Author: Ron Graham
The Better Covenant
—Christ’s more excellent ministry
Earlier lessons noted that Christ is the priest of a better law. We now consider some reasons for the superiority of that covenant, and why his mediation of it is "a more excellent ministry" than that of Moses (Hebrews 8:5-6).
If you did not consider carefully God’s dealings with human beings down through the ages, you might get the impression that God has been a bumbler. You might see creation, the flood, the law, the remnant, Jesus Christ, the church, the second coming, as a series of attempts to get the world right, so far without much success!
In fact, of course, they are a planned progression working toward "the consummation of the ages" (Hebrews 9:26) when Christ offered himself "once for all" (Hebrews 10:9-10).
For that consummation, God planned the ultimate covenant —as superior to the previous covenants as a real object is superior to its shadow. The law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very form of things..." was pointing to the new covenant (Hebrews 10:1).
People saw Christ’s shadow on the path and knew he was just around the corner.
The new covenant was promised while the old covenant was in force. "Behold the days are coming says the Lord, when I will effect a new covenant" (Hebrews 8:7-8, Jeremiah 31:31).
Note the result: "When he said, 'A new covenant,' he has made the first obsolete... growing old and ready to disappear" (Hebrews 8:13).
Illustration: If you promise a child a new bike for Christmas, a full size one with gears, the moment you make that promise the child will think and speak of his present machine as his old bike, and will regard it as obsolete even though, for the time being, he still has to use it. He will talk about the one promised, the one he is waiting for, as his new bike, and will regard it as the ultimate.
The old covenant was the constitution of a single nation, Israel. Whilst a non-Israelite could enter into the covenant, as Ruth did for example, the covenant was for Israel, not for the entire world.
The new covenant embraces all who are subject to death and appointed to judgment (Hebrews 9:27, 12:23-24). All therefore need the new covenant and the death and blood that ratifies it.
Thus it was God’s will that Jesus should "taste death for everyone" (Hebrews 2:9) and become "the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey him" (Hebrews 5:9).
We occasionally hear people speak of "a covenant relationship" with God as being only for Christians. Those who reject God’s mediator and his covenant are thought to have no 'covenant relationship' with God.
The Hebrew writer says, "See that you do not refuse him who speaks" namely "Jesus the mediator of the new covenant" (Hebrews 12:24-25).
Who is included in this pronoun "you"? Surely everybody is bound not to refuse but to obey the covenant Jesus mediates.
Everybody therefore has a 'covenant relationship' with God through Christ. One does not choose whether or not to be under the covenant, since Christ mediates it to all. One simply chooses either to believe and obey Christ and thus receive the inheritance under the covenant, or otherwise to refuse and disobey Christ and receive the punishment under the covenant.
The idea that Christ mediates the new covenant only to some and they alone have a 'covenant relationship' is a bad idea to promote, because it implies that Christ shed his blood of the covenant only for them, and not for all humankind.
In some covenants, two parties on an equal footing enter into a mutual and bilateral agreement. Marriage is such a covenant (assuming it is not an arranged marriage).
Other covenants are unilateral, such as a person’s last will and testament. In this case the covenant comes into effect through one person, and the beneficiary or heir simply complies with any conditions.
The Hebrew writer characterises the new covenant as a will and testament made to impart an "eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:15, cf Hebrews 6:12).
We sometimes hear the word "covenant" replaced with the word "agreement" because the latter is easier to understand. The trouble is that it is also easy to misunderstand.
Of course we have to agree with God, because he is always right. Anyone who is in disagreement with God is foolish. However, we should avoid the idea that we enter into negotiations with God until he and we reach an agreement.
When the Australian parliament is making laws in Canberra, those laws have to be referred to the Senate for its agreement. If the Senate disagrees with the laws, it will amend them and refer them back to the lower house. The laws go back and forth, and the politians lobby each other, until both houses agree to the laws.
This isn't the way God makes laws. He unilaterally drew up the covenant, gave it to Christ, who did not amend it, and Christ mediates it to us. If we disagree with it, we will be punished. We don't get to negotiate. We should be quite clear that the new "covenant" is that sort of "agreement", and not at all like what happens in Canberra.
God has has provided no alternative to the new covenant mediated through Jesus Christ. The short list of unique characteristics below is by no means exhaustive; and you could profitably search the book of Hebrews for more; since this uniqueness is something the Hebrew writer is at pains to demonstrate.
- It’s mediator is "a minister of the sanctuary in the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, not man" (Hebrews 8:1, 9:11,24).
- It was "enacted on better promises". It is the last will and testament, the only valid one, granting an eternal inheritance (Hebrews 8:6, Hebrews 9:15).
- It is the covenant of which former covenants were "a symbol" or "shadow" (Hebrews 9:9, Hebrews 10:1).
- It’s blood was able to absolutely cleanse from sin (Hebrews 9:12-14, Hebrews 10:12).
- It’s high priest is none less than the Son of God himself (Hebrews 1:1-2, Hebrews 5:8-10).