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Sunday, December 22, 2013

The New and Greater (est) Covenant


Hebrews 8

We began our book of Hebrews Bible study last week with Hebrews 7. Let us remember the main points of the chapter. Jesus was of a type like Melchizadek, the first priest of Yahweh. Since he had no known birth or death dates, he appeared to be before time and continuing after time. In addition, since he received a tithe from Abraham, which acknowledges Abraham considered Melchizadek a priest of God, we must consider him as such. Further, Melchizadek offered bread and wine, as Jesus did when He distributed the Passover and reckoned it His body and blood. Another thing to consider in their relationship to each other is Melchizadek’s name meant king of righteousness and he was the king of Salem, which means peace. Melchizadek was the king of righteousness and peace. Jesus, too, is the king of righteousness and peace. Existing before time makes Jesus before the Law God gave to Moses. This means Jesus’ personage came before the Law stating the priests were to come from the line of Aaron, the tribe of Levi. In addition, we found out from the writer of Hebrews the Law led us to know our sin, but did not give us cleansing from our sins eternally. The sacrifices offered were offered repeatedly over time, whereas, the sacrifice Jesus offered was once-for-all. His sacrifice was sufficient for all time and all people.
Let us begin our study for this week in Hebrews 8. The first verse of Hebrews 8 states, “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.” The writer immediately stated Jesus’ position. He dealt at length with this thought in chapter 7 and he wanted to make this emphatic statement to clarify so there was no doubt about it. Jesus is our High Priest who sits at the right hand of God in heaven. David, in Psalm 110:1, said, “The LORD says to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” Hebrews 1:3 states, “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty/God on high.” In both the Old and New Testaments, Jesus is a part of the Godhead upon the throne. He sits at the right hand of Yahweh God who reigns in majesty. Further, in Hebrews 3:1, we see we are to consider Jesus as the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. He is above the earthly priests and His sacrifice offered was greater than any that earthly priests could offer. The main point in verse one is still that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father until HE (the Father) makes His (Jesus’) enemies His footstool, until all evil is defeated. A person under Jesus’ feet means he or she is under subjection to Jesus. You can see this in Ephesians 1:22 and 1 Corinthians 15:25, too.
Moving to verse two, we read, “A minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.” This is a continuation of verse 1. Jesus is a priest in the sense people know priests; He offers sacrifice. Another difference from the earthly priests is they offer service in the earthly sanctuary and tabernacle, whereas, Jesus Christ offers service as a minister in the true tabernacle. This verse appears easy enough to understand. There are sects that interpret this to mean Jesus is still ministering in a heavenly tabernacle like priests on earth minister in an earthly tabernacle. They think this because, in Exodus 25:9 & 40, God told Moses to make the tabernacle “after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.” People from these other religious organizations have read that the earthly tabernacle is a pattern or copy of a tabernacle in heaven. They believe God reigns in a heavenly tabernacle. However, we must return to what tabernacle and sanctuary mean and their purposes to understand this verse. The tabernacle was a tent pitched by the Israelites while they were traveling to the Promised Land. There was nothing solid about the tabernacle; it was a portable place of worship. Yet, God required the Israelites to set aside a place for Him to be a holy place where the people could go to Him for worship and to offer sacrifice. When we read further in Hebrews, the writer explains to us what he meant by the “true tabernacle.” In Hebrews 9:24 he said, “For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” The “true tabernacle” is heaven where the Father sits on His throne and Christ is sitting at His right hand. God provided the diagram for Moses to build the tabernacle. Just as God planned the earth, heavens, and universes,  He planned the tabernacle and Moses built it to God's specification. The earthly tabernacle does not look and function as the “true tabernacle.” The earthly tabernacle was for use while they were traveling, but when the Israelites settled in the Promised Land, they built temples and synagogues.
Solomon built the temple according to God’s specifications. It was the center of Jewish worship from that time. The Jews rebuilt it under the leadership of Ezra after the Babylonian exile. The Wailing Wall is what remains of the temple area. It is the western retaining wall for the hill where the temple stood. Today the Dome of the Rock built by the Muslims resides where the temple of Jerusalem was. A synagogue is a house of prayer. It is where Jews come together for community prayer services. Because of this, Jewish rabbis call the synagogue the “little temple” in rabbinical literature. The synagogues are independent community organizations. They can be run with or without a rabbi whom the board of directors (lay people) of the synagogue hire. Jews hold prayer services in the sanctuary of the synagogue. To summarize, the Israelites built the temple according to the specifications of God and for worship of God in Jerusalem. No other temple exists. Individual Jewish communities build synagogues for their communities. It is a place of prayer for Jews in the community. The sanctuary is where the prayer services in a sanctuary occur. Comprehending this makes it easier to understand the writer of Hebrews when he speaks of being in the “true tabernacle,” a place not pitched by the hands of men. Nothing of earth is exactly like God’s heaven, not His Priest, His sacrifice, or the place from which He reigns and ministers.
