A Bloody Covenant

Posted: July 5, 2009 in Hebrews

Hebrews 9:15-28, “A Bloody Covenant”

Name that tune: “There is power, power, wonderworking power in the blood of the Lamb…” “Oh precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow, No other fount I know…” “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins…” There are a ton of songs about the blood of Jesus; but for perhaps someone new to Christianity (or unschooled in some of these great hymns), it might sound pretty gory. After all, the only things today that are “filled with blood” are images from horror films.

The reason this can be tough for some to understand is the very reason in which we can rejoice in Jesus as our superior High Priest & superior sacrifice: the sacrifices don’t take place anymore. The blood of calves, sheep, and goats haven’t been shed at the altar of the Temple in nearly 2000 years (when God so thoroughly allowed the temple to be destroyed, that it has never yet been rebuilt). To a Hebrew Christian of the 1st Century, bloody sacrifices were well understood; it was the norm of how worship in the Hebrew faith took place. Morning, evening, baby dedications, repentance from sin & trespasses, dedications to the Lord – the reasons to offer up the lives of animals and their blood to God were numerous!

This is what the author of Hebrews is looking at in the rest of Ch 9 (as well as much of Ch 10). Since Ch 5, the writer has been looking at various comparisons between the Levitical priesthood & the priesthood of Jesus Christ. This was crucially important for Hebrew Christians to understand in order that they would know why Judaism had nothing to offer them any longer. But not only does the priest need to be better, the offering the priest gives needs to be better as well – and thus the writer introduces this idea by looking at the blood shed by Jesus Christ as our perfect sacrifice.

From our perspective, we’ll look at 3 basic questions in the passage: (1) What’s in the new covenant? (2) Why is blood & death necessary for it? (3) Why (specifically) is Jesus’ blood & death necessary? These are important questions to ask – both from a Jewish & Gentile perspective. From a Gentile perspective, just so we can understand why we can rejoice in such a bloody covenant with God. From a Jewish perspective, why it was necessary for the Priest Himself to die. In the past, the priest had always brought a sacrifice; Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself was vastly different than anything they had seen before.

Hebrews 9:15-28 (NKJV)
– Question #1: What’s in the new covenant?
15 And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

A. For which reason? This catches us up on our context from the 1st part of Ch 9. Because Jesus offered His own blood as a spotless sacrifice to God through His eternal Spirit (vs. 14). Jesus Himself died as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Thus because of Jesus’ shed blood (His death), He is the “Mediator of the new covenant…” He stands between us & God in our relationship with Him, perfectly satisfying the righteous wrath of God towards sin & providing us the righteousness we need to be brought into God’s presence as His children. He’s the perfect (and only) Mediator of our new covenant – which is why Jesus is the only way, truth, & life & no one comes to the Father except through Him.

B. What does the new covenant bring that the 1st covenant never could? “Redemption of the transgressions…” This is important to keep in mind. The 1st covenant could provide temporary atonement (covering over) of sin – it could provide a method for people to worship God & maintain a relationship with Him as His people, but it could never truly get rid of sins. The constant flow of blood in the Tabernacle & Temple was an ongoing reminder of this. As the writer already told us, “the law made nothing perfect,” (Heb 7:19), yet to be brought to perfection is exactly what we needed. In the new covenant, the death of Jesus bought our redemption.
__a. Keep in mind that “to be redeemed” applies to something far more valuable than coupons. In the culture, the people who were redeemed were slaves. Or kidnap victims, after a ransom was paid. A redemption price was the price paid for a life. When we sing of our “Redeemer,” we’re acknowledging that we were once enslaved to death & consigned to Hell because of our sin & transgression – but now we have been eternally redeemed by the blood of Christ Jesus!

C. What’s the result of this? We “may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance…” The people of Israel definitely had an inheritance with their old covenant – the promises concerning the land were intricately tied into both the covenants given to Abraham and with Moses (the 1st being unconditional; the 2nd being very conditional). In Christ, there is still an inheritance, but it is an eternal inheritance. We have “eternal redemption” (vs. 12), a pure sacrifice given through Jesus’ “eternal Spirit” (vs. 14), and through all of this, an “eternal inheritance.” So what? So our inheritance in Christ Jesus will NEVER end. NEVER. It will go on for eternity – those who are bought for by the blood of Christ will belong to Him for all time. God will always be your Father & you will always be His child. Your sins will always be forgiven, and even if you remember it, God will wipe away every tear from your eye. You will always spend eternity in the presence of your Savior & Lord, giving Him the praises He deserves through the Holy Spirit. Words fail to describe our inheritance; but one thing is for sure: it will never end because it is guaranteed by Christ Himself.
__a. Note not every receives the inheritance of the new covenant. Just “those who are called.” IOW, just because someone was a practicing Jew doesn’t mean that they’re automatic recipients of the new covenant in Christ. They (and we) must be called by Christ to be His church (“the called out ones”)…
__b. Have you been called? Don’t wait to respond to His calling; don’t harden your heart!

