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The Jesus Covenant, Part 10: Hebrews and the Covenant Mediator

rabbi_child_and_sefer_torahThere still seems to be some confusion between the Torah delivered at Mt. Sinai and the covenant made with Israel.

The Torah is not to be surrendered by anyone who is born of the Ruach and is now a child of YHWH through faith in Messiah Yeshua. I’ve not said that and I haven’t read here where anyone else has made that assertion either.

As far as following through on “their end of the bargain”, they, Israel, didn’t. Which is why a new covenant was promised to be cut with both houses of Israel. And holding onto a covenant which cannot be accomplished due to the weakness of the flesh while trying to affirm the operational specifics of the current covenant would cause some tension to say the least.

Maybe someone could provide a detailed explanation of what a child of YHWH should look and act like so we can all see what it means to be a son or a daughter of our Father in Heaven. Perhaps then we could cease from making so much noise about who is pretending to be a part of one culture group or another.

And by the way it was not “their covenant with God”. It was His covenant with them. His terms His conditions. I did not say that He replaced that covenant, He did. I’m just agreeing with the text of scripture. Now if someone wants to seek their justification through that covenant they are welcome to do so. But they will come up empty. Of course, if someone was trying establish something else through that covenant I would have to wonder what their motive might be. And what their ultimate objective was.

from a comment on one of my blog posts

This is the tenth part of my series on trying to understand what the “New Covenant” is, how it relates to the previous covenants we see God making with humanity (and specifically with the Children of Israel) in the Bible, and what it’s supposed to mean today.

I’ve neglected this series terribly, mainly because it’s so hard to write. Part 9: The Mysterious 2 Corinthians 3 was published last October which will give you some idea of how long I have left this one alone. It’s not that I’ve come to any satisfactory resolution to my problem. It’s just that sometimes trying to understand all this has the same effect as repeatedly smashing my forehead against a brick wall.

But then Russ’s comment reminded me that the New Covenant is still sitting out there taunting me; daring me to try to comprehend it. Russ seems fully convinced that he understands its meaning and that it must mean something about creating a people who are born of the Spirit and (perhaps) relegating Jewish identity to that of a “culture group”.

Did God obliterate all His previous covenants with His people Israel because they were unfaithful? That sort of sounds like God tried plans A, B, and C and they didn’t work out, and then he devised Plan D: writing it on their hearts, which couldn’t fail. If covenants are replaced because covenant members are defective (which God should have known all along) and God has to (finally) create a covenant they can’t because it’s written on the heart, why couldn’t He have started out with the unbreakable covenant and avoided a lot of pain and anguish?

I don’t know, but it sounds like a set up for God to make a covenant with Israel at Sinai knowing that they were going to break it, and knowing that the consequences for breaking it was forfeiting their unique relationship with God as a distinct people and nation.

Oh, if you haven’t read through the “Jesus Covenant” series or you haven’t read through it in a while, it might be a good idea to at least scan through it again, starting with Part 1: The Foundation, just to get up to speed.

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

Hebrews 8:6-7 (ESV)

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Hebrews 9:15-22 (ESV)

shekhinaThis is where I left off last time. These verses were to be the last step in my investigation into the New Covenant. I seriously doubt that I’m going to reach any useful conclusion here, but at least I’m continuing on the trail.

In reading these verses from Hebrews, it certainly seems as if God has tossed the Covenant He made with Israel into the trash can (and Israel along with it) and created a New Covenant replacing the Old using the blood of Jesus Christ. Of course, I can’t read Biblical Greek, so the mystery of what the oldest texts from Hebrews is trying to tell me remains a mystery. I can of course read the various commentaries on Hebrews 8:6 when I scroll down the page, but there’s not exactly a cohesive explanation telling me what I need to know.

But Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible for this verses does say something interesting:

…which was established upon better promises; which are not now delivered out as before, under the figure of earthly and temporal things; nor under a condition to be performed nor confined to a particular people and nation…

I can accept the fact that the Sinai covenant was made specifically between the God and the Children of Israel and that the New Covenant has provisions that include all of humanity through Christ. If the New Covenant didn’t function in such a manner, then no one outside of Israel could be saved. I can accept the fact that the blood of animals could never take away sins (Hebrews 10:4) and that salvation for all human beings must be through Messiah.

But where does it say that the Jews as a people must surrender being Jews in order to enter into the New Covenant? Sorry, but whenever I hear “the Old Covenant has been replaced” language, I wonder how do you do that and still keep the people who were attached to it as a people?

