I mentioned several weeks back as we were starting the third chapter of the book of Hebrews that the author had at the start of that chapter used only his second exhortation (or command) for the whole book, and it was simply “consider Jesus.” And I argued at the time that if you think of how exhortations are used in the Bible, then we can arrive at one particular temptation that these Jewish Christians were likely facing. That is, we need to recognize that when the Bible gives a particular charge to a particular group of people, it likely is revealing a particular temptation they face. An easy example of this can be seen as Paul says to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:17, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches.” It likely reveals that those who are rich in this age can feel a particular temptation—not as likely felt by the poor and needy around them—to be haughty and set their hopes on what they have or can acquire through their riches.
Consequently, I argued, if the author of Hebrews uses an exhortation like “consider Jesus,” then it is likely revealing that these Jewish Christians were facing the particular temptation of seeing something as more desirable and attractive than Jesus and what he offered. Something else was luring them and drawing their attention away from Jesus. And it’s as if the author of Hebrews is saying, “Before you walk away, I don’t think you’ve really considered who Jesus is and what he’s done because if you had, you would recognize the glory and beauty of Christ and his work. You would see that he’s better than what you’re tempted to go after.”
I wanted to remind us of this note because I think it sheds light on one of the things that we’re about to see in chapters 8-10. The author of Hebrews is holding up for us the superior beauty and glory of who Jesus is and what he’s done and is doing as our high priest. It’s as if he takes every facet of Christ’s priestly ministry and says, “Oh, and in this way as well, his work is more glorious and beautiful than the work of the priests under the old covenant.” And in doing that, he creates a lure for our hearts because at the end of the day we desperately long for and need a savior do be for us and do for us what only Jesus can. That’s what the author continues to do then in 8:1-6 as he focuses on the superiority and glory of the place where Jesus ministers and the offering he makes.
Therefore, what I want to do this morning is to make two sermon points that simply explain the ways in which the author of Hebrews is showing us that Jesus, our high priest, is superior, more beautiful, and more glorious than all the priests before him. And then I want us to consider why it’s so important that we take time to consider Jesus’ priestly work for us.
In our text this morning, the author of Hebrews wants us to see that Jesus’ priesthood is superior in terms of the place where he ministers and in terms of what he offers as a sacrifice for sin. So, let’s start by focusing on the place where Jesus ministers.
Jesus does his high priestly work, seated at the right hand of God
Right after saying in 7:26-28 that we need a priest who is holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens, who has no need to offer sacrifices for his own sins before offering a sacrifice for ours, he begins chapter 8 by reiterating that we have such a priest—in Jesus. He writes in verses 1-2, “Now the point of 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.”
What does he mean when he says “the true tent that the Lord set up, not man”? Well, he tells us when he notes in verses 4-5 that the priests under the old covenant were always showing us copies and shadows of greater realities. He writes in verse 5, “They serve a copy and shadow of 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.”
This is a reference to Exodus 25:40. In Exodus 25 God had started giving Moses specific instructions about the design of the tabernacle which was a tent that they were going to set up in the wilderness. It had to have specific dimensions, made up of certain materials, and look a certain way. The Lord was very particular. And in the midst of telling Moses very specifically what the lamps, tongs, trays, and utensils needed to loo, the Lord added, “And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.”
What this means is that everything about the priestly ministry under the law of Moses was simply a copy and shadow of greater realities. As priests, they were merely shadows of the greater and more glorious priest to come. The sacrifices were obviously simply shadows of the glorious sacrifice to come when Jesus laid down his life. But now we see that even the place where they ministered—the tabernacle—was a copy of a more ultimate and glorious heavenly reality.
You see, the Bible pictures God as dwelling in heaven. In Isaiah 66:1 God tells us, “Heaven is my throne.” Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6:9). Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:22 that Jesus has “gone into heaven” and is “at the right hand of God.” Though God is omnipresent (everywhere), heaven is seen as the place where he especially dwells, we might say. This is why in Revelation 4, when John gets a view of the throne of God it begins, “After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven!”
And in Hebrews 8:1-6 we see that the reason God gave such specific instructions for the particular design of the tabernacle—which was the place where God was to dwell among his people—it’s because he was modeling it after his heavenly tabernacle, or the place where he dwells in heaven.
Therefore, although the priests under the law of Moses performed their ministry in the very tent where God dwelt among his people in the wilderness, Jesus actually performs his ministry in the heavenly tabernacle, after which the earthly tabernacle was patterned. He “is seated at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in heaven.” Thus, yet another way that Jesus is superior to the priests under the law of Moses is that he doesn’t simply minister in the temporary tent set up in the wilderness where God dwelt among his people; he is in the “true tent,” at the right hand of God, ministering in God’s very presence in heaven.
