26 For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men subject to weakness, but the word of solemn affirmation that came after the law appoints a son made perfect forever.
Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We have such a high priest, one who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. So this one too had to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest, since there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5 The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, just as Moses was warned by God as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For he says, “See that you make everything according to the design shown to you on the mountain.”1
Unexpectedly, our text led me to the story of the stoning of Stephen in Acts. It is here that Stephen spoke of the “pattern” for the tabernacle and its furnishings that was shown to Moses:
“Our ancestors had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as God who spoke to Moses ordered him to make it according to the design he had seen” (Acts 7:44).
In reading this account, I came to see the introductory verses to the story of Stephen in an entirely different light:
13 They brought forward false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop saying things against this holy place and the law. 14 For we have heard him saying that Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.” 15 All who were sitting in the council looked intently at Stephen and saw his face was like the face of an angel (Acts 6:13-15, emphasis mine).
As I considered these words, several things came to mind that are related to our text in the Book of Hebrews. First, similar accusations were made against Jesus.2 Second, these charges are what galvanized the opposition to Stephen and to the gospel, prompting them to cast aside all restraint and to illegally execute Stephen. Third, I came to realize that these charges, even though expressed by false witnesses, were prophetic. They were prophetic in a way that is similar to the words of Caiaphas in John 11:
49 Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.” 51 (Now he did not say this on his own, but because he was high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered.) 53 So from that day they planned together to kill him (John 11:49-53, emphasis mine).
These charges dealt with matters that would divide Christian Jews and unbelieving Jews. These would become the source of Jewish hostility toward the gospel and the church.
Fourth, the substance of these charges is the subject matter of Hebrews because this was the “bone of contention” between Hebrew Christians and unbelieving Judaism. Think about it for a moment. The author of Hebrews is affirming that the “New Covenant” will replace the “Old (Mosaic) Covenant,” and not just that, but the priestly and ritualistic religious systems of Judaism:
So if perfection had in fact been possible through the Levitical priesthood – for on that basis the people received the law – what further need would there have been for another priest to arise, said to be in the order of Melchizedek and not in Aaron’s order? (Hebrews 7:11)
18 On the one hand a former command is set aside because it is weak and useless, 19 for the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God (Hebrews 7:18-19).
6 But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one (Hebrews 8:6-7).
Thus, we understand from Acts 7 just how strongly unbelieving Jews felt about the Christian belief in the New Covenant and a whole new order of priesthood. We likewise get a glimpse of the opposition the Hebrew Christians faced, and at least some of the temptation they felt to “fall away” or “fall back” into Judaism. And what that “falling back” must include (to avoid persecution) is a denial of the New Covenant, and thus the high priestly work of our Lord on the cross of Calvary.3 In other words, to avoid persecution, they would need to deny the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In this lesson, I will begin back in verse 26 of chapter 7, and then will proceed only as far as verse 5 in chapter 8. The first 5 verses of chapter 8 deal with the “true tabernacle” as opposed to the earthly “tabernacle” that facilitated Israel’s worship in the days of their wilderness experience. Verses 6-13 of chapter 8 focus on the New Covenant, a subject which continues into and beyond chapter 9.
I will begin by seeking to summarize the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over that of the Aaronic priesthood from 7:26-28. Then we will consider the author’s main point as articulated in the first 2 verses of chapter 8. We will then focus on the “true tabernacle” in 8:2-5, with special attention to his citation of Exodus 25:40 in verse 8. And we shall conclude, Lord willing, with a consideration of some of the implications and applications of the teaching of this text.
26 For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men subject to weakness, but the word of solemn affirmation that came after the law appoints a son made perfect forever (Hebrews 7:26-28).
So here the author summarizes just what it is that makes the Son vastly superior to the Aaronic priests.
Is undefiled by sin and thus has no need to offer sacrifices for His sin
Were obligated to offer sacrifices for their own sins (7:27; see also 5:1-3)
Has a heavenly ministry (7:26)
Had an earthly ministry (7:27-28)
Offered one sacrifice, once for all (7:27)
Offered daily sacrifices (7:27)
Offered Himself as the sacrifice (7:27)
Offered animal and other sacrifices (7:27)
Appointed by divine oath (7:28)
Appointed on basis of ancestry (7:28)
Has been made perfect forever (7:28)
Were far from perfect, and could not lead men to perfection (7:11, 27-28)
1 Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We have such a high priest, one who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up (Hebrews 8:1-2).
