Covenant Relationship

In our last post, we looked briefly at the Ark of the Covenant, a piece of furniture in the Tabernacle, which the ordinary Israelite never saw.  Only the high priest was allowed into the compartment where the ark was kept and that only on special and very limited occasions.

The word “covenant” occurs numerous times in Scripture.  What is a “covenant”?  Simply put, it is an agreement between people or groups of people to do certain things, or perhaps not to do them.  We might use the word “treaty.”  And this covenant might be “conditional” or “unconditional”.  A “conditional” covenant is an “if-then” covenant.  One or both parties are required to do or not do certain things, upon which certain results depend.  An “unconditional” covenant is one which does not have such requirements, but is basically a promise by one party to do something for another party regardless of what that other party does.

There are several “covenants” of both kinds in Scripture.  And there is a great deal of discussion about them.  It’s not our purpose here to get into that discussion.  We only want to look at a couple of these covenants and then spend some time on the covenant referred in particular by the Ark of  The Covenant.

The first covenant in Scripture is the one God made with Noah after the flood, the first covenant God made with men.  In Genesis 9:8-11, God said,

“And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you:  the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. Thus I establish My covenant with you:  Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  (NKJV)

These verses ought to answer those who believe that the Flood was just some local affair, blown out of proportion by eager ignorance.  It will soon be spring and floods will be reported all over the country.  If Genesis just refers to some local event, then God lied, because there have been innumerable “floods” since then.  But there has never been another universal flood.

There are those who believe that there was an earlier covenant – in the Garden of Eden.  Referring to Hosea 6:7, these scholars speak of a “covenant of works” God entered into with Adam.  In many versions, Hosea 6:7 says, But like Adam they transgressed the covenant.  The discussion centers around the word translated “Adam.”  It is also translated “man” or “men”.

Genesis 1-3 gives us the account of Adam and Eve.  It clearly shows the responsibility Adam had to take care of the Garden and the one restriction which was placed on him: he could not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Every other tree was made available for his use, God saying to him, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat,” Genesis 2:16, emphasis added.   Some teach that if Adam had been obedient to God, he eventually would have entered a state where he would have been confirmed in righteousness or innocence or some such thing.  The thing is, there was no restriction placed on him with regard to the tree of life.  He could have gone immediately and eaten of the fruit of that tree.  By doing so, he could have gained “eternal life” right away.  There was no “covenant of works.”  There was just his dismal failure.

The second covenant we’re interested in is found in Genesis 12:

Now the LORD had said to Abram:

“Get out from your country.
From your family,
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;..,”

Genesis 12:1, 2a, emphases added.

In Genesis 13, we have the account of Abram’s trip from Egypt.  Leaving aside the difficulties encountered because he didn’t fully obey God in this trip, we read in v. 14, And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are – northward, southward, eastward, and westward:  for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.  And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth:..,” emphasis added.

The book of Joshua gives us the account of Israel as they began to enter that land God had promised Abraham, then Isaac and Jacob.  In Joshua 1, after the death of Moses, God told his successor Joshua, “Moses My servant is dead.  Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving them – the children of Israel.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory,” vs. 2-4.  This is the only “land” and its location described as being given to a particular people – Israel, and it’s repeated in different forms several times.

Granted, Israel has had a lot of ups and downs during her history, and still isn’t done with them, for that matter.  If I read Scripture correctly, there is coming a time when it will finally seem that Israel has been destroyed, Zechariah 14:2.  This isn’t the only such reference.  But God isn’t done with her, in spite of those who teach otherwise.

Ezekiel 48:1-29, which is yet future, gives an extensive listing of the division of the land of Israel, beginning with the tribe of Dan to the north and ending with the tribe of Gad on the south.  “This is the land which you shall divided by lot as an inheritance among the tribes of Israel, and these are their portions,” says the LORD GOD, v. 29.

Israel’s possession of the land doesn’t depend on her military prowess, on the agreement of other nations or groups or on political pronouncements from, say, the UN.  It depends on the purpose, promise and power of God.  It is His covenant with them.

Acts 3:19-26, Covenant Redemption

[19] “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20] and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, 21] whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.  22] For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren.  Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. 23] And it shall be that every soul who will not hear the Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’  24] Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. 25] You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’  26] To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.” 

As Peter begins to come to the end of his explanation to the people, he gives four reasons why they should repent and be converted. The first one, which we looked at in our last post, is the return of Christ, about which Peter will have some more to say.  The other three reasons form the basis for this post.

1. Certain Retribution, vs. 22, 23.

Peter builds on his statement in v. 21 concerning the revelation of God through the mouth of His holy prophets by quoting Deuteronomy 18:15-19. showing that from the very beginning of Israel as a nation, God had foretold the coming of One with authority.  Indeed, from the very beginning of human history, God had foretold of such a One.  When our first parents sinned in the Garden, God told the instrument of their sin, that is, the serpent,

“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,

And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
Genesis 3:15.

