Unit: Hebrews (Part 2)
Theme: High Priest
Lesson Text: Hebrews 8:1–9:10
Supplemental Text: Exodus 25:1-9; 26:31-35; Jeremiah 31:31-34; 1 Peter 2:1-10
Aim: Learn the lessons of the Old Covenant in order to be faithful under the New.
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By Mark Scott
Why is so much learning actually relearning? God must know our propensity for amnesia. (Can you say Communion?) Don DeWelt would tell his students, “To be heard you must tell old things in new ways or new things in old ways.” Fred Craddock suggested that one cannot realize the “shock” of recognition until there is the “nod” of recognition.
How does the new high priest (Jesus) connect with the Old Covenant? And how does the New Covenant connect with the priest after the order of Melchizedek? This text is at the heart of the Hebrew writer’s argument about how the high priesthood of Jesus interfaces with the old and New Covenants.
The New Above the Old
A thin veil separates this world from the one above us where God dwells. (Sounds platonic, does it not, that things here correspond to things in the next world?) When saints worship in corporate assembly here, be advised that worship at another level is taking place above (Revelation 4–5).
The Israelites had their tabernacle in the wilderness. In many ways the tabernacle was a template of heaven and an image or metaphor of the church. But the sanctuary where Jesus dwells now is superior and above the old one. If a person had a choice of which tabernacle in which to dwell, that person should choose the better one above. Priests in the old tabernacle stood up to serve. But Jesus sat down at God’s right hand. The right hand was the seat of honor, and sitting down meant Jesus’ full work on earth was complete. Bezalel and Oholiab built the earthly tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-11), but the Lord built the heavenly one.
Priests went in and out of the old tabernacle sacrificing and serving in just the prescribed way. But that tabernacle was only a copy (pattern) and shadow of the one above. Jesus’ priesthood was superior to the former priesthood in the Old Covenant because his was established on better promises. The new is above the old.
The New Different than the Old
While the law itself was holy and good (Romans 7:12), it was incomplete in bringing people to God due to the weakness of humanity’s flesh (the devil’s foothold). The fault of the old priesthood and covenant was not with them but with the people who attempted to live by them. “God found fault with the people.”
One of the longer quotes from the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31:31-34) was used to contrast the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. The significance of this quote cannot be overstated. This passage was clearly a high-water mark of the Old Testament. In striving to give hope to the exiled people, Jeremiah predicted a time when the New Covenant would overtake the Old Covenant. We know this quote speaks of the messianic age because Jeremiah 31:15 was quoted in Matthew 2:18 when Jesus came.
As the Sesame Street song says, “One of these things is not like the other.” The Old Covenant was made with old Israel (Judah). The New Covenant was made with the new Israel (church?). The Old Covenant brought God’s people out of Egypt. The New Covenant brought God’s people out of sin. The Old Covenant witnessed God’s people being unfaithful. The New Covenant witnessed God’s people obeying God from their hearts. Beyond the comparisons, the New Covenant would be written in the minds and on the hearts of God’s people as opposed to tablets of stone (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The New Covenant would not be by birth but by new birth. Finally, the New Covenant would not just push sins back (Acts 17:30; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 10:3), it would completely forgive sins. The old was almost gone (it was about A.D. 70). It was time for the new.
The New Within the Old
The Hebrew writer looked back at the Old Covenant with his new “Christian” lens. He saw the new within the old. It was called typology. The first part of the text talked about the furniture and contents in the tabernacle (vv. 1-5). The second part of the text talked about the priests’ work in the tabernacle (vv. 6-10).
While connecting the predictions (types) with the fulfillments (antitypes) is not a pure science, we do see things like the light of the gospel, Communion, prayer, provision, promise, and forgiveness (themes in the New Testament) in the old tabernacle. We also see the full and complete work of Christ by shedding his blood and opening up the way to God in the old observance of the Day of Atonement. The old must give way to the new, but for those who have eyes to see, the new is actually within the old.
Dr. Mark Scott serves as minister with Park Plaza Christian Church in Joplin, Mo. He retired in May after more than 30 years as professor of New Testament with Ozark Christian College in Joplin.