The Abrahamic Covenant: Part 12
Symbolism of the Temple, Priesthood and their Services

John Plunkett
July 11, 2015




Last time in Part 11, we studied Hebrews Chapter 7, where we compared the Sinai Covenant along with its Levitical Aaronic priesthood against the Abrahamic and New Covenants, along with their Melchizedek Priesthood.


Today we’ll stay in the book of Hebrews; but we’ll move on into Chapter 8:


1:  Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum {i.e. the main point}: we have such an High Priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens;


The writer is referring, of course, to Jesus – the Melchizedek-order High Priest – who sits on a throne at the right hand of His Father in their heavenly throne room – after which the physical tent-tabernacle and the stone temples were patterned:


2:  A Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.


The first part of the symbolism here is that of a “Minister” (Greek: Leitourgos – in this case, a High Priest); also the sanctuary – the true tabernacle.


Which tabernacle was he writing about?  The physical, earthly one?  The old tent-tabernacle?  Or Solomon’s stone temple?  Or Zerubbabel’s rebuilding of it?  Or Herod’s expansion of that one? 


No!  The one that the Lord – YHVH – pitched!  Not men!  The one located at “the throne of the majesty in the heavens.”  The heavenly one which the earthly ones were patterned after.


3:  For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this “man” {this New Covenant High Priest – Jesus} have somewhat also to offer.


The second part of the symbolism is that of the necessity of something to offer – i.e. the offering of gifts and sacrifices... by the High Priests.

4a:  For if He {Jesus} were on earth, He should not be a priest...


If Jesus would have still been on earth at that time as a human being, in accordance with His own laws and prohibitions, He could not have served as a priest.  Why not?  Because He was a Jew of the tribe of Judahnot an Aaronite of the priestly tribe of Levi


Also because there were lots of Aaronite priests already – as we see in the second part of this verse:


4b: ... Seeing that there are {N.B. present tense} priests that offer gifts according to the law:


The present tense of this phrase is interesting!  At the time that this epistle was written (a few years before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD), the Aaronic priests were still offering gifts according to the Sinai Covenant law – even though this practice had been rendered obsolete by Jesus’ sacrifice.


Fast rewind now – back in time approximately 1,500 years earlier, to Mount Sinai where somebody that the apostle James called the “one lawgiver” (James 4:12) gave the authority to the Levitical Aaronite priests to perform the sacrificial offerings according to the Sinai Covenant laws. 


What were these “gifts according to the law”?  What law?   Obviously, the sacrificial law of the Sinai Covenant – the laws which were added at Mount Sinai because of the Israelites’ transgressions and faults (Galatians 3:19). 


Continuing in verse 5 – still referring to the Aaronite priests:


5a:  Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he {Moses} was about to make the tabernacle...


The human Aaronic priests and their service were a shadow of the heavenly angels and their service.  The Aaronic High Priest was the shadow and a forerunner of Jesus Christ. 


The author now quotes Exodus 25:40:


5b:  ... For, “See,” said He...


This “He” was not Moses.  Verse 1 of Exodus 25 tells us that it was the LORD – YHVH.  But the way it is phrased here, it is also the same “He” that was mentioned in the first four verses of Hebrews 8.  It was the Melchizedek-order High Priest – i.e. Jesus Himself!


5c:  ... “that you make all things according to the pattern showed to you in the mount” {i.e. Mount Sinai – per Exodus 24:16}.


The tent-tabernacle, the stone temples, their furnishings, their priesthood and all that was done under that sacrificial law was instituted under the temporary Sinai Covenant; and was done as an example and shadow of their heavenly counterparts.


So now that the stage and context are set, we get to the actual “Covenant verses” of chapter 8:


6:  But now has He {the Melchizedek-order High Priest – Jesus} obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.


Remember we only have one Mediator between us and God the Father.  He is the Mediator of this “better covenant” which was established on “better promises.”


In Chapter 7, the translators rendered this phrase “better covenant” as “better testament”; but the phrase is translated from exactly the same Greek words “kreitton” and “diatheke”.