Though later prophesies expand on this idea, this verse contains the whole of prophetic revelation about the Coming One:  enmity and conflict.

Jacob’s descendants, having been more or less forced to move to Egypt, at first found themselves respected and honored.  This did not last and they eventually found themselves persecuted and enslaved.  At the appointed time, God raised up Moses to deliver the people.  At Sinai, where Israel was transformed from a motley rabble into an organized nation, the people were terrified at the manifestation of God, and wanted someone as a go-between.  Moses was the one God chose, through whom He gave the Law, the Mosaic Covenant.  At the giving of that Law, God said, “What they have spoken is good.   I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.  And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him,” Deuteronomy 18:18, 19.

The clear implication is that Jesus Christ is this Prophet and to reject Him is to bring down certain judgment, v. 23.

2. Covenant Promises, v. 24.

“All the prophets, from Samuel….have also foretold these days.”

“These days”….

Do “these days” refer to what is known as “the church age,” and is Peter telling his audience that all the OT promises are “fulfilled in the church” and, as a consequence, there is no further or future blessing for Israel?

If you’ve ready very many of my posts, you know that I don’t believe that to be true.

In the first place, vs. 25, 26 indicate that these unsaved Jews did indeed have an interest in the OT covenants.  Granted, repentance was required of them, but even in the OT, relationship with God hinged on a satisfactory answer to the sin question, as seen in all the offerings and in the Tabernacle and later the Temple.  Relationship to God, as we understand that term, in any time in human history since the Fall, has never been and never will be apart from redemption from sin.

Second, Peter preached just a few weeks or so after the Crucifixion and Resurrection.  Early believers had no inkling of such a long period of time until the Second Coming as we ourselves have seen, nor of a body called “the church,” in which people would come to God through the Lord Jesus and not through the offerings and ceremonies of the Old Testament.  This is the whole thrust of the book of Hebrews, explaining to believing Jews the place, the purpose and, yes, the putting aside, of their beloved Mosaic heritage, or perhaps rather, the flowering and fulfillment of what that heritage foreshadowed.

The early disciples were vitally interested in the “time” element.  Cf. the disciple’s question and our Lord’s response in Acts 1:6, 7, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” and He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father has put in His own authority.”  According to Peter, the time element was also of surpassing interest to the OT prophets, 1 Peter 1:10, 11.  This was partly because of such seemingly contradictory things as the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.  But when did it follow?

Further, OT prophecy is filled with “time” references:  the 400 year servitude in Egypt, the 70 year captivity, Daniel’s 70 weeks, as well as Daniel  12:5-12 and Hosea 3:4, 5.

At this time, all Peter knew for certain was that Jesus had been crucified, raised again, ascended into heaven, and that He was coming again.  Perhaps the early church, as seen in its communal attitude, believed that that Return would be very soon.

Therefore, we believe that “these days” refers not the church age, but rather to Peter’s own time and the early believers’ anticipation of and preparation for the return of the Lord Jesus.  Only as Paul came onto the scene and it became evident that the nation of Israel in general would continue to reject Jesus as their Messiah, was further revelation given to the churches and it became apparent that more time might elapse before the Second Coming than was first thought, although that Coming is always viewed as “imminent” in the New Testament.

The final reason Peter gave for them to repent was their –

3. Covenant relationship, v. 25.

“You are the sons…of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed’.”  Peter also mentioned “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” in v. 13.  In this way, he reminded them that they were the beneficiaries and successors of the promises made “to the fathers” through “the prophets.”  At the same time, he cautions them that these blessings do not simply automatically flow from parent or ancestor, but that the ultimate intent of God’s dealings with them, and with us, is that people might be turned from their iniquities.  This can only be done on a personal, individual basis: every one of you.

Revelation 1:19, 20: The Seven Churches

“Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.  The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands:  The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.”  (NKJV)

John had been so overcome by the vision of our Lord that perhaps he had missed part of it, that is, what the Lord was holding in His hand.  He held seven stars and was standing in the middle of seven golden lampstands.  Our Lord describes what these things mean:  the seven stars are the “angels” (“angeloi”) of the seven churches and the lampstands represent the seven churches themselves.

There’s some discussion about who these “angels” were.  Some believe the word is simply used in its primary meaning of “messenger.”  These are human messengers sent from the churches.  “Angel” is simply the transliteration of the Greek word into English.  And it’s true that angels often brought messages from God.  Another view is that they are actual angels, who watch over the churches.  We do read in Scripture of the activities of angels with regard to what goes on in this world, Psalm 91:11; Daniel 11:20, many others.  Others believe it refers to the actual pastors and leaders of the various churches.

I tend to the view that it does refer to the actual pastors and teachers.  It teaches us that pastors don’t belong to the church, or to the denomination or even to themselves.  They belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.  They are His and, though they have responsibility to the church they lead, they are ultimately responsible to Him.  There is no greater calling in this world than to stand before people and open to them the Word of God.  But there is also no greater responsibility than that.  Even the simple posts that I write for this blog have eternal repercussions.  Spurgeon used to say that it crushed him into the dust to stand before eternity-bound men and women with the Scriptures.  I’m afraid we’ve lost that sense of awe in this day of mega-churches and Christian “personalities.”

