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What's New About the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:6-13)

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1 Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We have such a high priest, one who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. So this one too had to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest, since there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5 The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, just as Moses was warned by God as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For he says, “See that you make everything according to the design shown to you on the mountain.”

6 But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one. 8 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. 9 “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. 10 “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. 11 “And there will be no need at all for each one to teach his countryman or each one to teach his brother saying, Know the Lord, since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest. 12 “For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer.” 13 When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear.1

Introduction

Years ago my wife and I found ourselves in a position where we needed to care for an ailing friend. We had served as witnesses to her will, and thus we were aware of how she wanted her affairs conducted. She had given me a measure of authority over her finances, and in addition, I could assume even greater authority if circumstances dictated the need. As her heath continued to deteriorate, it appeared that I might need to exercise additional authority. I wanted to be certain that I would be acting within the authority she had granted me, so I contacted the person who could interpret my friend’s will under certain circumstances. I was told that I had a copy of her will and that I should consult it. Fortunately for me, I did not have to do anything beyond what I had done up to this point in time. You can imagine my surprise after our friend’s death to learn that (unknown and unrevealed to me) a new will had been written, one which I had never seen, or had any indication that it even existed.

I suppose that some Hebrew Christians felt the same way when they began to grasp the implications of the New Covenant. For centuries, devout Jews had been operating under the Old, Mosaic Covenant, but now they were being told by Jesus and the apostles that things had changed. In their case, they could not claim to have been uninformed that such a dramatic change was coming. The Old Testament writers had prophesied that a New Covenant was coming, one that was vastly superior to the Old. One such prophet was Jeremiah, and his prophecy is cited by the author of the Book of Hebrews in our text. In fact, this citation of Jeremiah 31:31-34 is the longest Old Testament citation to be found in the New Testament. The New Covenant is the subject of our text in Hebrews 8 (and beyond). It is yet another reason why the high priestly ministry of our Lord is vastly superior to that of the Aaronic order since the high priest must carry out the terms of the covenant under which he serves.

What is a Covenant?

Since we are talking about the New Covenant, it would serve us well to understand what the Bible means by the term “covenant.” A covenant is an agreement; usually it is between two parties. In the ancient Near East, it was a kind of treaty by means of which rulers entered into a covenant relationship with their subjects. There are certain similarities in style between these secular covenants and the biblical covenants, but the content is surely different. Some covenants were bilateral in that there were obligations and commitments for both sides. We see such a covenant between Abraham and Abimelech in Genesis 21:27, 32. Marriage is described as a bilateral covenant in Malachi 2:14. Both husband and wife make covenant promises which they are obligated to keep.

The Mosaic Covenant was a bilateral, conditional, covenant:

“And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine” (Exodus 19:5).

God promised blessings when His people kept His covenant (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) and cursing when they disregarded it (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

We also find a different kind of covenant in the Bible. It is a covenant in which God binds Himself to do certain things, but not conditioned upon the actions of others. In the case of the Abrahamic Covenant, God promised to make a great nation of Abram, and to bless his seed greatly, and thus he and his offspring would become a blessing to others. This was an unconditional covenant, and in addition, it was a covenant that was confirmed by God’s oath. Thus, it was an unchangeable covenant. In this sense, the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant consisted of promises. This is exactly what the author of Hebrews tells us:

But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises (Hebrews 8:6).

The New Covenant is a series of promises that God made to Israel and Judah, promises which are unchangeable and irreversible, since they are sealed by God’s oath. These promises make the New Covenant vastly superior to the Old Covenant, so much so that the New Covenant replaces the Old, making it obsolete.

The New Covenant is Not All That New

The New Covenant should not be new to the student of Scripture. Not infrequently, it is the subject of Old Testament prophecy:

“As for me, this is my promise to them,” says the Lord. “My spirit, who is upon you, and my words, which I have placed in your mouth, will not depart from your mouth or from the mouths of your children and descendants from this time forward,” says the Lord (Isaiah 59:21).

4 They will rebuild the perpetual ruins and restore the places that were desolate; they will reestablish the ruined cities, the places that have been desolate since ancient times. 5 “Foreigners will take care of your sheep; foreigners will work in your fields and vineyards. 6 You will be called, ‘the Lord’s priests, servants of our God.’ You will enjoy the wealth of nations and boast about the riches you receive from them. 7 Instead of shame, you will get a double portion; instead of humiliation, they will rejoice over the land they receive. Yes, they will possess a double portion in their land and experience lasting joy. 8 For I, the Lord, love justice and hate robbery and sin. I will repay them because of my faithfulness; I will make a permanent covenant with them (Isaiah 61:4-8, emphasis mine).

36 “You and your people are right in saying, ‘War, starvation, and disease are sure to make this city fall into the hands of the king of Babylon.’ But now I, the Lord God of Israel, have something further to say about this city: 37 ‘I will certainly regather my people from all the countries where I will have exiled them in my anger, fury, and great wrath. I will bring them back to this place and allow them to live here in safety. 38 They will be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them a single-minded purpose to live in a way that always shows respect for me. They will want to do that for their own good and the good of the children who descend from them. 40 I will make a lasting covenant with them that I will never stop doing good to them. I will fill their hearts and minds with respect for me so that they will never again turn away from me. 41 I will take delight in doing good to them. I will faithfully and wholeheartedly plant them firmly in the land’” (Jeremiah 32:36-41, emphasis mine).

19 I will give them one heart and I will put a new spirit within them; I will remove the hearts of stone from their bodies and I will give them tender hearts, 20 so that they may follow my statutes and observe my regulations and carry them out. Then they will be my people, and I will be their God (Ezekiel 11:19-20).

