Studies in Hebrews Part 10:Covenant Theology and the Killing Ministry

Hebrews 8:1-7
Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, see, saith He, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. 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. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.

We spoke last time about the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man. We saw how this true tabernacle is the church, the body of Christ, the city of promise whose maker and builder is God.

We also spoke about Abraham’s descendants and the two promises God made to Abraham. We saw first that God had promised Abraham a physical seed, a son from his own loins, his own flesh and blood from whom God would raise a great nation, a physical city whose inhabitants would be related by blood to Abraham.

But we saw a second promise, as well. We saw God promising Abraham another seed. A seed who would bless all the families of the earth by establishing for Himself a city whose maker and builder is God. We saw that the citizens of this kingdom would share in the same object of faith Abraham shared in. That is, just as Abraham had trusted in Christ for his righteousness, so too would the citizens of this promised city trust in Christ for their righteousness. They would have the same object of faith Abraham had and so they would be his descendants by faith.

We see God make both these promises in Genesis 12. We saw Him make elaborate on these promises in Genesis 15, and then again in Genesis 17.

We mentioned verse 8 of Genesis 17 last time. We saw that the promise said “unto thee and to thy seed after thee”. Not just unto they seed, but also unto thee.

From there we looked at Genesis 23 and we saw Abraham bartering with the Hittites for a place to bury his wife in the very same land God had just earlier promised to him and to his seed. We concluded from this and from Hebrews 11 that the land Abraham sought was not the land his feet had trodden, but rather that promised city whose maker and builder is God.

Now here we are this morning. We have just heard again that Christ is the minister of the true sanctuary which the Lord pitched and not man. He is the minister of the true tabernacle, not the earthly one. He is the high priest who is set on the right hand of the throne on the Majesty in the heavens, and He is the minister of the true sanctuary which He pitched, not man.

And so having heard this, let us continue in our text starting with verse 3.

For (because), every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: therefore, it is necessary that this man have something to offer too. For (because), if he were on earth, he would not be a priest, seeing that there are already priests that offer gifts according to the law: who serve for the example and shadow of heavenly things as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, see, saith He, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.

The purpose of a high priest is to offer gifts and sacrifices to God for men. That is what a high priest does. A high priest does not exist to build cabinets. He does not exist to mow lawns and do landscaping. Rather, he exists for one purpose; to offer gifts and sacrifices to God on behalf of the people he represents. He is a mediator, a go between. He stands on behalf of the people he represents and he offers sacrifices and gifts to God for their sins, and he stands on behalf of God and he communicates the will of God to men.

Therefore, because this is why a high priest exists it was necessary then that He who is the high priest set on the right hand of the throne on the Majesty in the heavens that He too have something to offer to God on behalf of the people He represents. After all, that is why a high priest exists.

But understand He is a high priest in the heavens. He is not a high priest on earth. If He were on earth, then He would not be a high priest. Why would He not be a high priest? He would not be a high priest, because the earth already had high priests who offered gifts and sacrifices to God according to God’s law.

You see, the law which God had given to Abraham’s physical descendants made very specific demands about the kinds of sacrifices and gifts that were to be offered by their high priests. These demands were to be strictly followed in exacting detail, according to the pattern shown to Moses in the mount.

For this reason, there was nothing Christ could have offered that would have been in accordance with this law than what the priests of this law were already offering.
In other words, the old covenant priests offered sacrifices that were in strict accordance with the law which God had given to Moses. And yet not a single one of these sacrifices ever atoned for anyone’s sins.

I mean, we can go through Leviticus and we can read about all the various ways sacrifices were to be offered. We can read about sacrifices that were to be offered for having a skin blemish, sacrifices that were to be offered for touching someone with a skin blemish, sacrifices that were to be offered for touching someone who had touched someone with a skin blemish, and yet not a single one of these sacrifices did anything for the person who took the Lord’s name in vain, or who lied to his neighbor, or who cheated, murdered, swindled or committed adultery.