The churches are depicted by seven individual lampstands.  These were lamps which would have burned olive oil.  This compares to the single lampstand with seven flames which burned in the Tabernacle, Exodus 26:31, 32, 37.  I think these portray the distinction between Israel and the church.  As a nation or as a people, Israel was a single entity.  They had a single “holy city,” and a centralized religion with its headquarters in the Tabernacle, then, later, the Temple in Jerusalem.  Later on, in the various dispersions and such, the “synagogue” sprang up as a local focal point of instruction and worship.  But the Jewish heart was always with the land of Israel, regardless of where the body was.

I don’t think Gentiles really understand the attachment the Jew has for his homeland.  I worked for a few months as a janitor in a conservative Jewish synagogue and saw firsthand their love for “eretz Yisrael”.

In contrast to the unity of the nation, “the church” knows no such centralization.  We have no “holy city,” no “headquarters” on this earth.  There is no such structure to the church.  Each church is directly responsible, not to some earthly leader or body, but to the Lord Himself.

Scripture describes the church as both an organism and an organization.  The “organism” is called “the body of Christ,” 1 Corinthians 12:31.  True believers are members of that one body.  If you are a believer, though you and I may never meet in this life and might be separated by thousands of miles, live on opposite sides of the planet and have different languages and cultures, we are still related through the Lord Jesus.  We are brothers and sisters.  For lack of a better word, the body is “universal.”  There is only one.

But that one body functions in and through the local church, the local “organization.”  The problem comes in with the confusing of the organism and the organization.  There is no universal “organization,” no world-wide “church,” in Scripture.  Each local church is independent.  No other church can tell it what to do, and it can’t tell any other church what to do.  Certainly, churches can cooperate in various endeavors.  The problem is that the “endeavor,” whatever it is, tends to take on a life of its own and to overshadow the local church.

Through John, our Lord addressed each of the seven churches.  He didn’t have John give the message to some centralized authority, which then filtered it down to the various churches.

These were seven local, contemporaneous churches.  They all existed at the same time.  But “churches” are really just the people who make them up.  So our Lord isn’t just addressing some nebulous something out there.  He’s talking through them to you and me.  He’s giving each one of us counsel, warning, encouragement, promise.  We can find ourselves described in one of these churches, with the attendant counsel given by our Lord.

Hebrews 12:12-24, Continue….

[12]Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, [13]and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated,but rather healed.
[14]Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:  [15]looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; [16]lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.  [17]For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.
[18]For you  have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, [19]and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.  [20](For they could not endure what was commanded:  “and if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot through with an arrow.”  [21]And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceeding afraid and trembling.”
[22]But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, [23]to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, [24]to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. 

Scripture tells us that every true believer experiences trouble of one kind or another.  It’s God’s way of weaning us away from the world and bringing us to Himself.  As someone has said, whether or not trouble is a blessing to us depends on where it is in relation to us and God.  If it comes between us and God, then it’s not a blessing, because it acts as a wedge, driving us away from God, but if God is between it and us, then it brings us closer to God.

I think it’s this latter idea that the writer has in mind in our text for this post.  We’re to strengthen that which is weak and straighten out what is crooked.  We’re to look at trouble as something designed to bring us closer to God.  In our vernacular, I think the writer might be saying, “Take a deep breath.”

The trouble with trouble is that it tends to make us contentious.  To counteract this tendency, the writer says to pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.  Trouble tends to make us self-centered, forgetting not only those around us, but He who is above us.  We’re to “look carefully,” or be diligent, in this matter, because becoming absorbed by our troubles tends to make us bitter, and this leads to nothing good.

Bitterness acts as a poison, corrupting not only ourselves, but our interactions with others.  It doesn’t just affect us; it affects others – and not in a good way.

Self-absorption also opens the door to sin to enter.  The writer mentions Esau as a classic example of this.  The incident he refers to is in Genesis 25:29-34.  As the firstborn son, his was a double portion of inheritance, as well as a priority in blessing.  When the father died, the firstborn became the leader of the family.  Esau threw all that away because he was hungry.  His brother Jacob was at fault here, to be sure, but the responsibility was Esau’s.  He was supposed to be the leader.  Esau might have had other faults, as well, since the writer describes him as a fornicator and profane.  This latter word doesn’t mean that he swore or used bad language, though that may be included.  It simply means “common,” as opposed to “sacred.”  Esau had no thought for the things of God.  In the words of Philippians 3:19, his belly was his god.  He set his mind on earthly things.  And, because of this, he lost heavenly things.  He sold his birthright, Hebrews 12:16.

