The writer was methodical as he lay the foundation for his readers’ faith. Jesus is Himself pre-eminent, for He is God the Son.
Therefore, His priesthood must also be superior to all others, even to the Aaronic priesthood appointed personally by Almighty God. That priesthood was of necessity impermanent for it was filled with sinful human beings. By contrast, the priesthood of Melchizedek was eternal.
Jesus’ work is also preeminent, for Jesus is perfect, and the salvation Jesus brings is permanent and complete.
Now, the writer would explain why the covenant Christ has cut in His own blood is better than even the covenant God made with the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai, sealed with the blood of sacrificed animals.
A Better Covenant
Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises.Hebrews 8:6 (NRSV)
I imagine, of everything the writer had so far claimed, this had to have been the most shocking, for it cut to the quick everything his readers had grown up believing with all their hearts. This is why the Apostle Paul had said,
They are Israelites, and to them belong
—the giving of the law,
—and the promises;
—to them belong the patriarchs.Romans 9:4-5 (NRSV)
But the writer had now shown Jesus as
- God’s begotten Son, and through Jesus all who believe are born from above, not just adopted but also reborn.
- The visible radiance of God’s glory, and through Jesus all who believe receive Jesus’ glory.
- Superior in the priesthood according to the law.
- Pre-eminent in every way, for even Abraham, the first patriarch, kneeled before Melchizedek.
- The giver of a better covenant through better promises.
Covenants of God
God had actually made a number of covenants throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.
And the example of a conditional covenant is found in the one between God and the people, at Mount Sinai through Moses,
Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying,
“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”
So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. The people all answered as one:
“Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.”
Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.Conditional Covenant between God and Israel, Exodus 19:3-8 (NRSV)
But, the writer pointed out, if that first covenant had been -faultless-, there would have been no need to look for a second one!
“The Days Area Surely Coming . . .”
The covenant cut at the foot of Mount Sinai was bilateral, two-sided.
God’s side: “If you obey Me, I will bless you” | the people’s side: they promised to do everything the Lord had spoken.
|Old Covenant||New Covenant|
|Repeated sacrifices||One sacrifice|
|The blood of animals||Jesus’ Own blood|
|Covering sin||Cleansing sin|
|For Israel only||For all people|
|Holy of Holies accessed only once a year||Heaven opened permanently|
|Priest came out to bless the people||Jesus will come back to take us with Him|
The Mosaic covenant was a good covenant, but again and again God’s people failed to keep it.
God finds fault with them when God says:
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord,Hebrews 8:8-9 (NRSV)
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah;
not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors,
on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt;
for they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord.
God knew they would fail. So, God provided priests and a sacrificial system to atone for, or cover, their failures. Then, at the perfect time, Jesus would come as the ultimate priest, and the ultimate sacrifice to end the old, flawed covenant and bring the new, perfect covenant into effect.
The writer explained to his readers that God had, all along, intended to replace the old, temporary, covenant with a new and permanent covenant. This had already been foretold long ago by one of their most famous and respected seers, the prophet Jeremiah.
This is the covenant that I will make with the house of IsraelGod’s description of the New Covenant to come, Hebrews 8:10-12 (NRSV) quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34
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.
And they shall not teach one another
or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”
Superiority of the New Covenant
- Guaranteed success: It is a unilateral covenant, God does it all, humankind either accepts or rejects the gift.
- Goodness: God’s law will no longer be an external code, but an inward knowledge implanted in the hearts and minds of God’s people so that God’s people’s obedience will not come from fear or obligation, but from an upwelling of love and delight in doing God’s will
- Gospel: God will make it possible for God’s people to intimately know the Lord, and have fellowship with God. This process is called regeneration, when God puts God’s life, God’s Holy Spirit, into a person who believes in Jesus, receives forgiveness through Him and asks to belong to God.
- Greatness: Everybody under this new covenant is truly equal before God, equal significance, equal value and worth. There is no longer any need for a human go-between, as the Levitical priests had been. Everyone can come close to God through God’s Holy Spirit within.
- Grace: There is complete forgiveness of sin for those who believe the covenant, undeserved grace freely given and lasting forever
In speaking of “a new covenant,” [God] has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.Hebrews 7:13 (NRSV)
To return to the old system would be to return to what is no longer valid or effective.
This was, perhaps, the writer’s most pressing point. By allowing the pull of their old lives, the warm and beloved familiarity of the old covenant, the comfort of falling into their old thought patterns and world view, they were returning to a covenant that was no longer in effect, promises that had now been fulfilled in Christ and were no longer meant to be relied upon in the old way, a whole system that was not meant to last.
The Levitical system was but a shadow pointing to the reality Jesus would usher in.