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;
Verse 1. - Now the chief matter in (or, in regard to) the things which are being said is (or, to sum up what we are saying). The word κεφάλαιον in itself may mean either "summary" or "chief point." It is not "the sum of what we have spoken," as in A.V. "Caput, id est praecipuum .... dum haec omnia de archisacerdote nostro dicimus, caput totius sermonis, ordine ita postulante, commemorandum venit. Conf. ἐπὶ, ver. 6; Hebrews 9:10, 15, 17; Hebrews 10:28" (Bengel). We have such a High Priest (i.e. such as has been described; cf. Hebrews 7:26), who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty (or, of Majesty) in the heavens (cf. Hebrews 1:3, and what was there said).
A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.
Verse 2. - A minister of the sanctuary (τῶν ἁγίων, neuter, as in Hebrews 9:12, equivalent to "the holy places;" cf. Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 10:19), and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. The sphere of Christ's priestly ministration (λειτουργὸς λειτουργεῖν, λειτουργία, being the recognized words in the LXX. and Josephus for denoting sacerdotal functions, - hence Liturgy) is thus in the first place pointed to as being a heavenly one, symbolized only by the earthly sanctuary. But what is the true tabernacle, in which Christ ministers? Are we to suppose that an actual prototype of the earthly tabernacle is regarded as existing locally beyond the sky? No; it is only implied that there are, in the suprasensuous sphere, facts and relations which are symbolized and made level to our comprehension by local imagery. Still, there may be conceived as present to the writer's mind an ideal picture of a heavenly temple, such as was seen in vision by prophets, and served to aid their conception of realities beyond their ken. Thus in Psalm 29, where the thunderstorm is described, the LORD is conceived, in the introductory and concluding verses, as enthroned above it in his heavenly temple, sitting there a King for ever, and worshipped by the "sons of God." Thus in 1 Kings 22:19 Michaiah sees in vision "the Loud sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him, on his right hand and on his left." In Isaiah 6. this throne is seen as the distinct counterpart of the mercy-seat in the earthly temple, with the winged forms above it, and the "house" filled with the smoke of incense, and live coals upon the altar. Ezekiel's still more remarkable visions (Hebrews 1, 10, 11.) are in like manner enlargements of the idea of the Shechinah in the holy of holies (cf. also Psalm 11:4; Micah 1:2; Hebrews 2:20). Then the visions of St. John in the Revelation have the same basis; there is still seen a glorious counterpart above of the temple below; though now with new accessories, expressive of accomplished redemption. But that St. John's visions are meant only as imagery representing the incomprehensible is evident throughout, and especially from the ideal description of the holy city in Revelation 21, in which ver. 22 is peculiarly significant: "And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it." In the same way is to be understood the "true tabernacle." If, as we may suppose, the writer had before his mind the prophetic visions of such a heavenly temple, he entertains them only as imaging spiritual facts and relations in the regions of eternity. "Which the Lord pitched," etc., may have reference to Isaiah 42:5, Ὁ ποιήσας τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ πήξας αὐτὸν, LXX.
For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.
Verses 3, 4. - For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this one also have somewhat to offer. For (rather, nay; the reading μὲν οῦν being better supported than the Textus Receptus μὲν γὰρ) if he were on earth, he would not even be a priest, seeing there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law. These verses are in proof of the assertion of ver. 2, viz. that Christ has his ministry in the heavenly tabernacle. He has been shown to be a High Priest: therefore he must make some offering, this being the very purpose of a high priest's office (cf. Hebrews 5:1). But where? Not certainly in the earthly tabernacle, this being served already, and exclusively served, by the sons of Aaron. Therefore it must be in the heavenly sphere symbolized by the earthly tabernacle. And then, in ver. 5, that there is a heavenly reality, of which the earthly tabernacle is but a shadow, is shown by what was said of the latter when it was made. (What Christ offers in the heavenly sphere is surely his own atoning sacrifice. Some commentators have found a difficulty in this conception on the ground that this his sacrifice had been completed once for all before his ascension. True; but he is regarded as carrying its efficacy with him to the mercy-seat above, and so for ever offering it; even as it is continually commemorated and pleaded in the Eucharist by the Church below. And thus, be it observed, the symbolism of the Day of Atonement is accurately fulfilled. For the high priest did not sacrifice within the tabernacle; he only carried to the holy of holies the blood, representing the atoning efficacy of the sacrifice made outside before his entrance.)
For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law:
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.
