Hebrews - Lesson 16
The new covenant is superior to the old covenant.
II. Superior offering (cont.)
C. New covenant
D. Process of explaining how the new covenant is superior to the old covenant
E. Practical implications
F. Relationship between old and new covenant
Hebrews was written to give strong encouragement for those who were struggling in the Christian life, not primarily for the purpose of being a theological treatise for future generations. The main message of the author of Hebrews is, "God speaks effectively to us through Jesus."
The purpose of Hebrews is to encourage those who are faltering spiritually to endure in the faith. The author does this by exhorting people to put into practice his Christological teaching. Your endurance in the Christian life is going to be in direct proportion to the clarity with which you see Jesus and what he has accomplished on your behalf. The image you have of who Jesus was and why he came have radical implications for how you live and preach.
The Son is superior to the angels by virtue of his unique relationship to the father, by virtue of the inferior status of the angels, and by his exalted position as the Lord and creator of the universe.
The writer includes a section on exhortation in Hebrews 2:1-4 in the middle of a section in which he is emphasizing the position of the Son in relation to the angels. Jesus is superior to angels, those who rejected the law given through the angels were punished under the old covenant, those who reject the word of salvation given through the son deserve greater punishment.
The purpose of Hebrews 2:5-9 is a transition between the superiority of Jesus and the incarnation. The process the author uses is the quotation of Psalm 8.
The author of Hebrews focuses on the incarnation because he plans to show that Jesus is a high priest. When it says that Jesus was “perfected through suffering,” it was a path that Jesus had to travel all the way through to get to the point where he was all that the Father designed for him to be in terms of the author of our salvation. We have hope because Jesus has liberated us from the fear of death.
The first extended block of exhortation in Hebrews. The purpose is to focus on the faithfulness of Jesus. The process is comparing Jesus to Moses.
Having a hard heart means to set your will against the Lord’s will. An unbelieving heart means that you are refusing to think that God’s ways are the right ways. The result is that you turn away from the living God. It comes from a pattern of life that turns a deaf ear to God’s word.
The author of Hebrews emphasizes the promise of rest for the people of God. He cites the example of God resting in Genesis 2:2 in contrast to Psalm 95.
The concept of the word of God in the first century is a force or dynamic power, not just a word printed on a page. The word convicts of sin which means it moves us in life to different perspectives and ways of living. It reaches inside of us and sorts us out. Hebrews 4:14-16 is a warning passage.
The center point of the exhortation. In chapter 5, the author identifies the hearers’ problem as a lack of spiritual maturity. They are spiritually sluggish and have lost perspective on basic Christian teaching.
The Hebrews 6:4-8 is a warning about the consequences of rejecting Jesus.
The middle section of Hebrews focuses on Jesus as high priest. Hebrews 6:13-20 is both exhortation to persevere in the faith looking to Abraham as an example, and a transition back to a discussion of Christology focusing on Melchizedek.
Jesus is a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. The author of Hebrews continues where he left off in 5:10 by first arguing for the superiority of Melchizedek by reflecting on Old Testament passages that mention him.
This is a transitional passage linking the ideas of appointment of Jesus as high priest and the superior offering of Jesus.
The new covenant is superior to the old covenant.
The structure of the tabernacle shows that we could not get into God's presence on our own.
Christ’s offering superior to the offerings of the old covenant. It is the day of atonement offering made once for all time so all our sins are dealt with and we may enter the presence of God.
It is encouraging to realize how decisively your sins have been dealt with by the sacrifice of Christ. When you sin, you need to agree with God that it is sin and it has already been dealt with by Christ. If I am in covenant with Christ, I am not guilty before God. Jesus’ work as high priest is what allows me to come into God’s presence.
“Let us draw near,” “Let us hold fast,” “Let us consider.” We should live in community in such a way that we are stirring up so that the end result is that we are doing good works in the context of love. We should not forsake assembling. We should stir each other up to love and good works. These should both happen “in light of” the return of Jesus. It is important to learn theology in community.
If we deliberately go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there is no longer a sacrifice for sin. It’s referring someone who continues to reject the gospel. Contrasts the righteous who live by faith and the wicked who reject God by quoting Isaiah 26:20-21 and Habbakkuk 2:3-4.
Two literary devices used in Hebrews chapter 11 are the author’s use of “by faith” repeatedly for emphasis and the “example list” used for exhortation, not exposition. It encourages people to action by using overwhelming evidence. They were successful in spite of the difficulties they faced as marginalized people. Faith is not leaping out against the evidence. It is standing confidently based on what God has revealed to be true.
We look at Jesus in his exaltation to see his position as the superior high priest and thereby gives us stability, and in his incarnation because we follow his example of endurance. In a normal father-son relationship, the father disciplines the son. As children, we respected our earthly fathers. The goal of discipline is to produce holiness.
The author draws theological strands together to give a theological exhortation in a unique form to emphasize the power and blessings of the new covenant. A new covenant community is characterized by the active presence of God, joy and grace. The chapter finishes with a warning passage.
