An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The New Testament
Having affirmed (Heb. 9:12, 14) that the blood of Christ is the means of the believer’s redemption, in verse 15, the apostle proceeds to make further proof of this basic and vital truth. His argument here is taken from the design and object of Christ’s priesthood, which was to confirm the covenant God had made with His people, and which could only be done by blood. First, he affirms that the Savior was "the Mediator of the new testament." Many functions were undertaken by Him. Just as one type could not set forth all that the Lord Jesus did and suffered, so no single office could display all the relations which He sustained and all the benefits He procured for us. That which is done by a prophet, by a priest, by a king, by a surety, by a mediator, by a husband, by a father, that and more has been done by Christ. And the more dearly we observe in Scripture the many undertakings of Christ for us, as seen in His varied relations, the more will He be endeared to our hearts, and the more will faith be strengthened.
Christ’s undertaking to be a "Mediator" both procured a covenant to pass between God and men, and also engaged Himself for the performance thereof on both parts. This could only be by a full satisfaction being rendered to Divine justice, by the shedding of blood infinitely valuable as His was. To assure His people of their partaking of the benefits of God’s covenant, the cross of Christ has turned that covenant into a testament, so that the conditions of the covenant on God’s part (its requirements: namely, perfect obedience rendered to His law, and thus "everlasting righteousness’’ being brought in: Daniel 9:24; and full satisfaction being taken by the law for the sins of His people) might be so many legacies, which being ratified by the death of the Testator, none might disannul.
Unspeakably blessed as are the truths expressed (so freely) above, there is another which is still more precious for faith to apprehend and rest on, and that is, that behind all offices (so to speak), lying at the foundation of the whole dispensation of God’s grace toward His people, is the mystical oneness of Christ and His Church: a legal oneness, which ultimates by the Spirit’s work in a vital union, so that Christ is the Head and believers are the members of one Person (1 Cor. 12:12, 13). This, and this alone, constituted the just ground for God to impute to Christ all the sins of His people, and to impute to them the righteousness of Christ for their justification of life. What Christ did in obeying the law is reckoned to them as though that obedience had been performed by them; and in like manner, what they deserved on account of their sins was charged to and endured by Him, as though they themselves had suffered it: see 2 Corinthians 5:21.
The first spring of the union between Christ and His Church lay in that eternal compact between the Father and the Son respecting the salvation of His people contemplated as fallen in Adam. In view of the human nature which He was to assume, the Lord Christ was "predestinated" or "foreordained" (1 Pet. 1:20) unto grace and glory, and that by virtue of the union of flesh unto His Godhead. This grace and glory of the God-man was the exemplary cause and pattern of our predestination: Romans 8:29, Philippians 3:21. It was also the cause and means of the communicating of all grace and glory unto us, for we were "chosen in Him before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). Christ was thus elected (Isa. 42:1) as Head of the Church, His mystical body. All the elect of God were then committed unto Him, to be delivered from sin and death, and brought unto the enjoyment of God: John 17:6, Revelation 1:5, 6.
In the prosecution of this design of God, and to effect the accomplishment of the "everlasting covenant" (Heb. 13:20), Christ undertook to be the "Surety" of that covenant (Heb. 7:22), engaging to answer for all the liabilities of His people and to discharge all their legal responsibilities. Yet was it as Priest that Christ acted as Surety: God’s "Priest," our "Surety." That is to say, all the activities of Christ were of a sacerdotal character, having God for their immediate object; but as these activities were all performed on our behalf, He was a Surety or Sponsor for us also. As the "Surety" of the covenant, Christ undertook to discharge all the debts of those who are made partakers of its benefits. As our Surety He also merited and procured from God the Holy Spirit, to communicate to His people all needful supplies of grace to make them new creatures, which enables them to yield obedience to God from a new principle of spiritual life, and that faithfully unto the end.
When considering the administration of the "everlasting covenant’’ in time, we contemplate the actual application of the grace, benefits and privileges of it unto those for whose sakes it was devised and drawn up. For this the death of the Mediator was required, for only through His blood-shedding is the whole grace of the covenant made effectual unto us. This it is which is affirmed in Hebrews 9:15, and which we considered at length in our last article. In the passage which is now to be before us, the apostle does two things: first, he refers to a well known fact which is everywhere recognized among men, namely, that a will or testament requires the death of the testator to give it validity. Second, he refers to an Old Testament type which exemplifies the principle which he is here setting before us.
