews was written, was there any legitimate need to abandon the first covenant.


8:9 “Not like the Covenant which I made with their fathers”:  The first covenant is here identified as the covenant made with Israel after God brought that nation out of bondage.  Exodus 24:7-8 demonstrates that what was done at Sinai was called a covenant.  The book of the covenant was read to the people, and the blood of the covenant was sprinkled on the people.  The Hebrew writer links the first covenant to Moses and the Law in 9:18-22.  Deuteronomy 4:13 links together the “covenant” and the “Ten Commandments”.  The first covenant therefore is the covenant made at Sinai with Israel that included the Levitical priesthood, the Law of Moses, the Tabernacle, and the Ten Commandments. 


8:9 “Not like”:  Verses 10-12 explain some of the ways the New Covenant differs from the first covenant.  “How anyone can speak of the New Covenant being simply a renewal of the Mosaic Covenant is more than this writer can understand.  The New Covenant is not Moses patched up and refurbished; it is a different covenant” (Reese p. 133).  “When I took them by the hand”:  Behind this figure of speech is the practice of fathers and mothers taking their little children by the hand and helping the child learn to walk.  This expression demonstrates God’s mercy, patience, and kindness to Israel. “And they did not continue in My covenant”:  Though that generation promised to keep it (Exodus 19:7-8; 24:3-8), they did not.  By the time God speaks through Jeremiah, the Israelites had been breaking and ignoring God’s covenant for 800 years.  “And I did not care for them”:  Seeing that the people did not have regard for His laws, God did not have regard for them.  He would reject them as His people, set aside the first covenant that they were not keeping anyway, and give a New Covenant. 


8:10 “For this is the Covenant”:  Now God proceeds to explain how the New Covenant is better and different from the first covenant.  “With the house of Israel”:  In verse 8 it had been Judah and Israel, now it is simply “the house of Israel”.  “With the reunion of the twelve tribes after the captivity, ‘Israel’ could stand alone as the name of the one united people” (Reese p. 134). “After those days”:  That is, after the days when the New Covenant has been established. 


8:10 “I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts”:  We should first note that the New Covenant will have “laws” (James 1:25).  There were people in the Old Testament who did have God’s law on their heart (Psalm 119:11), but the problem is that most did not.  To many in the Old Testament, God’s law was simply an external code written on stone (2 Corinthians 3:3ff).  God’s desire for those who take advantage of the New Covenant is that His laws would convict them (Romans 1:16), and that their obedience would come from an inner desire to serve Him, not simply an outward compulsion.  Compare this with Ezekiel 36:26-27.  We should note that this is a conditional promise.  We make the final decision as to whether we become a Christian, have the forgiveness of sins, and as to whether we serve God out of gratitude or whether we have to be pushed to serve Him.  Are God’s laws written on our hearts?  (James 1:18; Romans 12:1-2)


8:10 “And I will be their God, and they shall be My people”:  Hosea had said the same thing (Hosea 1:9; 2:23).  Yet Hosea noted that many who would become God’s people had not been His people in the past, that is, the Gentiles.  The expression, “to be their God” means that God is promising that He would be their lawgiver, counselor, protector, redeemer, and guide, and that He would provide for their wants, defend them, pardon their sins, comfort them in trials, and save their souls—if they served Him.


8:11 “And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord’, for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest of them”


Under the first covenant people were physically born into that covenant, and as children grew, they had to be taught about the covenant they were already in (Matthew 3:9; Genesis 17:14; Judges 2:11).  In contrast, those who take advantage of the blessings in the New Covenant will be taught before becoming God’s people.  Under the New Covenant, one is taught first (Mark 16:15; Acts 16:31-33; 8:35) and then they are born again (John 3:5).  Some also see in the above words the truth that the New Covenant would be a completed revelation as opposed to the gradual revelations over time through the prophets under the first covenant.  In the Old Testament, every time a new revelation was given, the prophet had to tell the people this new truth.  Wilson notes, “No new prophets appear with new messages.  We have all of God’s Word; and each has it in his own hand.  We can by it even test those who stand up to preach and to teach it.  ‘From their small up to their great’ is correct:  from our children up to our great theologians; God’s saving revelation, complete at last, is accessible to all alike” (p. 102). 


