From Sinai to Zion, Pt. 4: The Covenant Bond of Heaven
Hebrews 12:18–24 18 For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, 19 and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. 20 For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” 21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.
This final group of New Covenant blessings brings us to the final fruition of what the present contrast between old and new, type and anti-type is meant to teach us. The ultimate lesson is eschatological in nature- tying together the redemptive progression of God’s revelation as it reaches it telos in Christ. We could agree with many theologians at this point that moving from Sinai to Zion signals the inaugurated reality that God desires a holy people in a holy realm in a holy covenant bond of communion through Jesus Christ.
The Covenant Bond Of Heaven
Perhaps it would be helpful to demonstrate the concept of what we can call the covenant bond of heaven by seeing its presence in the eschaton and particularly in Revelation. As we look at the consummation of God’s plan of redemption, John sums up the totality of our future state with language that intersects with several covenants and covenantal concepts.
Revelation 21:1–4 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
The language of the “new heaven and a new earth” obviously stems from Isaiah when the prophet foresaw the New Covenant consummated (cf. Is 35.10; 51.11; 65.17-19). He makes reference to the “new Jerusalem” which was of course the epicenter of the kingdom of God which was where God’s king, David was given the promise of a perpetual descendant on the throne in the Davidic Covenant (cf. 2 Sam. 7.13). He makes a reference to God’s “tabernacle” which of course was erected at the constitution of the Mosaic covenant and the giving of the Law following the Exodus (cf. Ex. 25.8). He also makes reference to the Abrahamic covenant by dwelling with His people and indeed God taking a people for himself, “they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them” (cf. Gen. 17.7; Jer. 24.7; 31.33). We could even say that this text reminds us that in the end God will remove the curse of the Adamic covenant (covenant of works) so that, “there will no longer be any death” (cf. Gen. 2.15-17). Of course this is only possible because God fulfilled His covenant promise that he would redeem a new humanity through the Seed of the woman (cf. Gen. 3.15). The Covenant of Grace teaches us that God desired to save a people freely by His grace by trusting solely in His Son Jesus Christ.
The covenant bond of Heaven is rooted in the work of the Mediator, accomplished by the sprinkling of His blood, and declares the supremacy of His mercy and grace. We should consider each component carefully.
If there is one thing that Hebrews is telling us its that Jesus’ New Covenant work as our Mediator was absolutely necessary since the work of the Old Covenant mediator was insufficient in order to bring about spiritual perfection (cf. 7.11). The ultimate difference between Moses and Christ is ontological. It is because Moses although he was faithful in the ministry God gave him, he nevertheless was only God’s servant while Jesus is God’s Son:
Hebrews 3:1–6 1 Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; 2 He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. 3 For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. 4 For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. 5 Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; 6 but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.
Not only do we see the necessity of a better Mediator, we also see the superior nature of His work as both our Mediator and representative in the New Covenant, but also because Jesus is Prophet (like Moses), Priest (like Aaron, Melchizedek), and King (like David); Jesus intercedes for us as our Mediator and High Priest:
Hebrews 7:25 25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
Jesus as our Mediator is also sufficient in His work. This is the all-sufficient mediatorial work of Christ who is able to save us forever (7.25; cf. John 17.20-21), to bring us to God (9.24; 1 Pet. 3.18), to stand between a holy God and sinful man (9.11-14), and is able by one sacrifice to perfectly sanctify His people by His blood. Part of this verse stresses the insufficiency of the Law 10.11, the other stresses the all-sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice:
Hebrews 10:11–14 11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
The Mediatorial role of Jesus reminds us that our covenant bond is based on His perfect life (7.16), His death (9.15), His resurrection (10.11-13; 13.20) and His intercession (7.25; cf. Rom. 8.34). The covenant bond of heaven is sealed in the blood and prayer of our Great High Priest (cf. Rev. 5.9-11). As our Mediator, Jesus has inaugurated a New Covenant with the people of God. Even as God had forged a covenant bond with His Son (Lk. 22.29a), the Son of God forges a covenant bond with us in His blood (Lk. 22.29b) (Note the use of: διατίθημι).
