The Eleventh in a Series of Sermons on the Epistle to the Hebrews
It was the eminent philosopher and New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra who once said “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Well, the author of Hebrews has brought us to that point in his case for the superiority of Jesus Christ where we must now decide how we will understand the relationship between the old covenant (that covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai) and the new covenant (the new era in redemptive history established by Jesus Christ). Is the new covenant an entirely “new” covenant made from scratch? Or is the new covenant the fulfillment of that covenant that God made with Abraham in which promise becomes reality? How you answer these questions determines where you go to church (a Baptist or a paedobaptist church), how you treat your children (as unbelievers, or as members of the covenant whose faith is to be nurtured), as well as your understanding of the end times (do the end-times center around national Israel?). Hebrews 8 is a theological fork in the road and we must take it.
We are continuing our series on the Book of Hebrews, and we now take up that section of this book in which the author argues that with the coming of Jesus Christ, God’s people enter the new covenant era foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, making the old covenant obsolete. As we have seen, the author has been using a number of biblical texts to prove that the Old Testament teaches that Jesus is both creator and sustainer of all things, and that Jesus’ eternal priesthood is tied to Melchizadek, that mysterious figure to whom Abraham paid tithes. Now the author makes the case that with the coming of Jesus Christ, there is a fundamental shift in the nature and course of redemptive history. The inferior (the types and shadows) must give way to the superior (the reality that is found in Jesus Christ).
Given the fact that the author is writing to a church composed of people who were predominantly Jews, and who had recently become Christians, the author uses terms like “old covenant” assuming that his readers/hearers knew exactly what he meant. Since we are Christians (and predominantly Gentiles) and since we live nearly 2000 years later, we will need to carefully define the terms the author is using so as to make sense of his argument about the obsolescence of the old covenant, the dawn of the new covenant era, and the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood–an argument which runs through the end of chapter 10.
The first thing to consider is when the author speaks of the “old covenant” we should not take him to mean the Old Testament. Rather, when he speaks of the “old covenant” he is referring to that covenant which God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. Old covenant = Sinaitic covenant, not “Old Testament.” This means that the covenant God made with Abraham earlier remains in force throughout the whole time Israel (as a nation) was operating under the Sinaitic covenant. Keep this in mind as we proceed. It also means that the old covenant (i.e., the law, the priesthood, the temple, the land etc.) becomes obsolete once Jesus Christ fulfills everything God promised to Abraham on his sworn oath.
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