Lesson 9: Chapter 8:1-13

Jesus Christ: High Priest of the Heavenly Sanctuary


Father of Grace and Majesty,

From Your throne of grace, beloved Father, You receive the perfect sacrifice of Your Son, the sinless High Priest of the New Covenant as He offers Himself to You in atonement for the sins of mankind.  In love and gratitude at every Eucharistic celebration we, Your covenant people, unite with His sacrifice by offering ourselves as He taught us, loving You, Lord will all our minds, hearts, and souls and loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Give us the courage to resist the temptations of this world so that we may continually offer our lives as a holy sacrifice to You as our Savior Jesus offers Himself as a sacrifice for us, and to strive to prepare ourselves for the heavenly citizenship that You have promised the righteous.  We humbly petition You, Lord, to send Your Holy Spirit to guide us in our study of Christ's ministry in the heavenly sanctuary as we pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


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That you may understand that he used the word "minister" of humanity, observe how he again indicates it: "for," he says, "every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer."   [..].  But there is no priest without a sacrifice.  It is necessary then that he also should have a sacrifice. St. John Chrysostom, On the Epistle to the Hebrews, 14.2


Pope St. Leo the Great: We therefore confess, dearly beloved, not rashly but with faith, that the Lord Jesus Christ is present in the midst of believers.  Although he "sits at the right hand" of God the Father "until he makes of his enemies a footstool," the high priest has not left the assembly of his priests.  Sermon 5.3


For it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained.  It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God. Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism.


In this chapter we begin another section in the Letter to the Hebrews which continues to build upon the theme of the superiority of the priesthood of Christ and the superiority of the new covenantal order.  From chapter 8:1 to 10:18 the inspired writer of Hebrews will make his argument for both the superiority of the priesthood of Jesus Christ and the New Covenant in presenting a series of contrasts:

The inspired writer of Hebrews has carefully laid out his arguments for the superiority of Jesus Christ in chapters one through seven:

In this part of his address the inspired writer will proclaim the superiority of Jesus' priesthood in the new covenantal order as High Priest of the heavenly Sanctuary.  The resurrected Christ's enthronement has already been established in Hebrews 1:3 as the divine Son who is the legitimate heir of the Davidic king and in chapters 5-7 as the priest-king of a new covenant according to the "order of Melchizedek."  Now the sacred writer will establish how the Old Sinai Covenant, which offered worship of Yahweh by means of animal sacrifice, grain offerings, wine libations, prayers and hymns of praise, finds its total perfection in the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  His focus will be the superiority of the sworn oath of God [Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 6:13-17] over the old Law of the Sinai Covenant which in addition to the 10 Commandments included the rituals of purity and animal sacrifice:

v     The old Law established a priesthood full of human weaknesses offering repeated imperfect sacrifices, and was established on an old covenant offering only temporal promises.

v     The sworn oath establishes a divine Son who serves as a sinless priest-king offering one perfect and complete sacrifice and a new covenant established on eternal promises.


Please read Hebrews 8:1-6, The Heavenly and Earthly Sanctuaries Contrasted:

1 The main point of what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up.  3 Now every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus the necessity for this one also to have something to offer.  4 If then he were on earth, he would not be a priest, since there are those who offer gifts according to the law.  5 They worship in a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, as Moses was warned when he was about to erect the tabernacle.  For he says, "See that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain."  6 Now he has obtained so much more excellent a ministry as he is mediator of a better covenant, enacted on better promises. 

The first six verses of chapter 8 can be divided into two parts:

  1. Jesus' ministry in the heavenly Sanctuary [8:1-2]
  2. Jesus' ministry in the heavenly sanctuary contrasted with the Levitical priests in the earthly Temple/Tabernacle [8:3-6]

The subject of Jesus as the minister of the heavenly sanctuary is introduced in one single complex sentence in the Greek text [Hebrews 8:1-2]. 

Question: The inspired writer begins: The main point of what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven ...   What is "the main point" and who are the "we" who makes the point?

Answer: The "we" are the apostles and disciples who have been given the authority by Christ to teach His Church, the whole assembly of His covenant people [Matthew 16:16-19; 18:18; 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-16; Luke 24: John 20:19-23].  Then as now, the teaching authority comes from Jesus Christ our High Priest through His appointed ministers who form the Magisterium of the Universal Church.  The "point" is the central theme of the address which is the superiority of the new covenantal order and Jesus enthroned at God's right hand, the place of highest honor in the heavenly sanctuary. Enthroned at God's right hand the Son has both the royal rights of a King who rules and judges His people [see Psalms 110:1; Hebrews 1:3, 13] and priestly prerogatives [Psalms 110:4; Hebrews 8:1-2] in the offering of the sacrifice.  


Question: How is God's throne described in 8:1?  What do these words suggest and what other words are used in the reference to God's throne in Hebrews 4:16?

Answer: In 8:1 the inspired writer is using the Greek words for "The Majesty" as a circumlocution for "God."  In 4:16 God's throne is associated with "grace" while in 8:1 His throne is one of God as "majesty". The majesty of God's throne is indicated by its gem-like brilliance [see Ezekiel 1:26; Exodus 24:9-10; Revelation 4:3], by the natural phenomena of fire, smoke, thunder and lightening [Exodus 19:16-19; Revelation 4: 5-6], and by the presence of the worshipping hosts of angels and saints [Isaiah 6:1; Revelation 4:6-8]. 

But "majesty" also indicates that God's throne is also the center of justice.  In quoting this passage the Bishops of Vatican II noted: "Majesty" meaning the Godhead itself, for it is a way of referring to God (cf. the "throne of grace" in 4:16).  Moreover, the "throne of Majesty" is the equivalent of a supreme authority to rule and judge.  This can be seen from descriptions of the Last Judgment: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne" (Mat 24:31; cf. Rev 3:21; 20:11; Mt 19:28; etc.).  Vatican II: Sacrosanctum Concilium 

Presenting the ascended Jesus' ministry as on-going before God's throne in the heavenly Sanctuary would not have been a concept completely foreign to the inspired writer's first century Jewish audience.  The concept of a heavenly ministry would have been considered possible based on the religious traditions of the covenant people of God.  Earlier in his address the inspired writer used the Biblical references to the role of the Davidic messiah and Psalm 110:1 to visually place Jesus at the right hand of God in the heavenly Sanctuary and now that image is joined to one of Jesus as the New Covenant High Priestly-King after the order of Melchizedek, imagery presented in the same Psalm 110 in verse 4.  In the written and oral tradition of the Old Covenant people, God's throne and the heavenly court are understood to be in the heavenly Sanctuary:


The New Testament also offers vivid imagery of God enthroned in the heavenly Sanctuary as well as Christ the Son enthroned:


Hebrews 8:2: a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up.