Hebrews 8:3 states, “For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer.” Every high priest, according to the decrees of God, was to offer gifts to God and sacrifices for the people’s sins (to atone for their sins) so they could be in the presence of God in His tabernacle/temple. “Gifts” is doron and are offered in honor of God as thanks. The "gifts" are used for the temple and the poor. “Sacrifices” is thusia and, in the Law, were for the forgiveness of sins. Since the Law required the High Priests to offer gifts and sacrifices, the High Priest for us must have something to offer just as the Old Testament gifts and sacrifices (see Leviticus 16). The earthly priests were to offer gifts of thanks to God. These gifts were for the priests and aided the poor. The priests were to offer sacrifices for atoning/forgiving of sins. Jesus as the High Priest offered these, too. His sacrifice was His death and blood for our once-and-for-all redemption from the penalty of sin, death forever. In the old covenant, priest had to offer gifts, too. Jesus’ gift was a gift from God to humankind as a gift of love, the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God. Note the difference here from the earthly priests. God gave both sacrifice and the gift in the new covenant. Humankind has to do nothing to make the new covenant valid. This is why the new covenant is more powerful and will be effective. Humankind has to do nothing to be a part of it or receive the benefits of it. Yahweh does it everything. We just accept the gift and believe. The gift of Jesus becomes personal when each person believes Jesus is the Son of God and He died to remove his or her sins. The act of belief/faith is a gift from God, which anyone can have by asking God. We can be like the father in Mark 9:17-24 who recognizes his unbelief and asks for faith. In addition, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:9 God gives faith as a gift.
Reading Hebrews 8:4-5 we see,
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 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.See,’ He (God) says, ‘that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain’.
 If this High Priest were on earth, we would not need him because earthly priests offer these gifts and sacrifices according to the Law. We need a High Priest who did not come by the Law but by power and might and who shows us our sin and removes all of it for eternity, not just for a time. This High Priest came from the Most High God, who has no beginning and no end and who has the power to provide the sufficient sacrifice so we can be in His presence for now and forever. These earthly high priests are a copy and shadow of heavenly things. “Copy” is hupodeigma in Greek and means a representation or a thing to be imitated. This Greek word is also used in John 13:15, James 5:10, 2 Peter 2:6 (“example”), and Hebrews 4:11 and 9:23. A copy is never as accurate and sufficient as the real and original. “Shadow” is skia in Greek and means an image cast by an object and representing the form of that object. Thus, the earthly tabernacle represents (is an image of) the true tabernacle – heaven - but is not the true tabernacle. In heaven, we will have access and communication with God at any time. The tabernacle was a holy place on earth where priests could intercede/speak to God for their people. So, in all the earth this was the only place people could commune with God, whereas, in heaven, people can commune with God anywhere and at any time. The earthly tabernacle and priests are just an image, not the real and perfect thing. Even Moses knew it was a representation, not the true tabernacle (heaven). He was making the tabernacle according to the “pattern,” which God showed him on the mountain (Exodus 25:40). Since the earthly tabernacle is a representation, the high priests on earth are representations of the true High Priest. Since they are representations, the sacrifices they offer are not complete fulfillment for atonement of human sins. The true High Priest is the only one who can offer the true and absolute fulfillment for sins.
            Jesus Christ, then, has a more excellent ministry than the earthly Levitical priests. Hebrews 8:6 says, “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.” Jesus’ ministry is greater than the earthly priests’ ministry because His ministry is based on the new covenant, the better covenant. Jesus is the High Priest of the new covenant and the mediator. First Timothy 2:5 speaks of this mediator, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” "Mediator" in Greek is mesites, which means one who intervenes between two people/groups to make or restore peace or for ratifying a covenant. He is the mediator because He brought the new covenant. He is the new covenant, the promise of restoration/redemption fulfilled in His death and resurrection. Jesus is the means by which humans can be in relationship with God. Since Jesus is the mediator, the one who provides the restoration and means for the new covenant, He enacted it on better promises. Remember Jesus is the only priest who became a priest by an oath/promise. God promised a new covenant. (See Hebrews 7 Bible study, “The Greater (est) High Priest and King.”) This promise He spoke of is the new covenant through Jesus’ blood. Jesus spoke of the new covenant through His blood in Luke 22:20, “And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.Hebrews 9:14-15 speaks of Jesus as the mediator because of His blood being poured out as the offering for our sins. Hebrews 12:24 speaks, too, of Jesus as the mediator because of His blood which sealed the new covenant. “Blood” is haima in Greek, which means blood shed for a purpose and refers to the seat of life. The earlier promises/covenants between God and Israel were two-sided; God would provide for them and forgive them if they walked in His ways and offered up sacrifices. The new covenant is one-sided; God offers the perfect sacrifice for forgiveness and the holy High Priest to administer it. People do not have to provide the sacrifice because their sacrifices never removed forever their sins against God. God is faithful to keep His promises. Human beings are not faithful; therefore, God’s sacrifice is perfect. The sacrifices of humans never completely removed their sins, thus, the priests offered sacrifices repeatedly.
