Tag Archives: New Covenant

The Builder of the House

 

In Hebrews chapter 1 we saw the Supremacy of Christ, the Son of God, in His exaltation as King (Son-King), a position superior to angels. In chapter 2 we read of the Humiliation of Christ, the Son of Man, in His suffering as the Last Adam. Now in chapter 3, the tide shifts to a strong exhortation based God’s revelation of who this Jesus is, followed by the entrance into the superiority of Christ over the elements of the Old Covenant, namely its mediator, Moses.

“Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” Hebrews 3:1

The Author’s exhortation begins appropriately with “therefore” signaling yet again the continuity with what has been expressed earlier and serving to link the previous exposition with the current one. Remember that in the original composition of this letter (or sermon), there were no chapter breaks, so, often the author is actually expressing a continuous thought and simply uses “therefore” to emphasize or reiterate a point to his audience. Though this audience of Hebrews, particularly their identification in the warning passages, has often been debated, here there is clear evidence that the intended audience, the recipients of the warnings, are believers, i.e. “holy brothers”.

This familial language introduced in chapter one between Father and Son and expanded in chapter two to include believers as the family of God and brothers of Christ, is evident yet again as chapter 3 develops. However here, this reference serves a two-fold purpose, first in identifying the recipients of the warning among the family of God, but it also serves to unite the theme of sanctification (holiness) alluded to in 1:3 and expressly stated again in 2:10-11.

Adding to this statement as a further modification of the family of God, or brothers, is that they “share in a heavenly calling.” This calling from heaven is a calling from God and a calling to God. It is an effectual, gracious call that does not extend to everyone and cannot be answered by anyone, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Likewise, this heavenly calling accomplishes all that God intends, namely in bringing many sons to glory. Similar language, for example to share, to partake, or even better to partner in, is used elsewhere, as in 1:9, and related in origin to the word used in 2:14. Likewise, it is the same word used in 3:14 (see also 6:4 and 12:8) and it highlights the various ways in which believers are partakers with Christ or better stated, in union with Him. Believers are literally united by a heavenly calling, the Gospel call, issued forth by the Spirit of God that is received by faith.

The exhortation of this section begins with the admonition to “consider Jesus”, followed by the reason for doing so, namely that He is the “apostle and high priest of our confession.” This is the only time in Scripture that Christ is referred to as an apostle, fitting though because apostle actually means “sent one”. He commissioned His own disciples in their apostleship, similarly He was commissioned for His own apostleship by His Father. When held in conjunction with the office of High Priest, we will see in subsequent verses that Christ in His official capacities were granted them by oath of God the Father.

In the verse that follows, the Author begins a series of comparisons and contrasts, similar to that of chapter 1 between Christ and angels, but here the object of comparison is with Moses, the fundamentally superior character on the pages of Old Testament Scripture. Moses stands head and shoulders above anyone else because he is viewed as the great redeemer and law giver. He is the one who met face to face with God on the mountain and in the tabernacle. He is the one who so often interceded to God on behalf of Israel for food, water, and God’s mercy. So then, when the author sets up the comparison and contrast of Christ with Moses, we must realize the significance of this, particularly from the perspective of Jewish tradition.

The comparison begins with the faithfulness of Christ, “who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house.” This mention of Christ faithfulness picks up on the mention of His “merciful and faithful” high priesthood from 2:17 giving the reader an indication of its importance and the attention it will be given in subsequent chapters. We see that the object of Christ’s faithfulness was toward God the Father, “who appointed him.”

This appointment ties back with the earlier statement of Christ’s apostleship and high priesthood. Christ did not appoint Himself, nor did He come on His own authority, as He so often proclaimed during His earthly ministry, but came at the direction of the Father to do His will. The language of appointment is likely intentional to draw the readers minds back to 1 Samuel 2:35:

“And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.”

and 1 Chronicles 17:14

“but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever”

Additionally, the reference to appointment serves as a springboard into the citation of Psalm 110 by the Author in chapter 5, which will serve as the introduction to the discourse on the Priesthood of Christ.