 In the ancient world there were many man-made temples dedicated to false gods. Even the Temple in Jerusalem, although built according to God's plan as the successor to the desert Tabernacle [see Psalm 15:1; 27:4-6; Deuteronomy 6:4; 12:1-14; 1 Kings 8:4; 1 Chronicles 28:11, 19], was man-made. There were also other temples established to worship Yahweh.  There was a temple in Egypt at Leontopolis from the 2nd century B.C. until 73AD established by expatriate Jews [see Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 4.200; also see Philo of Alexandria, Special Laws, 1.67], and another temple dedicated to Yahweh by the Samaritans at Mt. Gerizim in Samaria.  Both of these temples operated outside of the authority of the established Temple in Jerusalem.  These temples were therefore regarded as illegitimate forms of worship.  The Old Covenant only recognized one God and one Temple which was in Jerusalem [Deuteronomy 6:4; 12:1-14].  Jesus corrected the woman of Samaria in John 4:19-22 when she suggested that worship of Yahweh was acceptable at Mt. Gerizim in Samaria: The woman said to him, "Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem."  Jesus said to her, "Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. 


In the first century AD local Jewish Synagogues were established in every village and town of Judea and the Galilee and also in villages and cities in foreign provinces for the reading and study of the Scriptures and for prayer, but the Temple in Jerusalem was the only place on earth acceptable for offering sacrifices to Yahweh.  The Temple in Jerusalem was the only legitimate "house" of Yahweh.  It was the only place at which the Kathedra Mousios, the "seat of Moses" was established [see Matthew 23:1-3].  The Jewish Mishnah tractate Abote records that the Jews understood God's revelation received by Moses had been handed down from him in uninterrupted succession through his successor Joshua, to the elders of Israel, to the prophets of Yahweh and finally to the High Priest and elders of the great Sanhedrin [Acts 15:21].  Jews from all over the ancient world turned in the direction of Yahweh's Temple in Jerusalem for their daily prayers and returned to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice and restoration of communion 3 times a year at the sacred feasts of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles [Exodus 23:10-17; Exodus 34:18Exodus 34:18-24; Deuteronomy 16:5-17]. 

Question: In the Old Covenant there was one central authority for teaching the doctrine of the worship of Yahweh as the one true God.  Is this different in New Covenant worship?

Answer: Only the central location has changed not the concept of one centralized religious authority.  In the New Covenant the perfect sacrifice of the Lamb is offered in heaven before the throne of God [Revelation 5:6] and made present on every altar of every legitimate Apostolic [founded by an Apostle] Catholic assembly across the face of the earth.  But from the beginning, the one who carried the authority of the High Priest Jesus the Messiah was His vicar Simon-Peter and the Apostles.  This teaching authority has been passed down to Simon-Peter's successors who sit on the Kathedra Petros, "the seat of Peter", in union with the universal Magisterium, the bishops who are the successors of the Apostles.  There is no other clear and unbroken line of Christian authority. 


Unity of belief has always been the essence of the Church!

v     The first Vatican Council noted, the Church herself, with her marvelous propagation, eminent holiness, and inexhaustible fruitfulness in everything good, her catholic unity and invincible stability, is a great and perpetual motive of credibility and an irrefutable witness of her divine mission [Vatican Council I, Dei Filius 3].

v     The Second Vatican Council further defined the Catholic Church's role as Christ's sole authority: For it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained.  It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God. Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism.  

The Church is both "catholic" (meaning universal) in its doctrine and in its worldwide message of the Gospel of salvation.  This teaching authority is passed in an unbroken physical line from Jesus to Peter and the Apostles to the Pope and Bishops of the universal/Catholic Church today! [Also see CCC# 816; 820; 830-31; see CCC# 838 for the Catholic Church's relationship to non-Catholic Christians and #839-45; 846-48 to non-Christians].


Under the New Covenant the site of the center of authority which was passed by Jesus to Simon-Peter and the Apostles is the Vatican which is located within the boundaries of the city of Rome and that teaching authority is the Roman Catholic Church.  It is the only Christian Church that has one central authority to which all other churches that claim to be Roman Catholic must conform.  Four times in the Gospel of St. John, the Apostle calls Simon-Peter the son of John [John 1:42; 21:15, 16, 17].  Only in Matthew's Gospel does Jesus call Simon-Peter the "son of Jonah" and only one time which is on the occasion when Jesus announces Simon's role as the Vicar of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and gives Simon the title "Rock", Kepha in Aramaic or Petros in the masculine in Greek [it is a title He first gave to Simon in John 1:42 but without any further explanation].  The comparison with the prophet Jonah is significant.  Prior to that significant exchange between Jesus and Simon in Matthew chapter 16, Jesus made 5 references to the 8th century Galilean Old Testament prophet Jonah [Matthew 12:39, 40, 41; 16:4]'a prophet God had sent to call the Gentiles of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh to repentance [2 Kings 14:25; Book of Jonah]. In the 8th century BC, the Gentile nation of Assyria was the world superpower and Nineveh was the capital city of the world superpower. In calling Simon-Peter the "son of Jonah", Jesus is defining Peter's ultimate mission, to call the Gentile nations of the world to repentance and conversion.  What better way was there to accomplish this mission than by using the world superpower, the Roman Empire and its massive links to all parts of the known world, as a vehicle of Christian evangelization? The capital of this world superpower was the city of Rome.  It is for this reason that Rome became site of the central authority of the Universal Church.  Simon Peter was established as the first Christian Bishop of Rome by circa 42BC after having spent seven years establishing the church in Antioch, Syria and other Christian faith communities.  Peter served the Universal Church centered in Rome for 25 years until his martyrdom circa 67AD.  It was for this reason that St. Paul wrote of the Church in Rome: First, I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is heralded throughout the world [Romans 1:8].  For more information on St. Peter in Rome see Eusebius, Church History, Book II, chapter 14.4-6; chapter 15.2; chapter 17.1; chapter 25.4-8; Book III, chapter 1.2; chapter 2; Book 5, chapter 8.2-3;Book VI, chapter 14.6].


Question: Does the Roman Catholic Church's claim to be the sole teaching authority of the Gospel of Jesus Christ seem arrogant?

Answer: Is it any less arrogant than Jesus' reply to the woman of Samaria who worshipped Yahweh through a church that did not recognize the teaching authority of the Old Covenant Church in Jerusalem?  In John 4:22 Jesus told her she worshipped what she did not understand because she practiced a religion that was outside the authority of the established Church at the Temple in Jerusalem.  He also admonished the people in Matthew 23:1-3 to be obedient to the teaching authority in Jerusalem and those who "sit on the seat of Moses" even though He had serious issues with their behavior: Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example [Matthew 23:3].  When human beings fail the Church it does not mean that the Church has failed.


Under the Old Covenant Yahweh established that where the Tabernacle rested there was the center of His worship.  Later King David established God's intended "resting place" [Deuteronomy 12:5-9, 11-12] as Jerusalem [Yireh-salem], the city which had formerly been the site of authority of the priest-king Melchizedek [Genesis 14:18].  The Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem became the center of authority and worship for the Old Covenant Church.  But "now", according to the inspired writer of Hebrews [8:6], Jesus is the minister of the true "tent/tabernacle"'meaning the heavenly Sanctuary of the Most High God in the heavenly realm not the earthly copy which has served its function and is no longer necessary. 


