For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28 For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever. 8:1 Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. 4 Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; 5 who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, "SEE," He says, "THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN."
Those last words in Hebrews 8:5 ("See that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain") are a quote from Exodus 25:40. God is speaking to Moses, and the point that this writer draws out is that the furnishings and the actions of the Old Testament tabernacle were copies and shadows (notice those two words in verse 5a: "they serve a copy and shadow of heavenly things")—symbols and pointers to a heavenly reality. When God gave Moses a pattern for the priestly, sacrificial system, he didn't just make it up on the spot for the Jewish people, he patterned it after glorious reality in heaven. We get a glimpse into God and his ways when we ponder the priesthood of Israel.
And the point of the book of Hebrews is that Jesus Christ, God's Son, has not just come to fit into the earthly system of priestly ministry as the best and final human priest, but he has come to fulfill and put an end to that system and to orient all our attention on himself ministering for us in heaven. The Old Testament tabernacle and priests and sacrifices were shadows. Now the reality has come and the shadows pass away.
A Word To the Children
Kids, suppose you and your mom get separated in the grocery store, and you start to get scared and panic and don't know which way to go, and you run to the end of an aisle, and just before you start to cry, you see a shadow on the floor at the end of the aisle that looks just like your mom. It makes you really happy and you feel hope. But which is better? The happiness of seeing the shadow, or having your mom step around the corner and it's really her!?
That's the way it is when Jesus comes to be our High Priest. That's what Christmas is. Christmas is the replacement of shadows with the real thing.
Look at Hebrews 8:1-2. This is a kind of summary statement.
Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.
The point—the main point of it all—is that the one priest who goes between us and God, and makes us right with God, and prays for us to God is not an ordinary, weak, sinful, dying, priest like in the Old Testament days. He is the Son of God—strong, sinless, with an indestructible life. Not only that, he is not ministering in an earthly tabernacle with all its limitations of place and size and wearing out and being moth-eaten and being soaked and burned and torn and stolen. No, verse 2 says that Christ is ministering for us in a "true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man." This is the real thing in heaven. This is what cast on Mount Sinai a shadow that Moses copied.
According to verse 1, another great thing about the reality which is greater than the shadow is that our High Priest is seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. No Old Testament priest could ever say that. Jesus deals directly with God the Father. He has a place of honor beside God. He is loved and respected infinitely by God. He is constantly with God. This is not shadow reality like curtains and bowls and tables and candles and robes and tassels and sheep and goats and pigeons. This is final, ultimate reality: God and his Son interacting in love and holiness for our eternal salvation. Ultimate reality is the Persons of the Godhead in relationship, dealing with each other concerning how their majesty and holiness and love and justice and goodness and truth shall be manifest in a redeemed people.
Now add to this the last verses of chapter 7. The writer wants us to marvel at the superiority of the priesthood of Jesus over the Old Testament priesthood that he came to replace. Notice five superiorities.
Five Superiorities of the Priesthood of Jesus
First, Jesus is sinless. Verse 26: We have a High Priest who is "holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens." No other priest could ever say that. They were all sinful, like you and me. But not Jesus. He was tempted but never yielded to the point of sin.
Second, because he was sinless, he didn't have to offer sacrifices for himself, but instead could offer himself as a sacrifice. Verse 27: "He does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself."
So he was radically different from the previous priests. They had sins of their own that had to be dealt with first, and then never in a million years would it have entered their heads that they could actually be the sacrifice for the sins of others. But Jesus changed all that: He needed no sacrifice for himself, but became a sacrifice in himself.
Which leads to the third superiority: his sacrifice of himself was "once for all." You see that at the end of verse 27, "This He did once for all when He offered up Himself." This is a great word (ephapax) —"once for all." The effect it has is to make Jesus the center of history. Every work of God's grace in history before the sacrifice of Christ looked forward to the death of Christ for its foundation. And every work of God's grace since the sacrifice of Christ looks back to the death of Christ for its foundation. Christ is the center of the history of grace. There is no grace without him. Grace was planned from all eternity, but not without Jesus Christ at the center and his death as the foundation. Paul says in 2 Timothy 1: 9 that God's "grace . . . was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity."
The fourth superiority of Christ over all other priests is that they were appointed by the Law in their weakness, but he was appointed by a divine oath as a perfect Son. Verse 28: "The Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son." The oath he's referring to is the oath in Psalm 110:4, "The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." The oath comes after the law and, in fact, points already in the Old Testament to the end of the Law as a ritual system.
