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What the Bible says about New Covenant, Superior to Old
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Deuteronomy 29:4

This statement could be considered to be a lamentation that things would be different. However, God knew this before He entered into the Old Covenant; He was not surprised that Israel did not keep it. If anything may have grieved Him, perhaps their rebellion was worse than even He expected it would be.

To get a clear picture, one only has to recall the creation of Adam and Eve and the subsequent events in the Garden. God did not create Adam and Eve with an evil heart. Every biblical writer has recognized an innocence in the initial natures of Adam and Eve. They hid themselves from God only after they sinned. "Who told you that you were naked?" God said (Genesis 3:11).

They were confronted with choices and chose the evil way, to sin, and something happened to their minds after they sinned. This is very instructive. Their nature at creation was made impressionable, so that as they made choices, their minds or their dispositions became or conformed to the nature of the choices that they made. A conscience, a perspective, and a character began to be formed.

I Corinthians 2:11 shows that our natural mind is strong in gathering, understanding, and using material knowledge but weak in gathering, understanding, and using spiritual knowledge. In the same manner, babies are not born evil, but they become evil as a result of the influences of life in their environments.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eleven)

Deuteronomy 29:4

Generally, people under the Old Covenant did not have the Spirit of God. They were carnal. Thus, God designed the covenant to have a carnal approach—that of a schoolmaster. Because the life-giving Spirit has made that approach obsolete, the old administration is also set aside and is replaced by an administration that can give life.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eighteen)

Deuteronomy 29:4

God either designed things to be this way or He was awfully cruel. He never intended the Old Covenant to be a means of salvation, or even to be a means of justification. It was a guide and a reminder of sin, as well as to lead to Christ, but it was never intended to bring salvation.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Eight)

Romans 8:3

The context of Romans 8 is somewhat different than the context in Hebrews 8, but the principle Paul deals with is similar. Flesh in Romans 8:3 refers to people. The problem with the Old Covenant was not with its laws, but with one of the parties who made the covenant—"them" (Hebrews 8:8). Obviously, he refers to the people who made the covenant. They would not keep its terms!

This is confirmed by the Old Testament record, which shows that Israel never kept the Old Covenant except for brief periods of time. This is why there are so many references in the Old Testament to their being stiff-necked, being fornicators or adulterers, or filled with iniquity.

It was not that Israel could not keep the terms of the covenant but that they would not. God's intent in making the Old Covenant was limited. Israel should have been able to keep its terms. To think otherwise is to accuse God of being unfair in His proposition and having taken advantage of Israel's ignorance. Human nature is always looking for ways to shift blame.

We must be careful, or we might be guilty of doing the same thing under the New Covenant. We could say that it is too hard, and use our complaint as a justification for our failures and bad attitudes. Jesus anticipated this.

In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, He gives five talents to one, two talents to another, and one talent to a third. The response of the person to whom He gave one talent is, "I knew that You were a hard man, and that You reap where you do not sow. And therefore I hid it" (Matthew 25:24-25). He is saying, "God, You were too hard!" He essentially shifts the blame to God. Jesus understood that human nature never changes: It always wants to shift the blame!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Ten)

2 Corinthians 3:5-9

The subject here is not the doing away with laws but the change in administration of existing laws. Remember that Jesus said not one jot or tittle will pass from the law (Matthew 5:18). In Hebrews 8:10, where the context is the Covenant, the New Covenant is shown to have laws, which will be written in our hearts.

Paul is making a comparison, showing the superiority of the ministry's responsibility under the New Covenant to the priesthood's responsibility under the Old. He compares ink with spirit, stone with flesh, letter with spirit (or intent), and death with life.

The "ministration of death" was Israel's civil administration for punishing violations of civil law. The laws were not done away, but the Old Covenant administration and enforcement of the law was set aside because the church does not have civil authority. It is that simple.

The church does not have civil authority over the state. However, the ministry has the opportunity to play a large part in the ministering of life to those God calls—through teaching and administering God's Word. Thus, the letter killed because the Old Covenant could not provide for life. Words—even of divine origin—cannot produce life. A vitalizing Spirit must be present to charge the words with transforming power.

