A Copy and Shadow of Heavenly Things

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have a such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.  For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law.  They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.  For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”  But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.

Hebrews 8:1-6

As we open our study of Hebrews 8, we see the inspired author making the point he was leading up to in chapter 7:  Christians have “such a high priest” (v. 1),  i.e., the Son of the God whose oath appointed Him as our high priest (cf. 7:20-21, 28).  Jesus is right now “seated at the right hand” of God (v. 1; cf. Mark 16:19; 14:62; Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:33; Romans 8:34), “the Majesty in heaven” (v. 1).  God is Majesty, and to Him is owed all our praise, honor, reverence, and fear.  His Son is at the right hand of His throne, ministering to us as our high priest.

In this way Jesus truly is “a minister in the holy places” (v. 2).  God then describes those “holy places” as “the true tent” or tabernacle “that the Lord set up, not man” (v. 2).  To understand what he means, first remember how the apostle Paul spoke of the things about which we read in the law of Moses as “a shadow of the things to come” (Colossians 2:17).  The Hebrew author likewise referred the people and things of the law of Moses as “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (v. 5; cf. 9:23; 10:1).  With that in mind, think back to the tabernacle God directed Moses and the Israelites to build in the Old Testament (Exodus 26).  Old Testament high priests entered that tabernacle to intercede for the people “with gifts and sacrifices” (v. 3; cf. Leviticus 16).  As God had commanded, man had built that particular tent (Exodus 35).  It served to foreshadow the “true tent” now under discussion, the tabernacle “that the Lord set up, not man,” the place in heaven at God’s right hand where our high priest, Jesus, now intercedes for us.

Just as the Old Testament high priests offered gifts and sacrifices, so also “is (it) necessary for this priest also to have something to offer” (v. 3).  His gift was Himself, the sacrifice He made by shedding His blood on that cross (7:27; 9:12).  The fact that He left earth, ascended into heaven, and now sits at God’s right hand shows that His sacrifice serves to atone for our sins and is honored in heaven (cf. Daniel 7:13-14; Revelation 5:6-14).  If he were still on earth, he “would not be a priest at all” under the edicts of the law of Moses (v. 5).  As was pointed out earlier in Hebrews, Christ came from Judah’s tribe, “and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests” (7:14).

Yet the Old Testament priests and the gifts they offered under Mosaic law ultimately “serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (vs. 4-5).  There was a reason God commanded Moses concerning the construction of the tabernacle, the ordination of the priests, and all the other facets of Old Testament law: “See that you make everything according to the pattern” (v. 5; cf. Exodus 25:40).  He always planned for Christ to obtain a much more excellent ministry and establish a new covenant that is much better than the old (v. 6).  The sacrifices, rituals, tabernacle, and high priests which made up the Old Testament pattern were always meant to foreshadow the sacrifice and priesthood of Christ and the church He established in the New Testament.

Next week we will continue studying chapter 8 to see more of the contrast between the Old and New Testaments.