            The writer continues, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.” Reread the Bible study from last week on Hebrews 7:11. The Levitical priests could not obtain perfection since they were sinners. Hence, there needed to be another priest, a Great High Priest. Since humans did not keep their promises to God, the Mosaic covenant was invalid. It could not remove the sins of the people. So, God created the new covenant, which relies on nothing from humankind. It relies solely upon God’s promises, power, mercy, forgiveness, and majesty.
            The writer of Hebrews takes the readers back to the prophetic voice of Jeremiah chapter 31. The writer recalled,
8 For finding fault with them, He says, “BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING,” SAYS THE LORD, WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH; 9 NOT LIKE THE COVENANT WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS ON THE DAY WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND TO LEAD THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT; FOR THEY DID NOT CONTINUE IN MY COVENANT, AND I DID NOT CARE FOR THEM,” SAYS THE LORD. 10 “FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AFTER THOSE DAYS,” SAYS THE LORD. “I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS, AND I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS. AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 11 AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN, AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, 'KNOW THE LORD,' FOR ALL WILL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM. 12 FOR I WILL BE MERCIFUL TO THEIR INIQUITIES, AND I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SINS NO MORE." (Hebrews 8:8-12 [NASB])
Jeremiah was a priest who lived 3 miles north of Jerusalem. His name means Yahweh establishes. Jeremiah spoke to the Israelites who were a vassal state of Babylon. Through Jeremiah, God reminded the people He is the same God who brought them out of Egypt to the Promised Land. God offered hope for the Israelites. This hope told them He would not forget or leave them in their sinfulness forever, separated from His love and mercy. He had promised He was their God and they were His people (Exodus 6:7). Through Jeremiah, God gave the people hope. His hope concerned a new covenant with Him. It showed God had not forgotten them and He understood and still loved them. The old covenant is what the people did not keep. God stated with bluntness that He did not care for them because of it. In the new covenant, in contrast to the previous covenant, God would put the new covenant into the minds and hearts of the house of Israel and would be their God and they His people. The Israelites would not have to teach everyone about God because everyone would know Him because of His mercy and forgiveness. Before, in the Mosaic covenant, God commanded the Israelites to teach the law to their children, the people in their cities and lands, and the foreigners. They were to teach about Him and His covenant. With this covenant, God will be the one teaching and reminding people of His power, mercy, love, and forgiveness. God will pardon all their sins, the sins of Israel (Jacob), and pulverize all the altar stones (see Isaiah 27:9). The altar is not needed any longer. The children of Israel are pardoned of their sins forever. “All” in verse 11 means everyone, each individual. This means the new covenant is for everyone, not just select Jews or priests.
For Paul, this new covenant is also for non-Israelites. When a person believes in Yahweh and His Son, Jesus Christ, he or she becomes a new creation, an adopted child of God through Abraham who was a child of God before the Law. Romans 11:27 shows this the covenant will take away sins. Paul said in Galatians 6:15-16, “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” This “new creation” Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 5:17 is anyone who believes in Jesus Christ. These people are new creatures. Hence, the new covenant is as pertinent for all who believe in Jesus as it was and is for the Jews. The new covenant is universal, for all humankind for all time, for the least and the greatest forever.
Verse 12 is very explicit; God will be merciful and will remember peoples’ sins no more. He said He would wipe out their transgressions and forget their sins (Isaiah 43:25). No iniquity/sin will be found because God pardons fully (Jeremiah 50:20). The remnant spoke of in Jeremiah 50:20 is sha’ar, which means those who remain or are left behind. Jeremiah 50 speaks of the captivity of the northern and southern kingdoms and those who the captors left behind. It alludes to those who will return from captivity in Babylon and Assyria. God forgave the sins of the Israelites through the punishment of captivity in or exile by Babylon and Assyria. They are the remnant of those who had been in Israel and Judah. It alludes, too, to the ultimate forgiveness of God at the end of time for the remnant of His inheritance (Micah 7:18-20). God will have compassion on each person and cast all their sins into the depths of the sea/behind their back (Is. 38:17) and not remember their sins (Is. 43:25).
The previous covenant provided for sin sacrifices, but they could not remove sins forever. Only Jesus as High Priest and sacrifice is great, perfect, and powerful enough to remove our sins forever so humans can be in God’s presence forever. Only His sacrifice is sufficient to cover all sins for the past and the future. Bible book writers spoke of this in Jeremiah 31:34 and Hebrews 8:12 &10:17. God’s forgiveness of sin and remembering them no more is the fulfillment of the old Law. He did not destroy the Law, but made it obsolete (vs. 13). Jesus fulfilled the Law and brought in a new covenant, which only He could do because He is holy, righteous, and perfect. He is the king of righteousness and He brings peace.
Each of us must consider this. We must each decide if we will choose to believe Jesus is the Son of God whose blood sacrifice takes away their sins. Each person must choose whether to accept and believe in Jesus and become inheritors of God’s kingdom, live with God forever. What do you choose – Jesus or self? It is your choice.