Key Verse 8:6
“But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.”
The author has been telling us so much about our High Priest Jesus. And he’s really keen on some words he uses frequently throughout his letter; and one of them is the word “better” which he uses in relation to our Lord Jesus. Better hope (7:19) Better covenant (8:6) Better promises (8:6) Better possessions in heaven (10:34) Better country (11:16) Better resurrection (11:35) Blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (12:24). What the Jews had before Christ came was beyond any of our imagination— what they had in dignity as human beings as the one race on earth with divinely inspired morality— what they had in honor as a people specially chosen and set apart by God— and what they had in glory as they were privileged to have a special relationship with the only true God based on divinely inspired truth. No race on earth had the dignity, honor and glory this people had. Every thing about them was better than any other people on earth. God had singled them out of all people and given them the best of everything! They knew it and they boasted and gloried in it. Of course that was also their downfall. When pride of who we are and what we have and do pushes God to the sidelines of our lives (1 John 2:15-17), our downfall is imminent! But that’s not the point here. God had given and entrusted the Jews with the best things of life. And then he promised them something even better. And when the better came, they were so blinded with pride and self righteousness that they couldn’t see what’s better even when it was right there before them. They mocked Christ. They persecuted him. They betrayed him. And they handed him over to be crucified. They had the best of everything. But Christ was much better! And the apostle is here to remind them of why Christ is better— Better than anything they gloried in, which the apostle literally calls obsolete, outdated and even decaying (13).
I think we have to be very careful here because we too have the tendency to be enamored and dazzled by the shiny things we see and ignore the unseen and humble but better things of our Christian faith. Today many Christians seem to be attracted to the glamorous and shiny things that glitter and make noise, and tend to overlook the small unimpressive things that are better! Christ’s manger was more majestic and far better than the temple in all its glory. Christ’s riding into the holy city of Jerusalem on a donkey was far better and more beautiful than the high priest in all his glorious garments. Christ’s body broken and spilled out on the cross was far better and more beautiful than the tabernacle in all its golden glory. We must not forget what’s better and Who’s better in our daily lives as we walk humbly with our Savior. Let’s ask the Lord to purge our hearts of pride and self righteousness and to gift us with humility and repentance so that each of us may see and know and cherish what’s truly better in our hearts and lives.
Christ Jesus our Lord brought not only the Jews but the whole human race something better when he came to this world to become our Savior. The Old covenant that was given to Moses and the people in the desert after they left Egypt was centered on tabernacle sacrifices and the written law of God. These laws were written on stone (9:4). But Christ’s laws would be written on the human heart. (8:10). While the Old covenant was temporary, Christ’s covenant would be everlasting (13:20). While the Old covenant was sealed with the blood of animals, Christ’s covenant was sealed with his own blood (10:29). Surely it was a Better covenant. It was a better covenant established on better promises, based on the unchangeableness of God’s word (6:18). And this is mostly what the apostle relates to us in this passage, the better promises that the new covenant is based on (8-12).
Read verse 6. “But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.” In other words Jesus’ high priestly ministry is superior to all others and to anything that went before him. And the New Covenant that Jesus mediates for us before God is also superior to the Old Covenant which Moses mediated. And it’s better, especially because it’s established on better promises. Now for those who do not know what the word covenant means, it means an agreement between two parties. For example you agree to work for your boss for 40 hours a week, and your boss agrees to pay you a sum of money every month. You have an agreement. You sign papers. Now you have a covenant with one another. So now God also made a covenant with the people of Israel after he rescued them from their slavery in Egypt. It’s a little complicated to go into now, but simply speaking, the covenant was as follows. “Here are my laws and regulations for you to live by and to keep if you are going to be my people. If you obey them, then I will protect you and bless you and lead you to the land of promise.” This is very simply put, but there were very many great promises made by both sides, what the people promised to do and what God promised to do. It was an agreement— a covenant.
Read verse 7. “For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.” There’s the problem! The apostle is explaining to them why a new agreement had to be made— why a new covenant was necessary. That’s a good question. Why would God make a glorious covenant with the people of Israel based on great promises; why have them build a temple and erect a sanctuary and a tabernacle; why give them a system of sacrifices to sacrifice animals for their sins; why all this if God intended all along on making a new covenant with them? Many of them were convinced that the Old Covenant was enough! So the apostle here tells us very clearly that if there wasn’t something wrong with the old covenant, God wouldn’t have had to bring in a new one, or place another one into effect.
