Wednesday, May 25, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 31

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

Shadows and Substance

There is much to write about the next section. However there is also a unity that requires reading it all.

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 lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place. 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 AaronÂ?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 so 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 9:1-14, NASB 95)

We have come to expect this from the Writer of Hebrews. He has systematically worked through all the great pillars of the Old Covenant and replaced them with the Pillar of the New Covenant. That Pillar is Jesus, the Son of God, and the Jewish Messiah.

There is much in this passage that is intriguing. Let me start with one of the simpler, but not to say unimportant, points. In fact, it is the Writer's main point-- a KAL V'CHOMER argument, "If the blood of goats ... sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ ...Cleansee your conscience." KAL V'CHOMER--light and heavy--If this light thing, how much more this heavy thing.

The blood of God's Son taken and poured out in a tabernacle of substance has great weight. The tabernacle is where God manifested His presence during the wanderings of the children of Israel in the wilderness. That is the shadow. Jesus offered His blood at the place where the living God dwells. The blood of a goat poured at the base of the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies in the earthly tabernacle is just a picture, a representation of what was to come. It was an annual reminder of failure and need. Jesus took His blood before the living God and poured it out--and the Living God was satisfied, and seated the Son at His right hand, and the Son could ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit, who came and dwells in us, so that we have become the Temple in which God dwells, "Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)"

And by this our consciences are cleansed from dead works so that we are able to serve the living God. It is little wonder that the Writer early on in this work wrote, "How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation."

Next time, I will look at the imagery of the ages in this passage.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.

Monday, May 23, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews Lesson 30

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

The New Covenant

For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For 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; Not 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.

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. 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.

For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.

When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. (Hebrews 8:7-13, NASB 95)

The Writer of Hebrews here quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34. It is an important passage, because it prophetically defines what the New Covenant was to be about. I have written a full account of this passage in the paper Jeremiah: The New Covenant and I encourage you to read this. It is a published paper, and has more polish than these quick notes that I blog.

I think that it is important to know what the Writer means by "whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear." Or to put this another way, "What does the word 'whatever' contain?"

  • Does "whatever" include the entire Old Testament?
  • Does "whatever" include the instructions in the Torah?
  • Does "whatever" include the offerings made in the Temple?
  • And so forth

I have Messianic Jewish friends whose affection for the Torah lead them to refer to the "New Covenant" as the "Renewed Covenant," as if all the old needed was a face lift. Such a sentiment hardly seems justified in light of what we have read in Hebrews, where at every turn the Writer is hammering home the superiority of the New over the Old. When the Writer says obsolete, he is talking about a new model.

On the other hand, a new model is not completely different from that which it replaces. To compare a Model-T Ford with Ford Windstar is to see how the latter has made the former obsolete as a family vehicle: color, safety, performance, style, maintenance requirements, etc. But they are both automobiles and share several things in common--but the new improves on the old at nearly every point.

The Old Covenant had an external Law--Torah--that failed because it had no effect on the hearts of men and women. The New Covenant has an internal Law--Torah--written in the hearts of men and women. The Old Covenant defined sin, the New Covenant solved sin. The affection for Torah among my Messianic Jewish friends is not unfounded, but they should not allow it to keep them from seeing the glory of the new.

As I see it, here is what is going away. The Old Covenant was established by the reading of Torah and the children of Israel saying, "All that this book of the Law says we will do." Moses laid out the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience, and the children of Israel signed. That system failed. The New Covenant has a solution for the heart. It is not that the Law was bad--and a careful reading of Paul's letters will show his affection for it. It is the heart of men that is.

It is not surprising, then , that this is where the Writer of Hebrews will now lead us.