Posts Tagged ‘New Covenant Theology


Hitler Learns that New Covenant Theology is Spreading.


The Power and the Danger of Presuppositions–Stuart Brogden

“The Sabbath before the command”, a sermon by Voddie Baucham
reviewed and analyzed by Stuart Brogden

This review is not intended to malign or condemn my dear brother and friend, Voddie Baucham; it is to expose the errors one can be led to if presuppositions are left unexamined, if documents other than Scripture are held too tightly. This sermon sums up much of what caused me to withdraw from Grace family Baptist Church; it violates many of the basic rules of hermeneutics that Voddie taught me, apparently having his view distorted by his “confessionally colored glasses” as Bob Gonzales put it.
To the sermon, which can be listened to here:
Early in this sermon, Voddie asserts “Israel mirrors New Covenant people.” This is fundamental to the message of this sermon, but is it true? A mirror is intended to give an accurate image of the object, as when Scripture says Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God (Col 1:15) and He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb 1:3). Israel, however, is NOT a mirror image of the church which was purchased by the blood of Christ Jesus. Israel was a type, a shadow – providing a useful but imperfect image of the antitype, the church (Hebrews 8:1 – 6). They were a mixed seed of mostly unregenerate people. While the local church will have wheat and chaff growing side-by-side until the reaping (Matt 34:31; Rev 14:15), the universal church is pure and undefiled in any way (Eph 5:27). This cannot be said about Israel; it is NOT a mirror of God’s redeemed people. But it’s important for Voddie’s entire message that we agree that we are Israel (as he points out later), because the Scriptures tell us that the covenant was made with Israel and the words written on the stone tablets testify of that covenant (Ex 34:27 & 28). Moses emphasizes (Deut 5:2 & 3) this covenant was made with national Israel, not the patriarchs. And not – by implication – with Adam or the redeemed. As we will see, if Israel is not a mirror of the church, this message fails.
Still early in the sermon we are told, “Understanding the Sabbath is one of the most important junctures in our theology.” I agree with him on this. It will be apparent, however, I do not agree with his understanding of the Sabbath. Then he says, “Is it 8 of 10 or 9 of 10 who deny a Sabbath commandment?” It’s clear he simply made up this number, apparently to demonstrate the pitiable condition of the apathetic saints who disagree with him. Before getting into the substance of his argument, I am compelled to point out a subtle but glaring aspect of his repeated description of non-Sabbatarian Christians as those who deny or do not believe in a Sabbath command. Speaking for myself, I do not deny that the Bible has a Sabbath command. I believe in the Sabbath command. I simply look to the Scripture to inform me as to the subjects of this – and other commands. I deny that the Sabbath Command is binding for people in the New Covenant. I openly agree that it IS binding on those in the Mosaic Covenant, but not all men universally. By phrasing it as if we deny that the Bible commands some people to keep the Sabbath, Voddie implies though we cut objectionable parts from our Bibles. It is more likely, as we will see, that sabbatarians add parts to the Bible – reminding me of an author who describes dispensationalists as people of the invisible Scripture. Voddie taught me to tackle the best argument of those I disagreed with, as any victory over a weak argument would be meaningless. He appears to have forgotten this counsel, as this sermon engages only weak (or made up) positions.

One of the main tenents of his argument is that the Decalogue, as a unit, is equal to God’s moral law. This is not explained or defended from Scripture. As his beloved Second London Baptist Confession states in chapter 19, paragraph 3 (referring to the tablets of stone mentioned in paragraph 2), “Besides this law, commonly called moral …” and not one single verse is referenced. As one author I recently ran across observed, when theologians don’t have a biblical defense for something they assert, they use phrases such as “commonly called”. This is an appeal to a false authority – a logical fallacy. This is another aspect of preaching Voddie taught me – do not fall into the use of logical fallacies to make your point. Doing so lessens the authority of the message.
Therefore, he concludes, as a moral law, the Sabbath is binding on all people. From this position, He mocks 7th day Sabbatarians, whom he describes as 1 of the 10 who don’t get “truth” as he defines it. Another 10 percent hold to the idea of a “Christian Sabbath”; the remaining 8 of 10, a huge majority of Christians, deny the “Christian Sabbath” and are unable to explain why. Voddie is well aware of scholarly works by credible Christians who provide solid biblical defense for why the Sabbath is for Israel and not the Christian. D.A. Carson’s From Sabbath to Lord’s Day and Terrence O’Hare’s The Sabbath Complete are two such books that I know he is aware of. Is it sophistry to assert that, in general, all those Christians who deny the “Christian Sabbath” cannot explain why they hold that position. I betcha 9 of 10, or maybe 10 of 10 people who believe the Decalogue equals God’s moral law cannot explain it from Scripture. This is because Scripture does not define “moral law” nor does it equate that concept to the Decalogue. That correlation is simply not found there. That’s why the Westminster and Second London Baptist Confessions say the Law given Moses is “commonly called” the moral law. This is a concept originally put down on paper by Thomas Aquinas, the same one who developed the triad view of the Mosaic Law.
Baucham makes the interesting observation that since the Sabbath command was introduced in Exodus 16, chronologically before the law was given to Moses, and because it is allegedly rooted and grounded in a creation ordinance, it transcends the Decalogue. This is a double assertion based on his confessional presuppositions, not found in Scripture. When YHWH instructs the infant Hebrew nation about the Sabbath, using manna as the object, it is clear they were not familiar with the Sabbath, it was something new to them. This is the first record of the Sabbath in Scripture. It is another argument from silence to claim the Sabbath was known, kept and enforced from creation. The mention of the 7th day in the Decalogue does not establish a creation ordinance; it is given by God as an example for Israel to help them understand His command. John Calvin, John Gill, and John Bunyan each held a high view of the Lord’s Day, but dismissed and argued against the idea of a Sabbath creation ordinance. Circumcision was part of the Mosaic Covenant given before the Decalogue – does it also transcend the Decalogue and bind all people?
Voddie asserts that the 7th day of creation sets the pattern for work and worship. He later calls this God’s rhythm for life. I completely agree that YHWH was demonstrating for us our need for rest from work in sanctifying the 7th day of creation to Himself, as a minimum. Since all creation and the gift of work were soon to be cursed by the Fall, I also see the 7th day rest pointing to the One Who will do away with the ravages of sin and provide true and eternal rest for weary souls. Scripture tells us that God gave the Sabbath to the Hebrew people through Moses:

You came down on Mount Sinai, and spoke to them from heaven. You gave them impartial ordinances, reliable instructions, and good statutes and commands. You revealed Your holy Sabbath to them, and gave them commands, statutes, and instruction through Your servant Moses. You provided bread from heaven for their hunger; You brought them water from the rock for their thirst. You told them to go in and possess the land You had sworn to give them. Nehemiah 9:13-15 (HCSB)

YHWH gave the Sabbath to Israel as part of the ordinances, instructions, statutes, and commands, through His servant Moses. When Nehemiah continues on to describe YHWH’s kind provision in the desert, giving the Sabbath command to them is not listed. But taking the command in Exodus 16 into account, we can be sure YHWH taught and revealed His Sabbath to Israel at that time – but it was not given as the sign of the Mosaic Covenant until Sinai. There was a Sabbath before the commandment. It began as a teaching of the concept to the Hebrew people, not as a continuation of something they knew for generations since Adam taught Seth. In Exodus 16, when Israel is rebuked for trying to gather manna on the Sabbath, God tells them the Sabbath is to be kept by the families staying in their homes. There is no corporate worship, nothing standing as a type for the “Christian Sabbath”.
Voddie tells us, “Whenever you see Israel messin’ up – stop and insert yourself. That is you and me before we came to God. Forget generalities – this is you and me.” Again, the notion that Israel is a mirror of New Covenant saints shows up and seems innocuous. Voddie also taught me to be careful about inserting self into a Scripture passage, often using Jeremiah 29:11 to teach this. It appears he forgot this lesson. While all Scripture, including Exodus 16, is for our edification (1 Cor 10:6; Rom 15:4), not all Scripture can be applied directly to us. Israel is typological of all sinners, but that is NOT the same as saying you and I are Israel in this passage. Being less than careful in this matter can lead to serious errors – as when people drink poison and handle snakes by inserting themselves into Mark 16:17 & 18.
He quotes Ian Campbell from Why Easter makes me a Sabbatarian. This is an interesting article, easily found on the Internet, providing a defense of the Westminster Confession’s view of the “Christian Sabbath”. Despite Campbell’s assertion to the contrary, the pre-command for Sabbath-keeping in Exodus 16 is given only to Israel, not all people; same as the Decalogue. Nothing in the context of either scene comes remotely close to including Gentiles. Voddie admits the Decalogue summarizes the Mosaic Covenant, yet declares “the Sabbath was not just for Israel.” His continued conflating God’s moral law with the Decalogue leads him to impose the Decalogue universally. “If the Decalogue is a communication of God’s righteousness, then everyone is responsible for upholding it.” If by upholding it Voddie means we are bound by it (as the 1689 says), then he will run into myriad problems throughout the Bible as God’s righteousness is revealed and communicated in ways that even Christian Sabbatarians would claim. The crime and punishment of Achan in Judges 7 comes to mind.
If everyone is required by God to keep His Sabbath, why is the only record of the Decalogue we have contained in the monologues by Moses, communicating this law (the summary of the Mosaic Covenant) to that people? If it was commonly practiced from creation, why is there no Biblical record of anyone other than Israelites being instructed about the Sabbath or punished for violating it? There is plenty of punishment meted out on people for murder, theft, idolatry, etc., before the Decalogue is published, giving warrant to the notion that there is a moral law at work in all humanity. Yet nowhere in Scripture is the Sabbath held up in this light; it is a sign of the covenant between God and Israel. The tripartite view of Mosaic Law is difficult to demonstrate, as when we try to separate moral law from ceremonial in Leviticus – they are interwoven everywhere one looks. Principals of moral law and ceremonial and civil law are there to learn from; but they are not neatly defined and set aside (sanctified) as separate records.
Voddie claims Sabbatarians are the only people who see all men responsible before God for keeping His law. Others say man must voluntarily enter into covenant with God to be held accountable. This is another logical fallacy – the Excluded Middle: assuming there are only two alternatives when in fact there are more. Are Sabbatarians the only ones who embrace God’s sovereignty and monergistic work of justification, and the Christian’s responsibility to pursue godliness? Reading from Luke 6, wherein Jesus makes the claim He is the Lord of the Sabbath, Voddie asks, “would Jesus claim to be Lord of something that was abolished?” What if the Sabbath is by design a type of the rest we find in Christ as He redeems us? We are told to rest in the Lord (Psalm 37:7) and are invited by the Lord Jesus to find rest in Him (Matthew 11:28 – 29). If He gives us spiritual rest when we come to Him in faith (which He graciously gives His elect), is He not, in this way, continuing as Lord of the Sabbath? No one enters into His rest unbidden by Him – He is Lord of the Sabbath! Jesus does not promise the pale imitation of the rest provided for by temporal respite; He gives the eternal rest that can be found nowhere else. Baucham then runs to Hebrews 4:9 to claim THAT as a Sabbath – the weekly “Christian Sabbath.” For each of the types spoken of in Hebrews 3 & 4, the Spirit recounts how the infant nation of Israel failed to enter His rest in Canaan because of unbelief (Heb 3:7 – 19), how we who do believe enter that rest (not in Canaan, but in Christ; Heb 4:3), and He speaks, again, how Creator God rested from that work on the seventh day (Greek word hebdomos, #G1442; Heb 4:4), and how the (spiritual) rest promised to those who believe is different than the (temporal) rest Joshua promised (Heb 4:8). Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. (Hebrews 4:9-10 (HCSB)) This rest, sabbatismos (Greek word G4520) is used nowhere else; it is found only in verse 9. If it were to be a weekly Sabbath, we would expect to see sabbaton (Greek word G4521) which is used 68 times in the New Testament, overwhelmingly to describe the Jewish Sabbath. If the temporal rest Joshua sought was singular occurrence and the rest from creation was a singular occurrence, why would the rest believers gain when we are adopted by God be a weekly event, rather than a singular, ongoing rest in the finished redemptive work of Christ Jesus? The Jewish Sabbath was a pale ceremonial rest from work to demonstrate their trust in YHWH, not an instruction to develop corporate worship. As a command to rest from that work which provided food for themselves and their families, the Jewish Sabbath serves a wonderful type for Christians – to rest from that work which seems to earn God’s favor and find true rest in the finished work of Jesus, the antitype; not a weekly spiritual respite.
Where does the Sabbath command include worship? This question is never asked nor answered in this sermon. One might think it central to the idea that the command to rest from work had been changed not only in the day in which it is to be observed, but as to its practice. We are to assume worship is commanded; Voddie does, and then strains to accommodate the change in day: “The commandment is 1 day in 7, not the 7th day.” This is simply not true. If it were true, each tribe of Israel could have established their own day of the week to honor the Sabbath given by God as a sign of the covenant. We know they did not do so. The commandment is “the 7th day”; the example from creation is “the 7th day.” Exodus 20:9-10 (HCSB) You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. From Strong’s Hebrew dictionary: Number 7637, shebîʿâ, is found 98 times in the KJV and means “seventh” 96 times, “seventh time” once, and “seven” once. Since this word is used myriad times to describe the Jewish Sabbath (there being no other kind in Scripture), how could it mean any day in a given week? Our English translations (NIV, NASB, ESV, HCSB, KJV, and many others) all say “the seventh day.” I didn’t find a commentary written by men in either camp who interpret this word as “one day in seven;” they universally interpret it “the seventh day.” And as with creation, the day after the sixth day is specified as the day of rest, not worship. But Voddie says “8 out 10 Christians do not believe that there is a Sabbath command … this means that going to church is optional.”

