In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:13)
We are in the second half of the author of Hebrew’s discourse on the high priesthood of Jesus, which spans Hebrews 5:1 through 10:18. As we opened chapter 8, after pausing to summarize what he has been teaching, the author goes on to introduce three ways that demonstrate that Jesus’s high priestly ministry is superior to the old order Levitical priesthood. These three ways are seen in: 1) the true heavenly tabernacle in which Jesus ministers, 2) the sacrifice that provides the basis for his ministry, and 3) the covenant which he mediates which is enacted on better promises. Each of these points are expanded upon in the coming chapters: 1) the greater heavenly tabernacle in chapter 9:1-10, 2) the greater sacrifice in chapters 911-10:18, and 3) the greater covenant in the remainder of chapter 8.
On Sunday, we will be looking at the greater covenant described in Hebrews 8:6-13. Quoting from the prophet Jeremiah, in verse 8 and 9, God says, “I will make a new covenant … it will not be like the [old] covenant.” He does not say, “I will renew the covenant which they broke.” Clearly this new covenant will be quite different than the old; it will not just be a patching up of what previously failed, but it is a completely new and utterly different covenant. The differences that stand out in Jeremiah’s prophecy are at least threefold: 1) the new covenant is unconditionally secured by God Himself; whereas the old covenant was conditioned on the obedience of the people; 2) the new covenant is spiritual whereas the old was tied to physical promises; and 3) the new covenant finally and fully does away with sin by providing forgiveness, whereas the old covenant could only provide a temporary atonement. In summary, the old covenant, in the words of the apostle Paul (2 Cor 3:7), is a ministry of death, whereas in the new covenant we have hope, liberty and glory (see all of 2 Corinthians 3 for this contrast).
As you read the passage in Hebrews, give emphasis to the pronouns “I” and “they” which are emphatic and set over against each other in Greek. This will help you to see the infinite contrast between a religion of human effort that ends in death and a covenant of grace that carries eternal life.