– Question #2: Why is blood & death necessary for our new covenant?
16 For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.

A. “Testament” = the same Greek word for translated “covenant” earlier (διαθήκη). Here, it has the idea of a ‘last will and testament’…which is actually the primary & normal meaning of the word & how it was used among Greek speakers & writers. The reason the usual definition of the word in the NT is referring to a “covenant” (or contract) is because that’s how the LXX translators consistently rendered the word in the Gk OT. The Hebrew Christians reading this epistle would have understood exactly what the writer meant by referring to the covenant with God. In vss. 16-17, the writer shifts slightly to the normal usage of the word because it fits so well with the illustration here. Not only was our new covenant designed completely by one party (God – it’s non-negotiable for us; like a will); it’s also uniquely associated with death. Just as children receive an inheritance upon the death of their parent; we receive an inheritance upon the death of our Lord.

B. What does it mean that the testament is in force? It means that the person who designed it died. You don’t implement a last will & testament while the person in question is still alive; it has no power at that point. Only after a person has died…

C. How does a last will & testament relate to our new covenant? It was instituted through the very real death of Christ. Jesus HAD to die for our new covenant to go into effect; just like a last will & testament. If Jesus had just come incarnate to earth, gave us His word, & ascended to heaven without the cross, we would have been blessed by His presence – but still ultimately under the curse of sin. We would have no covenant with God. Just like any other testator of a will, Jesus had to die. The only difference is that Jesus didn’t stay dead. [the Resurrection!]

18 Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood.

A. Going to give a very specific example of how this all works through the 1st covenant. Because Jesus perfectly fulfills the old covenant while instituting the new, we can be sure that if the old covenant needed something to work, Jesus provides that as well (being our superior high priest & superior sacrifice)…

19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.”

A. Reference to Exodus 24, when Moses affirmed the covenant with Israel. Exodus 24:6-8 (6) And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. (7) Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.” (8) And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.” [] God had given the 10 Commandments and the covenant (after the people sent Moses to talk to God by himself; they were too afraid). Moses offered a sacrifice… He sprinkled the book AND the people with the blood of sacrifice as a means of sanctification, symbolizing that the people were set apart to serve God through the book of the Law. The Hebrew doesn’t specifically say that Moses sprinkled the actual book with blood; but it’s certainly not unlikely. And considering the writer is under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we can be assured that this is indeed what happened.

B. Note the close relationship between the sacrifice & even the giving of the law. Moses didn’t wait for the Tabernacle to be constructed or the priests to be consecrated before shedding blood for the covenant. It was done immediately, because that was what was needed. (Gory? Yes. But we see the pattern established…)

21 Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry.

A. Obviously Moses didn’t stop with just the book of the Law. God instructed him to consecrate Aaron, his sons, and all the implements of the Tabernacle. (Exo 29; Lev 8) Scripture doesn’t say specifically that Moses “sprinkled” Aaron, etc., with the blood – but blood plays a primary part in the whole proceedings. (right ear, right thumb, big toe… fatty lobes…) The point? Everything dealing with the workings of the 1st covenant had to be consecrated by blood. If it was to be used in Israel’s sins being atoned for, it had to be sanctified & touched by blood (and death).

22 And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.

A. The law mandated the shedding of blood. It had to be done. WHY? Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. [] Anything tainted by the sin of mankind has to be purified with blood. This actually predates the law. We see the same thing in the Garden of Eden – with Noah – with Abraham – and then finally with Moses. Over & over again we see that when people sin, things die. And because people sin, when they enter into covenant with God, things have to die. Why would our new covenant in Christ be any different? A death had to be made; blood had to be shed. And as we’ll see in Ch 10, no other blood would do other than the blood of Jesus Christ.
__a. Sin is a serious business! We tend to lose sight of this & treat sin so very casually. ‘Oh well…I messed up again. Yawn. I guess I’ll ask forgiveness & go on.’ How apathetic we become! How little do we realize that we’ve just sinned against our Almighty God and Father! … Do we praise God for our forgiveness in Christ? Yes. Do we hesitate to run to Him in confession & repentance? Absolutely not. Does God ever hesitate to give us forgiveness? No – Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross was sufficient for all our sins for all time. BUT God help us never take that sacrifice for granted! Make no mistake that your sin required the very blood of the Son of God to be shed. (My sin too!) There can be no more costly price than what has been paid for you.

