Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Covenants: Part VIII - A New Covenant

Hebrews Chapter 8: A New Covenant

The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were undergoing hardship and persecution from other Jews.  They were sorely tempted to turn again to their Jewish roots and customs.  They were sorely tempted to turn back to the law and the things of the Old Covenant.  Hebrews was written to encourage them to stay the course and to remind them of the superiority of Christ over all the shadows in the Old Testament.

The author of Hebrews spends several chapters discussing Christ as our high priest.  Chapter 7 is devoted to showing how Christ is not from the order of Aaron, but of Melchizedek.  The basic idea of this comparison is that the Aaronic priesthood was temporary, but Jesus’ priesthood is without end.  This comparison leads naturally into a discussion of the Old and New Covenants in chapter 8.  The Old Covenant was temporary, but the New Covenant is without end.

Hebrews 8:1-5 (NASB)
1 Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,
2 a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.
3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer.
4 Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law;
5 who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, "SEE," He says, "THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN."
Before we skip too quickly over this, let’s note that Christ’s priesthood and the gifts He brings are not according to the Law.  Those things in the Law were only a shadow of what was to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.  Jesus’ ministry is truly new; it’s not just a continuation of the same Old Covenant.
Hebrews 8:6 (NASB)
6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.
Note that not only is Jesus’ ministry more excellent, but He is the new mediator of a new and better covenant.  This New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant.  The New Covenant is better than the Decalogue.  The new covenant has better promises.  It truly is new.  It’s not just the same old covenant warmed up.  It’s not just the ministry of condemnation, the Decalogue, transferred off stone and onto flesh.  Such an idea is foreign to the text.
Hebrews 8:7 (NASB)
7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.
Now note that the Old Covenant was not faultless.  Many want to say that the Decalogue is the ultimate law of God, but that does not square with the idea expressed here.  The Decalogue was good and holy to be sure, but it was not the ultimate law that God would bring. All the Decalogue could do was to condemn.  It couldn’t save and it couldn’t produce holiness.  The Decalogue rightly pointed out the depravity of man and condemned them to death under the righteous wrath of God, but it had no power to change this wretched condition.  A totally NEW covenant was required, not just some reworking of the Old Covenant; not just transferring the Decalogue from one place to another.
Hebrews 8:8-9 (NASB)  
8 For finding fault with them, He says, "BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD, WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH;
9
NOT LIKE THE COVENANT WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS ON THE DAY WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND TO LEAD THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT; FOR THEY DID NOT CONTINUE IN MY COVENANT, AND I DID NOT CARE FOR THEM, SAYS THE LORD.
This couldn’t be clearer.  The New Covenant really is new.  It’s not like the Old Covenant, the Decalogue.  Let me say it again for emphasis, the New Covenant is not like the Decalogue.
Hebrews 8:10-11 (NASB)
10 "FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS, AND I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS. AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.
11 "AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN, AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, 'KNOW THE LORD,' FOR ALL WILL
KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM.
There are many things that are new about this New Covenant.  We will see later in our covenant study that God seals us with the Holy Spirit by actually putting Himself in our hearts!  It is not the old Decalogue that God puts in our heart, but the third person of the Trinity.  Because of this, scripture tells us that we have the very “mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:16)!  This is how God’s laws are written in our heart.  We’re not talking about the Decalogue dwelling in our heart.  That concept borders on sacrilege.  We’re talking about the indwelling presence of God the Spirit. 
The ultimate law of the universe is God Himself.  God’s very nature, essence, or being is the very definition of righteousness and truth.  Through the presence of the Holy Spirit we partake in the righteousness of God.  No one needs to tell us “know the Lord” because we know Him in the most intimate of ways.  We have His very righteousness within us through the person of the Spirit.  The ultimate lawgiver of the universe dwells within us.  We will explore what the Bible calls the “Law of Christ” or the “Law of Liberty” later in our study.  Suffice it to say for now that the Decalogue is not, and never was, the ultimate law of God, it was only a shadow of what would come.
Hebrews 8:12 (NASB)
12 "FOR I WILL BE MERCIFUL TO THEIR INIQUITIES, AND I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SINS NO MORE."

Here’s another contrast.  The Decalogue was the ministry of death and the ministry of condemnation.  The Decalogue highlighted sin and condemned all under the wrath of God.  The Decalogue had absolutely no power to change this sorry state.  Under the New Covenant our sins are remembered no more!  That really is new! 
Hebrews 8:13 (NASB)  
13 When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
The New really is new and the Old really is obsolete, growing old, and ready to disappear.  The Decalogue is obsolete.  The Decalogue is growing old.  The Decalogue is ready to disappear.  The Decalogue no longer plays a role in the life of the regenerate believer.  The Decalogue is obsolete because we now have the Holy Spirit, God Himself, dwelling in us.  The Decalogue is obsolete because the Holy Spirit conforms us to the Law of Christ.  The Decalogue is obsolete because we have a new covenant, a better covenant, a covenant that is not like the Decalogue.  The Decalogue that came through Moses is obsolete because we have a new and better mediator, Jesus Christ Himself.  Everything about the New Covenant is truly new and better. Even the promises Jesus Christ has given us are better promises.    In Part IX we will explore the better promises of the new and better New Covenant.

1 comment:

  1. I love the imagery of the Bible that when Christ fulfilled all the prophecies of the old covenant and He said on the cross "It is finished" then shortly thereafter the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. Man could continue to attempt to draw near God by following the law at the temple but His holy throne and manifest presence was no longer there.

    Then on the day of Pentecost the gathered believers experienced the the mighty wind of the Spirit overwhelming (baptism) them and taking up residence in them. Just as the Spirit filled the tabernacle and later the temple, the believers had the visible sign of fire over their heads like the pillar of fire that hovered over the tabernacle. The Spirit even uttered words out of their mouths in many languages declaring the glory of God. What a marvelous image of the beginning of the new and eternal covenant.

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