In truth, we see clearly a Sabbath command; we don’t see it given to anyone other than national Israel and we don’t see it commanding worship. There’s a HUGE difference! He continues to portray only two extremes – you believe in the “Christian Sabbath” or you believe worshiping God with His people is not important. This is another example of the Excluded Middle fallacy. There are many Christians who understand the Sabbath command to be a sign of the Mosaic Covenant and yet eagerly and willingly participate in regular corporate worship with the saints. People indwelt by the Spirit of God will increasingly desire to please Him and will not degrade into the slouches Voddie posits as the end of all who neglect his idea of Sabbath keeping. Being burdened by a law from the Mosaic Covenant will not transform them. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) was emphatic on this point:

some of the believers from the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!” (verse 5) … Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? (verse 10)

In this comparison between the Christian Sabbatarian position and those who do not agree with it, Voddie lumps all non-sabbatarians in with Ed Young’s horrible Easter Sunday extravaganza. “This command, which has been place since the creation of the world…” Again, there is no record of any Sabbath command or Sabbath keeping until Israel was instructed in Exodus 16. Law against murder is clearly in view, for example – yet NOTHING about Sabbath until the Exodus. There is no command or instruction to move the Sabbath to the 8th day. Christian gatherings on the 8th day (prayer, praise, preaching, and fellowship of the saints) have no connection to the commandment – which was to stay in your house and rest from your work. The false contrasts continues. H states that only Sabbatarians give the Lord every Sunday, and everyone else only Easter. Voddie heavily expounds, “the timeless command is observed by us on this day speaks volumes.” And “As God’s people, this is what God commands of us” – to gather twice as much manna on Friday so we won’t gather on the Sabbath. “But if you believe there is an obligation for God to be worshiped on this day, ‘but you do whatever to rid yourself of the guilt of playing sports on Sunday’ … is the day His or is it not?” “That’s the question – is the day His or is it not? We cannot embrace the blessing of the Sabbath without embracing the fact that it is a command.” He implies the “Christian Sabbath” is the only means by which saints can gather and participate in the ordinary means of grace our Lord has given us.
A long quote from B.B. Warfield’s sermon on the “Christian Sabbath”, pressing the command and obligation of the Sabbath, with no exegesis to show how this command is binding on Christians as is claimed. Voddie touts the notion that we must be commanded to worship each week because the world does not see its need to worship God – sounding just like Walter Chantry’s pragmatic plea to keep the Sabbath as a means of redeeming the culture (Call the Sabbath a Delight). Paraphrase: ‘Only if you get the “Christian Sabbath” as a command do you get the blessing God intends for you in this day.’ How ‘bout this, as an alternative: Jesus kept the law of Moses and the prophets, not just the Decalogue. He earned the right to be our lamb who takes away sin. We find the blessing of our rest in Him and His finished work.
He laments, ‘Failure to attend church regularly will cause your soul to shrivel. Failure to give God this day is to your great harm and detriment.’ Again – Christians want to gather and worship our Lord; the command does not command worship.
‘What does the Sabbath teaching in Exodus 16 tell us about Israel and us? First, it was commanded and very specific. Gather twice the bread on the 6th day … As the people of God, this is what God commands us. Again, 8 of 10 Christians do not believe the Sabbath command means they think going to church is optional.’ I agree with Voddie that we who claim Christ must trust Him to provide for us and not view work as an ends to be pursued to the detriment of our souls. This principle is taught us by the Sabbath command given the Hebrews. This is how types are interpreted, discerning the way they apply to us, rather than assuming equivalence.
“Ancient writers wrote about how extraordinary Israel was where in 1 day out of 7 everything stopped.” He doesn’t tell us the name of one of these ancient writers, but the official record of Israel’s history, the Scriptures, tell us Israel routinely profaned God’s Sabbath command and were punished many times (Ezek 20 & 22 for example). “This 1 day in 7 set them apart inwardly.” FAIL! Only the Spirit of God can do this! He presumes equivalence between “the Lord’s Day” and the “Christian Sabbath” and assigns spiritual blessings to Christians for keeping of the Law of Moses – which the Apostles declared a burden no man could bear.
“This is the day when we let everything else stop!” And yet – Voddie has repeatedly taught that it’s OK for people to enjoy sports and recreation on Sunday as long as it does not conflict with church. The Christian values the community of faith on Sunday, but meets with God every day. It’s not just the 8th day that is God’s – every day is. Our Sabbath rest is found in our Savior, not in a shadowy ceremonial type that was fulfilled in the person and work of our Lord.
FINALLY he tells us our day of rest is the rest we find in Christ (IAW Heb 4:9, perhaps?); but it’s still only a weakly (no misspelling!) rest for Voddie, rather than the ever increasing rest we enjoy as He sanctifies us. “He gives you six days – do you not believe He can multiply your bread on the 6th?” We mostly work 5 days in this country and ought to trust in our provider more than our employer – but that work is as much as ordinary means of grace as any other provided for us.
Voddie condescendingly dismisses rules for Sabbath keeping, pointing to Exodus 16:23 – they were permitted to cook the manna on the 7th day, just not permitted to gather (the text does not say they were permitted to cook manna on the 7th day). Therefore, he declares, there are no lists for what it means to keep the Sabbath! But what says the Scripture? There we find many rules for Sabbath keeping – not only those made up by the religious rulers. Exodus 31:15 (death for working); 35:1 – 3 (which forbids kindling a fire); Numbers 15:32 – 36 (death for picking up wood); Leviticus 25 (describes the Sabbath Year – why do Christian Sabbatarians not practice this?); Numbers 28:9 – 10 (burnt offerings); 1 Chron 9:32 (bread of the presence); 2 Chron 23:8 (military guard); Neh 10:31 (showing the Sabbath applying to Israel, not others); Neh 13 (God’s wrath promised to come on Israel for their profaning the Sabbath); Jer 17(prohibition of bearing burdens). No rules for Sabbath keeping, no penalties for breaking those rules? No lists for what God means to keep His Sabbath? Contrary to what Voddie says, the biblical Sabbath has rules, penalties, and lists. If the “Christian Sabbath” he holds to does not, it does not bear witness to the Sabbath in Exodus 16 he is pressing upon his flock.
Voddie claims the typological aspect of the Sabbath comes into play after the first resurrection. It’s only a weak weekly observance until you die. He declares that the work of ministry is permitted on the Sabbath and then says his Sunday ministry (preaching) is not work – it’s worship. Preparation for preaching is work. Why, then, defend the work of ministry on the Sabbath if that is not work? A day off to rest his body is fine, but he will not dare call it a Sabbath, “because the Sabbath is the Lord’s Day, not mine.” Every day we live is the Lord’s Day, not ours – just as every good thing we have is a gift of God and not our own (1 Cor 4:7).
My dear brother gives us many good reminders about the value of Christians gathering for corporate worship – yet no exegesis showing how the 8th day is defined by the 4th word. He simply gives a naked assertion that the 4th word “goes all the way back to creation.” The Scriptures are silent on this topic in that era; it violates Sola Scriptura to teach that it does. No argument from me that to work six days and rest one is a God-given rhythm for life. The Sabbath command teaches this – it does not teach nor require worship. “This is what we must learn, saints – that God will give us 7 days of provision in 6 days of work.” IS THIS THE APPLICATION OF THE 4th WORD FOR CHRISTIANS? I rather treasure the surety of my soul! Just as God rested from His work of creation to show us a pattern for life and point us to the promised seed, Christ rested from His work of redemption to provide us an eternity of rest – rest that starts as soon as He redeems us and gets better every day until He returns to bring the ultimate glory to His name by recreating the heavens and earth and putting a final end to sin for His saints. That’s my Sabbath – the God-man who is Lord of the Sabbath, He bids me find my rest in Him.
To borrow from Kim Riddlebarger’s Reply to John MacArthur (located here:, This is hard to say, but in his sermon Pastor Baucham set up and repeatedly attacked a straw man. His was a pyrrhic victory over a phantom foe.


Baptist Covenant Theology–Stuart L. Brogden

The following is a link to a lecture Stuart Brogden delivered on Baptist Covenant Theology.

It may differ slightly with my view of New Covenant Theology in that it may see all humanity under the old covenant, the Law, whereas I would see that covenant as one made exclusively with Israel treated paradigmatically as a microcosm of the human race. Israel’s response to that covenant stood representatively as the response of all in Adam. God’s elect [spiritual] receive the blessings of that works covenant, not because we were under it, but because we are in him who was born under it and fulfilled its every last requirement as our substitute.

The following is Stuart’s response to my question [by email] in regard to the differences he sees between his position and NCT:

From what I’ve read about NCT, I do not agree that God’s moral law is defined by what the NT re-published thereof. This is put forth as a NCT tenet in “The Cross – The Heart of NCT”; which sees the Decalogue as God’s moral law in so much as it is republished in the NT.

I see that moral law as pre-dating the Decalogue and being partially displayed in the Decalogue, which is no more than God’s testimony of His covenant with Israel. I do see categories of law with the Mosaic Covenant, but not in the same way as the WCF crowd does. Their view of the church = Israel distorts the Scripture, making a complex issue neat and easy to reduce to a catechism.

