OVERVIEWING the New Covenant, PART 2: The DEDICATION of the New Covenant
Just like the Himalayas, there are many peaks in the inauguration of the new covenant. But if the highest peak of the Himalayan range is Mount Everest, the greatest and most important event in the inauguration of the new covenant is the death of Christ. On the night in which He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus sat to eat the Passover with His disciples; and after breaking the bread, Jesus took a cup; and after giving thanks, He gave it to them, saying: “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28). There are at least three things that we can take away from this passage:
1) First, Jesus is making it clear that His blood is the INAUGURATION of the new covenant. We know this because of the context. When He utters these words, Jesus is pointing us back to another passage of Scripture. In Exodus 24:8, after God had declared His covenant to Israel, we're told that Moses took some of the blood of the calves and the goats, and “sprinkled it on the people, and said, 'Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you. . .'” And what was happening in Exodus 24:8? Scripture tells us later this was the inauguration of the old covenant (Hebrews 9:18). In other words, it wasn't just any ordinary sacrifice—this was the blood that inaugurated the entirety of the old covenant administration. And this is the passage Jesus is quoting. The only difference is that whereas Moses had said, “this is the blood of the covenant”, Jesus now declares, “this is My blood of the covenant. . .” As Jesus gave the cup to His disciples, He was telling them: What I'm doing now with My blood is the fulfillment of what was being pictured then with the blood of the calves and the goats. That was the shadow—but this is the substance. For indeed, that blood did serve to inaugurate the old covenant. But as Jesus shared the Passover with His disciples that night, He was inaugurating something even greater: He declares, “This cup. . .is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:20).1
2) Secondly, Jesus is clearly declaring that His blood is a PROPITIATION for our sins. Christ says to His disciples in Matthew 26:27-28: “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” We mentioned that the first part of what Jesus says here is a reference to Exodus 24:8, where Moses takes the blood of the covenant and sprinkles it on the people. But why did Moses do this? Hebrews 9 explains that this blood represented the need for and the provision of atonement, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (v22); and it's for this reason that “even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood” (9:18). But if “the first covenant” was inaugurated with the blood of atonement, then much more “the second”, for the blood of the old covenant was merely a “copy” of God's true provision of atonement that would come through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:23ff). Jesus' blood would be shed as a propitiation for our sins. And this is what the Lord continues to emphasize in the second part of what He shares with His disciples; for He tells them that His blood “is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (v28). The imagery of “pouring out” is the same language used in the sacrifices of the Old Testament, when the priest would pour out the blood of the offering at the base of the altar (cf. Leviticus 4:7; 8:15). In the same way that the blood of those Old Testament sacrifices was poured out, so too,Jesus is saying, His blood was to be poured out; and it would be poured out “for forgiveness of sins.” What Christ is sharing here with His disciples is the very same truth we've already encountered many times before: Forgiveness happens through atonement. Jesus' atoning blood is what results in forgiveness of sins.2
3) Thirdly, Jesus is emphasizing the necessity of PARTICIPATION in His blood. We've seen that the words of Christ here in Matthew 26:27-28 are a reference to the inauguration of the old covenant back in Exodus 24:8. Well, there's one last thing we can note about this passage in Exodus: Not only is this passage unique because it's the inauguration of the old covenant; but it's also unique because of what Moses does with the blood of the sacrifice. We read in Exodus 24:8: “So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people. . .” This is the only occurrence in the entire Old Testament when the blood of a sacrifice is sprinkled on the worshippers. And so, not only is Christ connecting His death with the reality of propitiation—He's also connecting it with the necessity of participation. There must be a personal participation in the blood of Jesus for us to share in its benefits. Christ himself seems to echo the same truth when He gives His disciples the cup, saying, “Drink from it, all of you” (v27).
