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The new priesthood implying a change in sacrifices and the covenant
Hebrews 8. The introduction of this new priesthood, exercised in heaven, implies a change in the sacrifices and in the covenant. This the inspired writer develops here, setting forth the value of the sacrifice of Christ, and the long-promised new covenant. The direct connection is with the sacrifices; but he turns aside for a moment to the two covenants, a so wide-embracing and all-weighty consideration for the christian Jew who had been under the first.
Hebrews 8 in this respect is simple and clear; the last verses only give room for a few remarks.
The sum of the doctrine presented
The sum of the doctrine we have been considering is, that we have a High Priest who is seated on the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the heavenly sanctuary which is not made with hands. As such, He must have an offering to present there. Jesus, were He on earth, would not be a Priest; there were priests on earth according to the law, in which all things were but figures of the heavenly things; as Moses was told to make all according to the pattern that was shown him in the mount. But the ministry of Jesus is more excellent, because He is the Mediator of a better covenant, spoken of in Jeremiah 31, which is here quoted; a clear and simple proof that the first covenant was not to continue.
The two covenants
We again find here that particular development of the truth which was called for by the character of the persons to whom this letter was addressed.
The first covenant was made with Israel; the second must be so likewise, according to the prophecy of Jeremiah. The epistle however in this passage only makes use of the fact that there was to be a second covenant, in order to demonstrate that the first was to last no longer. It had grown old, and was to vanish away. He recites the terms of the new covenant. We shall find that he makes use of it afterwards. In that which follows, he contrasts the services that belonged to the first with the perfect work on which Christianity is founded. Thus the extent and the value of the work of Christ are introduced.
Although there is no difficulty here, it is important to have light with regard to these two covenants, because some have very vague ideas on this point, and many souls, putting themselves under covenants — that is, in relationship with God under conditions in which He has not placed them — lose their simplicity, and do not hold fast grace and the fulness of the work of Christ, and the position He has acquired for them in heaven.
A covenant defined; the old and the new
A covenant is a principle of relationship with God on the earth
— conditions established by God under which man is to live with
Him. The word may perhaps be used figuratively, or by
accommodation. It is applied to details of the relationship of God
with Israel, and so to Abraham (Gen. 15), and like cases; but,
strictly speaking, there are but two covenants, in which God has
dealt with man on earth, or will — the old and the new. The old was
established at Sinai. The new covenant is made also with the two
houses of Israel.*
The gospel is not a covenant, but the revelation of the salvation of God. It proclaims the great salvation. We enjoy indeed all the essential privileges of the new covenant, its foundation being laid on God's part in the blood of Christ, but we do so in spirit, not according to the letter.
The new covenant will be established formally with Israel in the millennium. Meanwhile the old covenant is judged by the fact that there is a new one.
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