Understanding Covenants

Understanding Covenants

This Sunday I had the opportunity to preach from Hebrews 8, on Christ as the mediator of a better covenant. Since I’ve been thinking about this topic of covenants recently, I wanted to share some of my research from the chapter and answer some basic questions. What is a covenant? What is a mediator? And what is the relationship between the Mosaic and New Covenants?

What is a Covenant?

“We hear about covenants all throughout the Bible, but what is it? Simply put, it is a legal contract or agreement. That is simple enough – a legal agreement – but it has a very specific purpose. “The essence of a covenant is the establishment of a relationship” (VWS). So a covenant is a legal agreement to create a relationship.”

“You will understand this very clearly when you think of a marriage covenant; here you have two people, two people who love each other very much, and who enter into a covenant as a way to legally establish a relationship.”

“But there is one major difference between a marriage covenant and a covenant like we find in the Bible; in a marriage covenant, two people are entering a relationship who love each other very much; but in the Bible, the two parties entering the relationship do not have that problem. No! These two parties are actually in open warfare against each other! Because in the one camp, you have a just, wrathful, and offended God, while the other camp is filled with depraved, wretched sinners. These two, of course, mix like oil and water!”

“But that is the beauty of a covenant – that it is able to take these two camps, and create a relationship between them. But there is one further thing that you must understand about a covenant, before you can understand the work of Jesus.”

Covenants and Mediators

“A covenant requires a mediator. This is a go-between – someone to make peace between the two parties, and to draw them together into this relationship, so that it can be a peaceful relationship. Remember, God and man are at war, in mortal combat. The covenant outlines who that party is who can step into the fray and make peace.”

“Now, in the Old Testament, there was a covenant, called the Mosaic Covenant. This covenant laid out certain stipulations which, if a man kept them perfectly, would allow him fellowship with God. And this Mosaic Covenant also instituted mediators, who were called priests. In the book of Hebrews we see how imperfect these priests were. They were not blameless; they had to offer sacrifices, first for themselves, then for others. They were only temporarily present before God, and they had to return time and again. Besides, they could not actually remove sin, but only cover it temporarily.”

“But Jesus is a different kind of mediator, without any of the faults of the Mosaic priests. But we are saying more than this; he actually mediates in a different covenant that the priests did, a better covenant. This makes him a more dignified public functionary than any of the priests.”

Covenants – Old and New

“The Mosaic covenant had certain promises attached to – promises of the land of Canaan, promises of physical health and blessing. But this new covenant has better promises. It has promises fit for the soul of a man. It does not promise land in the Middle East, but life, and godliness, and eternal bliss in a coming world. It is perfectly suited for man as a spiritual being.”

“So the point is this: God created a way for you to be right with him. It is called the Mosaic Covenant. If you wish to follow its regulations and be dictated by its stipulations, then you may do so. But God himself has moved on, beyond that covenant. He himself found it imperfect – not as if anything was morally wrong with it, but it was not faultless.”

“As one man notes, ‘It could not expiate moral guilt; it could not wash away moral pollution; it could not justify, it could not sanctify, it could not save. Its priesthood were not perfected – they were weak and inefficient; its sacrifices ‘could not take away sin,’ make perfect as concerning the conscience, or procure ‘access with freedom into the holiest of all.’ In one word, ‘it made nothing perfect.’ (John Brown)”

“The answer to this problem is that God himself promised – in Jeremiah 31:31-34 – that a new covenant would take the place of the Mosaic.”

“So, to summarize: Jesus is the mediator, or go-between, for men in a new covenant, or legal agreement, that God has instituted. This covenant has been founded on better promises, promises perfectly suited for us. Indeed, God himself found reason to do away with the old covenant.”

“Why would you want to use law-doing to gain access to God? Or why, like the Judaizers of old, would you want to trust in Christ and try to keep this old covenant in order to be right with God? There is no reason to go back under this antiquated system that God has abandoned – or indeed, to use any other system that God did not set up!”