by Terry Wane Benton
The moment Jeremiah used the word “new” in speaking of a coming “new covenant,” there was the immediate implication that the Sinai covenant, then in place, was becoming obsolete and ready to vanish away. The idea of “vanishing away” (Hebrews 8:13) is not that you would be unable to read that covenant and use it in any way anymore but that the new takes the stage and the Old goes backstage. The one backstage doesn't have our attention. It “vanished” from our attention when the New took center stage. The Old did not “vanish” from existence either at the cross or in AD 70. The Old was out of the way as a binding covenant at the cross (Colossians 2:13-16; Ephesians 2:15), but the point here is not about its “binding” power currently but about its visual attention when the Christ took center stage. One “vanishes” away, and the other calls for full attention.
Some of our modern AD 70 advocates contend that the temple and priesthood “vanished” in AD 70 and that is when the Old Covenant “vanished away.” The text is not about when the temple vanishes, but when the covenant vanishes. The temple vanished once before in 586 BC. Did the covenant vanish then? No! The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem has nothing to do with when the covenant vanishes, and the vanishing of the covenant is not about it vanishing from existence but vanishing from center stage when the new takes center stage.
When our hearts get set on a new car, it seems that it is all we can think about until we get the new car. What happened the moment we started talking about a new car? We have right then made the present car “too old” and “obsolete” and “ready to vanish away.” When we get the new car the old car is not the center of attention. When our focus is turned to the new car, the old car is “becoming obsolete” to our interest and desires to continue its upkeep. As soon as we start focusing on a new car, our very language is setting the stage for getting rid of the old clunker. We are saying it is not worth our full attention to keep it going. That is precisely the Hebrews writer’s point here in the text regarding Jeremiah 31 and the use of the word “new”. Right then God was calling attention to a better model -- a New Covenant with better things -- setting the hearts on the new and better. Once the heart is thinking “new” the first covenant is thought of as “old,” becoming obsolete, and ready to vanish away.
The Hebrews writer is not saying that the Old Covenant is now ready at AD 67 to stop being bound, but from the standpoint of God when He had Jeremiah write Jeremiah 31:31f, the Old Covenant was ready to go backstage. He gathered all attention to the new and better covenant. Now that Jesus is the mediator of this existing and better covenant, the Old should be backstage to our attention. Jesus is now here and center stage to our attention and interest. Jesus is “preeminent” (Colossians 1:17-23), greater than the angels, greater than Moses, greater than Aaron, and has given us a greater covenant. The Old Covenant was getting our attention ready for the new and better covenant. And when Jeremiah wrote, “new covenant,” the Old Covenant was becoming obsolete, growing old and ready to vanish away. When Jesus took center stage as “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36f), the Old had gone backstage, vanishing away as the New took center stage. The Hebrews writer is looking at it from the standpoint of God having caused Jeremiah to use the word “new.” The topic is “a better covenant” (Hebrews 8:6), and it “was established” (past tense). The “first covenant” could not do what was needed (Hebrews 8:7) and the New Covenant promised, “sins remembered no more” (Hebrews 8:12). The remitted sins of Acts 2 were not remembered the next year. They were remembered no more. Therefore, the Old Covenant that remembered sins year by year was gone as a binding covenant. The new and better covenant had taken the stage.
The greater blessings were now the “so great salvation” on stage to be enjoyed by all with heaven's full authority. When this text is handled correctly it destroys the argument of our AD 70 friends. This text does not support the view that the Old Covenant was binding right up to the destruction of the temple in AD 70. No! All authority belonged to Jesus back in Matthew 28:18, and the focus of attention rightly belonged to Jesus and His New Covenant from Pentecost forward. With all eyes properly focused on Jesus, the Old vanished away from the cross forward. It didn’t cease to exist as a testimonial resource, but the focus of attention was properly moved from the Old Covenant to the better, which the New Covenant brought to us “by means of death” (Hebrews 9:15). The “ministers of the new covenant” were calling the attention to the one now on stage (II Corinthians 3), not the covenant that now moved backstage (vanishing away from view).