With the blood of animals man could not obtain redemption, for he remained unclean. How different the sacrifice of Christ! By his one offering, Christ cleansed the sinner’s conscience, led him from death to life, and became the mediator of the new covenant. In this chapter the author presents an exposition on the meaning of the covenant. Because sin affected the stipulations of the first covenant, God told Moses to sacrifice animals and to sprinkle their blood on the tabernacle, its contents, and on the people. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” When Christ came in the official capacity of high priest and mediator of the new covenant, he offered himself once for all and entered the heavenly sanctuary to appear in behalf of the believers in the presence of God. By his death on the cross, Christ removed “the sins of many people.”
In some ways chapter 8 is an extended commentary on 7:22, where the author introduces the concept covenant. He explains the word by quoting at length from a prophetic passage in the Book of Jeremiah. Yet he fails to interpret the term covenant. He does that in the following chapter (9:15-22). The quotation from Jeremiah 31:31-34, however, serves the purpose of showing the readers that God himself in the days of Jeremiah had already declared the covenant made with Israel to be obsolete.
God revealed the appearance of the new covenant centuries before the birth of Christ. Just as God himself appointed Christ as high priest in the order of Melchizedek, so he established a new covenant of which Christ would be the high priest.
The old order of the Levitical priesthood eventually had to come to an end. The sanctuary at which the priests served was “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” By contrast, the sanctuary at which Jesus serves as high priest is the true tabernacle in the presence of God himself. The earthly sanctuary was temporal; the heavenly sanctuary is eternal.
As the heavenly tabernacle is superior to the earthly sanctuary, so the new covenant, of which Jesus is the mediator, is superior to the old covenant. The new covenant is better because of the promises God gives to his people. And Jesus, who is the mediator of this new covenant, guarantees these promises: to know God, to treasure his revelation, and to experience complete forgiveness of sin.
To point out the supremacy of Christ’s priesthood, the author of Hebrews presents a description of the earthly tabernacle, its contents, and the priestly ministry in and around this sanctuary. The sacrifices, however, were external observances, for they were unable to cleanse the guilty conscience of the sinner.
Already in earlier passages the author describes the characteristics of the high priest (2:17-18; 4:14-15; 5:1-5). In 7:26-28 the writer centers his explanation of the heavenly high priest on holiness, sinlessness, sacrifice, and perfection. The theme of Jesus’ perfection, introduced in 2:10 and implied in 7:11, culminates in the words: “the Son … has been made perfect forever.”
Melchizedek, mentioned only twice in the entire Old Testament (Gen. 14:18; Ps. 110:4), is the focus of attention in the first part of Hebrews 7. The author of the epistle demonstrates his Biblical skills as he explains the priesthood of Christ in the order of Melchizedek.
From a modern point of view the writer’s arguments appear to be somewhat labored. He seems to be reading more into the Old Testament passages that mention Melchizedek than the passages actually say. But the original readers were Hebrews. They believed that the divinely instituted Levitical priesthood was inviolable. They knew that the priesthood of Aaron had to be perpetual, because God himself had ordained the priesthood by law.
The author of Hebrews counters the objections of readers of the Old Testament Scriptures by discussing the differences between the Aaronic priesthood and the superior order of Melchizedek. These differences consist of the absence of a genealogy for Melchizedek; the homage and tithe Abraham paid Melchizedek; and the confirmation of Melchizedek’s priesthood by divine oath centuries after the Levitical priesthood was established by law.
The evidence that shows God’s design in terminating the temporal priesthood of Aaron and inaugurating the eternal priesthood of Melchizedek is irrefutable. Jesus, to whom the author indirectly referred and who at last is mentioned by name, has become high priest in Melchizedek’s order and is a “guarantee of a better covenant” (7:22).