Why the Old Covenant would not Suffice: A thought on Hebrews 8:7

August 15, 2008 at 7:13 pm Leave a comment

This post is specifically focused on the book of Hebrews, therefore I have not posted links to each verse via web, which I usually do. If a reference is made to another book of the Bible I have posted links there. I urge you, if you are one of the few people reading this have the book of Hebrews open to follow along.

The book of Hebrews tells us that Christ is the permanent minister in the sanctuary, the one true tabernacle of God (8:2, 6). It is this heavenly tabernacle which served as the pattern Moses used to construct the temporary earthly system (8:5; cf. 9:24; 10:1) by which men would engage with God. See Exodus 25:40. According to Guthrie, Hebrew’s mention of the heavenly tabernacle in chapter 8 is a direct reference to the permanent heavenly dwelling of God. The OT pattern materialized on earth was nothing but a mere shadow of this one true tabernacle or sanctuary of God. During the OT times, the tabernacle served as the earthly ‘dwelling place of God’, within which there was the office of high priest, who had the specific role of performing rites and offering sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. The function of earthly priests should be seen as nothing but an earthly pattern of what was to come in Christ. The function of earthly priests should be seen as nothing but an earthly pattern of what was to come in Christ.

Obviously, “the priestly ministry of Christ is superior because it involved the offering of himself as a perfect sacrifice to God (7:26-27) and because it inaugurates the new covenant (8:6).” (Peterson, Engaging with God, 231)

It is here that we realize that “because of what Christ has achieved, the OT system of approach has been ‘set aside’ and a new basis of relationship with God has been established (10:9-14; 8:13).” (Peterson, Engaging with God, 231) I think this helps us understand the wording of Hebrews 8:7, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.” Some might ask, the old covenant had fault?

The fact that a new covenant was established is evidence alone that the old covenant was not adequate. Hebrews 7:11 tells us that perfection was not attainable through the Levitical priesthood. As Guthrie (Hebrews, 174) contends, “If indeed the law had been the complete answer to man’s need” (and God’s satisfaction) there would be no place for a new covenant. It is not that the law itself is faulty, but man’s conformation under the law is found lacking.

The old covenant was lacking not so much in “what it’s terms spelled out” (Morris, Hebrews, 76) as in the fact that it was weak and unable to bring men to God (Rom. 7:10f). This is expounded on in Hebrews 7:18, where the writer poses that ‘on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness, and uselessness.’ The law made nothing perfect (reiterating a similar point made in 7:11), but perfection was needed to bring men to God, and God desired that men would be enabled to come to him.

At this point, man seems to have a hopeless grim situation, but new hope is introduced, namely Christ. It is through Christ that we draw near to God. It is even established that God himself initiated the relationship, and locked it in as a promise. Christ was ordained by God (7:17, 21), and sealed as the permanent high priest (7:23-24), and initiated into the office once and for all (7:27; 9:24-28; 10:10, 12, 14). “The inauguration of the new covenant by Jesus means the fulfillment and replacement of the whole pattern of approach to God established under the mosaic covenant.” (Peterson, Engaging with God, 228 ) Only Jesus is able to provide the necessary sacrifice for the purification of sin (1:3; 2:17). In the same way that the high priest (on the day of atonement) was to deal with the problem of sin by means of appropriate sacrifices, and remove from the Israelite’s what provoked God’s anger (Lev. 16; Heb. 9:11-12, 23-28; 10:1-10) Christ sacrificed himself on the cross.

It is through the blood of Christ that sin is removed and makes it possible for sinful people to draw near to God (9:12-14, 15-22; 10:19, 29; 12:24; 13:12), only because Christ offered himself as a perfect-obedient-unblemished sacrifice and atoned for our sin (5:7-9; 7:27; 9:14, 28).

Now, with all that said consider Peterson’s definition of worship;

“An engagement with God on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible”

Entry filed under: Religion.

Akin on Christian “Guidelines for Gray Areas” Religious Doubt and the Christian Faith

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