Notice how the author reiterates what he has just said in verse 26. In 8:1, he takes up the expression, “such a high priest,” which he used in 7:26. Rather than repeating all the particulars of His superiority that we find in 7:26-28, he sums them all up in what becomes his main point: “We have such a high priest, one who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up” (8:1b-2). In contrast to Aaron and his descendants, who were earthly priests with all of the limitations that implies, the Son is our heavenly High Priest, with all the advantages that brings. In chapter 8, this will be spelled out both in terms of His place of ministry (“the true tabernacle” – verses 1-5) and the basis of His ministry (“the New Covenant” – verses 6-13).
The main emphasis of this message will be the “true tabernacle,” a topic that will be expanded as the argument of Hebrews continues to unfold:
. . . a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up (Hebrews 8:2, emphasis mine).
The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, just as Moses was warned by God as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For he says, “See that you make everything according to the design shown to you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5, emphasis mine).
11 But now Christ has come as the high priest of the good things to come. He passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, 12 and he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:11-12, emphasis mine).
23 So it was necessary for the sketches of the things in heaven to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves required better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands – the representation of the true sanctuary – but into heaven itself, and he appears now in God’s presence for us (Hebrews 9:23-24, emphasis mine).
For the law possesses a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself, and is therefore completely unable, by the same sacrifices offered continually, year after year, to perfect those who come to worship (Hebrews 10:1, emphasis mine).
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh (Hebrews 10:19-20, emphasis mine).
Verses 1-5 of Hebrews 8 thus serve as an introduction to a much fuller expansion of this theme of heavenly realities that are foreshadowed by earthly prototypes or sketches. This is not something that is unique to the Epistle to the Hebrews, as we shall soon see.
This expression, “the true tabernacle,” might catch us off guard, but it should not be completely foreign to those who are familiar with the Gospel of John. Several times in this Gospel, our Lord is described as something that is “true”:
6 A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. 9 The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world (John 1:6-9, emphasis mine).
30 So they said to him, “Then what miraculous sign will you perform, so that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the solemn truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:30-33, emphasis mine).
1 “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. 2 He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2, emphasis mine).
“True” here is not primarily contrasted with that which is false, although this can sometimes be in view.4 Here, “true” is used in reference to our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate fulfillment of some earlier prototype or “shadow.” All light illumines, but our Lord is the ultimate “light,” the “light of the world.” And so it is that Jesus can give sight (light) to blind eyes (Isaiah 29:18; John 9) or can travel at night without fear of stumbling (John 11:9-10). God gave the Israelites bread from heaven (manna) in order to sustain their physical lives, but our Lord Jesus is the “true bread,” for He gives life eternal (John 6:30-33). And so Jesus can say this regarding His atoning work on the cross of Calvary,
“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55).
So we can see from Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel that certain Old Testament people, things, or rituals serve as a prototype of an ultimate reality which is to be found only in Christ:
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days – 17 these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ! (Colossians 2:16-17, emphasis mine)
Beyond those instances where the term “true” is employed, there are many other references to our Lord as the ultimate fulfillment of some earlier event, item, or ritual. As a prophet, Moses was a prototype of the Messiah (Deuteronomy 18:15). The exodus was a prototype of the salvation which God would bring about through Jesus (see Isaiah 43:2, 66; Luke 9:315). In John 1:29, 36 and also in 1 Corinthians 5:7, our Lord is the “true” Passover lamb. In John 3:14-15, our Lord’s death is likened to the lifting up of the brazen serpent in the wilderness. In 1 Corinthians 10:4, our Lord is identified as “the rock” which followed the Israelites in the wilderness.
All of this is to say that we should not be surprised to find our Lord as the “true tabernacle” in the Book of Hebrews. The author is about to prove this connection by citing Exodus 25:40 in Hebrews 8:5.
