A New Covenant - Part III
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
In our last study, we examined the fact that God had established the New covenant, making the Old covenant obsolete. The writer used Jeremiah 31 to prove that the Old covenant tells of the establishment of the New covenant; 'Behold, days are coming,' says the Lord, 'when I will make a New covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah'' (Jeremiah 31:31). It was made clear that the Mosaic Law had been replaced by a new law. No longer was the covenant written on blocks of stone, but God promised that His law would be written on the hearts of His children (Hebrews 8:10).
The new covenant began with the death of Jesus Christ, but it has only been partially fulfilled. Remember, the new covenant was made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not with us. The only part of the new covenant that is offered to us is salvation. The rest of the covenant will see fulfillment in the millennial kingdom. At that time, all of Israel will be saved, and the curse on creation will be lifted (Hebrews 8:11).
The question remains, 'If the old covenant is obsolete, what use is it? Why do not we just get rid of it?' It is true that the old covenant is no longer in operation , but, as for all Scripture, it is still profitable for us. Why? We can study the character of God, and examine the life of God's people under the old covenant. We can see how God rewarded obedience and chastened disobedience. As we are told in 2 Timothy 3:16, 'All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.'
Now even the first (covenant) had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which (were) the lamp stand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place. And behind the second veil, there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which (was) a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron's rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant. And above it (were) the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail. Now when these things have been thus prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle, performing the divine worship, but into the second only the high priest (enters), once a year, not without (taking) blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit (is) signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which (is) a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they (relate) only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation. But when Christ appeared (as) a high priest of the good things to come, (He entered) through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
Hebrews 9 continues the context laid down in chapter 8 regarding the old covenant. The writer reminds the Hebrews that the old covenant made provisions for religious activity in the physical realm for the nation Israel. In verses 1-5 he remarks on the Old Testament Tabernacle. In verses 6 and 7 he examines the functioning of priests in the tabernacle. In verses 8-10 he illustrates the role of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of the tabernacle. And finally, in verses 1-14, the writer proves that Jesus Christ is the one who has fulfilled and supersedes the Old Testament Tabernacle.
The writer begins with a contrast of the Mosaic Covenant and the new covenant in verse 1; 'Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary.' Again, the 'first covenant' does not refer to the very first covenant made with Israel, but to the Mosaic Covenant, which is the first covenant in the context of the new covenant.
The writer says the first covenant 'had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary.' This is the key of the Mosaic Covenant. It was earthly, with physical instructions for worship. Some Christians still do not understand this truth today. We go to church and say, 'Let us go worship in the sanctuary.' Or we walk into church and say, 'Shhh. We need to be quiet in the church because God is here.' God is in church, but it has nothing to do with the building in which we worship. The new covenant is in direct contrast to earthly sanctuary of the Mosaic Covenant. Remember, God said He would write His laws on the hearts of His children (Hebrews 8:10). Do you know what the sanctuary of God is today? It is the hearts of believers! 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, 'Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?' During the fulfillment of the old covenant, the Spirit of God was manifested in the Holy of Holies, where the ark of the covenant was under the Cherubim. But today He resides within everyone who comes to believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
This is important because it indicates a marked change in the focal point of worship, bringing it from the physical to the spiritual. But there are still many people today who do not feel they can worship God unless they go to church at a certain time, sit in a certain seat, chant a certain prayer, and sing a certain song. If anything in their routine is disturbed, they become flustered and complain, 'How can I worship God if I cannot sit in my normal seat. I have been sitting there for thirty years, and now someone else is sitting there. What am I going to do now.' It is amazing how believers become locked into systems, rituals, and traditions. We tend to stick to a routine that makes us 'feel' like we have worshipped, failing to realize that 'feelings' and correct biblical worship have no association with one another.
In verse 2 the writer begins a physical description of the tabernacle. He begins by describing the outer tabernacle; 'For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lamp stand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place.' The picture is of two tents. In the first tent (the outer tabernacle) sits the furniture. On the left, as one went in the tent, sat the lamp stand, and on the right, the table of shew bread (sacred bread).
The second tent, or 'veil' is called the 'Holy of Holies' in verse 3. This is the place where God manifested His presence, and the high priest only visited once per year, on the Day of Atonement. As one may recall, this is the day that the priest made sacrifice for his sin, and the sins of the people. This is also the place where the ark of the covenant was kept. The writer says in verse 4; 'having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron's rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant.' The writer includes the 'golden altar' as an item that is included inside the 'Holy of Holies,' but it is actually in the holy place in front of the second veil. The reason he connects it with the 'Holy of Holies' is because the altar of incense is related to the ministry that accompanies the ark of the covenant.
