Both the Old Testament tabernacle and the Mosaic covenant were mere shadows of the eternal reality that in due season fulfilled and surpassed them. They were “true shadows” in that they correctly bore a relationship to that which they imaged. But, proper and necessary as they were in God’s redemptive plan, they were not the final reality.
They derived all their value by foreshadowing the person and work of the incarnate Christ, who in “the fullness of the time” (Gal. 4: 4 KJV) carried out with infinite blessing and surpassing splendor exactly what they stood for. The “worldly sanctuary” (Heb. 9:1 KJV), constructed according to the plan shown Moses on the Mount (Heb. 8:5), was ultimately, as John Owen suggested, a picture of the human nature taken on by the eternal Son of God when He “dwelt among us … full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 KJV).
While the long line of Aaronic priests served as best they could in the wilderness tabernacle (and later in the Jerusalem temple), Christ alone, whom the tabernacle and temple foreshadowed, can minister in the true tabernacle “which the Lord pitched and not man” (Heb. 8:2).
In the Holy of Holies of the earthly tabernacle there was no chair, for the Aaronic high priest’s work was never completed. His sacrifices had to be repeated continually because they only covered sin temporarily without removing it eternally (Heb. 10:1–14). But after Christ died for the sins of His people once and for all, the value of His infinite sacrifice was such that the Father raised Him up from the dead to present the results of His atoning work in the true, heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 9:12). His blood atonement was infinitely worthy and thus eternally complete. Hence, a chair is provided for Him since the priestly work need never again be repeated. This chair is nothing less than the very throne of God (Heb. 8:1; 1:3; 10:12).
Christ, our true Melchizedek, sits down precisely as “mediator of a better covenant” (Heb. 8:6 KJV). The earlier covenant is said to have been in some sense “faulty” or “imperfect.” In his book The Covenant of Grace, the late Scottish theologian John Murray rightly shows that the word “faulty” as applied to the divinely ordained Mosaic economy does not mean wrong or sinful. Rather it means “immature” or “lacking in fulfillment.” That is to say, the Mosaic covenant did not have in itself the power of its own fulfillment. That alone is its “faultiness” or “imperfection.” But it did properly and honorably point forward to what the true Mediator (after the order of Melchizedek) would do to fulfill what the Aaronic mediators could never accomplish in their limited strength and imperfect holiness.
This “better covenant” is what Jeremiah calls, in chapter 31 of his prophecy, “the new covenant.” Only a Mediator who is both God and man at the same time would have the infinite strength and spotless holiness to carry through this lasting covenant (1 Tim. 2:5). After the Lord Jesus Christ did so, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high in order to apply His work to the end of time.
The essence of this better, or new, covenant is that, in and through it, the Lord Jesus brings us into the immediate presence of God and always keeps us there! Those chosen to be in the new covenant can never fail to abide in it because Christ their Mediator abides on the eternal throne, and He keeps them securely in intimate and lasting union with Himself.
On the basis of His finished work, the sins of His people are remembered no more (Heb. 8:12). The One who died for His people sends down His Holy Spirit to apply all that He accomplished within their hearts. Hebrews 8 (following Jeremiah 31) shows that what God does, as one commentator says, is to convert the external law into an inner life. If that is what the tiresome, popular expression “get a life” meant, then I might be willing to begin using it!
Jesus sees this miracle of inward change as the new birth (John 3:3, 5); Paul calls it “the new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Hebrews 8:10–11 indicates that God Himself so changes our innermost motivations and renews the very well-springs of our personality that now we truly delight in His will, and we wish to carry out the principles of His moral law. Jesus says that love to God and man is the fulfillment of the Law (Mark 12:28–31), and that in His chosen time, He sends down His Spirit upon His chosen ones to spread abroad in their hearts the love of God (Rom. 5:5). It is a divinely imparted love that makes all who receive it profoundly wish to obey Him (John 14:15), for that is who they really are now.
Thus, the true Mediator in the true sanctuary keeps our hearts united to Him in this new covenant relationship by which, for time and eternity, He is our God and we are His people. This is the basis of the church’s life and mission on earth, and all its joy in heaven! “Near, so very near to God, more near I cannot be, for in the person of His Son, I am as near as He.”