“Jesus has now received a far superior ministry, due to the fact He mediates a better covenant established upon better promises. For if the former covenant had proven satisfactory, there would have been no need for a second one. But being dissatisfied with the people of that covenant, the Lord said, ‘Behold, a time is coming when I will establish a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah, a covenant very different than the one I made with their forefathers in that day when I led them out of Egypt. Because they did not abide by My covenant, I refused to listen to them and let them go their own way.’ The Lord said, ‘This is the future agreement I will establish with Israel; I will implant my laws in their minds and inscribe them upon their hearts. I will be their God and they will be My people. And there will be no need for every man to instruct his neighbor, saying, ‘Get acquainted with the Lord’, because they will all know Me – from the least to the greatest of them – for I will forgive their iniquities and their sins I will not recall.’ By calling this covenant new, He has deemed the first one obsolete. That which is feeble and antiquated will soon vanish altogether.” (paraphrased)
The book of Hebrews is a treatise which epitomizes man’s struggle for effectual redemption. Clues to the solution are found in the treaties God made with the human race. The term “covenant” is commonly used to describe a promise, contract, or pact. Covenants involve vowing to keep the agreed-upon terms, God being invoked as witness, consequences for violations, and ratification by an emblem or symbolic act.
Although God is not obligated to form alliances with mankind, His covenants help regulate social order. They are clear statements of His intentions and purposes. Since man never sets the terms, there can be no additions or modifications. Both parties do not share equal covenantal responsibilities, for God is always faithful to His part of the agreement. “I will not break my vows, for I am the Lord their God” (Lev. 26:44).
To better understand God’s viewpoint, it is helpful to review the primary covenants in God’s Word.
<> The Noahic – affirmation via heavenly rainbows
God promised Noah He would never again destroy the earth with floodwaters. The rainbow is the colorful pennant which validates this covenant (Gen. 9:14-15).
<>The Abrahamic – affirmation via physical circumcision
God told Abraham he would be the ancestor of a great nation. His family was the conduit through which God’s blessings flowed into the world (Gen. 2:12). The Messiah would come through his lineage. Circumcision was the sign of this covenant (Rom. 4:11).
<>The Mosaic – affirmation via animal blood
After being freed from Egyptian bondage, the Israelites were almost impossible for Moses to manage. God helped to control this problem by instituting Levitical law (Ex. 20-24). Sacrificial blood was the dramatic symbol of this covenant (Lev. 17:11).
<>The Davidic – affirmation via proven ancestry
God’s covenant with David was a more detailed form of the Abrahamic covenant. It affirmed the Messiah would incarnate by way of Davidic descent (II Sam. 7:16). Biblical genealogical records verify these historical facts (Mt. 1:1-17 & Lk. 3:23-38). Strict ancestral lineage became the evidence of this covenant.
<>The Messianic – affirmation via communion services
All former covenants were superseded by the new covenant. The laws which regulate it are not etched on cold tablets of stone but infused into the warm hearts of His children. The new covenant is better because it involves an increased opportunity to commune with God, forgiveness of sins, purging of the conscience, and the promise of heaven. Jesus explained His covenant in terms of His body and blood (Mk. 14:23-24). When Believers partake of the emblems of bread and wine, they remember and renew their blood covenant with Jesus Christ (I Cor. 11:23-26).
This verse connects the topic of Christ’s superior mediatorship (1:1-8:6) with the topic of His superior covenant (8:7-10:22). A mediator (mesites) is an arbitrator or intermediary. Because Christ is both God and man, He perfectly represents both parties to each other. The new covenant involves better:
~ Intervention: Christ versus Moses (v .6)
~ Quality: excellence versus inferiority (v. 7)
~ Effectiveness: a faultless covenant versus a faulty covenant (v. 8)
~ Intimacy: internal laws versus external laws (v. 9-10)
~ Communication: instruction by the Spirit versus instruction by the Law (v. 11)
~ Atonement: forgetting sins versus remembering sins (v. 12)
~ Endurance: permanence versus impermanence (v. 13)
As Judah was facing the Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah announced a revolutionary covenant established upon better promises. Under former covenants, promises were invariably tied to earth, such as long life, good harvests, human fertility, peace, and prosperity. But the primary promise of the new covenant is tied to heaven and eternal redemption.