Adam had disobeyed God in the garden, and yet there was no sacrifice in the law of Moses to atone for his sin.

Abraham had twice lied to honorable men and had given up his wife just to save his own skin, and in the process had nearly cost these men their lives. That makes him guilty of attempted murder in any judge’s book. And yet for Abraham, the father of the faith, there was not found any sacrifice in the law of Moses to atone for his sin.

Jacob lied to his father and swindled his brother. Judah was one of the ten who tried to murder his own brother. He wound up selling his brother into slavery. David who committed adultery and then murdered the woman’s husband to keep him from finding out. And yet for none of these saints of old was there found any sacrifice in the law of Moses to atone for their sins.

There were no sacrifices in the law of Moses that could be offered to atone for anyone’s sins. The only sacrifices that could offered according to the law of Moses were sacrifices that did absolutely nothing for a person’s sins. They did nothing to atone for sins. They accomplished nothing. They did nothing. They were as useless as a grocery bag with no bottom.

But this was irrelevant where the law was concerned, because the law still demanded these sacrifices be made. Even though these sacrifices accomplished nothing in the way of atonement, they were still to be offered, all the same.

And so what we find on earth in the Old Testament are a bunch of high priests who offer sacrifices that accomplish nothing.

Christ would not be a priest if He had come to make a sacrifice which did nothing, because the earth already had priests who offered sacrifices like that according to God’s law. They already offered sacrifices which did nothing.

What we need is a different kind of sacrifice and a different kind of priest. We need a sacrifice that has done something. And take note that I say has done something. I did not say can do something.

A sacrifice that can do something is a sacrifice that has done nothing. A sacrifice that can do something awaits something else to be done before it can get on with doing whatever it is it is supposed to do.

Folks, Christ did not offer a sacrifice that can do something. He did not offer a sacrifice that awaits us to say a prayer, to walk down an aisle, to commit ourselves to following after a new pattern of behavior, or to anything else in order to enable it to do what it was designed to do. If you believe people can be redeemed, then you do not believe the gospel. You believe a false gospel instead.

A sacrifice that can do something is a sacrifice that has done nothing. No, Christ’s sacrifice has done something. And what Christ’s sacrifice has done is it has fully accomplished the redemption of all God’s elect.

By offering His body to God at the cross as a sacrifice for His people’s sins, the Lord Jesus Christ did fully and forever in one single act never again to be repeated redeem His people from God’s just wrath for their sins.

The sacrifices offered according to the law of Moses, they did nothing. But the sacrifice Christ offered has done something. And it is something that cannot be added to and that cannot be undone.

Returning to our text. Verse 5. Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things.
Why would God institute such sacrifices? Why would He demand from Abraham’s descendants sacrifice that did absolutely nothing to atone for their sins?

We have talked about this before. We have seen that it was God’s will to place both promised seeds under the killing ministry. One reason we saw that God did that was in order to drive the non spiritual seed to keep trusting in their own works and in the sacrifices that accomplished nothing for their sins. The other reason in order to drive the spiritual seed to seek for a sacrifice elsewhere; namely, at the cross of Christ.
But there is also another reason why God instituted such sacrifices.

These old covenants we read about in the Old Testament were each given for the purpose of directing history towards that day when Christ would effectually save His people by offering His body to God as a sacrifice for their sins.

The Bible begins, for instance, with the promise to Adam, “the seed of the woman shall crush the head of the serpent.” From that moment on history began to await the arrival of this seed who would crush the head of the serpent.

This seed had to come from somewhere. Because He is the seed of a woman, He had to come from a nation, from a people, from a family. He could not just appear out of nowhere, because that would mean He is not really the seed of a woman. That would mean He is not really a human. No, He has to be born of a woman, because He is to be born of a woman He has to be part of a family, a people, a nation.

