Today: [Hebrews 8:] The Altar in Heaven: in this chapter, the writer of Hebrews reveals that there is an altar in heaven and a temple that Moses was shown when He received the law in the wilderness. The earthly tabernacle and priesthood was only a facsimile of an original altar in heaven whereupon Jesus as our high priest offers not the blood of bulls or goats but the pure sacrifice of Himself to cleanse us from sin and present us spotless in relationship to the Father.
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[Heb 8:1-13 KJV] 1 Now of the things which we have spoken [this is] the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; 2 A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. 3 For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore [it is] of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. 4 For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: 5 Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, [that] thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. 6 But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. 7 For if that first [covenant] had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. 8 For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: 9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. 10 For this [is] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: 11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. 13 In that he saith, A new [covenant], he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old [is] ready to vanish away.
In chapter 8 the writer of Hebrews summarizes that which is presented thus far regarding the high priestly ministry of Jesus. We see from verse one that Jesus is a high priest sitting at the right hand of the throne of God as King of kings as well. The following verse mentions a sanctuary and a tabernacle that the Lord pitched and not man. At the time of this writing, the temple of Herod is still standing. The language used here would be construed as marginalizing the importance of the physical temple in Jerusalem in deference to the temple of God in heaven which is a literal place but also speaks of the body as the temple of God upon the earth.
If Jesus is a high priest ordained of God (v. 3), it is necessary that there would be an altar and offerings to make thereon. The altar that our high priest Jesus serves in an altar in heaven and the offering laid thereon is none other than the sacrifice of himself not many times but once and for all to address the sin condition and thereby reconcile the world to Himself on the condition that the world comes to God by Him. If you study the word priest in both the Old and New Testaments, it conveys a word picture meaning to “lay the hand…” This is why laying on of hands is spoken of as one of the five first principles of the doctrine of Christ. In coming to God, the priest’s function was to lay one hand on the offering on the altar and the other hand on the person bringing the offering. That is why when we accept Christ according to Romans 10:10 that the transaction is initiated by the person coming to Christ making specific declarations:
[Rom 10:9-10 [Rom 10:9-10 KJV] 9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
What is happening in that moment is that we are humbling ourselves under the hand of God (Christ Jesus, our high priest) who has one hand upon us and the other upon the altar whereupon the gift of Himself is laid for the purposes of bringing us eternal life by virtue of His living eternal connection to the sacrifice of Himself and His position at the right hand of God. We are saying with the hand of God through Christ upon us that we confess that He is Lord and that we accept the sacrifice of Himself laid upon the altar in the heavens for the purposes of reconciling us to God.
In v. 4-5 the writer explains that all of this is foreshadowed in the law of Moses that gives Levitical instructions regarding priesthood and offerings and the construction of the altar to convey through earthly examples that which is substantive and reality in the heavens. When Moses was instructed in these things, we are given to know (v. 5) that he was shown the heavenly things behind the veil and commanded: “see that you make all things according to the pattern shown to you on the mount of God…” In this statement, we see that all of the law and the priesthood under Moses was a mere facsimile of the true tabernacle and worship we are invited to partake of in the New Covenant through Christ Jesus. Here then in v. 6, the declaration is made to the converted Jew that in Christ we enter into a better covenant based upon better promises than anything Judaism or any religion could offer.
The first covenant (through Moses – v. 7) was not faultless (or perfect) for if it had been there would be nothing further of God to be revealed to men. In other words, if the Covenant of God through the law was the end of all that God had to say, then the tabernacle and the law would not have been patterned after anything, and there would be no need of an altar or pattern of the true order in the heavens. Nonetheless the writer proves by quoting the law of Moses that the law of Moses is not the end of what God purposes to establish on the earth but only the shadow of that which was to come, that which was fulfilled in Christ, which the scripture confirms as coming not through the tribe of Levi but (v. 7 again) through the tribe of Judah.
The writer then reminds us that God’s purposes were not fulfilled in the covenant made with the elders in Egypt before they came out to the wilderness not because God failed to keep up His end but because from the very day the people were brought out of Egypt, from the very hour they stood at the banks of the Red Sea to cross over they failed time and again for 40 years in the wilderness, and for countless generations after Joshua to EVER keep the covenant. Therefore if the covenant was violated on the one hand by the people God was under no compunction other than His own loving-kindness to keep faith with a faithless people. Because He would not deny Himself although they denied Him time and again He remediates their inveterate faithlessness with the promise (v. 10) to write His laws upon their minds and hearts and no longer on tablets of stone (through the New Birth) that He might be to them (and us) a God and they (and we) be to Him a people. Thus the write decrees that the coming of Christ to pay for the sins of the people was the act of God keeping faith with Himself to remediate the faithlessness of man whose only response to the law was to become a lawbreaker and thus to confirm the inability of man in his fallen condition to ever meet the demands of covenant with a Holy God. Thus we see as Galatians contends that the law was given not to justify us before God but to demonstrate to our own prideful hearts how incapable we are of ever standing before God in our own righteousness. The law is God’s answer to the accusation of Adam and Eve that God set them up for the fall and was therefore responsible for their transgression and not they themselves. Woman accused the serpent, the man accused the woman but both the man and the woman were actually blaming God for their own transgression and therefore God in the fullness of time gave to man the law in order to prove once and for all that man could never and would never be able to be like God independent of God. The law is our schoolmaster to bring us to the undeniable sense of our need of redemption to which the answer of God is to send His high priest Jesus to fulfill in Himself on the cross both sides of the New Covenant transaction and to justify us not by our works but by the shed blood of Calvary applied to our hearts by faith.
Thus (v. 12) God is merciful to us in our unrighteousness and makes provision in Christ to remember our sins and our iniquities no more insomuch as we have come to Christ through the sacrifice of Himself and submitted to Him as our High Priest not serving an earthly altar but the true altar in the heavens which was originally shown to Moses in the mountain that burned with fire where he received the law in the first place that eventually brings us to the end of ourselves and establishes our need of redemption and salvation. Thus (v. 13) once we have come to Christ through the law – the law and its covenant become Old for which reason we call it the Old Covenant or Testament because it has served its purposes in bringing us from the earthly altar of man to the heavenly altar of God and from the priesthood of bull and goat sacrifices to the priesthood of Jesus Himself and the offering that He made that speaks so much better things than the blood of bulls or goats ever could in forgiving us of sin and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.
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