Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.
Today, our focus is going to be on Christ, the minister and sanctuary of the true temple.
For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself, saying, surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore, sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
In Hebrews 6 we are told that Abraham obtained the promise after he patiently waited. However, in Hebrews 11 we are told that Abraham did not obtain the promise, though he patiently looked and was persuaded. Which is it? Did he obtain the promise or didn’t he? The answer is he did both.
In Hebrews 6 we are told that . . .
. . . because He could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself, saying, “surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.”
This is a direct quote taken from Genesis 22. Genesis 22 is the chapter which relates to us the account of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, Isaac. God had promised Abraham a son. God made this promise to Abraham all the way back in Genesis 12 when he told Abraham “I will make of thee a great nation.” Of thee. “Of” referring to Abraham’s loins, his DNA, his genealogy. In other words, I will make your descendants into a great nation. And as I think we all know, a nation of descendants begins with a son. This promise found its fulfillment in Abraham’s son, Isaac.
In Genesis 22 God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son; to offer him to the Lord as a burnt offering. Abraham makes to do just that until at the last moment the Lord stays Abraham’s hand.
After staying Abraham’s hand, the Lord then tells Abraham –
“By myself have I sworn,” saith the LORD, “For because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed My voice.”
This promise from God in Genesis 22 speaks to someone other than Isaac though. It does not ignore Isaac. The promise does begin by asserting that “because thou hast not withheld they son, thine only son” and we know this son is Isaac. However, the promise does not end with Isaac. We know this because the promise asserts that “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” I hardly think it needs to be said that Isaac was certainly no blessing to all the nations of the earth. Neither were any of his descendants.
What we find in Genesis 22 are two promises. The first promise concerns a physical seed. This physical seed was fulfilled in Isaac and would later be fulfilled in the nation of Israel. The second promise though, concerns a different kind of seed. Its fulfillment will result in blessing for all the nations of the earth.
The promise in Hebrews 6 which Abraham obtained was the promise of a physical seed, Isaac. Abraham obtained this promise.
However, this is not the promise of Hebrews 11. We don’t need to do any guesswork to know what the promise is either, because the author tells us what the promise is. It is the promise of an inherited city whose maker and builder is God.
Two things we need to note about this promise. First, a city is not one person. Rather, a city is many people.
Second, an inheritance is something that can only be given to someone who is genetically related, and also only after someone has died. I mean, you can will your estate to someone unrelated to you after you die, but it will not be called an inheritance. It will instead be a beneficiary. The beneficiary of an estate is not an heir. Remember Eliezer of Damascus? Eliezer was Abraham’s servant. After some time of not having a son Abraham imagined he might make Eliezer his seed by adopting him, but God told Abraham no, this man shall not be your heir. Your own son shall be your heir.
Hebrews 11 tells us the promised city is an inheritance, not a beneficiary. Abraham is the heir of a city whose maker and builder is God, and this city is the promised seed that is going to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.
What is this talking about? How can Abraham inherit a city? And how are many people a promised seed?
The text gives us some clues. Look at Hebrews 11 again. Note verse 9.
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.
The land of promise.
This land of promise starts all the way back at Genesis 12, where in verse 1 we find God instructing Abraham to “get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee.”
A land of promise.
In Genesis 15 God elaborates on this promise. In verse 7 of Genesis 15 God tells Abraham, “I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.”
How can Abraham inherit this land? He isn’t related to anyone who owns this land.
God elaborates even further in Genesis 17 where in verse 8 we find God promising Abraham that, “I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
Unto thee, and to thy seed. Unto thee. Not just to thy seed, mind you, but also unto thee. In other words, this promise of the land is not just for your seed, Abraham. It is also for you.
Turn with me to Genesis 23.
And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her. And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.
Wait! Hold up here. I am a stranger and a sojourner? The ESV reads, I am a stranger and sojourner in the land.
Why is Abraham bartering with these Hittites for a place bury his wife? God had just given him the very land he was now bartering over. How could he be a stranger in the land God said He had given to Abraham and his descendants? Go forth from your father’s house to the land I will shew thee. Well, He has shewed thee and thee is now bartering for a place to bury your wife. What is going on here?
