Now the main point of what is being said is this: We have this kind of high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that was set up by the Lord and not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; therefore, it was necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he wouldn’t be a priest, since there are those offering the gifts prescribed by the law. These serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was warned when he was about to complete the tabernacle. For God said, Be careful that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown to you on the mountain. But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been established on better promises.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second one. But finding fault with his people, he says:
See, 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 like the covenant
that I made with their ancestors
on the day I took them by the hand
to lead them out of the land of Egypt.
I showed no concern for them, says the Lord,
because they did not continue in my covenant.
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 into their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
And each person will not teach his fellow citizen,
and each his brother or sister, saying, “Know the Lord,”
because they will all know me,
from the least to the greatest of them.
For I will forgive their wrongdoing,
and I will never again remember their sins.
By saying a new covenant, he has declared that the first is obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old is about to pass away.
The author of the New Testament letter to Hebrew believers makes the connection between Jesus and the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31 very clear. The whole theme of this letter is to encourage followers of Jesus who were tempted to abandon the faith and return to the observance of the old covenant that the old covenant had just set the stage for the new covenant that offered them a more direct relationship with God. They really had a new and better way to connect with Yahweh. The old covenant that they sought to return to was only a shadow of the new covenant God was offering them through Jesus.
There are many people today who are not unlike those who read this letter 2,000 years ago. In a way, they have turned the new covenant into a covenant no different than the old covenant. They have lost sight of the law that God offers to write on the hearts of His people and turned it into a list of behavior control methods to hang over the heads of people and keep them in line. Though there is a definite place for teachers to share their understandings of Scripture with the rest of the body of Christ for the growth of everyone, some have created for themselves a new priestly class that seeks to keep people under their control and coming to them for correct interpretations of the book. They have elevated precise knowledge of the book to a place higher than knowledge of and relationship with Jesus, who made clear that the book pointed to Him as the true giver of life.
In our own lives, we need to be careful not to go back to an “old covenant” type of relationship with Jesus. We need to remember that, in the Bible, God did not give us a mere rule book with a bunch of “principles for a better life.” Instead, He gave us a story that shows us how He has related to His people throughout history and that story ultimately points to Jesus, who is the one who offers to write His covenant in our hearts and guide us daily through the Holy Spirit.
- Are there ways you have turned the new covenant of a dynamic faith back into an old covenant of rigid rule-following and rituals?