Let’s never give up on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, leaving him up there as a mere martyr who was unfortunately put to death for being merely a good man. His sacrificial death is much deeper than that.
Let’s get started.
As noted in every post about biblical covenants, here is our working definition of covenant:
Out of his great love for his highest creation, people, God unilaterally reaches out to them and initiates an unalterable legal agreement, in which he stipulates the terms that reveal how he relates to people, and they to him.
A covenant is an unalterable legal agreement, in which God stipulates the terms that reveal how he relates to people, and they to him.
The main points are that he takes the initiative and spells out the terms of the agreement. We cannot strut up to God and demand that he relates to us in our way. That’s arrogant and presumptuous because our strutting and demanding fail to understand that he is the one in charge of his creation. He imposes the agreement on his highest creation, humankind.
This covenant we study is called the New Covenant.
Since all biblical covenants have component parts, so does the New Covenant, as follows:
1.. God’s initiative
This act of reaching out to a human is God’s loving grace. Humans do not dictate the terms, but God sets them out. So in that sense it is a covenant of grace. Any time God reaches his hand out to help an individual or a people, that is his grace. Just picture God’s hand extended and lifting you out of your sin (mammal) nature and saving you and setting you on the path of holiness—becoming like Christ through the power of the Spirit.
2.. Type of covenant
In the posts on Old Testament covenants, there were three types: Royal Grant (unconditional); Parity (conditional), and Suzerain-Vassal (conditional). The New Covenant does not fit any of them perfectly, but it is unconditional without the royal land grant, unless the whole planet is the land that God is currently taking back and possessing. If that is the case, then the Royal Grant covenant is nearer the truth.
But in the New Covenant, some elements are unprecedented.
3.. Parties involved
At first, Jer. 31:31-34 promises the New Covenant to the houses of Israel and Judah. But when the writer of the epistle of Hebrews quotes that prophecy, he expands it to include everyone (Heb. 9:28). So the parties are the Lord on the one side and entire world on the other, that is, everyone who repents of their sins, receives forgiveness of sins, has saving faith in Jesus, and receives the Spirit, who applies the New Covenant to our hearts.
4.. Stipulations and obligations and promises
Let’s look at the terms in this passage from Heb. 8:7-13 and key verses in chapters 9-10)
7 For if that first one [covenant] were faultless, then no occasion would be sought for a second one [covenant]. 8 For finding fault with them, he declared:
9 “Look! Days are coming, says the Lord,
And I shall establish a new covenant for the house of Israel
And for the house of Judah,
Not like the covenant which I made with their ancestors,
In the day when I took hold of their hand and led them out of the land of Egypt;
Because they did not continue firmly in my covenant,
I disregarded them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant which I shall ratify for the house of Israel,
After those days, says the Lord:
Giving my laws into their minds,
I shall write them on their hearts.
And I shall be their God,
And they shall be my people.
11 And each one shall not teach his fellow-citizen,
Each one saying to his brother, ‘Know the Lord,’
Because everyone shall know me, from the small to their great,
12 Because I shall be gracious to their unrighteousness,
And I shall no longer remember their sins—not at all.”
13 In announcing the new, he renders the first one obsolete, and the old and aged one is ready to disappear. (Heb. 8:6-13, my translation)
Let’s analyze those verses and some key ones in Heb. 9 and 10.
First, the old covenant was flawed, so it needed to be replaced.
Second, he was about to establish the new covenant with Israel and Judea, but they officially rejected their Messiah, King Jesus, and this rejection opened the door of salvation through Jesus to the Gentiles, all non-Jews throughout the entire planet.
Beyond those above verses, the official Jewish rejection of the Messiah four decades before the temple was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, Christ has become the fulfillment of the “seed” (singular) or the descendant promised to Abraham the believer. Now the whole world would be blessed through his “seed.” He is the only way of salvation through faith in him. We can be like Abraham the believer, but our faith is now directed towards and put wholly in Christ. This is Paul’s main emphasis throughout his writing, particularly in Rom. 9-11 and Gal. 3-4.
Fourth, because the Jews continually spurned the of Sinai covenant, God disregarded them and planned a new covenant (Heb. 8:9).