The essence of the community won’t change over time because Christ doesn’t change. As we are building bridges of communication to people in the culture, we are called to be distinct from the culture. The distinctness should not come from cultural trappings, but from identifying with Jesus and the gospel over and against the world system.
As Dr. Guthrie interacts with each verse, he explores not only the meaning of the text, but how we apply the theology of the text in our daily lives and ministries.
Lecture: Hebrews 8:7-13
II. Superior Offering (Cont.)
For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one. But showing its fault, God says to them, “Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. “It will not be like the covenant that I made with their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not continue in my covenant and I had no regard for them, says the Lord. “For this is the covenant that I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and I will inscribe them on their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people. “And there will be no need at all for each one to teach his countryman or each one to teach his brother saying, ʻKnow the Lord,ʼ since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest. “For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer.” When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear.
C. New Covenant:
We move into the argument on why Jesus’ offering is superior. The pattern that the author has been following is that first he will show the superiority of an Old Testament institution and then he will show how Jesus’ fulfillment of it is superior as it is based on that Old Testament institution. In 8:7-13, he is going to focus on an Old Testament institution and that is the New Covenant. The New Covenant is an Old Testament institution because that is where you find it. You find the Scriptures that are dealing with the New Covenant there in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Actually, it is in the Septuagint. The purpose and process of this unit includes the author making the case for the New Covenant being superior to the old covenant as being its purpose. His point is going to be that Jesus’ offering was a new covenant offering, not an old covenant offerings. This offering establishes the New Covenant with God. We will see the ways in which the new covenant is different from the old covenant. So the purpose is to establish the fact that the new covenant is superior to the old. He uses another rabbinic technique to make this argument. He quotes the passage from Jeremiah and this is the longest quotation of the Old Testament in the New Testament. So, he quotes the Jeremiah passage and then he focuses on one word from the passage. This is called the literal meaning of the word. So, you quote a passage and then you seize on a particular word and that makes the point that you want to make. The word he emphasizes is ‘new’. If there is something new then there is something old.
7 ει γαρ (For if) η πρώτη εκείνη (that first covenant) ην (was) άμεμπτος (blameless,) ουκ αν (would not) δευτέρας (for a second) εζητείτο (there be sought) τόπος (place.)
8 μεμφόμενος γαρ (For complaining) αυτοίς (against them) λέγει (he says,) ιδού (Behold,) ημέραι (days) έρχονται (come,) λέγει (says) κύριος (the Lord,) και (and) συντελέσω (I will complete) επί (upon) τον (the) οίκον (house) Ισραήλ (of Israel) και (and) επί (upon) τον (the) οίκον (house) Ιούδα (of Judah) διαθήκην (2 covenant) καινήν (1 a new;)
In his commentary on it, when he speaks about a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete and about to disappear. When you have something that is new, that means there is something that is now considered obsolete. He starts out introducing the quote. He says, if the first was faultless, there would not have been a place made for a second. If the first covenant had been faultless, then nobody would have thought about a second one being made. So, you have a textual variant in verse 8. He says for finding fault, you have a term altuse in one version of the text. The variant is altose which has strong witnesses as in p46 and a version of Sinaiticus manuscript and also in Vaticanus. So, there are strong witnesses. The two options, it is for finding fault or faulting, altuse. The case of this is accusative; so faulting them, he says. This is not the way the NET reads. The other variant, the case of altose is stative, for faulting, he says to them. So, for faulting them he says in regards to the wilderness wanderers. The other one would be, for finding fault, he says to them and then you have the quote of the passage. The difference in terms of the interpretative issue; it is bringing in the sense of where the fault actually lays. There is not an it technically in the passage. Is it the people who are at fault or is the covenant at fault? You could understand it textually either way; I think that the better reading is the altose which is p46 and the Vaticanus manuscript. It is the altuse that has it in the Alexandrines and others. Actually the altose has a stronger reading in terms of witnesses. It is understandable why a scribe would change it to altuse because is clear in the passage than in Psalm 95 and other places; there were problems with people obviously. But the whole context is on the inadequacy of the old covenant itself. It is like the Levitical priesthood that we saw just wasn’t going to work; for it had never worked. It wasn’t going to get people ultimately where God wanted them to be.
D. The New Covenant vs the Old Covenant:
The old covenant has built into it an inadequacy and it was never the ultimate intension for that to be all that God had intended. God was using the old covenant as a step toward what he ultimately would be accomplishing in the new covenant. Let’s look at the logic of what he does. So the introduction is interesting for finding fault, saying to them that the days are coming when I will establish a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt because they didn’t continue in my covenant. I had no regard for them for this is a covenant that I will make and establish with the House of Israel after those days says the Lord. Then he gives three characteristics of the New Covenant and these say something to us about how we think and talk about the Gospel and how we think about and do evangelicalism. These characteristics describe the nature of the new covenant. He says that he will put his laws in their minds and inscribe them on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. Rather than something that is outside or external that you trying to conform your life to; there is now an internalization of the Law. It is written on the heart and the mind. The heart in the Old Testament is the seat of intelligence and emotion. There are several points of parallelism in this passage and I think this is a point of parallelism here. This is similar to what Paul says at the beginning of Romans when he talks about the internalization of the Law.