The comparison then is the faithfulness of Christ with the faithfulness of Moses, who, as we are told, “was faithful in all God’s house”. This statement will eventually set up the first point of contrast in the following verse, but we should pause to ask, what is this house of God that Moses was faithful in? In Numbers 12:6-8 we find perhaps the foundation upon which this statement is made in Hebrews, “And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord.”   The house in reference here is sometimes referred to in two ways, the first being the House of Israel and the second being the House of God, i.e. the tabernacle. Both statements are true, but as Schreiner points out, “’house’” in this context refers to the people of God. As a member of God’s people Moses was faithful.”[1] This seems to correspond with the context, as we will see.

Continuing into the contrast, “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself,” we see that Christ is worthy of more glory than Moses. Why? To answer that, the Author establishes a contrast by way of analogy, “the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself”. The implication here is that Jesus is the Builder of the house and that Moses is the “house”. Not that he is the house alone, but is a member of the house, as will be clarified in verse 6.

In verse 4 we read the following parenthetical statement, “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.” When held in combination with the previous verse that established Jesus Christ as the Builder of the house, this verse declares the deity of Christ by saying all things are built by God and that Christ is that God. The syllogism reads like this: Christ built the house::All things are built by God::Therefore Christ is God. Perhaps it has Hebrews 1:2 in mind, or perhaps it isn’t a reference to creation in general, but to building the house of God specifically. Nevertheless it is a syllogistic statement setting forth the truth that Jesus is God.

The author of Hebrews then steps back into his contrast by positively stating the role of Moses, “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later”. Here we get a further statement concerning Moses’ position in the house, i.e. that of servant. In fulfilling his duty, he testifies to the “things that were to be spoken later.” What things are these? The things of Christ, i.e. the coming of the Messiah, i.e. the Gospel. Luke 24:44 says, “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’”  There is much more that could be said regarding this, such as John 3:14-15; John 6:31-51; 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, 9-10; Moses spoke and testified of Christ and despite some more modern theological systems claiming otherwise, the Gospel was present and preached in the Old Testament. This becomes more explicitly stated in Hebrews 4:1-2.

Continuing in our passage, verse 6 is the culminating verse that states the superiority of Christ, as Son, who in His position over the house is greater than Moses who serves in the house. If any lingering questions remain at this point regarding the substance of this house, whether it be a physical structure or in reference to a spiritual structure, that is cleared up in the remaining portion of this verse, “And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” As we have seen, the author has included himself in the introduction of this warning statement and again, he aligns himself with his audience, “we are his house if indeed we”.

Believers are the temple of God; the place where God resides and dwells within (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). The Old Testament temple was but a type of the temple of Christ’s body (John 2:19-22). The New Testament uses this imagery to paint a picture of our relationship in union with Christ, the true temple.

The “if” used here is not necessarily a conditional statement, but is a statement of perseverance, “If we persevere, we are His house”. The second clause is not necessarily dependent, as in an if/then statement, but more so is clarified by the first statement. In other words, our inclusion in the house of God is evidenced by our perseverance, which is here referred to as “holding fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope”, all of which point to Christ as its source.

Moses was a member of the house of God and a faithful servant in it. Christ, as Son, built the house giving Him more glory and honor than a servant. We, like our first century brothers and sisters receiving this message, are called to consider this Jesus. Apostle. High Priest. Builder. Son. Merciful and Faithful in all these. Our Confidence and our Hope. Let us therefore persevere as members of the House of God built in Christ.

 

[1] Schreiner, Thomas R., “Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation: Commentary on Hebrews”. Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2015. Pg 115

*Image Credit – Wikipedia

The Typology of Hebrews 9

 

Perhaps more than any other book of the Bible, Hebrews highlights for us what is known as biblical typology. Typology in the Bible is a method of interpreting Scripture in the light of Scripture itself wherein a relationship is established between people, places, events, or institutions and other people, places, events or institutions. The relationship represents an argument from the lesser to the greater and is often found in discussion of how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament. Usually, the lesser (type) points to the greater (antitype) and most often refers to either Christ or His work on the cross.