Under the Old Covenant, God did not promise His Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sin, access into His presence, or eternal life. Jesus raised the civil law from its merely carnal application to the nation of Israel to its spiritual application to the church, which would be drawn from all of mankind, including, of course, the Gentiles.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eighteen)

Galatians 4:22-24

He gives us this example and then specifically tells us that what is seemingly a simple historical narrative is actually an allegory. In other words, as important as the story is in its effect on the continuation of the promises, it also has continuous application in certain spiritual circumstances. What at first seems only to be an interesting historical reference has a dual use. Much of the Old Testament fits this usage, providing us with valuable spiritual instruction through its examples.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part One): Introduction

Galatians 4:22

Abraham actually had more sons through Keturah, but for the purposes of Paul's allegory, he focuses on Ishmael, the son through Hagar, and Isaac, the son of promise through Sarah.

Given that the false teachers were trying to convince the Galatians to turn to a Gnostic form of Judaism, Abraham would have been a character who would have been highly respected in their eyes (the Jews in Jesus' time trusted in descent from Abraham for salvation). Paul uses the example of Abraham throughout this epistle because he (Abraham) simultaneously served as someone that they would have looked up to, as well as a testament that they (the Galatians) were approaching this the wrong way—different from the way Abraham did.

Physical descent does not matter as far as the spiritual promises are concerned; Christ castigated the Jews for thinking that they could rely on being physical descendants of Abraham as a means of gaining favor with God. Christ showed that where it really counted was in behaving like Abraham—which the Jews did not.

Paul, in an attempt to help the Galatians to understand the covenants, is likening the Old Covenant to being born to a "bondmaid" (a female slave or servant) while the New Covenant is compared to being born of a "freewoman" (someone who is a citizen; unrestrained; not a slave; exempt from liability; at liberty). The carnal mind, as described by Romans 8:7, leaps to the conclusion that the New Covenant gives freedom from the confines of law, while the Old Covenant keeps one in bondage to a set of archaic rules. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The apostle James twice refers to the law as the "law of liberty" (James 1:25; 2:12). He could do this because when God was giving the Ten Commandments to Israel, He prefaced them with the declaration, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Exodus 20:2). This—bringing Israel out of bondage—set the context, the foundation, for the giving of the law. Clearly, it is not God's definition of right and wrong that keeps us in bondage; the law was given as a guide to the right way to live. The "bondage" that we are subject to derives from Satan (Ephesians 2:1-3; 6:12; II Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 12:9), this world (Exodus 6:5-8; Deuteronomy 5:6), sin (John 8:33-36), and our own human nature—our carnal mind and heart. Our bondage is to sin (John 8:33-34)—not to God's definition of it.

The Old Covenant did not provide a way to overcome these things. Even though the Old Covenant included God's royal law of liberty, it had no provision for ever truly escaping the clutches of sin. God's law, which is also a part of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:7-12; Jeremiah 31:31-34), merely defines what sin is, so that one may avoid it (Romans 3:20; 4:14-15; 5:13; 7:7, 12, 14). It neither enslaves, nor frees. The Old Covenant—the agreement, rather than the law that was its core—provided no means for overcoming the evil heart of unbelief (Hebrews 3:12, 19; 8:7-8), and so Paul compares it to a bondwoman. In verse 24 he says that it "engenders"—gives birth to—bondage. He does not mean that the agreement between God and Israel was bondage, nor that God's definition of right and wrong keeps people in slavery, but rather that the temporary covenant made no provision for true spiritual freedom. It "gave birth to" bondage because, without addressing the incurable sickness of the heart, the only possible outcome was human degeneration back into the bondage from which they had been freed.

The New Covenant addresses these problems:

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them [the weakness was with the people, not the agreement or the law], He says: "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." (Hebrews 8:7-12; see Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The New Covenant allows God's way of life (law) to be internalized (put into the mind and heart). It allows for a personal relationship with God, rather than going through an intermediary. It allows for complete forgiveness of sins through repentance and accepting the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

In another place, God promises,

Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)

Through the justification and forgiveness of sins available under the New Covenant, it is possible for the heart to be changed, and for human nature, which drives us to sin, to be overcome. Thus, true spiritual freedom is offered under the New Covenant, while absent under the Old.

David C. Grabbe

Ephesians 2:12

Notice two important factors he links to hope in Ephesians 2:12. First, in the time before God called the Ephesian Gentiles into a relationship with Him, they were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise."