In 2nd Corinthians 3:1-6 Paul starts out with a statement as a question about commending himself verses having letters of commendation. This isn’t a negative here, nor do I think that it is a question. It is like Paul is walking a fine line here between boasting and commending. I think he is saying that he is beginning to commend himself to you again. This was a kind of slap to the Corinthians because self-commendation was very appropriate in the ancient world. In a number of places in Corinthians Paul says that we commend ourselves to all people using the term very positively. If you already had an established relationship with someone, the only time that you would commend yourself was if that relationship had gotten strained which was what had happened between Paul and the Corinthians. So, that is why he says that he was beginning to commend himself to them again even asking whether he needed letters to commend himself to them. Is this not enough for you that I am trying to reestablish our relationship that I would need letters to show you? I think he is alluding to the opponents there in Corinth. But he says that he shouldn’t need any letters because you are our letters written on our hearts, not with ink but written by the Spirit of God on human hearts. He begins to transition to new covenant language saying that part of the nature of an authentic ministry is that the spirit of God has begun a transformation of a person’s heart. The changing of the heart is a letter of commendation. It is a letter that is written by the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit that gives life; the letter kills is now referring back to the Law. He is mixing his metaphors here. So the letter kills but it is the Spirit that gives life. The nature of the old covenant was that the presence of God was limited to Moses. Moses was the only person that had seen the face of God. The dynamics of the new covenant was the ripping away of the veil so that the presence of God can be experienced by everybody. So the first characteristic of the new covenant; it involved the internalization of law and the will of God. People are being transformed from the inside out.
The second dynamic involves all being able to come to God from the least to the greatest. So, by definition, everybody in the covenant knows the Lord intimately. There is a personal, heart to heart, face to face intimate relationship with God. This is built into the covenant itself. So, to be a new covenant person, one has this heart to heart relationship with God. It is where a person experiences the presence of God in their lives knowing him. The third characteristic is that God will no longer remember their sins. It is almost like God has amnesia in regards to our past sins. Notice the parallelism here; in not remembering our sins, he means that he will be merciful to our iniquities. He no longer counts our sins against us. Our sins have been so dealt with that our sins are absolutely forgiven; we are no long guilty. All of our sins have been decisively dealt with. So then, a person of the new covenant is a person who has God’s laws written on their hearts; they have an intimate relationship with God and our sins have been decisively dealt with.
E. Practical Implications:
How do we communicate the Gospel to people? Relationship is at the heart of our communicating the Gospel. In dealing with a lot of people in our cultural context, we have to be discerning in where we start the conversation. People do understand the problems in their lives and the concept of relationships, people understand this. And, we must remember that only God can transform the human heart. I am not saying that we can’t start with the problem of sin and evil in the world as this can also be appropriate. But at the heart of this, there seems to be a step 1 2 3 approach in regards to these characteristics and dynamics. So, relationship may be at the heart in what we do in sharing the Gospel. People do struggle with the fact that their lives are messy; they have done wrong and have hurt other people. In Britain, one highly intellectual person once said that she envied the ability of Christians to forgive.
F. Old and New Covenant:
Another question involves the whole relationship between the old and the new covenant. One of the big issues that Jewish people are sensitive about is a perspective that Christianity is seen as replacing Judaism as a religion. There are unfortunate happenings in the history of the Christian church in regards to this in terms of anti-Semitism. For example, even Luther got into some bad anti-Semitism in his own life. He wrote some things that were really bad about the Jews. So, there is a history of unfortunate dynamics in the church where it was put forward as Christians against Jews where Jews were the ones who killed Christ. Even in the modern world, there is a great deal of sensitivity about anti-Semitism of Jews. It is clear that the old covenant is seen as something that has been taken up into the new covenant. The old covenant laid the foundation for what God would ultimately do in the new covenant. The old covenant wasn’t just cut off, not being relevant for the way the author deals with Old Testament Scriptures; there is a transformation that takes place where the new covenant is taking the dynamics of the old covenant up into itself and fulfilling them. Look at the tabernacle for example; it has been transformed into us. We are now the temple of God. Look at 1st Peter where it says that we are the building blocks of the dwelling place of God. In regards to sensitive theological issues, we ask are the Jews still significant? Yes, the Gospel still goes to the Jew first and then also to the gentiles. So, you have Judaism, not rejected but Judaism taken up into all of the people of the earth. God has always intended to bless all the people of the earth. This failed with the Jews in the Old Testament, but God will still ultimately accomplish this and fulfill this through Jesus. The dividing wall between Jew and gentile has
now been broken down as mentioned in Galatians. There is a transformation where the people of God now include the gentiles being graphed in. Well, to conclude, I think there is super-secessionism in the sense that you have something new going on here that is replacing the old. We have the realities of the
old being taken up, transformed and fulfilled in the new covenant. The impact has now moved beyond the Jews to all the people of the world being able to embrace the Gospel.