Jesus: A Better High Priest, part 2 (Hebrews 8:1-5)

We were talking last week about Jesus’ exalted position.  Having finished His work on the cross, completely satisfying God’s wrath against our sins and paying the penalty for our pardon, He “sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty of heaven.”

So, we want to continue our examination of what it means to be seated at the right hand of God.  We said it is a place of honor, exaltation and power.

There are many passages which speak of God’s right hand.  David prophesied that the Messiah would sit at God’s right hand” (Psalm 110:1).  Jesus said that He would sit at the right hand of God (Mark 14:60-62).  When He ascended to heaven, He then sat down at God’s right hand (Mark 16:19; Hebrews 12:2).  At God’s right hand, He poured forth the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33).  Peter preached Jesus as being exalted to be at God’s right hand as our Prince and Savior (Acts 5:30-31).  Paul taught that Jesus is at God’s right hand, interceding for us (Romans 8:34).  He is at God’s right hand, “waiting till His enemies are made His footstool” (Hebrews 10:12-13).  Yet while He sits and waits, He also rules! (Psalm 110:1-2,5; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24-26).  For at God’s right hand, He is above all other authority (Ephesians 1:20-22; 1 Peter 3:22).  In one place, we do read of Jesus “standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56).  Was Jesus here showing His respect for Stephen, the very first Christian martyr?

Rather than an imperfect human priest who can only enter the Holy of Holies once a year, and never stay there for long (much less sit there permanently!), we have a high priest seated at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens!  The point is, “Why would you even consider going back to the old system when you have such a high priest permanently seated in such an exalted position?”

To be a high priest at all was pretty prestigious.  One man at a time.  One day in God’s presence.  Highly respected.

But that is no comparison to Jesus.  Six times in the book of Hebrews it is indicated that Jesus is the one enthroned at the right hand of God.  He is a “kingly priest,” and that royal dignity is in view here.

The priesthood of Jesus is performed in heavenly glory with a dignity that is kingly and a power that is divine.

From the perspective of the Ancient Near East, the one who sat at the right hand of a ruler is the one who represents the ruler, acts for the ruler and has the rights and authority of the ruler.  Jesus is the sovereign authority as the reigning Lord.

In Ephesians 1 as part of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, he writes:

19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Currently Jesus has all authority and has inaugurated the kingdom.  The consummation of that kingdom will be established at his second coming.  That is presented proleptically in Revelation 11:15 when the seventh angel blows his trumpet and loud voices cry out, “”The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever,” and will finally be established when Jesus Christ returns and establishes his kingdom on earth (Revelation 19-20).

Verse 2 continues to describe the place from which conducts his present ministry: “a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man” (Hebrews 8:2).  Jesus Christ currently ministers “in the holy places, in the true tent.”

First, let’s just notice that Jesus Christ “ministers” or “serves” there.  This is amazing in itself and shows the upside-down nature of Christ’s kingdom!  When is the last time you heard of a king who served?  You haven’t.  Kings don’t serve, they are served by others.

He told his disciples (Mark 10:45), “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  He came as a servant.

This willingness to serve others runs counter to the natural grain of humanity, because those in exalted positions characteristically view their role otherwise.

Charles Colson had a glimpse of this in his White House days when on a Sunday evening he accompanied the President from the Oval Office in the West Wing of the White House to the Residence. The President was musing about what people wanted in their leaders. He slowed a moment, looking into the distance across the South Lawn, and said, “The people really want a leader a little bigger than themselves, don’t they, Chuck?” Colson agreed. “I mean someone like de Gaulle,” he continued. “There’s a certain aloofness, a power that’s exuded by great men that people feel and want to follow.”

Colson comments in retrospect, “Jesus Christ exhibited none of this self-conscious aloofness. He served others first; He spoke to those to whom no one spoke; He dined with the lowest members of society; He touched the untouchables” (Charles Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict (New York/Grand Rapids, MI: William Morrow/Zondervan, 1978), p. 85).

Jesus serves others throughout his ministry, but left His disciples with an unmistakable illustration in John 13. 

1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.  And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

When Jesus girded himself with a towel, that is not an aberration of his human nature, but an expression of His divine strength bowing down to serve us.  In Psalm 18:35, David expresses this amazing perception of God’s condescension: “You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.”  Some versions say, “You stooped down to make me great.”

Who went to Adam and Eve?  Do they themselves come to their senses and pursue God?

Who present Himself as the spurned lover in the book of Hosea?  Yet, He still pursues.

It is His nature to seek.  To serve is His dignity!

And because He humbles Himself to serve, God will highly exalt Him.  One of my favorite passages of Scripture reminds us:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Even now, Jesus Christ, sitting in kingly glory and constantly receiving the worship of heavenly beings, serves us.  He may have “sat down,” but His is far from inactive!  How incredulous!  How marvelous!

And how does He serve?  Remember Hebrews 7:25.

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

He is advocating for us against the accuser in 1 John 2:1, “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

We “have such a high priest,” not just any priest, but even the best human priest, but the only high priest who could possibly draw us near to God.