Now the wording here in verse 7 is a little tricky. When the apostle says “if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant”, he doesn’t mean that there was actually something wrong with it. In fact the old covenant was perfect in and of itself. Anyone who has read or studied the Bible from their heart, would agree that whether it’s Genesis or Deuteronomy or Malachi, there is nothing in this world as profoundly beautiful as the Bible. The Psalmist extols the law of God in Psalm 119 in 176 different ways that would bring tears to the eye. What can be more beautiful than the law of the covenant which our God gave his people to make them a people worthy of Him! “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:5) And “love your neighbor as yourself”. (Lev 19:18) Jesus himself told us that these are the sum of the entire law. Nothing in all creation can match the glory of these few words. As Paul said, the old covenant of law was “holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7:12) Jesus said that he had not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Jesus also said that not even the smallest letter from the law can be taken of the Law. (Matthew 5:17-18). what then can be wrong with the law? Absolutely nothing! Then what did the apostle mean in verse 7?
Read verse 8a. “But God found fault with the people.” It seems while there’s nothing wrong with the law of God itself, there’s something terribly wrong with the people. Surely there nothing wrong with the Old Covenant, but there’s certainly everything wrong with all of us. How so? Why did God find fault with the people? Simply speaking, because none of us could keep it. We have all failed to keep it, to obey it, to follow it— and to make it the law of our life. The Jews were given these laws written on stone, beginning with the Ten Commandments and extending to every area of life in relation to God and to each other. But even non-Jews who didn’t have the law written on tablets of stone understood some basic Devine laws written on their conscience such as— Do not lie or change the truth— Do not commit adultery with another man’s wife— Do not steal what does not belong to you— Do not kill another human being. We have all failed to keep the laws of God. Why? Because of sin! Sin causes us not only to break every law of God, but also to rebel against it. Paul tells us that “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Romans 8:7). Surely “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12) Surely then the fault is with us. And every human being, Jew or otherwise will have to face the living God on the day of judgment to account for every sin they had committed, and for every law they had broken. The tragedy of sin is this: Although people know all this in their hearts, still “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:18)
Man’s situation was really tragic. Except for those who found their way into God’s grace through faith in the old covenant, most would perish in their sins. And so would we if God hadn’t promised his people a new covenant. God had better things his people and promised them accordingly. As we said earlier, our Lord Jesus is what was promised them, for he is the better priest of a better priesthood; He is he the better sacrifice for better blood; and he is the better tabernacle and mediator of a better covenant.
Read verse 8b-12. “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because 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.”
These verses were spoken long ago by the prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34) where God promises a new covenant with the people and compares it with the old covenant. Simply speaking the new covenant is a covenant of grace which was based on glorious and everlasting new promises. And this new covenant is distinctive for it is not based on our own faithfulness to obey or follow God’s laws, but is rather based on God’s own faithfulness to seeing us through to eternal glory by the better life and works of his own Son Jesus Christ. In other words it’s a covenant of grace that cannot possibly fail, though we ourselves fail time and again.
Read verses 8b-9. “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.” God promised them and us a new covenant unlike the old covenant he made with them when he rescued them from Egypt. Although God himself took them by the hand and led them to freedom and to new life; although they had every reason to obey his laws and keep his way, they were unfaithful to him. In their unfaithfulness, even while God dwelt among them, they had no faith to trust him. In their unfaithfulness, their hearts turned to idols and they worshiped things. They were quick to complain against God and against Moses who prayed for them. Even while God was among them, they were lured and tempted into shameful and immoral acts that dishonored him. Their unfaithfulness is like many a Christian whose heart turns to idols and sexual immorality and faithlessness even while they claim to belong to Christ. Such were the people of Israel with whom God had made a covenant.
But God promises that in days to come he will make a new covenant with them. And it will not be like the old covenant he made with their ancestors. They had been unfaithful to him and to the covenant, and he had turned away from them. How tragic it was that the Lord who covenanted himself with them turned away from them because they turned away from him in the unfaithfulness of their hearts. That was the agreement, however. That was the condition of the covenant! When they didn’t keep their end of the bargain, God didn’t have to keep his end of the bargain. And so turned away from them and they suffered severe divine discipline. But God promised that the new covenant would be different from the old one in many ways. One glorious way that this new covenant of grace would be different is that there would be no cause for either to turn away from the other. This new covenant would seal a faithful and unbreakable and forever relationship between God and his people. In other words, in the new covenant of grace cannot be dissolved.