Typology has sometimes been accused of being allegorical, but this is a misrepresentation because typology finds its foundation in actual, historical people, places, events, or institutions. Sometimes typology is clearly spelled out for the biblical student such as in John 3:14-15 where Jesus says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” So Jesus identifies the event of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness as the type, and the event of His crucifixion as the antitype. Likewise, the representation of the serpent being “lifted up” finds its greater reality in the “lifting up” of Christ on the cross. In typology, much like in the reading of parables, it’s important not to force every single detail from the lesser into the reality of the greater. So in this example, there is no reason to force meaning of the use of the serpent onto Christ beyond what is expressed by Scripture.

Sometimes, typology is not quite as clear as the explicit example mentioned above and this is perhaps where some have entered into a zone of speculation, which unfortunately has likely led to criticism of typology as means to biblical interpretation. One classic example of this erroneous use of relationships is the scarlet cord hung from Rahab’s window during the Israelite’s siege on Jericho (see Joshua 2):18). Some have ventured into the realm of allegory by suggesting that the cord represents the blood of the Passover lamb and ultimately the blood of Christ. As this reasoning goes, Rahab and her family were saved on the basis of Christ’s blood, which is symbolized in the scarlet cord. As interesting as this sounds, it’s highly speculative and has difficulty connecting the lesser to the greater.

With these examples and warnings in mind, we come to the book of Hebrews and find typology consolidated for us by the author. Typology in Hebrews really comes to the forefront in chapter 3, so there is much that could be said concerning the wilderness generation, Moses, the Sabbath rest of God, not to mention the typological relationship between Christ and the Levitical priesthood and Christ and Melchizedek. Leaving those discussions for another day, we come to Hebrews chapter 9 to find the consolidation of many Old Testament types with their greater reality, their antitype, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Note how this chapter begins:

“Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.”

The first 10 verses of the chapter lay the groundwork for our discussion by presenting the details of the sacrificial system under the Old Covenant. The author has spent the previous chapters highlighting the superiority of Christ as the new and better High Priest, superior over the Levitical priesthood, as well as His superiority over the Melchizedekian priesthood which was the basis for the oath of Christ’s own Priesthood (Psalm 110). In this chapter, he builds upon the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant by reminding his readers of the bloody, repeated sacrifices that were commanded under the Old Covenant.

Though summarized above, the details of the sacrifices under the Old Covenant can be found in the books of the Law, namely Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Obviously a reading of those books would only aide in our understanding of what is being discussed in the introduction to chapter 9 of Hebrews; more on that in a minute. Without going into great detail, we may observe that the Old Covenant sacrificial system involved a priest, a tabernacle (later a temple) divided by a veil into an outer (Holy Place) and inner (Most Holy Place) section, sacrifices (bulls, goats, lambs, etc.), and various appurtenances such as an altar, the ark of the covenant, cherubim over the mercy seat, lampstand, table, and showbread.

The process of sacrifice is summarized in verses 6-10 as the priest is said to have gone in regularly into the first section. These were the daily sacrifices as required under the law. Only the high priest, once a year, could enter into the Most Holy Place with blood; first for himself and then for the unintentional sins of the people. Even within this description we see the narrowing of the process from priests to priest, from the outer area to the inner area and from regular sacrifices to once a year. Entering into the Most Holy was an exclusive, rare occasion and is so described by the author of Hebrews.

Key to our discussion here and to the meaning of the passage, particularly the mention of the Old Covenant sacrificial details are verses 8-9a, “By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age).” The author here, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit has indicated for us that all the Old Covenant sacrifices, tabernacles, priesthoods, etc. were “symbolic for the present age.” The actual word being used here is parabole (ESV renders this – symbolic), from which we get our word parable. As it relates to our discussion of typology, often times Scripture uses different words to express this relationship, whether it be type (Romans 5:14), shadow (Col. 2:17), copy (Hebrews 8:5), or parabole meaning symbol as in this passage; other words used include: prefigured, symbolizes, representation, or pattern, to name a few. So then we see that the summary given in verses 1-7 is actually a cliff-notes version of the Old Covenant sacrificial system which collectively pointed towards Christ in a typological manner and individually certain features (people, places, events, institutions) were a type, literally a parable, pointing forward to Christ.