Fifth, God was going to instill the law in their minds and inscribe them on the hearts of the people. The new covenant was going to be inward, not outward. Though the verses don’t say it, only the Holy Spirit can do this (Rom. 8; Gal. 5:13-26).
Sixth, the best news is that God will be gracious to our unrighteousness (literally “unrighteousnesses,” plural), and he will no longer remember our sins.
Seventh, Heb. 8:13 is perfectly clear. The old covenant of Moses (the Sinai covenant) is old, obsolete and ready to disappear.
Eighth, Christ went into the heavenly tabernacle by his perfect sacrifice (Heb. 9:6-10). This speaks of his being an eternal high priest who no longer needs to offer yearly sacrifices for us, because he did this once and for all. Through his blood he offers eternal redemption (9:11-14).
One of the results of eternally applied sacrifice (9:14) is that we no longer have to do dead works that lead to death (i.e. rituals) to have our consciences cleansed. Now his blood sprinkled on our consciences (Heb. 10:22).
Ninth, Christ is therefore the mediator of the new and better covenant (9:15). We are now set free from the sins committed under the first covenant. We Gentiles did not commit sins under the first covenant, but we can still have freedom from our own sins through his blood ransom.
Tenth, since we have been cleansed by sacrificial blood, we can be complete and whole in our soul and spirit, as we are being made holy (10:14). So when God saves us through Christ, he instantly sends his Spirit into our hearts, an act that sets us apart, and then we are in the process of catching up with the Spirit in our lives and our initial consecration to him.
In short, God offered us his very best to establish and ratify the New Covenant: His Son Jesus Christ. Now we can have permanent forgiveness of sins without more sacrifices from him or dead rituals from us. And now we can have an eternal relationship with the Father.
What is our obligation?
It is to believe on his Son Jesus Christ, not to achieve the New Covenant, but to receive it. Heb. 6:12 says believers through faith and patience inherit the promises. That is, what we need is faith to enter the New Covenant and patience to wait for our ultimate inheritance when he returns (Heb. 9:28).
It is in the blood of Jesus Christ. At the Last Supper he said this is the cup of the new covenant in his blood (Luke 22:20), which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28; cf. 1 Cor. 11:25). And Heb. 9:17-18 says a covenant is not ratified without blood. In the Old it was the blood of animals; in the New, it is the blood of God’s precious Son through the death on the cross. It was the cross that ratified the New Covenant.
6.. Fulfillment of the covenant
Jesus Christ fulfilled the law. It is paid in full. He obeyed God’s will perfectly (Rom. 5:18-19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15).
He died the death of a curse (Gal. 3:10-13), and so his death removed the curse from us (Gal. 3:13-14).
As noted, the New Covenant is also a blood covenant, which he instituted in the Last Supper: “… after the supper he took the cup saying, ‘This is the cup is the new covenant of blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25).
2 Cor. 3 is emphatic about Christ fulfilling the Sinai Covenant.
We are a letter from Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God. This is better than the covenant written on tablets of stone (v. 3; cf. Exod. 31:18; 34:1-4).
We live in the Spriit; people under the Sinai Covenant lived under the law. “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (v. 6).
Moses’s glory was transitory and faded, while the ministry of the Spirit is much more glorious and ever-increasing (v. 8).
Moses put a veil over his face (Exod. 34:29-35), but the glory of the New Covenant is everlasting (vv. 8-11).
The veil covers the minds and hearts of Jews during Paul’s days, and it is only lifted in Christ (v. 15).
We have unveiled faces and are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (v. 18).
7.. A table showing the differences between the Old and New Covenants.
