An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The proposition which the apostle is occupied with proving and illustrating in this section of the epistle is that which was laid down in Hebrews 8:6, "But now hath He obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises." In the verses which were before us in the last article, the superiority of Christ over Aaron was brought out in the following respects. First, in that He officiated in a more excellent tabernacle (verse 11). Second, in that He offered to God a superior sacrifice (verses 11, 14). Third, in that He has entered a more glorious sanctuary (verse 12). Fourth, in that He secured a more efficacious redemption (verse 12). Fifth, in that He was moved by a more excellent Spirit (verse 14). Sixth, in that He obtained for His people a better cleansing (verse 14). Seventh, in that He made possible for them a nobler service (verse 14).
Christ has "obtained eternal redemption" for His people. As we pointed out in our last article, to "redeem" signifies to liberate by the paying of a ransom-price: "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). The freedom which the Christian has is, first, a legal one: he has been "redeemed from the curse of the law" (Gal. 3:13). Because of this, second, he enjoys an experimental freedom from the power of sin: "sin shall not have dominion over you" (Rom. 6:14). Justification and sanctification are never separated: where God imputes the righteousness of Christ. He also imparts a principle of holiness, the latter being the fruit or consequence of the former; both being necessary before we can be admitted into heaven. Because the blood of Christ has fully met every claim of God upon and against His people, its virtues and purifying effects are applied to them by the Spirit. Both of these were foreshadowed under the Levitical types of the old economy, and are seen in Hebrews 9:13.
"The blood of bulls and of goats and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean" sanctified "to the purifying of the flesh." There is here both a comparison and a contrast. The comparison is between the type and the Antitype; the contrast, between what the one and what the other effected. Those typical rites procured only a temporary "redemption" from the governmental consequences of sin; Christ’s sacrifice has secured an "eternal redemption" from all the consequences of sin. A double type is referred to in Hebrews 9:13. No single sacrifice could adequately represent the power and efficacy of the blood of Christ. By the "blood of bulls and goats" the guilt of Israel’s sins were temporarily removed; by the sprinkling of the "ashes of an heifer" they were ceremonially purified from the defilements of the wilderness. We quote below a valuable footnote from Adolph Saphir:
"The ashes of an heifer. It was to take away the defilement of death. The institution is recorded in the book of Numbers as relating to the provision God makes for His people in their wilderness journey. As no blood of the slain victim was ‘incorruptible,’ it was necessary, in order to show the cleansing by blood from defilement through contact with death to have as it were the essential principle of blood, presented in a permanent and available form. The red heifer, which had never been under the yoke, symbolizes life in its most vigorous, perfect, and fruitful form. She was slain without the camp (Heb. 13:11, Numbers 19:3, 4). She was wholly burnt, flesh, skin, and blood, the priest casting cedar-wood, hyssop, and scarlet into the fire. The ashes of the burnt heifer, put into flowing water, were then sprinkled with hyssop for ceremonial purification . . . Christ is the fulfillment. For the blood of Christ is not merely, so to speak, the key unlocking the holy of holies to Him as our High Priest and Redeemer, it is not merely our ransom by which we are delivered out of bondage, and, freed from the curse, are brought nigh unto God; but it also separates us from death and sin. It is incorruptible, always cleansing and vivifying; through this blood we are separated from this evil world, and overcome; by this blood we keep our garments white (John 6:53, Revelation 7:14).
"What had necessarily to be separated in the types, is here in unity and perfection. Likewise, what really and potentially is given to us when we are first brought into the state of reconciliation and access, of justification and sanctification, is in our actual experience continually repeated. We have been cleansed and sanctified once and forever; the same blood, remembered and believed in, cleanseth us continually. The difference between this continual cleansing and the first (according to John 13:10) must never be forgotten, or we fall into a legal condition, going back from the holy of holies into the holy place. But, on the other hand we must not forget the living character of the blood, which by the Spirit is continually applied to us, and by which we have peace, renewal of the sense of pardon, and strength for service (1 Pet. 1:2)."