Earlier, the writer had mentioned that there is an “afterward” for the believer, v. 11.  But there is an “afterward” for the unbeliever, as well.  In v. 17, he says, For you know that afterward, when he [Esau] wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears, emphasis added.  This incident occurs in Genesis 27:30-40.  And this “place of repentance” wasn’t in himself; it was in his father.

Isaac’s family was a mess.  Several chapters in Genesis tells us this, but when the dust was settled in this event, Isaac realized that it was Jacob who was to receive the blessing, not Esau, though Esau was his favorite, and Isaac had intended to give him the blessing.  That Jacob deceived his father in this matter in no way cancels out the fact that God had said, “The older [Esau] shall serve the younger [Jacob],” Genesis 25:23.  (There was an “afterward” for Rebekah as well.  After Jacob’s deception came to light, she sent him away, hoping that he wouldn’t have to be gone too long, Genesis 27:41-45.  She never saw her favorite son again.)

Notice here also that the writer says of the blessing that Esau sought it diligently, v. 17.  It didn’t matter.  It was too late!  His father confirmed this.  After Esau had begged him for the blessing, Isaac said, “I have blessed him [Jacob] – and indeed he shall be blessed,” Genesis 27:33.  The time for Esau to have been diligent, to “look carefully” [v.15], would have been when he was hungry!  I wonder how many blessings we lose because we’re careful too late.  We get “hungry” for the wrong things!

The rest of our text, vs. 18-24, might seem strange.  What do they have to do with how we’re to handle trouble?  I think the answer lies in the main difference between the two covenants alluded to.  Vs. 18-21 describe the scene at the giving of the Law, or the Mosaic Covenant.  This was when Israel officially became a nation.  The things given to her on Sinai were her constitution and bylaws.  Vs. 22-24 have to do with the New Covenant, which the writer has already mentioned in 8:7-13.

There’s probably a lot we could say about these two covenants, but we’ll try to restrict ourselves to only one.  The Mosaic Law had no provision to help the OT Jew fulfill his obligations.  In Deuteronomy 29:2-4, Moses referred to this.  He said to the crowd gathered before him, “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land- , the great trials which your eyes have seen, the signs and those great wonders.  Yet the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day (emphasis added.)  This explains why Israel was so slow to obey and so quick to rebel.  The Law has no provision to help the sinner obey its commands and can do nothing about the sinner’s condition.  Israel was on her own.  It was up to her to make herself righteous.  That’s why Israel failed so miserably.  That’s why those today who believe they can keep the Law fail so miserably.  They’re on their own.

Work and run, the Law commands,
but gives me neither feet nor hands.
But sweeter sounds the Gospel brings;
It bids me fly, and gives me wings.

The New Covenant, on the other hand, is all about remedying the plight of the sinner.  In chapter 8:7-12, the writer quoted an extensive portion from Jeremiah 31:31-34 describing the provisions and benefits of the New Covenant:

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – not according to the covenant 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 did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.  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 in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be My people.  None of them shall teach his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.  For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

Under the Mosaic Covenant, Israel was on her own.  Under the New Covenant, Israel will have divine assistance.  And be sure that it is Israel the nation that is in view here, not some “spiritual” Israel, not some convoluted idea that “the church” is really what is meant here.  Under the Mosaic Covenant, God gave no assistance to Israel.  Under the New Covenant, God will put His laws into their hearts and minds.  Every single Jew alive at that time will know God, regardless of their state in life.  This will be the fulfillment of Romans 11:26, So then, all Israel will be saved, a verse where Paul quotes Isaiah 59:20, 21.

But, if all this refers to Israel, then what good does it do us?  God never made any promises to Gentiles in the OT, only about them when He promised Abraham that in him all families of the earth shall be blessed, Genesis 12:3.  I don’t know that the OT, being concerned mainly with Israel, particularly tells us how this will be accomplished.  It’s not until the NT that we find that out.  It is in the NT that the Lord Jesus introduces a new player, as it were, into this thing we call salvation.  In Matthew 16:18, He said, I will build My church, or “My assembly,” emphasis added.  This was to distinguish what He was going to do from every other “assembly” in the world.  The word translated “assembly,” – ekklesia – means a group of people.  It was used to refer to any group or gathering, whether sacred or secular.  In the NT, it’s usually translated, “church,” though it’s used in Acts 19:40 of the riotous crowd which gathered because of the preaching of the gospel in Ephesus, that disorderly gathering which was offended at it.

The Lord’s assembly was to be unique.  It wasn’t like any other “assembly” or gathering or group of people in the world.  It wasn’t just to be a continuation of the nation of Israel or her replacement.

It was, is, His.  He builds it and He rules it.  He will come for it.  It is through Him that Gentiles – us – are able to receive the blessings of salvation.

Some people believe that it’s through the church itself that salvation is received.  Not so.  Not so.  There is no salvation in any church or denomination, but especially not in those who claim that it is.