My answer is that, though I wrote the booklet to which he refers, “The Cross: The Heart of New Covenant Theology” years ago, I must have failed to make my position clear. Whatever I stated in that booklet that gave the impression that we believe the law of God is defined by what is republished in the New Testament, my position at this point is that God’s moral law [as I have stated in other places I prefer the term “righteous standard”] never changes. It antedates the Decalogue and survives its abrogation. The two commandments that embody that righteous standard, love to God and neighbor, are to be obeyed in different ways under different covenants. Love to God under the old covenant was expressed in obedience to so-called ceremonial commandments as well as through obedience to so-called moral commandments. The commandments that are published in the New Testament Scriptures are not so published to define “moral law” but to describe what obedience to that eternal, righteous standard looks like for a new covenant believer.

Regarding different aspects of the Mosaic covenant (moral, civil/judicial, and ceremonial), I do not disagree that such a character exists with individual commandments. There is clearly a distinction between the covenant itself, the Ten Words, and the commands God gave for the implementation of that covenant. My point is that it was not two parts of the Mosaic covenant that waxed old and was ready to vanish but the entire covenant. The biblical writers consistently refer to “LAW,” not “Moral law,””ceremonial law,” and “civil law.” It was the covenant that passed away, not parts of it. The only reason the Sabbath commandment is not repeated in the N. T. Scriptures is that it was the ceremonial sign of the old covenant that has now been fulfilled in Christ.

We are still required to keep and are now enabled to keep the righteous requirements of the law in terms of the principles set forth in the intricate legal system that was necessary to implement the old covenant. Yet, since we do not live in a Theocracy, and in my view are not intended to live in a Theocracy until the King returns, the laws regarding capital punishment, etc. no longer obtain. My view is that if any part of that covenant has been fulfilled and has therefore vanished, the covenant as a whole has vanished.

At any rate, whatever differences may remain between Stuart and me on these issues, I believe you will find the above referenced lecture helpful.



No Access Under the Old Covenant

The writer understood that Jehovah intended the old covenant to emphasize His absolute holiness and unbending righteousness (2:2;10:27-31;12:18-21,29). While the first tabernacle stood and the old covenant remained in force, the way into the holy presence of God remained hidden, “. . .the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing.” (9:8). Only the High Priest could enter the holy of holies. Even he could enter only once a year. Then, he dared not enter God’s presence without the blood of the sacrificial animal, which he offered first for his own sins and after that for the sins of the people.

But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance (9:7).

The old covenant priests had to repeat this ritual year after year, signifying that God had not yet forgiven the sins for which they offered sacrifices. The day of atonement was a solemn reminder that guilty, covenant-breaking sinners could not approach a holy God.

10:1The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered for the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

The best the old covenant sacrifices could do was to provide ceremonial cleansing for sins that were committed unintentionally (9:7-10). They could formally restore the relationships that had been broken between a man and his God and a man and his neighbor, but they could not take away those sins that had caused the breach. F.F. Bruce writes, “Our author does not deny that such ritual cleansing was real and effective so far as it went. What he does deny is that cleansing of this kind could be of any use for the removal of inward and spiritual defilement” (Bruce , Commentary on Hebrews, p. 218).

One of the major points in which the old covenant was “weak and unprofitable” was its inability to quiet the nagging conscience. Under the old covenant, this was even true of the believer’s conscience. The word translated “conscience” or “consciousness” (syneidesis) occurs 32 times in the NT (5 times in this epistle). In general, it has reference to the awareness that a man possesses concerning the moral character of his actions. A person’s conscience tells him whether he is guilty or innocent. His thoughts accuse or perhaps defend him (Rom 2:15). The conscience, acting apart from Scripture, is not a safe guide since it may have been wrongly instructed. Yet, it is never safe for a person to disobey his conscience. If he should do so, he would be acting contrary to what he believed to be right or wrong.

The function of the old covenant was to awaken the sinner’s conscience to bear witness concerning his guiltiness before the Holy One of Israel. The tables of stone testified that the righteousness God requires is, to a sinner, merely an external code, not an internal, governing life principle. By instructing the Israelite’s conscience, the intricacies of the Mosaic code intensified his awareness both of the infinite holiness of God and the heinousness of his transgressions. It produced in him what our author calls “an evil conscience.” The heart of the sinner in Israel whose conscience God had awakened by the covenant of Sinai was so overwhelmed by a sense of unpardoned guilt that “drawing near to God” was inconceivable. The law could not produce acceptable worship or acceptable worshippers (10:1). John Brown has rightly understood this relationship between the sinner’s guilty conscience and his inability to draw near to God. He wrote,

“An evil conscience” is a conscience burdened and polluted with a sense of unpardoned guilt. A man who has offended God, and knows this, and who has no solid ground of hope of pardon, is totally unfit for affectionate fellowship with God. His mind is a stranger to confidence and love–It is full of jealousy, and fear, and dislike. The man must get rid of this “evil conscience” in order to his coming to God. (Brown, Hebrews, P. 461).
The old covenant believer could not enter God’s presence because sacrifices that could not satisfy God’s holy wrath for sin could not satisfy his conscience. God never intended for the Israelites to believe that they could appease His righteous anger by offering the blood of dumb and unwilling beasts. Until the thinking Israelite could see a correspondence between the sacrifice appointed and the awful predicament that existed because of his transgressions, his conscience could not be silenced. He had good reason to rejoice that God was pleased to continue to dwell in the camp of Israel and to receive the sacrifices that He had sovereignly appointed. Still, he knew that the sacrifice appointed did not have sufficient value to take away his sins. Consider F.F. Bruce’s excellent comment concerning the effect of the old covenant sacrificial system.

It was inevitable that the earlier law should be abrogated sooner or later; for all the impressive solemnity of the sacrificial ritual and the sacerdotal ministry, no real peace of conscience was procured thereby, no immediate access to God. That is not to say that faithful men and women in the Old Testament times did not enjoy peace of conscience and a sense of nearness to God; the Psalter provides evidence enough that they did. . . .But these experiences had nothing to do with the Levitical ritual or the Aaronic priesthood. The whole apparatus of worship associated with that ritual and priesthood was calculated rather to keep men at a distance from God than to bring them near (Bruce , Commentary on Hebrews, pp. 148 ff).

If the Levitical system could have met the needs of sinning Israelites, then it would have been the substance, not the shadow. There would have been no need for another priest as our author argues in 7:11. “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the Law was given to the people) why was there still need for another priest to come . . .?” The effect of the Levitical ceremonial system should have been to cause dissatisfied Israel to look for a sacrifice that could silence the nagging conscience by cancelling guilt completely. Instead, some to whom our author addressed this epistle had become infatuated with the “shadows” when they should have been enthralled by the “substance.”

We Draw Near to God
The Basis of Our Access

Christ, in the new covenant, brings a better hope “by which we draw near to God” (7:19). The entrance of our representative, our great priest, into the heavenly sanctuary assures believers in the new covenant era of access into God’s holy presence. It is the truth that believers have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens into God’s presence that forms the basis of our confidence and hope as we approach His holy throne (4:14-16;10:19-22). We may now enter God’s presence with confidence since our great priest has entered, now to appear in God’s presence for us (9:12;24).
One of the more important contrasts between Christ and the priests of the old covenant concerns this entrance into the Most Holy Place. There are at least four areas of contrast between them. There is a difference in the place that they entered. There is a difference in the means by which they entered it. There is a difference in the duration of their ministry in the Most Holy Place. There is a difference in the frequency of entrance. Consider these contrasts one by one.

The place that Christ entered is far superior to the place entered by the old covenant high priest. “They [the old covenant priests] serve in a sanctuary that is a copy and a shadow of what is in heaven” (8:5). But, in contrast to them, Christ entered and ministers in “the true tent set up by the Lord, not by man” (8:1).

9:11When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation . . .24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

The sanctuary in the wilderness was only a shadow and symbol of the heavenly holy place. Accordingly, the restoration effected by the blood of sacrifices offered in that sanctuary was only ceremonial and typical. In the divinely prescribed ceremonies of the old covenant, a typical priest offered a typical sacrifice in a typical sanctuary for those who as a nation were the typical people of God.
The means by which Christ entered the presence of God is better than the means by which the old covenant priests entered. Since He has entered the true, rather than the typical presence of God, it is necessary that He offer a sacrifice that truly cleanses. Ceremonial purification will not suffice. It is for this reason that Christ offers His own blood in the presence of God. Our author writes,

11When Christ came as high priest . . .12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God (9:11-14).

The sacrifice that the old covenant demanded, but was unable to provide, has come. Christ is that sacrifice! He has accomplished a true rather than a merely typical cleansing. No other sacrifice could satisfy the guilty conscience. Justice would frown and continue to pronounce the sacrifices of the old covenant insufficient to forgive sins and wash away the stain. But, as John Newton wrote, now that Christ has offered Himself as an all-sufficient sacrifice, “. . .justice smiles and asks no more.” In the same vein, Isaac Watts wrote,

Jesus, my great High Priest,
Offered his blood and died;
My guilty conscience seeks
No sacrifice beside.

In addition, there is a contrast between the duration of Christ’s ministry in the Most Holy Place and that of the old covenant priests. The Levitical priests had no resting place in the Most Holy Place in the wilderness tabernacle. They never finished their work. Once those priests had presented the blood of the sacrifice before the typical presence of God, it was necessary for them to leave. Once Jesus, our Great High Priest, entered the heavenly sanctuary, there was no need for Him to leave to offer another sacrifice. He sat down because He had finished His sacrificial work. We must be careful to distinguish, as does the writer of this epistle, between Christ’s work of oblation and His work of intercession. In His intercessory work, He continually displays the results of His finished work on behalf of believers. This does not mean that His work of sacrifice continues. He has completely accomplished His work of sacrifice.

. . .he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. When he appears again, it will not be to offer sacrifice for sins, but to bring (eschatological) salvation to His people (9:24-28).

Finally, notice the contrast between the frequency with which those priests entered, and Christ’s entrance once for all. Those priests were required to enter the Most Holy Place repeatedly to offer the same kind of ineffectual sacrifice they had offered the previous year. The repetition of these sacrifices speaks eloquently concerning their inferiority and insufficiency. If they had met the worshipper’s needs, they would have stopped being offered (10:1-4). Christ offered only one sacrifice because one was all that was needed to do the job. He does not need to enter again with the blood of a new sacrifice. He has done enough already. Therefore, He has entered once for all.

The Boldness of Our Access

The theme of “boldness” in the presence of God seems almost to have disappeared among those who love the truth of sovereign grace. Yet, if anyone has reason to approach God with confidence, it is we who understand these precious truths. Perhaps we have lost this confidence through an overreaction to the “easy believism” that has characterized evangelical Christianity for so long. We have seen so much false assurance and outright presumption on the part of many who give no evidence of saving faith that we have gone to the other extreme. Often, the focus of attention is no longer on Christ and His gracious dealings with believers but on the believer’s conformity to ten commandments, namely, the old covenant. Many give the impression that to be truly “spiritual,” a Christian must be a doleful doubter. Nothing could be further from the teaching of the New Testament Scriptures. We, as God’s people who love the grace of God, walk in character with our profession only when we boldly rejoice in the standing that we enjoy in Christ.
Our author not only writes about entering God’s holy presence; he encourages his readers to do so with boldness. The word translated “boldness” or “confidence” (parresia) occurs four times in this epistle (3:6;4:16;10:19,35). It has reference to the confidence with which believers may now approach the throne. Many older hymn-writers wrote about this theme. For example, Augustus Toplady wrote,

From whence this fear and unbelief?
Hast thou, O Father, put to grief
Thy spotless Son for me?
And will the righteous Judge of men
Condemn me for that debt of sin
Which, Lord, was charged on thee?