“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25). This is what Jesus did on the night before his crucifixion. He sealed a covenant with his disciples of all time with his own blood. It was the better covenant, the one promised by God through Jeremiah the prophet. That night Jesus made a covenant with his disciples sealing them to himself forever through his own blood. It was the beginning of a new relationship with him which is an unbreakable and everlasting relationship. That same night, Peter denied him three times in an act of cowardly unfaithfulness. His disciples scattered and abandoned him to the wolves in a cowardly act of unfaithfulness. None of these sitting at the table with him stood beside him at the time of his suffering and death. But the bond which Jesus sealed in his blood that night with them never shattered. The covenant was unbroken. It couldn’t be broken. It was a new covenant ushered in by our Savior and God. This new covenant did not depend on our own faithfulness— whether we can keep the law or not. It was written in Jesus’ blood and based on his own faithfulness and forever. Later Jesus found his distraught disciples and mended their broken hearts. And he assured them of his love and faithfulness to them as he embraced their weaknesses and forgave them. Surely this new covenant was different from the old one. We can rest assured that this new covenant is eternally unbreakable, for it is written in Jesus’ blood. Whoever receives this covenant is sealed unto the Lord forever.
Read verses 10-12. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because 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.” Now, these are the better promises of the better covenant. Not only is it unbreakable and eternal, but its promises are wondrous and glorious. What promises then, does this covenant hold? One of the first promises and blessings of this new covenant is that God would write his laws on our minds and our hearts. In other words, God took those Laws once written on tablets of stone, and wrote them directly onto the tablets of hearts and minds of those who trust the Lord Jesus by faith. To those God gives the Holy Spirit who impresses these laws on our hearts and minds and guides and helps us to obey them from the heart. The apostle John tells us that these laws that are upon our hearts are not burdensome, (1 John 5:3) because the true Christian wants nothing more than to obey God’s laws from his or her heart. And John tells us that one can know who’s not really a Christian, because to those who have not confessed the Lord Jesus as Lord and Savior are often burdened and oppressed by all that a Christian is called to do for the Lord. It is one of the Lord’s great blessings to have his laws written on our hearts and minds, by the Spirit, who helps us live in the sight of God. As a Christian, I know what I need to do. I need to live in repentance and in humility; I need to live in love and forgiveness; I need to be sacrificial and pure minded; I shouldn’t cheat or swindle anyone, and I need to love God enough to cast any idol I find in my heart and mind. How do I know this? I know this because these laws are written on my heart and mind and they are a joy and a delight to keep them.
Another glorious promise of the new covenant is that God is our God and we are his people (10b). This promise is the promise of a deep intimate relationship with the Lord our God. Our relationship with God was broken. No Jew under the Old Covenant imagined to have a personal relationship with God. But through the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood, the relationship is restored and sealed in a personal and intimate relationship. Those who know Christ Jesus as Lord also know that there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can break the relationship. Jesus said: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23) Another promise that arises from this is the truth that all people will have the privilege to know the Lord God. (11) He had been behind the curtain since the creation, and no human eyes or ears had ever seen or heard him, except for a select few. But in and through the Lord Jesus, all people can know the Lord God because Jesus “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” (Hebrews 1:3) Now anyone who wants to know God and hear him speak can look to Jesus. And when they have heard him and believed, a deep intimate relationship with God begins to which there is no end. And indeed as the Lord promised, the new covenant is not limited, for “from the least of them to the greatest…. They will all know me.” But let me say that this knowledge is not mere knowing about. It is knowing the Lord which comes through faith in him and submission to his sovereignty in our lives.
Finally, the author tells us of one of the greatest promises of this new covenant. (12) God forgives our sins in the Lord Jesus and he does not remember them again. Those who have believed in the Lord are really free from the guilt and oppressive power of sin that haunts humanity— and they are free forever and not just temporarily. Sometimes we suffer from the memory of past sins. We feel that the sin we committed are too shameful or too big to be forgiven completely. So we ask forgiveness again and again for the same sins. Even though God forgave all our sins and remembers them no more, the problem may be that we remember them and suffer inwardly. Why? It is because we do not believe God’s full and unconditional forgiveness— that he himself remembers them no more. We must “repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15) as commanded us by the Lord Jesus. This new covenant is a better covenant in every way we can imagine. It has been given to the Jews, and to us through the immeasurable grace of our Lord Jesus. It offers many things of glory, especially an intimate personal relationship with Christ, and his utter and complete forgiveness of sins. This alone is better than anything in life or in death. Let us be thankful and give glory to God.