This should radically transform how we read our Old Testaments. Instead of getting bogged down or even avoiding books such as Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, or even Deuteronomy, we should rejoice as we read through them knowing that the pictures being painted through the brushstrokes of the Holy Spirit leave us with the expectation of something far greater than the blood of bulls and goats, the imperfection of the priests, the repetitive nature of the sacrifices, or the restricted access to the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. All of those things (and more) are but a shadow or type of the greater reality that is in Jesus Christ. When you read these Old Testament books, fight against the desire to get lost or to let your mind wander. Instead, ask how the bloody sacrifices are insufficient and conversely how Christ’s is far superior. Take note of the endless work of the priests in contrast to finished work of Christ who is now seated at the right hand of the Father after making His sacrifice once for all. Observe how God was so detailed in His description of the tabernacle and know that its beauty pales in comparison with the True Tabernacle, the one made without human hands. All Scripture is God-Breathed, not just the parts we may prefer or find interesting and all Scripture points to Christ because all of the promises of God find their yes and amen in Him.

 

The New Covenant Constitution of the Church and Arminianism

 

We come now to the third chapter and third major assertion set forth by Sam Waldron in A Reformed Baptist Manifesto, a defense of the New Covenant Constitution of the Church.  In the previous two chapters we looked at the contrasts between Reformed Baptists and 1.) Dispensationalism and 2.) Antinomianism.  Here we turn our attention towards Arminianism.

For those who may be unfamiliar, Arminianism is, generally, the belief that man has free-will to determine his own destiny, i.e. salvation.  It is most often contrasted with God’s sovereignty in salvation, or what is commonly called Calvinism.  For more on this, search either term on this site or head over to monergism.com for more comprehensive articles on the subject and a history of the controversy.  I hope to have a more informative post on the development of Calvinism soon.

Our purposes here will be to examine the arguments set forth by Dr. Waldron in his aforementioned book.  The point of this particular chapter, as set for by Waldron, is that “the origination, building, or source of the Church…through the instrument of the New Covenant” is God “the sole sovereign builder, originator, and author of the Church as a whole, and of its individual members.” Waldron then takes up three major theses to defend this assertion, again turning his attention to Jeremiah 31.

1.     The Sovereign Determination behind the New Covenant

To this point, Waldron examines the contrast between the Old and New Covenant.  Turning to Exodus 19:4-6 we see the stated terms of the Old Covenant:

“4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

What may be obvious in this passage is the simple “if-then” statement used by God in the extension of this covenant to Israel.  “If you obey…then you shall be My own possession.”  In striking contrast the New Covenant, as quoted in Jeremiah 31 contains no if-then statements but rather the dogmatic assurity of the Lord saying, “I will” numerously.  This is what Waldron indicates is the Sovereign determination behind the New Covenant.

2.    The Unbreakable Character of the New Covenant.

In this particular section, we see the emphasis of the breakable nature of the Old Covenant, particularly in Deut. 29:25-28; Ps. 78:10,11; Jer. 11:9,10; 22:6-9; 34:13; Ezek. 44:6-8.  Continuing to focus on the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31, Waldron cites the following passage to note the contrast between the breakable character of the Old Covenant and the unbreakable character of the New Covenant:

