The Two Covenants
The writer of Hebrews speaks of two covenants: one the first covenant, the other a second covenant; one an old covenant, the other a new covenant. The identity of the first covenant the writer makes clear in Heb. 9:18-22. It is the covenant dedicated in Ex. 24:6-8. The preceding chapters in Exodus show that the ten commandments and other laws made up this covenant.
The First Covenant
"In the third month after the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai. And when they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the wilderness of Sinai, they encamped in the wilderness; and there Israel encamped before the mount" (Ex. 19:1, 2). This mountain was Mount Sinai, also called Horeb (Deut. 18:16). The succeeding verses relate how Moses went up into this mountain and acted as a mediator by receiving the covenant for the people. As stated, this covenant included the ten commandments and other laws.
The ten commandments were written upon tables of stone: "And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments" (Ex. 34:28; cf. Deut. 4:13). These two tables of stone on which were inscribed the ten commandments were placed in the ark of the covenant (Dent. 10:4, 5).
Because of the circumstances under which this covenant was given it is later referred to as the covenant God made with the fathers of Israel when he brought them out of Egypt. This almost seems to have become a technical expression for identifying the covenant. Proof that it was the ten commandment covenant which was so identified is found at 1 Kings 8. At verse 9 we learn, "There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone which Moses put there at Horeb, when Jehovah made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt." But at verse 21 we are told that the covenant which God "made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt" was in the ark. So the covenant made with the fathers when he brought them out of the land of Egypt must have been on the two tables of stone, which, as we have seen, contained the ten commandments.
Prediction — A New Covenant
Then Jeremiah, living some 600 years before Christ, predicted that God would "make a new covenant"; that this new covenant would not be "according to the covenant that (he) made with (the Jews') fathers in the day that (he) took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt" (Jer. 31:31-34). So the old covenant implied here was the one made with the fathers when God led them out of Egypt, which is identified as the ten commandment covenant. A confirmatory implication of this is found in the description of the character of the new covenant. It would be written in the heart (Jer. 31-33). There is an implied contrast in this with the ten commandments which were written on tables of stone, as appears from 2 Cor. 3:3 where Paul describes the Corinthians as "an epistle of Christ ... (written) not in tables of stone, but in tables that are hearts of flesh." So God would make a new covenant which would not be according to the ten commandment covenant.
Christ — Mediator Of New Covenant
The epistle to the Hebrews makes the application and fulfillment of this prophecy clear. At Heb, 8:6 the author speaks of Christ as "the mediator of a better covenant, which hath been enacted upon better promises."
Before going on let us make an observation or two here. The Greek word translated "mediator" is mesites, which is derived from mesos, meaning middle. The word refers to "one who intervenes between two, either in order to make or restore peace and friendship, or to form a compact, or for ratifying a covenant; a medium of communication, arbitrator" (Thayer, Grk.-Eng. Lexicon, page 401). Paul tells us that "a mediator of one" (Gal. 3:20). The use of a mediator implies that two or more parties are involved. As Lenski writes in Interpretation of Hebrews, "This term means 'middleman,' one who steps or stands in the middle between two; the context always indicates in what capacity or for what purpose he does this." The word itself does not imply the function of the "middleman." This must be determined from the context, or from other considerations. Moses was a mediator between God and Israel (Gal. 3:19). Compare Moses' words in Deut. 5:5, "I stood between Jehovah and you at that time, to show you the word of Jehovah." Moses, acting as mediator, received the law from God, delivered it to the people, and put it into effect by the sprinkling of the blood of animals, by which it was dedicated (Ex. 24:1-8; Heb. 9:18-22).
What is the function of Christ as a mediator? The word "enacted" (in Heb. 8:6) is a legal term; it means to give legal force to. Thayer defines nomotheteo, from which "enacted" is translated, to sanction by law, enact (page 427). The word is also used in Heb. 7:11 in the Passive Voice, "...the people received the law " This is not all Heb. 7:11 has in common with Heb. 8:6. The Greek preposition which is translated "upon" in 8:6 is epi; it also appears in 7:11 where it is rendered "under": "under (the Levitical priesthood) hath the people received the law." Now compare the two verses: The new covenant was "enacted upon (epi) better promises"; the people received the law upon (epi) the Levitical priesthood. "...the people received the Mosaic law established upon the foundation of the priesthood" (Thayer). Does not a comparison of these two thoughts clearly imply the association of the better promises of the new covenant with the priesthood of Christ which Heb. 7 shows is superior to the Levitical?
At any rate, the main thought to consider here is that Christ as mediator performed this function of giving legal force to the new covenant. He did this by his death on the cross, "And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a testament is there must of necessity be the death of him that made it. For a testament is of force where there hath been death: for it doth never avail while he that made it liveth." (Heb. 9:1517).
Thus, Jesus' function was not simply to deliver the new covenant from God to man but actually to give legal force to the covenant by his death. The word bebaios (of force), it might be observed, also appears in Heb. 2:2 where the law of Moses is said to have "proved stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward."
Fulfillment Of Jer. 31.
Returning now to Heb. 8, we will see that this new covenant which Jesus put into force by his death on the cross is the fulfillment of Jeremiah's inspired expectation. This is made extremely clear by the fact that the author quotes Jeremiah's words, making the application to this new covenant made effective through Christ's mediatorship (verses 8-12).
The writer sees one word in Jeremiah's passage which is of tremendous significance for his purposes. The one word selected by the writer for additional comment is "new." Hear him: "In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. But that which is becoming old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away" (verse 13). The writer sees in Jeremiah's mention of a "new" covenant the implication of the oldness of the first covenant.
From what point of time does the writer say that the old covenant "is nigh unto vanishing away"? This question troubled me for some time. At first I followed the view of Milligan whose position is that the old covenant as a religious institution was abolished at the cross, but as a civil institution it was not abolished until the destruction of Jerusalem; that at the writing of Hebrews the covenant as a civil institution was "nigh unto vanishing away." I now believe Milligan was mistaken.
The truth is that the old covenant was "nigh unto vanishing away" at the time of Jeremiah. The author of Hebrews simply makes a general statement concerning that which is old when he says, "But that which is becoming old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away." This is simply a general statement concerning anything that at any time can be said to be old. In Heb. 1:11 it is said that the heavens "shall wax old as cloth a garment." When a garment is too old for use it is put away; when the heavens "shall wax old" they will be "nigh unto vanishing away." The old covenant was pronounced old at the time of Jeremiah, 600 years before Christ. At that time, Jeremiah spoke of a new covenant and 'thus implied that the first one was old. So, even at that early date the "vanishing away" of the old covenant was eminent. At the time Hebrews was written it had vanished away; it had been superseded by a new and better covenant.
Sabbatarians make one attempt to evade the force of this passage. They say the difference between the old covenant and the new was that the old was on stones and the new was in the heart, but that the laws are the same. But they only assume that God would write all of the same laws on the heart. They have no proof. Second Chron. 31:3 mentions daily, monthly, weekly, and yearly feast days, all as being "written in the law of Jehovah." Luke 2:24 speaks of offering "a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord." These were laws of the Lord. Are they written in the hearts of Christians? Certainly not! Then not all of what were one time laws of the Lord are in the new covenant. The sabbath, for one thing, has been left out. The teaching of the New Testament shows what was included.
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