…”I will put my Spirit upon him, And he shall declare judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry aloud; Neither shall any one hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, And smoking flax shall he not quench, Till he send forth judgment unto victory.” (Matthew 12:18-20 ASV)
Toward the end of the “eschatological debacle” blog I recently posted, I wrote: “In some ways, the nature of the “new covenant” that began with Jesus is probably the most important reason of all to not look for an imminent tribulation or wrath on the earth.” I knew it was an important statement even as I typed it, and I feel compelled to look at it more closely. I get a bit wordy (big surprise, I know), but stick with me, because there’s some really good stuff at the end of this post.
As I began to look at what scripture says about the new covenant, it made sense to begin with Jesus’ own words, as recorded in Matthew 26:27-29 (WEB): “He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, “All of you drink it, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins.” I see three main things said about the new covenant here: 1). it was somehow associated with Jesus’ blood, 2). it secures “remission of sins,” and 3). it does so for “many.” Ok, that sounds neat, but what does it mean??!!
The book of Hebrews seems to have far more to say about Jesus’ blood and the new covenant than any other book in the Bible. This is surely because Hebrews was written specifically to Jews living in the first century, who were intimately familiar with the covenant of law and its blood sacrifices. I could quote dozens of verses from Hebrews alone about these things, but for the sake of space, let’s look at Hebrews 9:13-15, which is maybe the single best “summary” of the issue (my comments in blue):
“For if the (old covenant sacrifices such as) blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify to the cleanness of the flesh (a surface-level “cleanness” which had to be repeated over and over): how much more (incomparably more!) will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit (a spiritual offering, not merely a physical one) offered himself without defect to God (a perfect sacrifice), cleanse your conscience (a deeper, inward, permanent cleansing) from dead works (taking our awareness off of law-keeping as a means of righteousness) to serve the living God (in spirit and Truth)? For this reason he (Jesus) is the mediator (peacemaker, enforcer) of a new covenant, since a death has occurred for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, (here’s the reason): that those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (this inheritance is a position in the Kingdom of God as a son or daughter – one who is accepted, free, and is given authority). I believe the blood of Jesus was shed simply to fulfill the law’s requirement for blood, and because of Jesus’ eternal nature, it only needed to be offered once to provide a complete, permanent, deep cleansing, which the repeated sacrifices of the law were unable to do.
So what about “remission?” Remission seems to be one of those spiritual words which gets glossed over without really being understood. It’s translated from the Greek word aphesis, which comes from a root meaning roughly “to separate, to send away.” Aphesis is also sometimes translated “forgiveness,” but it’s deeper than just forgiveness; it’s a state of profound freedom which comes after a former bondage has been utterly broken and removed. In Christ, such a state of profound freedom is available right now to all men, though many don’t believe or understand what this means. So who or what was it that held God’s people in bondage? The scriptures are quite clear, the (now removed) agent of bondage over God’s people was the old covenant system of law, which empowered sin and brought spiritual death (1 Cor. 15:56, Romans 7:5, 8:2). The good news, which many religious people find hard to accept, is that Jesus’ blood has secured remission of sins – a complete removal of the old way of law-keeping, sin, and punishment from the equation of our lives!1 (see footnote 1 for more on this). I know there are a few verses that seem to say otherwise, but you have to read them in light of the new covenant (again, see footnote 1).
Here’s a “nutshell” version of the fuller argument which the author of Hebrews spends several chapters demonstrating:
Jesus embodied the eternal, spiritual realities which the temporary outward rituals of the law only symbolized (Galatians 3:23-26). His blood was shed once for all2 (see footnote 2) as a spiritual, eternal offering and sacrifice, thus ending the miserable Old Covenant cycle of attempted law-keeping, sin, wrath, and ineffective, temporary, repeated animal sacrifices. Because such an eternal offering has been made “once for all,”2 law and transgression (“sin”) are no longer concerns of God whatsoever(!), and all men may and should have an awareness, a consciousness, a mind or thoughts which are free (remitted) from law (do or don’t do) and self (I’m good, I’m bad, I’m I’m I’m…), and thus separated and free from guilt, shame, and condemnation. With an awareness free of these things, we can connect with God in spirit and Truth, partaking of His grace which will overcome all darkness and opposition. To fail to partake of such an offer would be worse than to break the law, because there is no other sacrifice than the “once for all” sacrifice of Christ. This is the subtle danger of law: it brings great self-awareness, producing either self-righteousness (I’m doing great!) or guilt, shame, and condemnation (I’m not doing what I should be!). Ironically, Christians become LESS like Jesus in their religious efforts to be like him, because they become more self-aware! This self-aware, performance mentality, which law feeds into, creates a relationship of servanthood, but the spirit creates sonship (I wrote about that more here).
