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Hebrews 8:13

“In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

Continuing our study of Hebrews 8 and its use of Jeremiah 31:31–34 to prove that the new covenant has come in Christ, we now need to consider the sense in which it has not yet come. We are so used to saying that we live under the new covenant that it might seem strange to speak as if the new covenant has in some sense not yet arrived. Yet, that seems to be what the author of Hebrews assumes. For instance, today’s passage speaks of the old covenant as “becoming obsolete and growing old” (Heb. 8:13). These verbs are in the present tense, indicating that the old covenant is in the process of disappearing but has not yet done so fully, and thus that the new covenant is not yet fully realized. At the very least, this was so at the time of the writing of the letter to the Hebrews in the first century.

Another indication that the new covenant promises have not been fully realized can be seen in the promises attached to it. As indicated in Hebrews 8:11, the new covenant will ultimately eliminate the need to teach people to know the Lord, for all will know the Lord. However, the author of Hebrews clearly views himself as a teacher who lives under the new covenant administration (e.g., 5:11–6:3). Furthermore, other passages indicate that God has appointed teachers for the new covenant church (Eph. 4:11–16). So, it is clear that the promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31–34 has not yet been fully realized. We will need teachers until Christ returns to consummate His kingdom.

For these reasons, it is proper to speak of the new covenant as having been inaugurated but not yet consummated. Christ has sacrificed Himself, atoning for sin fully and finally such that God no longer holds sin against His people (Heb. 8:12; 10:1–18). The gospel is spreading universally, so people from the least to the greatest are coming to know the Lord (8:11). In fact, we know the Lord in a way that the people who lived under the old covenant era did not, for the incarnation of the only begotten Son of God and the outpouring of the Spirit of God mean that we know the one God as the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We know God as the perfect triune fellowship of love who enables us to participate in that love without becoming God ourselves (John 17). Yet there is still more to come. We cling to the Lord Jesus Christ so that we will inherit the fullness of the new covenant when He returns to consummate His kingdom.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Because the new covenant has not been consummated, it is possible to belong to the new covenant outwardly by profession of faith and baptism and yet not have the substance of the covenant, which belongs only to those who trust in Christ alone. This is why we must exhort one another continually to trust in Christ. We want everyone who professes faith in Jesus to actually possess it in their hearts.

For Further Study
  • Isaiah 2:1–4
  • Ezekiel 36:22–38
  • Acts 1:6–11
  • Hebrews 3:7–4:13

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