Now, in one sense, there's an external participation that all God's people collectively share. Just as all the worshippers in the old covenant were sealed with blood under Moses, so too, all God's people in the new covenant are sealed through their participation in the body and blood of the Lord. Indeed, it seems that the Lord's Supper, now, in the new covenant, serves the same function as the sprinkling of the blood did under Moses in the old covenant administration. But there's also a word of warning here. The whole nation was sprinkled under Moses; indeed, if the blood of the old covenant was like a sacrament, they all partook. Paul tells us they “were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink. . .Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). The author of Hebrews has a similar warning for us in the new covenant, for he speaks of the punishment of those who have “trampled under foot the Son of God” and regard as unclean “the blood of the covenant” by which they were “sanctified” (Hebrews 10:29). How can one prove to be an unbeliever who has been “sanctified” by Christ's blood? Because they were sprinkled outwardly—but never inwardly. They were sealed with blood sacramentally—but never savingly. They were under the realm of the covenant—but never embraced the reality. So then, when Jesus tells His disciples to drink of the cup, He's urging us to partake of the reality the sacrament only represents.3
1 Duncan says of Matthew 26:27-28: “this phrase, 'this is my blood of the covenant' (to haima mou tes diathekes), recalls the words of the sacrificial inauguration of the synoptic covenant recorded in Exodus 24:8. Moses inaugurating the covenant at Sinai speaks words almost identical. . .Here, Moses sacrificed young bulls, and after reading the book of the covenant in the presence of the people, he sprinkled the blood of these slaughtered beasts on the people, declaring that sprinkled blood, to be the blood of the covenant. Thus, the covenant was ratified. In Matthew's narrative, then, the significance of the cup, or its contents, that which it is setting forth. . .is relating. . .to the blood sprinkled in ratification of the Mosaic Covenant.” Ainsworth writes of Exodus 24:9: “Thus the first covenant (or testament) was not dedicated without blood (as the apostle observes in Hebrews 9:18-23), and the patterns of heavenly things were purified by the blood of these sacrifices; signifying that Christ by his death should sanctify himself for his people, and them unto himself, by the blood of a better covenant (John 17:19; Hebrews 9:13-14; 1 Peter 1:2). . .Thus the sacrament of the Old Covenant, confirmed by the blood of beasts, had a resemblance unto the New Covenant, established upon better promises, and confirmed by the blood of Christ.” And Calvin notes on Exodus 24:5: “This offering. . .comprised in it a ratification of the Covenant. . .for, in order to increase the sanctity and security of covenants, they have in all ages. . .been accompanied with sacrifices. To this end Moses, the victims being slain, pours half the blood upon the altar, and keeps half in basins to sprinkle the people, that by this symbol the Covenant might be ratified, whereof he was the mediator and surety. . .[T]he case of this sacrifice was peculiar; for God desired the Jews to be reminded of the one solid confirmation of the Covenant, which He made with them; as if He had openly shown that it would then only be ratified and effectual, when it should be sealed with blood. . .” And again: “The sum is, that the blood was, as it were, the medium whereby the covenant was confirmed and established. . .Hence we gather that the covenant of gratuitous adoption was made with the ancient people unto eternal salvation, since it was sealed with the blood of Christ in type and shadow. . .For this reason Christ in the Holy Supper commends His blood as the seal of the New Covenant. . .for it is obvious that Christ compares with the figure [Exodus 24] the truth which was manifested in Himself. . .” The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible says on Exodus 24:8: “Jesus proclaimed the fulfillment of this symbolism when he offered the cup at the supper, saying, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).” And the ESV Study Bible says on Hebrews 9:18-21: “[T]he Mosaic covenant also began with blood. The Mosaic covenant-initiation ceremony (Exodus 24:3-8) is recalled in Hebrews 9:19-20).” And again on Hebrews 9:23: “Covenantal structure, and the need for purification, requires an inaugurating sacrifice. Here the focus is on the purification of the place of holy worship. The lesser copies (IE, the Mosaic tabernacle and vessels) are patterned after greater heavenly realities (which represent the very presence of God), and these heavenly realities require a greater purification sacrifice (the blood of Jesus).” On the difference between Matthew and Luke, Ligon Duncan notes: “Luke identifies the cup with the new covenant. Matthew [and] Mark take you to Exodus 24, while Luke identifies the cup with the new covenant. . .looking back to Jeremiah 31, verses 31-34.” When you put them together, it seems they are stressing two aspects of the same truth: Matthew emphasizes the fact that Jesus' death was a covenantal inauguration; Luke is emphasizing the covenant His death inaugurated is the new covenant.
