The problem with the old covenant was not primarily with the covenant but with the covenant’s people. They were sinners who kept on sinning. They had ways to deal with their sin, but only in copies and shadows. Never the real deal. In short, God made promises to and about these people in the old covenant. But one thing he never promised was to produce any true knowledge of himself within them. How are the promises of the new covenant any better? Well, in addition to having a means for true (and not merely foreshadowed) forgiveness (Heb 8:12), God actually promised to make his new people into the sort of people he requires them to be (Heb 8:10-11).
There can be no dispute: The main point of the middle section of Hebrews (roughly chapters 3-10) is that, in Jesus, we have a great high priest:
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have 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.
Here is one of the rare places in the Bible where the author tells us straight out what is his main point. We don’t have to guess, read between the lines, or check an expositor’s work. Make sure to savor this moment.
The Ministry They Copy
Having savored that moment, we ought to notice that this high priest, who serves the Father in heaven, rules all things. His ministry is more effective than any other. He’s been tremendously successful at what he does.
And don’t fail to observe the precise wording of Heb 8:1 — that priest is the one we have. As long as we rely on him to get us through (Heb 4:14).
He is not like all those other priests on earth, who are merely copycat priests serving God in a copycat place (Heb 8:3-6). Those Jewish priests under the old covenant were crucial components of God’s revelation of himself and his relationship with his people. But that’s primarily because they were copying the priesthood of Jesus.
And now that the bona fide original has appeared, there’s no further need for copycats.
Imagine if your church started a ministry of Elvis impersonation. You could dress in bright sequined leather, wearing bushy wigs and sunglasses. You could help children memorize Bible verses to the tune of “Love Me Tender,” and really connect with older generations as well.
But now imagine that Elvis himself presented himself alive and showed up at your ministry of impersonation. Would you let him join the troupe?
Of course you wouldn’t! First off, he’d show everyone up. And second: it would turn the whole thing into a mockery. The point of impersonation is that you’re trying to be like someone or something else. It would ruin the whole point of it if you’ve got the original present. You can’t impersonate yourself.