At the same time, the church – a group of people, not a building – is important.  It’s through her that the gospel is to be preached.  It’s through her that missionaries are to be sent around the world.  It’s through her that the corruption of this world is to be hindered and countered.  Not through politics, not through legislation, not through any of the things men have foisted on her over the years, but through the preaching of the Gospel, and Christians living as if they believed what they say they believe.  Not through the latest social contortions, but through the Scripture.

The strength of the church – the strength of the individual believer – doesn’t come from personalities or programs or promotions.  These should have no place in the church.  It’s a shame that they do.  It’s the reason the church has no power in this increasingly wicked and corrupt world.  Indeed, things have gotten so bad that her voice, that is, the voice of those who say they belong to her, sometimes is heard in favor of that wickedness and corruption.

The strength and success of the church, the true church, the church our Lord started, not this thing called “the church” in our day, comes from her Founder and Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s a telling thing in the Book of Revelation that the Lord describes Himself as standing at the door, wanting admission to His church, Revelation 3:20.  It’s true that this verse is usually thought of as the Lord patiently waiting at the door of the sinner’s heart, waiting for that sinner to open the door and let Him in.  However, Revelation 3:20 has nothing to do with sinners and salvation.  In v. 22, He says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches, emphasis added.  Incredible though it may seem, the Lord has effectively been shut out of that place where He should be honored and obeyed.  That’s why the world’s in the mess it’s in – the church is in the mess she’s in.

Things won’t get better until the Lord Jesus is given His proper place, the place of preeminence and honor, and that probably won’t happen until He comes back and physically takes it.  And Christians are only able to “continue” as they follow the counsel of the writer in v. 2:

Consider Him.

 

 

Hebrews 9:15-10:9, The New Testament

[9:15]And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may received the promise of the eternal inheritance.
[16]For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.  [17]For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.  [18]Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood.  [19]For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, [20]saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.”  [21]Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry.  [22]And according to the law almost all things are purified by blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.
[23]Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  [24]For Christ has not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;  [25]not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another – [26]He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once in the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.  [27]And as it is appointed unto men to die once, but after this the judgment, [28]so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.  To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.
[10:1]For the law, having a shadow of the the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, could never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.  [2]For then would they not have ceased to be offered?  For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins.  [3]But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  [4]For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.
[5]Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:  “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared  for Me.  [6]In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.  [7]Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come – in the volume of the book it is written of Me – to do Your will, O God.'”
[8]Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and sacrifices for sin You did not desire; nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law), [9]then He said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God.”  He takes away the first that He may establish the second.  (NKJV)

We’re used to thinking of “The New Testament” as those books from Matthew to Revelation, and of “The Old Testament” as being from Genesis to Malachi.  While this is a valid and understandable use of the terms, Hebrews tells us that we can’t limit the phrases to those meanings.

Hebrews teaches us that the terms “Old Testament” or “Covenant” or “First Covenant,” and “New Testament” or “Covenant” in its usage describe two mutuallyexclusive, mutually contradictory and mutually incompatible ways of approach to God.  The Old Testament speaks of our coming to God on the basis of our works.  Both the sacrificial system and Israel’s subsequent history show that this is impossible.  The New Testament teaches that we come to God on the basis of Christ’s work.

Perhaps the great majority of professing Christians do not understand or believe this.  There are, on the one hand, those who out-and-out teach works-salvation, ie., by keeping the Law or doing our best, with the death of Christ almost considered of negligible effect, perhaps “to make up the difference.”  On the other hand, there are those who claim to believe in “salvation by grace,” but then they teach that, “Well, yes, we’re ‘saved by grace,’ but we have to keep ourselves saved; we can lose our salvation.”

Then there are those who teach “salvation by grace,” but they also believe that this means that God has simply made it possible for men to be saved, but it’s up to them to exercise faith.  The emphasis is on “exercise,” not on “faith.”  They might say, “God has done all He can do, and now it’s up to us.”

Even though they might admit that faith comes from God, they say that being born again, or saved, is a result of faith, whereas both the Scripture, John 3, and, except for Romanism, the historic creeds of professing Christianity have taught faith to be the evidence of the New Birth, not its cause.  Although there have been those down through church history who have denied this truth, it was only with the rise of John Wesley and then later Charles G. Finney and his successors, most notable of which in our time has been Billy Graham, that this truth has come generally to be denied.  In our time it has virtually disappeared, being replaced with appeals to “make your decision,” or “give your heart to Jesus.”

The Bible teaches with regard to our salvation that we have nothing to boast about.  It is God Who “makes us to differ,” 1 Corinthians 4:7.  We believe “according to the working of His mighty power,” Ephesians 1:19.  We believe “through [or, by means of] grace,” Acts 18:22.

So it is in Hebrews – an absolute separation of Old and New Covenants.   In our text, there are six things about this “New Covenant” (keeping in minds its context in the larger teaching about the priesthood of Christ);
1.  Mediation of the New Covenant, 9:15-17.
2.  Dedication of the New Covenant, 9:18-26.
3.  Expectation of the New Covenant, 9:27-28.
4.  Intimation of the New Covenant, 10:1-4.
5.  Preparation for the New Covenant, 10:5-8.
6.  Implementation of the New Covenant, 10:9.

