A Necessary Change of Law
The book of Hebrews was written to some Jewish Christians in the first century [prior to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70], and was written as a treatise arguing for the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old. This was necessary, for it seems some Jewish disciples were contemplating turning back to following the Old Law to alleviate the persecutions they had been [and were still] facing because they had become followers of Jesus Christ. The book is important to every Christian’s faith, too, for it also gives us a clearer picture of God’s covenants [yes, that is plural] with mankind, and teaches us some important principles that help us to understand which covenant is in effect today for those who profess to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
One of the main themes of the book is the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old, and is seen in the numerous times the writer speaks of that which is “better” (Ex. Heb. 7:22). Simultaneous to this emphasis on the superiority of the New Covenant was the writer’s plea to these brethren to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (Heb. 10:23); the plea’s strength came from the very fact of the superiority of the New Covenant, for he argued that going back to the Old Covenant was fruitless, for the Old Covenant could not grant them what they had achieved in the New Covenant.
This is an important book and message, for there are some who profess to be Christians today who argue that Christians are to still follow the Old Covenant; still others argue that there has really only been one covenant throughout time; and still others argue that Christians are to follow only a very small portion of the Old Covenant — that portion we know as the Ten Commandments. Let us consider why all these arguments are false, and why the New Covenant [i.e., the New Testament] is the only authoritative standard for Christians, and always has been.
The ‘One Covenant’ Argument. This argument is one of the easiest to refute from Scripture — if one is honest and accepts simple logic. First, during the time when the Old Covenant was still in effect, Jeremiah wrote prophetically of a time in the future, and said plainly, “Behold, 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 according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the
hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord” (Jer. 31:31, 32). Notice that Jeremiah described this prophesied covenant as a “new covenant,” and that it would be “not according to the covenant that I made” previously with the Israelites. Logic tells us that this “new covenant” could not be the same as the one already in existence because (1) it was “new,” indicating the one currently existing would then be identified as “old” [and that is exactly the terminology Paul used, 2 Cor. 3:14], and (2) this new covenant would not be like the one He had already made.
Furthermore, when the writer of Hebrews cited this prophetic promise of a new covenant, he first noted, “if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second” (Heb. 8:7). Note there is a “first covenant” and a “second” — more than one. After citing that prophetic promise of a new covenant, he concluded, “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete” (Heb. 8:13). If the first is “obsolete,” that means, by definition, it is no longer in use. It cannot be obsolete and in effect simultaneously
The argument that says there has only ever been one covenant is, by Scripture, false. If there was only one, there could not be a “new” and an “old” covenant or a “first” and a “second”; that would be nonsensical. Nothing can be described as old and new at the same time; those terms both require a comparative equal — which means more than there was more one.
Christians Still Accountable to the Old? When God made that first covenant, it was not made with the whole of mankind, but only the Israelites. Moses made this clear in his words to Israel as he recounted their wilderness journey. When he called Israel to Him (Deut. 5:1), he reminded them that God had made a covenant with them at Sinai (Horeb, Deut. 5:2, 3); that covenant was the Ten Commandments (Deut. 4:11-13). But to say that covenant was limited to only the Ten Commandments, one would have to argue that the Israelites were only accountable to the Ten Commandments, and none of the other numerous commandments. But they were to “remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them” (Num. 15:39); at no time could they arbitrarily ignore or disobey any command simply because it was not one of the Ten Commandments.
Furthermore, when Paul wrote to the brethren of Galatia in the first century, he was addressing the error some Jewish teachers had introduced — the requirement that the Gentile brethren be also circumcised to be fully accepted as disciples. In questioning the Gentile brethren about them accepting that false teaching, he plainly wrote, “Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:2-4).
Let us note some important points here: (1) If we go back to that Old Law and try to bind any of those commands on Christians today, we are making the blood of Christ ineffective, for we are saying something besides His blood is the saving power; (2) If we demand obedience to any of those Old Testament commands, then we are obligated to keep all the commands; and (3) Going back to those Old Testament commands means we have left behind the means of obtaining the grace that saves us [rendering us lost]. Christians are accountable to the words of Jesus (John 12:47, 48) and not the words of Moses. That is why they are called Christians.
Conclusion. When the writer of Hebrews pointed out that Jesus was a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, and not of Aaron (Heb. 6:20), he argued that a priest of a different order necessitated a change of law (Heb. 8:11-13). Change of law! This “change of the law” happened when Jesus Christ died (Heb. 9:16, 17). As we may know, when any will [testament] is written, any will that is older is automatically and immediately rendered obsolete and ineffective. As we also may know, that will cannot be implemented until the testator dies. In conclusion, when Jesus the testator died, His will became effective and the Old became obsolete; God’s people no longer follow an obsolete and ineffective covenant, but the New Covenant — the New Testament of Jesus Christ.
Not long before Jesus went to the cross, he instituted the Lord’s Supper, which would be the memorial of His death. When He blessed the cup, He told the disciples, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:27, 28). That is why we follow Jesus and not Moses.
Whom do you follow? — Steven Harper