"For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth" (verses 16, 17). That which is found in verses 16-23 is really of the nature of a parenthesis, brought in for the purpose of showing why it was necessary for the incarnate Son to die. In verse 24 the apostle returns to his proofs for the superiority of the ministry of Christ over Aaron’s. What we have in verses 16, 17, is brought in to show both the need for and the purpose of the death of Christ, the argument being drawn from the character and design of that covenant of which He is the Mediator. Because that covenant was also to be a "testament" it was confirmed by the death of the Testator. Appeal is made to the only use of a will or testament among men.
The method by which the apostle here demonstrates the necessity of Christ’s death as He was "the mediator of the new testament’’ is not merely from the signification of the word "diatheke" (though we must not lose sight of its force), but as he is speaking principally of the two "covenants" (i.e., the two forms under which the "everlasting covenant" has been administered), it is the affinity which there is between a solemn covenant, and a testament, that he has respect unto. For it is to be carefully noted that the apostle speaks not of the death of Christ merely as it was a death, which is all that is required of a "testament" as such, without any consideration of the nature of the testator’s death; but he speaks of it also (and primarily) as it was a sacrifice by the shedding of His blood (verses 12, 14, 18-23), which belongs to a Divine covenant, and is in no way required by a "testament." Thus, we see again the needs-be for retaining the double meaning and force of the Greek word here.
There has been much needless wrangling over the Divine person alluded to under the word "Testator," some insisting it is Christ, some the Father, others arguing the impossibility of the latter because the Father has never died. We believe that, in this case, Saphir was right when he said, "The testator is, properly speaking, God; for we are God’s heirs; but it is God in Christ." Had he referred the reader to 2 Corinthians 5:19 his statement had been given scriptural confirmation. The "everlasting covenant" or Covenant of Grace has the nature of a "testament" from these four considerations or facts. First, it proceeded from the will of God: He freely made it (Heb. 6:17). Second, it contained various legacies or gifts: to Christ, God bequeathed the elect as His inheritance (Deut. 32:9, Psalm 16:6, Luke 22:29); to the elect themselves, that they should be joint-heirs with Him (Rom. 8:17, Revelation 3:21). Third, it is unalterable (Gal. 3:15), "ordered in all things and sure" (2 Sam. 23:5); having been duly witnessed to (1 John 5:7), hence, being of the nature of a "testament" there are no stipulations for men to fulfill (Gal. 3:18). Fourth, the death of Christ has secured the administration of it.
A deed is not valid without a seal; a will cannot be probated until the legatee dies, nor were God’s covenants with men (the historical adumbrations of the "everlasting covenant") ratified except by blood-shedding. Thus it was with His covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:9, 18); thus it was with His covenant with Israel at Sinai (Ex. 24:6). Thus, unto the confirmation of a "testament" there must be the death of the testator; unto the ratification of a "covenant" the blood of a sacrifice was required. Thereby does the apostle prove conclusively the necessity for the sacrificial death of Christ as the Mediator, both as the Mediator of a "covenant" and as the Mediator of a "testament": for through His sacrificial death, both the promises contained in the "covenant" and the bequeathments of the "testament," are made irrevocably sure to all His seed. We trust, then that we have been enabled to clear up the great difficulty which the word "diatheke" has caused so many, and shown that it has a double meaning and force in this passage.
It remains for us to point out that the Old Testament supplies us with a most striking type which blessedly illustrates the principle enunciated in this 16th verse. But note first of all that verse 15 opens with "For" and that this comes right after the mention of "the Mediator of the new testament," and the promise of "eternal inheritance" in verse 15. Now the "mediator" of the "Old Testament" was Moses, and it was not until his death, though immediately after it, that Israel entered their inheritance, the land of Canaan! Looked at from the standpoint of God’s government, the death of Moses was because of his sin (Num. 20:10-12); but considered in relation to his official position, as "the servant over the house of God," it had another and deeper meaning as Deuteronomy 3:26 shows, "the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes"—how blessedly did this foreshadow the reason why God’s wrath was visited upon Christ: Christ, as Moses, must die before the inheritance could be ours.
In verse 17 it is not of the making of a testament which is referred to, but its execution: its efficacy depends solely on the testator’s death. The words "is of force" mean, is firm and cannot be annulled; it must be executed according to the mind of the one who devised it. The reason why it is of "no strength" during his lifetime, is because it is then subject to alteration, according to the pleasure of him who made it. All the blessings of "grace and glory" were the property of Christ, for He was "appointed Heir of all things" (Heb. 1:2): but in His death, He made a bequeathment of them unto all the elect. Another analogy between a human testament and the testamentary character of Christ’s death is that, an absolute grant is made without any conditions. So is the kingdom of heaven bequeathed to all the elect, so that nothing can defeat His will. Whatever there is in the Gospel which prescribes conditions, that belongs to it as it is a "covenant" and not as a "testament." Finally, the testator assigns the time when his heirs shall be admitted into the actual possession of his goods; so too has Christ determined the season when each shall enter both into grace and glory.
