V66But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.. This section is about “a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises”. The “ministry” of the high priesthood of the Lord Jesus is related to that. His ministry is “more excellent” than that of the high priests under the old covenant. That took place on earth and was temporary, while the ministry of the Lord Jesus takes place in heaven and is everlasting. His ministry as a High Priest is that of a Mediator. A mediator is somebody who mediates between two parties that have made an agreement or covenant.
A covenant is a contract between two parties with obligations for each of the parties. The two parties are God on the one hand and His people on the other hand. This covenant originates from God. He determines the obligations, both which He should fulfill and which His people should fulfill. He freely takes His own obligations, while He imposed them on man in the form of commandments. God’s commandments are the conditions of how man is able to deal with God. On that ground God fulfills His promises.
What is now meant by “a better covenant” and by “better promises”? When something is ‘better’, it means that it is better in comparison to something else. You read further about ‘a new covenant’ in comparison to a covenant that God made with His people when they departed from Egypt. The better covenant is better, compared to the old covenant. That was made by God with His people at mount Sinai. Thereby God determined the conditions that the people had to fulfill in order to receive His promises. That promise was the blessing in the land of promise. But the people didn’t fulfill their obligations and therefore the promised blessing could not be given.
Now there is ‘a better covenant’ with ‘better promises’. This better covenant is also accompanied by obligations that are to be complied and also by promises of blessings that the believer receives when he complies with the obligations.
And now the role of the mediator becomes clear. He acts on behalf of both the parties. As “mediator” the Lord Jesus has all features that are fitting to the Being of God. So He knows exactly which holy conditions He has to fulfill. He also has the nature of those on whose behalf He is acting (of course with the exception of sin, Heb 4:1515For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as [we are, yet] without sin.). Therefore He can also perfectly meet with the need of man.
Under the new covenant all holy conditions of God are fulfilled by the Mediator. Based on Who the Mediator is and what He has done, God is able to freely give His blessing to everyone who is connected to that Mediator. Therefore the big difference between the old and the new covenant is that under the first or old covenant the blessing was dependent on the response of man, while under the second or new covenant everything is exclusively dependent on God.
V77For if that first [covenant] had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.. That a second or a new covenant was needed meant that the first one had not delivered the result that was desired. The first covenant was not “faultless”. That was not due to the first covenant, the law, but it was due to man. The second one is indeed faultless, for it is totally outside of man’s responsibility. There was found what was searched for to enable man to yet partake of God’s blessing. This is found in and through the atoning work of Christ.
V88For finding fault with them, He says, “Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah;. The Lord already announced this new covenant through Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-3431“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,32not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.33“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.34They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
). The announcement of that was on the one hand a tremendous promise, but on the other hand it was an admonition to Israel. After all, if they had complied with the obligations of the old covenant they would have received that which was promised and a new covenant was not necessary.
It is important now that you notice with whom the old covenant was made and with whom the new covenant will be made. The old covenant was made with Israel at mount Sinai. That becomes evident from verse 99Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers On the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care for them, says the Lord.. According to verse 88For finding fault with them, He says, “Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; the new covenant will also be made with Israel. It is not made with the church, unlike what you probably hear or read sometimes. The church surely enjoys all privileges that belong to the new covenant, because its foundation is the blood of Christ. Though the church enjoys all the privileges in the spirit, in a spiritual way and not in the letter, like Israel soon will literally and tangibly enjoy that blessing on earth.
The new covenant will be formally made with Israel in the millennial kingdom of peace. Then the house of Israel, the ten tribes, and the house of Judah, the two tribes, will be united as one nation. When you read through Jeremiah 30-31, from which the writer quotes here, you will see that those chapters are filled with information about the return of Israel to the land where the promises of God will be fulfilled. In the quotation here it appears who will do that. You read seven times: ‘I will.’ That is the adequate guarantee for the fulfillment of the new covenant.