Complete atonement thou hast made,
And to the utmost farthing paid
Whate’er thy people owed;
How then can wrath on me take place,
If sheltered in thy righteousness,
And sprinkled with thy blood?

[If thou hast my discharge procured,
And freely in my room endured
The whole of wrath divine,
Payment God cannot twice demand,
First at my bleeding surety’s hand,
And then again at mine.]

Turn then my soul into thy rest;
The merits of thy great High Priest
Speak peace and liberty;
Trust in his efficacious blood,
Nor fear thy banishment from God,
Since Jesus died for thee.

Charles Wesley has, in several of his hymns, written even more explicitly on the subject of the believer’s boldness. In his hymn, “And Can it Be,” he wrote,

No condemnation now I dread.
Jesus and all in him is mine.
Alive in him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine.
Bold, I approach the eternal throne
And claim the crown through Christ my own.

In another of his hymns, “Arise My Soul Arise,” he wrote, “. . .With confidence, I now draw nigh. . .and Father, Abba, Father cry.”

It is just this kind of confidence and assurance that our author intended the message of this epistle to produce in the hearts of those who had “fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them.” This is also the intention of the other NT writers. Such confidence can never be the result of examining one’s heart in the light of the stone tables of the old covenant. God’s Spirit can only produce this sort of assurance as we continue to fix our thoughts on the apostle and high priest whom we confess (3:1). Any message that destroys the confidence of God’s people and removes the focus of our attention from Christ is at cross-purposes with the New Testament message. This is true even if those who preach it do so from the pure motives, seeking to bring the lives of God’s people into line with biblical truth.

Concerning the so-called “law/grace controversy,” many give the impression that the only ones who care about holiness are those who preach the Ten Commandments as the sole standard of sanctification. The truth is that there is no disagreement concerning whether believers should live godly lives. We all agree on the bottom line. “Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). The issue is how God produces such righteous behavior in His peoples” lives. By what method do we arrive at the bottom line? We contend that God will never produce such holiness through the thunders of Mt. Sinai. He will only produce it when we focus on Mt. Calvary. It is not the law, but the grace of God that has appeared to discipline us and instruct us in godliness (Titus 2: 11). True worship of God never springs from a spirit of bondage, fear, and dread. In contrast to the obligations of old covenant believers, the exhortation that the writer gives us is to “. . . be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. . . . (12:28)” True worship will always be the result of gratitude as we meditate on the redemptive accomplishments of Christ. As we contemplate Calvary, we will marvel at God’s wisdom in designing this plan by which He can lavish His love, mercy, and grace on sinners without compromising the integrity of His absolute justice. Such worship will never occur while we gaze at ourselves. This is true even if we are focusing on what God is doing in us. It will only take place when we gaze on Christ and what God has done in Him.

Should we, then, avoid self-examination? Of course not! We should simply keep it in its proper place. God never intended self-scrutiny to be the believer’s continual occupation. In fact, the writers of the New Testament Scriptures never give a general exhortation for believers to examine themselves as a part of their daily discipline. None but those who are in danger of personal apostasy (because of the presence of false teachers who have led others away) or those who are walking contrary to the revealed truth of God are counseled to examine themselves. Search the context of such passages as 1 Cor 11:28; 2 Cor 13:5; 2 Pet 1:10; and 1 John 5:13 to see for yourself if this is true. The object of our continual meditation must be the glory of Christ revealed in the Scriptures. It is as we gaze on His glory that it will please the Spirit to transform us into His image (see 2 Cor 3:18). On occasion we must take personal inventory to be certain that we are on track. Then, we must turn again to gaze on our beloved.


In These Last Days–Part Two:The Soteriology of Hebrews

It is not difficult to discern that the writer of this epistle viewed salvation as a work of God for men, and not vice versa. It is God who has revealed Himself and His redemptive purposes to us (1:1-2). It is He who is mindful of fallen sinners and cares for them by granting them grace and assistance (2:6). Unaided by human works or will, He, by whom are all things and for whom are all things, brings many sons to glory (2:10). He, and He alone, has devised the plan according to which He saves sinners (6:17). Jesus sanctified His people according to the Father’s will (10:10). To give His people strong consolation concerning the fulfillment of His promises, He has confirmed them with an oath (6:17-19). He is the one who equips His people with everything good for doing His will and works in them what is pleasing to Him so that to Him is the glory forever and ever (13:20-21).

For the execution of His purpose, He has ordained Christ as a priest who acts as a mediator between God and His people (5:5-6,10). The basis of the believer’s salvation is the priestly work of Christ (complete sacrifice and continual intercession). It is by the once for all sacrifice of Christ that He takes away the sins of believers (10:4-12). The believer’s eschatological salvation will occur when Christ, our great Priest, appears the second time “not to bear sin but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him” (9:28).The work is God’s from start to finish (12:2).

The issue we need to examine here is the nature of God’s saving work. What does this writer mean when he refers to this “so great salvation?” Since the days of the Protestant Reformation, there has been a tendency among Protestants and Baptists to think of God’s work in the sinner’s salvation in forensic terms. It often seems that justification by faith is the ultimate end of Christ’s redeeming work. Though, this is not a wrong emphasis, neither is it broad enough to encompass God’s multifaceted, salvific activity. The concepts of justification by faith, the words “justification”, “justify”, and “justified”, do not occur in the Epistle to the Hebrews. (8:12; 10:17;11:7) and an inward change of heart (8:10;10:16), either radical or progressive’s sanctification in this epistle has reference, not to moral cleansing but to consecration or dedication to God., are not foreign to the writer of this epistle. His primary soteriological emphasis, however, lies in a different direction. He understands salvation in terms of the following four categories: 1. Access into the presence of God, 2. Inheritance, 3. Perfection, and 4. Fulfillment of covenant promises. In the pages that follow, we shall consider each of these ideas in detail. As we do so, we shall notice that, concerning each of these ideas, the emphasis in this epistle is on the discontinuity between the old and new covenants. Further, we shall see that the continuity that does exist between them is that of type to antitype. It is God who gave the typical foreshadowing. It is God who has accomplished the fulfillment.


Lest We Drift Away

I have recently begun writing a commentary on Hebrews. I intend to post excerpts here from it from time to time. The following is an excerpt from the commentary on Chapter Two.

2:1— “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”

The writer begins to apply the logical implications of Christ’s superiority to angels. The words “On account of this,” or “Therefore,” look back to and are grounded in the theological argument he had presented in chapter one. This begins one of the several hortatory passages in this epistle in which the writer applies his theological teaching in a practical way to the exigent circumstances of his hearers. Thus, he teaches us an important lesson about the relationship between theology and practice. All theology must be practical theology.

Living as we do in a day in which the study and exposition of theological truth has fallen on hard times and in which many clamor for “practical teaching,” it is important for us to remind ourselves that there can be no true practical Christian living that is not grounded in theological truth. In fact, to the degree that our theological understanding is deformed or marred by error, to that degree our practice will invariably be deformed. We cannot live rightly if we do not think rightly. This treatise, though intensely theological is, nonetheless, intensely practical.

The Christian walk demands close attention. The moment we allow our guard to drop and our focus to drift is the moment we begin to fall into a state of spiritual declension. The sage wrote, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man” (Prov. 6:10-11). If this is true in the physical and material realm, how much more should we fear it in the spiritual realm?

There are many misinformed Christians who believe once they have made “a decision” they are set for time and eternity–After all, “once saved always saved.” Yet, we must remind ourselves that one must be once saved to be always saved. We need to remember that every blossom does not bear fruit, and all that glitters is not gold. One of the clear teachings of this treatise is that it is the perseverance of the saints that is certain, not the preservation of those who have made a profession of faith. Additionally, we need to note that one of the means God uses to ensure the saints’ perseverance is the sort of exhortation we find in this passage. We do not persevere automatically apart from the use of the means God has prescribed to effect his divine purpose. If we are to persevere in faith to the end, we must pay close attention to the things we have heard.

The writer, however, goes beyond saying we must pay close attention to what we have heard. He says “we must pay much closer attention [A.V. “give the more earnest heed”] to the things we have heard.” What is the point of contrast here? We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard than to what? As will become clear as we proceed, the contrast is between the Old Covenant or the Law, and the New Covenant, the gospel. Far from suggesting that the Decalogue or the ten words from Mt. Sinai are the highest expression of God’s moral law ever to be given or that it is the pinnacle of God’s self-revelation, our author makes it clear that the revelation we have received in the gospel requires even greater attention than God’s revelation of his will on Mt. Sinai. Although the Law covenant God gave at Mt. Sinai was God’s Law, the New Covenant he ratified on Mt. Calvary is a superior covenant and carries with it a better law. For that reason, we must pay much closer attention to the gospel than to the Mosaic Law.

The words “drift away” are used in the Greek sources of a ship drifting away from its moorings, of a thought drifting away from a person’s mind, of a ring slipping from a person’s finger, of a river flowing into an eddy, and of food going down the trachea.

Spiritual declension in the life of the Christian is an insidious matter. We do not grow cold overnight. Often our drifting away is so gradual as to be almost imperceptible. We would do well to remember the words of Jeremy Taylor concerning the progress of sin in the apostate. He wrote, “First it startles him, then it becomes pleasing, then easy, then delightful, then frequent, then habitual, then confirmed; then the man is impenitent, then obstinate, then resolved never to repent, then damned.”


Unfounded Statements about Sabbath Keeping.

I just read the following statement from D. L. Moody that illustrates how so much error has been allowed to continue in the church:

The Sabbath was binding in Eden, and it has been in force ever since. The fourth commandment begins with the word remember, showing that the Sabbath already existed when God wrote this law on the tables of stone at Sinai. How can men claim that this one commandment has been done away with when they will admit that the other nine are still binding?

Few seem to question statements like this, but instead, well-meaning but misguided people continue to perpetuate ideas like this by repeating them without examination. Consider these statements with me one by one, and ask yourself whether you could support them with plain and unambiguous texts of Scripture.

1. “The Sabbath was binding in Eden, and it has been in force ever since.”

If the Sabbath was binding in Eden, then God must have commanded Adam and Eve to “observe the Sabbath” by ceasing from their normal activity on a day he had sanctified. I have searched the early chapters of Genesis trying to find that commandment. In reality, God’s rest from his creating activity on the seventh day was an ongoing rest. All the activity in which he is now involved, which, by the way, was not suspended on the seventh day in which he rested from his creative activity, involves his work of providence, in which he governs all his creatures and all their actions. He has not ceased to rest from his work of creation. Though he has ceased from one activity, he is very active in another. I can’t find any command for Adam and Eve to enter into that rest.

So, perhaps you can help me find the verse which “bound” Adam and Eve to keep the Sabbath in the garden.

You might also want to ask from what Adam was to rest since he was never involved in arduous
labor until after he fell into sin. Earning his bread by the sweat of his brow was part of the curse that resulted from his sin.

Additionally, why is it that in the thousands of years that passed between Eden and Sinai do we not find a single commandment to observe the Sabbath or hear of anyone who was condemned for failing to observe it?

If it is still binding, why is there not a single commandment in the New Testament Scriptures for new covenant believers to observe it? One would think that such an important commandment would be mentioned at least once. No such commandment exists.