The commonwealth of Israel could be either the nation or the church because under the Old Covenant ancient Israel established a relationship with God, received a small measure of His promises, and possessed the hope of the Messiah. However, the primary meaning here is the church; those who have made the New Covenant with God are the Israel of God and a holy nation (Galatians 6:16; I Peter 2:9). The New Covenant contains God's confirmed promises—confirmed in the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah, Christ Jesus.

Being part of ancient Israel under the Old Covenant did not give a person access to many promises that would have given him reason to hope. The Old Covenant promised no forgiveness of sin, no access to God, no promise of the Holy Spirit, and no promise of eternal and everlasting life, all of which we have. We have continuing, never-ending hopes because the New Covenant ensures a continuous relationship. Our relationship necessarily involves the other part of Ephesians 2:12: Before our calling, we were also without God in the world. Our hope is not merely in the fact that we have made a covenant, but more importantly, with whom we made it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Three): Hope

Hebrews 8:6

Jesus is the Mediator of a better covenant, which is established upon better promises. It was not established upon law changes but upon better promises. Some changes of terms were made, but the focus is on changes in the promises. Why were the promises changed? Being in context with "for if that first covenant had been faultless" and "finding fault with them," the changes had something to do with the fault, and the fault was with them. Them is a plural reference to the multitude of people who anciently made the Old Covenant with God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Ten)

Hebrews 8:7-8

There indeed was a fault: "finding fault with them." Them is a plural pronoun, so it cannot possibly refer to the singular noun covenant. It would have to have read "for finding fault with it." God's Word is telling us—not completely yet—that the fault was with a plural them.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Ten)

Hebrews 8:11-12

The theme of the Day of Atonement is reconciliation, becoming at one with God through the forgiveness of sin. It starts the salvation process off. Each year, on the Day of Atonement, Israel's sins were symbolically transferred to the Tabernacle by having the first goat's blood sprinkled on it. The blood symbolically contained their sins. The blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat, transferring their sins, then, to God's throne, where they were forgiven. That is the picture behind this.

So the author says that the Tabernacle, all of its furniture, and all of its ceremonies and rituals used to accomplish atonement (at-one-ment) with God were types. These symbols stood in their place with good purpose, but only until they were replaced with a more effective reality. Christ went into the Holy of Holies with His own blood.

Now we need to put this into a bigger context, the whole book of Hebrews. The overall theme of Hebrews can be described by such words as better, superior, greater. Chapter 1 begins by telling us that Christ is greater than angels. Chapter 2 shows us that the goal given to us in the gospel of the Kingdom of God is so far superior to anything man has ever been offered before that there is no comparison.

In chapter 3, Christ is far greater than Moses. Beginning in chapter 4 and on into chapter 6, the comparison is made with Aaron, and again, Christ is greater. In chapter 7, we find a comparison with the Melchizedek priesthood and the Levitical priesthood. The Melchizedek priesthood is greater, superior, better than Aaron's.

In chapter 8, the covenant is introduced. The New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant. The theme continues right on into chapters 9 and 10, because they are concerned with the superiority of the sacrifice of Christ to the things of the Old Testament - the Tabernacle, its furniture, and all of its ceremonial systems. But they were only imposed for a time, until something better was provided by God. It is clear, then, that God's intent with the sacrificial system was that it would only be imposed temporarily.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eighteen)

Hebrews 12:25-29

Listen! Hear Him! Believe what He says!

The author of Hebrews has presented us with the facts that Christ is greater than angels, greater than Moses and greater than Aaron; that the New Covenant is superior in every way to the Old Covenant. He addresses this presentation to Christians who stand, not before a physical mountain in the Sinai, but a spiritual Mount Zion in heaven. Nevertheless, we still have the potential to refuse to hear, even as the Israelites who had just come out of Egypt did not hear. Now, they knew—they knew—that it was the voice of God that they heard, and they refused to hear because they believed they could not endure what He commanded!

Do we see the parallel?

It is possible for Christians to cherish their own will—which they know to be diametrically opposed to the will and purpose of God—and to stick to their own desires, thus stifling the voice of the Almighty God Himself! And thus, we can wrench ourselves away from the voice because we feel uncomfortable going against our resolve.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 4)


 




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