60 Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish a lasting covenant with you. 61 Then you will remember your conduct, and be ashamed when you receive your older and younger sisters. I will give them to you as daughters, but not on account of my covenant with you. 62 I will establish my covenant with you, and then you will know that I am the Lord. 63 Then you will remember, be ashamed, and remain silent when I make atonement for all you have done, declares the sovereign Lord’” (Ezekiel 16:60-63, emphasis mine).

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake that I am about to act, O house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy reputation which you profaned among the nations where you went. 23 I will magnify my great name that has been profaned among the nations, that you have profaned among them. The nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the sovereign Lord, when I magnify myself among you in their sight. 24 “‘I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries; then I will bring you to your land. 25 I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave to your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God (Ezekiel 36:22-28, emphasis mine).

24 “‘My servant David will be king over them; there will be one shepherd for all of them. They will follow my regulations and carefully observe my statutes. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your fathers lived; they will live in it - they and their children and their grandchildren forever. David my servant will be prince over them forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be a perpetual covenant with them. I will establish them, increase their numbers, and place my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then, when my sanctuary is among them forever, the nations will know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel’” (Ezekiel 37:24-28, emphasis mine).

Other than the passages we find in Hebrews,2 there are also a number of texts in the New Testament pertaining to the New Covenant.

And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25).

15 Brothers and sisters, I offer an example from everyday life: When a covenant has been ratified, even though it is only a human contract, no one can set it aside or add anything to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his descendant. Scripture does not say, “and to the descendants,” referring to many, but and to your descendant, referring to one, who is Christ. 17 What I am saying is this: The law that came four hundred thirty years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise (Galatians 3:15-17).

24 These things may be treated as an allegory, for these women represent two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai bearing children for slavery; this is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar represents Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother (Galatians 4:24-26).3

The Better Promises of the New Covenant
Hebrews 8:8-12; Jeremiah 31:31-34

Jeremiah lived during the darkest days of the nation. The northern kingdom of Israel had already been defeated and dispersed abroad by the Assyrians. This was God’s judgment for her many sins. The southern kingdom of Judah had not learned from the experiences of her sister, Israel. She, too, had persisted in her sins and thus the prophesied Babylonian captivity drew near. Already some of the Jews had been deported to Babylon.4 Jeremiah foretold seventy years of captivity, during which the land would receive its rest. But he prophesied that after this, there was hope for restoration:

4 “The Lord God of Israel who rules over all says to all those he sent into exile to Babylon from Jerusalem, 5 ‘Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and allow your daughters get married so that they too can have sons and daughters. Grow in number; do not dwindle away. 7 Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the Lord for it. For as it prospers you will prosper.’ 8 “For the Lord God of Israel who rules over all says, ‘Do not let the prophets or those among you who claim to be able to predict the future by divination deceive you. And do not pay any attention to the dreams that you are encouraging them to dream. 9 They are prophesying lies to you and claiming my authority to do so. But I did not send them. I, the Lord, affirm it!’ 10 “For the Lord says, ‘Only when the seventy years of Babylonian rule are over will I again take up consideration for you. Then I will fulfill my gracious promise to you and restore you to your homeland. 11 For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. 12 When you call out to me and come to me in prayer, I will hear your prayers. 13 When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, 14 I will make myself available to you,’ says the Lord. ‘Then I will reverse your plight and will regather you from all the nations and all the places where I have exiled you,’ says the Lord. ‘I will bring you back to the place from which I exiled you’” (Jeremiah 29:4-14, emphasis mine).

Both Israel and Judah would be restored and forgiven, not on the basis of the Old, Mosaic Covenant, but on the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant. The promises of the New Covenant are then spelled out by Jeremiah in 31:

31 “Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt. For they violated that covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them,” says the Lord. 33 “But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the Lord. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people. 34 “People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. For all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,” says the Lord. “For I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Further confirmation follows in the next chapter of Jeremiah:

36 “You and your people are right in saying, ‘War, starvation, and disease are sure to make this city fall into the hands of the king of Babylon.’ But now I, the Lord God of Israel, have something further to say about this city: 37 ‘I will certainly regather my people from all the countries where I will have exiled them in my anger, fury, and great wrath. I will bring them back to this place and allow them to live here in safety. 38 They will be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them a single-minded purpose to live in a way that always shows respect for me. They will want to do that for their own good and the good of the children who descend from them. 40 I will make a lasting covenant with them that I will never stop doing good to them. I will fill their hearts and minds with respect for me so that they will never again turn away from me. 41 I will take delight in doing good to them. I will faithfully and wholeheartedly plant them firmly in the land’” (Jeremiah 32:36-41, emphasis mine).

The author of Hebrews tells us that the New Covenant is better than the Old (the Mosaic Covenant), among other reasons because it contains better promises.5 Just what are these promises, and how are they better? The author chooses the words of Jeremiah 31:31-34 to describe them. Let’s work through them in the same order as Jeremiah wrote them. We will begin with the author’s introduction, beginning in verse 6.

Hebrews 8:6-8a

6 But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one. 8 But showing its fault, God says to them, . . .” (Hebrews 8:6-8a).

In the first five verses of this chapter, the author has sought to show that our Lord’s priesthood (after the order of Melchizedek) is superior to that of Aaron because it is a priesthood that is carried out in heaven, not on earth, and in the “true tabernacle” rather than a mere prototype. Now He moves ahead to show that our Lord’s priesthood is also superior to the Aaronic order because it is based upon the better promises of the New Covenant, as compared with the Old, Mosaic Covenant. He sets forth his claim of superior promises in verse 6, and then states that the only reason for a “new” covenant is that the “old” covenant is flawed in some way.

We see this kind of argument all the time in advertisements we find in the media. A toothpaste is heralded as “new and improved.” Who would want to keep that old, inferior toothpaste after hearing this? Appliances are also “new and improved,” so that we dare not keep the old any longer. It is time to cast them aside and get the latest and the best. While this kind of advertising is suspect, the logic is absolutely true when comparing the New Covenant with the Old. If, indeed, the Old Covenant is flawed, then it should be replaced. As he begins to cite from Jeremiah 31, the author begins by informing us that the flaws of the Old are the reason why God declared a New Covenant with better promises.