2. “The fourth commandment begins with the word remember, showing that the Sabbath already existed when God wrote this law on the tables of stone at Sinai.”

This does not take into account the fact that there are occasions when the word “remember” is forward looking. For example, when Moses was instructing the Israelites concerning the feast of unleavened bread, he said to them before they ever left Egypt, “Remember this day in which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. . . .(Exo. 13:3). When he spoke these words, they were still in Egypt. Would anyone argue that this exodus had already occurred because Moses told them to “remember” it?

3. “How can men claim that this one commandment has been done away with when they will admit that the other nine are still binding?”

The answer to this question is simple. The fourth commandment was the ceremonial sign of the Old Covenant (see Exo. 31:17). It was intended to endure as long as the covenant endured of which it was the sign. Since the Old Covenant has been superceded by the New Covenant, the Old Covenant sign, the Sabbath, has been superceded by the New Covenant sign, the communion cup. In addition to this, the other nine commandments are repeated as a part of Christ’s law; the Sabbath commandment is not.

The Jewish Sabbath pointed to two Old Testament events, both of which pointed forward to the redemptive work of Christ. One was God’s completion of creation (Exo. 20: 9-11) and finds its fulfillment in Jesus’ establishment of the New Creation. The other was God’s deliverance of the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage (Deut 5:15), a type of the our deliverance from sin’s bondage. Both these types find their fulfillment in Christ, the New Covenant believer’s “Sabbath rest.”


Who is that Guy in Romans Seven?

During one of our “discussions” last week that had nothing to do with the content and primary purpose of the post, a question was asked about Romans 7 and the believer. I would like briefly to state my view of that passage and its primary teaching.

I want to confess, first, that my view is out of the mainstream. Additionally, it is a view that I do not share in common with some very good friends. The passage is a difficult one and no one view of it answers all of the problems it presents. If you would like a fuller treatment of the view I am going to set forth here, I would suggest a careful study of Douglas Moo’s commentary on Romans.

To give some context to this pericope, remember that Paul’s overall argument beginning in Romans five and concluding in Romans eight, is the certainty of the believer’s glorification. He has argued that those who have been declared righteous in Christ now have a new relationship with God (5:1-11). We are no longer his enemies under his wrath but his reconciled friends. We now have a new representative before God (5:12-19). Just as Adam, the representative head of the old creation guaranteed, by his disobedience, the condemnation of all who are in him, so the last Adam, Christ, guaranteed, by his obedient life and death, the justification and final glorification of all in him. This is true because the believer’s final glorification in no way depends on his covenant faithfulness but on the covenant faithfulness of his representative. Then, the apostle argues that believers have been transferred from the reign and realm of sin (that belonging to the old creation where sin abounded) into the reign and realm of grace (the new creation and the new covenant that secures its blessings and in which grace super-abounds). The apostle’s clear implication in this entire chapter is that there is nothing whatsoever the true believer in Christ can do to forfeit his new standing in Christ. It is not about what he can do, has done, or shall ever do. It is all about what Christ has done in his place.

“Aha!” Says the legalist. “ I knew you believed it was OK for believers to continue in sin. I knew you were an Antinomian.” Paul asks, “Shall we continue in sin so that grace might abound?” Then answers, “May it never be!” In the first eleven verses of the chapter six, there is not a single imperative [command]. It is not about what believers are supposed to do but about what has been accomplished for believers because we are united to Christ. In God’s reckoning, believers died to the reign of sin when Christ died. We now belong to a realm in which there is a new king and sin no longer reigns. It is not until verse eleven that the apostle begins to urge commands based on the redemptive accomplishments described in the first ten verses. The thrust of these exhortations is, you are no longer a slave to sin, stop acting like a slave. You don’t have to obey sinful impulses any longer. Then, he sums up the section by stating, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (v. 14).

I suggest that whatever view one takes of Romans seven must be conditioned by the truth stated in 6:14. That verse prompted another objection, “What then, are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (V. 15). In the process of answering that objection, the apostle tells his readers that, in Christ, we not only died to sin, but we also died to the law. Since we died to the law, the law can no longer have anything to say to us. It cannot condemn us. It cannot make us feel guilty. If I should get drunk, drive my car into a bus load of people, killing most of them, but in the accident killed myself, though absolutely guilty, I could not be charged with any crime. Dead people are free from the law, can’t be charged and feel no guilt. Here is what Paul wrote, “ Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:4-6). It is this last phrase that encapsulates Paul’s teaching in the later part of Romans seven and the first section of Romans eight.

Throughout the remainder of chapter seven, Paul describes what it was like for a believer, (perhaps he describes his own experience) under the Law, the written code. Though such a believer delighted in the Law [not only the words of the covenant, the ten commandments, but the entire Old Testament revelation], there was nothing in that revelation to enable him to please God. That he uses the present tense, to me, seems to indicate that he stands on New Covenant ground, looks back, and describes what it was like to live under the written code

The fairly consistent Reformed position on this passage is that Paul was describing the experience of the most mature believer in his struggle against sin, probably in an autobiographical way. As he examines himself in the light of the Law, the Ten Commandments, the believer finds himself failing to please God in every attempt he makes. It appears to me, this view fails to take into account the words quoted above re: those in Christ, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive. . . .so that we serve. . .not in the old way of the written code.” These are the words of the ESV. If you prefer the KJV, no problem. Read it there. The meaning is exactly the same.

It also fails to take into account Paul’s teaching elsewhere. Think of Romans 6:14,“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” The man in Romans is not a believer who falls and fails from time to time; he strikes out every time he comes up to bat.
He is not one who, in the words of the hymn writer is “tempted, tried, and sometimes failing.” He fails every time he is tried. Read his description:

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. [Paul wrote to the Philippians, “it is God who works in you not only to will but to do for his good pleasure,” In other words, New Covenant believers have not only the will to be obedient to what is right but also the ability to carry it out]. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing [In chapter six he had argued that it is not possible for believers to continue in sin. This guy “keeps on doing what is evil.] 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive [the believer is not captive to sin any longer, see again 6:14. Being under the dominion of sin and being held captive to the law of sin are the same] to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Paul describes believers as “more than conquerors, through him who loved us (Romans 8:37). Does the passage we have just read sound to you like a description of one who is “more than a conqueror” or one who is continually defeated?

In chapter eight, the apostle describes the life of the New Covenant believer. That is, he describes what it is like to live “in the new way of the Spirit.” In Paul’s theology, the ministry of the Spirit replaces the ministry of the Law and produces the fruit the law could not produce.

Consider God’s promise of a New Covenant [the New Covenant is contrasted with the Old Covenant, the Law]:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezek. 36: 25-27).

Since this has already run longer than I intended, I will have to write on the NT teaching about “regeneration” in another blog. For now, I simply ask you to consider the words of this promise. It promises that God will put his Spirit within the heirs of the covenant and CAUSE YOU TO WALK IN MY STATUTES. . .” The greatest blessing of the New Covenant is the new ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is another subject that will require much more explanation.

Please read Romans seven and eight in contrast with one another. I think you will see my point.

Let me make a few things plain before I close this post. It would not be helpful to leave anyone with the opportunity to misunderstand what I am saying more than is almost certain to occur:

1. I do not think believers can accomplish anything in the spiritual realm on their own.

2. I reject out of hand the idea that Romans seven describes the “carnal Christian” [an animal that doesn’t exist] and Romans eight describes the spiritual Christian [this is redundant since every believer in indwelt by the Spirit and a “Spiritual man” is a man indwelt by the Spirit.

3. I do not deny that the Christian life is a battle, a struggle, a grueling warfare, in which believers sometimes fail and grow weary.

4. I do not think the believer’s obedience will ever be meritorious and sufficient to declare him righteous before God, but believers may perform actions that please our Father.

5. Believers do not remain in the same spiritual condition we were in when the Savior found us. Believers do make progress in sanctification.


In These Last Days-Jesus The Messiah:The High Priest We Confess (Chapter 4)

The High Priest Whom We Confess (Part One)

We turn now to the second major division of this epistle in which the writer urges us to fix our thoughts on “Jesus, the Great Priest we confess.” Due to the volume of the material in this epistle about Jesus’ priesthood, we will divide our treatment of it into two chapters. In the first, we will concern ourselves with the fundamental characteristics of priestly ministry and with the contrasts between the priestly orders of Aaron and Melchizedek. In the second, we will focus on Christ’s priestly dignity and ministry itself.

The aspect of our study on which we will focus in this chapter is, for the most part, contrastive. Given the nature of typology, there are necessarily areas in which Jesus’ priesthood corresponds to the priesthood of the old covenant. Yet, this epistle primarily emphasizes the dissimilarities between the priestly orders of Aaron and Melchizedek. The author intends to show the vast superiority of Jesus’ priesthood in Melchizedek’s order to that of Aaron and the Levitical priests. This epistle sets Jesus forth as “better” than all the messengers and mediators of the old covenant. Yet, we must be careful that we do not misunderstand the author’s meaning. He does not mean that the prophets, priests, and kings of the old covenant continue to be prophets, priests, and kings, but Jesus is superior to them, i.e., they are good, but He is better. If we understand him this way, we have totally missed his meaning. We can only understand his teaching if we understand, with him, the nature of biblical typology. Not only is the antitype always “better” than the type. It also supersedes the type. When our author argues that Jesus, a priest in the order of Melchizedek, is better than the priests of the Levitical order, he does not mean that both continue in existence but one is superior to the other. He means that Jesus has replaced Aaron and his sons as the priest of God’s people. When he argues that the new covenant is a “better covenant” than the old, he intends for us to understand that the new covenant has replaced the old covenant. In reality, it was not possible for these Hebrews to return to the old covenant system. The only thing that remained of Judaism was the empty shell of an outmoded religion that was totally void of divine sanction.

The Nature of Priestly Ministry

The author begins his argument in Hebrews four by showing that Jesus, our Great Priest, has done for new covenant believers what none of the priests of the old covenant could do. Yet, that which He has done for us is exactly what a priest is intended to do for those whom he represents. Through the redemption He has accomplished, He now invites and enables believers to approach confidently the Sovereign of the universe, knowing that He will receive us (4:14-16). The writer then assures us that our priest is not unfeeling and uncaring. No, He is able to sympathize with us, since He, being a true human being, has felt all that we feel (4:15).

He continues this line of thought in the opening verses of Hebrews five. Here he describes the fundamental qualities and duties of every high priest. In this part of his argument, he shows the similarities between Jesus’ priesthood and the Levitical priesthood.

Chosen from among Men
The first essential characteristic of one who holds the office of high priest is that he be taken from among men, i.e., human beings. Since the function of a high priest is to represent human beings, he must be a human being. He is to act on their behalf in matters related to God. His chief duty was to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin. The author wants us to understand that the priest’s duty was not to mediate disputes between human beings, but to represent men before God. Therefore, his work involved the offering of gifts and sacrifices for sin.

Appointed by God

Integral to the author’s argument is the fact that no priest entered the high priest’s office on his own initiative; God appointed him to it (5:1). God appointed to office every true priest of Aaron’s order. Jesus was no different. God appointed Him to be an everlasting priest with greater dignity than all the priests of the old covenant system. This will become clear as our author unfolds his argument in his exposition of Psalm 110. This he begins to do in Hebrews 5:5-6 but, having interrupted himself with a parenthetical warning, does not complete it until chapter seven. He writes,

5:4No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. 5So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
“You are my Son;
Today I have become your Father.”
6And he says in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”

In citing these two Old Testament references together, the author underscores that the Messiah is both king and priest in one person. The Son whom God has exalted to the throne is also the eternal priest who pleads our cause before God.