2 On the connection of atonement between Jesus' words and Exodus 24:8, Ligon Duncan says: “This explicit connection between Jesus' blood and the blood sprinkling at Sinai points to an understanding of Jesus' death as a covenantal sacrifice. . .You see the richness of Jesus' words now. What is He doing? He is giving a pre-explanation of what is going to start happening on the next day to his disciples. . .[Also,] in Matthew's [account] alone, we find the phrase, 'for forgiveness of sins,' (eis aphesin hamartion), which serves to indicate the purpose of the shedding of the blood of the covenant, and perhaps suggestive of Isaiah 52:15, or of Jeremiah 31:34. Both passages, of course, connect the covenant idea. . .Here again we have a connection between the covenant idea and the forgiveness of sins.” The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible likewise notes: “The blood dashed on the altar signified God's acceptance of this as a covenant offering and thus of the covenant with Israel through the blood of atonement.” (on Exodus 24:6). And again: “The people were sprinkled with 'the blood of the covenant,' the blood that put the covenant into effect. . .The blood signified cleansing from sin so that the people could enter into the covenant. It also marked the covenant relationship as accomplished only through atonement (Hebrews 9:21-22). . . ” (on Exodus 24:8). On the significance of Jesus' language of “pouring out”, Robertson writes: “The 'pouring out' (ekkheo) of Christ's blood reflects the sacrificial language of the Old Testament, and the process by which the curses of the covenant were heaped on a substitutionary victim.” (p144). Robertson elaborates further on ekkheo with a footnote, saying: “Note the usage of the term in the Septuagint in relation to Israel's sacrificial system as found in Leviticus 4:7,12,18,30,34; 8:15; 9:9; 17:4,13.” Ligon Duncan also sees a connection between Jesus' language of “pouring out” and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, writing: “It has been suggested that this is a word of explanation, reminiscent of Isaiah 53:12 ['because He poured out Himself to death']. . .This points to the eminent vicarious death that Jesus by which Jesus would establish the covenant.” Finally, we could also say a few words here on the meaning of 'diatheke'' in Hebrews 9:16-17: Though it's disputed as to whether these verses are referring to a “covenant” or a “testament”, it does seem that the surrounding context should inform how we interpret these two verses. And if we look to the surrounding context, the author is clearly speaking of a covenant—not a testament. As Robertson notes: “The crucial factor for deciding between these possible meanings of the term in Hebrews 9 is the relation of death to diatheke throughout the passage. The connection between death and a 'last will and testament' is obvious. . .Yet death is as inseparably related to 'covenant' as to 'testament'. . .both 'testament' and 'covenant' involve death. Death activates a testament. Death inaugurates and vindicates a covenant. Clearly the opening verse in this section of Hebrews is concerned with the relation of death to 'covenant'. . .A death has taken place for the redemption of transgressions committed under the first covenant [v15]. . .This verse speaks of Christ's death as the factor which removes transgressions committed under the first diatheke. In no way does the death of a 'testator' remove transgressions committed against a last will and testament. The death of a testator is not a vicarious, substitutionary death. But the death of Christ the maker of the new covenant provided redemption from the curses incurred due to the violation of the old covenant. Diatheke in Hebrews 9:15 refers clearly to 'covenant,' not 'testament.'” (pp138-140). And then speaking of verses 18-20, which are immediately subsequent to the passage in question, Robertson says: “'Blood' and 'diatheke' in these verses recall the inauguration ceremony of Sinai. By sprinkling the blood, Moses did not institute a last will and testament. God did not die in order to activate a 'will' for Israel. Instead, the ceremony at Sinai instituted a covenantal relationship. The sprinkled 'blood of the covenant' solemnly consecrated God and Israel to one another for life and death. The 'blood' of Sinai as discussed in Hebrews 9:18-20 represented a covenantal rather than a testamentary arrangement. Death sealed the covenant.” (p141). This is confirmed by what the author of Hebrews goes on to assert in verse 22 where still in the context of the inauguration of the old covenant, he