The Better Covenant
In Hebrews 8:6, the writer of Hebrews (likely Paul) states, “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.” This one verse summarizes the emphasis in the book of Hebrews more than any other verse. Hebrews was written around AD 64 to Jewish believers in and near Jerusalem who were tempted to go back under Old Testament law and thereby leaving faith in Christ and His atoning death as the only means of salvation. This temptation came in the form of long-lasting persecution, which the Jewish Christians faced in Jerusalem, and also the martyrdom of James, the pastor of the church in Jerusalem.
Ananus, the high priest and leader of the Sanhedrin—the highest Jewish religious authority—hated James and had him stoned to death in AD 62. James, often criticized for not leading Jewish believers away from the law more, had been used of God to see tens of thousands of Jews converted to faith in Christ as Saviour.
With James dead and all of the original apostles gone to other places of the known world, there was a lack of leadership in the church in Jerusalem. Discouragement set in among many of these Jewish believers. It was the perfect storm for Satan’s lie that going back to the law was better than staying with Jesus by faith.
An important lesson we can learn is this: the lack of godly church leadership emphasizing dependence on Jesus and the cross opens the door for lying spirits to seduce God’s people to go back to law. It can be religious law (legalism) or the law of self (“I’ll live life my way”). If you are being tempted to go backward spiritually, I encourage and warn you not to go back to what Jesus delivered you from. Only bad can come from going back.
The main way that Paul encouraged these Jewish believers not to go back to law was by showing them that the covenant established through Christ’s death was so much better than the old covenant established on the death of animal sacrifices. The word better refers to something that is stronger and greater because it is fully developed. Something or someone is better after exerting the power needed to dominate the opposition. Paul uses this adjective to describe the new covenant.
God’s power was exerted at the cross through Christ’s death to dominate mankind’s greatest opposition—sin. Paul wrote that Christ has a “more excellent ministry” than the high priests of the old covenant (Heb. 8:6). Why? Because they offered animal sacrifices that could never take away sin; they were simply a shadow of the ultimate sacrifice—Jesus Christ.
Paul also wrote that Jesus is “the mediator of a better covenant.” Why go back to the old when the new covenant is better? The reality is that life through Jesus Christ and what He accomplished on the cross is better than any other way of life, religious or worldly. The new covenant is better because Jesus is the mediator of it. Christ as mediator refers to the fact that He accomplished what mankind could not. Through His perfect birth, life, and ultimately His death, He fully kept the law, something that mankind is incapable of doing.
The old covenant (law) was between God and mankind. It requires perfect obedience to every aspect of the law. It proves that man is a sinner in need of the Saviour. The new covenant is the covenant between God and Jesus—mankind’s mediator and representative. When we put our trust in Jesus—trust that He died for our sins and rose from the dead—the Holy Spirit then placed us in Christ (Rom.6:3-6). When God looks at us, He sees us in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Everything that Christ accomplished through His death and resurrection is ours through dependence in Jesus—victory over sin, love, joy, peace, and all blessings from God come through what Jesus did on our behalf at the cross. What God requires of us is that we believe that.
We live in a world that is constantly looking for something or someone new and better. Even though Jesus died and rose again almost two thousand years ago, what He accomplished on our behalf will always be new and better than anything this world can offer, so believe and live by the better covenant.
To contact me about our new church plant in the Nashville, Tennessee area, email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Blessings!