Another indispensable requirement for one who functions as a priest is that he be able to sympathize with those whom he represents. Our author refers to this requirement in verses two and three of this chapter. Concerning this necessary ability in those who function in the priesthood he writes, “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his sins as well as for those of the people.” Yet, in this passage, unlike 4:15, his focus is not merely on the ability of the high priest to sympathize. Here he concentrates on the need of mere human priests to offer sacrifice for their own sinful weaknesses. Still, we need to appreciate that Jesus’ sinlessness in sharing our human weaknesses makes Him no less sensitive to our feelings and failings. Philip Hughes writes, “That Christ did not share in our sinfulness does not in any degree invalidate this fellow feeling for us and with us in our weakness. The common ground with us was that of his fellow humanity which was subject to temptation or testing.” (P. Hughes, Commentary on Hebrews, p.177).


As mentioned above, the function of the High Priest is to act on behalf of those whom he is chosen to represent. Since those whom he represents are sinners who need to be reconciled to a holy God, his work necessarily involves the offering of gifts and sacrifices for sins. Thus, the High Priest approaches God with a sacrifice intended to stay His wrath against sinners.

Jesus, A Better Priest

Jesus’ superiority over the priests of the Levitical system is due primarily to the superiority of the priestly order in which He functions to the Aaronic order. There is an integral relationship between the nature of His priesthood and the covenant that He mediates. The writer makes it plain that if He were on earth, the law would forbid His intrusion into the priesthood (7:13-14; 8:3-4). The very fact that Jesus is able to function as our Great Priest shows that He must be a priest of a different order and provides convincing evidence that God has abrogated the old covenant. Having established this fact, our author then shows that Jesus is a better priest, who mediates a better covenant, offers a better sacrifice in a better sanctuary, and perfects better worshippers.

Who was Melchizedek?

There has been a great deal of speculation concerning the identity and significance of Melchizedek. Though it might be interesting to examine the history of such speculation concerning Melchizedek, it is beyond the scope and purpose of this study to do so (If the reader is interested in such an investigation see: Bruce Demarest. A History of Interpretation of Hebrews 7,1-10 from the Reformation to the Present. Tübingin: J.C.B Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1976., and Philip E. Hughes. A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. reprint, 1990, pp.237-45). We will approach this study on the presupposition that Melchizedek was an historic person who stood as a type of Christ, the King-Priest of the new covenant.

There are only two Old Testament references to Melchizedek. The first, Genesis 14:17-20, records Abraham’s historic encounter with him as the former returned from rescuing his nephew, Lot. The second, Psalm 110:4, predicts that the Messiah will be a regal priest after the order of Melchizedek. All that we know about Melchizedek and the nature of His priestly order is what we read in these passages that form the basis for our author’s argument in Hebrews 7.

Apart from the Messianic prediction of Psalm 110, it is unlikely that either we or the author of this epistle would have (apart from the Spirit’s guidance) taken much notice of this man Melchizedek. He appears briefly in the Genesis narrative, then vanishes, never to be seen or heard from again. The only information that we receive about him is that he was the king of Salem, a priest of God Most High, who, having brought out bread and wine, blessed Abraham and received from him a tenth of everything he had taken in battle. Some, e.g., James Moffatt,(Moffatt. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. ICC. Edinburgh), 1924, p. 90ff)have advanced the view that our author engaged in fanciful allegory in bringing what he did out of this historic account. Yet, the reality is that our author has simply expounded the clear Messianic prediction of Psalm 110. He has not read anything back into the Old Testament Scriptures. He has merely recognized truths that God had already revealed.

Exposition of Hebrews Seven

The argument of Hebrews seven is simply an exposition of the three facets of the Messianic prediction in Psalm 110:4. Though our author does not follow the Psalmist’s order, and there is some overlap in his treatment of these statements, we can outline his argument as follows:

1. The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (7:1-15).

2. The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (7:16, 23-25).

3. The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (7:17-22). Verses 26-28 draw a sharp contrast between the priests that the law appoints and the Priest that God appoints with an oath.

In expounding each of these statements, our author shows that Christ, as a priest after the order of Melchizedek, is superior to the Levitical priests. He is superior to them because the priestly order to which He belongs is superior to theirs. His priesthood is better than theirs because, unlike theirs, His priesthood lasts forever. His priesthood is better than theirs because His appointment to office was attended by the solemnity of God’s oath. God never promised that the priestly order of Aaron would endure forever. Both the priestly practice of the individual priests within that order and the order itself were limited in duration. God intended that priestly order, which was integrally related to the old covenant, to last only as long as the Law (Mosaic covenant) lasted. Our author argues cogently that God’s stated intention to establish the Messiah as a priest of a different order clearly signalled the eventual termination of the Levitical priesthood (7:11-16).

A Priest of a Better Order

Our author’s first concern is to describe the characteristics of the Melchizedekian priestly order. His is not primarily interested in expounding the implications of the Genesis narrative. He merely does so to explain the phrase “a priest after the order of Melchizedek.” It is important to recognize that in drawing conclusions from the Genesis narrative, he does so, not by considering Melchizedek the man, but Melchizedek the priest. Thus, when he asserts that Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without descent [pedigree] having neither beginning of days nor end of life,” he is describing the nature of his priestly order (If Melchizedek were being presented as a type of Jesus, the man, then the typical correspondences would fail. Though Jesus had no human father, He did have a mother. Melchizedek had “neither father nor mother.” Jesus’ genealogy is set forth in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Melchizedek was “without genealogy.” Jesus, as to His humanity, had beginning of life. Melchizedek had “neither beginning of days nor end of life.” Where, then, is the typical correspondence?

If, on the other hand, someone should argue that it is in the eternal, divine nature of the Messiah that our author finds a typical correspondence to Melchizedek, they would create another difficulty. What would such an contention have to do with our author’s line of argument? It is plain that his purpose is to show, not only that Jesus is a priest who is superior to Aaron and his sons, but also how it is possible for Jesus to be a priest at all. This has nothing to do with His deity. The question is, “How can one who is born in the tribe of Judah officiate as a priest?” He does not answer that such things make no difference because the Messiah is the eternal God. Though that is quite true as an ontological affirmation concerning the person of the Messiah, it completely misses the point. Our author has consistently argued that our Great Priest is a true man who learned obedience through the things that He suffered. He is one who feels with us because He has been put to the test just like we are. It is this man who has suffered for us. It is this man who has ascended into heaven and entered the heavenly holy place. It is He who now appears in the presence of God for us. It is He who is coming again in power and great glory. How is it that this man can act as our priest if He is without the credentials prescribed by Mosaic legislation? This is the question that our author answers. It is neither Jesus’ humanity nor His deity to which Melchizedek corresponds typically. It is His priestly ministry that is in question). He is not merely arguing from the silence of the Genesis narrative concerning his birth, death, parentage, etc. that as a man, Melchizedek was a type of Him who is without beginning of days or end of life.(Many have supposed that our author argues from the silence of the Genesis narrative concerning the birth and death of Melchizedek that the Holy Spirit intended, by this silence, to indicate that he was a type of Christ who, as eternal God, was truly “without beginning of days or end of life.” I agree with John Brown that to argue that “it is testified of him that he lives” merely from the fact that we have no account of his death “. . .savors more of rabbinical trifling than anything else.” Hebrews p. 333.) He has no interest, at this point, in pursuing an ontological argument concerning the person of the Messiah. He concerns himself instead with the nature of Jesus’ priesthood. John Brown, in his usual perceptive manner, has identified this as the key to understanding this otherwise difficult verse. He wrote, “The key to the true meaning of the passage is to be found in the peculiar view the Apostle is here taking of Melchisedec. He is speaking of him as a priest; and as a priest he is said to have had no father, or mother, or genealogy. The last statement is explanatory of the two former (italics mine).(J. Brown. Hebrews, p.327).

To show that Jesus is a Priest of a better order, our author first describes the ways in which Melchizedek’s order is superior to Aaron’s. He then recites the ways in which Abraham, the patriarch, acknowledged this superiority. Finally, he argues that the Levitical priesthood must have been inferior, since the prophecy of Psalm 110:4 predicted that God was going to replace it. We will now consider each of these factors individually.

Characteristics of the Melchizedekian Order

No Pedigree Needed

When our author refers to Melchizedek as “without father, without mother,” he indicates that the priestly order to which he belonged required no pedigree. A priest’s parentage was of no importance. This is clearly in contrast to the requirements of the Mosaic legislation concerning qualifications for the priesthood. Under the Levitical system a person could not function in the priestly ministry unless he could show that he belonged to the tribe of Levi. Remember that those priests who returned from the captivity were not able to officiate as priests until they could prove their priestly pedigree. Of them we read in Ezra 2:62-63; Neh. 7:64-65,

These searched for their family records, but could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. The governor, therefore, ordered them not to eat any of the most sacred food until there should be a priest ministering with the Urim and Thummim. (See also Num. 16:39).

There are at least two reasons why this is important to the argument at hand. First, it indicates that the dignity of the priests of this order was not personal, but one conferred on them by the Law (Old Covenant). Their right to receive tithes and grant priestly blessings was a power conferred on them by legal decree (Heb. 7:5). Melchizedek, on the other hand, possessed a dignity that was both inherent and personal. His priesthood was unencumbered by the requirements of Mosaic legislation.

Not only does the law confer this dignity, however. It also defines its boundaries and delimits the area of its validity. Precedence it gives, but only over fellow Israelites who like the priests themselves are “descended from the loins of Abraham”. This is why the designation of Abraham as “patriach”[sic] (verse 4) is so pointed. The whole complex of Law-Priesthood-tithes is designed to work, and does work, within the boundaries of Abraham’s people. But the entire scheme is relativised by the spectacle of Abraham (the father of them all, no less!) giving tithes to one who stood completely outside the system. And this, not on the basis of legal obligation, but out of his free recognition of one who stood superior to himself [italics mine]. Herein lies the greatness of Melchizedek. . . he is one who stands quite above the entire structure of Law and Priesthood, dependent on neither legal nor levitical descent and yet acknowledged as superior by none other than Father Abraham. (Graham Hughes. Hebrews and Hermeneutics, p. 16.).

There is a second reason why this is important. If Jesus’ fitness to act as our High Priest were dependent on proper pedigree as required by the law, He would be totally disqualified. If the Mosaic covenant and the Levitical system that accompanied it were still in force, Jesus could not possibly be our Great High Priest.

7:12For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. 13He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests (Heb 7:12-14).

Yet, His lack of priestly pedigree presents no problem. The priestly order in which He officiates depends not on ancestral regulations, but on personal dignity, derived from the power of an indestructible life (7:16).

No Term Limitations

The second characteristic of Melchizedek’s priestly order to which our author calls our attention is its lack of term limitations. Melchizedek, as a priest, was “without beginning of days or end of life.” This does not mean that Melchizedek, as a type of Christ, continues to be a priest for eternity. It means that his priesthood is coextensive with his life. As long as he lived, he continued to function as a priest. John Brown wrote, “The meaning is “Melchisedec continued a priest during the whole of his life. He did not, like the Levitical priests, at an appointed period cease to minister; while he continued to live he continued to minister.””(Brown, Hebrews, p. 328). Notice the contrast between Melchizedek and the Levitical priests on whose ministry the Mosaic legislation placed strict temporal limitations. The age limit for those ministering in the tabernacle is repeated several times in the fourth chapter of Numbers. The regulation was as follows, “Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work of the tent of meeting” (Num 4:2, 23, 30, 35, 39, 43, 47). As priests these men from the tribe of Levi had a beginning of days and an end of life. No such limitations were placed on Melchizedek.

