I was away last week, and our study was led by Jana, who very faithfully and capably put in the work to walk us through this portion of the book of Hebrews, 8:1–9:14. I say “walk,” but getting to this chapter has taken a climb. Together with the author of Hebrews we have scaled the heights of Christ’s superiority over angels, Moses, and Aaron. We’ve seen the superiority of Christ’s revelation of the Father, of his great salvation, of the rest he offers, of his priesthood and intercession, and of the hope he offers as the sure and steadfast anchor of our souls. After the steep vertical climb learning about the superiority of his priesthood after the order of Melchizedek over the Aaronic priesthood we are now standing on the heights, taking in the majesty of Jesus our perfect high priest and all that means for us in the work he accomplished for his people once for all in securing our eternal redemption.
It’s like those pictures that float around on the internet, with the tagline, “When you see it…” We Christians know that the salvation Jesus purchased for us by his own blood in this, the new covenant, is superior to the blood of bulls and goats in the old covenant. But the author of Hebrews is holding up the picture for us to look deeper and more thoughtfully into our salvation and see the glory that until now has been hiding in plain sight.
But once we see it, we can’t unsee it.
Let’s look at it together, shall we?
Hebrews 8, verse 1 states the point of the entire sermon: “we have such a high priest.” Referring to the “Son who has been made perfect forever” (7:28), who now “is seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (8:1), Jesus Christ is our perfect High Priest-King who represents us and intercedes for us in an eternally perfect ministry from his divinely royal throne at his Father’s side. He is “such a high priest,” who has secured for us “such a great salvation” (2:3), that we may “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16).
The contrasts up to this point in the book reach their crescendo in chapters 8 and 9 as our author displays the superiority of the new covenant mediated by Christ to the old covenant mediated by Moses. The old covenant, with all the types and shadows of the sacrificial system, was vitally important to God’s people, for it pointed forward to Christ.
The tabernacle of the old covenant was God’s appointed place to dwell among and meet with his people. Made according to the pattern shown to Moses on the mountain, it was a copy and shadow of the heavenly things (8:5)—not in that it represented what the heavenly throne room looks like, but in its representation of the spiritual realities of the salvation which the coming Christ would accomplish. The very fact that the high priest could only enter the Holy of Holies once a year, and then only if he brought the blood of the sacrifice, demonstrated that the way to God was closed (9:8). True, unhindered fellowship with the holy God who dwelled just beyond the curtain was impossible for sinful people. The gifts and sacrifices offered under the administration of the old covenant dealt with outward things but could not perfect the conscience of the worshiper (9:9); they purified the flesh (9:13) but not the heart.
All the sacrificial system, the rivers of blood shed by the generations of priests, and the centuries of annual Days of Atonement were not pointless. But they were temporary. They were imperfect. They were insufficient and therefore unable to accomplish the salvation which they signified. They declared to the people that the blood of bulls and goats and the prayers of the fallible, human high priests could not wash away their sins. They needed God himself to come down and wash them clean.
Indeed, this was the heart-cry of David:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
. . . . For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
. . . . Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
. . . . For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. —Psalm 51:1–4, 7–12, 16–17
What the old covenant could not accomplish but pointed forward to in anticipation of Christ, the new covenant gloriously and graciously delivers. Because of God’s great mercy and steadfast love, we are thoroughly washed of iniquity and cleansed of sin, and all our transgressions are blotted out. By the perfect, holy, sufficient, and effective blood of Christ, God cleanses our hearts and renews our spirits within us. We are not only brought into his presence, but Christ dwells in us by his Holy Spirit, “to work in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
This is the glorious salvation of the new covenant which the author of Hebrews is holding up for us to examine next to the old covenant which has been made obsolete (Heb. 8:13). In this new covenant Christ has entered the True Tabernacle after which Moses’s tent was patterned, Christ is the True Sacrifice after which the sacrificial system was patterned, having shed his own infinitely holy and precious blood which the blood of the animals prefigured, and Christ has become the Author of the True Salvation for which God’s people have longed and prayed down through the ages: life everlasting in the presence of God (9:11–14).
Simply put, what the author of Hebrews is showing us in these chapters, indeed, in his entire sermon, is that Jesus Christ is The Way, The Truth, and The Life—no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6).