Throughout this epistle to the Hebrews, the writer uses this word “better” (kreitton) twelve times with reference to the Abrahamic/New Covenant.  When he uses this word, he is telling his readers that:

·        The New Covenant/Testament is better than the Sinai one – in so many areas and on so many levels,

·        The hope of the New Covenant is far better than that of the Sinai one,

·        The sacrifices of the New/Abrahamic Covenant (i.e. Jesus’ sacrifices) are so much better than those of the Sinai Covenant,

·        The guaranteed promises, substance and even the “real estate” of the New/Abrahamic Covenant are so very much better than those of the Sinai Covenant,

·        God has better things in store for His people,

·        His people are destined to be even better than angels,

·        For those of us who accept the New/Abrahamic Covenant now, our resurrection will be a better one,

·        Even the very knowledge and discussion of the New/Abrahamic Covenant, which is the very core of the gospel – is better than those of anything else!  Yes, God is telling us here that this is the very best thing that we can talk about.


The Greek adjective kreitton (Strong’s 2909) is translated in the King James Version seventeen times as better and once as best.  Its extended Greek meanings are:

·        More useful,

·        More serviceable,

·        More advantageous,

·        More excellent!


Moving on now to verse 7:

7:  For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.


Once again, the faulty “first covenant” mentioned here is obviously the Sinai Covenant – not the Abrahamic Covenant – even though the Abrahamic Covenant is older than the Sinai Covenant.


The “second” covenant mentioned here is the New Covenant – which had been first mentioned in those words by Jeremiah; but which was also alluded to centuries before Jeremiah by the LORD – YHVH – in the “Grace” part of His covenant with Abraham.  This fact is clarified as such by Paul in Galatians chapter 3 which we studied a few months ago. 


So again, the Sinai Covenant wasn’t faultless.  This means that it was faulty.  And yet again, with whom did its fault lie?  Verses 8 gives us the answer:


8a:  For finding fault with them


The “them” here being the Israelites.  God knew well in advance that they would break His Sinai Covenant.  He said so – well in advance – to Moses (Deuteronomy 31:16).


Yes, the fault was with the chronic failure of the human parties to the Sinai Covenant – the Israelites – not with the actual covenant itself.  It had been designed by God Himself; and was, therefore, inherently faultless.


Yes, it is true that God designed the Sinai Covenant to be temporary; but just because it was temporary, that does not necessarily mean that it was, of itself, faulty. 


In its temporary respect, the Sinai Covenant might be compared to the “subject to” clauses in a real estate transaction, which are agreed to and signed by both parties – the seller and the buyer.  Once those temporary “subject to” provisions are met, they are removed and the purchase moves forward.  But if they are not met, they lapse after a set time and the sale falls through.


The Hebrews author next quotes Jeremiah’s New Covenant scripture from Jeremiah 31:31-34:


8b: … He says, “Behold, the days come,” says the LORD, “when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:

9:  Not according to the Covenant {the Sinai one} 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 {Sinai} Covenant, and I regarded them not,” says the LORD.
10:  For this is the Covenant
{the New one} that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” says 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…


This is clear proof that all of God’s laws were not done away, as so many professing Christians claim they were.  But which of His laws did God promise to put into our minds and hearts?  Although a detailed answer to this question would require a more in-depth Bible study of its own, in a nutshell, we can sum up the answer in these two sentences:


1.     Not the ritual, sacrificial laws, which had been made obsolete by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice,


2.     But His eternal, non-sacrificial laws.


Moving on to verse 11 of Hebrews 8; but still quoting from Jeremiah 31:


11:  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.


Of course they’ll all know Him!  Because they’ll all have His eternal, holy laws firmly imprinted on their hearts and minds!

12:  For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”


What an astonishing concept this is – that He has the power to make Himself forget our sins – even some of the most horrible sins that have ever been committed!  He can switch His memory off from all that!


This last verse, quoted from Jeremiah 31:34, makes a statement that raises the New Covenant so much higher – so much more superior – above the Sinai Covenant – in yet another way – in that it promises the forgiveness of sin to those who sincerely repent. 


The Sinai Covenant could not do this, as is clearly mentioned in various scriptures, some of which we will soon return to. 