There is only one possible. From where Abraham stood, to Abraham’s way of thinking, the land which he had been promised was not this piece of dirt his feet were now treading upon. Rather, the land he was promised was instead something else. It was something he could not yet see and had not yet obtained, but it had been promised to him all the same.
Here again we see two promises. Abraham’s physical descendants would indeed inherit the piece of ground his feet were now treading. They would inherit it from Abraham in about four-hundred years time. They would go on to lose it as punishment for their idolatry and rebellion, but they would at least inherit and possess it for a time after Abraham had died. God did keep His promise to Abraham.
But there was also a second promise. This second promise was the promise of a city whose maker and builder is God. It was the promise of a city that would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. It was this city, and remember a city refers to many people rather than just one person, that all the stars in the sky and the sand grains on the seashore were pointing to. Look up to the stars in the sky, Abraham. So shall your descendants be.
What is this city? Here again, the text gives us some clues.
Look at Hebrews 11 again. Let’s continue to read this time, starting at verse 14.
For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
We are told that Abraham was looking for “that city that has foundations, whose maker and builder is God.” He went out, not mindful of the country he had just left, but rather desiring a better country that is heavenly. A better country that is heavenly.
Again, I hardly think it needs to be said, but I will say it anyway. That strip of dirt located over there in the Middle East is far from I think anyone would call a heavenly country. What is this heavenly country referring to then?
Throughout the Old Testament, especially where the prophets and the Psalms are concerned, God continually makes mention of a city He calls Zion.
For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. “This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.”
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever
Behold, the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth, Say to the daughter of Zion, “Lo, your salvation comes; Behold His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.” And they will call them, “The holy people, the redeemed of the Lord”; and you will be called, “Sought out, a city not forsaken.”
In the Old Testament, under the old covenant, Zion was the name for the city where God’s Temple dwelt. Zion was seen as the city which housed God’s house, His palace, the Temple. In the garden of Eden, Zion was Eden. Under the Mosaic Covenant, Zion was Jerusalem. Under the Abrahamic Covenant, there was no Zion. Zion had not yet been built. Abraham never saw it. But even if he had lived to see Jerusalem built, this would still not have been the fulfillment of the city he was looking for, because God was not the maker and builder of Jerusalem. Think about that.
God did not build Jerusalem. Israel did. Men did. Jerusalem, the earthly city located over there on that narrow strip of land in the Middle East was not built by God. It was only pointing to the real city, the heavenly city, the city that was built by God. And what city is that?
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
We are reminded of the new covenant here. The new covenant which states, “I will be their God and they will be My people, for their sins and their iniquities I will remember no more.”
What is the city whose maker and builder is God? It is the church, the body of Christ, the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city, the temple of the Holy Spirit, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.
God had promised Abraham a church composed of people from all nations of the earth (including earthly Jerusalem) who would all be included into one of Abraham’s descendants, not by blood, but rather by faith, and would thus be counted a son of Abraham, not by blood, but rather by faith.
And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Unless a grain of wheat (a seed) falls into to the ground and dies it abides alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.
In Hebrews 6, the promise was Isaac. In Hebrews 11, the promise is Christ. Abraham obtained one promise, but he did not obtain the other before he died. Two promises, two cities, two nations, two lands, two lines of descent; one physical and one spiritual.
Concerning both lines, God kept His promise to Abraham. We mentioned earlier that Abraham’s physical descendants would indeed inherit the piece of ground his feet had trod. They inherited it from Abraham about four-hundred years after his death.
However, God also imposed a covenant on those genetic relatives. He imposed a law on them that required their obedience in order to remain in the land. This law consisted of over six-hundred commandments, and a whole host of ordinances which centered upon offerings and sacrifices. These ordinances and commandments are contained in what we call the Mosaic law.
Interesting thing about this Mosaic law. It was a killing ministry. The apostle Paul himself calls it this in 2 Corinthians 3. It was a ministry of death, written and engraven in stones.
This means the tabernacle tent and its furnishings which the people of Israel built with their own hands according to God’s exact specifications were all objects designed to administer death to them. The sacrifices they were to daily offer were designed to administer death to them. The covenant which God had imposed on Israel was designed to kill Israel. Think about that.
But this ministry was not designed to kill only the physical line of descent. Rather, it was designed to kill both lines of descent; the physical line of descent as well as the spiritual. In addition to this, it was also designed to kill all those who were not descended from Abraham and also were not in the spiritual line.