8:11 “For all shall know Me”:  This does not mean “all people everywhere”, for even during the New Covenant there are those who do not want to hear about God.  Premillinnial writers attempt to apply this statement to a supposed millennium when there will be universal righteousness and a universal knowledge of God’s truth.  Yet the Hebrew writer is here describing the benefits of a Covenant in existence in the First Century!  Everyone who takes advantage of the benefits of this Covenant will know God.  In addition, history has demonstrated that from the beginning of the New Covenant, the availability of the Scriptures has only increased.  The gospel was to be preached to all creation (Mark 16:15).  In addition, Jesus had also completely revealed the Father (John 12:44ff; 14:7ff), so that one can know the Father more intimately than ever before.  Jesus noted that all will be taught of God (John 6:45), that is, all those who come to Him for salvation (6:44).


“Of course, when God says men won’t have to teach their neighbors to know the Lord, once the New Covenant has been inaugurated, it does not mean that no teachers are needed in the Messianic age, or that believers have nothing to learn.  After all, the Hebrew writer was ‘teaching’ his readers by means of this very letter” (Reese p. 136).  In addition, we do need to teach our neighbors! (Mark 16:15)  The point of the above passage is that people who are experiencing the benefits of the New Covenant (like the forgiveness of their sins) have already been taught about God to the point that they do know Him before they receive those benefits. 


8:12 “For I will be merciful to their iniquities and I will remember their sins no more”:  The term “for” seems to suggest that in the New Covenant people will know God better because their sins will have been forgiven and they will have a greater incentive to draw near to Him.  Let us remember that God was also merciful in the Old Testament and demonstrated that mercy over and over again by bearing with the nation of Israel and giving them one second chance after another.  When Jeremiah wrote the above prophecy God was punishing the sins of disobedient Israel.  This prophecy was meant to kindle hope in the Israelites for it promised believing Israelites that God would once again demonstrate His mercy and forgiveness.  The final promise of remembering their sins no more will be more fully developed in Hebrews 10:1 and following, which demonstrates a profound difference between Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice, and the repeated sacrifices of the Mosaic system. 


8:12 “For”:  This term also suggests that what will make the New Covenant possible is the remission of sins.  All the blessings innumerated are directly linked with God providing through His Son full satisfaction for sin.  Jesus Himself on the night He was betrayed noted that the cup signified the New Covenant in His blood (Luke 22:20). 


8:13 “When He said, ‘A new covenant’”:  Now the writer begins to emphasize several truths implied in the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34.  Here are the necessary inferences that the Holy Spirit draws from the above passage. “He had made the first obsolete”:  He did this by using the term “new” in reference to the New Covenant.  By the use of that single word, God necessarily inferred the first covenant was obsolete, that is, the first had become old, about to be finished, set aside, and superseded.  By the time this letter was written, the first covenant had already been set aside (Colossians 2:14-16; Ephesians 2:15ff).  The first covenant therefore is not something that these readers should go back to with nostalgia. 


8:13 “But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear”:  One needs to be impressed that the Old Testament taught in Jeremiah 31:31-34 that the first covenant would be replaced, that some 600 years after Jeremiah spoke these readers should not be shocked that it had been replaced.  Even though the first covenant was removed at the cross (Colossians 2:14; 10:9-10), various externals of that covenant were still standing and were still being observed when this letter was written.  The temple was still standing and the Levitical priests were still serving.  Yet when Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 all these outward forms were removed and did disappear.  “The sacrificial system did indeed vanish away with the destruction of the temple in AD 70” (Wilson p. 103).