William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Way To Reality (Hebrews 8:1-6)

8:1-6 The pith of what we are saying is this--it is just such a high priest we possess, a priest who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of majesty in the heavens, a high priest who is a minister of the sanctuary and of the real tabernacle, which the Lord, and not man, founded. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices. It is therefore necessary that he should have something which he might offer. If then he had been upon earth, lie would not even have been a priest, for there already exist those who offer the gifts the law lays down, men whose service is but a shadowy outline of the heavenly order, just as Moses received instructions when he was about to complete the tabernacle--"See," it says, "that you do everything according to the pattern that was shown to you on the mountain." But, as things are, he has obtained a more excellent ministry, in so far as he is also the mediator of a better covenant, a covenant which was enacted on the basis of superior promises.

The writer to the Hebrews has finished describing the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek in all its glory. He has described it as the priesthood which is for ever, without beginning and without end; the priesthood that God confirmed with an oath; the priesthood that is founded on personal greatness and not on any legal appointment or racial qualification; the priesthood which death cannot touch; the priesthood which is able to offer a sacrifice that never needs to be repeated; the priesthood which is so pure that it has no necessity to offer sacrifice for any sins of its own. Now he makes and underlines his great claim. "It is." he says, "a priest precisely like that that we have in Jesus."

He goes on to say two things about Jesus. (i) He took his scat at the right hand of the throne of majesty in the heavens. That is the final proof of his glory.

"The highest place that heaven affords

Is his, is his by right,

The King of kings, and Lord of lords,

And heaven's eternal light."

There can be no glory greater than that of the ascended and exalted Jesus. (ii) He says that Jesus is a minister of the sanctuary. That is the proof of his service. He is unique both in majesty and in service.

Jesus never looked on majesty as something to be selfishly enjoyed. One of the greatest of the Roman Emperors was Marcus Aurelius; as an administrator he was unsurpassed. He died at fifty-nine, having worked himself to death in the service of his people. He was one of the Stoic saints. When chosen to succeed in due time to the imperial power, his biographer Capitolinus tells us, "he was appalled rather than overjoyed, and when he was told to move to the private house of Hadrian, the Emperor, it was with reluctance that he departed from his mother's villa. And when the members of the household asked him why he was sorry to receive the royal adoption, he enumerated to them the toils which sovereignty involved." Marcus Aurelius saw kingship in terms of service and not of majesty.

Jesus is the unique example of divine majesty and divine service combined. He knew that he had been given his supreme position, not jealously to guard it in splendid isolation, but rather to enable others to attain to it and to share it. In him the supreme majesty and the supreme service met.

Now there enters into the picture a thought that was never far from the mind of the writer to the Hebrews. Religion to him, remember, was access to God; therefore the supreme function of any priest was to open the way to God for men. He removed the barriers between God and man; he built a bridge across which man could go into the presence of God. But we could put this another way. Instead of talking about access to God we might talk about access to reality. Every religious writer has to search for terms which his readers will understand. He has to present his message in language and in thoughts which will get home because they are familiar or at least will strike a chord in the reader's mind. The Greeks had a basic thought about the universe. They thought in terms of two worlds, the real and the unreal. They believed that this world of space and time was only a pale copy of the real world. That was the basic doctrine of Plato, the greatest of all the Greek thinkers. He believed in what he called forms. Somewhere there was a world where there was laid up the perfect forms of which everything in this world is an imperfect copy. Sometimes he called the forms ideas. Somewhere there is the idea of a chair of which all actual chairs are imperfect copies. Somewhere there is an idea of a horse of which all actual horses are inadequate reflections. The Greeks were fascinated by this conception of a real world of which this world is only a flickering, imperfect copy. In this world we walk in shadows; somewhere there is reality. The great problem in life is how to pass from this world of shadows to the other world of realities. That is the idea of which the writer to the Hebrews makes use.

The earthly Temple is a pale copy of the real Temple of God; earthly worship is a remote reflection of real worship; the earthly priesthood is an inadequate shadow of the real priesthood. All these things point beyond themselves to the reality of which they are the shadows. The writer to the Hebrews even finds that idea in the Old Testament itself. When Moses had received from God instructions about the construction of the tabernacle and all its furnishings, God said to him: "And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain" ( Exodus 25:40 ). God had shown Moses the real pattern of which all earthly worship is the ghost-like copy. So then the writer to the Hebrews says that the earthly priests have a service which is but a shadowy outline of the heavenly order. For shadowy outline he combines two Greek words, hupodeigma ( Greek #5262 ), which means a specimen, or, still better, a sketch-plan, and skia ( Greek #4639 ), which means a shadow, a reflection, a phantom, a silhouette. The earthly priesthood is unreal and cannot lead men into reality; but Jesus can. We can say that Jesus leads us into the presence of God or we can say that Jesus leads us into reality; it means the same thing. When the writer to the Hebrews spoke of reality he was using language that his contemporaries used and understood.

In the highest that this world can offer there is some imperfection. It never quite reaches what we know the thing might be. Nothing we ever experience or achieve here quite reaches the ideal that haunts us. The real world is beyond. As Browning had it: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" Call it heaven, call it reality, call it the idea or the form, call it God--it is beyond.

As the writer to the Hebrews saw it, only Jesus can lead us out of the frustrating actuality into the all-satisfying real. So he calls him the mediator, the mesites ( Greek #3316 ). Mesites comes from mesos ( Greek #3319 ), which, in this case, means in the middle. A mesites ( Greek #3316 ) is, therefore, one who stands in the middle between two people and brings them together. When Job is desperately anxious that somehow he should be able to put his case to God, he cries out hopelessly: "There is no umpire, mesites ( Greek #3316 ), between us" ( Job 9:33 ). Paul calls Moses the mesites ( Greek #3316 ) ( Galatians 3:19 ) in that he was the one between who brought the law from God to men. In Athens in classical times there was a body of men--all citizens in their sixtieth year--who could be called upon to act as mediators when there was a dispute between two citizens, and their first duty was to effect a reconciliation. In Rome there were arbitri. The judge settled points of law; but the arbitri settled matters of equity; and it was their duty to bring disputes to an end. Further, in legal Greek a mesites ( Greek #3316 ) was a sponsor, a guarantor or a surely. He went bail for a friend who was on trial; he guaranteed a debt or an overdraft. The mesites ( Greek #3316 ) was the man who was willing to pay his friend's debt to make things right again.

The mesites ( Greek #3316 ) is the man who stands between and brings together two other parties in reconciliation. Jesus is our perfect mesites ( Greek #3316 ); he stands between us and God. He opens the way to reality and to God and is the only person who can effect reconciliation between man and God, between the real and the unreal. In other words, Jesus is the only person who can bring us real life.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible