Yesterday we talked about how the Old Testament sacrificial system was sort of like a credit card system. When you purchase something with a credit card, it is good enough to secure the transaction. It is a real purchase. But a day will have to come when a final and perfect transaction takes place with real money from an account that possesses the proper currency for there to be a final consummation of the transfer.
So it was with the Levitical system. The blood of bulls and goats was sufficient for the remission of sins, though they always looked forward to an actual and final payment – a payment in time by the blood of Christ on the cross. All of this will yet be elaborated upon in greater detail in upcoming chapters.
Now in chapter 8, the former system will be called the old covenant, whereas Christ will be spoken of as initiating a new covenant.
A covenant is essentially an agreement—a “promise” made between two parties. In the OT, God was always the initiator of that promise, but if man wanted to experience the blessings of that promise, he would need to abide by the stipulations of the covenant—that is, Israelite Law. And that was the problem and the challenge. Man could never live up to it. We could say that the Law revealed sin and the sinful condition, and it gave remedies that when trusted in faith were temporarily sufficient – though always looking toward a permanent solution yet to come.
Jesus, and his priestly work and sacrifice, was that solution; and it was therefore superior, as was written in 8:6 – But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.
The writer is arguing that God anticipated all of this. It is not as if Jesus was a surprise, and now his followers were claiming, “Hey look, this is better; join us!” No, it was anticipated as something to someday arrive and written about in the Jewish Scriptures by the prophet Jeremiah – who is quoted in verses 8-12 …
8:7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said:
“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. 9 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. 10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel 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. 11 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
Jeremiah served and wrote in a difficult time in Israel’s history. The northern kingdom had been taken into captivity, and the southern kingdom of Judah would soon fall to the Babylonians. Jeremiah would personally witness all of this. And he writes to the people to tell them that there will be a better day … a day when Israel would be God’s people again in a true and better way.
But you might say, that is for Israel, so what has that got to do with me today? Well, the full answer to that is a theologically complicated one about which volumes have been written.
Condensing it to a paragraph, it means that there will be a national day of salvation (eschatologically) for the nation of Israel, that, until that time yet comes and since Christ has paid the price, others may spiritually experience it in grace through faith in the once-for-all work of Christ. This is the fulfillment of the universal promise to Abraham that all of the world would be blessed through his offspring – specifically through the blood of Christ. And in the time from Pentecost until the coming of Christ for his own, this is called The Church.
Yes – The Church Age – this is the big thing that God is doing in the world right now; he is building it to completion as the bride of Christ. And just as the Hebrews were encouraged to not be stupid and toss off the real work of God for the obsolete former and temporal order of things, we should be challenged to not forsake the very program and institution that God is working through in the world today. There is nothing temporal, nothing of this world, that is greater than the building of the church.
Do you believe that? Do you flesh that out in the values system of your life? The writer is going to challenge this very subject in chapter 10 as well.