No National Limitations

A third characteristic of Melchizedek’s priestly order is that it was not limited to one nation. Melchizedek was a priest of God Most High who functioned outside Israel’s national boundaries. In fact, he was a priest long before God ever established Israel as a nation. His order of priesthood antedates and supersedes the Levitical priesthood. It was not limited to one nation, but is universal in scope. Jesus, as a priest in Melchizedek’s order, represents people of every nation. He intercedes for all who come to God by Him.

Abraham’s Acknowledgement of Melchizedek’s superiority

Our author begins this section of his argument by calling us to consider how great this man Melchizedek was. Then, he substantiates his assertion of Melchizedek’s greatness by citing the details of Abraham’s interaction with him. He argues his case by first affirming Abraham’s greatness and importance in relation to his posterity–”the patriarch Abraham.” Then he shows that Abraham, from whom Levi and his sons descended, received blessing from and paid tithes to Melchizedek. In both actions, Abraham, who is greater than those who descended from him, is shown to be inferior to Melchizedek (7:4-10).

Abraham’s Greatness

Our author sets Abraham’s greatness before us when he refers to him as “the patriarch Abraham.” The word “patriarch” (ruling father) was a title used in the Bible of only a few men. It occurs only four times in the New Testament Scriptures (Acts 2:29; 7:8,9; Heb 7:4). In each case, the writers used it of men who stood as princes or rulers of their families. Our author used it of Abraham who was the progenitor of the entire nation (Heb 7:4). Stephen used it to refer to the twelve sons of Israel who stood at the head of their respective tribes (Acts 7:8-9). Also, Peter used it of David who stood at the head of Israel’s royal family (Acts 2:29). Abraham stands at the head of Israel’s family tree. He is the patriarch of the patriarchs. It seemed inconceivable to the Jews that anyone could have been greater than father Abraham. When they confronted Jesus about His claims they asked, “You are not greater than our father Abraham, are you” (John 8:53)?

Yet, the true greatness of Abraham went beyond the fact that he was the physical progenitor of the entire nation. It consisted in his position as the covenant head of the nation. The author of this epistle describes him as “him who had the promises” (7:6). Later (v. 10), when he tells us that “Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor,” he has more than natural generation in mind. He was thinking of the fact that Abraham acted as a representative for all the heirs of the covenant promises in him. John Owen expressed the thought this way, “Abraham [was] acting as a covenanter in the name of his posterity.” (Owen, Hebrews, p.387.) Along the same line, John Brown made the following penetrating comment,

To him [Abraham] the promises of the peculiar privileges to be bestowed on his posterity were given. He was as it were, not the fountain indeed, but the reservoir from which they flowed out to his posterity. Every religious privilege they enjoyed, they enjoyed because they were his posterity. In his person there was concentrated all the sacred dignity which belonged to the peculiar people of God. Whatever was venerable and holy about the Israelites, or the system under which they were placed, was essentially to be found in their patriarch.

(Brown, Hebrews, p. 329.)

Abraham, both as the natural progenitor of the nation of Israel and as the covenant head and representative of all the heirs of the covenant promises, was greater than all his posterity.

Melchizedek’s Superiority

Before we consider how Abraham acknowledged Melchizedek’s superiority to himself, we should consider Melchizedek’s inferiority to Christ. Melchizedek was only a type, a model of the great priest who was to come. One of the plain principles governing the study of biblical typology is that the type is always inferior to the fulfillment (antitype). Our author’s argument runs like this: Christ (the antitype) is superior to Melchizedek (the antitype), who is superior to Abraham, who is superior to all his posterity, including Levi and his sons. Therefore, Christ, our Great Priest, is superior to all the priests of the Levitical order.

Our author argues that, by two acts, Abraham acknowledged Melchizedek’s superiority. He gave him a tenth of the spoils of battle and received his priestly blessing. In receiving Melchizedek’s priestly blessing, Abraham acknowledged his inferiority to this priest of God Most High, since “. . .without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater” (7:7). Had Abraham been superior to Melchizedek, he would have pronounced the blessing rather than receiving it.

That Abraham paid a tenth to Melchizedek illustrates his acknowledgement of the latter’s superiority in at least two ways. First, the act of paying a tithe to Melchizedek was, in itself, an acknowledgement of his spiritual superiority. People never pay religious homage to those whom they perceive to be inferior to them in sacred dignity. Besides this, Abraham, as far as we can tell, paid voluntary homage to Melchizedek, simply because he perceived his superior dignity as a priest of God Most High. By contrast, the priests of the Levitical order received tithes because the law required it. Our author writes, “Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people–that is, their brothers–even though their brothers are descended from Abraham” (v. 5). The Israelites paid tithes to these priests not because they perceived in them an inherent dignity and superiority, but because the law required it.


Thus far we have learned that all the essential characteristics of one who functions in the priestly ministry are found in Jesus, our Great High Priest. He has been chosen from men and appointed by God to be a sympathetic representative for all who come to God by Him. In this respect, He is like the priests of the Levitical order. Yet, as the great antitypical priest to which they pointed, He is infinitely superior to them. One reason for this superiority is that He belongs to a superior priestly order. He is a priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” His qualifications for the priestly ministry rest not on ancestral pedigree but on His essential dignity. Unlike the priests of the Levitical system, the duration of His ministry is not limited by age or death. He is a priest as long as He lives. Finally, His ministry, unlike theirs, is not confined to the covenant nation, Israel. He is a universal priest who is able to save completely all who come to God by Him.


In These Last Days–Chapter Two


“In These Last Days”

The reader of The Epistle to the Hebrews needs to read no further than the first two verses of the first chapter before he is struck by the fact that the writer intends to draw a contrast. He distinguishes what he refers to as former times–”in the past”–from a period that he calls “these last days,” lit. the last of these days. He writes,

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . . .”

It is impossible to interpret this epistle properly apart from understanding the significance of this contrast. First, it is important to understand what the writer means by the phrase “formerly” or “of old time.” Commentators generally agree that this phrase denotes that period during which God revealed Himself to the covenant nation of Israel. The writer clearly expected his readers to regard this as an inferior revelation because of its fragmentary nature.

Though it is plain, since it is the same God who spoke in both Testaments, that there is continuity between them, it is equally obvious that there is a great deal of discontinuity. Consider the contrasts that the writer draws in these two verses.


In the Past

to our forefathers

by the prophets

in many parts and many ways


In These Last Days

to us

by one who is a Son as to his essence

in a full and final revelation



The other phrase, “in these last days,” seems to have been the subject of a bit more disagreement. For example, John Owen interpreted this phrase as a reference to the very end of the period that our author calls “the past.” He wrote, “It is the last days of the Judaical church and state, which were then drawing to their period and abolition, that are here and elsewhere called “the last days,” or the latter days,” or the last hour,” 2 Pet. iii.3; 1 John ii.18; Jude 18.” Now, it is true that it was in the last days of the period when the old covenant was still in force that the Messiah appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. He fulfilled the old covenant so that He might establish the new. He took the curse of the old creation on Himself that He might establish, enter and become the head of the new creation. But, if Owen is right, then the period the writer describes as “these last days” has already ended. This is true even if we consider the end of Judaism to have occurred when the sacrificial offerings finally ceased in 70 A.D. Yet, this is an epistle of sharp contrasts between the respective situations under the old and new covenants. For that reason, it makes more sense to understand the phrase as a reference to the entire period that began with the advent of Christ and will continue until the eternal state begins. It is a phrase that in Rabbinic literature is consistently called “the age of the Messiah.” If we understand the phrase this way, the contrast is not between the former times and the last of these former times. This would not be much of a contrast at all. The contrast that the writer intends, is a contrast between two distinctive ages, governed by two distinct covenants. Consider Philip Hughes” excellent comment on this contrast. He writes,

The contrast is further emphasized by the assertion that it was in former times that God spoke through the prophets, whereas it is in this final age that he has spoken through his Son. That quite distinct ages or dispensations are involved–the one marked by incompleteness and anticipation, the other by completeness and fulfillment, the one preliminary, the other ultimate–shows how fundamental the contrast is. This contrast, too, plays a prominent part in the structure of the epistle as our author demonstrates that the old order of patriarchal expectation, prophetic utterance, Mosaic covenant, and levitical priesthood has given way to the new order of messianic reality which, unlike the old, is final and permanent because its leadership, its priesthood, and its kingdom belong uniquely to him who is the eternal Son.

C.K. Barrett has argued that “. . .the eschatological is the determining element” in the epistle to the Hebrews. He wrote,

The characteristically Christian conviction, however, that eschatological events have already taken place . . .is found as clearly in Hebrews as in any part of the N.T. The first coming of Jesus was of course such an event, and indeed the primary eschatological event. . .The days in which the Church lived were the last days, ushered in by the incarnation, death, and ascension of Jesus and shortly to be consummated by his return, when all his enemies should have been subjugated to him (ii.8f.,x.12f.). Indeed, the consummation of the ages has already been reached, and the present moment is that on which the meaning of the Old Testament turns (xi 39 f).

The writer labors throughout this epistle to show that the age of the Messiah has come. The new creation has been inaugurated. God has established the new covenant order, and its blessings now flow to those who are in Christ. How foolish it would be to return to the weakness and unprofitableness of the old covenant order which made nothing perfect.

“The World to Come”

A second phrase that parallels the one we have just considered occurs twice (2:5;6:5) in the KJV translation of The Epistle to the Hebrews. It is the phrase, “the world to come.” Though the Greek word translated “world” is not the same in both these verses, the phrase has essentially the same significance in both cases. In Heb 2:5 the word translated world is oikoumenen–inhabited earth. In Heb 6:5 the word is aionos–age. In both cases, the reference is to the age of the Messiah.

Hebrews 2:5-13

The World to Come Has Come

The translation of Heb 2:5 in the New English Bible is particularly interesting. It reads, “For it is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, which is our theme.” Our author does not use the phrase “world to come” or “coming age” as a reference to some future period in contrast to the age in which we now live. He uses it as a reference to the new, Messianic age, the new creation that Christ inaugurated at His resurrection, in contrast to the old creation. This becomes clear when the writer begins to expound the eighth Psalm. He writes,

5It is not unto angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
7You made him a little lower than the angels;
you crowned him with glory and honor
8and put everything under his feet.”

In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. 9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

There are many questions that surround the use of Psalm eight in this epistle that, when properly answered, shed significant light on a plethora of theological issues.

Clearly, the writer of The Epistle to the Hebrews, in citing Psalm Eight, intends to bring to his reader’s minds that great day in which redeemed man will again be crowned with glory and honor and given dominion over the works of God’s hands. It is the Messianic age of fulfillment he has in mind. It is that period which, from the perspective of the OT prophets, was yet future, i.e., “the world to come.” Yet, from the perspective of our author, the world to come was a present reality. Nevertheless, the full realization of God’s purposed blessings continues to await the return of the Messiah.