13:  In that He {YHVH through Jeremiah} says, “a New Covenant,” He has made {Greek “palaioo”} the first old {palaioo again}.  Now that which decays {palaioo yet again} and waxes old {gerasko} is ready to vanish away {aphanismos}.


This verse repeatedly and strongly emphasizes the relatively superior and eternal nature of the New Covenant compared with the relatively inferior and temporary nature of the “Old” (Sinai) Covenant – yes, even though it, too, was initiated by God!


Is it possible for our Creator to make one thing good and another thing even better?  Of course it is!  How many times He uses that word “better” in this epistle, repeatedly showing us that – yes, that was quite good; but this is far better!


The author uses this Greek verb palaioo (Strong’s 3820) three times here in this verse.  He is likely using it as a superlative and/or a double repetition – for double emphasis!


Palaioo means:

·        To make ancient or old,

·        To decay, or to cause something to decay

·        To be worn out by time and use,

·        To declare a thing to be old – and therefore, about to be abrogated, abolished or annulled.


What about gerasko (Strong’s 1095) – the word for “waxes old”?  It can refer to things or institutions that fail from age and become obsolescent.


What about aphanismos (Strong’s 854) – the word translated as “vanish away”?   It can refer to disappearance, or even destruction.


Putting these three words together, it’s like God is telling us:  “Listen to me!  Read my lips!  I purposely made my Sinai Covenant to be temporary!   But now it is old!  It’s finished!  It’s abolished!  It’s annulled!  It’s obsolete!  I’ve destroyed it!  I’ve made it disappear!  I’ve replaced it with a new and better model! 


But please be careful not to misuse these scriptures – as some of our own brethren have done in the past!  Please don’t throw the baby out with the bath-water!  These verses are referring to the Sinai Covenant, which was added because of transgressions (Galatians 3:19) – not to the Ten Commandments!


Now let’s move on to the “covenant verses” in Chapter 9:


1:  Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.


Again, which covenant was this “first covenant”?  It was the Sinai Covenant, which included “ordinances of divine service” as well as “a worldly sanctuary.”  This is talking about all of the ritual services that God commanded to be conducted – exactly according to His instructions – in His “worldly sanctuary” – the physical, earthly copy of His Heavenly temple. 


The author continues with more of the details of the Sinai Covenant:


2:  For there was {past tense} a tabernacle {Greek: skene} made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called “the sanctuary.”


From the author’s use of the word “second” in verses 3 and 7, we understand that the word “first” here is referring to the area of the main structure of the tent-tabernacle known as “the Sanctuary” and often as “the Holy Place” – the area just beyond the first veil/curtain – immediately beyond what we would call “the front door.”  Only the Levitical Priests were allowed to go in this room.


The word “tabernacle” (Greek: skene) and the past tense of this verse both indicate that the writer of the book of Hebrews seems to have been referring specifically here to the old tent-tabernacle – which is always referred to in the New Testament scriptures by the Greek word skene) – as opposed to the stone temples which are always referred to by one of three Greek words: hieron, naos or oikos.


3: And after the second veil, the tabernacle {skene} which is called the Holiest of All;


This “Holiest of All” area was the ultra-sacred, cube-shaped room – alternately named in various scriptures as “the Most Holy Place” and “the Oracle.”  Only the Levitical/Aaronic High-Priest was permitted into this area – and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement.


This “Holiest of All” room was separated from the “Holy Place” room by a veil.  It is interesting that that veil is here referred to as “the second veil.”  This implies that there must also have been a first veil – perhaps the one at the entrance – the one that separated the Holy Place from the court that surrounded the main tabernacle structure.  If my understanding is correct, the first veil was replaced by a door in the stone temples.


4:  Which had the golden censer, and the Ark of the Covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;


These were the articles that were housed within the confines of “the Holiest of All” – the Most Holy Place.


Some disagreement exists about this writer’s placement of “the golden censer” mentioned here – also known as “the altar of incense.”  According to the Old Testament scriptures, it was located in the Holy Place – not in the Most Holy Place.  But let’s defer that discussion until another time because it is not totally relevant to our topic right now.


When we read about “the Ark of the Covenant” and “the Tables (or Tablets) of the Covenant,” we can be sure that both items are referring specifically to the Sinai Covenant.


