Hebrews What God Demanded What God Provided
God has chosen to base His relationship with the nation of Israel on covenants. There are basically four unconditional covenants that He made with His people. The first is the Abrahamic Covenant, which promised them a land, a seed and that through them would come blessing to all people. This was first given in Genesis twelve and was reiterated to Abraham and his children several times. It was sealed with blood. Its fulfillment depended solely upon the character of God. It never depended upon what Abraham and his seed did or did not do.
The second covenant is called the Palestinian or Deuteronomic Covenant. It guaranteed Israel the eternal right to the land.
Very briefly, the third covenant (the Davidic Covenant) was made with David, promising a seed through his line that would rule Israel forever. That Seed was to be Christ (2 Sam. 7:11-16).
The fourth and final covenant is the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). This promised Israel an eternal relationship with God. He would be their God, and they would be His people. Nowhere in the Old Testament is this ever said to have been fulfilled. However, its promises are literal and real and must be fulfilled.
THE MOSAIC COVENANT
There is another covenant that must be considered to help us in this study. It is a conditional covenant made by God with Moses on Mount Sinai, while the children of Israel were in the wilderness. Sometimes it is called the Mosaic Covenant, sometimes the Law, and sometimes the first covenant. We can also call it the old, in contrast to the new (Heb. 8:13).
It Came From God and Was Good
“And God spoke all these words . . “ (Ex, 20:1). The Lord called Moses to the top of Mount Sinai and gave him this covenant or the Law. The very nature of God would only allow Him to give man something that was good. There was absolutely nothing wrong with that which God gave to him there. It was from God, and there was a definite purpose in that Law. It was to show man his sin and was to serve as a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” (Gal. 3:24). Seeing his need, man would hopefully seek to find an answer to that need in Christ. It provided a covering for sin in the sacrifices ordained by it. In its day, it was all mankind had.
It Was Given by Angels
“Wherefore, then, serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator” (Gal. 3:19).
“For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast… “(Heb. 2:2).
Many commentators are silent as to what part angels played in the giving of the Law. No one seems to really comprehend their part, but somehow God had them involved in the giving of it to His people.
THE OLD COVENANT WAS GOOD, BUT…
It Was Temporary
The Scripture makes it very clear that the first covenant or the Law was not permanent: “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and groweth old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13); “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second” (Heb. 10:9b).
Though the Old Covenant which came from God was good and was given to man that he might see his need for Christ, it was never intended to be eternal. It had certain weaknesses.
It Provided No Access To God
Mankind is totally depraved. His sin has caused complete separation from God. The Law pointed out that problem to man, but it did not provide the solution. It did not bring God and man together.
Part of the Mosaic Law had to do with the priesthood, the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system. Though a man would realize his sin and bring every sacrifice possible, it did not bring him to God. That man could never in his lifetime enter the holy of holies in the Tabernacle or the Temple, and thus the presence of the Lord. The very best he could do was to continually offer the sacrifices over and over. He could never by means of them or by anything in this system come face to face with God.
Under the Mosaic system, the only one who could enter the holy of holies was the high priest, and that only once a year for a few fleeting moments. This was only after he had made an offering for his own sins as well as for those of his people.
This system was good but was woefully inadequate to bring God and man together. Man’s sins separated him from God. There was the need for something superior to that which was available to bring them together.
It Had a Temporal High Priest
Many high priests were beloved by the people of Israel. Samuel is a case in point. They were often held in much higher esteem than their kings. But, after serving for a few years, they always passed off the scene by death. Soon they were remembered no more. Furthermore, after their death they could do no more for the people.
“And they, truly, were many priests, because they were not allowed to continue by reason of death; . . . For the law maketh men high priests who have infirmity . . ” (Heb. 7:23, 28a).
The first covenant or Law was weak in that it had no continuing priesthood. Death removed them from office. There was a need for a continuing high priest, but that need was not met in the Mosaic system.
It Did Not Save
Sinful, corrupt, depraved man did not need something that was fleeting or that made him a slave. He needed something that would forever save him from his sins.
“Therefore, by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).
“But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident; for, The just shall live by faith” (Gal. 3:11).
“And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering often the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Heb. 10:11).
With all of its procedures, practices and pictures of a coming Messiah, the Old Covenant could never save one person. There had to be something new and superior if man were ever to have the forgiveness of sins and be brought into a relationship with God.
So, though God gave the Old Covenant, or the Mosaic Law, it was weak. It fulfilled all He planned for it to do, but it was incomplete in that it did not provide access to God or save. It could not meet man’s basic need of the forgiveness of sin and a relationship with God.
It Was Promised by God
The Holy Spirit led the Prophet Jeremiah to write concerning a new covenant. We read, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31).
