When I was a small child, I was made to learn the first five books of the Bible, the Law. These books contain the Law of Moses: a collection of commands that set the terms by which the Israelites would live and worship God, defining the covenant between God and Israel. But soon came a different covenant. A better one. Using the theme “Better Than,” from Hebrews, we will be exploring the first and second covenants and why the second covenant is better, even leading up to the very message of the book of Hebrews itself. Let’s get started.
Our journey begins with the first covenant, and a verse from the New Testament. Hebrews 8:7 says, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place should have been sought for the second.” Why was the first flawed? Because Israel was not faithful to their covenant with God. Many times they turned away, often swayed by the influence of the other nations around them. In fact, there’s a whole book about it: Judges.
Did you know that the Law of Moses contains 613 commandments?! Unfortunately, humans are not perfect (Romans 3:23). The Israelites, as flawed humans, could not uphold the previous covenant. Therefore, it was fragmented. Romans 4:25 says, “Because this covenant was broken, it was a necessity that a new and better covenant be instituted.”
So in the time of Jeremiah, God promised that he would soon establish a better covenant. Jeremiah prophecies in Jeremiah 31:31-32, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord.”
The way He fulfilled this promise is extraordinary, and goes all the way back to the Old Testament. Then, sins were atoned for by animal sacrifices. The law says for the cleansing of sins, there must be bloodshed (Hebrews 9:22), and it is blood that makes atonement for one’s life (Leviticus 17:11). But, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). While sacrifices under the Law of Moses atoned for sins, the law could not remove them completely.
Today, Jesus takes the place of the sacrifices that were offered repeatedly in the Old Testament, instead having sacrificed His body for us (Romans 8:3). Jesus’ sacrifice does not have to be continually re-offered, but is eternal, offered once for all (Hebrews 9:12). God replaced the first covenant and established the second through this sacrifice (Hebrews 9:15).
We’ve covered the first covenant, and how the second, better covenant was established. Why is it better? Because it was established on better promises (Hebrews 8:6). In this new covenant have a better hope (Hebrews 7:19), a better possession (Hebrews 10:34) and a better salvation, even better than the salvation of the biblical heroes of the Old Testament (Hebrews 11:40). This is all possible through Jesus, the surety and mediator of a better covenant, who received a better ministry (Hebrews 7:22, Hebrews 8:6) and is a better High Priest, superior to the high priests of the old covenant and even to the angels, thanks to his status as God’s son (Hebrews 7:26-28 and Hebrews 1:4-5).
For our conclusion, consider this verse: “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at 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 erected, and not man” (Hebrews 8:1). This is the purpose of Hebrews. 13 chapters, 303 verses, and 6,897 words* for this message: A better salvation through a better high priest. But…better than what? Better than the Old Testament salvation, yes. But really? Better than anything else.
Hebrews 2:1-3 says, “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away…how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation…?” We have been given a great opportunity; a better salvation through our better high priest. We must not neglect this salvation. Are you?