Having pointed out what God’s people are redeemed from, the Holy Spirit next makes a brief notice of what Christ has redeemed unto. He has delivered us from the curse of the law and the bondage of sin; He has also procured for us an "eternal inheritance": His satisfaction has merited for us the favor and image of God and everlasting bliss in His presence. In referring to this, the Spirit also takes occasion to bring out the fact that the sacrifice of Christ was necessary in order for God to make good His promises of old. Herein too He once more meets the Jewish prejudice—why must this great High Priest die? The death of Christ was requisite in order to the accomplishing of God’s engagements to Abraham and his (spiritual) seed, to confirm His covenant-pledges, which, once more, brings into view the relation which Christ sustains to the everlasting covenant.
"And for this cause He is the Mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance" (verse 15). Each word in this verse requires to be duly weighed and carefully considered both in the light of what immediately precedes and follows, otherwise we are certain to err. The opening "And" is plain intimation that no new subject begins here, which at once disposes of the figment that this and the next verses require to he placed in a parenthesis. The apostle continues to treat of what was before him in the verses which we considered in the last article. He is still showing the excellency of our High Priest and the superior efficacy of His sacrifice. That the contents of this verse are by no means free from difficulty is readily allowed, yet its leading thoughts are plain enough.
"And for this cause He is the Mediator of the new testament." The Greek words for "for this cause" are rendered "therefore" in Hebrews 1:9 and other places. They signify, because of this, or for this reason. There has been a great deal of discussion as to precisely what is referred to in "for this cause": some insisting that it looks back to what has been affirmed in the previous verses, others contending that it points forward to that which is declared in the second half of this verse. Personally, we believe that both are included. There is a fullness to God’s words which is not to be found in man’s, and whenever an expression is capable of two or more meanings, warranted by the context and the analogy of faith, both should be retained. Let us then look at the two thoughts here brought together.
"For this cause": because of the superior nature and efficacy of the sacrifice which Christ was to offer, God appointed Him to be the Mediator of the new covenant. It was out of (prospective) regard unto the fitness of Christ’s person and the excellency of His offering, that God ordained Him to make mediation between Himself and His fallen people. Because He should make an effectual atonement for their sins and provide a way whereby their troubled consciences might have peace, God decreed that His Son, becoming incarnate, should interpose between poor sinners and the awful Majesty they have offended. "For this cause": and also, because it was only by means of death that the transgressions under the first testament could be redeemed and the called receive the promise of eternal inheritance, Christ was appointed Mediator of the new covenant.
With his usual sagacity John Owen combined both ideas: "It is evident there is a reason rendered in these words, of the necessity of the death and sacrifice of Christ, by which alone our consciences may be purged from dead works. And this reason is intended in these words, ‘For this cause.’ And this necessity of the death of Christ, the apostle proves both from the nature of His office, namely, that He was to be the Mediator of the new covenant, which, being a testament, required the death of the testator; and from what was to be effected thereby, namely, the redemption of transgressions, and the purchase of an eternal inheritance. Wherefore, these are the things which he hath respect unto in these words."
"He is the Mediator of the new testament." It seems strange that some of the best of the expositors understand this to mean that after Christ had "offered Himself without spot to God" he became "the Mediator," which is indeed a turning of things upside down and a putting an effect for a cause. A mediator is one who stands between two parties, and two parties at variance, and that with the object of settling the difference between them, that is, of effecting a reconciliation. Hence we read, "For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (1 Tim. 2:5, 6). The second half of our verse ought to have prevented such a blunder: "He is the Mediator of the new testament, that by means of death they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance."
