Online Bible Commentary
The Superiority of Christ to High Priests
Hebrews 8:1 The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man. 3 Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. 4 If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5 They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain." 6 But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. (NIV)
In the preceding passage we learned that Christ was superior to the priesthood. Now, in this passage, we learn that Christ is superior to the high priest. God gave instructions to Moses on Mount Sinai to name Aaron the first high priest, and the high priests were named from Aaron’s descendants. It was for this reason that they were called Aaronic priests.
The high priest was superior to the priesthood, the Levitical priests. The high priest alone was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, the abode of God in the temple. He was permitted to enter once a year, on the great day of atonement. At this time he would sprinkle the blood of the sin offering on the mercy seat and burn incense within the veil. Also, the dress of the high priest was far superior to that of the Levitical priests.
The writer of Hebrews begins this passage with “the point” (v. 1a) of what he had been leading up to in the preceding passage. This point is that we Christians have “such a high priest” as that of the Jews. The constant theme of this letter is for the writer to establish that Christianity is superior to Judaism, so that the Hebrew Christians will not return to Judaism.
Christ, the superior high priest, sits “at the right hand of the throne” (v. 1b) of God in Heaven. So Christ is superior to the Aaronic high priest because His sanctuary is superior to that of the Aaronic high priest. Christ “serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle” (v. 2a) that was set up by God in Heaven. From there he “offers both gifts and sacrifices” (v. 3) like the Aaronic high priests. These gifts and sacrifices are not identified until chapter nine of Hebrews.
The writer then reminds us that Christ, if he were on earth, would not be qualified to be a high priest (v. 4a). He was from the tribe of Judah, not from the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron. In fact, Christ, while he was on earth, never entered the Holy of Holies. There were already high priests on earth who offered “the gifts prescribed by the law” (v. 4b).
However, these high priests on earth served at the tabernacle, and later at the temple. It was a “sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven” (v. 5a). God had warned Moses on Mount Sinai to build the tabernacle “according to the pattern” (v. 5b) that He was giving to Moses. This pattern for the earthly tabernacle was taken from the real thing in Heaven. It was only a “copy and shadow” of the heavenly tabernacle. The heavenly tabernacle is far superior to the earthly tabernacle. Christ’s sanctuary is far superior to the earthly high priest’s sanctuary.
Verse six is a bridge to the next topic: the superiority of Christ’s New Covenant to the Old Covenant. Just as Christ’s high priest “ministry” (v. 6a) is superior to that of the Aaronic high priests’, so also is Christ’s New Covenant superior to the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is better because it is “founded on better promises” (v. 6b). The promises are better because of grace. The Old Covenant promised blessings for obedience and death for disobedience. It required righteousness but did not give the ability to produce it. The New Covenant promised an unconditional covenant of grace. It imputed righteousness, and teaches and empowers us to live righteously. Stay tuned to the next commentary for more on the covenants.
So, Christ is superior to high priests because His sanctuary is superior. His Heavenly sanctuary is far superior to the tabernacle, and later the temple, on earth. The earthly sanctuary is only a copy, a shadow. In fact, it is a poor copy compared to Heaven’s sanctuary. It is difficult, if not impossible, for our finite minds to imagine the infinite beauty and majesty of Heaven. We can only imagine, as the song goes. Someday, though, we will walk the streets of gold and see the majesty with our own eyes. Glory be to God on high.