The use of the word "tent" or  "tabernacle" is skene in the Greek and recalls the first tent/tabernacle that God commended Moses to built in Exodus 25:8-9: They shall make a sanctuary for me, that I may dwell in their midst.  This Dwelling and all its furnishings you shall make exactly according to the pattern that I will now show you.  The Greek word skene is used ten times in the Letter to the Hebrews [8:2, 5; 9:2, 3, 6, 8, 11, 21; 11:9; 13:10].  The desert "tent" was a Sanctuary that was later replaced by the Temple in Jerusalem: You have bid me build a temple on your holy mountain and an altar in the city that is your dwelling place, a copy of the holy tabernacle which you had established from of old [Wisdom 9:8].  The key statement the inspired writer is making is that everything created in the earthly Tabernacle/Temple was only a copy of the heavenly reality, the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up [Hebrews 8:2].


Hebrews 8:3: Now every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus the necessity for this one also to have something to offer. The inspired writer notes the similarity between Jesus' ministry in the heavenly Sanctuary and the ministry of the priests in the earthly Sanctuary, that is, every priest serves to offer sacrifice to God.  Christ has to offer "something", which we understand is Himself, as a sacrifice.  The word translated "something" in verse 3 is in the singular in the Greek text. This is contrasted with the many "gifts" [plural] the Levitical priests must "offer" in Hebrews 8:4 [in the present tense], which along with the statement in verse 5 which begins in the literal Greek text "those priests offering," also in the present tense, suggests that the liturgical sacrifices of the old order are still being carried out in the Temple in Jerusalem when the inspired writer was making this address. 

Question:   Why must Christ have "something" to offer before the throne of God in the heavenly Sanctuary? 

Answer:  Because without having a "something"'a sacrifice to offer God, Jesus cannot fulfill the role of High Priest since a priest, as the inspired writer points out, must have something to offer. 

Preaching in the late 4th century AD, St. John Chrysostom emphasized the point that Jesus cannot serve as the high priest of the heavenly sanctuary without a sacrifice to offer: That you may understand that he used the word "minister" of humanity, observe how he again indicates it: "for," he says, "every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer."  Do not now, because you hear that he sits, suppose that his being called high priest is mere idle talk.  For clearly the former, his sitting, belongs to the dignity of the Godhead, but this [his being a priest] to his great lovingkindness and his tender care of us.  [..].  But there is no priest without a sacrifice.  It is necessary then that he also should have a sacrifice [On the Epistle to the Hebrews, 14.2].  

St. John Chrysostom makes an important point when he mentions that because Jesus is "sitting" at the right hand of God it does not mean that He isn't also serving in His ministry as the High Priest offering sacrifice.  The one action, "sitting" [Acts 2:30-35; Hebrews 1:13] concerns His royal office and the "standing Lamb" of Revelation 5:5-6a is evidence of His priestly function in offering sacrifice: One of the elders said to me, "Do not weep.  The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals."  Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders a Lamb that seemed to have been slain.


St. Augustine [354-430] affirmed both the necessity and the perfection of Christ's priestly sacrifice when he wrote: This sacrifice cannot be rightly offered except by a holy and righteous priest, and it also must be received by those for whom it is offered.  And it also has to be without fault, so that it may be offered for cleansing those with faults.  This is at least what everyone does who wants a sacrifice to be offered for themselves to God.  Who then is so righteous and holy a priest as the only Son of God who had no need to purge his own sins by sacrifice, neither original sins nor those that are added by human life?  And what could human beings more appropriately choose to be offered for themselves than human flesh?  And what could be cleaner for cleansing the faults of mortals than the flesh born in and from the womb of a virgin without any inflection of carnal desires?  And what could be more acceptable offered and taken than that the flesh of our sacrifice be the body of our priest?  St. Augustine goes on to list the four things that must be considered in every legitimate sacrifice:

1.      To whom the sacrifice is offered

2.      By whom the sacrifice is offered

3.      What is the sacrifice offered

4.      For whom is the sacrifice offered

In Christ, Augustine concludes, all these requirements are meant in perfection: the same one and true mediator himself, reconciling us to God by the sacrifice of peace, might remain one with him [the Father] to whom he offered, might make those one in himself for whom he offered, and he himself might be in one both the offerer and the offering. [Augustine, On the Trinity 4.14.19


The sacrifice Jesus offers is the same one He offered up on the altar of the Cross two thousand years ago, the same sacrifice which is present on every altar at every Eucharistic celebration.  Preaching on the presence of Christ in the sacrifice of the Mass Pope St. Leo the Great [440-461] said: We therefore confess, dearly beloved, not rashly but with faith, that the Lord Jesus Christ is present in the midst of believers. Although he "sits at the right hand" of God the Father "until he makes of his enemies a footstool," the high priest has not left the assembly of his priests.  Sermon 5.3

The inspired writer of Hebrew's insistence that Jesus in His priestly role must have "something" to offer, in the singular, along with St. John's vision of the slain Lamb "standing" before the throne of God is Revelation 5:5-6 is why the Church has always taught that Christ's one perfect and complete sacrifice offered up on the altar of the Cross two thousand years ago is still on-going.  St. John's vision of Christ's sacrifice before God's throne of grace and majesty occurred at least 35 years after Christ's Resurrection and Ascension'some scholars even date John's vision to the end of the first century; but the point is His perfect sacrifice was continuing to be offered in the heavenly sanctuary according to St. John's vision, long after the event of Christ's Passion and atoning death on the Cross.


Hebrews 8:4-5a: If then he were on earth, he would not be a priest, since there are those who offer gifts according to the law. They worship in a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary...

Having established the same service in the offering of sacrifices between the earthly priests and Jesus as heavenly priest, the inspired writer now accents the difference between earthly ministers and Jesus' ministry in the heavenly Sanctuary.

Question: What were the differences between the heavenly and earthly sanctuaries and the ministers who served them?  See Exodus 25:8-9; Hebrews 7:27-28; and 8:2-6.




Made with human hands

Created by God

A copy and shadow of the heavenly reality

The true eternal sanctuary

Served by many mortal priests offering continual sacrifices

Served by one eternal priest offering one perfect sacrifice

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2007 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Question: If Jesus was on earth why would He not be a priest?  See Hebrews 7:13-14; Exodus 28:1; 29:44; Exodus 28:1; 40:15; Exodus 28:1; Numbers 18:8, Exodus 28:1; 19; Exodus 28:1; Jeremiah 33:21.

Answer: Because He was not a descendant of Aaron through whom, according to the Law of Moses, all priests of the Sinai Covenant must descend.  Jesus would not be a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem which was served by a limited [ages 30-50], earth-bound, mortal, sinful, human priesthood.  It is interesting that in verse 5 the inspired writer chose the Greek words which are most often translated as "copy" or "pattern", from the Greek word typos and also the word translated as "shadow" from the Greek  word skia, to describe the relationship between the earthly and heavenly sanctuaries. 