5 The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, just as Moses was warned by God as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For he says, “See that you make everything according to the design shown to you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5).
The occasion is the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. God has already given Moses the commandments which Moses had written down, and the people had promised to obey.
3 Moses came and told the people all the Lord’s words and all the decisions. All the people answered together, “We are willing to do all the words that the Lord has said,” 4 and Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Early in the morning he built an altar at the foot of the mountain and arranged twelve standing stones – according to the twelve tribes of Israel (Exodus 24:3-4).
Moses had not yet received the commandments written on stone tablets. Neither (so far as I can tell) has God revealed to Moses the instructions for the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings. That is yet to come when Moses goes to the top of the mountain where he will remain in God’s presence for forty days and forty nights.6 But before this takes place, God is going to reveal Himself in a marvelous way to the elders of Israel, as well as to Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu:
1 But to Moses the Lord said, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from a distance. 2 Moses alone may come near the Lord, but the others must not come near, nor may the people go up with him.” . . . 9 Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear like the sky itself. 11 But he did not lay a hand on the leaders of the Israelites, so they saw God, and they ate and they drank (Exodus 24:1-2, 9-11).
To me, this is one of the most fascinating texts in all of the Old Testament. Men could not look upon God, or they would die.7 God had placed boundaries around the mountain, so that no man or animal would venture too close, and thus die (Exodus 19:21-25; see also 33:18-23). And yet somehow God seems to make an exception here. From verses 9-10, one can hardly avoid the conclusion that these elders, priests, and Moses are given a foretaste of heaven. If this is what God revealed to these leaders, what more did He reveal to Moses?8
We do know that at some point in those forty days spent on the mountain with God, Moses was given a revelation of the heavenly things the earthly tabernacle would represent:
8 Let them make for me a sanctuary, so that I may live among them. 9 According to all that I am showing you – the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings – you must make it exactly so (Exodus 25:8-9).
You are to set up the tabernacle according to the plan that you were shown on the mountain (Exodus 26:30).
You are to make the altar hollow, out of boards. Just as it was shown you on the mountain, so they must make it (Exodus 27:8).
Our ancestors had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as God who spoke to Moses ordered him to make it according to the design he had seen (Acts 7:44).
Here is the irony of it all. God revealed something of Himself to the Israelite leaders,9 as He had also revealed more of Himself to Moses.10 And in the giving of the Law, God is also revealing Himself to the nation Israel through this law. And yet, during this relatively short period of Moses’ physical absence, the people reach the conclusion that they must have some representation of God that they can see and touch. And so they find Aaron to be a willing participant in the fashioning of the golden calf and in leading the nation Israel in heathen worship (Exodus 32:1-8). The tabernacle and its furnishings, along with the priests, will enable men to draw nearer to God than would otherwise be possible. And yet God’s people create a god with their own hands, and then demand that they be left free to worship their idol.
The real question for me is this: “Just what was it that God revealed to Moses?” What did Moses see on the mountain? I don’t believe that Moses saw a “copy” of the heavenly reality, as one might see a copy of a picture, or of a document.11 It is significant, I believe, that the NET Bible translates verse 5 this way:
5 The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, just as Moses was warned by God as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For he says, “See that you make everything according to the design shown to you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5, emphasis by underscoring mine).
To be honest, I’m not quite certain what Moses actually saw. The author does not really seem to tell us. I am inclined to think that Moses may have had some vision of the heavenly reality, not unlike the vision which he and the 70 elders of Israel saw in Exodus 24:10. Then, I believe that Moses was also shown the design and specifications for the tabernacle and its furnishings, along with what they would look like when completed. (This is something like an architect’s design for a building, which is often accompanied with an artist’s conception –or model – of how the project will look when finished. The point being made here is that the tabernacle and furnishings, along with the sacrifices and priestly system, were but a prototype of something vastly superior, something heavenly.
So, let us now seek to trace the flow of the argument of Hebrews 8:1-5. Our Great High Priest, unlike the Aaronic priests, is seated at God’s right hand – the throne of Majesty – which is in the heavens. We have a High Priest whose place of ministry is at the Father’s right hand. There is no place – on earth or in heaven – that is more powerful. The sanctuary in which He serves is no mere prototype of the heavenly reality; it is the heavenly reality. It is the “true tabernacle” established by Christ12 and not man.
