Hebrews 8 – The Obsolete Covenant

Hebrews 8 Bible with Chocolove Dark Chocolate Coffee Crunch

Today’s Chocolate: Chocolove Dark Chocolate Coffee Crunch

Today’s PassageHebrews 8

Good news, everyone! Hebrews 8 begins by summing up the point of the previous chapter in a single sentence! If you haven’t read Hebrews 7 yet, you can skip it. All you folks who read Hebrews 7 all the way through and tried to figure it out, sorry you wasted your time enriching your view of scripture through study.

Seriously, though, the author of Hebrews gives his single-sentence summary not as a shortcut, but a lens through which to understand the symbolic archetype Melchizedek’s priesthood offers. He tells his readers: “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” (1-2). The point is not the historical Melchizedek. The point is the historical Christ, Jesus the Son of God who serves us as an eternal high priest of peace and righteousness, offering intercession for us in heaven.

The priesthood of the Mosaic Law, the author of Hebrews points out, also functions as a symbolic communicator of God’s grace and forgiveness. Neither the priests nor the animal sacrifices they offer are the grace itself. In a line that smells faintly of Plato, the author of Hebrews says that the Levitical priests “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'” (5). A shadow exhibits the shape of the object casting it but with no depth or solidity, and a copy, even if it’s an identical reproduction, is still not the same as the original. Moses received the Law, the plans for the tabernacle, and more on Mount Sinai, but the revelation was a guide and a pattern. The things on earth, the author of Hebrews maintains, are intended to teach us the shape and substance of Jesus Christ’s priestly intercession for us.

And that brings us to the New Covenant. This “New Covenant” receives its first explicit mention in Jeremiah, though you might interpret Deuteronomy 30:1-6 as describing God’s people receiving a change of heart under the New Covenant (thanks, GotQuestions.org!). Jeremiah prophetically delivers God’s message describing his New Covenant: “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers…I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people'” (Jeremiah 31:31-33). Moreover, God promises, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). The Covenant of Law, the author of Hebrews explains, is inadequate to save or perfect its practitioners, who fall short of God’s standard of holiness. Jesus Christ offers another covenant, mediated by his own priesthood, where his sacrifice pays the price for our sins and writes the Law on our hearts.

So what does that mean for the Old Covenant? The NASB translates a word from the final two verses of this chapter in a way that invites anachronism: “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete, but whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear” (13). If you’re like me, at the word “obsolete” you can’t help thinking of yesterday’s computers, outclassed by newer models. Actually, you probably think of iPhones. But the author of Hebrews, centuries upon centuries before the first computer hit the scene, is using a form of the Greek word παλαιόωpalaioó, meaning “to make old.” This is where we get the word “paleontology,” the study of really, really old things.

If you’ll indulge me in a tautology, the Old Covenant is old. It’s going the way of the dinosaur. And the New Covenant, with its new hardware, outclasses it on every front.

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