In ancient times the word typos was used to suggest something that makes an accurate image or copy, for example the impression a seal makes when impressed in wax leaving its mark.  The inspired writer of Wisdom understood that Moses actually saw the heavenly Tabernacle from which he patterned or "copied" the earthly Sanctuary:  Exodus 28:1; Wisdom 9:8, You have bid me build a temple on your holy mountain and an altar in the city that is your dwelling place, a copy of the holy tabernacle which you had established from of old.  At Mount Sinai God presented Moses with a pattern of the Tabernacle He wanted Moses to build so that the earthly "tent" was a counterpart to the heavenly Sanctuary [Exodus 28:1; Exodus 25:40], which was designed by God [Exodus 28:1; Exodus 25:9; Exodus 28:1; 39-40; Exodus 28:1; 26:30; Exodus 28:1; 27:8; Exodus 28:1; Numbers 8:4].  Later when David brought the desert Tabernacle and the golden box upon which the presence of God rested called the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, God showed David the model for the Temple which would replace the desert Tabernacle as Yahweh's dwelling place among His covenant people.  David in turn revealed that model to his son Solomon who would have the honor of building God's house in Jerusalem [Exodus 28:1; 1 Chronicles 28:9-19].


The use of the Greek word for "shadow" also adds an interesting dimension to our understanding of the function of the earthly Sanctuary in relationship to the heavenly Sanctuary [also see Exodus 28:1; Hebrews 10:1 where the old Law is described as a "shadow" of the good which was to come].  Paul uses this same Greek word skia in Exodus 28:1; Colossians 2:17 when referring to the rituals of the Old Covenant: Let no one, then, pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or Sabbath. These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ [Exodus 28:1; Colossians 2:16-17].   A shadow is a representation of something that is real and has form but the shadow itself is without true substance.  In this sense, the earthly Tabernacle only partially gives the worshiper an understanding of and access to the center of heavenly worship in the heavenly Tabernacle. The earthly Sanctuary then becomes the place on earth where earth and heaven can be joined in order to offer true worship and praise to Yahweh. 


The Tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem were revered even though the covenant people understood that God was not confined to His earthly house:

No matter how much the earthly Tabernacle was revered, the earthly Sanctuary was only a pale shadow of the reality of the heavenly "tent". A Sanctuary built by God is always going to be superior to an earthly Sanctuary built by man even if it is built according to God's plan.  Since Jesus serves as the High Priest forever [Exodus 28:1; Psalms 110:4] He must serve in a Sanctuary that endures forever and the only Temple that endures forever is the Heavenly Sanctuary of God [Exodus 28:1; Exodus 25:9, Exodus 28:1; 40].  For a complete description of the recreation of the heavenly Tabernacle in the earthly "tent" see Exodus chapters Exodus 28:1; 25:1-40:38.


Hebrews 8:5b: Moses was warned when he was about to erect the tabernacle.  For he says, "See that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain." 

In Exodus 25:8-40 Yahweh commanded Moses to make all the furnishing for the Tabernacle exactly as he saw them in the heavenly sanctuary: They shall make a sanctuary for me that I may dwell in their midst.  This Dwelling and all its furnishings you shall make exactly according to the pattern that I will now show you.  [..] See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.

Question: God showed Moses the heavenly pattern for the earthly Sanctuary.  Has God also shown us the pattern for our earthly Temples, our bodies which in Christian baptism became Temples of the Holy Spirit?  See Colossians 2:7-10.

Answer: In the same way, Jesus is the pattern which God has shown to us and, as St. Paul admonished the Christians of Colossus, we must build our lives upon him and not upon any earthly image: So, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ. For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily, and you share in this fullness in him, who is the head of every principality and power [Exodus 28:1; Colossians 2:7-10].


Exodus 28:1; Hebrews 8:6: Now he has obtained so much more excellent a ministry as he is mediator of a better covenant, enacted on better promises.   

According to Exodus 28:1; Hebrews 8:6, God's promises down through salvation history form the basis of both the old and new covenants. The inspired writer now reveals the central theme of his address.  It is the theme he has been leading up to since chapter 5.  He now declares not only the superiority of Jesus' heavenly ministry but the superiority of the covenant upon which it is based.  The superiority of Jesus as the mediator of a superior new covenant will be the main focus of his address from this point forward and will be emphasized again with even more force in statements made in Exodus 28:1; Hebrews 9:15 and 12:24.  Jesus role as the New Covenant mediator is a teaching which St. Paul vigorously declared in his first letter to St. Timothy in 1Timothy 2:5-6a:  For there is one God.  There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.  


Question: How does St. Paul compare the Old and New covenants in Galatians 4:21-31?

Answer:  In Galatians chapter 4 Paul presents an allegory of the old and new covenants as represented in Sarah, the legitimate freeborn wife of Abraham who bears the "promised son" and the Egyptian slave Hagar, who bears Abraham a son who is the son of a slave: For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the freeborn woman.  The son of the slave woman was born naturally, the son of the freeborn through a promise.  Now this is an allegory.  Theses women represent two covenants.  One was from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; this is Hagar.  Hagar represents Sinai, a mountain in Arabia; it corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery along with her children.  But the Jerusalem above is freeborn, and she is our mother [Galatians 4:22-27].  Under the Old Covenant the covenant people were condemned under the old law that bound them to the covenant.  It could only judge their sins and could not bring them salvation.  But the people of God in the New Covenant have been freed from the power of sin and can now claim the heavenly Jerusalem sanctuary from which Jesus ministers to the New Covenant people of God.



Notice that beginning this verse in Hebrews 8:6 with "now", or "but now" in the literal Greek, the inspired writer indicates that a change has taken place with the ascension of Jesus the glorified priest-king to the throne of grace and majesty and makes the point that the earthly "tent" was never meant to be permanent, its function for worship was transitory and limited just as the priesthood that served it was transitory and limited.  Then too, the "but now" may also be a connection to the "now" of these "final days" with which he began his discourse in Hebrews 1:2 and will reference again in Hebrews 9:26.

Question: How are the two covenants the same, how is Jesus a better covenant mediator than Moses, and how is the New Covenant enacted on better promises?

Answer: Both the Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant in Jesus the Messiah were based on promises God made to His covenant people.  Jesus is the eternal mediator, His role as covenant mediator is not limited by a human lifespan and His promises are eternal.  The Sinai Covenant could only offer temporal promises of fertility, long life, good crops, etc., for faithful obedience to the covenant [Leviticus 26:3-13; Deuteronomy 11:13-14; 28:1-14; 1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:6]'there was no promise of eternal salvation.  But Jesus' promises for covenant fidelity offer the gift of eternal life with God in the heavenly sanctuary; by His death and Resurrection, Jesus has opened heaven to us [Matthew 25:46; Mark 10:29-30; John 3:13-15; 11:25-26; Romans 6:22-23; CCC# 1023-26]. 


Question: Where the gates of heaven closed to man before the Incarnation of Jesus Christ?

Answer: Yes.  From the time of the fall of Adam and Eve heaven's doors had been closed to mankind [CCC# 536].  Man would be promised resurrection with the coming of the Messiah but until that time covenant blessings were temporal and so were covenant punishments [Leviticus 26:14-46; Deuteronomy 28:15-68].  But with Jesus' death, burial, and Resurrection the Gates of Heaven have been stormed and flung open [John 10:9; Revelation 4:1].  Now promises are eternal but so are punishments [Matthew 25:41-46; Romans 2:5-10; CCC# 1021-22; 1033-37; 1040-41].