Every high priest must offer gifts and sacrifices of some kind. Thus, this High Priest – our Lord Jesus – must also have something to offer. If He were merely an earthly priest, He would be redundant, for the Aaronic priests function in an earthy tabernacle, offering the sacrifices prescribed by the law. They serve in a tabernacle that is a kind of prototype, representing something vastly superior which exists in heaven. This is why God warned Moses to construct the earthly tabernacle so that it would reflect the greater, heavenly reality, a reality of which he was given a preview on Mount Sinai. The earthly tabernacle is thus the sketch, the shadow; the heavenly reality is the substance. And this heavenly reality is our Lord’s base of operations. Thus, His priestly ministry overshadows the ministry of the Aaronic priesthood, just as the reality surpasses the replica.
First, just because the shadows are inferior to the substance, we should not think of them as bad and only the substance as good.In making a point of the superiority of Christ, His priesthood, and the New Covenant over the Aaronic priesthood and the Old Covenant, I do not wish to give the false impression that the “Old” was bad. Before Christ’s coming in the flesh, the Old Covenant and priesthood enabled men to draw nearer to God than before. Consider well these words in Deuteronomy 4:
Look! I have taught you statutes and ordinances just as the Lord my God told me to do, so that you might carry them out in the land you are about to enter and possess. 6 So be sure to do them, because this will testify of your wise understanding to the people who will learn of all these statutes and say, “Indeed, this great nation is a very wise people.” 7 In fact, what other great nation has a god so near to them like the Lord our God whenever we call on him? 8 And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this whole law that I am about to share with you today? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8, emphasis mine)
The Old Covenant and its priesthood compared to Christ and the New Covenant is like a Model T Ford compared to a new Ford Thunderbird (are they still making them?). In its day, the Model T Ford was a wonder, but it has been surpassed by something vastly superior. Put differently, the Old Covenant set us on the path toward perfection (nearness to God), but it could not take us all the way. The New Covenant has brought us to perfection. In addition to this, the Old had sinful human priests who served in an earthly tabernacle; the New has a divine/human priest who serves in the heavenly sanctuary. In these ways, the New is vastly superior to the Old. But in its day, the Old was as good as any had seen up to that point in time.
Think of this first point in applicational terms. After having driven a new Ford Thunderbird, who would want to reject it and go back to driving a Model T? To reject that which is not only superior, but the ultimate perfection, for that which is preliminary and inferior, just doesn’t make sense. And so falling away from Christ to return to Judaism is contrary to all sound reason.
Second, the heavenly realities (or substance) which the “shadows” anticipated are revealed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days – 17 these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ! (Colossians 2:16-17, emphasis mine)
I cannot think of one example of an earthly “shadow” whose fulfillment is not Jesus.
On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29, emphasis mine)
19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body (John 2:19-21, emphasis mine).
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (John 3:14).
Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough – you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7, emphasis mine).
. . . and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4).
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 23 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works (Hebrews 10:19-24, emphasis mine).
Now I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God – the All-Powerful – and the Lamb are its temple (Revelation 21:22).
What does all this mean? It means that Christ is the fulfillment of every prototype of God’s future blessings. We need no one else but Christ. We need preach none other than Christ. And if we reject Christ, we reject the One who is the ultimate provision of God for man. No wonder it is such a fearful thing to turn away from Christ and to turn back to that which was inferior and anticipatory of Him.
Third, these ultimate heavenly realities are largely unseen, but they are spoken; they are revealed in the Word of God.Several elements are involved here, so let’s take them one at a time.
A. The heavenly realities which are foreshadowed by earthly things are largely unseen:
1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. 2 For by it the people of old received God’s commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible (Hebrews 11:1-3, emphasis mine).
13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16, emphasis mine).
8 You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 because you are attaining the goal of your faith – the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9, emphasis mine).
23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance (Romans 8:23-25, emphasis mine).
6 Now we do speak wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing. 7 Instead we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, that God determined before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:6-9).
