The last post ended with a passage that referenced the covenant that Jesus had mediated. The author of Hebrews now goes on to describe this “new” covenant. And he looks back to Jeremiah and his prophecy concerning a covenant that would replace the one broken by Israel. This is quoted in full here, and later a part of the quote is repeated.
The Old Covenant
The book of Exodus records God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery. After leaving Egypt, God brought Israel to Mt Sinai. And there, he established a covenant with them.
Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.Exodus 19:5-6 NIV
After God invited them into this relationship, he gave them the terms they were to obey. These included the 10 Commandments as well as several chapters of additional laws. Moses took all of this to the people, and they responded with, “Everything the LORD has said we will do” (Ex. 24:3).
Moses took their answer back up the mountain to God. While there, he received directions for building and furnishing the tabernacle. But, while he was gone, the people crafted a golden calf and began to worship it. No sooner had they agreed to this covenant than they broke it. And that became a pattern for the rest of their history. They seemed incapable of living up to their end of the agreement.
The Reason for a New Covenant
For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:Hebrews 8:7-9 NIV
“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
If the people had lived up to their end of the covenant, there would have been no problem with it. But their failure to obey its terms was a constant problem. Even though the people constantly failed, God remained faithful to his end of the covenant. But that was not a condition that would last forever. Eventually, God would cancel it. But he would also establish a new one, unlike the first one.
This new covenant would be with the people of Israel. It might appear that it was to be made with the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the ethnic Israelites. But, unlike the first one, it is actually made with spiritual Israel. To all of God’s people, whether they are ethnic Jews or Gentiles.
God’s Covenant People
The author of Hebrews makes little mention of the union of Jew and Gentile together as the body of Christ. But it is clear from other places within the Scripture that Christ’s work includes both. And that the covenant he mediated by his blood is inclusive to all who will believe, both Jew and Gentile.
In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul points out that the work of Christ on the cross destroyed the dividing wall that had separated Jews from Gentiles. And that now they are one new humanity, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. And rising to become a holy temple to the Lord.
In 1 Peter 2:9-10, Peter uses some of the same language to describe the believers as was used in the first covenant. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession. While at one time we were not a people, now we are the people of God. This includes both Jews and Gentiles. But especially the Gentiles. Those who once were not the people of God.
The Nature of the New Covenant
This is the covenant I will establish with the people of IsraelHebrews 8:10 NIV
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
This new covenant is both like, and unlike, the old one. It is like it in the sense that in both, the people give their allegiance to God. And that we are his chosen people.
But the covenants are also unlike each other. The old one was written on tablets of stone. Its terms were external to the people of the covenant. But the terms of the new one are written on our hearts. They have become a part of us. And this is a fundamental change. I am changed when those terms are written on my heart. I am not the same as I was before.
A New Relationship
No longer will they teach their neighbor,Hebrews 8:11-12 NIV
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
There is a significant consequence of having the terms of the covenant written on our hearts. In that condition, I know the Lord. That does not mean that I know everything there is to know about him. Or that I initially know much at all about God. But I do know him in a personal way. When I come under this new covenant, I enter into a personal relationship with the God of the covenant. I know him in a way that would otherwise be impossible. And in a way that no amount of head knowledge could ever approach.
What enables that personal relationship with God is his forgiveness. It is Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for my sin that mediates the covenant on my behalf. And Jesus’ atonement for me is effective. God forgives my sin, and I can stand clean before him. There is no longer the barrier of my sinful nature that keeps me from him.
Outdated and Disappearing
By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.Hebrews 8:13 NIV
This verse acts as a commentary on Jeremiah’s words concerning the new covenant. If, as Jeremiah says, this is a new covenant. Then it stands to reason that it is replacing the older one. The one that Israel repeatedly broke. That old covenant is being superseded by this new covenant. When Jeremiah wrote, the time of obsolescence for the old covenant was foretold. But now that Christ has come and mediated the new covenant, that time of obsolescence has arrived. The old is no longer in effect. It has been replaced.
- Hebrews: An Introduction
- Hebrews: The Supremacy of Christ (1:1-4)
- Hebrews: Superior to the Angels (1:5-14)
- Hebrews: A Warning to Pay Attention (2:1-4)
- Hebrews: We See Jesus, Crowned with Glory (2:5-9)
- Hebrews: Made Perfect Through Suffering (2:10-13)
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Fully Human in Every Way (2:14-18)
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Greater Than Moses (3:1-6)
- Hebrews: Failure to Enter God’s Rest (3:7-19)
- Hebrews: Enter God’s Rest (4:1-11)
- Hebrews: the Active Word of God (4:12-13)
- Hebrews: Our Great High Priest (4:14-16)
- Hebrews: Obedience Learned Through Suffering (5:1-10)
- Hebrews: Move Beyond Elementary Teachings (5:11-6:3)
- Hebrews: A Most Explicit Warning (6:4-12)
- Hebrews: An Anchor of Hope for the Soul (6:13-20)
- Hebrews: The Priesthood of Melchizedek (7:1-10)
- Hebrews: A New Priesthood (7:11-28)
- Hebrews: We Do Have Such a High Priest (8:1-6)
- Hebrews: A New Covenant (8:7-13)
- Hebrews: Worship in the Tabernacle (9:1-10)
- Hebrews: The Blood of the New Covenant (9:11-15)
- Hebrews: Entering the Heavenly Sanctuary (9:16-28)
- Hebrews: One Sacrifice for All Time (10:1-18)
- Hebrews: Enter the Most Holy Place (10:19-39)
- Hebrews: The Role Call of Faith (11:1-31)