Now what is the nature of these flaws? Here we are dealing with a matter that has divided the scholars. We will not delve into the technicalities, but will only point out the differences in the way verse 8 is translated:

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 (Hebrews 8:8, NET Bible; emphasis mine).

For finding fault with them, He says, “Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Hebrews 8:8, NASB95; emphasis mine).

But finding fault with His people, He says: “Look, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (CSB, emphasis mine).

Nearly all the translations follow the rendering of the NASB, NAU95, and CSB, pointing a finger of accusation at the Israelites. Only the NET Bible points the finger of accusation at the Old Covenant. Both options are viable, and it seems to me that both are valid. We can hardly avoid the fact that the Old Covenant was flawed when this is the author’s point in verses 6 and 7. If there was nothing wrong with the Old Covenant, then why did it need to be replaced?

Now, was the Old Covenant a “bad covenant”? Is the fault only to be found here? To put the matter more bluntly, “Did God mess up by giving men a flawed covenant?” We know from Romans 7 that the problem is not entirely with the law, for it is “holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). As the argument develops in Romans 7, we find that while the law is good, and its requirements are righteous, the problem is with sin and with the weakness of our flesh. Thus, we agree with the law in what it requires, but we nevertheless fail to obey its commands. We agree with what the Law forbids, but we do these things anyway. And so we find that the fault lies with sinful men on the one hand, and with a covenant that cannot overcome or permanently remove sin and its consequences on the other. Thus, the fault of the Old Covenant is to be found in the sinfulness of men and in the Old Covenant’s inability to remove sin.

Hebrews 8:8b-9

“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. 9 “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 (Hebrews 8:8b-9).

The New Covenant is one that will be fulfilled in the future, Jeremiah assures us, for “the days are coming” when this covenant will be completed. This covenant is with the “house of Israel” and with “the house of Judah.” Since the kingdom was divided at this point in time, the two kingdoms will have to be re-united. More than this, since the northern kingdom of Israel had been carried off and dispersed by the Assyrians,6 this would be no small miracle.

Of necessity, the New Covenant would not be like the Old Covenant that was flawed. That this “Old Covenant” that was being replaced is the Mosaic Covenant is clear in the words of verse 9. This covenant was broken by the Israelites from the very beginning, something that the author of Hebrews pointed out in chapters 3 and 4. Because His people disregarded God and His covenant with them, God had no regard for them. There was no hope for Israel under the Mosaic Covenant.

Hebrews 8:10

“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 (Hebrews 8:10).

Initially, Jeremiah indicated that the New Covenant would be executed in the “days to come” (verse 8). Now he tells us that the New Covenant will be established “after those days” (verse 10). Which days might these be? I believe the answer is to be found in Jeremiah 30:

4 Now these are the words which the Lord spoke concerning Israel and concerning Judah: 5 “For thus says the Lord, ‘I have heard a sound of terror, Of dread, and there is no peace. 6 ‘Ask now, and see If a male can give birth. Why do I see every man With his hands on his loins, as a woman in childbirth? And why have all faces turned pale? 7 ‘Alas! for that day is great, There is none like it; And it is the time of Jacob’s distress, But he will be saved from it. 8 ‘It shall come about on that day,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘that I will break his yoke from off their neck and will tear off their bonds; and strangers will no longer make them their slaves” (Jeremiah 30:4-8, NASB95; emphasis mine).

I would understand the “time of Jacob’s distress” to be the time of the Great Tribulation. I believe that the church has been “grafted into” the blessings of the New Covenant, and that it will be after the “fullness of the Gentiles” is complete that God will turn, once again, to the nation Israel, bringing her to repentance and to salvation, in fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant.

The New Covenant is not merely a set of external commands and standards. The New Covenant produces a change of heart. This is the circumcision of heart God promised in Deuteronomy 30:6. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, a work about which Ezekiel has much more to say.

24 “‘I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries; then I will bring you to your land. 25 I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave to your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God’” (Ezekiel 36:24-28, emphasis mine).7

The New Covenant is also a subject dear to the heart of the Apostle Paul. How clear is the contrast he makes between the Old Covenant and the New:

1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? We don’t need letters of recommendation to you or from you as some other people do, do we? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, 3 revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Now we have such confidence in God through Christ. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry that produced death – carved in letters on stone tablets – came with glory, so that the Israelites could not keep their eyes fixed on the face of Moses because of the glory of his face (a glory which was made ineffective), 8 how much more glorious will the ministry of the Spirit be? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry that produced condemnation, how much more does the ministry that produces righteousness excel in glory! 10 For indeed, what had been glorious now has no glory because of the tremendously greater glory of what replaced it. 11 For if what was made ineffective came with glory, how much more has what remains come in glory! (2 Corinthians 3:1-11)

The work of the Holy Spirit is internal, changing our hearts from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. He creates in us a love for God and a desire to obey His commands. As a result, we can draw near to Him, entering into an intimate relationship free from fear and dread. How this will come to pass is yet to be seen (in verse 12). The New Covenant enables us become His people, and He becomes our God. This kind of intimacy is something that the Old Covenant could never produce.

Hebrews 8:11

And there will be no need at all for each one to teach his countryman or each one to teach his brother saying, Know the Lord, since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest (Hebrews 8:11, underscoring mine).

I must confess, of all that Jeremiah says regarding the New Covenant this verse is the most difficult for me to understand. I believe that the key to understanding this promise is the expression, “know the Lord.” This is a very common expression in the Old Testament. When God was demonstrating His power over the “gods” of the Egyptians at the exodus, He made it clear that the demonstration of His power was so that the Egyptians would know that He was God.