The Old Covenant depended upon man keeping all the provisions of it. No man was able to do this. This new covenant does not depend upon the works or the faithfulness of man. It totally does away with the conditional aspect. This covenant solely depends upon the character and faithfulness of God.
Furthermore, though it is promised in the Old Testament, we never find its fulfillment there. That is left for a later time and is recorded in the New Testament.
It Needed a New Priesthood
The priesthood under the Mosaic Covenant was of the tribe of Levi. As mentioned earlier, they came into office, served and died. The writer of the Book of Hebrews tells us of a new and superior priesthood. It was of the type of Melchizedek, rather than of the Aaronic and Levitical line. Jesus Christ is the High Priest of the New Covenant. Since there is a new covenant there must be a new priesthood to go along with it. That priesthood must last as long as the New Covenant. Since it is eternal, the High Priest must also be the same.
“For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law…. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident; for after the similitude of Melchizedek there ariseth another priest. Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment but after the power of an endless life . . . . By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament …. But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood” (Heb. 7:12, 14-16, 22, 24).
God provided a new priesthood for His New Covenant. He is the eternal one, Christ.
It Provides Direct and Continual Access to God
Again,, the Old Covenant did not give man direct access to God; the new does. Jesus Christ, the High Priest of the New Covenant, not only has access to God one day per year, but He is seated on the right hand of God in the heavens right now. He is ever before the Father.
“… We have such an high priest, who is seated on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Heb. 8:1).
“For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:24).
“Seeing, then, that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession …. Let us therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14, 16).
The New Testament believer has his Priest ever before God pleading his case. Through His present position, he has direct and continual access to God. That access is real and for every believer, whether Jew or Gentile. How superior is this new covenant in providing direct and continual access to God.
It Is Based Upon Better Promises
“But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Heb. 8:6).
Twice in this portion of the Book of Hebrews (8:7-12 and 10:16-18), the inspired penman quotes portions of Jeremiah 31 to prove that this new covenant is based upon better promises. In this covenant God promises several astounding things.
First, His law will not be written upon tables of stone as was the first It will be no longer external, but internal. God promises to put it in their minds and hearts (Heb. 8:10).
Secondly, He promises He will be their God, and they shall be His people. Through the execution of the New Covenant, God will bring His people into a personal relationship with Himself. That relationship will be eternal, and all involved shall know God.
Thirdly, their sins will be forgiven. Not only will they be forgiven, but they will be remembered no more. Man will then be righteous before God (Heb. 8:12).
THE SUPERIOR COVENANT WAS ACTIVATED BY THE WORK OF JESUS CHRIST ON THE CROSS
What brought about the change from life under the Old Covenant to life under the New? It was the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
The Old Covenant was instituted by means of the shedding of blood (Lev. 17:11). Animals were constantly slaughtered. No one knows how many sheep, goats, cattle, oxen and other animals were slain. There had to be millions of them, Daily, weekly, monthly and yearly for hundreds of years blood was poured out. Long journeys were made just to sacrifice animals. It was expensive. It was time consuming. It was bloody. Priests spent much of their entire ministry preparing and killing the sacrificial animals. The Old Covenant was sealed by blood.
Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the New Covenant. In Hebrews 9, the writer shows the necessity of the death of the testator (vv. 16-17). He likens the covenant to the last will and testament of a person. A man writes his will; however, it is not valid, nor is it put in force until the death of the one who wrote it.
The death of Jesus Christ sealed the New Covenant. The very night before His death, as He celebrated the Passover with His disciples, Jesus said, “This cup is the new testament [new covenant] in my blood” (1 Cor. 11:25). His death provided man the access he needs to God and gave him an eternal high priest who is presently interceding before God constantly on behalf of others. He saves from sin and gives eternal life.
The New Covenant is far superior to the Old. Since that is so, the Old is no longer valid. It is finished. The priestly ministries no longer exist. There is no more sacrifice for sin. The Old Covenant has vanished away (Heb. 8:13).
Practically speaking, a believer in Christ is no longer under the Law. One cannot keep that which is old and gone. Believers, whether they be Jew or Gentile, should never again be put under its bondage. It can do nothing for them. Sad to say, many are still bound to the Old. We need to rejoice in the work of Christ, rather than be bound to a system that is defunct.
Jesus Christ offers a covenant superior to the Law, No animals need to be sacrificed. He became the eternal sacrifice when He went to the cross. Anyone can find forgiveness of sin, eternal life, access to God and entrance into that New Covenant by faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The New Covenant gives to any man who believes in Christ that eternal relationship with God so longed for by those in the Old Testament. This is certainly the far superior covenant.