Highlight in Hebrews 7:25 that word “always.”  There are no lapses.  No brownouts.  No temporarily lost signals.  He constantly lives in order to serve us by interceding for us before the Father.  That is the best possible service we could receive.

Thirdly, we see the superiority of Jesus’ high priestly ministry is established by the arena in which He serves His people.

Verse 2 speaks of the “true tent.”  Jesus is, “a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.”

What does the author of Hebrews mean by that?  What he is saying is that the earthly tabernacle and the sacrificial system was a temporary shadow, pointing to the real thing that is greater and more effective in dealing with sin.

It is not that the Old Covenant tabernacle was false, but that it was temporary and a shadow of the true tabernacle in heaven.  Moses was shown a plan upon the mountain (Exodus 26:30) and it was of the “true tent that the Lord set up, not man.”  This shows the permanent reality of the heavenly tabernacle.

Why is this so important?

Because we would be in trouble if this were not so.

Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. (Hebrews 8:4)

That is, if Jesus were ministering on earth, then we would be left with the current tabernacle with its priests and sacrifices, and this would not pay for our sins.  If he were talking about the earthly tabernacle, Christ couldn’t serve because He was not of the right lineage.  He wasn’t born into the right family and not only would He be unable to be our high priest, but He would not be able to be a priest at all!

But, there is a true tabernacle, a heavenly tabernacle, set up by God, not by man.

They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:5)

The words “copy” and “shadow” get their significance from the fact that they point to something greater.  The earthly tabernacle is merely a copy, a shadow of a greater reality.  The word “copy” means that there was an original, a master.  The word “shadow” contrasts with something that is real.

To emphasize the more excellent ministry of Messiah, the concept of a copy and shadow is repeated throughout this section.  These words apply to the earthly tabernacle in Hebrews 9:9, “symbolic for the present age” and then he says the earthly tabernacle and furniture are “copies of the heavenly things” in Hebrews 9:23.  In Hebrews 9:24 he again emphasizes that “holy places made with hands…are copies of the true things.”

Thus, the purpose of the earthly tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem was always to point to the greater reality that they typify—a tabernacle in heaven.

Moses was given minute details (15 chapters worth) for designing and constructing the first earthly tabernacle.  The warning to follow “the pattern” (quoted from Exodus 25:40) was given in the midst of minute instructions about the ark, the table, the lampstand, and the size, shape, and materials specified to build the tabernacle (Exodus 25—31; cf. 25:9; 26:30; 27:8)

The word “pattern” meant something more than verbal instruction. Very likely it denoted a model along with verbal explanation.  Moses may have been privileged to view a model on Sinai, then was given personal instruction.

This produced inventive rabbinical speculation.  For example, the Talmud says, “An ark of fire and a table of fire and a candlestick of fire came down from heaven; and these Moses saw and reproduced” (TB Menahoth 29a) (Leon Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary , vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p. 76).  Some rabbis held that the angel Gabriel descended in a workman’s apron from Heaven with models of the tabernacle furniture, which he showed Moses how to build (Edward Fudge, Our Man in Heaven (Grand Rapids, MI: 1974), p. 82).  This, of course, is groundless speculation, but it does show that Jewish interpreters believed there was a heavenly tabernacle.

It can truly be said of the Aaronic priesthood, as verse 5a avers, “They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.”  The substance, the ultimate reality, of the tabernacle is where Jesus is—at the right hand of God.  This being so—and coupled with the dizzying glory of the Lamb surrounded by the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders amidst rainbows of praise—what must the real sanctuary and his priestly ministry be like?  Imagine the multi-faceted shadow of the glorious tabernacle, and then imagine the ultimate heavenly reality!  Remember that the heavenly counterpart is free from the spatial and material limitations of the earthly tabernacle and temple.  If such was the shadow, what must be the substance?  Do not fail to employ your imagination, because however grand and wondrous your imagining is, it cannot exceed the reality of Christ’s heavenly tabernacle and priesthood!

And we can learn a lot from the layout of the tabernacle and the furnishings precisely because it is made to the exact specifications of the heavenly tabernacle.  Moses couldn’t take artistic license in building the tabernacle.

Why?  Because they represented something greater and must have correspondence to it.  Jesus didn’t come to serve us in the replica, but He does serve us in the original.  He is in heaven, in the real Holy of Holies, serving His people.  That is why His ministry is superior.

To show us just how important this is he draws us to a conclusion with another comparison to the old order.

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 (Hebrews 8:6)

Jesus’ priesthood and ministry is far superior (“much more excellent”).  How superior is Jesus’ priesthood?  As superior as the new covenant is to the old.  And that is very, very exciting!  But you’ll have to wait until next week before we get into that.

Do not turn away from Jesus Christ as the ultimate, only worthy sacrifice for your sins.  This is the only sacrifice that God regards as satisfying to His wrath against our sins.  Apart from Jesus Christ, when God looks at us He sees us in all our sin, all our guilt and all our defilement.  But united to Jesus Christ by faith, He sees us in the righteousness and worthiness and purity of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is what you need.  Jesus Christ is all you need.  Don’t turn to anything else.  Don’t try to add anything else to simple faith in Jesus Christ.  Trust in Him alone.

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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