Thus says the Lord: “By this you will know that I am the Lord: I am going to strike the water of the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned into blood” (Exodus 7:17, emphasis mine).

“I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them. I will gain honor because of Pharaoh and because of all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” So this is what they did” (Exodus 14:4, emphasis mine).

“And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I have gained my honor because of Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen” (Exodus 14:18, emphasis mine).

In Exodus 29, God declared that the Aaronic priesthood, the tabernacle, and the sacrifices were His provision so that He could dwell among His people and so that they would know that He was God:

43 There I will meet with the Israelites, and it will be set apart as holy by my glory. 44 “So I will set apart as holy the tent of meeting and the altar, and I will set apart as holy Aaron and his sons, that they may minister as priests to me. 45 I will reside among the Israelites, and I will be their God, 46 and they will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out from the land of Egypt, so that I may reside among them. I am the Lord their God” (Exodus 29:43-46, emphasis mine).

A key text is to be found in Deuteronomy 29:

2 Moses proclaimed to all Israel as follows: “You have seen all that the Lord did in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, all his servants, and his land. 3 Your eyes have seen the great judgments, those signs and mighty wonders. 4 But to this very day the Lord has not given you an understanding mind, perceptive eyes, or discerning ears! 5 I have led you through the desert for forty years. Your clothing has not worn out nor have your sandals deteriorated. 6 You have eaten no bread and drunk no wine or beer – all so that you might know that I am the Lord your God!” (Deuteronomy 29:2-6, emphasis mine)

God had performed many miracles before the eyes of the Israelites so that they might know that He is the Lord their God. And yet, we are told, to that very day the Israelites had failed to grasp this reality. And the reason He states is that He has not given them a heart to know Him.

I believe that the same condition persisted in the days of our Lord’s incarnation. He, too, performed many signs and miracles, and yet the Israelites (by and large) refused to believe in Jesus as the Promised Messiah. Their eyes were blinded, as they continue to be to this very day:

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we behave with great boldness, 13 and not like Moses who used to put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from staring at the result of the glory that was made ineffective. 14 But their minds were closed. For to this very day, the same veil remains when they hear the old covenant read. It has not been removed because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 But until this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds, 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed (2 Corinthians 3:12-16, emphasis mine).

Thus, throughout the Old Testament we find that with few exceptions8 God’s chosen people, the Jews, failed to know God because of their spiritual blindness, a blindness that only God could remove by changing men’s hearts. I believe this is why we find the often repeated statement in Ezekiel, “you will know that I am the Lord.”9

I understand “knowing the Lord” to be virtually synonymous with salvation. Those who are saved “know the Lord.” Those who “know the Lord” are saved. The New Covenant will achieve what the Old could not achieve, the salvation of men from their sins so that they could truly “know the Lord.” It seems clear from many New Testament texts, particularly Romans 11, that the Jews have yet to experience “knowing the Lord” as a nation. Thus, the New Covenant speaks of a future time of fulfillment when Israel and Judah will come to “know the Lord.”

We might go on to say that while we are still living in the times of the Gentiles, even we who have been drawn to faith have come to know the Lord only in part:

For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is (1 John 3:2).

The point of Hebrews 8:11 seems to be this: Under the Old Covenant, only a remnant of God’s people came to truly know God, and then only in part. The New Covenant promises that in the age to come, when the New Covenant is fulfilled, all Israel will know the Lord. Thus, there will be no need for evangelists in heaven. And since our Lord will manifest Himself fully to the saints in heaven, there will not be the need for people to teach one another. If any teaching needs to be done, our Lord will do it.

I am inclined to see a progression here. In the Old Testament days when the Israelites lived under the Old Covenant, teaching was restricted to a priestly caste – the Aaronic priesthood. So, too, priestly ministry was restricted to this same small group. But there was the promise that the nation would become a “kingdom of priests”:

“‘And you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites” (Exodus 19:6; see also 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6).

We see the “priesthood of all believers” in the New Testament age, so that teaching is no longer restricted to a priestly caste. In the New Testament church, every believing man is granted the privilege of leading in worship and instruction (see 1 Corinthians 14). But the full and final fulfillment of this New Covenant promise is yet future.

All your sons will be taught of the Lord;

And the well-being of your sons will be great” (Isaiah 54:13, emphasis mine).

Now as for you, the anointing that you received from him resides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, it is true and is not a lie. Just as it has taught you, you reside in him (1 John 2:27, emphasis mine).10

Hebrews 8:12

For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer” (Hebrews 8:12).

A few years ago, I preached the funeral message of a believer who had been a part of our church. We then proceeded to the cemetery, where I shared several texts that were especially meaningful to me. A godly older man who had once served as an elder in a church where I attended came up to me afterward and said, with tears in his eyes, “You saved the best for last!” That is the way I feel about the words of the New Covenant that we find in verse 12. Jeremiah has saved the best for last. And that great news is that God has shown mercy toward sinners in forgiving and forgetting their sins forever.

This is where the Old Covenant completely failed. At best, the sins of the nation could only be set aside for another year. Someday there must be a final day of reckoning, and this would not take place in the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, but in the fulfillment of the New. This is exactly what our Lord Jesus indicated in His last moments with His disciples. His sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary was to accomplish an atonement for sinners that would do away with the penalty of sin forever:

And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

We will not belabor this point here because the author intends to make a great deal of this as he continues his argument in Hebrews. Let me give you just a taste of this from chapter 9:

11 But now Christ has come as the high priest of the good things to come. He passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, 12 and he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God (Hebrews 9:11-14).

Hebrews 8:13

When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear (Hebrews 8:13).

