After the author has established the superiority of Christ’s person (1:1-7:28), he now turns to Christ’s superior ministry (8:1-10:18). This is just is just a broad summary of the first ten chapters (and the material we have looked at so far).
Now the point in what we are saying is this (Gr.: kephalaion de epi tois legomenois) can be taken in two ways: (1) the author comes back to his main argument; or (2) a fresh starting point is explored explaining what “Jesus is now doing at God’s right hand” (Ellingworth, 399-400). Since the main point here is that the high priest we have “sits at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty on high”, we take the latter option to be the more accurate one. That the high priest is sitting on God’s right hand (cf. Psalm 110:1) signifies the majestic rule of both, Father and Son – the high-priestly king!
But he is not sitting there without anything to do. The author of Hebrews lets us now more. That high priest is a minister (one engaged in administrative or cultic service, servant, minister; BDAG 591-592, 1, b*) “in the true tent;” that is the heavenly sanctuary, the “better country and well-founded city of 11:10, 16, the unshakable kingdom of 12:28” (Bruce, 182; cf. Exod 25:9, 40; 26:30; 27:8; Num 8:4 as reference to the Heavenly Sanctuary). Jesus is engaged in the ministry of high priestly order. And he does such in the true tent and not in a copy and shadow.
This tent is true because it is “the fulfillment not only of direct prophecies of the eschatological temple, but of everything the imperfect and temporary Old Testament tabernacle and temples foreshadowed” (G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God [Downers Grove/Leicester: InterVarsity/Apollos, 2004], 374).
In verses 3-5 the author just generally states that every priest has to offer something and that thus our great high priest had to offer something too. In 7:27 the author wrote that Jesus offered himself, but this argument will be more thoroughly developed in 9:11-14 and 10:1-15.
The priests here on earth offer gifts according to the law, and thus the earthly priesthood of Christ is ruled out, since we already saw the interrelationship of law and Levitical priesthood (cf. 7:11-14).
But Christ is doing something much better. He, like his earthly types, offered a sacrifice (but a much better one – the best) but he is not ministering in “a copy” or “shadow”, but in the true sanctuary; the sanctuary Moses saw and build the tabernacle from. The terms “copy and shadow” (Gr.: hupodeigmati kai skia) could be rendered “a shadowy copy” (O’Brien, 290; following Attridge, 219; Lane 1:206). The former tabernacle (and for that matter the temple as well) “was only a copy of the heavenly reality” (O’Brien, 290) and thus of “the realm of the changing and transitory, which has only limited validity because it must ultimately pass away” (Lane, 1:206). This is indicated by the quotation of Exod 25:40 which the author of Hebrews utilizes to make his point.
We need to be careful not to “over-interpret” what the author is saying about the old system. The old system (i.e., the law and the priesthood) is not evil or anything like that (see also Paul’s statement in Rom 7:12!), but it has served its purpose. The old system foreshadowed that which was to come; or better: he who was to come. Since Christ has appeared in these latter days we see the true reality to which these copies pointed – Christ himself!
In verse 6 the author switches gear to present the better covenant, the new covenant, of which Christ is the mediator of. But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.
This covenant is better because it is enacted on better promises (see vv. 8b-12) – the topic for next week. There we will see the superiority of the New Covenant.
Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
Ellingworth, P. The Epistle to the Hebrews : A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids; Carlisle England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993.
Lane, William L. Hebrews. 1-8. Word Biblical Commentary, v. 47A. Dallas, Tex: Word Books, 1991.
O’Brien, Peter T. The Letter to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; 2010.