There are two aspects to the role of Jesus as the eternal covenant mediator of a ministry that is superior:

  1. Like any mediator Jesus serves as the intermediately between two parties in order to help the two parties achieve a common goal. Moses was the mediator of the Sinai Covenant at the people's request when they begged him, after the awesome but fearful encounter with God at Mount Sinai: When the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the trumpet blasts and the mountain smoking, they all feared and trembled.  So they took up a position much farther away and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we shall die."[Exodus 20:18-19]. Moses was the temporal mediator [limited by his lifespan] of an inferior covenant [a covenant which could not offer salvation], but Jesus, as the New Covenant mediator is the eternal mediator of a covenant that offers the gift of salvation to all who seek Jesus Christ and believe in His name; which means believing everything He taught and commanded [see Acts 2:37-39; 4:10-12].


  1. Jesus also offers "surety" as the covenant mediator, meaning that He guarantees the promises that have been made even when one party comes up short on their end of the covenant obligations.  The inspired writer of Hebrews promised: "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, 'Thou art a priest for ever.'"  This makes Jesus the surety of a better covenant [Hebrews 7:21b-22].  In the ancient world, as now, a mediator could function like a "surety" who covered the debt of one party in the event that agreements between the two parties were violated or he would prevent one party from taking actions against the other [see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.62]  Jesus, offers His surety as He covers the debt that we owe for our sins with the precious blood of His sacrifice, thus intervening in the just punishment we should receive for our sins which is death: for the wages of sin is death [Romans 6:23].  Instead, He makes up the difference by His death with His blood not only covering sins like the old covenant imperfect animal sacrifices, but completely cleansing us of sin through His perfect sacrifice.  He has "made up" or "offered surety" by making atonement for the debt we owe.


Hebrews chapters 6-8:



Sons of Levi

God the Son

Service in the earthly "shadow" sanctuary

Service in the true heavenly sanctuary

Based on heredity

Based on divine Sonship and an unchangeable oath [Psalm 110:4]

Daily Sacrifices to atone for the debt of sin

[Exodus 29:38]

One perfect sacrifice offered in atonement and as a "surety" or guarantee for the debt of sin

Sacrifices offered for themselves (sinners)

One sacrifice offered of Himself (sinless)

Sacrifices only for the sins of Israel

One sacrifice for all mankind

Priesthood limited time of service

Eternal service

Temporal blessings

Eternal blessings

Death ended service

Death began service

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2007 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.


Please read Hebrews 8:7-13: The Old Testament Promise of the New Covenant

7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, no place would have been sought for a second one. 8 But he finds fault with them and says: "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will conclude a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they did not stand by my covenant and I ignored them, says the Lord.  10 But this is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts.  I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  11 And they shall not teach, each one his fellow citizen and kinsman, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for all shall know me, from the least to greatest.  12 For I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more."  13 When he speaks of a "new" covenant, he declares the first one obsolete.  And what has become obsolete and has grown old is close to disappearing.

The covenant made with the children of Israel at Sinai was a corporate covenant that was first established in the covenant promises made to the physical fathers of the children of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who God renamed "Israel" [Genesis 12:1-3; 17:15-18; Exodus 2:25; Leviticus 26:45-46].   In fact all covenants that come after the time of the Abrahamic covenant will draw upon the promises God made to Abraham, promises that would not be fulfilled until the establishment of the New Covenant in Christ.  In that covenant God promised the descendants of Abraham a kingdom, descendants as numerous as the stars, and a world-wide blessing.  All of these promises were fulfilled:

  1. Fulfilled in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, the Universal Church,
  2. Fulfilled in the multitude of spiritual sons and daughters of Abraham from every age of man who would receive Jesus Christ as Redeemer, and
  3. Fulfilled in the world-wide blessing of universal salvation which was His gift from the sacrificial altar of the Cross.


Question: What statement does the inspired writer make in Hebrews 8:7 that required the creation of a second corporate covenant, establishing a New Israel through a universal covenant? 

Answer:  If the first covenant [meaning the first corporate covenant at Sinai which created the Old Covenant Church] was perfect what need would there be for a second covenant?  This verse again points out that God's reason for establishing the New Covenant was the imperfection of the Sinai Covenant [see CCC# 1963].  The logic which follows is this: if the Old Covenant was imperfect and had to be replaced by a New Covenant then the priesthood that served the Old Covenant had to be imperfect as well.


In Hebrews 8:8-12 the inspired writer quotes from the 6th century BC prophet Jeremiah.  The passage of Jeremiah 31:31-34 is from the prophet Jeremiah's prophetic promise of a New Covenant God will establish to replace the imperfect covenant with Israel.  It is the only direct statement of a new covenant anywhere in the Old Testament Scriptures [for an indirect promise of a new covenant see Ezekiel 36:24-27; 37:25-28].

Question: Please read Jeremiah 31:31-34 in the Old Testament.  According to the inspired writer of Hebrews in 8:8 and in Yahweh's message to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:31-32 what was one reason the Old Covenant failed?  See Exodus 24:3; Jeremiah 11:6-8.

Answer: The children of Israel failed to keep their covenant promises to be obedient to the Law of the Sinai Covenant.


Hebrews 8:8: But he finds fault with them and says: "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will conclude a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 

Jeremiah's prophecy in 31:31 begins with the words: Behold the days are coming!  This is an expression found 6 times in the Book of Jeremiah [see Jeremiah 7:32; 9:25; 16:14; 23:5, 7; 31:31], but which is not found in the writings of the other prophets.  In the Letter to the Hebrews the "coming days" spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah in 31:31 have arrived: In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son... [Hebrews 1:2]'although the final judgment of the last of the Last Days remains in the future with the Second Advent of Jesus Christ! 


Dr. Koester points out in his commentary that the phrase in the Greek text of Hebrews 8:8 is "when I will complete" [or "conclude"] instead of "I will establish" as in the Hebrew text of Jeremiah 31:31 or in the Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation of Jeremiah 31:31 and in Hebrews 8:10.  This difference, he suggests, might reflect the use of a variant of the Septuagint Greek Old Testament translation used by the writer of Hebrews, since several of the Septuagint quotations used by the inspired writer of Hebrews have reflected a variation in the Greek used in the Septuagint translation.  Or it may reflect the inspired writer's own word change in order to emphasize the incompleteness of the Old Covenant now made perfect, now concluded, in the New Covenant through Jesus' perfect sacrifice.


a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  The 6th century BC prophet Ezekiel, a contemporary of Jeremiah who was suffering in exile at the beginning of the Babylonian captivity of Judah, also alludes to a new covenant in Ezekiel 37:26-28 where he promises the Messiah, who is the Davidic prince, will rule forever: I will make with them a covenant of peace; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them, and I will multiply them and put my sanctuary among them forever.  My dwelling shall be with them; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Thus the nations shall know that it is I, the LORD (Yahweh), who make Israel holy, when my sanctuary shall be set up among them forever.  The prophet is speaking about more than the restoration of the Old Covenant that was solely the treasure of Judah/Israel because the prophet promises all the nations shall know that it is I, the LORD (Yahweh)...


