“Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, ‘See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’ But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:1-6).
“If following Christ leads to persecution, why be a Christian?”
The original readers of Hebrews were undoubtedly asking themselves this question. Having endured “a great struggle with sufferings,” along with “reproaches and tribulations” (10:32-33), these Jewish Christians were considering a return to Judaism, thinking that following Moses was perhaps “safer” than following Jesus.
To counter these dangerous assumptions, the writer of Hebrews repeatedly emphasizes the superiority of Christ. Jesus is the supreme revelation of God’s being, and the final word on God’s grace and love. He is superior to angels, Moses, the Levitical priesthood, and the demands and promises of the Old Covenant. He is a superior high priest—eternal, not temporal; appointed by oath, not law; of the order of Melchizedek, not Aaron.
Therefore, because Christ Himself is infinitely superior, the blessings He brings are infinitely better: better things (6:9), better hope (7:19), better covenant (7:22), better promises (8:6), better sacrifices (9:23), better possessions (10:34), better country (11:16), and better resurrection (11:35).
With Hebrews 8:1, the writer pauses, looks back at the previous seven chapters, and says, “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest. . . .” A High Priest who is the Son of God (1:2) and the Son of Man (2:14), merciful and faithful (2:17), sympathetic and sinless (4:15), eternal and unchanging (7:24), and therefore a High Priest who is “fitting for us” (7:26)—or, as the NIV translates, “Such a high priest meets our need.”
After glancing back, the writer moves forward with the grand theme of Christ’s superiority. In 8:2-6 he offers three additional contrasts between the ministry of Christ and that of the Levitical priests.
First, Jesus is a “High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (8:1). Seated, right hand, throne, and even the phrase “in the heavens” are all descriptions of Christ’s position, power, and sovereignty. In this context, “seated” also has the sense of completion. Jesus is now seated (reigning, not resting) on His heavenly throne, because He completed His work of redemption on earth.
However, contrast the completed work of Christ, the supreme High Priest, with that of the Levitical priests who, even at the time Hebrews was written (64-68 A.D.), were still offering incomplete sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem.
Second, Jesus is a “Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man” (8:2). Despite all its importance, the tabernacle in which the Levitical priests ministered was merely a copy of the true tabernacle “erected” (literally, tent-pegged) by God.
This does not mean that God built a physical temple in heaven; rather, that the heavenly realities He established were symbolized by the tabernacle on earth. The tabernacle’s design, layout, dimensions, furnishings, sacrifices, purifications, priests, and very presence among the people—John 1:14 is literally, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us”—all pointed to the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In other words, the Levitical priesthood served as a copy. Christ brought the reality.
Third, like every other high priest, Jesus, too, was required “to have something to offer” (8:4). But how different His sacrifice was from theirs! They offered the blood of bulls and goats that could never take away sins (10:4). But Christ, the true High Priest, came “not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (9:12).
Such a High Priest meets our need.
Mark Weis is pastor of the Church of the Lutheran Confession in North Port, Florida.