Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance … (Hebrews 9:15)
We continue to examine the author of Hebrews’ discourse on the superior nature of the high priesthood of Jesus, which spans Hebrews 5:1 through 10:18. We are in the second half of the discourse where, beginning in chapter 8, the author introduces three ways that demonstrate Jesus’s high priestly ministry is superior to the older order priesthood: 1) the true heavenly tabernacle in which Jesus ministers is greater than the earthly tabernacle, 2) the sacrifice of His own blood is greater than the blood of animals offered for atonement, and 3) the covenant that Jesus mediates is enacted on better promises than the old covenant. We expanded upon each of these points in three sermons wherein we considered: 1) greater worship of the heavenly tabernacle, from chapter 9:1-10, 2) the greater sacrifice of Jesus’s own blood, from chapter 9:11-22, and 3) the greater covenant, from chapter 8:6-13.
In our text this week, we will again consider the greater covenant, which we discovered in chapter 8 to be the new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah. We have already seen how this new covenant is infinitely superior to the old in that it is unconditionally secured by God Himself as He finally and fully does away with sin by forgiving and thus cleansing the conscience of the worshipper. Christ is therefore described as the mediator of this covenant (9:15, see also 8:6) as He replaces Moses who mediated the old covenant. For reasons that we will discuss, many Bible translations use the word will or testament in verses 16 and 17 for the same Greek word, diatheyke, that is translated covenant in verse 15. It seems to be unnecessary to translate the same word differently within the same context. The inaccuracy of this translation lies in the failure to understand the nature of a covenant in eastern cultures. Covenants were “cut;” meaning, an animal was literally divided in two – it died. The agreeing parties entering the covenant would pass through the divided parts of the animal, inviting the very same fate (death) upon themselves should they break the terms of the agreement. This is how we understand verse 16: For where a covenant is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. And verse 17, For a covenant takes effect only at death.
We will also joyfully contemplate the purpose of this new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance (9:15). This is a recurring theme in the book of Hebrews (see Hebrews 6). Even as some may be tempted to turn away from the faith (Hebrews 6:1-8), those who are effectually called shall be heirs of salvation and will inherit the promise (Hebrews 6:9-20).