The Greek text of Hebrews uses the word diatheke [pronounced dee-ath-ay'-kay] for the word "covenant" in references to the Sinai Covenant and for the New Covenant promised by God to the prophet Jeremiah.  It is a word which in the Koine [common] Greek of the Bible can also mean "testament" as in a deceased person's last will and "testament."  It is for this reason that St. Jerome [347-420] used the Latin word testamentum, "testament" in his Latin Vulgate translation.  It seemed fitting to him that our New Covenant came about through the death of Jesus Christ and is His last will and "testament" to His faithful.  It is because of St. Jerome's use of the Latin word for "testament" that our Bibles are divided into the Old and New "Testaments" instead of the Old and New Covenants.

Question: What is significant about Jeremiah's reference to the House of Judah and the House of Israel in his promise of the New Covenant?  Hint: Jeremiah is writing in the 6th century BC just prior to the Babylonian conquest of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple King Solomon built [587/6BC].

Answer: It is significant because the House of Israel hadn't existed since 722BC when the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and took the majority of its population of 10 Israelite tribes away into exile to resettle them in eastern lands [2 Kings 17:5-6].  The 10 northern tribes never returned except for a small remnant to the Galilee.  In His promise of a New Covenant Yahweh is prophesizing a restoration of all of Israel not just the kingdom of Judah. Therefore, this prophecy cannot only refer to the restoration of Judah after the Babylonian exile.  At that time only a faithful remnant of Israelites from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and Levitical priests were restored to the Promised Land [Ezra chapters 1-2; Nehemiah 7:6-72].  However, in the restoration under the New Covenant this prophecy is fulfilled when the tribes of Israel which had been scattered among the Gentile nations would be restored through bringing the Gentiles into Yahweh's New Covenant family of the new universal (catholic) Israel. 

Question: What were some characteristics of the formation of the Old Sinai Covenant?  See Exodus 20:1-33; 24:3, 12; 31:18.


  1. It was established first by Yahweh teaching the 10 Commandments and the other articles of the Law [Exodus 20:1-33]. 
  2. The children of Israel's acceptance of the obligations of the covenant [Exodus 24:3].
  3. The covenant treaty was sealed in a blood sacrifice and a sacred meal [Exodus 24:5-11].
  4. The summary of the Old Covenant Law was written on stone tablets [24:12; 31:18].

Question: What were some of the characteristics of the formation of the New Covenant and acceptance of the bonds of covenant for Christians?


  1. Jesus taught the Law of the New Covenant which He summed up in two commandments [Matthew 5:1-7:29; 22:37-40]
  2. The covenant treaty was sealed in the blood of Jesus on the altar of the Cross and celebrated in the sacred meal of the Most Holy Eucharist, first initiated in the Last Supper in the Upper Room on the night before His crucifixion [Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:20-29].
  3. We accept the obligations of the covenant in Christian baptism and confirmation, in our participation in the Sacraments, and in our fidelity to all the teachings of the Universal Magisterium.
  4. The Law of the New Covenant is written on the hearts of the believers by the Holy Spirit.

This is the covenant that fulfills the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  This is the New Covenant Law, as promised in Jeremiah 31:34, law that is written on human hearts and instilled in the minds of covenant believers by God the Holy Spirit, giving them the supernatural power that is needed to fulfill the new and eternal covenant of Jesus the Messiah.  This is the promised covenant that the inspired writer of Hebrews declares has been fulfilled in the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ.


Hebrews 8:9-10:  It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they did not stand by my covenant and I ignored them, says the Lord. 

Yahweh took Israel "by the hand" in love and compassion as a Bridegroom takes his Bride to lead her to his dwelling that they might begin their lives together.  This is the way Yahweh led Israel to their rendezvous at Sinai.  The Old Testament is full of imagery of Yahweh as loving Bridegroom and Israel as both virgin Bride and faithless adulteress [see Hosea 2:4 (2:2), 16-18 (14-18); Ezekiel 16:1-3, 6-14, 30-34; and the chart "Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets"].


Israel first broke her covenant with Yahweh in the incident of the Golden Calf in Exodus chapter 32.  Not only did Israel break the covenant at that time but when Yahweh reinstated Israel in the covenant [Exodus 34:10-11] she failed to remain or "did not stand by" Yahweh's covenant.  Israel's failure to "stand" or remain is in contrast to the stability and unchanging eternal nature of God the Father and God the Son as High Priest and covenant mediator of the New Covenant and the eternal quality of the heavenly Sanctuary.


The Greek text in Hebrews 8:9 says God "ignored" the sins of Israel while the Hebrew text in Jeremiah 31:32 the passage speaks of God being "their master" [also translated as "their husband"].  The Greek Old Testament text of the Septuagint agrees with Hebrews 

Question: When she failed in her covenant vows why did Yahweh "ignore" the Israelites?  The Greek word is amelein [pronounced uh-may-lay-en] and is found in Matthew 22:5; Mark 4:38; Luke 10:40; and in Hebrews 2:3 to describe people who are unresponsive [asleep] or people who did not carry out their responsibilities. 

Answer: In Hebrews 2:3 the inspired writer uses the word amelein for those who "neglect" or "ignore" their salvation: how shall we escape if we ignore (amelein) so great a salvation?  God does not force salvation or holiness on anyone.  If one chooses to operate the gift of free will by "ignoring" God, He will allow that person to "ignore" Him as He allowed Israel and in turn "ignored them" by letting the people go their own way, that is, until He used judgment to bring them to repentance.


Hebrews 8:10-11, Covenant Promises: But this is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts.  I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  11 And they shall not teach, each one his fellow citizen and kinsman, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for all shall know me, from the least to greatest.  12 For I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more." 

In the quotation from Jeremiah 31:31-34, found in Hebrews 8:8b-12 in the Greek text the word "covenant" is found 5 times: 8:9 (three times), 10 (twice).  Five is the number of "grace" in the significance of numbers in Scripture.

Question: What are the promises that were made in Jeremiah's prophecy of the New Covenant and in the quotation of that passage in Hebrews 8:10-12?


  1. God will write His Law on the minds and hearts of His covenant people
  2. His people will not have to be "taught" to know Him; they will know Him in their hearts
  3. He will be merciful to their iniquities
  4. He will remember their sins no more

Keeping God's commandments on their minds and hearts was central to Israel's obedience to the Sinai Covenant [see Deuteronomy 6:4-6] and to our New Covenant obligations according to Jesus' teachings [Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27].  In the Old Covenant God called for His covenant people to have circumcised hearts not just circumcised bodies [Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4].

Question: In what two ways can the statement that God will write His laws upon the hearts of New Covenant believers be taken?  See Matthew 5:8; 28; 12:34-35; Luke 8:15; 2 Corinthians 3:2-6


  1. Law that is written not on a material like stone or paper but written on a human heart is law that is internalized and not just ritually followed.  It is what you think and feel in your heart that first either condemns you or commends you.
  2. Jeremiah wrote in 17:1 & 9 that the human heart is devious and perverse but God alone can probe the mind and test the heart [Jeremiah 17:10].  In other words, human hearts since the fall of man are imperfect and incomplete.  Writing God's law on the circumcised heart transforms and completes what is lacking through strictly natural human ability.