1. Mediation of the New Covenant, 9:15-17.

He is the Mediator” – not the OT priesthood, not the Romish or Anglican priesthood or any other priesthood, nor any other individual, not the Virgin Mary, not the saints, not the preacher, not some “prophet,” not some “personality;”  Jesus Christ is the only way into the presence of God, and He is the only One with authority to intervene on behalf of His people.  That is why we must come in His name into the presence of God; no other name is recognized in heaven, Acts 4:12.

Basis of the Mediation, “by means of death,” also vs. 16, 17.  It was His death that released “the inheritance” for the enjoyment of His people.  It was His death that cancelled sin on their behalf and that satisfied divine justice for them.

Benefit of the Mediation.
1.  “redemption.”  In the OT, God didn’t just “overlook” the sin of His people.  The animal sacrifices could not take away sin, but they foreshadowed the coming of the One Who could.  The sins of the OT saints were as assuredly paid for by the death of Christ as the sins of the NT saints.
2.  “eternal inheritance.”  In the OT, under the Old Covenant, “inheritance” was temporary, based on obedience.  This is why Israel was so often in misery and was finally cast out of the land, even after the restoration under Ezra and Nehemiah.  Even though they’re in the land once again, Scripture teaches that this, too, will come to an end.  It won’t until the Second Coming of the Lord that things will finally be straightened out.  The blessings of the New Covenant are dependent on the obedience of Christ.

Beneficiaries of the Mediation, “those who are called.”  Even in the OT, though Israel as a nation enjoyed covenant blessing, not every Israelite knew the Lord; perhaps most in Israel’s history did not know the Lord.  But the New Covenant is not “national” in that sense, but individual:  “they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest,” Jeremiah 31:34.  Hence, it is a great mistake to try to pattern the New Covenant church after the Old Covenant nation.

2. Dedication of the New Covenant, 9:18-26.

Foreshadowed in the First Covenant, vs. 18-22.  Although blood was shed, redemption under the First Covenant was neither complete nor comprehensive, v. 22.

Fulfilled by Christ, vs. 23-26.  His sacrifice purified the originals of the things duplicated in the Mosaic tabernacle, though we don’t understand all that is involved or implied in these verses.  And it was a “once” sacrifice; the “Day of Atonement” accomplished by the Lord Jesus will never have to be repeated, either by Himself or by those who would do it ceremonially.  Indeed, such a thought is blasphemy.

3. Expectation of the New Covenant, 9:27-28.

These verses weren’t just inserted to fill up space, but to point out that the expectation and fulfillment of the New Covenant were not to be accomplished at the First Coming, but at the Second.  Considered on the whole, no OT prophecy has been fully realized.  Even those prophecies which do speak of things pertaining to the First Coming have ramifications which impinge on the Second Coming, for example, Micah 5:1-3; Daniel 9:24-27.

In several places, Hebrews mentions “the promise(s)”.  A careful and objective reading indicates that complete fulfillment of these promises is yet future, for example, Hebrews 11:39, 40.  They are dependent on the return of Christ and are not going to be fulfilled before then, as in “the church,” as many believe.  Romans 11 and Ephesians 2 and 3 shed further light on this controversial subject.

4. Intimation of the New Covenant, 10:1-4.

The continual offerings for sin showed that something more was needed.  The OT sacrifices were shadows of the Coming Sacrifice, shadows of “good things to come,” not the things themselves.

5. Preparation for the New Covenant,10:5-8.

“A body”.  From Adam to Mary, God was preparing the physical body of the Lord Jesus, that “body” which was to be offered “once for all,” Hebrews 10:10.  When Adam and Eve heard the pronouncement of their judgment and the promise of a coming Redeemer, Adam already bore in his body the genetic structure of that Redeemer.  The Cross was not a make-shift attempt to patch up an unforeseen disaster, but a carefully-planned, carefully-prepared revelation of the fullness of the divine attributes, wisdom and power.

6. Implementation of the New Covenant, 10:9.

Approach to God by our own efforts, merit or deserving will never be possible.  The OT showed the impossibility of that, and the Lord Jesus has made all such attempts unnecessary.  He came to forever rid men of the idea that salvation is a matter of reward.

By grace, you have been saved.

Hebrews 8:1-13, A Tale of Two Covenants

[1]Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: we have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, [2]a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.
[3]For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. [4]For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law, [5]who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle.  For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”  [6]But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
[7]For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.  [8]Because finding fault with them, He says, “Behold the days are coming, 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 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 did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.  [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 in their minds, and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  [11]None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.  [12]For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.
[13]In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete.  Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

In our last post, we talked about the two priests in Hebrews 7.  Briefly mentioned were the covenants which underlay their ministries.  Chapter 8 continues the writer’s thought that the Levitical priesthood was temporary because it was unable to complete redemption.  As the writer develops later on, animal sacrifices could not take away sin.  The Levitical priesthood was “introductory” in that it was a primer, a basic revelation of the holiness, righteousness and justice of God, and the exacting and inflexible nature of what is required to stand in His presence uncondemned, cf. 2:2.