B. Some of what we have not seen has been seen by others, namely those who lived in Jesus’ day:
14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. 15 John testified about him and shouted out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” 16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known (John 1:14-18, emphasis mine).
1 This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life – 2 and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us). 3 What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ). (1 John 1:1-3)
C. When our Lord came to earth in human flesh, He spoke for God, and His Word has been preserved for us in the Scriptures. Not only has He revealed God’s Word to us, that Word has been attested as true and as vital to our Christian lives:
1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3).
1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).
12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account (Hebrews 4:12-13).
2 May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord! 3 I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. 4 Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire (2 Peter 1:2-4).
D. Since heavenly realities are not matters of sight, but rather things which God has revealed in His Word, we must give careful attention to His Word and believe it by faith.
1 Therefore we must be wary that, while the promise of entering his rest remains open, none of you may seem to have come short of it. 2 For we had good news proclaimed to us just as they did. But the message they heard did them no good, since they did not join in with those who heard it in faith. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my anger, ‘They will never enter my rest!’” And yet God’s works were accomplished from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:1-3).
1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. 2 For by it the people of old received God’s commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible (Hebrews 11:1-3).
6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, with reverent regard constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going (Hebrews 11:6-8).
24 By faith, when he grew up, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be ill-treated with the people of God than to enjoy sin’s fleeting pleasure. 26 He regarded abuse suffered for Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for his eyes were fixed on the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt without fearing the king’s anger, for he persevered as though he could see the one who is invisible (Hebrews 11:24-27).
Fourth, these heavenly realities put their earthly counterparts into proper perspective. God graciously gave the earthly shadows to meet man’s needs for the moment and to prepare the way for the vastly greater heavenly realities which would be realized in Christ. Hebrew Christians would not do well to return to the inferior prototypes, since these could never make one perfect – that is, they could never draw one into an intimate and lasting relationship with God. That could only be done in the person and work of Christ. His work of making atonement for our sins, once for all, was accomplished at Calvary. His work of continually interceding on our behalf as our Great High Priest continues until we have been perfected by our resurrection and transformation when He returns to earth to establish His kingdom. To return to Judaism is to embrace the symbols, but to reject the substance. What a terrible mistake this would be.
Finally, these heavenly realities mean that we are no longer bound to the culturally restrictive rituals that were required of the Old Testament people of God, and this has tremendous implications for our worship and evangelism.I gratefully acknowledge that this application comes from an excellent sermon by Dr. John Piper, entitled, “Our High Priest is The Son of God Perfect Forever.”13 Piper writes:
“Now let me draw out some implications of this for the life of worship. The High Priesthood of Jesus—the coming of the reality instead of the shadow—fulfills and brings to an end the physical center of Old Testament worship, the tabernacle and the temple. It fulfills and brings to an end the official priesthood. It fulfills and brings to an end the sacrificial offerings. It fulfills and brings to an end the dietary laws. It fulfills and brings to an end the priestly vestments. It fulfills and brings to an end the seasonal acts of atonement and reconciliation.
What this means, in essence, is that the entire worship life of the Old Testament has been radically refocused onto Jesus himself and has become a radically spiritual thing, as opposed to an external thing. The external is still important, but now the spiritual is so radically pervasive that virtually all of external life, not just church life, is the expression of worship. "Present your bodies as living sacrifices which is your reasonable service of worship" (Romans 12:1). That's all the time and everywhere. "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31)—all the time, everywhere. The money that the Philippians sent to Paul he says in 4:18 was ‘a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.’
In the New Testament, all the focus is on the reality of the glory of Christ, not the shadow and copy of religious objects and forms. It is stunning how indifferent the New Testament is to such things: there is no authorization in the New Testament for worship buildings, or worship dress, or worship times, or worship music, or worship liturgy or worship size or thirty-five-minute sermons, or Advent poems or choirs or instruments or candles. In fact, the act of getting together as Christians in the New Testament to sing or pray or hear the word of God is never even called worship. I wonder if we do not distort the Biblical meaning of “worship” by using the word almost entirely for an event for which the New Testament never uses the word.
