THE CONCLUSION CONCERNING CHRIST’S MORE EXCELLENT MINISTRY BRIEFLY STATED. Hebrews 8:6
The writer will now draw the inference from what he has written concerning the ministry of Christ in the true temple. He will state this briefly, yet in such a way that he prepares the way for a more deep and broad elucidation of the subject as this appears from the Holy Scriptures themselves.
“But now . . . .” The adverbial particle ‘nun” (now) in the Greek language sometimes indicates time. If this were the meaning here the writer would wish to express that now in the New Testament dispensation we have a ministry which we did not yet have in the Old Testament times. This in itself is true enough; however, this is not the sense here. The term “now” is logical, and states a conclusion. The sense is “since the case stands thus,” namely, that Christ cannot offer gifts in the earthly temple, it must needs follow that we have a high priest who hath obtained a more excellent ministry!
There are two terms here which claim our attention. The first is that Christ’s ministry is called “more excellent.” What does this imply? It certainly means that in the comparison of the two ministries referred to both are considered “excellent.” This is not a comparison of what is evil and what is good, but this is a comparison of two excellencies! Both of these ministries were wonderful. They both had a glory of the sanctuary of God. The one ministry has a greater glory than did the other. (See II Corinthians 3:1-10) That the comparison here expressed is a comparison of excellencies ought to be clear from what we read inHebrews 1:4 “Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” The name here refers to the place which the Son has at God’s right hand, far above all principality and power; He is head of the angels. (Colossians 2:10) And such a high priest, who is the Son of God, has a ministry which is far more excellent than the ministry of Aaron and the Old Testament priesthood. The term therefore expresses “an exceptional excellence in that which is surpassed.” If the ministry therefore of Aaron was glorious, how much more glorious is this ministry. In the second place, we must notice the term “better.” Christ is the mediator of abetter covenant. Perhaps the observation of Westcott is most aptly stated when he says “Perhaps “‘better” has regard to intrinsic superiority and “more excellent” to a superiority which is manifested directly.” Page 218, The Epistle To Hebrews. If this distinction holds, this means that the covenant of the New Testament is intrinsically better than the covenant of the Old Testament. And this latter the writer shows in the verses 7-13.
The very nature of the New Testament is better than the Old Testament!
The reason why the covenant is better in the New Testament is briefly stated by the writer: It is of such a nature (eetis) that it is established upon better promises. Yes, the promises in the Old Testament covenant were good, they are of an excellent nature. However, these are better promises, of a more exalted nature, bringing about complete and everlasting salvation. The covenant is as good as the promises. The promises in the Old Testament were connected with works of the ceremonial law, with washings, sacrifices of goats and bullocks. But these promises are yea and amen in Christ Jesus, to the glory of God the Father. (II Corinthians 1:20) Here the promises do not merely point to the coming salvation, but they are the bringing in of salvation itself.
And because the former covenant of Sinai did not bring in salvation itself, could not remove the guilt of sin, and renew the elect unto life eternal, therefore it was subject to criticism. God Himself “finds fault” with it. It perfects nothing. Wherefore the Hebrew Christians are not to return to that which is old and, even in the days of Jeremiah the prophet, was about to vanish away.
THE BETTER COVENANT FORETOLD BY JEHOVAH GOD. (Hebrews 8:7, 8a)
Surely God Himself would not criticize His own work and covenant if it were blameless. If that covenant had brought about the perfection which the priesthood was to realize, surely then He would not have spoken of another covenant, another priesthood, and the mediator of a better covenant. But now God Himself did exactly that by the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah. Says the Lord through Jeremiah “Behold the days are coming, saith the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah . . . .” (Jeremiah 31:31)
Here we see the Lord speaking of a “second covenant” in contradistinction from the “first covenant.” There is something very significant even in the phrase in Jeremiah “the days shall come.” The truth of the matter is that these days are coming so very, very surely. Heaven and earth may pass away, but not one jot or tittle of this prophetic word shall pass away. This very word “saith Jehovah” is the guarantee. It is a faithful promise to Israel, and not merely a foretelling of the future concerning Israel. Faithful is he who has promised it!