31 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.”  Jeremiah 31:31,32

The Old Covenant was written on breakable stone, and was broken as we have seen from the passages referenced above.  However, the promise of the New Covenant is that it is inscribed upon the hearts.  Lest one walk away thinking that the Old Covenant was somehow deficient or imperfect, Waldron points out that the real problem with the Old Covenant was with the people with whom it was made.  Citing Hebrews 8:8 he writes, “The Old Covenant did not secure the covenant keeping of those with whom it was made.  That was its fault.  Its fault was simply that it did not enable those with whom it was made to comply with its conditions.”  Conversely, the New Covenant supplies all that it demands through the regeneration of the heart, upon which the Covenant (law) is written and the presence of the Holy Spirit causes believers to walk according to the statutes and commands of God (See Ezek. 36).  Concluding this section, Waldron provides segue by asking, “How can God simply sweep aside the demands of His own justice and make a New Covenant like this with the house of Israel after their sins have brought upon them the fierce overflowing wrath of God?”

3.    The Mediatorial Guarantee of the New Covenant

This section begins with the promise that “God will forget the sins of His people and forgive their iniquities” given in Jeremiah 31:34, Waldron rightly points out this passage does not tell us how God will accomplish this, until Jeremiah 33:14-16, “14 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”  Further, the book of Hebrews (see Hebrews 7:22) provides divine commentary and explanation of how God planned to bring about this forgiveness, namely through the work of Jesus Christ particularly His office as “both priest and sacrifice of the New Covenant” which “insures and secures the establishment of the New Covenant and the impartation of its blessings to God’s Israel.”[1]  As Waldron concludes, “Jesus’ priestly sacrifice of Himself, once-for-all, finally, and efficaciously fulfills the demands of God’s law and assures the forgiveness of sins for all who are part of the New Covenant people of God.”[2]

Concluding Lessons

In order to bring to conclusion this chapter, against the incompatibility of Arminianism and the New Covenant, Dr. Waldron briefly summarizes the points of Arminianism, i.e. the “system which teaches that man’s free will is sovereign in salvation.”

  1. God has chosen to save those who believe in Christ and persevere in obedience to Him to the end.
  2. Christ died for each and every man, but only those who believe benefit from His death.
  3. In order for men to believe in Christ, God must work by His grace in their heart.
  4. Though this grace is the source of all good in men, yet they may resist this grace and not be saved by it.
  5. Though God will provide everything that men need to persevere to the end, it is not certain that once a man believes in Christ unto salvation, he will persevere to the end and finally be saved.

He then goes on to contrast each of these points with the doctrines of grace, or what some have termed “Calvinism”.  Some of Waldron’s comments are briefly quoted below.

  1. Total Depravity – “We see the truth of total depravity in the contrast with the Old Covenant mentioned in our passage.  What the Old Covenant demanded was simply faith and obedience.”  However, “Every faculty of man’s soul is polluted with sin.  All men are unable to do anything of any spiritual good.  Even repentance and faith are impossible due to this total depravity and total inability.”
  2. Unconditional Election – “God’s covenant is not made with a nation that has proved itself worthy of His choice.  Rather, God, with sovereign, unchangeable purpose has chosen through the New Covenant to make them worthy of His choice.”
  3. Limited Atonement – “We have seen from the Scriptures that the cross of Jesus Christ is saving because of its connection with this covenant.  Jesus’ whole work was covenant work; His blood covenant blood, His priesthood covenant priesthood, His office as Mediator a covenant office.  The question about the scope, extent, or design of the death of Christ ought not to be answered, therefore, without reference to this covenant.”
  4. Irresistible Grace – “God actually writes His law upon the hearts of His people.”
  5. Perseverance of the Saints – “God remembers their [those in the New Covenant] sins no more” He therefore is faithful to the promises of His covenant.
Dr. Waldron concludes this chapter with several helpful thoughts about what we learn from the doctrines of grace in a practical, straightforward manner.  I hope to take a few posts to explain further the 5 points of Calvinism that Dr. Waldron introduces here.  Again, if you would like to purchase this brief, helpful work on the Reformed Baptist approach to the New Covenant see RPAP.  Also, I also recommend Dr. Waldron’s exposition on the 1689 London Baptist Confession, available on Amazon.


[1] Pg. 55

[2] Pg. 57