This promise of spiritual circumcision, which is part of Jeremiah's promises in the New Covenant, was given the Church on Pentecost Sunday with the descent of God the Holy Spirit [Acts 2:1-4].  It is in the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit that His people will truly know Him and His law will be inscribed upon their hearts and their minds.  In the Old Covenant God had promised to forgive the sins of the people [Exodus 34:7].  The promise of the New Covenant includes assurance that people of the covenant will belong completely to God and receive His mercy.  The inspired writer of Hebrews argues that this mercy is now available through Jesus' self-sacrifice [Hebrews 10:11-18]. 


I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  This is a summary of the covenant relationship between God and His people, it is similar to the words a Jewish Bridegroom says to his bride in the marriage covenant ceremony.  It is a formula that highlights the unique relationship between God and the people He claims as His own [see Exodus 6:7; 29:45; Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 26:17-18; Jeremiah 7:23; 24:7; 30:22; Ezekiel 11:20; 37:27; Hosea 2:23; Zechariah 8:8; 13:9; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Revelation 21:3].

Hebrews 8:11:  And they shall not teach, each one his fellow citizen and kinsman, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for all shall know me, from the least to greatest. 

Question: The New Covenant promises of Jeremiah 31:31-34 also include that no further instruction will be necessary.  Has this promise been fulfilled?

Answer:  No. The instruction and exhortations to his audience by the writer of Hebrews and the other New Testament writers is evidence that this aspect of the New Covenant is still to be fulfilled in the 2nd Advent of Jesus the Messiah when the New Covenant will be fully enacted.  The "teaching", known in Hebrew as the torah was the way the Mosaic Covenant was imparted to the people but it was their compliance that was needed to make it effective.  It was Moses' obligation as covenant mediator to teach the people [Deuteronomy 4:5, 14; 6:1], and the covenant people were in turn obligated to teach their children [Deuteronomy 4:9-10; 6:7, 9; 11:19-20].  Isaiah promised that the covenant people would one day be taught by God [Isaiah 54:13]; a promise that Christians see fulfilled in the first Advent of Jesus Christ [John 6:45] and the descent of the Holy Spirit [John 14:26; Acts chapter 2; 1 John 2:27; 1 Thessalonians 4:8-9].  In this present age we are commanded to teach the Gospel [Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Timothy 4:16].


Hebrews 8:11 mentions "fellow citizens" and "kinsmen" which in some translations is rendered "neighbor" and "brother."  The Greek word adelphos (ad-el-fos') is used in New Testament Scripture in the sense of "kinsman," or "countryman," or "covenant member" instead of "brother-from-the-womb" as in the literal Greek [see use of adelphos in passages that clearly means kinsmen, countrymen, covenant member, or even neighbor: Matthew 5:22; 7:3; Acts 2:37; 22:13; Colossians 4:9; etc.]. The Greek word polites can mean "neighbor" but the word suggests those who belong to the same group united ethnically, culturally, or politically and so is more closely related to the concept of shared nationality or share nationhood.  In the ancient world to be a citizen was a position much prized for it extended certain rights and privileges not extended to others.  St. Paul, for example, enjoyed the status of Roman citizenship which earned him the right to trial by Caesar, meaning the imperial government.  It was a right he claimed when he was imprisoned after two years in Caesarea and it was the reason he was sent to Rome by the Festus the Roman governor of Judea [Acts 22:25-29; 25:9-12]. 

Question: How would special status as "kinsmen" and "citizens" of the New Covenant with Yahweh be important?  What does this status promise us?  See Hebrews 3:6; 11:9-10; 12:23; 13:14; Ephesians 2:19-22].

Answer: New Covenant believes are in exile in this world.  We are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, members of God's household. Such status promises us eternal life in the heavenly Jerusalem where we will fully participate in the assembly of the faithful.  But we are also kinsmen, united by the precious Blood of Jesus Christ and Christian Baptism into one covenant family:  So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.  Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit [Ephesians 2:19-22].


'Know the Lord,' for all shall know me, from the least to greatest.  The phrase to "know" the Lord is more than a relationship built upon casual acquaintance.  In Scripture "to know" means intimate knowledge in a covenant relationship or sexually intimacy.  For example the commandment to "know" no other gods means not to enter into any form of relationship with other gods through ritual worship.  "Knowing" God has two aspects of meaning, each of which relates to the other:

  1. Recognition of who God is:  Israel's problem in the journey to Sinai, the fall from grace in the incident of the Golden Calf, and later failures to live in obedience stemmed from a failure to fully understand who God is and what His promises meant as the writer of Hebrews warns his audience in Hebrews 3:8-12.
  2. Obedience to God's commandments: Those who fully "know" the Lord are obedient to His commandments and understand the depth of His promises.  Those who do not "know" Him are not committed to the practice of faithful obedience [Romans 1:5; 16:25-27], and do not have confidence in His promises.  The people of Israel did not "know" God and so they sinned and were incapable of keeping their covenant obligations.

In the promise of the New Covenant the focus is on the "all" who will "know" God.  Christian commentators like the great theologian Thomas Aquinas and Biblical scholar Nicholas of Lyra, a Jewish convert to Christianity and a leading Catholic theologian of the Middle Ages, applied this promise of full restoration to the conversion of the Gentile nations who would become children in the New Israel of the universal Church.


Hebrews 8:12: For I will forgive their evildoing... 

Mercy is the hallmark of the New Covenant relationship. Christ atones for our sins, God's mercy frees us from unrighteousness and in our gratitude we extend His mercy to others.  It is His mercy that calls us to lives of holiness. 


and remember their sins no more. Under the burden of the old law the Old Covenant people failed to "know" God and fell into sin. God responded by respecting their exercise of free will and allowing them to indulge in disobedience, for which they suffered the consequences when He called them to judgment and made them accountable.

Question:  Does "not remembering" and "forgiving" mean that God in the New Covenant is indifferent to sin?

Answer: No.  God brings about a new obedience by writing His laws upon our hearts and equipping us to lead lives of holiness through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Here "not remembering" means through the Sacrament of Penance He does not hold past sins against us. Because of Christ's perfect sacrifice now even mortal sins can be forgive. This was not possible under the Old Covenant where only inadvertent sins were covered by repentance, confession and animal sacrifice: However, if it is an individual who sins inadvertently, he shall bring a yearling she-goat as a sin offering, and the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for him who sinned inadvertently; when atonement has been made for him, he will be forgiven.  You shall have but one law for him who sins inadvertently, whether he be a native Israelite or an alien residing with you.  But anyone who sins defiantly, whether he be a native or an alien, insults the LORD, and shall be cut off from among his people.  Since he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, he must be cut off.  He has only himself to blame. [Numbers 15:27-31].


Hebrews 8:13: 13 When he speaks of a "new" covenant, he declares the first one obsolete.  And what has become obsolete and has grown old is close to disappearing.

In Hebrews 8:13 the inspired writer makes the point that Jesus' ministry in the heavenly Sanctuary makes the Old Covenant priesthood obsolete and requires a new law to join with the new priesthood of the New Covenant.  This new covenantal order does not end earthly worship but only transforms the worship to center not on multiple animal sacrifices but on the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God.