The oath is spoken to the Messiah. In Psalm 110:1, David says, "The Lord [God] said to my Lord [Messiah], sit at my right hand." So the final High Priest is the Messiah, the Son of God, in the order of Melchizedek, not Levi or Aaron, and is installed by an oath, not by the Law, which is passing away.
The fifth superiority of Christ over all other priests is that his ministry is forever. At the end of verse 28: The oath "appoints a Son, made perfect forever." Jesus never dies. He never has to be replaced. He has an indestructible life. He will outlive all his foes. He will be there for us long after everyone we depend on is dead. Sometimes children fret that Mommy or Daddy won't live to take care of them. And sometimes we parents fret that we won't be alive to take care of our children (especially when at age 50 we adopt a baby girl). But that is why this truth is so precious. The priesthood of Jesus—the one who prays for us, as we saw last week, and the one who is sympathetic with us, as we saw in Hebrews 4:15—this has been perfected forever. Not for a decade or a century or a millennium. But forever. To that we look when we think about how uncertain our lives are.
The great and overarching point of this text at the end of chapter 7 and the beginning of chapter 8 is that we have a great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who came into the world as the Son of God, lived a sinless life, offered himself as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of his people, rose to everlasting life at the right hand of the majesty of God, and there loves us and prays for us and bids us draw near to God through him. He did not come to fit into the old system of priestly sacrifices. He came to fulfill them and end them.
He is the reality; they were the shadow and the copy of the reality. When the Reality comes, the shadow passes away.
Worshiping Jesus Our Priest
let me draw out some implications of this for the life of
worship. The High Priesthood of Jesus—the coming of the
reality instead of the shadow—fulfills and brings to an end
the physical center of Old Testament worship, the tabernacle and
the temple. It fulfills and brings to an end the official
priesthood. It fulfills and brings to an end the sacrificial
offerings. It fulfills and brings to an end the dietary laws. It
fulfills and brings to an end the priestly vestments. It fulfills
and brings to an end the seasonal acts of atonement and
What this means, in essence, is that the entire worship life of the Old Testament has been radically refocused onto Jesus himself and has become a radically spiritual thing, as opposed to an external thing. The external is still important, but now the spiritual is so radically pervasive that virtually all of external life, not just church life, is the expression of worship. "Present your bodies as living sacrifices which is your reasonable service of worship" (Romans 12:1). That's all the time and everywhere. "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31)—all the time, everywhere. The money that the Philippians sent to Paul he says in 4:18 was "a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God."
In the New Testament, all the focus is on the reality of the glory of Christ, not the shadow and copy of religious objects and forms. It is stunning how indifferent the New Testament is to such things: there is no authorization in the New Testament for worship buildings, or worship dress, or worship times, or worship music, or worship liturgy or worship size or thirty-five-minute sermons, or Advent poems or choirs or instruments or candles. In fact, the act of getting together as Christians in the New Testament to sing or pray or hear the word of God is never even called worship. I wonder if we do not distort the Biblical meaning of "worship" by using the word almost entirely for an event for which the New Testament never uses the word.
But all of this makes us very free and, perhaps, very frightened. Free to find place and time and dress and size and music and elements and objects that help us orient radically toward the supremacy of God in Christ. And frightened, perhaps, because almost every worship tradition we have is culturally shaped rather than Biblically commanded. The command is a radical connection of love and trust and obedience to Jesus Christ in all of life.
There's a reason for this radical spirituality of worship in the New Testament. And the reason is this. The New Testament is a missionary document. The message of this book is meant to be carried to every people on earth and incarnated in every culture in the world. And that is why our High Priest came and ended tabernacle, and sacrifices and feasts and vestments and dietary laws and circumcision and priesthood. The Old Testament was mainly a come-and-see religion. The New Testament is mainly a go-and-tell religion. And to make that possible, the Son of God has not abolished worship, but made it the kind of radically spiritual engagement with God in Christ that can and must happen in every culture on the earth. Worship is not trivialized in the New Testament, but intensified, deepened, and made the radical fuel and goal of all missions.
The frightening freedom of worship in the New Testament is a missionary mandate. We must not lock this gospel treasure in any cultural straitjacket. Rather let us find the place, the time, the dress, the forms, the music that kindles and carries a passion for the supremacy of God in all things. And may our communion with the living God be so real and the Spirit of God so powerfully present that the heart of what we do becomes the joy of all the peoples we are called to reach.