As one can see, there are some items that fill the second veil along with the ark of the covenant. First, there is a golden jar of 'manna.' This manna was supernaturally preserved by God, because manna usually became rotten within one day. This was to be a reminder to Israel of God's provision for them.
Secondly, there was 'Aaron's rod,' which demonstrated God's choice of Aaron and his family in the priesthood. And, of course, this was a very significant part of Judaism.
Finally, there were the 'tables of the covenant.' These tables were the ten commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
The writer continues his description of the tabernacle in verse 5; 'And above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail.' These two cherubim overshadowed the mercy seat, the place where the blood was sprinkled on the day of atonement to make propitiation for the sins of the nation. The stress in verses 2-5 is that these are all physical items that were connected with worship and the ministry of the high priest.
What happened when everything had been set up properly in the outer and inner tabernacles? The writer says, 'Now when these things have been thus prepared (the physical items of worship), the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle, performing the divine worship.' All the priests were going in and out of the outer tabernacle on a regular basis, 'but into the second only the high priest enters, once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of people committed in ignorance.' Again, this is a reference to the Day of Atonement. This was the one day a year when the high priest entered the Holy of Holies and offered a sacrifice for his sins, and the sins of the people of Israel.
As one may recall, there was a distinction in the sins of the people of Israel. There were willful sins, and 'sins of people committed in ignorance.' This ties into the book of Hebrews, to the warning passages that caution the Jews about committing the willful sin of rebellion and blasphemy against God, for which there is no provision for forgiveness. Numbers 15:27-28 and 30 illustrate the distinction between these two types of sin. Verses 27-28 say, 'Also, if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven.'
Contrast those instructions with those given for one who rejects God; 'But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be on him' (Numbers 15:30-31). The person who defiantly rebelled against God had no chance for redemption. This ties into the warning passages we have studied in Hebrews as well. Those who defiantly reject Christ have no provision made for them. They will be cut off for eternity.
What does all of this mean? In verses 8-9 the writer says, 'The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the tabernacle has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the time then present... .' In other words, it is the Holy Spirit who is responsible for the record given to us of the old covenant. And the significance of the outer tabernacle being divided and separated from the inner tabernacle was that the way into the presence of God had not yet been given. The Jews were continually reminded, by the physical presence of the tabernacle, that they were not allowed to enter into the presence of God.
This symbol is significantly dealt with in the persecution and execution of Jesus Christ. Matthew 27:50-51 says, 'And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split.' At the death of Christ, the veil was torn from top to bottom, symbolizing that access to God is now available to mankind.
This is still a misunderstood truth today. People build up all kinds of intermediaries, such as Mary, or the different 'saints.' They go through various rituals which they think will bring them closer to God. When people practice these kinds of things, they are doing nothing more than operating under the old covenant. They have failed to realize that the veil has been torn down, and we now have access to God, Himself, through the salvation provided in Jesus Christ.
The writer continues in verse 9; '...according to which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshipper perfect in conscience.' We have already seen this flaw with the old covenant-it could not bring perfection to the people who were involved. One will note that the perfection mentioned is in the area of 'conscience.' The Old Testament saint could never have the sense of forgiveness that you and I can have today. When we believe today that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and ask His forgiveness, we are forgiven for all eternity. An Old Testament saint, however, could never have the sense of eternal forgiveness. Why? He was constantly having to offer sacrifices for his sin. His conscience was never assured that he was forgiven by God.
The old covenant could not provide internal cleansing and perfection 'since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation' (vs 10). The old covenant consisted only of physical activity, and physical activity cannot provide the inner, spiritual cleansing that we have with the new covenant. This is why people who believe that you must be baptized, practice good works, or perform some other ritual in order to be saved are operating under the old covenant. They are practicing physical activity in an effort to be forgiven.
People who are still trying to bring the old covenant into practice today have not taken into consideration the end of verse 10. The old covenant was not to be put into practice forever. It was only to be used 'until' God brought a 'time of reformation.' When did God open the curtain? The instant our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. At that point in time, the old covenant became obsolete.
In verse 11 the writer turns his attention to the person of Jesus Christ. He says, 'But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation.' This verse reads better if one drops out the words 'He entered,' because the emphasis is not that He passed through one tabernacle into another. The emphasis is that He passed into the true Holy of Holies, of which the earthly Holy of Holies was only a symbol. Jesus Christ functions as our high priest completely in the presence of God, Himself.