Chapter 8 deals with the fundamental difference between the Levitical priesthood and the priesthood of Christ.  This difference is not simply found in the fact that the Lord Jesus is God.  If, as some claim, Jesus was only a creature, exalted though He may have been, He would have been able only to bring Himself to heaven.  If only a creature, Jesus would have been under the same obligation as all other creatures to serve and obey God and His life would have had merit only for Himself.  But since He is God, His life and death have infinite merit and value – enough to have saved multiple worlds had God so chosen.

The fundamental difference between the priesthoods of Aaron and Christ lies in the covenants underlying their respective ministries, cf. 8:6.  The First, or Mosaic Covenant, could not take away sin or do anything about the condition of the sinner.  The New Covenant, underlying Christ’s priesthood, can and does both.

It’s essential to understand that there are two covenants involved in this matter.  And, though we won’t go further into the subject, Scripture lists several other covenants.

A large percentage of professing Christendom, in what is called “Covenant Theology,” disagrees with this idea of “several other” covenants.  This may not seem to be important, but it is.  This system of thought, that there is only one covenant, not several, has several distinct features:

1.  In the words of Dwight Hervey Small, a well-known Reformed writer:  “There is one basic, underlying covenant of grace; this is the covenant relationship between a gracious God and a sinful race.  This gives continuity to all God’s redemptive dealings with man.  But the form of the covenant relation undergoes sufficient change in administration as to warrant distinction in Scripture.  We can speak of the Edenic form of the covenant, or of the Abrahamic form, or of the Mosaic form, or of the New Testament form.”

“The covenant established with Moses was essentially the same as the covenant that was established with Abraham.”  (Dwight Hervey Small, The Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism, pp. 37, 33.)

2.  There is no distinction between the nation of Israel and the church.  The church began with Abraham (Small, ibid., p. 161), or with Adam (Kuiper, R.B., The Glorious Body of Christ, p. 22), and is not specifically of the New Testament.  Israel and the church are merely different forms of the same thing.

3.  There is no future fulfillment of Old Testament verses with reference to the nation of Israel, which has been supplanted by the church (cf. note on bottom of p. 7, Weston, Charles Gilbert, The Weston Study Bible).  Nor is there to be a “grossly carnal” future Millennium, in which the Lord Jesus sits on an actual throne in Jerusalem (Clement, George H., The ABC’s of the Prophetical Scriptures, p. 40).  Covenant theologians are, therefore, amillennial, although not all who are amillennial hold to covenant theology.

Several teachings depend entirely or in part for their existence on Reformed covenant theology.  Among them are:

1.  Infant baptism.  According to this view, infant baptism replaces circumcision as the “sign” of the covenant.  Elaborate arguments are brought forth to justify this view.  I found it interesting that Dabney, a noted Reformed scholar, in discussing believers’ and infant baptism, refers to eight verses teaching believer’s baptism.  In the next paragraph, when he turns to infant baptism, he says this, “We add that baptism is also to be administered to ‘the infants of one or both believing parents’.” (Conf. 28, par. 4).  (Sorry, I have no further reference for this quote.)  Why doesn’t he simply mention those Scriptures which teach infant baptism, or clearly show that the apostles baptized infants?  He can’t.  There aren’t any.  That’s why there’s a need for “elaborate arguments.”  The whole doctrine of infant baptism rests on the effort to equate Israel with the church.  Indeed, covenant theology was introduced during the early years of the Reformation to defend the practice in argument against the Anabaptists, who rightly rejected it – and paid for it with their lives.

Just let me say that even if baptism does replace circumcision, even in the OT infants weren’t circumcised either to be born or to become members of the nation of Israel.  They were circumcised because they already had been born and were members of that nation.  So, baptism is for those who have already been born-again and, by virtue of that second birth, are members of the body of Christ.  Besides, circumcision wasn’t replaced by another symbol, but by the reality it symbolized – namely, regeneration (the new birth, salvation).  Believer’s baptism looks back to that, not to an Old Testament ritual.

2.  An established state-religion, based on the OT theocracy, in which every member of a nation is a member of “the church” by virtue of their baptism as infants.  In such a system, there is no liberty of conscience, no liberty of dissent.  In fact, the original Westminster Confession had a very strong section on the duty of the church to suppress all “blasphemies and heresies,” with the church defining what those were.  It was only after the War for American Independence that the Reformers, dealing with reality, substituted that section with one allowing religious liberty.