Here the writer references Jeremiah 31:31-34 as additional proof of the deficiencies of the old covenant. He quotes numerous passages in order to build his case, such as:
Psalm 8:4-6 (Heb. 2:6-8)
Psalm 95:7-11 (Heb. 3:7-11)
Psalm 40:6-8 (Heb. 10:5-7).
If the former covenant had been effective, the introduction of a new one would have been superfluous. The old covenant was faulty because it demanded obedience, yet offered no power to overcome temptation. Although it provided sacrificial rituals, it could not secure eternal redemption. The writer’s logic is irrefutable: if the first covenant had been effective, there would be no need for another. The new, however, cannot coexist with the old. Six centuries before Christ, Jeremiah prophesied the old covenant would one day be superseded (Jer. 31:31). Jeremiah wrote this prophecy on the brink of the Babylonian captivity to encourage people with the hope of a future Messianic era. He later refers to this future agreement when he writes, “Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual agreement that shall never be forgotten” (Jer. 50:4-5).
Although the former covenant was inadequate, it was marginally adequate for its intended purposes. The fault was not with the covenant itself, but with the people who agreed to obey its terms. God cannot be held liable, because deviation from the old covenant was an error on the part of the Israelites. Christ’s sacrifice and teachings offer the best and only solution for the problem of human sin.
Both the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah are mentioned because the writer foresaw the reunification of the entire nation. The combined use of the terms Israel and Judah signifies the entire Jewish race. However, this phrase is more easily understood in a global context which includes both Jews and Gentiles:
~ Christians are now “the house of Israel” (Mt. 28:19 & Rom. 2:28-29).
~ Believers are “true Israelites” who inherit the promises made to Abraham (Rom. 9:6-8).
~ Disciples of Jesus are “grafted into” Abraham’s spiritual family tree (Rom. 11:16-24 & Gal. 3:7-9).
~ Those in the household of faith have the law of Christ “engraved on their hearts” (II Cor. 3:3).
Like a schoolmaster leading a child, Jehovah walks hand in hand with His children. But this passage in Jeremiah specifically states that Israel broke the agreement (Jer. 31:32). The primary conditional clause was: “If you obey My voice and keep my covenant, then you will be a treasure unto Me above all people” (Ex. 19:5). Failure to comply with the Lord’s directives resulted in the withdrawal of His blessings. “Continue” means to “persevere and abide by.” Their refusal to adhere to the established terms released God from His commitments. Without Jehovah’s protection, they were swept into the Babylonian exile and assimilated into pagan cultures. The seventy years of captivity dealt the Levitical system a crippling blow from which it never recovered.
Turning from Israel’s failures in the past, the writer focuses on their future. God chose to make a different arrangement – one that included both Jews and Gentiles. In the context of Jeremiah 31, “after those days” refers to a future period sometime after the Babylonian captivity. Because the Levitical system continued after the exile, this can only refer to our New Testament era (Mt. 26:28).
Consider a few of Jehovah’s statements which radically contrast the former and the latter:
~ I will make a new pact with Israel and Judah.
~ It will be very different than the former one.
~ This era is futuristic.
~ Although I was a husband to them, they broke their vows.
~ One day I will write my laws in their spirits.
~ Everyone from the least to the greatest can then know Me.