I’ve heard some claim that only the Ten Commandments were written on those stone tablets; but not the details of the Sinai Covenant laws.  Maybe that’s true; but some Bible scholars disagree. 


Of course, there was much more to the Sinai Covenant than just the Ten Commandments – although they were the very core of it.  The Ten Commandments are the core of all of God’s covenants.


But technically, the Sinai Covenant was separate from the Ten Commandments.  The Sinai Covenant was an add-on!  Paul wrote in Galatians 3:19 that the Sinai Covenant “was added because of transgressions.”  This verse strongly implies that the covenant details had been written on these “tables.”  Also, we know that, before his death, Moses wrote out a copy of the law and had that copy put into the side of the ark (Deuteronomy 31:9, 24-26; I Kings 8:9; II Chronicles 5:10).  So, if we put all of the evidence together, it would appear that there was certainly more information on those stone tablets than just the Ten Commandments.


5:  And over it the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy seat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.


The Greek grammar indicates that it wasn’t just the cherubim and mercy seat that they couldn’t then speak of particularly; but all of the tabernacle items mentioned in verses 4 and 5.


Also, the phrase “of which we cannot now speak particularly” comes across to modern thinking as meaning that the tent-tabernacle was so long prior to the Hebrews writer’s time that the detailed knowledge of what those items were like was lost in time.


If this was truly the case, perhaps it would account for the difference of opinion with regards to the location of the golden censer.


However, some Bible-Greek scholars tell us that what this phrase really means is that the writer merely didn’t have the time or space to go into all the fine detail on these items in his epistle.


6:  Now when these things {these tent-tabernacle items} were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle {the Holy Place}, accomplishing the service of God.


The “regular” priests had daily access to the Holy Place to service the altar of incense, the lampstand and the table of shewbread (and perhaps the golden altar of incense, if it was there).


7:  But into the second {i.e. the Most Holy Place} went the High Priest alone once every year {on the Day of Atonement}, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:


“For himself” – yes, because he too was a mere human being and just as subject to sin as the rest of the Israelite people.


But in the performance of this annual Day of Atonement ritual in the 1,500 or so years prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Aaronic High Priest was symbolizing the Melchizedek-order High Priest – Jesus – and His future fulfilment of this Day of Atonement ritual (also that of the Wave Sheaf Offering from the Spring Holy Days).


The author wrote “not without blood”; but we’ll skip over this for now, as we’ll be getting into the “blood” symbolism in more detail next time.


8:  The Holy Spirit this signifying, that the way into the Holiest of All {Most Holy Place} was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle {skene} was yet standing:


Taken literally, we would apply the term “first tabernacle” (skene) here to the original tent-tabernacle.  However, the subsequent verses imply that, in this case, the term was to be applied to all four of God’s temples – including “Herod’s Temple” which was “yet standing” – still standing – at the time of the writing of this epistle.


So what is God telling us here?  He is telling us that, while any physical temple of His is still standing and while the Sinai Covenant rituals and sacrifices of that temple are still being performed, there could be no access – even by prayer – into the real Most Holy Place – the throne room of God the Father and Jesus Christ in the third heaven.


When I consider this, I struggle with the fact that the Father and Jesus allowed Herod’s Temple and the Sinai Covenant rituals to continue for forty whole years after:

·        Jesus’ death and resurrection,

·        His fulfilment of the Day of Atonement offerings,

·        His fulfilment of the Wave Sheaf Offerings,

·        The coming of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost of that same year.


Surely the brethren who were called, converted, baptized and imbued with God’s Holy Spirit in those forty years prior to the destruction of Herod’s temple in 70AD had as much access to the Father in prayer as did those who were called after the destruction of Herod’s Temple and the termination of the Sinai Covenant rituals in 70AD!


But maybe not!  Maybe for those forty years, those brethren had only the same access to God as did God’s chosen people of what we call “the Old Testament times” (e.g. David, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, etc.).  Only to YHVH; but not to the Father.


Another possibility is that perhaps those who insisted on hanging onto the temple, the Aaronic priesthood and the Sinai Covenant sacrificial law in effect cut themselves off from access to the Father; but God’s New Covenant people who rejected those things and came under the Melchizedek-order priesthood did have access to the Father.


