A Better Promise (Hebrews 11)

In Hebrews chapter 11, the author develops a critical similarity between the old covenant saints and new covenant believers; the absolute need to live by faith.  For the Old Testament believers, their faith was centered around the idea that something better was coming.

By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain…By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death…By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, prepared an ark…By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out…not knowing where he was going…By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for a city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised….All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb 11:4-13).

The author continues to highlight the faith of the Old Testament saints throughout the rest of chapter 11.  By the end of the chapter he brings us, the new covenant believers, into the picture.  “And all these [Old Testament saints], having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us [new covenant saints], so that apart from us they would not be made perfect” (Heb 11:39-40).  “Something better” takes us back to Hebrews 8:6, “But now Jesus 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” (Heb 8:6).

What are these “better promises” that apply to new covenant believers?  And what kind of faith is required for us to lay hold of these promises?  We will explore these questions next time.

A Better Offering (Hebrews 10:1-16)

Coming now to Hebrews chapter 10, the author stops to summarize his main point:  The superiority of Jesus and the new covenant that He ushered in by His complete and sufficient sacrifice for our sins.  “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.  Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have consciousness of sins?  But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:1-4).  The Old Testament sacrifice was not a complete salvation, but only a temporary covering for their sins.

But when Christ came, the temporary sacrificial system was replaced by His permanent obedient sacrifice.  “Therefore, when Christ comes into the world, He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me;  in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.  Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God” ‘ ” (Heb 10:5-7).

“When Christ said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will,’ He takes away the first in order to establish the second.  By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:9-10).  Christ came to replace the old covenant system of sacrifice with the once-for-all obedient sacrifice of His own body.

This sacrifice has a here-and-now application as well as a once-for-all.  “For by one offering He has perfected [completed the salvation] for all time [once for all] those who are being sanctified [in the here and now]” (Heb 10:14).  Being sanctified how?  “By the Holy Spirit who testifies to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them’ ” (Heb 10:15-16).  This is a repeat of the promise of Hebrews 8:10.

How does God write His laws, His ways, on our heart and mind?  By giving us the mind of Christ Himself through the indwelling Spirit.  “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words…For who has known the mind of the Lord?…But we have the mind of Christ” (I Cor 2:12-13, 16).  Can you believe it?  You have the mind of Christ.  And the implications of this are enormous.


A Better Sacrifice (Hebrews 9:11-28)

“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” (Heb 9:11-12).  Christ’s death, the spilling of His blood, was a better sacrifice.  Christ’s blood not only obtained our “eternal redemption”, but it also empowers our Christian walk as we see in these verses ahead.

“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?  And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:13-15).

The promise of the new covenant has an eternal and a present component.  On the eternal front, our transgressions are paid in full by Christ’s blood and we have obtained an “eternal inheritance”.  On the present-day front, Christ’s blood “cleanses our conscience to serve the living God”; to live godly lives.  When Christ died, our old sin nature died with Him and we have been raised with Christ to walk in a new life, to walk in a new resurrection power (Rom 6:4).  The ramifications of this for experiencing the supernatural Christian life are the heart and soul of what Fanning the Flames is all about.  But we move on.

“For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own…so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him” (Heb 9:24-25,28).  Christ’s first coming secured our initial salvation and our eternal destiny.  He saved us when He bore our sins on the cross.  Christ’s second coming will secure our final salvation; our ultimate rescue from this world to live forever with Him.  Even so, come Lord Jesus!

A Better Covenant (Hebrews 8:4-13)

“The priests who offer the gifts according to the Law serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; ‘See,’ He says, ‘that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.’  But now Christ 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.  For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second” (Heb 8:4-7).  The recurring theme of Hebrews continues.  Moses and the Old Testament priests and the Law were a foreshadow of what was to come.  Jesus is better, and the covenant He initiated, the new covenant, is superior to the old.

The author continues in chapter 8 by quoting the promise of Jeremiah chapter 31.  “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…for this is the covenant I will make…I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts, and I will be their God, and they will be My people” (Heb 8:8-12).

John the Baptist prophesied that when the Messiah came, He would not baptize with water but with the Holy Spirit.  When you received the new covenant offer of Jesus – “He who believes in the Son has eternal life” (Jn 3:36) – your sins were forgiven and you were baptized (indwelt) by the Holy Spirit.  You now have, by the indwelling Spirit, God’s law written on your heart and mind.  The promise of Jeremiah chapter 31, the promise of a new covenant, has come true in us; God is our God, we are His people, and His law is written upon our hearts and minds.

The author concludes chapter 8 with, “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete.  But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear” (Heb 8:13).  This hearkens back to II Corinthians chapter 5.  On the basis of “Christ died for all, therefore all died” (II Cor 5:14), we know that “the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (II Cor 5:17).  May all the “new” of the new covenant be much more than just an observation, may it be our experience as well.

A Better Priest (Hebrews 7:21-8:2)

“But He with an oath through the One who said to Him, ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, You are a priest forever.’  So much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Heb 7:21-22).  As a priest forever, Jesus is the guarantee of a better covenant than the one associated with the former priesthood.

“The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers, because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently.  Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:23-25).  Salvation through Jesus is complete because He is a priest forever.

“It is fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.  For the Law appoints high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever” (Heb 7:26-28).

Letting the Bible speak for itself, we see that Jesus is a better priest and guarantees a better covenant.  The Law, represented by the Levitical priesthood, was powerless and temporary.  The new covenant is eternal and saves completely because its guarantor is Christ, the forever priest, who died once for all as a sacrifice for our sins and now intercedes for us before the Father.  Calling Christ “holy, innocent, undefiled, and separated from sinners” highlights His sinlessness and no need for a sacrifice for Himself.  His death was on our behalf and saves us completely and forever.

Continuing into chapter 8, “Now the main point in what we have said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man” (Heb 8:1-2).