1. Did Old Testament prophets predict that God would make a new covenant with his people? Jeremiah 31:31-34. Would this be an everlasting covenant? Jeremiah 32:38-40; Ezekiel 16:60-62; 37:26; Isaiah 55:3.
The prophets predicted a new covenant between God and humans — a new basis of relationship. The fact that a new covenant would be made implies two things about the covenant made at Sinai: 1) The Sinai covenant was temporary, serving a temporary purpose, and 2) it was not complete for God’s ultimate plan and purpose. The new covenant, unlike the one made at Sinai, will last forever. It is designed for eternal life. “If there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another” (Hebrews 8:7).
What was wrong with the first covenant? “God found fault with the people” (verse 8). God foretold this to Moses: “These people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. And in that day I will become angry with them and forsake them” (Deuteronomy 31:16-18). The people were unable to obey the laws — and since the blessings were conditioned on the Israelites’ obedience, the covenant was limited.
Later, we will learn why God made a temporary covenant when he knew the people would not obey it. For now, we need to focus on the new covenant.
2. Will God make his special servant to be a covenant for his people? Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:7-9.
Isaiah used poetry and symbolism to describe a special servant of God. This symbolism was fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Matthew 12:17-21 says that Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 42:1-4, and in Luke 4:18-21, Jesus says that he was fulfilling Isaiah 42:7. Acts 13:47 says that Jesus is the “light for the Gentiles.”
The Messiah-Servant was the covenant — he was the basis of the relationship between God and his people. It is only through Jesus Christ that we can have an eternal relationship with God. “The Redeemer will come to Zion,” Isaiah 59:20 predicts, “to those in Jacob who repent of their sins.” God will make a covenant with these repentant people. His Spirit will be upon them, and his words will remain in them (verse 21). This is the new covenant.
3. Who is the mediator of the new covenant? Hebrews 9:15; 12:24. Has the new covenant been established? Hebrews 8:6. Is it already being administered? 2 Corinthians 3:6.
4. The old covenant was ratified with blood. What is the blood of the new covenant? Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Hebrews 10:29. How do we show that we accept the new covenant? Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25.
Christians have a relationship with God, and our relationship is on the basis of the new covenant, not the old. In the new covenant, God gives some commands and makes some promises, and those promises have already begun to be fulfilled. The Holy Spirit is given to us not only to transform our hearts but also as a down payment of greater blessings to come (2 Corinthians 1:22). Just as the old covenant was made before all the promises were delivered, so also the new covenant has been established before all its promises are completely given.
The new covenant was ratified through the blood of Jesus Christ. Not only did his death pay for our sins, it also ended the old covenant and began the new. When we drink the wine in commemoration of Jesus’ death, we show our acceptance of the new covenant, including the forgiveness that is given because of his shed blood.
5. When Jesus established the new covenant, did he set aside the first covenant? Is the old covenant now obsolete? Hebrews 8:13.
Here we see the reason that Christians are not required to keep some of God’s laws — because God has declared some of them obsolete. Since God has grouped his laws into covenants, it is essential that we understand the covenants if we want to understand why some Old Testament laws no longer need to be kept. Much of the Old Testament is built on the old covenant, and much of the New Testament is about the new covenant. Although a covenant is not exactly the same as a testament, the concepts are so closely related that a single Greek word is used for both. (For a more detailed study of Hebrews 8, click here.)
6. What kind of regulations did the old covenant have? Hebrews 9:1-4. Were the stone tablets part of the covenant regulations? Hebrews 9:4. How often did the high priest enter the holiest place in the tabernacle? Hebrews 9:7. What did he have to do before he entered? Hebrews 9:7.
The high priest entered only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. Before he entered, he had to offer special sacrifices and perform ritual washings. These are described in Leviticus 16.
7. What did the rituals indicate? Hebrews 9:9. Were the external regulations temporary? Hebrews 9:10. Is Jesus Christ the high priest of better things? Hebrews 9:11. Are those better things already here? Hebrews 9:11.
In the old covenant, the presence of God was symbolized by the Most Holy Place, the innermost room of the tabernacle. Only one person could go there, only once a year, symbolizing the fact that the old covenant did not disclose the way for everyone to live in God’s presence. The special sacrifices and rituals had to be regularly repeated, corresponding to the fact that the people’s hearts were not being cleansed.
Those external regulations were temporary, required only until Jesus Christ brought “the new order.” That’s because with Christ’s new covenant, people’s hearts are being cleansed, consciences are being cleared, sins are forgiven, and people have access to God through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:14-15). There is a new basis for relationship with God. (For a more detailed study of Hebrews 9, click here.)
8. Are the sacrifices and rituals a shadow of the good things that Christ brought? Hebrews 10:1. Could they make anyone perfect? Hebrews 10:1.
The rituals are not the realities. They symbolized what Christ would do, but the rituals themselves were not effective in doing what only Christ could do. The laws could not make anyone perfect, but Jesus Christ can (Hebrews 10:4). He can change the heart. Now that these realities are here, there is no longer a need for them to be symbolized through external rituals.
We do not need the signpost after we have arrived at our destination.
9. Does the new covenant include forgiveness of sins? Hebrews 10:15-17. Now that sins have been forgiven, is there any need for animal sacrifices? Hebrews 10:18. Because of that, can God’s people enter the presence of God? Hebrews 10:19. Why are we allowed to do that?
The room in the tabernacle was only a copy that imitated the heavenly reality (Hebrews 8:5). Through faith in Jesus Christ, we do not enter the earthly imitation, but the heavenly reality. We may enter God’s presence by the blood of Jesus Christ. Because he died for us, because he made a real relationship possible with God through the new covenant, we can confidently come into God’s presence knowing that our sins are forgiven.
The old covenant assigned Levites to be priests. In the new covenant, Jesus Christ is our high priest — and the fact that Jesus was not a Levite, yet is now a priest, gives further evidence that the old covenant has been set aside (Hebrews 7:12). Because he is our perfect high priest, we are encouraged to “draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” (Hebrews 10:22). (For a more detailed study of Hebrews 10, click here.)
10. Have we come to a place like Mt. Sinai? Hebrews 12:18-19. Where have we come? Hebrews 12:22-24.
We have come to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the church that approaches God through the new covenant. Paul uses similar word imagery when he says that the new covenant is “the Jerusalem that is above” (Galatians 4:24-26). This is where God’s presence really is, and we can boldly come into God’s presence through Jesus Christ our mediator (Hebrews 4:14-15). “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (verse 16).
Here are the other studies in this series:
- Christians Obey God
- Old Testament Laws Before Moses
- Moses and the Old Covenant
- The Early Church and the Law of Moses
- Paul and the Old Covenant
- A Few Examples of Obsolete Laws
- Seven Annual Sabbaths
- Dietary Laws and Uncleanness
- Jesus and the Old Covenant Laws
- The Weekly Sabbath — Jesus’ Example
- The Sabbath in Acts and the Epistles
- New Covenant Commands
- Salvation by Grace
Author: Michael Morrison