B. What does the shedding of blood accomplish? 2 things:
__a. Purification: The idea is one of cleansing. Gk καθαρίζω (cathartic). We think of it as releasing tension today; the original use was to cleanse something from defilement. As a tool for use in the tabernacle would have needed to be purified for it’s holy use before God, so we need to be purified (due to the defilement of sin) – and this was done through the shedding of blood.
__b. Remission: pardon/forgiveness. The penalty for our sins needed to be rolled back & done away with & that’s exactly what happens to every believer in Christ Jesus. Our selfish offenses – our traitorous deeds against a holy God must be addressed somehow. If God ignored sin or pretended it never happened, He could not truly be called good. (A judge who ignores a murderer is a terrible judge.) So God cannot ignore sin, but at the same time, He loves His created beings & He desires to see them saved. What to do? Sins cannot be ignored; the penalty must be dealt out. Once the penalty we deserve is dealt out to Jesus, then we can be forgiven. The penalty no longer comes upon us because the shedding of blood has already taken place.

C. Understand that this is the starting point of our relationship with God. Without our sins being taken care of, we can’t have anything else in God. No inheritance, no promise, no Father/child relationship, not even truly a God/God’s people relationship. Don’t miss out on this point. If Jesus had not gone to the cross and died there, we would not have forgiveness of sins, because there would be no new covenant. Our sin required blood to be shed & death to occur; if Jesus had not given His life & blood at the cross, we would have nothing – no chance of any relationship or covenant with God whatsoever. Our sins are in the way…which takes us to the 3rd question:

– Question #3: Why specifically is JESUS’ blood necessary for this new covenant?
23 Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

A. If the earthly tabernacle and 1st covenant needed the shedding of blood, how much more the heavenly? And because it IS heavenly (a better covenant), we need better blood and a better sacrifice. After all, we’re dealing with eternity here! Not just a temporary covering over of sin, but true forgiveness – true purification – an eternal inheritance. We need something far better than an earthly sacrifice; we need a heavenly sacrifice.

B. Why would a heavenly tabernacle that is already serving as the throne room of God require any purification to begin with? It could not be any less than perfectly pure for the sheer fact that GOD is already there. Scholars have suggested various ideas: (1) Simply to fulfill the type & picture that God already mandated here for the earthly covenant. (2) It doesn’t need to be purified for God; it’s purified because we’re going to be there. We’re already seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6); those heavenly places needed to be sanctified in advance for our presence among God Almighty…

24 For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;

A. Reiteration of Heb 9:11-12. Jesus didn’t enter or minister in the copy. He wasn’t a priest here on earth. Jesus’ priestly role and sacrificial ministry is in the True… Jesus entered into the very presence of God; not any representation of it. Everything about the work of Jesus is true.

B. Which means it’s absolutely efficacious. We don’t need to worry about symbolic acts having no real eternal effects for us. There were many things Jesus did that were symbolic; but in addition to their symbolism, they all had a very real effect. Ex: Jesus is the bread of life (symbol); we must partake of His sacrifice for eternal life (true). Likewise, we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus (symbol); but His blood is literally the means by which we are made pure in the sight & presence of God (true). Jesus works IN the true; so we know that His work IS true.

25 not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another—26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

A. Reminder of the Day of Atonement. Priests had to go in annually – repeatedly offering the sacrifices. They may have only gone into the Holy of Holies once per year, but they had to go in every year. Year upon year – decade upon decade – century upon century. Always offering new sacrifices for the sins of the priest & for the people because (1) the sins never stopped, and (2) the sacrifice wasn’t enough.

B. Not so with Jesus! Jesus went in once. Unlike the earthly high priests who could enter the presence of God through sacrifice, leave, do another sacrifice & re-enter next year…Jesus went in once & one sacrifice was all that was necessary. He continually ministers there, serving as our Mediator & Intercessor.

C. How can we be so sure? How do we know that Jesus’ one sacrifice at the cross was sufficient for all mankind for all time to those who repent from sin & trust Jesus alone as Savior? Because Jesus only died once. Jesus only suffered through the cross once. He doesn’t suffer over & over & over. Not every year at Easter; certainly not every week during communion or any other form of worship. Jesus only suffered & died once. To propose that God the Son needs to continually suffer & be sacrificed repeatedly for our sins is to propose that Jesus is less than God. If Jesus’ righteousness wasn’t enough to satisfy the requirements of God, then Jesus didn’t have an infinite perfect righteousness. If Jesus didn’t have an infinite righteousness, then Jesus isn’t infinite God – and thus He would have needed to be repeatedly sacrificed. But if Jesus needed to be repeatedly sacrificed, He wouldn’t do us any more good than the blood of goats & rams. We know that Jesus’ one sacrifice is enough because Jesus is GOD!