Perhaps a brief word should be added by way of amplification to the bare statement made above respecting the conditions which the Gospel prescribes unto those who are the beneficiaries of Christ’s "testament." Repentance and faith are required by the Gospel; yet, strictly speaking they are not "conditions" of our entering into the enjoyment of Christ’s gifts. Faith is a means to receive and partake of the things promised, repentance is a qualification whereby we may know that we are the persons to whom such promises belong. Nevertheless, it is to be remembered that He who has made the promises works in His elect these graces of repentance and faith: Acts 5:31, Philippians 1:29.
"It is a great and gracious condescension in the Holy Spirit to give encouragement and confirmation unto our faith, by a representation of the truth and reality of spiritual things, in those which are temporal and agreeing with them in their general nature, whereby they are presented unto the common understandings of men. This way of proceeding the apostle calls, a speaking ‘after the manner of men’ (Gal. 3:15). Of the same kind were all the parables used by our Savior; for it is all one whether these representations be taken from things real, or from those which, according unto the same rule of reason and right, are framed on purpose for that end" (John Owen).
"Whereupon neither the first was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission" (verses 18-22).
In these verses the apostle is still pressing upon the Hebrews the necessity for the blood-shedding of Christ. Their national history witnessed to the fact that when God entered into covenant with their fathers, that covenant was confirmed by solemn sacrifice. In the verses upon which we are now to comment, the apostle is not merely proving that the old covenant or testament was confirmed with blood, for had that been his only object, he could have dispatched it in very few words; rather does he also declare what was the use of blood in sacrifices on all occasions under the law, and thereby he demonstrates the use and efficacy of Christ’s blood as unto the ends of the new covenant. The ends of the blood under the old covenant were two, namely, purification and pardon, both of which were confirmed in the expiation of sin. Unless the main design of the Spirit in these verses be steadily kept in view, we miss the deeper meaning of many of their details.
What has just been said above, supplies the explanation of what has seemed a problem to some, namely that in these verses the apostle mentions five or six details which are not found in the historical narrative of Exodus 24. But the Holy Spirit is not here limiting our view to Exodus 24, but gathers up what is found in various places of the law; and that, because He not only designed to prove the dedication of the covenant by blood, but also to show the whole use of the blood under the law, as unto purification and remission of sin. And He does this with the purpose of declaring the virtue and efficacy of the blood of Christ under the new testament, whereunto He makes an application of all the things in the verses which follow. The "Moreover" at the beginning of verse 21 is plain intimation that the Spirit is here contemplating something in addition to that which is found in Exodus 24.
Verse 18. The opening word is usually rendered "therefore" or "wherefore": it denotes the drawing of an inference; it confirms a general rule by a special instance. In verse 16 the general rule is stated; now, says the apostle, think it not strange that the new testament was confirmed by the death of the Testator, for this is so necessary that, the first one also was confirmed in the same manner; and that, not only by death, but not "without blood," which was required for the ratification of a solemn covenant. That to which reference is made is the "first" testament or covenant. Here the apostle makes clear what he intended by the first or old covenant, on which he had discoursed at large in chapter 8: it was the covenant made with Israel at Horeb. Just a few words on the character of it.
Its terms had all the nature of a formal covenant. These were the things written in the book (Ex. 24:4, 7) which were an epitome of the whole law, as contained in Exodus 20-23. The revelation of its terms were made by Jehovah Himself, speaking with awful voice from the summit of Sinai: Exodus chapters 19, 20. Following the fundamental rule of the covenant, as contained in the Ten Commandments, were other statutes and rites, given for the directing of their walking with God. The same was solemnly delivered to Israel by Moses, and proposed unto them for their acceptation. Upon their approbation of it, the book was read in the hearing of all the people after it had been duly sprinkled with the blood of the covenant (Ex. 24:7). Thereupon, for the first time, Jehovah was called "The God of Israel" (Ex. 24:10), and that by virtue of the covenant. This formed the foundation of His consequent dealings with them: all His chastening judgments upon Israel were due to their breaking of His covenant.
