In many ways, Hebrews chapter 8 brings us to the focus of the “written sermon” that is the whole book of Hebrews. The foundational principle of this inspired lesson to Jewish Christians is that their conversion from Judaism to Christianity was a oneway move because Jesus had fulfilled everything Moses covenant had foreshadowed (cf. Matthew 5:17).
The change in the priesthood that Jesus produced (by becoming THE High Priest for all who believe) stands as a stark contrast to the priestly services that were still taking place in the Jerusalem temple at this time (vs. 4 effectively “dates” the book of Hebrews to the period before the destruction of the temple). Verses 1-3 emphasize the point that Jesus has presented Himself and His “offering” (His blood) in the actual presence of God Himself, whereas the Jewish priests – even the High Priest in the temple in Jerusalem – could bring only offerings that anticipated something better. In addition, verse 4 also highlights the distinct character of Jesus’ priesthood (i.e., His priestly service is like that of Melchizedek, rather than Aaron) by pointing out that He could not serve in this role on earth – which separated Him from the Jewish priests who were serving in a temple meant to point them toward the Messiah and heavenly things all along.
In the last part of verse 5 we find a reference to Exodus 25:9 and God’s instructions to Moses concerning the construction of the ancient tabernacle: The point being made by this reference comes in verses 6-7, where the “pattern” seen by Moses at Mount Sinai is the “more excellent ministry” of Jesus! Quoting from Jeremiah 31:31-34 (verses 8- 12), the Holy Spirit stresses the point made in verse 7 – that God had intended to replace the covenant given through Moses from the moment He gave it.
It is important for us to remember at this point that Hebrews was written for converted Jews who were being strongly tempted to resume the practice Judaism, thus effectively turning away from Christ (because of opposition and persecution from fellow Jews, and the “illegal” status of the church under the Roman authorities). It is easy to imagine their reasoning; “We would still be worshipping the same God, and we would be freed from the trials that becoming Christians brought upon us.” What they needed to see, however, was that they would forfeit the blessings they had received by becoming Christians, and gain nothing of value by turning back to Moses’ law.
The application for these original Jewish Christian readers comes at verse 13, where the inspired writer makes the point that everything associated with worship under the Mosaic covenant – the Levitical priesthood, the temple in Jerusalem, the sacrifices and offerings that were required – was about to “vanish away” (in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, by the Romans, in 70 A.D.). For us, the point is to see the exclusive character of the covenant of Christ; it cannot coexist with Judaism as an “equally valid” path to fellowship with God, but stands whole and alone as the fulfillment of everything the Law of Moses was meant to foreshadow (cf. Galatians 3:23-25).