When Jeremiah prophesies that there will be a New Covenant, it is implicitly indicated that the Old Covenant will become obsolete. From his vantage point in time, the author is saying that the Old Covenant is yet to disappear altogether and that it is in the process of becoming obsolete. Some may see in this a reference to the destruction of the temple and of temple sacrifices and worship. Somehow this doesn’t fully explain the author’s words to me. I am inclined to see the ultimate fulfillment of this promise in heaven also. Consider these words that Paul wrote to Timothy:

8 But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately, 9 realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 sexually immoral people, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers – in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching. 11 This accords with the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

There were those who fancied themselves as teachers of the law, but Paul would have none of that. They twisted and distorted the law. The law was not given to make men righteous, but to restrain sin. In heaven, when the New Covenant is fulfilled, we will no longer struggle with sin. God’s law will be written on our hearts, and it will be our delight to obey it. Thus, in our day and time, the law still has a legitimate function (of revealing sin, and of man’s need for salvation), but it must be viewed as something which is becoming obsolete. How foolish it would be to cling to something that is on its way out.

The Relationship of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and New Covenants

Having considered the better promises of the New Covenant from Jeremiah 31:31-34, we must now explore the relationship between the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and New Covenants. The Abrahamic Covenant comes first in the Bible, where we find it first stated in Genesis 12:1-3:11

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3, NASB95).

The Abrahamic Covenant is an unconditional and unchangeable covenant since God sealed it with His oath.12

The Mosaic Covenant comes years later. It is a conditional covenant, and it was not confirmed by an oath, as was the Abrahamic Covenant.

3 Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, “Thus you will tell the house of Jacob, and declare to the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, 6 and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites” (Exodus 19:3-6, emphasis mine).

1 But to Moses the Lord said, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from a distance. 2 Moses alone may come near the Lord, but the others must not come near, nor may the people go up with him.” 3 Moses came and told the people all the Lord’s words and all the decisions. All the people answered together, “We are willing to do all the words that the Lord has said,” 4 and Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Early in the morning he built an altar at the foot of the mountain and arranged twelve standing stones – according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 He sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls for peace offerings to the Lord. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and half of the blood he splashed on the altar. 7 He took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people, and they said, “We are willing to do and obey all that the Lord has spoken.” 8 So Moses took the blood and splashed it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:1-8).

From the very beginning, it was apparent that the Old, Mosaic Covenant was not going to be the means of man’s salvation from sin. We have a significant clue to this in Deuteronomy 28. The first 14 verses (1-14) speak of the blessings that would result if God’s people kept this covenant. The last 54 verses (15-68) speak of the curses that will come upon God’s people when they fail to keep this covenant. And thus we find in the law the prediction of man’s failure, God’s judgment, and God’s gracious provision of salvation apart from man’s efforts:

2 Moses proclaimed to all Israel as follows: “You have seen all that the Lord did in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, all his servants, and his land. 3 Your eyes have seen the great judgments, those signs and mighty wonders. 4 But to this very day the Lord has not given you an understanding mind, perceptive eyes, or discerning ears! (Deuteronomy 29:2-4, emphasis mine)

1 “When you have experienced all these things, both the blessings and the curses I have set before you, you will reflect upon them in all the nations where the Lord your God has banished you. 2 Then if you and your descendants turn to the Lord your God and obey him with your whole mind and being just as I am commanding you today, 3 the Lord your God will reverse your captivity and have pity on you. He will turn and gather you from all the peoples among whom he has scattered you. 4 Even if your exiles are in the most distant land, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 Then he will bring you to the land your ancestors possessed and you also will possess it; he will do better for you and multiply you more than he did your ancestors. 6 The Lord your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being and so that you may live (Deuteronomy 30:1-6, emphasis mine).

When Joshua is about to die, he challenges the Israelites to determine whether they will follow God and keep His covenant or not. The people assure Joshua that they will follow the Lord, but Joshua does not share their optimism; he declares that they will not be able to keep the law:

14 Now obey the Lord and worship him with integrity and loyalty. Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and worship the Lord. 15 If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship, whether it be the gods whom your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But I and my family will worship the Lord!” 16 The people responded, “Far be it from us to abandon the Lord so we can worship other gods! 17 For the Lord our God took us and our fathers out of slavery in the land of Egypt and performed these awesome miracles before our very eyes. He continually protected us as we traveled and when we passed through nations. 18 The Lord drove out from before us all the nations, including the Amorites who lived in the land. So we too will worship the Lord, for he is our God!” 19 Joshua warned the people, “You will not keep worshiping the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God who will not forgive your rebellion or your sins. 20 If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, he will turn against you; he will bring disaster on you and destroy you, though he once treated you well.” 21 The people said to Joshua, “No! We really will worship the Lord!” 22 Joshua said to the people, “Do you agree to be witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to worship the Lord?” They replied, “We are witnesses!” 23 Joshua said, “Now put aside the foreign gods that are among you and submit to the Lord God of Israel.” 24 The people said to Joshua, “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him.” 25 That day Joshua drew up an agreement for the people, and he established rules and regulations for them in Shechem. 26 Joshua wrote these words in the Law Scroll of God. He then took a large stone and set it up there under the oak tree near the Lord’s shrine. 27 Joshua said to all the people, “Look, this stone will be a witness against you, for it has heard everything the Lord said to us. It will be a witness against you if you deny your God.” 28 When Joshua dismissed the people, they went to their allotted portions of land (Joshua 24:14-28, emphasis mine).

The Old Covenant will not save the Israelites, no matter how great their determination to keep it. It will only condemn them. What, then, was wrong with the Old Covenant? The New Testament tells us. The problem with the Old Testament law is not with the law itself, for it sets forth a standard of righteousness that is holy, righteous, and good:

So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12).

The problem with the law is that, in my flesh, I am powerless to resist sin and to achieve the kind of righteousness God requires.