As we pointed out in our comments upon Hebrews 8:6, it is most important to recognize that Christ is a sacerdotal Mediator, that is, one who has interposed His sacrifice and intercession between God and His people in order to their reconciliation. In voluntarily undertaking to serve as Mediator between God and His people considered as fallen creatures, two things were required from Christ. First, that He should completely remove that which kept the covenanters at a distance, that is, take away the cause of enmity between them. Second, that He should purchase and procure, in a way suited unto the glory of God, the actual communication of all the good things—summed up in "grace and glory" (Ps. 84:11)—which belong to those whose Surety He was. This is the foundation of the "merits" of Christ and of the grant of all blessings unto us for His sake.
In what has just been pointed out, we may perceive an additional signification to the opening "And" of our verse. Christ is not only "High Priest" (verses 11-14), but "Mediator" too. He undertook office upon office in order to our greater good. Christ is, in the "new covenant" or "testament," the Mediator, Surety, Priest and Sacrifice, all in His own person. In order that we may have something like a definite conception of these, let us consider, separately, the various relations which our blessed Redeemer sustains to the everlasting covenant. First, He is the Surety of it: Hebrews 7:22. As such He engaged to render full satisfaction to God on behalf of His people, to do and suffer for them all that the law required. He transferred to Himself all their obligations, undertaking to pay all their debts. In other words, He substituted Himself in their place and stead, in consequence of which there was a double imputation: God reckoning to Christ all their liabilities, God imputing to them His perfect righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).
As the "Surety" Christ most blessedly fulfilled the type of Genesis 43:9, being Sponsor to His Father for all His beloved Benjamins, Hebrews 2:13, Isaiah 49:5, 6, John 10:16. Second, as the Mediator of the covenant (Heb. 12:24), He took His place between God and His people, undertaking to maintain the interests and secure the honor of both parties, by perfectly reconciling the one to the other. As the "Mediator" Christ has blessedly fulfilled the type of Jacob’s "ladder," uniting heaven and earth. Third, as the Messenger (Mal. 3:1) or "Angel" of the covenant (Rev. 8:3-5) He makes known God’s purpose and will to His people, and presents their requests and worship to Him. Fourth, as the Testator of the covenant (Heb. 9:16) He has ratified it and made bequests and gifts to His people. Finally, and really first, as the Head of the whole election of grace, the covenant was made with Him by God: Psalm 89:3, etc.
"For this cause He is the Mediator of the new testament." Here again there has been an almost endless controversy as to whether this last word should be rendered "covenant" or "testament," that is, "will." The same Greek word has been translated by both these English terms, some think wrongly so, for a "covenant" is, strictly speaking, an agreement or contract between two parties: the one promising to do certain things upon the fulfillment of certain conditions by the other; whereas a "testament" or "will" is where one bequeaths certain things as gifts. Thus there seems to be little or nothing in common between the two concepts, in fact, that which is quite contrary. Nevertheless, our English translators have rendered the Greek word both ways, and we believe, rightly so. Nevertheless it remains for us to enquire, why should the same term be rendered "covenant" in Hebrews 8:6 and "testament" in Hebrews 9:15? Briefly, the facts are as follows.
First, the word "diatheke" occurs in the Greek New Testament thirty-three times, having been translated (in the A.V.) "covenant" twenty times (twice in the plural number) and "testament" thirteen times, four of the latter being used in connection with the Lord’s supper. Second, in the Sept. version (the translation of the Hebrews Old Testament into Greek) this word "diatheke" occurs just over two hundred and fifty times, where, in the great majority of instances, it is used to translate "berith." Third, the Greek word "diatheke" is not that which properly denotes a covenant, compact, or agreement; instead, the technical terms for that is "syntheke," but the Spirit never once uses this word in the New Testament. Fourth, on the other hand, it should be noted that the Hebrew language has no distinctive word which means a will or testament. Fifth, the most common use of the term "diatheke" in the New Testament, particularly in 2 Corinthians 3 and in Hebrews, neither denotes a "covenant" proper (a stipulated agreement) nor a "will," but instead, an economy, a dispensational arrangement or ordering of things.