But there is another way in which Jesus is superior, namely, in his the offering he presents.
Jesus presents himself as the eternally effective offering for sin
The author of Hebrews reminds us in verse 3 of who the high priest, by definition, is. You’ll remember back in 5:1, he’d written, “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” That’s who a priest is (our representative), and that’s what he does (offers gifts and sacrifices for sins). So, the author makes the point, “For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest [Jesus] also to have something to offer” (v. 3).
Now, it’s at this point that you’re ready for the punchline, right? You expect him to say, “And here is what Jesus offers.” But instead, he notes that if he were merely on earth he wouldn’t be a priest at all, something we’ve already noted in chapter 7. Then he adds the observation that we’ve already seen, namely, that those earthly priests were merely serving in a way that was a copy and shadow of more ultimate realities. But we’re thinking, “Wait a second! You forgot to tell us what his gift or sacrifice that he’s offering is! Don’t run off yet to something else!” So why doesn’t he tell us what he is offering? Well, actually I think he does. Let me show you why I’m saying that.
First, he notes in 7:27, “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” So, we’ve already been told that the sacrifice Jesus offered up for sins as our representative was himself. This is something he’ll reiterate in chapter 9, but we’re not there yet, so let’s just keep following his argument here. After noting that Jesus offers up himself to end chapter 7, he begins chapter 8 by noting in verses 1-2 that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, which of course the author of Hebrews knows from Psalm 110:1, in which David says, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” But then note that he goes right from stating Jesus’ seated position in verses 1-2 to saying in verse 3, “For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer.”
So, what’s the connection between verses 2 and 3, since verse 3 begins with “for”? I think the author of Hebrews is telling us that Jesus, seated at the right hand of God, is himself the offering. In other words, our high priest is not only our representative, seated at the right hand of God in heaven, but he is also a constant presentation before the throne of God of what has been done to deal with our sins. Because Jesus sits there, having been crucified and raised for the sins of all who have believed in him, at the Father’s right hand, he is an eternal presentation of what has been done for our sins.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing a pro-life speaker who himself had been conceived in rape, was adopted, and now was speaking in front of us. And he did indeed make arguments for why protecting the life of the unborn was important and why there really aren’t any acceptable times to take the life of a child in the womb. But, honestly, he didn’t need to make an argument for why we need to protect the life of a child who has been conceived in rape. He could have just stood there, as someone who had been conceived in a brutal act of sin, but was now in our presence as one gloriously made in the image of God. His mere presence was the argument.
So it is with Jesus. At the Father’s right hand there is one constantly present who was and is the offering for sin. The crucified and raised one, present in heaven, is what he has to offer. And he’s our representative. We have a representative for us who is not distant from the Father, but seated at his right hand. We have an intercessor who lives forever and intercedes forever for us at the Father’s right hand. And we have one who has paid for our sins, bearing the judgment that you and I deserved, seated at the right hand of God. He is the one who guarantees that our salvation is sure, certain, and eternal.
I mentioned that scene in Revelation 4 where John is shown the throne room of heaven. Well, you may remember that there was an angel holding a scroll in that very next chapter. And we find out through the rest of the book that that scroll represents the unfolding of all of God’s work of judging his enemies and saving his people. But no one was worthy to open that scroll, neither in heaven or on earth or under the earth. And John began to weep because none was found worthy to open the scroll. What human representative could was worthy or could ensure God’s work of saving his people? But then a voice said to John, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And John continues, “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb, standing, as though it had been slain” (Rev 5:5-6).
What Revelation 5 is telling us in vivid imagery is that Jesus himself has done everything necessary for our eternal salvation. Our salvation is not in doubt because the Lion who is the Lamb has done it. He is our representative. He is our offering for sin. And he doesn’t minister in some far off place. He is in the heavenly tabernacle, as our priest and representative, ensuring that our salvation is not in doubt.
Now, let me end with a word of application. This superior high priest is why we can have assurance of salvation.
This superior heavenly high priest is why we can have assurance of salvation
Just in case you’re thinking, “Okay, I get it. Jesus is better than those priests, but why is this such a big deal for me? I don’t need to be convinced of his superior priesthood.” I want to try to give you an answer. And one key answer is that Jesus’ work and presence in heaven as our high priest is why we can have the precious gift of assurance of salvation. In fact, I think that is one of the author’s main aims in this section—to hold up the glory of assurance to his hearers. Let me explain why I think that.