14 For we know that the law is spiritual – but I am unspiritual, sold into slavery to sin. 15 For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it (Romans 7:14-18).

The problem with the law is that it cannot deliver me from the power of sin and from the guilt of my sin. And so it is that Paul concludes,

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24)

What good, then, is the law? The law establishes God’s standard of righteousness. The law (the Old, Mosaic, Covenant) shows me my sin, and my need for salvation apart from my efforts to please God.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20, emphasis mine).

In Galatians 3, Paul puts the law in its proper place, showing us how it fits into God’s purpose of providing salvation for lost sinners:

15 Brothers and sisters, I offer an example from everyday life: When a covenant has been ratified, even though it is only a human contract, no one can set it aside or add anything to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his descendant. Scripture does not say, “and to the descendants,” referring to many, but “and to your descendant,” referring to one, who is Christ. 17 What I am saying is this: The law that came four hundred thirty years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise, but God graciously gave it to Abraham through the promise. 19 Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions, until the arrival of the descendant to whom the promise had been made. It was administered through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary is not for one party alone, but God is one. 21 Is the law therefore opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that was able to give life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But the scripture imprisoned everything and everyone under sin so that the promise could be given – because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ – to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. 26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:15-29, emphasis mine).

Allow me to emphasize just the main points of what Paul is saying here in Galatians 3.

    1. God’s promises to Abraham were fulfilled in Christ (3:16). Christ is the promised “seed” through whom God’s blessings would come.

    2. The Law came after the Abrahamic Covenant and did not nullify or change it (3:17).

    3. Inheritance of God’s blessings was based upon God’s promise (to Abraham) and not the Law (3:18).

    4. The Law was a temporary measure to lead us to Christ (3:19f.). The Law was our tutor, to lead us to Christ.

    5. Now that Christ has come, we are no longer under a tutor - the Law (3:25).

This brings us to the New Covenant, which is the focus of our author’s attention in this chapter of Hebrews. From early on, it was not only clear that the Israelites would fail to keep the Mosaic Covenant, but that God would save His people, based on His covenant with Abraham. Note these words in the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy:

25 After you have produced children and grandchildren and have been in the land a long time, if you become corrupt and make an image of any kind and do other evil things before the Lord your God that enrage him, 26 I invoke heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that you will surely and swiftly be removed from the very land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not last long there because you will surely be annihilated. 27 Then the Lord will scatter you among the peoples and there will be very few of you among the nations where the Lord will drive you. 28 There you will worship gods made by human hands – wood and stone that can neither see, hear, eat, nor smell. 29 But if you seek the Lord your God from there, you will find him, if, indeed, you seek him with all your heart and soul. 30 In your distress when all these things happen to you in the latter days, if you return to the Lord your God and obey him 31 (for he is a merciful God), he will not let you down or destroy you, for he cannot forget the covenant with your ancestors that he confirmed by oath to them (Deuteronomy 4:25-31, emphasis mine).

These words in Deuteronomy come into clearer focus in the light of what our author has written in Hebrews 6:

13 Now when God made his promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you greatly and multiply your descendants abundantly.” 15 And so by persevering, Abraham inherited the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and the oath serves as a confirmation to end all dispute. 17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf, since he became a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:13-20).

The covenant to which Moses refers in Deuteronomy 4 is a covenant that God confirmed with an oath. And according to Hebrews 6, this covenant is the covenant God made with Abraham. Thus, while the Mosaic Covenant would be broken by Israel and could never save anyone, the Israelites’ hope was to be in God, based upon His covenant with Abraham.

Now, when we come to the New Testament, we find that God’s salvation in Jesus is presented as the fulfillment of both the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant, as the result of our Lord’s work at Calvary. Put differently, it is by means of the New Covenant that God’s promises to Abraham were fulfilled:

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because he has come to help and has redeemed his people. 69 For he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from long ago, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us. 72 He has done this to show mercy to our ancestors, and to remember his holy covenant – 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham (Luke 1:68-73, emphasis mine).

24 And all the prophets, from Samuel and those who followed him, have spoken about and announced these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed.’ 26 God raised up his servant and sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each one of you from your iniquities” (Acts 3:24-26, emphasis mine).

20 And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood (Luke 22:20, emphasis mine).

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 24 and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, emphasis mine).

The New Covenant Was Made With Israel and Judah

8 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” (Hebrews 8:8).

If the New Covenant was made with Israel and Judah, then the question arises, “How, then, did the Gentiles come to enjoy these blessings?” It is apparent from our Lord’s words in Luke 22:20 and the Apostle Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 11:25 and 2 Corinthians 3 that the church has entered into the blessings of the New Covenant. How, then, has this come about? How can Gentiles and the church enter into promises that were made to the people of Israel and Judah? We find important clues to the answer in the Book of Romans:

6 It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all those who are descended from Israel are truly Israel, 7 nor are all the children Abraham’s true descendants; rather through Isaac will your descendants be counted.” 8 This means it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God; rather, the children of promise are counted as descendants (Romans 9:6-8, emphasis mine).

14 For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified. 15 For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either. 16 For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants - not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (Romans 4:14-16, emphasis mine).13

From these two texts in Romans, we see that God’s covenant blessings are not distributed on the basis of one’s ancestry. From Romans 9, we see that not all physical descendants of Abraham are true Israelites. From Romans 4, we learn that Gentiles who, like Abraham, trust in Christ are sons of Abraham. Thus, even though the New Covenant was made with Israel and Judah, we can quite easily see how true believers could be included in the blessings of the New Covenant.

