From the Old to the New Covenant

Jesus said that He is the One that the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms described (Luke 24:44).

The writer of the “Letter to the Hebrews” meticulously connected the critical passages in those Scriptures to Jesus’ accomplishments.

Below is a brief (and somewhat terse) outline of that letter. As you read it, keep in mind that its purpose is to lead the Jews (the caretakers of those Scriptures) to faith in Jesus –their Messiah.

The Scriptures Fulfilled

Chapter one begins with God testifying (the author cited passages from the Psalms and the Prophets) that Jesus is His Son –He is the Creator –He is over the angels –He was born a man –He is the Savior –He is the supreme, eternal King over all –and He is the Judge.

Chapter two continues by warning that chosen people (who predicted His coming) to realize and accept their ministry’s completion. The fulfillment of prophesied signs, wonders, miracles and spiritual gifts were God’s proof that His Son was the Messiah they had been waiting for. He lived among them to experience earthly life –then He died and rose again to resume ruling His kingdom. He sanctifies and gives eternal life to those who trust in Him.

Chapter three clearly states the life-and-death decision facing each and every person. Moses –through the Law’s sacrificial system– repeatedly showed the Israelites that they were under a death sentence and needed new life. It can only be obtained by dying in the desert of self-sufficiency and then being born-again. Denying that fact is what God called sin, rebellion, unbelief …of them He said “They shall not enter My rest” (from Hebrews 3:11).

Chapter four reiterates the necessity to put their faith in Jesus and enter God’s rest. It goes on to introduce Him as the final, ultimate High Priest who has endured life’s troubles so that everyone can trust Him to sympathize with their human weaknesses. It was His life and subsequent death that has qualified everyone “to approach the throne of grace and receive mercy and grace in time of need” (from Hebrews 4:16)

Chapter five explains that a high priest must be selected by God and live among the people that he represented so that he could deal gently with them. He prayed for them and presented their sacrifices according to the priesthood’s law. God declared that His Son was the ultimate High Priest and the ultimate sacrifice –He was sufficient for everyone’s salvation.

Chapter six urges them to unconditionally accept Jesus as their Messiah. Under the Old Covenant that people was waiting for the One who would die and be raised. If they repented by putting their faith in Jesus –and then returned to the Old Law (which is searching for someone who hasn’t come yet)– they’d be stuck because God won’t send another Son to be sacrificed and resurrected.

Repenting is changing your source of salvation –from trying to be good under a system of justice –to trusting God for His mercy and grace which is freely given through Christ.

Chapter seven compares and contrasts the two priesthoods and the covenants that established them. God said (in the Psalms) that Jesus’ Priesthood began first (it was through Melchizedek who was the first “priest of God”) –and unlike Aaron’s, His is eternal. Further, Aaron’s priesthood relied on mankind’s abilities and tenacity to be fair and just –so it was weak, but Jesus’ relies on Himself and His sacrifice to grant mercy and grace. “For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also” and “also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:12, 22).

Chapter eight identifies a New Covenant between God and the houses of Israel and Judah. That ministry takes place during the very last days when they serve as His 144,000 witnesses as listed in Revelation chapters 7 and 14. It repeats some of the Old Covenant’s wording but adds an essential difference ‘For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.’ When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear” (Hebrews 8:13). The difference –sin not being remembered– is the result of their Messiah’s death on the cross (which also brought the Old to its end).

Chapter nine recounts the Law being given to the Israelites. The whole Law (not just the Ten Commandments) was read so that the people would know what they were chosen to do. Then blood from animal sacrifices was sprinkled on that Law, the people and everything used in the tabernacle. That was to bind their whole ministry together for presenting the gospel through a living drama. Then the chapter states that all of what Moses did was only an earthly copy of what Jesus would really do –saying that “every will [ i.e., ‘last will and testament’ ] only goes into effect at the death of the one who makes it” (from Hebrews 9:16).

Chapter ten –in a logical, succinct passage– states the New Covenant…

And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, And on their mind I will write them,” He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:15-18)

First, it identifies the participants of that covenant. “And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us … “This is the covenant that I will make with them… –it’s between God and those Jews who have received the Holy Spirit by following Jesus into His kingdom. (And yes, it includes the non-Jews –the aliens– who have also entered.) The Spirit has been given to us as His personal guarantee –as a reminder that God will keep His promise of our eternal life with Him.

Next, it reveals the point in time when that covenant took effect. The whole letter builds up to that epic event. “After those days” refers to after Jesus’ death.

Then, it says where the law for that covenant is kept –and how it gets there. It’s not written on stone and kept in a religious container –God personally (through His Spirit) puts it on our hearts as a new system of values –and He writes them on our minds so that we can understand His purpose.

Last, it heralds the New Covenant’s law –our message. Jesus is the One who is described by the whole Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. His story –recorded in the gospels– proves that He came and did everything that was predicted about Him. Now, because of what He has done, anyone can approach God and receive His gracious, merciful and necessary gift of eternal life without any fear of reprisal. Furthermore, God hasn’t set any expectations for us to meet –instead He’s developing a trust-faith-love relationship through this life’s experiences.”

There are no “sins and lawless deeds” to somehow pay for under a system of justice with its list of offenses and punishments. All those debts have been forgiven.

What God does keep track of though, is not trusting His Son, Jesus…and not believing His Spirit who continues to testify about Him.

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.

Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-29)

Those words, “sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth,” are particularly targeting the Jews who have trusted the Law of Moses to lead them. They are named in the title of this Letter to the Hebrews –it’s centered on specific events in their history. Keep in mind that their ministry was to be actors through the Law to tell the world about God’s Promise of eternal life in His kingdom by following Jesus. The ultimate insult is for those ministers to deny His fulfillment of that ministry.

This passage echos God’s resolute warning in chapter three where He associated sin, rebellion and unbelief. There He retold the story of their forefathers when they refused to enter His Promise. He said about them “They shall not enter My rest.” This time, besides saying where deniers won’t go, He threatens where they might go.