Verse 5. - Who (i.e. being such as do so; οἵτινες) serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things (ὑπόδειγμα here, as in Hebrews 9:23, means" representation," in the way of copy, not of pattern. "Shadow" (σκιὰ) is opposed in Hebrews 10. I to εἰκὼν, which denotes the reality, and in Colossians 2:17 to σῶμα), even as Moses is admonished of God when about to make the tabernacle (literally, to complete; but not in the sense of finishing a thing begun, but of carrying out a design to entire completion); for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was showed thee in the mount. For the sense of κεχρημάτισται, according to Hellenistic usage, cf. Matthew 2:22, "Being warned of God in a dream (χρηματισθεὶς δὲ κατ ὄναρ)." The reference here is to Exodus 25:40; the words which "the LORD spake unto Moses." Rabbinical writers, holding the view of an actual heavenly tabernacle, the prototype of the earthly one, have concluded from the passage in Exodus that Moses had a vision of it, or that a visible representation of it was exhibited to him on the mount. All that is necessarily implied is that he was divinely admonished to make the tabernacle after the fashion conveyed, in whatever way, to his apprehension when on the mount, so that it might be a true representation of some heavenly reality (cf. Acts 7:44).
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.
Verse 6. - But now (νυνὶ in its usual logical, not temporal, sense; cf. Hebrews 11:16; also Hebrews 2:8; 9:26; 12:26) hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the Mediator of a better covenant, which (ἥτις, equivalent to quippequae, as usual) hath been established upon better promises. Here the idea of the new διαθήκη, introduced first in the way of anticipation at Hebrews 7:22, is brought to the front, to be carried out in what follows. There the proved superior greatness of the predicted priest was made the measure of the superior excellence of the covenant of which he has become Surety; here the superior excellence of the new covenant, which is now to be shown from prophecy, is made /he measure of that of Christ's priestly ministry, which has just been proved to be of necessity in the sphere of heavenly realities of which the Mosaic ritual was but a copy and shadow. The word here used is not ἔγγυος ("surety"), as in Hebrews 7:22, but μεσίτης ("mediator"); on which it is to be observed that the mediator of the old covenant was not Aaron, but Moses (see Galatians 3:19): it was he that intervened between God and the congregation in the establishment of the covenant; and thus, in this respect also, the priesthood of the new covenant transcends the old one, in that (as was shown also in the earlier part of the Epistle) the type of Moses, as well as of Aaron, is fulfilled in it. The word νενομοθέτηται ("established" in A.V.; "enacted" in the recent R.V.) expresses the promulgation of a law - appositely in the first place to the Law of Moses, which constituted the conditions of the old covenant; but also to the description of the new covenant, which follows from Jeremiah, according to which the law remains, but to be written on the heart. The gospel is elsewhere regarded under the idea of law, though not a law of bondage, but of liberty - a law, not of the letter, but of the Spirit (see Romans 3:27; Romans 8:2; Romans 9:31; James 1:25). The "better promises" are such as the passage from Jeremiah, quoted below, notably represents. Other passages might be referred to (such as Ezekiel 36:25, etc.; Ezekiel 37:24, etc.), of similar significance, though not with the same marked mention of a new covenant to supersede the old one. This memorable passage (Jeremiah 31:31-35) occurs in a distinct section of Jeremiah's prophecies (30, 31.), delivered after the commencement of the Captivity, and directed to be written in a book. The subject of the whole section is the restoration of Israel, its ultimate Messianic reference being patent to all who acknowledge any such at all in prophecy. In evidence of this there is not only the passage before us, pointing to an entirely new covenant with Israel, and the ideal tone of the whole prophecy, but also, in particular, the view of all the scattered tribes, not Judah only - the whole ideal Israel - being gathered together from all countries to Zion, and of David himself to rule over them as king. The national and local framework, which the picture has in common with other prophetic visions of the coming days, is of course no difficulty to those familiar with the style of the prophetic books.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.
Verse 7. - For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for a second. "For" introduces this sentence as a reason for what has been already said; i.e. for a better covenant having been spoken cf. The expression might be objected to by Hebrew readers as implying imperfection in the original Divine covenant. "Nay," says the writer, "it was imperfect, it was not faultless; for prophecy itself declares this." Should it be further objected that in the prophecy it is not the old covenant itself that is found fault with, but the people for not observing it, the answer would be that the remedy for their non-observance being the substitution of a new one that would answer its purpose better, some imperfection in the old one is implied. This is indeed the very point of this verse. If it be asked, further, how faultiness in the old covenant is compatible with the view of its Divine origin, the answer is abundantly supplied in St. Paul's Epistles. His position constantly is that the Mosaic Law, though in itself "holy, just, and true," and adequate to its purpose, was still imperfect as a means of justification. It was but a temporary dispensation, with a purpose of its own, intervening between the original promise to Abraham and the fulfillment of that promise in Christ. Thus it is no derogation to itself or to its Author to charge it with "weakness and unprofitableness" for a purpose it was never meant to answer.