Having said this, I believe that the key biblical text is found in Romans 11:

11 I ask then, they [the Jews] did not stumble into an irrevocable fall, did they? Absolutely not! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their transgression means riches for the world and their defeat means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full restoration bring? 13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Seeing that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I could provoke my people to jealousy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the first portion of the dough offered is holy, then the whole batch is holy, and if the root is holy, so too are the branches. 17 Now if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among them and participated in the richness of the olive root, 18 do not boast over the branches. But if you boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 Then you will say, “The branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted! They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but fear! 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. 22 Notice therefore the kindness and harshness of God - harshness toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And even they - if they do not continue in their unbelief - will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree? 25 For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion; he will remove ungodliness from Jacob. 27 And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” 28 In regard to the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but in regard to election they are dearly loved for the sake of the fathers. 29 For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were formerly disobedient to God, but have now received mercy due to their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all people to disobedience so that he may show mercy to them all (Romans 11:11-32, emphasis by underscoring mine).

The blessings of the New Covenant are promised to those of Israel and Judah, but the unbelief of the Jews opened the door for Gentile evangelism. In this present period of time that we know as the “times of the Gentiles,” more Gentiles are coming to faith than Jews.14 When the “times of the Gentiles” has come to an end, God will return His focus to the Jews, and then many will come to faith in Jesus as the Promised Messiah. It appears that this will occur after the Great Tribulation.15

Conclusion

There are many lessons to learn from our text, but let me conclude by mentioning a few for your consideration.

First, the New Covenant assumes man’s sinfulness and the Law’s inability to save lost sinners and draw them near to God. There is only one reason for the Old Covenant to be set aside and to be replaced by a New Covenant: the old one doesn’t work. The Law (a.k.a. the Old Covenant) does a wonderful job of revealing man’s sin; but what it cannot do is to remove the penalty or the presence of sin.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).

I recently heard the testimony of a prominent Christian author. He described the days of his unbelief as doing battle with God. In particular, this man had a problem with thinking of men as sinners. Then, in the providence of God, he met a Christian who compared Christianity to every other religion. This man said that every other religion says, “Do.” All other religious systems have a set of requirements that men must strive to keep. Granted, some set the standard much higher than others. And some, like Unitarianism, says “Do it your own way.” But they all tell men that they must “do” something.

“Christianity,” this Christian explained, “is the one religious faith that says, ‘Done.’” It is not what we “do,” but what Jesus Christ has “done.” And the author to the Book of Hebrews would add, “He has done it once for all.” The New Covenant exposes both the failure of sinful men to “do” enough to please God and the failure of the Old Covenant because it is never “done.”

Second, the New Covenant reveals the heart of God. Many people tend to think of two Gods: the “angry and vindictive ‘God’ of the Old Testament” and the “gracious and forgiving” ‘Jesus’ of the New. But the truth is that God the Father and God the Son are One, and they delight to forgive sin and to draw men near in fellowship.

8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful; he is patient and demonstrates great loyal love. 9 He does not always accuse, and does not stay angry. 10 He does not deal with us as our sins deserve; he does not repay us as our misdeeds deserve. 11 For as the skies are high above the earth, so his loyal love towers over his faithful followers. 12 As far as the eastern horizon is from the west, so he removes the guilt of our rebellious actions from us. 13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on his faithful followers. 14 For he knows what we are made of; he realizes we are made of clay (Psalm 103:8-14).

10 When God saw their [i.e. the people of Nineveh, who repented] actions – they turned from their evil way of living! – God relented concerning the judgment he had threatened them with and he did not destroy them. 1 This displeased Jonah terribly and he became very angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! – because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment (Jonah 3:10—4:2, emphasis mine).

16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him (John 3:16-17).

1 First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all people, 2 even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior, 4 since he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4, emphasis mine).

The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

The New Covenant is consistent with God’s delight and desire to see lost sinners reconciled to Himself. This is not to say that (whether in the Old Testament or the New) God does not hate sin or that there is no such thing as eternal punishment for those who reject the salvation He has provided in His Son.

6 For it is right for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to you who are being afflicted to give rest together with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. 8 With flaming fire he will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength, 10 when he comes to be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed – and you did in fact believe our testimony (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

The New Covenant expresses the grace of God and His pleasure in forgiving sinners and reconciling them to Himself, but its promises are only for those who enter into the blessings of this covenant by faith in Jesus. Those who reject Jesus and the New Covenant will endure the wrath of God. The main point I am seeking to make here is that the New Covenant offers hope for lost sinners, a hope that we do not find in the Old Covenant.

Third, the New Covenant is the gospel, and it is truly good news. In a way, this statement is merely a repetition of the first two points (above). There are a number of ways that the gospel may be presented. In recent times, the “Four Spiritual Laws” has been instrumental in bringing men to faith in Jesus. Some, like me, prefer the approach sometimes known as “the Roman Road.” This is a brief review of the presentation of the gospel that Paul unfolds in the Book of Romans. But we could also present the gospel very clearly by simply reviewing the promises (and assumptions) of the New Covenant:

Man’s great problem is that his sin makes it impossible for him to please God.

The Old Covenant – keeping of God’s commandments – does not bring men near to God.

To save men, God starts from the inside, giving men a new heart, one that loves God and loves to keep His Word.

The New Covenant is not based upon what we can do, but upon what Jesus did by dying in our place and by bearing the punishment we deserve.

The Holy Spirit enables men to do what we cannot do in our own strength.

By cleansing our sins and giving us a new heart and His Spirit, God enables Christians to draw near to Him in intimate fellowship.

Fourth, those who turn back to the Old Covenant and strive to please God by law-keeping reject the New Covenant and thus the salvation by grace which God has provided through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In so doing, they reject God’s only provision for salvation and choose to follow a covenant which can only condemn.

Fifth, the New Covenant has greater glory than the Old, and it has the power to transform lives. Thus, it is the key to salvation. Let me put this in different words: The New Covenant is the key to evangelizing a lost world. We need to be very careful here that our evangelistic methods don’t emphasize what people do. Raising one’s hand, signing a card, walking the aisle, or repeating a prayer after someone (though not bad in and of themselves) are not what saves a person. What saves us is agreeing with God that we are lost sinners, and believing in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as the only means by which we may be saved.