The days are coming,” declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.

Jeremiah 31:31 (ESV)

Waitaminute! God is saying He will one day make a New Covenant with the people of Israel and the people of Judah. Doesn’t say anything about the people from the nations who are gathered together and called by His Name through the Messiah. Of course, there are a lot of Christians who see themselves as the new “spiritual Israel” and so they write themselves into the script that way. Others believe that the Jewish people are “Judah” and that in some manner or fashion, the Gentiles who are attracted to God, the Torah, or Christ become (or in some fashion are) the lost tribes of Israel (see the book Twelve Gates: Where Do the Nations Enter for the much more likely explanation that representatives of “the lost ten tribes” actually did return, intermarried, and were eventually assimilated into Judah and Benjamin…thus, modern day Jews contain the descendants of all the Tribes of Israel).

Now try to understand the following within that context.

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

Ezekiel 36:22-23 (ESV)

In that sense, it’s easy to see that Israel: the Jewish people, are very much written into God’s plan for the future and they have not been discarded and dissolved as a people or a nation by God. The mystery that I was trying to investigate when I started this series was not what happens to Israel, which seems a given, but how in the world do we from among the nations get added in to this covenant? Certainly, the Abrahamic Covenant includes the nations, but we are not mentioned again in subsequent covenants until the New Covenant, and our inclusion isn’t made clear until we see Paul make his commentaries on the meaning of Messiah for the rest of us (remember, the oldest texts we have of Jesus and the “Last Supper” don’t include the word “new” when he talks about the covenant in this body and blood…we have to assume that’s what he means).

Throne of GodBut the passages I quoted from Hebrews do give the impression that what was old is being replaced with what is new. Is that a completed act, though? I don’t know. Messiah has yet to return. He has not yet completed his work. There is no new Temple built by him. There is no worldwide peace as far as I can tell. Israel is not at the head of the nations yet and she is still being threatened on all sides by numerous adversaries.

We know that the New Covenant is inexorably tied to the Jewish Messiah and he is the inescapable mediator and motive force of the New Covenant with Judah and Israel and even with the nations. All I can suggest at this point is that the New Covenant hasn’t simply been flipped on like a light switch if, for no other reason, than we aren’t really acting like the Word is written on our hearts. If it were, would we in the body of believers still be so defective, and cranky, and flawed? What if the enactment of the New Covenant is a long process, not a sudden event? After all, the many and numerous conditions and enactments of the Sinai covenant weren’t “turned on” all at once, probably because many of those conditions required the Israelites to live in the Land, and for forty years, they were wandering in the desert.

And what about this?

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.

Revelation 21:22-25 (ESV)

I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t understand what’s going on and how all this is supposed to work, but it seems like there’s a sequence of events that have not yet been completed. Will the Law, what defines the significantly unique relationship God has with Israel, the “Jewishness” of Jewish people, and the holiness of Jerusalem be eliminated from existence or meaningfulness until everything that God has said He will do has been accomplished?

I seriously doubt it but the secrets of the Bible continue to elude me. This doesn’t preclude my pursuit of a holy and meaningful life, but it does make it difficult to respond to anyone who wants the New Covenant to land on the Jewish people like a ton of lead, mashing them flat, and leaving a completely new “product” in their place.

I don’t know if I’m going to write a “Part 11: Conclusions” blog post, at least not right way. There’s still so much more to try to comprehend. But as my friend Carl said, maybe it’s the struggle that matters, not what we may come up with as a result.

I am not suggesting that there is a chaos of interpretation and no absolute truth, but that interpretation is part of the human condition, our relationship with all texts (and people, for that matter). The Holy Spirit helps us but it does not erase our humanity. In fact, your blog can be considered in large part a struggle to find an interpretive approach to the Bible that is coherent, satisfying, and works for you.

TrustI wish we could all dial things down just a bit concerning truth-claims. We have been told that love endures but knowledge is partial. That would include my knowledge (or interpretation) of the Bible. I hold a certain interpretive approach to the Bible (in common with a number of others) that I believe to be coherent and satisfying even though I know that it is limited and hope to learn from other approaches until the day I die..

I guess what I am saying is that “we know in part . . . but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.” Since we are finite and the perfect is infinite, it makes sense that our knowing is partial until will are face to face.

Finally though, we can’t ignore this:

I will never break my covenant with you.

Judges 2:1 (ESV)

Israel may have been unfaithful on many occasions, but God never let them go. Instead, He made it possible for others to come to Him as well, all through His son.