D. What happened as a result of Jesus suffering once? He “put away sin” – He cancelled the effects of sin on our accounts. The remission (forgiveness) we needed through the shedding of blood, Jesus provided. Our sin is completely done away with through the complete sacrifice of the perfect Son of God.
__a. BTW, to say “He has appeared to put away sin” does not mean that it was a possibility as in “He could have put away sin, but we don’t really know…He appeared to have done that.” That’s not the meaning at all. Rather, Jesus has appeared in His incarnation; He came to earth (visibly appearing) in order that He would put away sin. His sacrifice on the cross was the very reason Jesus lived as a man among us.

27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,

A. We tend to quote this verse away from the rest to show that men are appointed to face judgment (which we are), but the original context of this is the comparison with Jesus’ death. Jesus is the Son of God, but it’s also the Son of Man…and men only die once (excepting Lazarus, etc.). We can be sure that the chance of death is 100% for every human, but the good news about that is that it only happens once.

B. Not reincarnation… Not soul sleep… After death, there’s only one thing on the agenda for every human being, and that’s to face God Almighty. Some would teach that people get a 2nd chance after people die to be forgiven; the NT tells us the opposite very clearly. Men die once and then have a divine appointment: they face the judgment of God.

28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

A. It’s the exact same thing with Jesus. Because men die once, so Jesus died once, and then after His resurrection, He ascended into the presence of God – having already been judged, with the wrath of God upon Him for your sins & mine (“of many” – to all who will call upon Him for forgiveness). Once was all that was required because once was perfectly sufficient.

B. Follow up to vs. 26. Jesus appeared once at the end of the ages, bringing the sacrifice. Now:
__a. Jesus will appear again, “a second time.” As assuredly as the prophecies were true regarding Jesus’ 1st coming, we can trust that the prophecies are true regarding Jesus’ 2nd coming. “But it’s been 2000 years! Surely He would have come by now!” Who are we to say how long is too long? I’m glad Jesus waited past 1987 for me, past 1991 for my bride, and past 2008 for my daughter. There are more souls to be saved; God in His patient grace is waiting for them. But don’t wait too long; Jesus IS coming back.
__b. Jesus will bring salvation: “Wait a second – didn’t Jesus already bring salvation the 1st time?” Yes; He came to provide for our justification. But salvation is much bigger than that. The penalty for our sins have been paid for in the past; we’re empowered to live free from sin now in the presence; when Jesus comes again, we’ll be forever free from the presence of sin in eternity.

Is it a bloody covenant? Yes; no doubt. People try to clean it up all the time & sanitize the whole concept of salvation, but when they do, they miss out on what actually happened. When we make salvation all out to be “the abundant life with Jesus,” we’re only sharing a half-truth. Sure, there is abundant life in Christ Jesus – He gives us grace in good times & bad, and we can live with Him & walk with Him right now. BUT…that’s only possible because something very un-sanitized took place. All of that is possible only because Jesus suffered on the cross, took our sins upon Himself, shed His blood, and died for us to the glory of God.

A. We have a wonderful covenant with God! We have been redeemed from our transgressions, and have been called to an eternal inheritance.
B. Blood had to be shed for the covenant. It’s always been that way, and we can expect no different with us & Jesus. We must have blood for the remission of sins.
C. Only Jesus’ blood is sufficient. As the perfect Son of God, the sacrifice of His blood perfectly purified all things, once for all time.

So Christian, rejoice in your new covenant with God. Look forward to His coming again & receiving your eternal inheritance in Christ Jesus. Give Him praise for your forgiveness. But never forget what it cost. Never take this covenant for granted. Each and every sin you committed (and will commit) has been perfectly paid for with the highest price imaginable: God the Son shed His blood for you & gave His life for you. Our only reasonable response is to live our lives giving glory & praise to Him.

If you’re sitting here today & haven’t yet asked Jesus for forgiveness – if you haven’t recognized Him as the Son of God who died for your sins & rose from the grave – if you haven’t received Him as your Lord & Savior…what are you waiting for? Jesus is coming again & He’s bringing salvation, but only to those who “eagerly wait for Him.” To the rest, you can be assured that you’ll be standing before Him facing judgment – and you will be found guilty (just like everyone else was). Forgiveness is available, but you must receive it, by receiving Christ as Lord…

  1. txrosegirl says:

    I am so glad you are my pastor. To God be the Glory in the way He uses you.

  2. timburns says:

    😀 Thanks, my love!

    (And to those who are reading, yes – txrosegirl is my bride.) 🙂

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