But all of this makes us very free and, perhaps, very frightened. Free to find place and time and dress and size and music and elements and objects that help us orient radically toward the supremacy of God in Christ. And frightened, perhaps, because almost every worship tradition we have is culturally shaped rather than Biblically commanded. The command is a radical connection of love and trust and obedience to Jesus Christ in all of life.
There’s a reason for this radical spirituality of worship in the New Testament. And the reason is this. The New Testament is a missionary document. The message of this book is meant to be carried to every people on earth and incarnated in every culture in the world. And that is why our High Priest came and ended tabernacle, and sacrifices and feasts and vestments and dietary laws and circumcision and priesthood. The Old Testament was mainly a come-and-see religion. The New Testament is mainly a go-and-tell religion. And to make that possible, the Son of God has not abolished worship, but made it the kind of radically spiritual engagement with God in Christ that can and must happen in every culture on the earth. Worship is not trivialized in the New Testament, but intensified, deepened, and made the radical fuel and goal of all missions.
The frightening freedom of worship in the New Testament is a missionary mandate. We must not lock this gospel treasure in any cultural straitjacket. Rather let us find the place, the time, the dress, the forms, the music that kindles and carries a passion for the supremacy of God in all things. And may our communion with the living God be so real and the Spirit of God so powerfully present that the heart of what we do becomes the joy of all the peoples we are called to reach.”
John Piper’s excellent words of application turn my mind to the conversation between Jesus and the “woman at the well” in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John:
19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But a time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he” (John 4:19-26).14
I now believe that this woman was sincere in her desire to “get it right” when it came to how one should worship God. Her (Samaritan) people believed that one must worship on Mount Gerizim; the Jews worshipped God in Jerusalem. Jesus informs her that as a result of His coming as the Promised Messiah, such matters as where one worships are now a moot question. True worshippers will worship “in Spirit and in truth” (verse 23). When the ultimate reality appears, the shadow (of tabernacle or temple) is no longer needed. And so the scattering of the disciples from Jerusalem (Acts 8:1) and the destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:1-2) were of little consequence so far as true worship was concerned. True worship is facilitated through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and it is focused upon the person and work of the Son, whether that takes place in Jerusalem or in Juneau, Alaska.
It is all about Jesus, and not about tabernacles and veils and animal sacrifices. Now that Jesus – their ultimate fulfillment – has come, we need only worship Him, wherever that might be. We cannot worship any way that we like, but we do have considerable freedom in the Spirit to worship the Son of God, as we can see from texts like 1 Corinthians 12-14. And with this freedom, the gospel and the church are not restricted to any particular place, or to any particular culture.
It is this very thing which brings persecution to those Jews who embrace Jesus as their Messiah. They are no longer bound to the Old Covenant or to the old rituals. The preaching of the gospel is no long restricted to Jews only,15 or to those who will embrace Christ and Judaism.16 The church is now “one new man” rather than two separate entities, separated by a huge cultural and religious gap.17 This opens wide the door of opportunity for evangelism, so that men and women of every race and tribe may trust in Jesus and worship God through Him.
This brings us to the freedom and glory of the New Covenant, but this we must save for the lessons to follow. To God be the glory; great things He has done.
1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 18 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on November 9, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
5 One might easily miss the fact that the term used for “departure” can be transliterated “exodus.” This is indicated by the translator’s note in the NET Bible: “tn Grk "his exodus," which refers to Jesus' death in Jerusalem and journey back to glory. Here is the first lesson that the disciples must learn. The wondrous rule comes only after suffering.”
12 The Greek term kurios can be used in reference to God the Father, or to God the Son. Here, it seems to refer to the Son.
14 It was after I had finished this message (or so I thought) that I found these words by F. F. Bruce (and his reference to John 4), which sound a great deal like those of Piper: “To our author, the new covenant involves the abolition of the old sacrificial order because of a perfect and unrepeatable sacrifice, and a high-priestly ministry discharged in the heavenly, no longer in an earthly, sanctuary on the basis of that sacrifice by a priest of a different line from Aaron’s. True worship, ‘in spirit and in truth,’ is thus released from dependence on the externalities of religion.” F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, revised edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), pp. 193-194.