Tell the Truth

Explore the Bible Series

October 22, 2006


Background Passage: Hebrews 8:1-9:28

Lesson Passage: Hebrews 8:1-2, 6-10; 9:22-28


Introduction: The lesson text for this week has engendered a great deal of debate among Reformed Baptists; therefore, we need to approach this passage with some fear and trembling (and genuine humility).  Of course, this lesson outline will represent a certain point of view, and, hopefully, I will handle the delicate issues with a balance between conviction and graciousness.  At issue is the relationship between the Law and the Gospel, an important issue indeed.  As I understand these chapters, the following principles seem clear.


  1. While the Bible reveals a number of covenants God has made with men, two of these covenants stand above the others.  On the one hand our text discusses the Old (Mosaic) Covenant; that is, the system of ceremonial laws that governed ancient Israel.  In addition, our passage clearly points out that Christ has established a New Covenant with his people.
  2. There is an important relation between the Old and New Covenants.  The first covenant serves as a type of the second (See 8:5), and the second fulfills the types and shadows of the first. Therefore, the two covenants share a common message and aim: to reveal the righteousness and gracious redemptive work of God. As I see this, we must avoid the notion that the two covenants had differing purposes.  For instance, God did not establish the Old Covenant in order that men might gain salvation through the observance of a code of conduct or ceremonial ritual; rather, it pointed, through symbols and shadows, to the person and work of Christ.
  3. In some sense, the New Covenant rendered the Old Covenant obsolete (See 8:13).  Follow the line of reasoning carefully here.  If the two covenants share a common aim, then some aspects of the Old Covenant must have enduring relevance.  Both covenants, all would agree, deal with man’s guilt and need for the salvific work of the Lord on behalf of a defiled people.  Both testaments agree on mankind’s sinfulness as violators of the Law of God and the human need for redemption.  Both covenants, it seems to me, agree on the inviolable principles of God’s moral law as summarized in the Ten Commandments (both covenants agree on the nature of sin as a violation of the Law of God).  Also, both covenants agree that the Old Covenant did not adequately deal with the problem of man’s sin.  We see this principle stated clearly in our text (8:7f).  The very fact that the Mosaic sacrifices required constant repetition indicates that the Old Testament people of God realized that these animal offerings did not ultimately atone for sin; therefore, a New Covenant, with better promises and sacrifices, was necessary.
  4. Our text clearly indentifies the aspects of the Old Covenant that had been rendered obsolete: the Levitical priesthood and the bloody sacrificial system.  Notice that these chapters make no comment about the obsolescence of any moral precepts. Murder is still murder; adultery still adultery, thievery still thievery; covetousness still covetousness.
  5. This text does not imply, as I understand it, that the Old Covenant was less true than the New. The Mosaic Covenant did not teach a false “works righteousness” nor did it, properly understood, promote legalism.  The Old Covenant served as promise and signpost for the New Covenant.  Its purpose centered on pointing men to Christ as the fulfillment of all of the promises, prophecies, and symbols of the Old Testament.  The promise and the types were true and precious, but now the substance has come, the promises fade in the brilliance of the splendor of the promised Savior. 


Personal note: In my history classes, I occasionally read war-time letters from World Wars I and II.  These letters contain touching promises of love and commitment from spouses separated by the bloody demands of war.  Imagine, for a moment, that you are the wife or sweetheart of a soldier in the European theater of World War II.  Letters arrive from the front, and you read these letters with great longing and tenderness.  Your beloved sweetheart promises his safe return and a joyous reunion.  The missives seem most precious to you, and you read their sweet messages again and again.  Perhaps you find a special place to keep the letters, and, when you grow lonely, you reread them with tearful tenderness.  Then, the war ends, and your dear one returns from the battlefield.  Once again, you embrace your cherished husband and you rebuild your lives together.  The war letters remain precious, but they pale in significance as the dear husband returns.  I see the Old Testament in that way:  wonderfully precious and true.  I gain much help from studying the Old Testament types and shadows, but they remain treasured to me only as they point me to the substance of the Savior.