Already/Not Yet

The passage under consideration provides an excellent example of the already/not yet tension that exists not only in this epistle but throughout the New Testament Scriptures. There is an important question we need to answer in the exposition of this passage: Who is it to whom God will subject all things? Is this a reference to Christ in particular, or is it a reference to redeemed man? To whomever it refers, the text clearly tells us that all things are not yet put under him, v.8. Perhaps it would help us discover to whom all things are to be subjected, if we should ask whether it is really accurate to say that all things are not yet subject to Christ? Philip Hughes, among others, has taken the position that the writer is referring to Christ when he says that we do not yet see all things put under him. He writes, “But the transition is given more, not less, point when we understand our author to mean that we do not yet see everything in subjection to Christ;”. His interpretation seems to turn on the phrase, “we do not yet see . . . ,” i.e., Though Christ’s dominion over all things is a reality, it is only the eye of faith that can discern that all things are under His control. This view appears to rest on the distinctively Messianic interpretation of Psalm 8. It is better to interpret this Psalm, as we have done, as referring to the dominion of redeemed man over the renewed creation (See also Westcott, Moffatt, Bruce, and Delitzsch). There seems little question, considering other New Testament passages, that all things have already been subjected to Christ (see Matt 28:18; 1 Cor 15:27; Eph 1:22; 1Pet 3:22).

Though it is certain, because of the redeeming work of Christ, that God will again give man dominion over all things, He has not yet put all things under him. Yet, clearly, the age of the Messiah in which this subjection is to occur has already begun. Though it is true that God has not yet crowned redeemed man with glory and honor as he will when Christ returns, it is, nonetheless, true that he has already crowned and exalted him to the throne in Christ, his representative. C.K. Barrett wrote,

It is simply not true, he says, that all things are now in a state of subjection to man; but we do see Jesus the Man crowned after his humiliation with glory and honor. Not man but the Son of man, not man but Man, reigns already with God, awaiting the entire subjugation of his foes (x.13)

The Son of man, the quintessential man, has, as a reward for His death sufferings, already been exalted to the throne and crowned with glory and honor. Our author writes,

“But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for every one, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death” (2:9).

Though God has not yet consummated the new age, He has already inaugurated it in Christ. It is this new age, this new creation, about which the author of this epistle is writing.

Once we understand that the author is writing about the new creation, of which believers are a part, it is easier to answer the question, who is the “everyone” for whom Christ tasted death? Is it every member of Adam’s race (the old creation) for whom He tasted death? Did He intend, by His redeeming work, to restore the right of dominion to every member of the [Adam’s] race, believers and unbelievers? Will God crown all men with glory and honor? Of course not! The “every one” for whom He tasted death clearly refers to the members of the new creation (all in Christ, not all in Adam) whom God will certainly raise to glory and give dominion over the works of His hands. They are the “many sons” whom God will bring to glory (v.10), “those who are sanctified,” and called “brethren” (v.11), and “the children which God hath given me [Christ]” (v.13).

Hebrews 6:4-6

Our purpose in this section is not to concern ourselves with all the problems connected with the exegesis of this controversial passage. For a more detailed treatment of Hebrews 5:11-6:6, see Chapter 6 of this work. At this point, we only want to point out the use, in Heb 6:5, of the phrase “age to come,” a reference to the age of the Messiah. This paragraph describes the experience of those whom God had blessed to witness the establishment of the new covenant. It is not difficult to discern that the blessings the writer lists here are those belonging to the new covenant era. This is especially true concerning the references to the Holy Spirit’s blessings and influence (see Ezek 36:24-27; Joel 2:28-30). Those described here have heard the announcement that God has fulfilled the promises made to the fathers. They no longer live under the old covenant, which the writer describes as “weak and unprofitable.” They have now experienced the powers of the Messianic age. The danger against which the writer warns them is the folly of trading the new and better covenant and its administration under Christ, for the inferior and old (antiquated, outworn) covenant. If they should do so, they would fall away and forfeit all the blessings of that new covenant. If they should turn their backs on Christ and the new covenant that He mediates, they would show that they had never belonged to Him.

“Good Things to Come”

The phrase, “good things to come” occurs twice in this epistle; once in 9:11 and once in 10:1. In both instances, the phrase refers to those blessings that God grants to His new covenant people. This He does in fulfillment of those promises that He made during the old covenant period. In these verses, the author draws a sharp contrast between the shadow and the substance. He wants his readers to understand that they are now enjoying the reality to which the types and promises of the Old Testament Scriptures pointed.

Hebrews 9:11

Due to a textual variant in 9:11, it is difficult to be certain whether the autograph read, “coming good things” or “good things that have come.” In either case, it is likely that the meaning would be the same. If the text read “coming good things,” we should understand it from the perspective of those who were looking forward to the establishment of the new order. The “coming good things,” viewed from their perspective, would be, from the perspective of our author, “the good things that have come” with the establishment of the new order. This is clearly the sense in which we are to understand these words in 10:1. It is possible, of course, to understand these words as referring to those good things that are yet to come at the second advent of the Messiah.Yet, this seems unlikely considering the contrast that our author draws in verses 10-13. Clearly, he is contrasting the state of things under the law with the situation that now exists because of Christ’s redemptive work. He writes,

10They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings–external regulations applying until the time of the new order. 11When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not part of this creation. 12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

If we follow the other reading of the text, “the good things that have come,” the reference would be to those long expected blessings that God has finally granted with the establishment of the new order. In either case, the author is referring to blessings that God has already granted, not to blessings that He is yet to bestow. By this, we are not saying God’s new covenant people already enjoy all the blessings that Christ died to win for them. Nor do we mean that God has already fulfilled everything prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. What we are saying is that the age of fulfillment, in contrast to the age of type and promise, has begun.

God could not grant any real, lasting, spiritual blessing based on the old covenant (apart from the work of Christ), because “the law works wrath.” God could not justify anyone by the law because no one would or could obey it. The old covenant promised real blessings to the Israelites, but it could not grant the spiritual realities that corresponded to them. Those realities now flow to the heirs of the new covenant based on Christ’s obedient life and death under the old covenant. Our author is teaching that it is foolish to look back longingly to the old covenant system. The old covenant could never do for sinners what Christ alone has accomplished by His obedience.

Hebrews 10:1

The other occurrence of the phrase “good things to come” is in Hebrews 10:1. The author writes, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves.” Clearly he is drawing a contrast between the shadowy character of the old covenant and the reality that has dawned with the advent of Christ. The law is a shadow of coming good things in contrast to the realities themselves. It is not difficult to see that these “good things to come” are the realities that the law foreshadowed.

If we should argue that the “good things to come” are yet future, we would then have to concede that we are still living in the shadows, under the Mosaic covenant. If that were the case, we would still be living in an age characterized by the types and shadows of a fragmentary revelation. Of course, such argumentation is clearly contrary to the author’s entire line of reasoning in this epistle. The “coming good things” are those blessings that believers have already begun to enjoy as a fulfillment of the promises of the new covenant.

The Time of the New Order

In Heb 9:10, the writer refers to a period that he calls “kairou diorthosis” (“time of the new order”). The Greek word diorthosis may be used of a setting straight, a restoration of that which is out of line, an improvement, a reformation, and a new order.

There can be little question that the period this phrase describes has already begun. Otherwise, those weak and external regulations imposed by the old Mosaic order would still be in force. The significance of such conclusion would be absolutely devastating. If such were the case, the way into the presence of God would not yet have been disclosed (9:8). A human high priest of the tribe of Levi would have to continue to offer the same sacrifices that could never take sins away; even sins committed in ignorance (9:8). It would be impossible to approach and worship God with a clear conscience (9:9).

The contrast that the writer draws is a contrast between “the time then present” and “the time of the new order.” The “time then present,” during which the earthly tabernacle (signifying the worship of the Mosaic covenant) was still standing, was characterized by weakness, externality, ceremonialism, and inaccessibility in worship. It was not merely the priestly system or the arrangement of the tabernacle that made God unapproachable. The absolute holiness of Jehovah, revealed in the old covenant, was more than enough to keep sinners at a distance. Once the covenant of Sinai had convinced sinners of their guiltiness before God, there was no need for a thick linen veil to prevent their intrusion into the Holy of Holies. The arrangement of the tent in the wilderness was only a symbol of the sinner’s inability to see the face of God in peace. The sinner’s guilty conscience formed a sufficiently formidable barrier to prevent his bold approach into the presence of Him who dwells in unapproachable light. As long as the Mosaic covenant was in force, the Levitical system continued to give bold testimony to the truth that we cannot approach God apart from a perfect priest, who has offered a perfect sacrifice, that He presents in a perfect sanctuary. The messengers of the new covenant gladly proclaim the good news that such a priest has appeared to put away sin by sacrificing Himself. He has come to restore and set straight all that is out of line. The establishment of the covenant of Sinai was attended with lightening and thunder but, as John Newton has written,

He has hushed the law’s loud thunder,
He has quenched Mt. Sinai’s flame;

The Mosaic covenant, with its external ceremonies, gave eloquent testimony to the truth that guilty sinners, who seek access into His presence apart from a mediator, cannot approach God. Through Christ, our great high priest, we may now approach the eternal throne with boldness, because He has cancelled our guilt and cleansed our consciences.

The time of the new order has come. Jehovah has fully disclosed the way into His holy presence. He has replaced the external ceremonies of the old covenant with the reality of the all-sufficient sacrifice of our great high priest. The types and symbols of the old covenant have given way to the reality and fulfillment of the new order. Jesus, our great high priest, has done what the law could never do. He has turned us, who by nature were self-centered rebels, into worshippers of God.

At The End of the Ages

There is one final phrase in this epistle that we want to consider concerning this idea. It is the phrase, “at the end of the ages,” sunteleia ton aionon (Heb 9:26). The word sunteleia is characteristic of Jewish apocalyptic literature. We should understand it in a teleological rather than a temporal sense. It refers not so much to the end of a period as it does to the realization of what has been anticipated. By using this phrase, the author has designated the time of Christ’s redemptive activity as the time of fulfillment. It stands in contrast to the times of promise and expectation that preceded it. It corresponds to the Pauline idea that is expressed in the words “the fullness of the time” (Gal 4:4). This is “the time in which the ages of history have found their fulfillment.” Philip Hughes concurs with this view when he writes,

All that preceded the advent of Christ was leading up to this climactic event which is the focal point for the true perspective of all human history. With his coming the long years of desire and expectation are ended and the last, the eschatological, era of the present world is inaugurated (cf. Heb. 1:2). Consequently, we who live since his coming are those “upon whom the end of the age has come” (1 Cor. 10:11).

Once this idea is firmly entrenched in our minds we will have no trouble understanding that God never intended the old covenant and its administration to be a permanent arrangement. Instead, He intended it to be prophetic, promissory, and preparatory. When the ends for which God gave it had been realized, it had out lived its usefulness and was ready to pass away.


This brief survey of the phrases our author uses to designate this time of fulfillment shows that one of his major thematic concerns in this epistle is to contrast “the former times of promise and expectation with “these last days” of fulfillment and realization. Yet, we also need to be alert to the fact that, though we live in the age of fulfillment, we have not yet experienced the fullness of God’s promised blessings. We, too, live in a time of expectation and hope that requires our perseverance in clinging tenaciously and confidently to the promises of God.

The age of the Messiah has dawned, but the best is yet to be. He who has come to put away sin by sacrificing Himself will come again to grant salvation to those who eagerly but patiently wait for Him (Heb 9:28). Then, He will make all His and our enemies a footstool for His feet (10:13) and restore His redeemed ones to the place of dominion for which man was created.

O Day, for which creation
And all its tribes were made;
O joy, for all its former woes
A thousand fold repaid!

Henry Alford

“Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”