And so we find God promising Abraham that the Seed is going to be one of his descendants. God is going to raise from Abraham’s flesh and blood a great nation, and one who is from this nation is going to be that seed of the woman and He is going to bless all the families of the earth.

God imposes the covenant of circumcision upon Abraham to keep this people separate from all other peoples of the earth. Once we get to the nation itself in Exodus we find God imposing yet another covenant upon the nation to separate it from all the other nations of the earth.

We find history a little closer to the arrival of that seed in Exodus. Soon after Adam we find God identifying first a particular tribe and then later a particular family within the nation. We find Him promising Jacob that the Seed is going to come through the tribe of Judah. Later we find Him promising King David that the Seed is going to come through his family. He will be born of a woman from the line of David.

Later the prophets begin to rise. They start giving us clues as to what the Seed is going to do, what He will look like, how He will save His people and so on. History is now pregnant with the anticipation of the Seed’s arrival.

And then Israel is sacked as punishment for their rebellion. The people are carried off into Babylon. God writes the nation a bill of divorce. The promise of the land is stripped forever from them.

But from within Babylon God preserves a remnant of the nation, a line of descendants who will lead eventually to the promised Seed. The nation does eventually return to the land, but the land is always under foreign occupation from this point out.

Still though, we are closer to the cross now. The covenants have served their purpose. It is nearly time to dispense with them. History is trembling with anticipation. The fullness of time is almost here.

And then finally it happens. The fullness of time arrives. Joseph and Mary arrive on the scene. We find the angel informing Mary, you are the woman who will give birth to the Seed.

Christ is born. He grows up, performs His cross work, and the old covenants are dispensed with. The new covenant has now arrived. The church is left standing in the shadow of the cross pointing backwards now instead of forward; saying, did you see what He did? Have you heard the good news?

Another reason why these old covenants existed ties in closely with the first. That is, they pointed ahead or foreshadowed the cross.

We spoke before briefly about the covenant God made with Noah, and we saw how the sign of that covenant, the rainbow, pointed ahead to that day when God would take to Himself the punishment due His people for their sins.

We see in the covenant of circumcision a sign that pointed ahead to that day when circumcision would be upon the heart rather than upon the flesh, and an act performed by the Spirit rather than by the man.

And even in these sacrifices offered according to the law of Moses, we see in the way they were to be offered signs that point to the cross and that day when atonement would forever be accomplished.

The problem we have with this today is that there exists an entire section of Calvinistic Protestantism that disagrees with almost everything I have just said.

Ulrich Zwingli was a Swiss Reformer. He presided over the Swiss reformation at a time during which a certain controversy arose.

Some Swiss and German Christians had been criticizing Zwingli for his refusal to abolish the Catholic Mass. They were especially critical of his refusal to abolish infant baptism.
These Swiss and German Christians were called Anabaptists. Anabaptist means “rebaptizer.” It was a term used to accuse them, because they were not actually advocating rebaptism. That is, they did not count a person’s earlier baptisms as valid.

These Anabaptists were insisting that the only people who should be baptized are those people who had been converted and then had given a credible profession of their faith. Only they should be counted as members of Christ’s body, the church, and so only they therefore, should be baptized. This, of course, automatically excludes infants, because infants can neither understand the gospel message nor can they give a profession of faith.
Zwingli actually agreed with them at first. He did. And he did promise to abolish the practice in Switzerland. But then he later recanted. And the reason why he recanted had to do with politics rather than truth.

Zwingli was worried he would upset the citizens of Zurich by abolishing infant baptism. He thought this would in turn lead the people of Zurich to return to Rome and thus bring the still as yet young reformation in Switzerland to a grinding halt.

Folks, we should never ever let politics dictate the proclamation of God’s truth. What Zwingli did would go on to be a thorn in the side of Christian churches for the next 500 years.