V99Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers On the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care for them, says the Lord.. That sounds and is totally different than the old covenant at mount Sinai. There all the people of Israel said three times that they would do everything that the Lord had spoken (Exo 19:88All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD.; 24:3,73Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!”7Then he took the book of the covenant and read [it] in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”). But even before they received God’s conditions in the law they already had broken them by making the golden calf (Exo 32:1-51Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”2Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring [them] to me.”3Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought [them] to Aaron.4He took [this] from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”5Now when Aaron saw [this], he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow [shall be] a feast to the LORD.”).
Then God “took them by the hand”, for they couldn’t live up to the obedience that they had threefold committed themselves to. He led them through the wilderness to the land. But because they continuously broke His covenant, God couldn’t regard them anymore to bless them. He had to disregard them.
But He didn’t do that for ever, for God Himself comes with a new covenant. And that new covenant is “not like” the old covenant. A new one but according to the old covenant would have the same miserable result.
V1010“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, And I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be My people.. This new covenant is different because it is not dependent on the responsibility of man, but on the grace of God. In that grace the Son of God fulfilled all conditions through His work on the cross.
This new covenant is made with Israel “after those days”, those are the days after the dispersion and anguish of Israel. ‘After those days’ the days of the millennial kingdom of joy and righteousness will come under the Messiah. They will be able to enjoy the outward blessing, because inwardly also a great change has happened to them. The law was imposed on the people of Israel under the old covenant as a heavy yoke that they could not bear (Acts 15:1010Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?). In the new covenant Israel has been inwardly purified and reconciled and has received a new nature that desires to do God’s will.
As a result of God’s work God will put His ”laws into their minds”, which means that their whole mind will be determined by that. God will also work that His laws will be written “on their hearts”, which means that they will obey them with love and that all their actions will be characterized by it.
The law will not then be a yoke anymore, but they will cherish it in their heart as it was with Christ (Psa 40:88I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart.”
) and they will be able to fulfill the law. They shall obey, not out of fear for punishment, but out of love to God. Then the relationship between the people and God will be restored. God will be the God of His people and they will be His people.
V1111“And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ For all will know Me, From the least to the greatest of them.. The new covenant, the law in their mind and heart, will mark all the relations of the people. It will be the principle of both the social and the religious life of Israel in the millennial kingdom. Under the new covenant there is no middle class of lawyers anymore who will have to present the law to their countrymen to know the Lord, which is to involve Him in everything of their lives. In the millennial kingdom that will not be necessary at all.
Everyone will act from a personal relationship with God and not through mediators. In civil relationships everyone, in his dealing as “fellow citizen”, shall be guided by the knowledge of God and from the fellowship with Him and not by selfishness. Everyone shall deal with others as “brother” in the religious life, in order to honor God together according to the knowledge he has of God and from the fellowship with Him. A self-willed religion will not occur.
V1212“For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.”. In that marvelous situation there is nothing that can bring a separation between God and His people. God has cast all their sins in the depths of the sea (Mic 7:1919He will again have compassion on us;
He will tread our iniquities under foot.
Yes, You will cast all their sins
Into the depths of the sea.
) and will never come back on it again. The fact that He will remember their sins no more is something else than that He forgets them. It means that He will not pay attention to those sins anymore, because they are removed through the work of the Lord Jesus. That is the basis of His graceful dealings in future. What will be true for the people in future you’re already allowed to acknowledge now: the assurance of the forgiveness of your sins.
V1313When He said, “A new [covenant],” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.. After the extensive and instructive quotation, the writer concludes this chapter by repeating to say what he also said before this quotation in verse 77For if that first [covenant] had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.. There he spoke about a ‘first’ and a ‘second’ (covenant); here he speaks about a ‘new’ and an ‘old’ (covenant). When you speak about ‘a new’ you declare the previous one to be ‘old’. Something that is old, has had its time. It is visible from its look that something is out of date; it is “obsolete”. That’s what was the matter with the first covenant.
It is also said additionally that it is “ready to disappear”. The best way to interpret this, is to see it as an allusion to the coming devastation of Jerusalem in the time this letter was written. That devastation was going to happen in the year 70, which made it completely impossible to maintain something from the Old Testament.
Now read Hebrews 8:6-13 again.
Reflection: What are the differences between the old and the new covenant?