The tabernacle, in which Christ serves, is perfect. It is not made by human hands. It is not a part of creation. It is not associated with the blood of bulls and goats, or associated with anything physical. Jesus Christ serves in the spiritual reality that the physical tabernacle only symbolized.
How did Christ enter the true tabernacle? '...not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.' The basis of Christ entering the Holy of Holies into the presence of God in heaven on our behalf was the shedding of His own blood, and His death. This is the reason that you and I can have forgiveness today. To receive forgiveness from God for our sins, another human being had to die in our place. That person was Jesus Christ. This was the point of Hebrews chapter 2. Christ became identified with humanity for the express purpose of paying the penalty for the sin of humanity.
When Christ died for our sins, He entered the Holy of Holies 'once for all.' This is in direct contrast to the activity of the high priest of the old covenant. As one will recall, the high priest of the old covenant had to enter the earthly Holy of Holies once per year to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. Jesus Christ only had to enter once because His work is eternally complete.
Some people believe that Christ went to heaven and He is continually offering His blood to the Father on our behalf. According to verse 12 this is not true. He '...obtained eternal redemption.' This phrase is in the aorist tense, indicating a completed action. Christ paid the necessary price for us with His death, and it is finished. This is the reason He entered God's presence 'once for all.'
In verses 13 and 14, the writer contrasts the Old Testament system with the New Testament system. He says, 'For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh.' The writer uses two instances of the Old Testament worship system as examples: The 'blood of goats and bulls,' referring to the Day Of Atonement (Leviticus 16), and the 'ashes of a heifer,' referring to the Ordinance Of The Red Heifer (Numbers 19). These were rituals that cleansed people from physical defilement.
The point is, if they could accomplish cleansing in a physical realm, 'how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God' (vs 14)? The contrast is that the work of Christ is in the realm of the spiritual.
How is His work accomplished? One will note the repeated stress on Christ's death ('...offered Himself...'). He was a sacrifice 'without blemish.' It is this sacrifice that can cleanse our conscience. The Mosaic Covenant could not do this, no matter how many goats or bulls were offered. They were stuck in the physical realm, and had to be cleansed through the physical as well.
When we believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ, we are cleansed of our 'dead works' and we can now 'serve the living God.' Do you see the contrast in these two phrases? Our works are 'dead,' but God is 'living.' It is amazing that people would rather hang on to their dead works rather than serve the living God. They 'feel' like they are worshipping more when they chant a prayer, or sing a certain song. These people are holding on to a form of 'dead works,' the physical worship of the Old Covenant, which was never able to save anyone spiritually.
Some Christians like to say, 'See, we are not saved by our works, and anyone who says works have to do with salvation is legalistic.' It is true that we are not saved by our works, but what is to happen when we are truly saved? Are we supposed to just sit around waiting for the Lord to return? No! The writer says the reason that Christ died for our sins, and gave us salvation is so we may 'serve the living God.' If you are someone who claims to have believed in the person and work of Jesus Christ but are not functioning in the body and serving Him, you are either not a believer, or you are living in rebellion to His purpose in your life.
Ephesians 2:8-10 illustrate this truth. Paul says, 'For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.' Our salvation is by grace. It is the unmerited favor of God. How is it worked out? Is it through baptism, church membership, or confirmation? No, it is through 'faith.' When a person simply believes that Jesus Christ died for their sins, they are forgiven and brought into an eternal relationship with God. What is the purpose of the salvation of Jesus Christ being offered to us? Is it so we can be theologians? No, it is so that we may accomplish 'good works.' Again, good works are a result of salvation, not a cause of salvation.
In like manner, Paul instructs believers to 'deny ungodliness and worldly desires' and be 'zealous for good deeds' (Titus 2:12,14). This is the point that 1 John develops so pointedly. A person who claims to be a believer but has not had any change of character and is not manifesting a zeal for serving the living God, does not belong to God. Why? Because God promises us that His character will be manifested in all His children, even His children who are acting in the flesh such as the Corinthians. Even in their rebellion, He manifested His character.
The question is 'Have you been cleansed in the inner man? Are you relying upon Christ alone as the One who takes care of your sin?' If you answer in any way but 'yes,' you are deceiving yourself. If you have not trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior, you can right now. If you will believe that He died for you and was raised because of His victory over death, you will be cleansed on the inside, and enter into an eternal relationship with the living God.
If you have been cleansed in the inner man, is the character of God being manifested in your life? A zeal to serve God should characterize our lives as believers because our service to the living God is what brings glory to Him.
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