The Anabaptists were impatient with Zwingli. They took to publishing articles and books criticizing his refusal to abolish infant baptism. Fearful of what these books might lead the people in Zurich to do, Zwingli sought for an answer to their criticism. He came up with one in 1524. It became known as Covenant Theology or Reformed Theology.

What Zwingli proposed was that there is actually only one covenant in the Bible. He called this covenant, the covenant of grace. He said there was only one covenant and that this one covenant was “administered” in many different forms.

What did he mean by administer? If I asked you for some water and you then handed me a glass of water, you would have administered water to me in a glass. Zwingli asked, how does God administer grace? Zwingli answered, He administers grace through a covenant.
Zwingli believed the covenant of circumcision we can read about in Genesis 17 was really this covenant of grace, but in a different form. He claimed the new covenant was also this covenant of grace, but in a different form. This means the covenant of circumcision and the new covenant were actually two forms of the same covenant.

This kind of thinking allowed Zwingli to say the reverse. That is, that since the New Covenant is really just the covenant of circumcision in a different form, and circumcision was how God was administering grace to His people in the covenant of circumcision, then God must also be administering grace to His people now today in some different form of circumcision. Zwingli decided this different form of circumcision was water baptism.
Voila. Infant baptism rescued.

So how does God administer grace to His people? By water baptism, said Zwingli. And since the elect are elect from eternity, therefore, we should baptize our children, because this is how God administers grace to His elect.

Now, not all people who baptize infants agree with covenant theology. And to be honest, infant baptism isn’t even the biggest and most dangerous problem with covenant theology. Rather, the biggest problem with covenant theology is its attempt to flatten all the covenants down to one covenant.

Presbyterians believe the law of Moses was a covenant of works.  Basically, this means that it was a type of covenant that played off the covenant of grace.  

 

This what leads Presbyterians to hold to progressive sanctification. In fact, a popular saying among Presbyterians is “Moses will lead you to Christ for justification, but Christ will lead you back to Moses for sanctification.” 

And so covenant theology insists Christ saved His people in the Old Testament through the law and the sacrifices. In reality, it turns the Mosaic covenant into an effectually saving covenant. This framework has gone on to provide fertile ground for heresies such as common grace and the well-meant offer. It proved also to be the bedrock for the Marrow Controversy. After all, if I am to accept the idea that unbelieving infants are members of the body of the Christ and recipients of God’s grace, then what is to keep me from asserting the same for the adult children of believers? And if I am going to do it for the unbelieving adult children of unbelievers, then why not just accept everyone while I’m at it?

This goes against everything we have been learning about in Hebrews. What were these Hebrew readers doing? They were drawing back with doubt in Christ’s ministry. They were toying with the idea of returning to the old ministry, because under the old ministry they had works they could hang their hat on; works that could not save and could not atone, but works all the same.

There was nothing redemptive about the Mosaic ministry. It was a killing ministry. It could not redeem, it could not atone, it could not propitiate God’s wrath.

None of the Old Testament saints were saved by the Mosaic covenant, its law or its sacrifices. They were not saved by circumcision either. They were saved instead by Christ, who at that time was still a promise. Their faith was in the promise. Their faith was not in the sacrifices.

None of the covenant’s commandments, none of its sacrifices, none of its ordinances apply to anyone today.

No non elect Jew alive today is going to perish for having failed to offer a turtledove. No, he will perish for disobeying the commandment to believe the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The same goes for non elect Gentiles.

Questions?

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About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church http://www.gospeldefense.com/about.html
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One Response to Studies in Hebrews Part 10:Covenant Theology and the Killing Ministry

  1. markmcculley says:

    Why did the people keep on bringing animals for sacrifice, if they didn’t work? I mean, you keep taking baths, but no bath ever keeps you clean forever, but you continue taking showers, because they are effective for another day. And this is why you take another shower tomorrow, because it’s effective for another day.

    So the people kept bringing animals, because it would have been a sin for them not to. Not doing sacrifices would have negative consequences, with one of the sanctions being excluded from Israel.

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