Now it needs to be very carefully noted that from Hebrews 9:15 to the end of the chapter, the apostle argues from the nature of a will or "testament" among men, as he distinctly affirms in verse 16. His manifest object in so doing was to confirm the Christian’s faith in the expectation of the benefits of this "covenant" or "testament." Nor did he violate the rules of language in this, straining neither the meaning of the Hebrews "berith" nor the Greek "diatheke," for there is, actually, a close affinity between the two things. There are "covenants" which have in them free grants or donations, which is of the nature of a "testament"; and there are "testaments" whose force is resolved into conditions and agreements—as when a man wills an estate to his wife on the stipulation that she remains a widow—which is borrowed from the nature of a "covenant."
If we go back to the Old Testament and study the various "covenants" which God made with men, it will be found again and again that they were merely declarations whereby He would communicate good things unto them, which has more of the nature of a "testament" in it. Sometimes the word "covenant" was used simply to express a free promise, with an effectual donation and communication of the thing promised, which also has more of the nature of a "testament’’ than of a "covenant." Thus, once more, we perceive a fullness in the words of the Holy Spirit which definitions from human dictionaries do not include. That which was a "covenant," has become to us a testament. The "covenant" was made by God with Christ. By His death that which God pledged Himself to do unto the heirs of promise in return for the work which Christ was to perform, is now bequeathed to us as a free gift: what was a legal stipulation between the Father and the Mediator, comes to us purely as a matter of grace.
Some have insisted that "the Mediator of the new covenant" is understandable, but that "Mediator of the new testament" is no more intelligible than the "testator of a covenant" would be. Our answer is that, the Spirit of God is not tied by the artificial rules which bind human grammarians. Romans 8:17 tells us that Christians are "heirs of God," that is of the Father, yet He has not died! No figure must be pressed too far. Some have argued that because the Church is the Body of Christ, it cannot also be His "Bride," but such carnal reasoning is altogether inadmissible upon spiritual and Divine things; as well might we argue that because Christ calls us "brethren" (Heb. 2:12), therefore we cannot be His "children" (Heb. 2:13); or that because Christ is the "everlasting Father" of Israel (Isa. 9:6), He cannot also be their "Husband" (Isa. 54:5). The truth is, that Christ is both the Mediator of the new covenant, and the Mediator of the new testament, looking at the same office from two different angles. God has so confirmed the promises in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20), that at His death He made a legacy of them and bequeathed them to His people in a testamentary form.
To sum up what has been said on this difficult but important subject: throughout the New Testament the Holy Spirit has intentionally used only the one word "diatheke"—though there was another in the Greek language ("syntheke") which more exactly expressed a "covenant"—because it was capable of a double application, and that, because the Son of God is not only the Mediator of a new covenant, but also the Testator of His own gifts. Thereby God would fix our gaze on the cross of Christ and see there that what had up to that day existed as a "covenant," then ,became for the first time, a "testament"; and that while the covenant between the Father and the Son is from everlasting, the "new testament" dates only from Calvary.
"For the redemption of the transgressions under the first testament." This states one of the principal ends which God had in view when appointing Christ to be the "Mediator," namely, to deliver His people from all the bondage they were subject to as the result of their violations of His law, and that by the payment of a satisfactory price. But, it may be asked, why not "the redemption of the transgressors" rather than "transgressions"? Did Christ purchase sins? The reference is to His expiation of His people’s iniquities, and they were "debts," and Christ’s death was a discharge of that debt. "The discharge of a debt is a buying it out. Thus to redeem sins is no more harsh a phrase than to be ‘delivered for our offenses’ (Rom. 4:25), or ‘who gave Himself for our sins’ (Gal. 1:4), or to be ‘merciful to their unrighteousness,’ Hebrews 8:12’ (William Gouge).
