A Better Covenant Based on Better Promises

Text: Hebrews 8:6-13

Jesus has a greater ministry than the high priests in the Old Testament. He serves, as they did, as a mediator between the people and God, but Jesus also mediated a new covenant between God and the people. This covenant is better than the old covenant presented by Moses because it is established on better promises. The promises refer back to the discussion of salvation and the assurance we have that God keeps His promises (Hebrews 6:9-19). Moses’ covenant promised Israel a land to be their home, but it was contingent on the people remaining faithful to God. And the people of Israel never remained faithful for long. Thus, while the covenant was good, the people who were to keep the covenant were lacking in faith and obedience.

As Paul pointed out to the Galatians, the law of Moses was given because of the sins of people and was only intended to be temporary (Galatians 3:19). The law of Moses, indeed no law, could give its followers life. Instead, it was only able to condemn all as disobedient sinners (Galatians 3:21-22). The weakness is not in the law, as the writer of Hebrews points out, but in the people.

Therefore, God stated that He would be replacing the covenant with a new one. This was foretold in Jeremiah 31:31-34, which the writer quotes in full and the text becomes the basis of discussion for the next several chapters.

Jeremiah’s use of the phrase "new covenant" according to the writer of Hebrews made the current covenant old, obsolete, and ready to vanish away. From the time of Jeremiah, the Old Law’s authority did vanish away to be eventually replaced by a better covenant at Jesus’ death (Colossians 2:13-14).

In Romans 7:1-4, Paul argues that two covenants cannot be in place at the same time. Using the example of the marriage covenant as an example, he goes on to say:

"Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another -- to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.

Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful" (Romans 7:4-13).

The Old Law had its purpose. It made mankind aware of sin and our need for salvation, but it could not save. Salvation could only come through the bringing of a New Law. The problem with the Old Law is that it brought the condemnation of sin, but it could not bring freedom from sin.

"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious" (II Corinthians 3:5-11).

The Jews of this time (and since for that matter) could not bring themselves to let go of the covenant they knew all their lives, even though God gave a better one that would save them. They refused to see that the law had to be changed and was changed.

"Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech -- unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless, when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Corinthians 3:12-18).

For discussion:

  1. What makes old covenant weak (Hebrews 7:18-19; 8:9)?
  2. What makes the new covenant different (Hebrews 8:10-11)?
  3. Was there no forgiveness for sins under the old covenant (Psalms 65:3; Isaiah 43:25; Micah 7:19)? What is different between the two covenants?
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