~ I will forgive their iniquities and no longer bring them to mind. (Jer. 31: 31-34)
The phrase, “I will put My laws in their minds and write them in their hearts” is a Hebrew parallelism. These terms are later employed – but inverted to read – “I will put my laws into their hearts and in their minds will I write them” (Heb. 10:13). The two phrases are nearly synonymous. Ezekiel reiterates this prophecy when he speaks of God exchanging stony hearts for hearts of flesh (Ez. 36:26). An heartfelt commitment was essential in helping God’s children obey His directives. While Moses was still on Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were constructing the golden calf. Upon discovering this, Moses smashed the stone tablets in anger. The people broke God’s spiritual laws before Moses broke the physical tables of the law (Ex. 32:19). The old treaty was made with the nation of Israel on Mount Sinai, but a new one was made with all nations on Mount Calvary.
God initiates and sustains a personal relationship with each Believer through Jesus. His love makes obedience voluntary rather than obligatory. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). Christ often referred to God as “our heavenly Father,” but such an intimate relationship was unimaginable in Old Testament times. Vastly different from the colorful Levitical observances, Christ’s directives impact the conscience. The Holy Spirit prompts us to cry “Abba; Father” (Gal. 4:6).
In Moses’ day, offering a sacrifice required the services of priests. Because of the complexities of the Levitical laws and ordinances, it is probable even they struggled to comprehend them. In contrast, a knowledge of God through Christ is a fundamental characteristic of the New Testament. The necessity of priestly intervention became unnecessary after Christ’s sacrifice. Personal communication with Jesus is the primary objective in God’s plan of salvation.
To really “know the Lord” means entering into a relationship with Him. Believers know God in a way inconceivable to those who lived in former dispensations. Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, you will all be taught by God” (Jn. 6:45). We have an anointing from the Spirit who teaches us all things (I Jn. 2:27 & Jn. 14:26). Rich and poor, children and elders, famous and defamed, educated and illiterate – all now have equal opportunity to fellowship with the risen Jesus. Those who become born again have “the mind of Christ” (I Cor .2:16).
Although a limited atonement was available under the old covenant, the concept of God’s pardon is a prominent feature of our current dispensation of grace. God’s mercy is extended to all nations by the propitious sacrifice of Jesus. Under the former system, there was “a remembrance of sins made every year” (Heb. 10:3). Although God cannot literally forget anything, He treats those who repent as if He has actually forgotten they had ever sinned. Because transgressions are forgiven through accepting the sacrifice of Christ, they will not be held against us.
Christ’s covenant is new dispensationally, but also in quality and endurance. “Decaying” is palaioumenon, picturing that which is worn out and obsolete. “Growing old” (geraskon) concerns the covenant’s aging process and indicates it is antiquated. The concept of “vanishing away” (aphanismou) means a complete disappearance, obliteration, and abolishment. These combined terms picture something that cannot exist much longer. The temple, the priesthood, the ark, and the holy place have all faded into obscurity. God planned the old covenant’s inadequacies and impermanence while anticipating the perfection and eternality of the new covenant.
QUESTIONS: CHRIST, OUR MEDIATING PRIEST
1. According to Exodus 19:6, what did Jehovah want the nation of Israel to become?
2. What words are used to describe Christ’s church in I Peter 2:9?
3. According to I Corinthians 3:3, where does God want His laws written?
4. Covenants involve:
A. vowing to keep its agreed-upon terms
B. God being invoked as Witness
C. consequences for covenant violations
D. ratification by an emblem or symbolic act
E. all of the above
5. Man has equal opportunity to establish the terms of a covenant with God. True or False?
6. List the four basic covenants in the Bible:
7. The new covenant is better because it provides:
A. forgiveness of sins
B. increased opportunity for communication with God
C. the promise of heaven
D. cleansing of the conscience
E. all of the above
8. Jesus explained the new covenant in terms of:
A. the vine
E. His body and blood
9. Because His people broke His covenant, the people in Jeremiah’s day were taken captive by what nation?
10. Marriage is a covenant between a man and woman. God desires that they become what?
11. According to the Biblical concept of matrimony, when does a marital covenant end? (Romans 7:2)