"For the redemption of the transgressions under the first testament.’’ In these words the Spirit makes a further exhibition of the virtue and efficacy of Christ’s death, by affirming that it paid the price of remitting the sins of the Old Testament saints. Here again the apostle is countering the Jewish prejudice. The death of Christ was necessary not only if sinners of New Testament times should be fitted to serve the living God (verse 14), but also to meet the claims which God had against the Old Testament saints. The efficacy of Christ’s atonement was retrospective as well as prospective: cf. Romans 3:25. The true (in contrast from the typical), spiritual (in contrast from the ceremonial), and eternal (in contrast from the temporal), "redemption’’ of the Old Testament saints was effected by the sacrifice of Christ. The same thing is clearly implied in Hebrews 9:26: had not the one offering of Christ—as the Lamb "foreordained before the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:19, 20)—been of perpetual efficacy from the days of Abel onwards, then it had been necessary to repeat it constantly in order to redeem believers of each generation. It was God’s eternal purpose that Christ’s atonement, settled in the "everlasting covenant," should be available to faith from the beginning. Hence, the apostle said. "Through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins (cf. Galatians 3:8, Hebrews 4:2), and by Him all that believe—Old Testament saints as truly as the New Testament—are justified from all things" (Acts 13:38, 39).
"Now, if any one asks, whether sins under the Law were remitted to the fathers, we must bear in mind the solution already stated,—that they were remitted; but remitted through Christ. Then notwithstanding their external expiations, they were always held guilty. For this reason Paul says that the law was a handwriting against us (Col. 2:14). For when the sinner came forward and openly confessed that he was guilty before God, and acknowledged by sacrificing an innocent animal that he was worthy, of eternal death, what did he obtain by his victim, except that he sealed his own death as it were by this handwriting? In short, even then they only reposed in the remission of sins, when they looked to Christ. But if only a regard to Christ took away sins, they could never have been freed from them, had they continued to rest in the law" (John Calvin).
"For the redemption of the transgressions under the first testament.’’ It remains for us to ask, Why this limitation? for Christ atoned for the sins of those who were to believe as much as for those who had, before He became incarnate, looked in faith to Him. First, because a measure of doubt or uncertainty could exist only concerning them. Some have taught, and possibly some in the apostle’s day thought, that naught but earthly blessings would be the portion of those who died before the present dispensation. Therefore to remove such a doubt, it is affirmed that Old Testament believers too were redeemed by Christ’s blood. Second, because the apostle had pressed so hard the fact that the Levitical sacrifices could not remove moral guilt from those who lived under the Mosaic economy, he shows Christ’s sacrifice had. Third, because by just consequence it follows that, if those who trusted Christ of old had redemption of their transgressions through Him, much more they who are under the new testament. "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7): it was just as efficacious in taking away the transgressions of believers before it was actually shed, as it is of cleansing believers today, nineteen centuries after it was shed.
"They which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.’’ Here the "heirs" are designated by character rather than by name, by this qualification (Greek) "they which have been called," that is, effectually so, or truly converted to God. In John 1:12 this privilege of heir-ship is settled upon "believers," such as do heartily accept of Christ and His grace. In Acts 26:18 and Colossians 1:12 the heirs are described as "sanctified," that is, as personally dedicated to God and set apart to live unto Him. This expression "the called" is a descriptive appellation of the true spiritual people of God, and looks back to the "call" of Abraham (Heb. 11:8), who, in consequence of the mighty workings of divine grace in his heart, turned his back upon the world and the things of the flesh (Gen. 12:1), and entered the path of faith’s obedience to God. Only those possessing these marks are the spiritual "children" of Abraham, such as have been "called with a holy calling" (2 Tim. 1:9).
"Might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." This is the goal toward which the apostle has been steadily moving, as he has passed from clause to clause in this verse. That the called of God might receive the promise of eternal inheritance was the grand ultimate object of the "everlasting covenant" so far as men are concerned, and the chief design of the new testament. But an obstacle stood in the way, namely, the transgressions or sins of those who should be "called." In order to the removal of that obstacle, Christ must die that death which was due unto those transgressions. For the Son of God to die, He must be appointed unto a mediatorial position and become incarnate. Because He was so appointed, because He did so die, because He has redeemed from all transgressions, the "eternal inheritance" is sure unto all His people, His heirs, the "called" of God.
