Online Bible Commentary
The Superiority of Christ’s New Covenant to the Old Covenant
Hebrews 8:7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said: "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. 10 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." 13 By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear. (NIV)
The writer of Hebrews is continuing to proclaim the superiority of Christ over all tenants of Judaism. The writer is likely Paul and is writing to Hebrews, probably those in the church in Jerusalem. They have converted from Judaism and the writer is encouraging them to hold true to Christianity and not fall back to their Jewish roots.
The first three verses of this passage have to do with the Old Covenant, the covenant that God made with the Hebrew people when He took them out of captivity in Egypt. The last four verses of the passage have to do with the New Covenant, the covenant of Jesus Christ.
“If there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant” (v.7), God would not have introduced a new covenant. But the problem was not with the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant came from a perfect God, and thus was perfect. The fault “was with the people” (v. 8a). The people rebelled against God, disobeying the first covenant. If they had been obedient to the commands of God there would have been no need for a second covenant. Of course, none of this was news to God. He was not surprised by the disobedience of fallen mankind. It was ordained from the beginning that Christ would come and introduce a new covenant.
Verses 8b-12 are taken from Jeremiah 31:31-34. God revealed to Jeremiah way back around 600 B. C. that there would be “a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (v. 8b). These were the days of the divided kingdom. Israel was divided into Israel, the northern kingdom, and Judah, the southern kingdom.
The new covenant would not be like the old one (v. 9a). The old covenant was broken by the disobedience of the Hebrew people (v. 9b). Because of that God turned His back on the Hebrew people (v. 9c). They were forced to wander in the desert for forty years, until a whole generation had died off. Only Joshua and Caleb had remained faithful and were allowed to enter the Promised Land with the new generation of Hebrews. The Old Covenant was conditional, based upon obedience. The New Covenant was unconditional, based upon the grace of God.
The writer then turns to the New Covenant. Jesus Himself proclaimed the New Covenant at the Last Supper through these words: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). The writer gives three ways that the New Covenant was superior to the Old Covenant.
First the New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant because of the internalization of the law. God put His laws in our minds and wrote them on our hearts (v. 10). The laws will be obeyed, not because of fear of punishment but because of love for God.
The second way the New Covenant is superior is because it provides a new and direct knowledge of God (v.11). We do not need to be taught to “Know the Lord” (v. 11) because we will have an inward consciousness of Him. The new and direct knowledge of God is through the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, who indwells every Christian.
The third way the New Covenant is superior is because it promised complete forgiveness of sins (v. 12). The Old Covenant provided for animal sacrifice to cover the sins of the people. The sins were covered but they were never removed. There was ceremonial cleansing but not internal cleansing. There was not moral cleansing, a clear conscience. The blood of Christ completely removed our sin. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12).
The sacrifice of Christ on the cross provided forgiveness of our sins. Christ “will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (v. 12). Christ forgives and forgets our sin, and wants us to do the same.
This passage concludes with how the New Covenant will completely replace the Old Covenant (v. 13a). The Old Covenant “is obsolete and aging” and “will soon disappear” (v. 13b). Christianity will win out in the end. All religions and ideologies will become obsolete with the return of Christ. Every knee will bow to Him.