Continuing in verse 9 – still referring to that “first tabernacle” – the tent-tabernacle – its rooms, its veils, its furnishings, its sacrifices and its other rituals:


9:  Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;


Please notice the past tense of this narrative – just as if these things were then in the past!  However, at the time of the writing of this epistle, those gifts and sacrifices were still being offered!  Unnecessarily?  Yes!  But they were still being offered!  It’s almost like the writer has jumped aboard a time-machine and has projected himself a few years into the future – to a time after 70AD and after the destruction of Herod’s temple.


Or perhaps he’s stating what ought to be.  Or perhaps he’s stating what at that time really was; but only for God’s New Covenant people who had rightly and obediently put the Sinai Covenant behind themselves.


10:  Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them {“them” not “us”!} until the time of reformation.


Please note the past tense once again!  YHVH imposed the Sinai Covenant rituals on the Israelites for about 1,500 years – from their inception at the building of the tent-tabernacle until “the time of reformation,” which was – correctly – the time of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  However, in reality, they were continued unnecessarily until the temple’s destruction in 70AD.


The word “reformation” is interesting.  It is not, of course, referring to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century.  The Greek word is diorthosis (Strong’s 1357) which means:


·        To straighten thoroughly,


·        To restore to its natural and normal condition something which in some way protrudes, or has got out of line, or has become broken or misshapen.


This would indicate that the temporary Sinai Covenant with its physical temple, its human, Aaronic priesthood and its millions of blood sacrifices were not the normal, eternal state of things – not ever!


Yes, it served its temporary, intermediate purpose for 1,500 or so years; but once that purpose was fulfilled, God tells us that it must be rejected.


After the death and resurrection of Jesus what happened?  Have you ever heard the term “the new normal” which we hear used a lot today by people trying to twist what is right and wrong?

But after the death and resurrection of Jesus, a “new normal” according to God came into play.  It actually came back into play in the shape of its ancient Melchizedek-order priesthood and the much newer – but still ancient – “Grace” part of the Abrahamic Covenant, which is the same as the New Covenant with its eternal Melchizedek priesthood and its single, one-time, now-in-the-past, blood sacrifice of its High-Priest. 


This was, is and will be the “normal” state of things.  It is also the eternal state of things – the state that is being returned to – the state of things that the Melchizedek-order High Priest and His Father want us to return to – and to adhere to.  This is the state of things that they were – and still are – restoring.  This is what the apostle Peter was talking about in that first New Testament Feast of Pentecost sermon, when he talked about Jesus – the Melchizedek High Priest...


... whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things which God has spoken by the mouth of all of His Holy prophets since the world began (Acts 2:21).


These are wonderful phrases: “The time of restoration of all things” and “the time of reformation.”  This will be the time when all things that mankind – influenced by Satan – has twisted out of shape; but will then be thoroughly straightened out.  God speed that day!


11:  But Christ being come an High Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle {skene}, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;


Here, the antitypes of the Aaronic High Priest and the tent-tabernacle are clearly revealed and confirmed – the heavenly, spiritual realities that the earthly ones were mere physical copies of – Jesus and His heavenly throne room.


The term “this building” is interesting.  Does it perhaps bring Herod’s lavish temple (and the other stone temples too, perhaps) into the discussion alongside the original tent-tabernacle, because Herod’s Temple was “this building” that was “yet standing” (verse 8) when this epistle was written and which was not destroyed until after the epistle was completed. 


This whole epistle to the Hebrews is almost like an advanced warning for God’s New Covenant people: “Don’t get hung up or sidetracked by the temple or the Aaronic Priesthood – because in just a couple of years, they all be gone – and this is why God is going to allow it to go.”


Although it is true that Jesus did recognize Herod’s Temple as His house (Matthew 21:13) – the house of YHVH (Isaiah 56:6-7), I sometimes wonder if He and His Father have a special place in their hearts for their original tent-tabernacle – perhaps over and above the more ornate stone temples with all of their many added features and embellishments.


But again, as this verse stresses, no matter how ornate any of the temples were, all of them were very inferior physical copies of that “greater and more perfect tabernacle that was not made with hands” – the real thing!