Sunday, April 04, 2004

The Old Covenant in the New

Hebrews 8:7–13; 10:16–17

The writer to the Hebrews cites Jeremiah 31:31–34 in his comparison between the Old and the New Covenants. The Old Covenant is the Mosaic, and the New is the Gospel of Christ. What is the contrast? If the Dispensational view were correct, we would expect this contrast to lie in the principle of law and legalism against grace in the New Covenant. The legal principle would be the great defect of the Mosaic Covenant and dispensation.

It is true that the writer of Hebrews makes a contrast, but this particular matter is not a part of it. The faultiness of the Old Covenant is set forth to demonstrate the need for a New and better Covenant. An examination of Hebrews reveals the contrast to lie in the difference between the two orders of priesthood, Aaronic and Melchizedekian, and the Levitical sacrificial system. As one examines the Mosaic economy he cannot help but be struck with the fact that the priesthood and sacrificial system contained therein was not the legal principle of that economy. These are admittedly the gracious principles of that economy. The writer of the Hebrews finds the weakness of the Mosaic administration not in its legalism, but in the imperfections and shortcomings of the gracious provisions of that economy (7:1, 27; 8:3; 9:22ff.).

A consideration of the Levitical economy in its relation to the New Covenant is most revealing (Hebrews 9:23–24). The import is plain. The Levitical sacrifices were patterned after the heavenly Exemplar. That is, Christ, his priestly ministry, and sacrifices are the reality of which the Levitical economy is the shadow. In other words, the Levitical economy was derived from nothing less than the New Covenant itself. Its defectiveness arose from the fact that it was but a shadow and a pattern. It was not the reality. It is in the New Covenant that the reality, the fullness of grace is to be found. This being the fact, the Mosaic economy has its affinities with the New Covenant, and not with the Covenant of Works. The Old Covenant of Moses was a shadow of the New. It was an anticipation of the New. The New reaches its fullness and highest point in the priestly and heavenly ministrations of Christ, who was a priest after the order of Melchizedek. The guiding principles of the Old Covenant must be grace and not works, since it is patterned after the New Covenant, and not the Covenant of Works.

From our survey of these passages we see the unity of the gracious covenants of the Old Testament. There is a continuity of the principle of grace running from Genesis to the New Testament.

From: Systematic Theology by Morton H. Smith, Volumes I and II, (Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group) 1999.