Our Everlasting Covenant – Hebrews Part IV

Reference: Hebrews 8 to 10:18

The author talks about Jesus’s present ministry for us on the highest altar and that it is superior to any earthly tabernacle set up by human hands. Jesus our high priest serves us at the original tabernacle in Heaven, the one Moses tried to replicate using God’s instructions. In the same way, his death ushered in a new covenant established on better promises that superseded the old covenant. To establish the superiority of this new covenant, the author quotes from the book of prophets and uses God’s own words to convince their audience.

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant…
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,… they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NIV)

God prophesied through the prophet Jeremiah, that He will put His laws in our hearts and everyone will know His Name. Even though His laws are written in the scriptures, God is actively writing them in the hearts of His people. People need to be told sometimes about his grace although they are already enjoying its benefit. We focus on one particular religion as a way to come closer to God but God has made himself known to everyone in some form.

Eat Sin Sacrifice Repeat

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Hebrews 8:13 (NIV)

The laws given at the time of Moses replaced the covenant given to Abraham and were the ones the Israelites held on to for the longest. The Mosaic covenant had regulations for worship in an earthly sanctuary. In doing so, the covenant was based on laws which made human beings susceptive to failure. A tabernacle was set up according to the blueprint of God as humans tried to replicate the one in heaven. In its first room, there were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread. This part of the tabernacle was known as the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room which had the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant and this was called the most Holy Place.

Priests would minister from the outer room, and only one would enter the high altar that too once a year. The High Priest would offer blood sacrifice for their sins and the sins of the people. It was a mundane and repetitive process that the people got accustomed to. It was part of their routine, eat, sin, sacrifice and repeat. These were not permanent sacrifices but only temporary as they were only external regulations that were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.

However, with the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus paid for all our sins we have access to the greatest and perfect tabernacle. This perfect table was not built by human hands nor was it created, it has always existed. In this tabernacle, there is no need for any animal to shed its blood as the blood of the Son of Man has already paid our debts. Our High Priest Jesus Christ is the mediator of this new covenant.

This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.

Hebrews 9:9 (NIV)

The author claims that the sacrifices and guilt offerings never cleared the conscious of the worshiper and perhaps this sentiment was shared by the other Jewish converts that were part of the early church. Then why did an entire nation practice it for more than fifteen hundred years? They all performed the rituals and sacrifices but did not earn to know about the God for whom they were making those sacrifices. The rituals of blood sprinkled on the altar and the people did purify the tabernacle but it could not purify the hearts of the people.

The covenant was of value but the approach of the people was completely wrong and thus did not help in clearing one’s guilt. But those sacrifices would have helped them realise the cost of sin. We continue in our sinful ways till we have to face the consequences of our actions and only then do we turn from our ways. The Sacrifices helped them realise the just nature of God along with the cost of their sins. It gave them a chance to come before God with repentant hearts and acknowledge His Grace. It helps us realise the burden Jesus has taken away from us by giving Himself as our one and ultimate sacrifice.

Blood & Forgiveness

The author uses the analogy of the execution of a will when describing the new covenant and the price Jesus paid for redeeming our lives. In Greek, the word for will is the same as covenant and quite aptly so. A will is made on behalf of the benefactors to transfer what has been left to them by their loved ones. They did not do anything to actually deserve what they receive from the will but it is the benevolence of their person who created the will and chose them as the benefactors.

Similarly, God chose to include us as part of the new covenant not because we are righteous or love Him wholeheartedly but because of His Grace we can call Jesus our elder brother. Just like in the case of a will, the activation of the new covenant also needs someone to die and make us the principal benefactors. The author likens the death of our elder brother on our behalf which has made us part of the new covenant and has united us with our Father.

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram

Genesis 15:17-18 (NIV)

Just like the Abrahamic covenant in which God himself walked in between the animal and avian sacrifices to confirm His promise to Abraham, He sent His own Son to walk to the road to calvary and suffered our pain and humiliation. Jesus walked through the valley of darkness on our behalf so that we can be part of the promise of God through Him.

…the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Hebrews 9:22 (NIV)

The wages of sin are indeed death as our God is Just and the same fate awaits all of us since the time Adam sinned. When God made a covenant with Noah after delivering His family from the flood, He told Him that blood was symbolic of life (Genesis 9:4 [ESV] – But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood). So the shedding of an animal’s blood as part of the Mosaic covenant represented a loss of life that acted as a proxy for ours. God is a Just God and our sins all deserve the same punishment. But our God is also a gracious and loving God and redeemed us with His Son’s blood.

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Hebrews 9:27-28 (NIV)

Sacrifices Made Useless

Without understanding the purpose, people started offering sacrifices and tithes to God. Thus, the concession that was offered to the Israelites was misconstrued as God desiring sacrifices and offerings from His people. In today’s context, the privilege that was extended to us, that we could take part in the spreading of God’s words has been reduced to only tithes and offerings.

What we don’t realise is that God does not delight in our meaningless sacrifices or empty offerings and tithes. People treat these as a license to sin or sometimes a fine for their transgressions. We tend to commemorate our special days by shelling out money as offerings but do not invite God to be part of our day.

And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

Hebrews 10:18 (NIV)

We are under the Grace of God but we still act as if we are bound by the law. Earlier we were bound to laws because of our sins but now even after God has become our Father we still are running from Him. God is offering us a chance to be part of His new covenant but we keep rejecting Him for things that are familiar to us. Let us come to Him with our hearts to understand His will rather than blindly following the meaningless rituals and traditions of our ancestors.

Discussion Questions

  • 1. What is the old covenant and why is it obsolete?
  • 2. How is the new covenant more valuable to us?
  • 3. What was the use of the old testament sacrifices if they did not clear the people’s conscience?
  • 4. Why does the author compare the activation of the covenant to the execution of a will?
  • 5. Why does God want blood before He can forgive us?
  • 6. Why is God not pleased with the burnt sacrifices when they were offered in accordance with the law?


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