Any time you preach to a group of people, there are four different types of people in the congregation when it comes to the issue of assurance of salvation. There are those who doubt they’re saved, and they do indeed need to doubt because they simply don’t know the Lord. There are those who feel assured, and they should feel assured because they’re children of God. But then there are two other groups of people that make the task of preaching on occasion tricky. There are those who feel assured and need to doubt. These are those, for example, who have professed faith but give no evidence of knowing Jesus. They’re walking in blatant immorality or other forms of rebellion against God, and they simply don’t care. Or maybe they’re feeling the pull of such a rebellious lifestyle, and they’re wanting to run toward it. However, someone has assured them along the way that they’re okay with the Lord, and so they feel assured—when they shouldn’t. And finally there is a group who doubts when they should feel assurance. They’re trusting in Christ for salvation. They hate sin when they see it in their lives, and they eagerly want to honor the Lord. But their heart is given to self-condemnation, and they consistently believe the devil’s lies that they don’t know Jesus. They feel doubt and should feel assurance.
Now, think about those last two groups. Concerning the group that feels assured they’re saved when they should be doubting, the Scripture gives us warning texts. This is one purpose of warning texts, like we saw in Hebrews 6:4-6. Such texts are meant to jar the hearer into recognizing that it’s simply not okay to keep running after sin. They need to stop and repent. If they keep running toward sin, they need to feel doubt about whether or not they know the Lord. This is why the author of Hebrews gave such a grave warning in chapter 6 and will do it again in chapter 10 to a people who are feeling the strong pull to walk away from Jesus.
But how do you deal with the group who is constantly doubting and needs to feel assured? I think you deal with it by doing something like our author is doing in chapters 7 through the first half of 10. He’s holding up the sufficiency of Jesus as our savior for the purpose of showing the glory of assurance that can be found in him.
I want to try to explain how this gives us assurance, but first let me state that I believe this is what the author desperately wants for his readers, this precious gift of assurance of salvation. That’s why he wrote in 6:11, “We desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end.” He wants them to have full assurance of their hope.
And it is a precious gift. It was the glory of assurance, Mark Dever has noted, that aided the Reformers preaching of justification by faith alone in spreading like wildfire in the 1500s. 1 According to the teaching of the Roman Catholic church in 1500 (and which is still today taught in the official catechism of the Roman Catholic church) no one can be assured of their salvation. It was errant presumption to think that you could know that if you died right now that you would be with Jesus. And the reason why is that they were looking to themselves and their own works, in part, as the hope for their salvation. And how do you know you won’t commit some mortal sin? Or even if you don’t, you’ll surely have to work off some sins in purgatory. Your death could only be the start of 10,000 years of working off your sins in purgatory so that you’ll “achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” 2 This is why the Reformers and Puritans referred to the lack of assurance according to Roman Catholic church’s teaching as the “damnable doctrine of doubt.”
But the Reformers came along preaching that one could have assurance. You could go to bed at night, knowing that if you died, you’d be with the Lord. You could have the assurance that the thief on the cross had when he heard from Jesus, “Today, you’ll be with me in paradise.” But how? Why did the preaching of justification by faith alone have such a tie to assurance?
The reason is because the preaching of justification by faith alone—which, by the way, is not just the teaching of the Reformers but of Scripture itself (see Romans, Galatians, etc.)—rightly teaches that the righteousness necessary for our salvation is not found in ourselves but in another. Our hope for salvation is based on the work of another. And that other to whom we look is Jesus. Consequently, if you’ve repented and looked to Christ in faith, then your assurance is grounded in whether or not your representative, Jesus, is sufficient for your salvation.
The only way we will be damned or suffer God’s furious anger and wrath for eternity is if Jesus, our representative and priest, is unworthy or insufficient for us. But the author of Hebrews goes into painstaking detail to say, “Consider Jesus.” He shows us every facet, so it seems, of his redeeming work for us, even noting in our text this morning that he doesn’t simply minister as a high priest on earth but as our heavenly high priest, sitting at the right hand of God. He didn’t offer the blood of bulls or goats as a payment for our sins, but he offered the perfect sacrifice of himself, so that he sits in heaven—the crucified and resurrected Son of God—as an eternal reminder that our sins that should rightly condemn us have been dealt with. He’s showing us the absolute sufficiency of Christ for our salvation in these chapters.
We have assurance by looking to him and considering him. And if our assurance is found in looking to our high priest and representative, then why would you ever turn away from him simply to mortal men offering animal sacrifices? That’s what the author of Hebrews is saying to his readers. And I want to say to us, if by faith, we look to Christ and find assurance that we belong to the Lord, knowing that even at the time of death, we’ll simply be ushered into the presence of God, then what is there in this life that we can’t faithfully endure? What difficult obedience is too much for us to continue to walk in faithful obedience our Lord? Brothers and sisters, let us this morning, look to our crucified and risen Lord again, considering Jesus in all his glory, and let us publicly declare that our hope is in him alone as we seek to walk by faith and in faithful obedience before him as we come to the table. Amen.