As we turn to our text, we see two things in the chapter:

1.  The “shadow” of the “first” covenant, 8:1-5, cf. 10:1.
2.  The “substance” of the “final” covenant, 8:6-13.

In the midst of all this talk about “covenants,” the writer is still setting forth the superiority of Christ:
1.  He is “seated,” v. 1.  The OT priests never sat while on duty because their work was never done.
2.  He is in heaven, v. 1.  Aaronic priests functioned on the earth.
3.  He is a “minister…of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched and not man.”  There may or may not be an actual “building” in heaven, I don’t know for sure, but what Moses and the others built, while certainly “real,” nevertheless it only foreshadowed the redemption that was coming.  They could not provide “the real thing.”

2. The Substance of the “Final” Covenant, 8:6-13.

The First Covenant was not able to accomplish redemption because that system was designed only to show the need for redemption, the penalty for a broken law and the nature of the payment for that broken law.  It couldn’t actually provide the pardon necessary to escape sin – the breaking of the Law.  It’s in this very thing that the priesthood of Christ is “better”.  And the reason it’s “better” is found in the covenant underlying it, which the writer explains in vs. 8-13.  Notice the various aspects of this “new covenant.”

1.  The time of the New Covenant, v. 8, “the days come;” v. 10, “after those days.”  This is a quote from Jeremiah 31:31-34, but note the rest of that chapter! (to v. 40), also Jeremiah 32:36-44.  Both of these references show that something more than the Law is required if even Israel is to come to God.

2.  The beneficiaries of the New Covenant, vs. 8, 10:  “house of Israel,” “house of Judah.”  While I have no desire to get into the interpretive jungles which entwine themselves around these verses, it seems obvious to me to whom and of whom these verses speak.  And if they don’t refer to the actual nation of Israel, or Judah, and God didn’t mean what He said, then why didn’t He say what He meant?
The point is that Israel will never be reconciled to God through their adherence to the Mosaic Law.  Neither will anyone else.

3.  The substitution of the New Covenant, v. 9, also v. 11.  “Teaching” was an essential part of the Mosaic Law, Deuteronomy 6:7.  The historical reference of v. 9 establishes that “Israel” cannot be “the church,” as many teach.  It is a gravely dangerous thing to play semantic games with the word of God, to teach that we have to “look below the surface” to find out what it’s really saying.  While I don’t think we’ll ever get to the bottom of its teaching in this life, and maybe not in the next one, either, what it teaches about God and sin and salvation is plain enough that there is no excuse for mistaking its meaning.

4.  The substance of the New Covenant, vs. 10-12.  These verses may be summarized in one word:  redemption.  The restoration of Israel does not come apart from redemption.  The crucifixion of Christ did not invalidate the promises of God, like this one, to Israel, so that her place in God’s redemptive purpose has been taken over by someone else and she is shut out.  Nay, it is through that very rejection and crucifixion that Israel will one day be redeemed as a nation.
Four things form the substance of the New Covenant:
a.  internal righteousness, v. 10a.  Contrast Deuteronomy 29:1-4.  What God did not do at Sinai, He will do because of Calvary.  The Mosaic Law is an external code, powerless to do anything to change the internal character of a person.  The New Covenant deals with that very thing, Jeremiah 31:33.
b.  immediate relationship, vs 10b-11a.  This is as opposed to “mediate.”  The OT Jew could never go into the Holy of Holies.  He could only do this through the annual observance of the Day of Atonement, in which the High Priest, and he alone and only on that day, could enter that place, where God dwelt.  But now, through Christ, the saved Jew, or Gentile, can come directly into the presence of God.  He or she needs no other priest; they don’t need Mary or “the saints,” don’t need “the church” or some religious organization.  Indeed, to say that one does need any of them is terrible blasphemy.
c.  individual reassurance, v. 11b, “they all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest (emphasis added).  Never in the history of Israel can this be said to have happened.  Even in days of the greatest spiritual revival, and though the nation itself had a “relationship” with God, there were only some who knew the Lord individually.  But there is coming a time, in the words of Romans 11:26, when “all Israel shall be saved.”
Since the whole section of Romans 9-11 deals with “Israel after the flesh” (Romans 9:3), Romans 11:26 can’t be said to refer to some sort of “spiritual Israel” which really has nothing to do with Israel.  Rather it refers to a time when Israel herself will be made “spiritual,” that is, she will be redeemed.  This doesn’t mean that every Jew who ever lived will be saved, but rather that every Jew alive at that time will be saved.
Even though the church enjoys the blessings of the new covenant by the grace of God, we can’t say that it’s really been fulfilled.  After all, “teaching” is a major part of the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19, 20, and of the “gifts” to the church in Ephesians 4:11-16.  The time is coming when it and they will no longer be necessary.
d.  incomprehensible redemption, v. 12.
Sin will be forgiven, but more than that, it will be banished.  God’s people will have nothing to repent of, to be sorrowful over, to wish had never happened.  We have such superficial views of sin and salvation that I don’t think we really have any idea what that will be like.

5.  The succession of the New Covenant, v. 13.  By this, we mean that the New Covenant will supercede and take the place of the Old, Mosaic, Covenant.  It is, after all, a “new” covenant.

A better one.