"Might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." The children of Israel received from God an external call which separated them from the heathen, and when they were redeemed from Egypt they received promise of a temporal or earthly inheritance. But inside that Nation was "a remnant according to the election of grace," and they, individually, received from God an inward call, which made them the heirs of an eternal inheritance. It is of these latter that our verse speaks, yet as including also the saints of the present dispensation. Promise of an "eternal inheritance" had the Old Testament saints. They had the Gospel preached unto them (Heb. 4:2). They were saved through "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 15:11) as well as we. They "did all eat the same spiritual meat and did all drink the same spiritual drink," even Christ (1 Cor. 10:3, 4). And therefore did they "desire a better country, that is, an heavenly" (Heb. 11:16). How all of this sets aside the preposterous figment of the modern "dispensationalists," who relegate "Israel" to an inferior inheritance from that which belongs to "the Church"!
"Might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." What is meant by the first four words here? First, let us very briefly define the "eternal inheritance." By it we understand God’s "great salvation" (Heb. 2:3), considering it in its most comprehensive sense, as including justification, sanctification and glorification. It is that blessed estate which Christ has purchased for "His own," here called an "inheritance" to remind us that the way whereby we come unto it is by a gratuitous adoption, and not by any merits of our own. Now as the state of those who are to receive it is twofold, namely, in this life and in that which is to come, so there are two parts of this inheritance: "grace and glory." Even now "eternal life" is communicated to those who are called according to God’s purpose. But "grace" is only "glory" begun: the best "wine" is reserved for the time to come. For the future aspect of the "eternal inheritance" see 1 Peter 1:3-5.
The way whereby God conveys this "eternal inheritance" is by "promise": see Galatians 3:18 and Hebrews 6:15-18. And this for a threefold reason at least. First, to manifest the absolute freeness of the grant of it: the "promise" is everywhere opposed unto everything of "works" or desert in ourselves: Romans 4:14, etc. Second, to give security unto all the heirs of it, for the very veracity and faithfulness of God is behind the promise: Titus 1:1, etc. Since God has "promised" to bestow the "inheritance," nothing in, of, or from the heirs can possibly be an occasion of their forefeiting it: 1 Thessalonians 5:24. Third, that it might be by faith, for what God promises necessarily requires faith, and faith only, unto its reception: Romans 4:16. The "receive the promise" has a double force. First, it is to "mix faith" with it (Heb. 4:2), to appropriate it (Heb. 11:13, 17), so as not to stagger at it in unbelief (Rom. 4:20, 21). Second, it is to receive the fulfillment of it. As unto the foundation of the whole inheritance, in the sacrifice of Christ, and all the grace, mercy and love, with the fruits thereof, these are communicated to believers in this life: Galatians 3:14. As unto the consummation, the future state in glory, we "receive the promise" by faith, rest thereon, and live in the joyous expectation of it: Hebrews 11:13.
In conclusion, let us sum up the contents of this remarkable verse, adopting the analysis of John Owen. 1. God has designed an "eternal inheritance" unto certain persons. 2. The way in which a right or title is conveyed thereunto is by "promise." 3. The persons unto whom this inheritance is designed, are the "called." 4. The obstacle which stood in the way of their enjoyment of this inheritance was their "transgressions." 5. That this obstacle might be removed, and the inheritance enjoyed, God made a "new covenant,’’ because none of the sacrifices under the first covenant, could expiate sins. 6. The ground of the efficacy of the "new covenant" unto this end was, that it had a Mediator, a great High Priest. 7. The means whereby the Mediator of the new covenant did expiate the sins against the first testament was by "death," and this of necessity, seeing that this new covenant, being also a "testament," required the death of the Testator. 8. The death of this Mediator has taken away sins by "the redemption of transgressions." Thus, the promise is sure unto all the seed.