And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children. And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.
Here we see that it was not just the descendants of Abraham who were led out of Egypt. Some Egyptians were led also. And because they dwelt with the nation they too were subject to the killing ministry.
Tamar, Rahab and Ruth were not descendants of Abraham, and yet because they also were made subject to the killing ministry. Neither were the Gibeonites descendants of Abraham, yet they too were made subject to the killing ministry.
Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto thy statutes continually. Thou hast trodden down all them that err from thy statutes: for their deceit is falsehood. Thou puttest away all the wicked of the earth like dross: therefore I love thy testimonies.
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
The physical line and the spiritual line were not the only two lines who were condemned by this ministry of death. Out of Zion shall go forth the law, says Isaiah, and all the nations will flow to it. Abraham’s genetic descendants were not the only people who were made subject to the killing ministry. All the wicked of the earth have trodden down God’s law, says the Psalmist, and God puts the wicked away like dross for this. The entire world was subject to the killing ministry. And so we see this ministry of death killing off both lines of descent, the physical as well as the spiritual.
Now, our question is, why would God do this? Why would He give Abraham the promise of a spiritual seed only to then later impose upon it a ministry that was designed to condemn and kill it?
First, keep in mind that sin did not enter the world through Abraham. Rather, it entered the world through Adam. The physical seed who descended from Abraham, as well as the spiritual seed who would be placed in Christ, both had already sinned in Adam. Both were already guilty of disobedience, and so both already had a sentence of death imposed on them.
But there is something else going on here.
If we could quickly revisit Hebrews chapter 7 again. Let me read you again the final verse of that chapter.
For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.
The English Standard version translates it like this:
For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
In other words, the law of God, any law of God, whether the commandment given to Adam or the 600 commandments given to the people of Israel, the law of God is incapable of appointing anyone but a sinner as high priest. Let me say that again, because we can miss this if we don’t pay close attention.
The law of God is incapable of appointing a righteous man to the position of high priest. Incapable. Absolutely incapable. Why is it incapable? It is incapable, because righteous people do not need a high priest. After all, they are righteous. They have no need for a sacrifice of atonement.
A person who has never sinned has no need of a sacrifice. Therefore, they have no need for a high priest. Adam had no need for a high priest before he disobeyed. He only began needing a high priest after he had disobeyed. But therein lies the problem, because the law which Adam disobeyed cannot be satisfied by a sacrifice offered by Adam who is now the disobedient.
Adam had no need for a sacrifice until after he had disobeyed, but once he disobeyed he could not offer a sacrifice to atone for his disobedience, because the law cannot be satisfied by a sinner’s sacrifice.
The law cannot appoint someone a high priest until after someone sins, but after someone sins the law cannot be satisfied by the sacrifice of the high priest it has appointed, because the high priest is a sinner who needs the sacrifice. Say hello to my little ministry of death.
Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
The reason why God placed the spiritual line of Abraham under the ministry of death wasn’t necessarily to kill them. It wasn’t even to condemn them. After all, they were already condemned to death in Adam.
No, the reason why God placed the spiritual line of Abraham under the ministry of death was in order to drive them to despair of their sacrifices and of the sacrifices and works of men so that they might see their need for a high priest whose works are not the works of men, but rather of God who is righteous.
But this is not the reason why God placed the non-spiritual line under the ministry. I say non-spiritual, because some of the physical line are indeed in the spiritual line.
The reason why God placed the non-spiritual line under the ministry was for the very opposite reason He placed the spiritual line under the ministry. He placed the non-spiritual line under the ministry of death in order to drive the non-spiritual line to keep trusting in their sacrifices and in the works of men, thereby blinding them to their need for a high priest whose works are not the works of men, but rather of God who is righteous.
This is why Christ called the Pharisees blind guides. These Pharisees insisted they could see. They were men descended from Abraham, they were the promised seed, but they trusted in themselves for righteousness.
If God is going to save the spiritual seed of Abraham from condemnation, then He will have to provide a high priest whose works are not the works of men, but rather the works of God who is righteous.
We have now come to our text in Hebrews 8.
Of the things which we have spoken this is the sum, this is the point. We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.
The true tabernacle. Exactly what God had promised Abraham, a city with foundations, whose maker and builder is God.