declares, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” So, the context surrounding verses 16-17 clearly supports a rendering of diatheke as “covenant.” But even more than just the evidence of the immediate context, the whole section of vv15-24ff seems to be presenting a particular argument: This section is telling us that we ought to interpret what is happening in the second covenant (the new covenant) precisely by what happened in the first (the old covenant). This is especially clear in 9:18 and 9:23. The author of Hebrews is telling us in these verses that what was happening in Exodus 24:8 with the old covenant is a type or shadow or copy of what Jesus was going to accomplish for us in the new covenant. In other words, the two things are analogous. They worked in the same way. Exodus 24 was the fore-picture; Matthew 26 is the fulfillment. So we go back again to Robertson's question: Was the beast who was slaughtered and his blood then sprinkled on the people in Exodus 24:8 a testament? Was that how his blood functioned? Did the beast simply happen to die, and the people somehow became the inheritors of all that belonged to this beast, so that now that the beast is dead they may inherit all the possessions of the beast? Of course not. It was a sacrifice of atonement. The beast didn't just die; he was sacrificed, and he was sacrificed as an offering of atonement, so that through the blood of atonement sprinkled on the people they might receive forgiveness of sins. Well, if Hebrews 9 is telling us the two covenants worked the same way, we have our answer: As it was a covenantal sacrifice in the old covenant—so it is in the new. If we take diatheke as “covenant” in vv16-17, we could read it in this way: “For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be represented the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only over dead bodies. . .” It is true that the natural reading of the text alone would give preference to a rendering of “last will and testament” in vv16-17. But we should also take into account the immediate context and flow of thought of the passage, as well as the fact that, “Of the 31 times in which the term [diatheke] occurs outside these two verses, 31 times the word means covenant rather than testament.” (Robertson, p141).
3 As Ligon Duncan notes: “It has been pointed out, that the narrative of Exodus 24 is the only sacrificial ritual recorded in the Old Testament in which the blood was sprinkled on the people. . .It is not, therefore, with an ordinary sacrifice that Jesus connects His death, but with a unique atoning sacrifice that emphasizes the ultimate involvement of those who participate.” On Hebrews 10:29, The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible notes: “This description indicates that apostates were counted among the people of the covenant. . .and thus were set apart by the blood of Christ—but in a non-saving way.” And Calvin says of the reference to the blood of the covenant, “The apostle. . .alludes to the ancient rite of sprinkling, which availed not to real sanctification, but was only its shadow or image.” And David Dickson, in asking of Hebrews 10:29,“But how can the reprobate be said to be sanctified by the blood of the covenant?”, answers in this way: “I answer, there is a sanctification to the purifying of the flesh, and a sanctification to the purifying of the conscience. . .The sanctification, external, to the purifying of the flesh, consists in the man's separation from the world, and dedication unto God's service, by calling and covenant, common to all the members of the visible church; and it is forcible thus far, as to bring a man into credit and estimation as a saint, before men, and unto the common privileges of the church; whereupon, as men, so God also speaks unto him, and of him, as one of his people, and deals with him, in his external dispensation, as with one of his own people. In this sense all the congregation of Israel, and every one of them, is called holy, yea Cora also, and his followers (Numbers 16:3). . .For as the blood of Christ has virtue to cleanse the conscience, and renew the soul which comes unto it truly and spiritually, so it must have force to do what which is less; that is, purify the flesh, and external condition, of the man who comes unto it outwardly only, as the types did under the law; whereupon, a hypocrite in the Christian church must be accounted one of the congregation of the saints. . .Or we may say more shortly, there is a sanctification by consecration. . .and a sanctification by inhabitation of the Holy Spirit. . .”