The High Priest Covenant of The Savior
Hebrews 8:1-13; 9:15-20
The streets of Jerusalem were deserted. A quiet hush had fallen over the city which on other days was bustling with activity. Families had gathered in their homes to commemorate the Passover. In a large upper room Jesus had assembled with His disciples to partake of the Feast. Near the end of the service He took a cup from the table, lifted it up for all to see and said, “. . . this is my blood of the new testament (covenant), which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Mt. 26:28).
Most likely His disciples were taken by surprise and puzzled by His statement! Many questions flooded their minds: What did He mean when He said the cup represented His blood of a new covenant? How did Jesus’ blood have anything to do with a covenant? What new covenant was He speaking about?
How much of the prophetic pronouncement flowing from the lips of Jesus was understood by the disciples is uncertain. But in a few short days it all became clear as Jesus statement changed their lives. In a short time, with marching orders in hand, they proclaimed this new covenant in all of Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
In preceding articles the credentials of Christ were presented showing His superior priesthood. The succeeding studies will focus on Christ’s ministry as High Priest, beginning with His mediatorial work in establishing the New Covenant.
The Covenant Proclaimed
Although the Aaronic ministry was excellent, having been established by God, Christ has “… obtained a more excellent ministry. . .” (8:6). It is more excellent in nature;
- Since He is the Son of God, the eternal High Priest, seated on the right hand of God (8:1).
- Because He serves in the true heavenly sanctuary (8:2), whereas the Aaronic priesthood only served in the earthly Tabernacle.
- Because “. . . he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (8:6).
- Because the promises in the first covenant were conditional, earthly, fleshly and temporary, whereas the New Covenant promises are unconditional, spiritual and eternal.
Let us examine the New Covenant in which Christ mediates.
The Covenant Promised
The New Covenant is contrasted with the “first covenant” (Mosaic Covenant) [8:7]. God had entered into the Mosaic Covenant with the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:5; 34:27-28). This was not the first covenant God made with man, but the first made with Israel “nationally” .
The Mosaic Covenant did not alter, annul or abrogate the provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant, for it was given 430 years after it (Gal. 3:17-19). Moses is careful to make the distinction between these two covenants (Dt. 5:2-3).
The Mosaic Covenant encompassed three areas of Israel’s life: moral laws which were spelled out in the ten commandments (Ex. 20:1-17); social laws which were given to govern their relationships within the nation (Ex. 21:1-24:11); and religious laws which were provided to direct them in their worship of God (Ex. 24:12-31:18). Yet these Mosaic promises of blessing were “conditional”. The requisite was that Israel be obedient to the commandments in order for God to fulfill His covenant promises to them, for He said, “. . if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant …” (Ex. 19:5).
Israel failed to keep the covenant promises. The fault did not lay in the law for the commandments were holy, just and good (Rom. 7:12). The fault did not lay with God for He had “taken them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt” (8:9) and cared for them through their wilderness journey (Dt. 1:30-31; 32:1-14). The fault laid in man’s sinful nature which rebelled against the conditions stipulated in the covenant (8:8-9; Rom. 8:3), and the covenant itself was limited in power to provide spiritual life and righteousness for sinful man (8:7; Gal. 3:19-25). This is the same argument used to show that the Levitical priesthood needed to be replaced (Heb. 7; 11).
The Covenant Parties
Many views have been presented concerning the parties with whom God made the covenant. First, there are those who believe that God made two covenants, one with Israel and the other with the Church. Nowhere in the New Testament are two New Covenants presented.
Second, there are those who believe that the New Covenant is made with Israel, but applies to the Church as well. Thus, there is one covenant, but two applications, one for the Church now and one for Israel in the future. But the Church cannot be fulfilling any of the provisions of Israel’s New Covenant today for the following reasons: The covenant is only made with Israel and Judah, not with the Church. The Church has never been called Israel, nor a spiritual Israel in Scripture, The covenant takes affect in Israel after Christ’s return which precludes the Church.
Third, some believe that there is one new covenant which God made with Israel alone. However, the blessings and provisions of tills covenant with Israel are experienced by the Church through the shed blood of Christ in this age. This view seems most plausible.
The question remains, if the covenant was not made with the Church, why was it presented in Hebrews 8? He quotes it to point out the failure of the Mosaic Covenant, and to show Israel that a better covenant with better promises is to be anticipated in the future.
The New Covenant was instituted at our Lord’s death (9:16-17), and the disciples ministered its concepts to the nation of Israel (2 Cor. 3:6). Since Israel rejected her Messiah nationally, the covenant was postponed, to be realized in its fullness when Christ returns to set up the Kingdom.
The Covenant Provisions
God realized the inability of the first covenant and announced its replacement through the prophet, Jeremiah, six centuries before Christ. He said, “. . . Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (8:8; Jer. 31:31). What does this covenant provide for Israel?
Israel’s Renewed Relationship (8:10)
God said, “… I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people (v. 10; 31:33). This was the relationship which Israel enjoyed under the first covenant when God brought them out of Egypt and called the nation “my son” (Ex. 4:22). But Israel broke the relationship through spiritual infidelity (Ezek. 16; Hos. 1:9) causing God to discipline them through judgment.