Outline of Background Passage:


I.                   A Major Principle Stated (8:1-6): This section begins with a bold statement about the centrality of the principle revealed here: Christ serves as a Great High Priest, enthroned in the glories of heaven (v. 1). This introductory section makes several affirmations about Christ.

A.    Christ serves as a minister in the true tabernacle which God erected (v. 2).  The term “minister” was used widely in the Roman world.  It denoted someone who performed a service that benefited other people. Hebrews uses the same word to refer to the activities of the angels (See 1:7). Here, however, the text describes a ministry unique to Christ.

B.     Christ, like other priests, offered gifts and sacrifices (v. 3).  The text affirms Christ’s suitability for this matchless work as one whom God appointed for the task.

C.     The priesthood and sacrifices, under the Mosaic economy, served as copies and shadows of the work of Christ (vv. 4-5).

D.    Christ obtained a more excellent ministry (as compared to the Mosaic priests) through his superior work as Mediator of a better covenant (v. 6). 



II.                The Superiority of the New Covenant (8:7-13)

A.  The obsolescence of the Old Covenant (vv. 7 and 13)

1.   The Old Covenant was not faultless (v. 7); that is, it suffered from

      certain inadequacies.  For instance, it could define and diagnose the sinful condition of mankind, but it could not provide a permanent atonement for man’s sin.

2.      The arrival of the New Covenant rendered the Old Covenant obsolete (v 13).  The text uses the analogy of an aging man.  Like an old person, the Old Covenant was, in the First Century, fading away and ready to vanish.

B.     The nature of the New Covenant as revealed in the prophecy of Jeremiah (vv. 8-11 and Jeremiah 31:31-34)

1.      The New Covenant was made necessary by the sinful disregard of the Old Covenant by the ancient people of God (v. 9). The Mosaic Law had no ability to renew the heart; therefore, the merely external constraints of the Law met with consistent human failure.

2.      The New Covenant addresses the issues of the heart (vv. 10-11).  God, through the Prophet Jeremiah, promised to write his Law upon the hearts of his covenant people. Furthermore, this new economy will bring men into a renewed relationship with God.  He will be their God, and they will be his people.  All of them shall know him, from the least of them to the greatest.  Personal note: The divine pledge to write the Law on the heart addressed some of the questions raised in our introduction.  If, indeed, there are no enduring aspects of the Old Covenant, why would God pledge to write his Law on the hearts of his people?  What Law does he write on their hearts? 



III.             Christ’s Superiority to the Tabernacle (9:1-10)

A.    The furnishings of the tabernacle (vv. 1-5):

1.      the lampstand

2.      the table of showbread

3.      the golden censer: Thomas Hewitt argues persuasively that this term may refer to the alter of incense.  Exodus records that the incense was located in the Holy Place, but the priest, when he entered the veil of the tabernacle, would have viewed the altar of incense in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant.

4.      the Ark of the Covenant containing the vessel of manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the stone tablets

5.      the golden cherubim over the Ark of the Covenant

B.     The typical figure of the Day of Atonement (vv. 6-10): The writer of Hebrews reminded his readers that the high priest entered the Holy of Holies once a year to atone for his own sins and the transgressions of the people (vv. 6-7). The Holy Spirit made it clear that ordinances, dietary laws, or ceremonial washings could not free men from the burden of his sin (vv. 9-10)

C.     Christ: the mediator of a new and better covenant (v. 11-28)

1.      Christ, unlike the bloody sacrifices of the Old Covenant, obtained eternal redemption for his people. The blood of goats and bulls could not atone for sin, but Christ entered the Most Holy Place, once for all, and offered himself, without spot, to cleanse the consciences of his people from dead works to serve the living God.  Furthermore, his death atoned for the sins of his people who lived under the Old Covenant (vv. 11-15).

2.      The necessity of death for the validation of a testament (will).  Hebrews uses the word “testament” to refer to a will.  A will does not go into effect so long as the testator remains alive. The Old covenant was validated by the shedding of blood as Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of calves and goats (vv. 16-22).

3.      Christ died, once for all time, to seal the will (testament) of God’s salvation.  Without this shedding of blood the New Covenant would not be effective (vv. 23-28).