It is interesting that in Jewish sources there is virtually no mention of the promise of the "new" covenant promised in Jeremiah except among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The document known as the "Damascus Document" mentions the promise of a "new" covenant five times and other scrolls also mention the promise of a "new" covenant but in most cases the references are to a renewed Sinai Covenant. 

Question: How was it then that the followers of Jesus understood Jeremiah's prophecy was being fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth?

Answer: The early Christians derived their understanding of the New Covenant established in the blood of Christ from Jesus' words at the Last Supper.  St. Luke and St. Paul record that Jesus said This is the new covenant in my blood [Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25], and Matthew and Mark identify Jesus' blood as a covenant: my blood of the covenant [Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24].  Since blood sacrifice offered to Yahweh through the death of the sacrificial victim and the pouring out of its blood are central to covenant formation all these elements would have brought together the remembrance of the promises in Jeremiah 31:31-34 for the disciples seated at the Last Supper when Jesus, for the first time, offered Himself, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity using the key words of covenant formation. Then too, Jesus taught on the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy after His Resurrection.

Question: When does Scripture tell us He taught on the subject of the prophecies of the prophets?  See Luke 24:25-27; 44-45.

Answer: On Resurrection Sunday Jesus taught the disciples on the Road to Emmaus everything Moses and the prophets had written about Him and later the same day taught the Apostles in the Upper Room concerning the prophecies and opened their minds to understand the meaning of Scripture [at that time there was only Old Testament Scripture] concerning the prophecies and types and fulfillments included in that teaching concerning all the prophets would have been the prophecy concerning the  establishing a New Covenant as God had promised through the prophet Jeremiah.

Question: Were these the only two times that Jesus taught His disciples about the fulfillment of Scripture in His first Advent and in the establishment of the New Covenant?  See John 20:30; 21:24-25; Acts 1:1-3.

Answer: No.  Jesus taught the Church for 40 days after His Resurrection and before His Ascension.

Although Jews reject that Yeshua of Nazara [Jesus of Nazareth] came to fulfill the promises of God's Davidic Messiah, they do acknowledge in the writing of the Rabbis that when the Messiah comes he will abolish all sacrifices except the Toda communion sacrifice; in Hebrew "toda" means "thanks" or "thanksgiving" [Ratzinger, Feast of Faith].  Of course, since 70AD and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, all the blood sacrifices of Old Covenant worship have been abolished.  

Question:   What is the one sacrifice that remains today in New Covenant worship of the One True God?  What is it called and what is the etymology of the word?

Answer: The sacrifice of the Eucharist.  "Eucharist" is from the Greek work eucharistia, meaning "thanks" or "thanksgiving".

Israel's failure was a lack of faithfulness.  God was not willing to let human failure be the final word in His desire to bring humanity to salvation [1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:15].  Just as Israel's salvation in Egypt began the night of the slain Passover lambs so too does the New Covenant begin with the salvation of humanity through the slain Son who is exalted to glory upon His Resurrection to minister to God's people from the heavenly sanctuary opening the gates of heaven and calling all men and women to salvation and eternal life.  The New Covenant will be completed with the return of our Priest-king when He claims His covenant people in the Resurrection of the dead and restores the righteous to the same state of united flesh and spirit as immortal, sinless beings who will enjoy the same union with the Trinity that Adam and Eve first enjoyed in Eden: This I declare, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does corruption inherit incorruption.  Behold, I tell you a mystery.  We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For that which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: "Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the [old] law.  But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Corinthians 15:50-57].  Also see CCC# 366; 999-1001; 1038; and Revelation 20:11- 21:5.


The [old] law is suited to mortals, whereas the New Covenant guarantees us eternal life.  It was therefore right for the former one to grow old, while the latter remains new forever in being associated with the ages that do not grow old.

 Theodoret Bishop of Cry [393-466]:  Interpretation of Hebrews 8, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Hebrews


Questions for group discussion:

Question: What parable did Jesus tell to illustrate the necessity of letting go of the Old Covenant and embracing the New?  How can this parable be applied to Jeremiah's prophecy and our lesson in Hebrews chapter 8:  See Matthew 9:14-17

Answer: In the Parable of the Old and New Wineskins Jesus teaches about the necessity of replacing the old Sinai [Mosaic] Covenant with the New Covenant by using the illustration of a common practice among the people of His time.  Old wine can only be held in old wineskins, just as the old Law is contained in the Old Covenant.  If one tired to put new wine into the old wineskins the fermentation process would expand the old wineskins until they would burst.  New wineskins, however, would have the elasticity to expand as the wine continued to ferment.  In the same way, the New Covenant Law of love of God and neighbor required a New Covenant to contain the truths that Jesus taught during His three year ministry and the deeper understanding of those truths, the fermentation process, that would be provided by the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.  New wine needs new wineskins just as new law needs a New Covenant.


Question: Consult the chart "Yahweh's Eight Covenants" [also found in Lesson 6 of Hebrews].  Some Bible scholars only count 6 covenants believing that there will be a new covenant after Christ's Second Coming. This teacher of Scripture does not agree and sees the "New" Covenant in Christ as the final covenant formation between Yahweh and His people.  However, examine the issue for yourselves.  Will there be another "new" covenant after the Second Advent of Christ and the creation of the new heavens and earth [see Revelation chapter 21]?  Consider what the inspired writer has said about the formation of a new covenant: a new priesthood means and new law and a new covenant [Hebrews 7:12].  Will there be a different high priest after Christ's Second Advent?  Will there be a "new" new law?  Is the present New Covenant imperfect in any way that would require a "new" new covenant and have the promises of this present covenant been completed yet?    See Matthew 24:37-44; 25:31-46; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58; 2 Corinthians 5: 1-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-5:3 for 2nd Advent of Christ; Revelation chapter 21 for the Final Judgment and the New Jerusalem.

Catechism references for Hebrews chapter 8 [*indicated Scripture quoted in citation


1070*; 941; 1544-45


522; 1540


616; 618


64*; 1965


618; 1070*; 1544; 2574


981-82; 987; 1441-49; 2010;






Resources used in this Lesson:

  1. The Documents of Vatican II
  2. The Documents of Trent and Vatican I
  3. The Navarre Bible: Hebrews, Four Courts Press, 1991.
  4. Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine's Press, South Bend, Indiana 2006
  5. Hebrews, St. John Chrysostom, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, first series, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.
  6. Kinship by Covenant: A Biblical Theological Study of Covenant Types and Texts in the Old and New Testaments, Dr. Scott Hahn
  7. The Anchor Bible Commentary: To the Hebrews, George Wesley Buchanan, Doubleday, New York, 1972.
  8. The Anchor Bible Commentary: Hebrews, Craig R. Koester, Doubleday, New York, 2001.
  9. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Hebrews, [from the Panarion by Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis; on Melchizedek, pages 98-100], InterVarsity Press
  10. The Jewish Tanach
  11. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
  12. Catholic Dictionary
  13. Church History, Father Laux
  14. The Faith of the Early Fathers, William Judgens, volume I
  15. The Jewish Book of Why, volume I, Alfred J. Kolatch
  16. The Great High Priest, Margaret Barker
  17. Our Priest is Christ: The Doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Fr. Alfred Vanhoye
  18. The Works of Josephus, Flavius Josephus
  19. Feast of Faith, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

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