28 So then they said to him, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” 29 Jesus replied, “This is the deed God requires – to believe in the one whom he sent” (John 6:28-29).

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

5 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).

I believe we must take this a step further. Not only are lost sinners not saved by their works; they are not saved by our works either. In other words, we can’t produce faith in others. We cannot save lost men and women; only God can. It is true, of course, that God has purposed to save men by the witness of the saints:

14 How are they to call on one they have not believed in? And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of? And how are they to hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How timely is the arrival of those who proclaim the good news” (Romans 10:14-15).

Having said this, it is not our techniques or our cleverness of speech that changes the hearts of lost sinners. We are obligated to proclaim a simple gospel to lost sinners and to trust God to save them. For this we do not need the slick, manipulative methods of the hucksters:

1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. 2 For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. 4 My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

For we are not like so many others, hucksters who peddle the word of God for profit, but we are speaking in Christ before God as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God (2 Corinthians 2:17).

1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. 2 But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).

We have seen from Jeremiah 31 that the New Covenant is initiated by God’s work in men’s hearts through the Holy Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul makes a great deal of the supremacy of the New Covenant over the Old, showing how the New Covenant relies upon the working of God’s Spirit, rather than by our efforts, or by focusing on mere externals.

4 Now we have such confidence in God through Christ. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry that produced death – carved in letters on stone tablets – came with glory, so that the Israelites could not keep their eyes fixed on the face of Moses because of the glory of his face (a glory which was made ineffective), 8 how much more glorious will the ministry of the Spirit be? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry that produced condemnation, how much more does the ministry that produces righteousness excel in glory! 10 For indeed, what had been glorious now has no glory because of the tremendously greater glory of what replaced it. 11 For if what was made ineffective came with glory, how much more has what remains come in glory! 12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we behave with great boldness (2 Corinthians 3:4-12).

And so we see that the New Covenant is not only good news for the lost sinner, but it is also great news for those who would share their faith with others. The New Covenant brings about salvation through the work of God in the hearts of lost sinners.

Sixth, when we celebrate the Lord’s Table each week, we are celebrating what God has done through Christ and His priestly ministry of the New Covenant.

And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 24 and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

The bread is unleavened (without yeast) because it symbolizes our Lord’s ongoing perfection when He took on humanity at His incarnation. As the author of Hebrews has emphasized, our Lord took on human flesh in order to be our perfect High Priest. In order to do this, He had to be completely without sin. That is why the sacrificial animals (which foreshadowed the coming of our Lord) had to be without blemish. His sacrifice at Calvary would only benefit us if the “Lamb of God” was without blemish (sin). The unleavened bread symbolizes our Lord’s sinless perfection, so that His sacrifice is for our sins, and not His own.

The wine symbolizes the blood of our Lord that was shed for us at Calvary. As the writer to the Hebrews says, it is not by the blood of sacrificial animals that we are cleansed from sin, but by the once-for-all sacrifice of our Lord’s blood (His death) that we are cleansed:

11 But now Christ has come as the high priest of the good things to come. He passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, 12 and he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God. 15 And so he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:11-15).

10 By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands day after day serving and offering the same sacrifices again and again – sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 where he is now waiting until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy (Hebrews 10:10-14).

The work of our Lord reconciled lost sinners to God:

18 And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19; see also Ephesians 2:1-10).

It also reconciled Jews and Gentiles in Christ:

11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh – who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands – 12 that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, 15 when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, 16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22).

In New Testament times, the Lord’s Supper was actually a supper; it was partaken in the context of a full meal (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Partaking of a meal around a table was one of the most intimate forms of fellowship in that culture (and in most others). Thus, as well all partake of the meal, and of the symbols, for we are celebrating our unity in the person of the Lord Jesus:

16 Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all share the one bread (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

And so my question to you, my friend, is simply this: “Have you entered into the promised blessings of the New Covenant – the forgiveness of your sins, the blessing of a new heart, and the joy of drawing near to God in Christ?” If you have not, why not do so today, by simply acknowledging your need of salvation and by trusting in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of lost sinners, making a way of salvation possible?


1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 19 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on November 16, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

2 See Hebrews 7:22; 8:6-13; 9:1-20; 10:16-29; 13:20.

3 See also Luke 1:72; Acts 3:25; 7:8; Romans 11:27; Ephesians 2:12; Revelation 11:19.

4 See Jeremiah 29:20.

5 Hebrews 8:6.

6 See 2 Kings 17:1-6; 18:9-12.

7 See also Ezekiel 37:14, where I believe the reference is to God’s Holy Spirit.

8 These exceptions were the promised remnant, as we find in Romans 9:27-29.

9 This exact expression occurs 23 times, and variations of this raise this number to more than 30 times.

10 Time does not permit a full exposition of this text. This text is not seeking to deny the role of gifted teachers; it is seeking to warn believers regarding false teachers. Suffice it to say that false teachers in particular seek to convince others that they alone can expound the meaning of God’s Word. John writes that believers are now taught of God (see also John 6:44-45) through His Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16), and thus we are not dependent upon others to know God’s Word.

11 It is later repeated to Abraham and to his descendants, often in great detail.

12 See Hebrews 6:13-15 where the author refers to Genesis 22:15-20.

13 Two examples of non-Jews (Gentiles) who entered into Israel’s blessings by faith, and not by ancestry, are Rahab the Harlot (Hebrews 11:31) and Ruth (see the Book of Ruth). In the New Testament, see Matthew 8:5-13.

14 See Luke 21:24; Romans 11:25.

15 See Jeremiah 30:1-9; see also Luke 21:24 in context.

Related Topics: Dispensational / Covenantal Theology