God has never ceased to love Israel. He prefaced the giving of the New Covenant with these words, “. . . Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore, with lovingkindness have I drawn thee (Jer. 31:3). This verse was uttered after God had described, in vivid language, the deplorable situation of Israel (Jer. 30:12-14). In the New Covenant God is “merciful to their unrighteousness” (v. 12) and renews His relationship with them.
The New Covenant, unlike the Mosaic Covenant, is unconditional . Some six times in the covenant God says, “I will” (vv. 8, 10, 12), meaning that He will fulfill the provisions of the covenant. Its fulfillment depends solely upon the integrity of God, not the faithfulness of Israel.
The New Covenant provides an inner change of mind and heart which can only be produced through regeneration. God says, “. .. I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts … (v. 10; Jer. 31:33).
The first covenant was “external” engraved in stone (Ex. 32:15-16; 2 Cor. 3:7). As has been seen. God promised to bless the people conditioned on their obedience, but they failed. The New Covenant is written on the “fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:3) through the Holy Spirit’s ministry. This spiritual birth will take place at Christ’s second coming. God will pour out His Spirit on Israel which brings about repentance of sin and acceptance of Jesus as their Messiah (Zech. 12:10; Rom. 11:26). Israel will be born in a day (Isa. 66:8).
With a new heart (Jer. 24:7; Ezek. 36:26) no one in Israel will need have his neighbor (fellow-citizen) teach him about the Lord, for all shall know Him, “from the least to the greatest” (v. 11; Jer. 31:34). The first covenant provided for only the religious leaders to be taught the legal concepts of the law with its complicated rituals and regulations. In the Kingdom, the believer will not need a priest to teach him, for the Lord will teach him (Isa. 54:13; Jn. 6:45) through the indwelling Holy Spirit. He will be empowered to walk in the way of the Lord to keep His statutes and ordinances (Ezek. 36:27).
Regeneration provides forgiveness of sin. The Lord says, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more (v. 12; Jer. 31:34). Under the first covenant there was a continual remembrance of sin each time an animal sacrifice was offered (Heb. 10:3). These sacrifices never did “take away” sin, but only “covered” them (Heb. 10:4). Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb (Jn. 1:29) who “once and for all” took away their sins ((Heb. 10:15-18) through His blood of the New Covenant. Strong assurance that God has forgiven Israel’s sins is presented by use of a double negative, “no more”, meaning “no never, under any condition” will He remember their sins. It was prophesied that the “blood of thy covenant” would procure these blessings for Israel in the Kingdom (Zech.9:11).
Israel’s Reconciler (9:15-20)
Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant (v. 15). A mediator acts as a middleman go-between) to intervene between two parties of differing backgrounds who desire to come into covenant relationship. A mediator must set aside his own interest for those of the parties involved in mediation. He must be trustworthy and acceptable to the parties involved in the covenant. He must be able to secure a covenant for the parties involved through proper mediation. Through death, Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, who has made reconciliation possible to all who will put trust in His atoning work in their behalf. His mediatorship reaches back to the called ones under the first covenant (v, 15) as well as to those who believe in the future.
Christ has an “eternal inheritance” (v. 15) to bestow on all believers through the New Covenant. The writer of Hebrews gives a vivid illustration of this point through disposition of property in a legal will. An inheritance which has been bequeathed can legally be acquired only upon the death of the bequeather (v. 16). For the New Covenant to take effect, and legally bestow salvation to the sinner, necessitated the death of Christ (v. 17).
Even the Mosaic Covenant had to be inaugurated with blood to be effective (v. 18). Moses mediated the first covenant by taking the book of the covenant, reading it before the people who agreed to keep its precepts (Ex. 24:7), and then sprinkled both with blood (vv. 19-20).
The first covenant being dedicated with blood shows that a “sacrificial death” of an innocent victim was required to consecrate and establish a covenant. For even the Abrahamic Covenant was consecrated by blood (Gen. 15:7-17). These were only types and shadows which look forward to the day when Christ will consecrate and establish a New Covenant through His shed blood (Mt 26:28). He is the only One able to mediate the New Covenant between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).
The Covenant’s Permanence
The New Covenant, unlike the Mosaic Covenant, is eternal. The Lord says, “… I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them. . . ” (Ezek. 37:26). What happens to the Mosaic Covenant? Having served its purpose it becomes inoperative. The words, “old”, “decayeth” and “groweth old” (8:13) show that the Mosaic Covenant is worn out, antiquated and waning in strength, soon to be dissolved.
The Mosaic Covenant, though inoperative because of the New Covenant established by Christ, was still kept by Judah. Its ritualistic sacrifices and priestly regulations were maintained until Rome destroyed the Temple and dissolved the priesthood in A.D. 70. Even today Orthodox Judaism zealously clings to the Mosaic Law some nineteen centuries later. It must be asked of those who look to the Mosaic Covenant as a way to please God, “Where is your priesthood to mediate the covenant provisions? Where is your Temple to offer sacrifice for sin? Where is your holy of holies to offer up atoning blood on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)?” Naturally they have been dissolved! Then why should the Mosaic Law, which cannot provide spiritual life nor forgiveness of sin, be clung to so tenaciously? Come to Jesus who, as High Priest, mediates a better covenant with better promises as we have seen!
The Christian has been given a great privilege — the privilege of enjoying spiritual blessing of the New Covenant mediated through the Messiah, a privilege for which each Christian should be eternally thankful. But with privilege comes responsibility — responsibility to share the New Covenant blessings with a friend. Remember someone did with you!