The verse quoted at the beginning of this blog is actually an Old Testament prophecy which says Jesus would come and “send forth judgment unto victory.” That’s not an easily understood phrase, but maybe this helps: the word for “judgment” means “to make a distinction,” or “to decide.” What I believe “judgment unto victory” means is that God’s decision and declaration (judgment) for mankind, which was accomplished by His son, is that they have overwhelming victory over self-awareness, sin, condemnation, and fear, all of which are empowered by law. In Christ, these are replaced by freedom and the indwelling life of God’s spirit. God’s grace then naturally produces genuine inward love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. This is really good news to those who desire God and desire to see peace on earth! Our old nature isn’t gone, it’s just not part of the equation anymore, and a new nature begins to take root and grow as we are aware of it and heed it. I believe it’s not man’s bad behavior that prevents him from partaking of this freedom and life, but rather the “darkness” of the human mind/soul, which can manifest as blindness, ignorance or pride, and which often leads to religion. I’ve heard that fear is the foundation of all darkness, but I think a more accurate statement is that self-awareness is the foundation of all spiritual darkness, and that if God’s love is received through His spirit which has been poured out on all flesh in the new covenant, it will deal a death-blow to such self-obsession, and will eventually shut it out entirely if allowed to grow.
There’s so much I don’t know or understand, but I’m thankful for what I’m shown and I hope this has blessed someone. Thanks for reading. By the way, I plan to make a “part 2” of sorts sometime, which will look at the ramifications of the “new covenant” even after death!
1. (Hebrews 10:16-18): (God says): “This is the covenant that I will make with them: ‘After those days,’ says the Lord, ‘I will put my laws on their heart, I will also write them on their mind;'” then he says,”I will remember their sins and their iniquities no more.” Now where remission (forsaking, removing all thought or memory) of these is, there is no more offering for sin” (nothing left to “do” about sin, because it’s in a permanent, eternal “remission). (Hebrews 10:1-3, 9b-10): “For the law, having a shadow of the good to come, not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. Or else wouldn’t they have ceased to be offered, because the worshippers, having been once cleansed, would have had no more consciousness of sins?” But in those sacrifices there is a yearly reminder of sins. (“No more consciousness of sins” is entirely appropriate under the new covenant, though it was impossible before, partly due to the constant sacrifices bringing a reminder of sins). “…He (God) takes away the first (the old covenant), that he may establish the second (the new covenant), by which will (the new covenant actually expresses God’s will) we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Once for all means our sanctification is an unchangeable eternal fact, regardless of what we do or don’t do, because it’s something already accomplished by another on our behalf). (Hebrews 8:10-13): “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel. After those days,” says the Lord; “I will put my laws into their mind, I will also write them on their heart. I will be their God, and they will be my people. They will not teach every man his fellow citizen, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all will know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness. I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more.” In that he says, “A new covenant,” he has made the first old. But that which is becoming old and grows aged is near to vanishing away.” (Romans 7:5-6): “For when we were (in the past, under the old covenant) in the flesh, the sinful passions (desires contrary to the law) which were through the law (without law there is no sin), worked in our members to bring forth fruit to death. But now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that in which we were held; so that we serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter.” (Romans 4:5-8): “But to him who doesn’t work (doesn’t obey law as a means of righteousness), but believes in him who justifies the ungodly (God’s unearned gift of righteousness), his faith is accounted for righteousness. Even as David also pronounces blessing on the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whom the Lord will by no means charge with sin.” (Romans 4:15-16): “For the law (the foundation of the old covenant) works (produces) wrath, for where there is no law, neither is there disobedience (sin is the breaking of law, but you can’t break a law that has been removed and doesn’t apply). For this cause (because men always break laws (sin), bringing wrath upon themselves) it (the new covenant) is of faith (spiritual, divine), that it may be according to grace (God’s work, not ours), to the end that the promise may be sure to all the seed (God can’t fail, though man does), not to that only which is of the law (Jews/physical Israel) but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (Gentiles too).” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57): “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (As said before, Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all, nullifying the law of sin and death). (Colossians 2:13-14): “He (Jesus Christ) made (past tense, already done) you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, wiping out the handwriting in ordinances (the law) which was against us (brought burden and wrath); and he has taken it out of the way (literally: “lifted it out from among us”), nailing it to the cross…”
2. Three times, Hebrews says Jesus’ sacrifice and victory was “once for all.” By doing so, the author is emphasizing that Jesus’ work was and is permanent, unchanging, can’t be added to or taken from in any way. Therefore, the old covenant way of repeated sacrifices, repeated cleansing, repeated NEED is no longer in effect, and we can simply just move on to worship God in spirit (instead of trying to please him by our behavior), knowing our sins are remitted and God doesn’t hold them against us or even remember them! Here are the three verses:
- (Hebrews 7:26-27): “For such a high priest (a spiritual priest like Jesus has become) was fitting for us: holy, guiltless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who doesn’t need, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices daily, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. For he did this once for all, when he offered up himself.
- (Hebrews 9:11-12): “But Christ having come as a high priest of the coming good things, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption.”
- (Hebrews 10:9-10): “then he (Jesus) has said (to the Father), “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He takes away the first (old covenant based on law and sacrifice), that he may establish the second (new covenant based on God’s promise and grace by His spirit), by which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”