While there is a contrast, sharp and clear, between the Old Testament and the new, yet it should not be overlooked that there was also that which bound them together. This was ably expressed by Adolph Saphir: "The promise given to Abraham, and not to Moses, was not superseded or forgotten in the giving of the law. When God dealt with Israel in the wilderness, He gave them the promise that they should be a peculiar treasure unto Him above all people: ‘for all the earth is Mine’; and that they should possess the land as an inheritance (Ex. 19:5, 6; 23:30; Deuteronomy 15:4). Based upon this promise, and corresponding with the Divine election and favor, is the law which God gave to His people. As He had chosen and redeemed them so that they were to be a holy people, and to walk before Him, even as in the Ten Commandments the gospel of election and redemption came first: ‘I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of Egypt.’ Hence this covenant or dispensation, although it was a covenant, not of grace and Divine gifts and enablings, but of works, was connected with and based upon redemption, and it was dedicated, as the apostle emphatically says, not without blood.
"Both the book, or record of the covenant, and all the people, were sprinkled with the blood of typical sacrifices. For without blood is no remission of sins, and the promises of God can only be obtained through atonement. But we know that this is a figure of the one great Sacrifice, and that therefore all the promises and blessings under the old dispensation, underlying and sustaining it, were through the prospective death of the true Mediator. When therefore the spiritual Israelite was convinced by the law of sin, both as guilt and as a condition of impurity and strengthlessness, he was confronted by the promise of the inheritance, which always was of grace, unconditional and sure, and in a righteous and holy manner through expiation."
Verse 19. The one made use of for the dedication of the covenant was Moses. On God’s part he was immediately called unto this employment: Exodus 3. On the part of the people, he was desired and chosen to transact all things between God and them, because they were not able to bear the effects of His immediate presence: Exodus 19:19, Deuteronomy 5:22-27; and this choice of a spokesman on their part, God approved (verse 27). Thus Moses became in a general way a "mediator" between God and men in the giving of the law (Gal. 3:19). Thereby we are shown that there can be no covenant between God and sinful men, but in the hands of a Mediator, for man has neither meetness, merits, nor ability to be an undertaker of the terms of God’s covenant in his own person.
Moses spake "every precept unto the people." This intimates the particular character of the Old Testament. It consisted primarily of commandments of obedience (Eph. 2:15), promising no assistance for the performance of them. The "new testament" is of another nature: it is one of promises, and although it also has precepts requiring obedience, yet is it (as a covenant) wholly founded in the promise, whereby strength and assistance for the performance of that obedience are given to us. Moses’ reading "every precept unto the people" emphasizes the fact that all the good things they were to receive by virtue of the covenant, depended on their observance of all that was commanded them; for a curse was denounced against every one that "continued not in all things written in the law to do them" (Deut. 27:26). Obviously, such a "covenant" was never ordained for the saving of sinners: its insufficiency for that end is what the apostle demonstrates in the sequel.
We are again indebted to the exposition of John Owen for much of the above, and now give in condensed form some of his observations on the contents of verse 19. Here, for the first time, was any part of God’s Word committed to writing. This book of the law was written that it might be read to all the people: it was not to be restricted to the priests, as containing mysteries unlawful to ,be divulged. It was written and read in the language which the people understood and spake, which condemns Rome’s use of the Latin in her public services. Again; God never required the observance of any rites or duties of worship, without a previous warrant from His Word. How thankful should we be for the written Word!
That which Moses performed on this occasion was to sprinkle the blood. Exodus 24:6 informs us that he took "half of the blood" and sprinkled it "on the altar" (on which was the book); the other half on the people. The one was God’s part; the other theirs. Thereby the mutual agreement of Jehovah and the people was indicated. Typically, this foreshadowed the twofold efficacy of Christ’s blood, to make salvation God-wards and to save man-wards; or, to the remission of our sins unto justification, and the purification of our persons unto sanctification. The "scarlet wool," probably bound around the "hyssop" (which was a common weed), was employed as a sprinkler, as that which served to apply the blood in the basons upon the people; "water" being mixed with the blood to keep it fluid and aspersible. In like manner, the communication of the benefits of Christ’s death unto sanctification, is called the "sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:2). To avail us, the blood must not only be "shed," but "sprinkled."
The mingling of the "water" with the "blood" was to represent the "blood and water" which flowed from the pierced side of the Savior (John 19:34,35), the spiritual "mystery" and meaning of which is profound and blessed. In 1 John 5:6 the Holy Spirit has particularly emphasized the fact that the Christ came "by water and blood." He came not only to make atonement for our sins by His blood that we might be justified, but also to sprinkle us with the efficacy of His blood in the communication of the Spirit unto sanctification, which is compared unto "water": see John 7:38, 39, Titus 3:5. The application of the blood to the "book" of the covenant was an intimation that atonement could be made by blood for the sins against its precepts, and the application of the "water" to it told of its purity. The sprinkler pointed to the humanity of Christ, through which all grace is communicated to us: the "scarlet wool" speaking of His personal glory (Dan. 5:7 etc.), and the "hyssop," the meanest of plant-life (1 Kings 4:33), being a figure of His lowly outward appearance.