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:
Verses 8-12. - For finding fault with them (i.e. the people), he saith (or, as some take it, finding fault, he saith to them), Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will accomplish upon the house of Israel and the house of Judah a new covenant: 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. 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: and they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. The passage is quoted from the LXX., with a few verbal differences which do not affect the meaning. In ver. 9 our A.V. renders the original in Jeremiah "although I was an Husband unto them," instead of "and I regarded them not (κἀγὼ ἠμέλησα αὐτῶν)." The LXX., followed in the text, gives the more probable meaning. On the whole passage be it observed:
1. "Behold, the days come," like "in that day," is a usual prophetic phrase for denoting the age of the Messiah.
2. The failure of the old covenant is attributed in the first place to the people's not continuing in it, and then, as a consequence, to the LORD'S withdrawal of his protection. The evidence of such withdrawal immediately before the prophet's view may be supposed to have been the Babylonian captivity.
3. The distinguishing characteristics of the new covenant are
(1) God's laws, not imposed as an external code, but put into the mind and written on the heart;
(2) the general knowledge of the Load by small as well as great, without the former need of continual admonition; and
(3) as the originating and inspiring cause of all, the forgiveness on the Loan's part of past sins. It is important to perceive that this last characteristic of the new covenant, though coming last in order, is given as the reason for the other two; for this is a first principle of the gospel. The sense of forgiveness through Christ, of acceptance in the Beloved, is ever set forth as the inspiring principle of the obedience of Christians. "We love him, because he first loved us." And hence flow the two results denoted in the prophecy.
(1) "I will put my laws," etc.; i.e. there will ensue, through the inspiring Spirit, from the sense of forgiveness in Christ, a hearty service of love and loyalty; no mere mechanical observance of an external code. Then,
(2) "And they shall not teach," etc.; i.e. those who thus, led by the Spirit, give themselves to such hearty service, will acquire, further, an immediate, and as it were instinctive, "knowledge of the Lord," not confined to "the wise" or "the scribe," but the personal privilege of even the "little ones" of Christ (cf. Matthew 11:25, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes;" also John 6:45, "It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God;" also 1 Thessalonians 4:9, "But as touching brotherly love, ye need not that I write unto you; for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another;" also 1 John 2:20, "But ye have an unction kern the Holy One, and ye know all things"). It is not to be inferred (as has been) from this last result that a distinct order of ministry is no essential constituent of the Christian Church for admonition of others. The fact that such a ministry was constituted from the first in all the Churches, and was in active operation when apostles wrote as above, is in itself sufficient disproof of such a view. All that is implied is that all faithful believers, small as well as great (using, of course, the means of grace and edification provided for them in the Church), should themselves have inward illumination and personal communion with God. This is indeed a peculiar glory of the Christian religion. The poorest and the simplest believer may have spiritual perceptions and spiritual experience of his own, surpassing those of his appointed guides, and remaining his own though priests and teachers be unfaithful. "I am small and despised" (may the Christian, still more than the ancient psalmist, say), "yet do not I forget thy precepts." "I have more understanding than all my teachers; for thy testimonies are my meditation." Observe, lastly, the ideality of the whole view given of the effects of the new covenant. It presents to us the purpose, the potentiality, of the new dispensation, rather than results to be fully realized in this world; though still actually realized so far as the "glorious light of the gospel" illuminates the Church, and is allowed to "shine into" the human heart. This remark applies to all Messianic prophecy.
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.
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:
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.
For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
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.
Verse 13. - In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. But that which is becoming old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away. "He hath made the first old" (πεπαλαίωκε) refers to the time of Jeremiah's prophecy, not of the writing of the Epistle. The very mention of a new covenant had even then antiquated the other. It thenceforth survived only under the category of old as opposed to new; and further marked with the growing decrepitude which is the precursor of dissolution. This further idea is expressed by the present participle παλαιούμενον (elsewhere applied to garments that are wearing out; cf. Psalm 102:27; Hebrews 1:11; Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 51:6; Luke 12:33), and also by γηράσκον, a figure taken from the advance of old age in men. When the Epistle was written, it would not have been spoken of as "waxing old," but as defunct. The temple, indeed, was still standing, with the old ritual going on; but it had become but as the stately shrine of a lifeless thing. As to the view of the antiquation having begun even in the prophetic age, we observe that the prophets themselves show a consciousness of this, in that their growing tendency is to depreciate rather than exalt the ceremonial Law, and to put mercy above sacrifice. In fact, the Old Testament itself, especially in its later parts, is replete with the principles of the new covenant, anticipated in part, though not to be fully revealed till Christ appeared. And so, when he did appear, the old dispensation had already become obsolete, and the new one prepared for; to be rejected in Israel by those only who, "in the reading of the Old Testament," had "the veil upon their heart."