There was good reason for the LORD to proclaim this word through Jeremiah to both the houses of Israel and Judah. Both were at the time of this prophecy carried away into captivity; Israel about the year 710 B.C. and Judah about 600 B.C. The curses of the law had come upon both as foretold by Moses in the book of Deuteronomy. Says Moses “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: and all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.” (Deut. 28:1, 2)
That was one side of the covenant which God made with Israel when he brought them out of Egypt by the hand of Moses!
However, there is another side to this covenant which is called in Hebrews the “first covenant.” It is that Israel would only receive these blessing should they be obedient. However, should they not be obedient, curses would come upon Israel. Thus we read in Deut. 28:15 ff. “But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day: that all these curses shall come upon them, and overtake thee: cursed shalt thou be in the city . . . .”
In the days of Jeremiah this latter had become the horrible reality for both Israel and Judah. Does this mean the end of God’s promises made to the Fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Indeed not. God has better promises than those given at Sinai. They are the immutable promises of God which cannot fail-better promises. They are the promises which are yea in Christ, and in him amen to the glory of God the Father. (II Cor. 1:20) The promises at Sinai came later by some 430 years! (Gal. 3:17) And this law which came later (Covenant at Sinai) could not make the promises of God to be annulled, or make them ineffective. When God therefore “finds fault” with the covenant of Sinai, he does not go back on his Word; yea, rather He establishes it. He will fulfill His promises to Abraham and to His Seed.
And thus we are able to understand that glorious and sure Word of God by the prophet Jeremiah at a time when Jerusalem lies in ashes and rubble. A far brighter future is portrayed to Israel and Judah. Neither the one nor the other shall be carried from their land any more. God will set His tabernacle in their midst forever; they will again be brought back to their land. However, it will be the fulfillment of better promises. They shall not merely return to the earthly land of Canaan, but they shall be brought to the heavenly country which the patriarchs so ardently sought, and for which they are willing to be strangers in the land, dwelling in tents as pilgrims and strangers. Wherefore Jeremiah must write in a book the words which the LORD spake to him. He must write “. . . For lo the days come, saith the LORD, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the LORD: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.” (Jeremiah 30:3) And, again, in Jeremiah 30:17, 18 we read “. . . For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD: because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after. Thus saith the LORD: behold I will bring again the captivity of Jacob’s tents, and have mercy on his dwellingplaces; and the city shall be builded upon her own heap, and the palace shall remain after the manner thereof.” Indeed the prophet continues in verse 19 “And out of them shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of them that make merry: and I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small . . . . And ye shall be my people, and I will be your God . . . . ”
Truly, here we have the better promises!
And therefore we have the assurance of a better covenant to be enacted.
The final manifestation of this we shall see in a heaven and in a new earth where righteousness shall dwell.
Such a high priest we have and a ministry which is more excellent than all the ministering priests of the Old Testament of Sinai.
UPON BOTH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND UPON THE HOUSE OF JUDAH (Hebrews 8:8-9)
From the viewpoint of the prophecy of Jeremiah the fact that both “Israel” and “Judah” are mentioned is of utmost importance. Israel is the ten tribes, who are more often called Ephraim or Samaria. And Judah refers to the two tribes, also called Jerusalem. Both of these tribes had a resting-place for God’s Ark of the covenant. For more than 400 years the ark of the testimony was in Shiloh, a city of Ephraim. It was here that Joshua, an Ephraimite, pitched the tent of the Lord. And, from his day till Samuel, the priesthood of Aaron, the covenant of Sinai was represented at Shiloh in Ephraim. However, the sons of Eli were evil, and God caused the glory to depart from Shiloh never to return. The Ark of the Covenant was taken from Shiloh and was brought after many vicissitudes by David to Jerusalem. Here the Ark is once more under the priesthood of Aaron, only this time not under Eli’s house Abiathar, but under Zadok. (I Kings 2:35)
But at the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy the Ark of the Covenant was gone. Fact is that the glory was so departed, that the very Ark of God had been destroyed by the Babylonian hordes. However, to both of these there is comfort, the word of God’s unchangeable and certain promise which cannot fail. God will restore both Israel and Judah and bring them to Zion!