Verse 20. In these words Moses reminded Israel of the foundation of their acceptance of the covenant, which foundation was the authority of God requiring them so to do; the word "enjoined" also emphasized the nature of the covenant itself: it consisted principally not of promises which had been given to them, but of "precepts" which called for hearty obedience. By quoting here these words of Moses "this is the blood of the testament," the apostle proves that not only death, but a sacrificial death, was required in order to the consecration and establishment of the first covenant. The blood was the confirmatory sign, the token between God and the people of their mutual engagements in that covenant. Thus did God from earliest times teach His people, by type and shadow, the supreme value of the blood of His Son. These words of Moses were plainly alluded to by the Savior in the institution of His "supper": "This is My blood of the new testament" (Matthew 26:28) i.e., this represents My blood, by the shedding of which the new testament is confirmed.
Verse 21. The apostle now reminds the Hebrews that, not only was the Old Testament itself dedicated with blood, but that also all the ways and means of solemn worship were purified by the same. His purpose in bringing in this additional fact was to prove that not only was the blood of Christ in sacrifice necessary, but also to demonstrate its efficacy in the removing of sins and thereby qualifying sinners to be worshippers of the most holy God. The historical reference here is to what is found in Leviticus 16:14, 16, 18. The spiritual meaning of the tabernacle’s furniture being sprinkled with blood was at least twofold: first, in themselves those vessels were holy by God’s institution, yet in the use of them by polluted men, they became defiled, and needed purging. Second, to teach the Israelites and us that, the very means of grace which we use, are only made acceptable to God through the merits of Christ’s sacrifice.
What we have just sought to point out above, brings before us a most important and humbling truth. In all those things wherein we have to do with God, and whereby we approach unto Him, nothing but the blood of Christ and the Spirit’s application of it unto our consciences, gives us a gracious acceptance with Him. The best of our performances are defiled by the flesh; our very prayers and repentances are unclean, and cannot be received by God except as we plead before Him the precious blood of Christ. "The people were hereby taught that, God could not be looked to for salvation, nor rightly worshipped, except faith in every case looked to an intervening blood. For the majesty of God is justly to be dreaded by us, and the way to His presence is nothing to us but a dangerous labyrinth, until we know that He is pacified towards us through the blood of Christ, and that this blood affords to us a free access. All kinds of worship are then faulty and impure until, Christ cleanses them by the sprinkling of His blood . . . If this thought only came to our mind, that what we read is not written so much with ink as with the blood of Christ, that when the Gospel is preached, His sacred blood distils together with the voice, there would be far greater attention as well as reverence on our part" (John Calvin).
Verse 22. "By the law" signifies "according unto the law," that is, according to its institution and rule, in that way of faith and obedience which the people were obligated unto. This has been shown by the apostle in the verses preceding. His design being to prove both the necessity for the death of Christ and the efficacy of His blood unto the purging of sins, whereof the legal institutions were types. The qualifying "almost" takes into consideration the exceptions of "fire" (Num. 31:23) and "water" (Lev. 22:6, 7, etc.): but let it be carefully noted that these exceptions were of such things as wherein the worship of God was not immediately concerned, nor where the conscience was defiled; they were only of external pollutions, by things in their own nature indifferent, having nothing of sin in them; yet were they designed as warnings against things which did defile. The "almost" also takes note of the exception in Leviticus 5:11.
The last clause of verse 22 enunciates an axiom universally true, and in every age. The curse of the law was, and still is, "the soul that sinneth it shall die" (Ezek. 18:20). But whereas there is no man "that sinneth not" (Ecclesiastes 7:20), God, in His grace, provided that there should be a testification of the remission of sins, and that the curse of the law should not be immediately executed on them that sinned. This He did by allowing the people to make atonement for those sins by the blood of sacrifices: Leviticus 17:11. Thereby God made known two things. First, to the Israelites that, by the blood of animals there should be a political or temporal remission of their sins granted, so that they should not die under the sentence of that law which was the rule of government over their nation. Second, that a real spiritual and eternal forgiveness should be granted unto faith in the sacrifice of Christ, which was represented by the slain animals. The present application of this verse is that, no salvation is possible for any soul that rejects the sacrifice of Christ.