As seen in the post about the Sinai Covenant, this table draws the comparisons from the New Covenant’s point of view, looking back on the Old, in a fuller perspective.
|Categories||Old Covenant||New Covenant|
|Grace and Faith||Yes||Yes|
|Written||In stone||On hearts and minds|
|Ratified||By blood of animals||By the blood of Christ|
|Number of Sacrifices||Countless numbers||One sacrifice forever|
|Holy Spirit||No permanent indwelling||Permanent indwelling|
|Being Born Again||No||Yes|
|Life in the Spirit||Intermittent or minimal or not at all||Permanent and powerful|
|Approach to God||Through Aaron the high priest and his successors||Through Christ our High Priest|
|Celebrated||By sacrifices (looking forward)||By communion (looking back to the cross)|
|Fulfilled and Replaced||Yes||Never|
|Adapted from Geisler, p. 1393|
The New Covenant is superior and better than the Old, as the epistle of Hebrews teaches. The main point is that life in the Spirit is the whole project and new way that God grants to people in the New Covenant (Luke 24:49; John 20:22; entire book of Acts; Rom. 8; Gal. 5). People of the Old Covenant did not have life in the Spirit, in the same way, both extensive and intensive, as do people of the New.
What does it mean that both covenants have grace and faith and moral law? Do New Covenant believers have to obey the moral law? The New Covenant is based mainly on two things:
1.. God extends his grace to us. (He also did this to the ancient people of God in the Old.)
2.. Grace reaching us is the only way we can have saving faith in Jesus Christ, which places us in the New Covenant. Faith is the opposite of law keeping (Rom. 4). Law keeping, including rituals and ceremonies and kosher food laws, are essential in the Old.
So the huge difference between the two covenants is that in the New Covenant, believers walk in the Spirit, who enables them to fulfill the law by God’s love (Rom. 8; 13:8-10; Gal. 5:13-18, 22-23). Walking in the Spirit transcends law keeping.
What about moral law, which is not the foundation of the New Covenant? Moral law appears everywhere in the New Covenant Scriptures. When believers get confused or need more detailed guidance, then moral law teaches them. In contrast, in the Old Sinai Covenant, the people promised to obey the law (Exod. 24). It was conditioned on their law keeping.
It works out like this:
God’s part: grace
Humankind’s part: faith in God and law keeping
Result: Righteousness through grace, faith, and the law
God’s part: grace
Humankind’s part: faith in Christ and living in the Spirit
Result: Righteousness through grace, faith, and the Spirit
Bottom line: John wrote: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
So the emphasis in the Sinai covenant tilts more towards law keeping than resting in God’s grace in the New (Phil. 3:4-11).
Renewalists believe that they have the Spirit to enable them to live in the New Covenant. We need to develop our close relationship with the Father and Christ, through the power of the Spirit.
How does this post help me grow in my knowledge of God?
You can know God better by considering these Scriptural truths and personal realities.
The main and deep truth is that for Christ, establishing the New Covenant was a covenant of works. He did the work to live a sinless life. He worked to lay down his life on the cross, where he shed his blood for the forgiveness of sins. His death is the ultimate expression of works.
For us, therefore, the New Covenant is the covenant of grace. Now all we do is receive it by grace through faith. We don’t work to achieve it, but we receive it by faith and then rest in his eternal covenant.
So here are some benefits of living in the New Covenant.
First, now the Spirit lives in us and puts in our minds and inscribes into our hearts moral law, which the New Covenant Scriptures is full of (Heb. 8:10).
Second, now we can be born again or experience new birth or regeneration (John 3:7-8; Tit. 3:5).
Third, the New Covenant enables us through the Spirit to be free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). We no longer have to be beat down by our old sins and habits and addictions (Rom. 6:14-18). He sets us free
Fourth, God and people now have a special relationship. “I shall be their God” (Heb. 8:10). We have a special knowledge of God now.
Fifth, God promises the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28). He will remember our sins no more, no longer, not at all (Heb. 8:12).
Sixth, now we have an eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15, 28). We have a blessed life in Christ, down here on earth, but we have an eternal, heavenly home waiting for us. Christ’s sacrificial death opened it up to us.
For these wonderful reasons and the others ones listed under point no. 4, let’s not listen to the over-thinkers on social media who tell us that Christ’s blood sacrifice on the cross is primitive and irrelevant to the world today. I for one will never leave Christ on the cross and claim that his death is just an unfortunate martyrdom of a wise teacher.
No. (Other martyrs can fill out that bill). That’s arrogant and presumptuous to think that way.
His sacrificial, bloody (emphasis added and necessary) death on the cross is the only way to salvation through the New Covenant, which he himself instituted.
I for one let him teach me; I don’t teach him.
Written by James Malcolm