To better understand why I would say that Zion represents the covenant bond of heaven we should consider the use of covenant in Hebrews here. First, Jesus is the Mediator of a “new covenant” (διαθήκης νέας). The magisterial grammarian Henry Alford has pointed out that Hebrews uses a more graphic word here for “new” (νέας) than the more customary term (καινός; used at: 8.8). It is “new” in the sense of final, superior, and eschatological. The New Covenant is prophetic. It is the covenant promised in the Old Testament through the prophets (cf. Is. 59.21; Jer. 31.31; Ezek. 11.19; 16.60; 36.24-27) and realized in the New Testament through Jesus’ death and resurrection (cf. Lk. 22.20; Mt. 26.28; 1 Cor. 11.26ff.). It is also “new” in the sense that that it is eternal:
Hebrews 13:20 20 Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord,
This “eternal covenant” is the New Covenant referenced in the Old Testament (Is. 55.3; Jer. 32.38–41; Ezek. 37.26). What this tells us is that we are in the final covenant administration of God. In other words, their will be no further covenants in God’s plan of redemption; the New Covenant thus speaks of the climax of God’s covenant dealings with man. Finally, it is the climax than we can understand why it has surpassed and replaced the old; because it is better. It is better because it possesses better promises, a better Mediator, better application, better access, better worship, better tabernacle, better blood, better redemption:
Hebrews 9:11–15 11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
The covenant bond of heaven is forged on the basis of what is better and with that superiority there is better access to God to is thus based on better “blood.”
As we turn to the “sprinkled blood” (αἵματι ῥαντισμοῦ) we should notice two things. First, this reference is rooted in the Levitical practices of the Old Covenant where the priest where to sprinkle the covenant community with blood, even the book and the vessels (9.19-22), the people, and the tabernacle. God’s desire for a holy people, in a holy realm (symbolized by the tabernacle as we go from the microcosm of the earthly type to the cosmic-level of the heavenly archetype), in the context of a holy covenant bond of communion was made possible only through “the sprinkled blood” (αἵματι ῥαντισμοῦ). The “blood” was so important in the Old Covenant that Hebrews goes on to point out, “all things are cleansed with blood” (9.22). Second, there was also a redemptive component even in the Law that points in the direction of a New Covenant:
Hebrews 9:22 22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Just as the principle of life is found in the blood (cf. Lev. 17.11); so too, the principle of atonement was always present in the blood and that principle demonstrated the power of the blood to consecrate everything from the realm of the sanctuary to the people in the realm— only the blood made covenant communion possible (cf. Lev. 16.33; see also, Heb. 9.19-26). The blood spoke of cleansing, it spoke of consecration, the priesthood, and ultimately access to God. Notice that as the author of Hebrews refers to the Sinai, Moses and the terror of God’s transcendent holiness he makes no mention of the blood under the old economy. He makes no mention of the blood because the blood of bulls and goats was ineffective to truly cleanse the people from within (10.4). But alas, ‘Jesus blood can make the vilest sinner clear’!
Hebrews 9:19–22 19 For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. 22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
What was only typological under the Old Covenant, is pure efficacious reality in the New. The Old Testaments saints needed the application of ritual blood, the blood of animals, but if they did not trust in the types, shadows and sacrifices, the blood could be externally applied with no internal cleansing (cf. 9.9). That’s the difference; in coming to Zion, we come to the true “sprinkled blood” that can and does take away sin every time it is applied to sinners who trust in the blood of Jesus Christ.
The Supremacy of Jesus Christ
The final contrast in this section deals with Abel who has already been mentioned as a model of faith (11.4). This time, Abel serves a typological function by pointing forward to the blood of one more righteous, more innocent and more instructive than himself. In coming to Jesus we come to a superior person and a superior principle. As righteous, obedient, innocent, and blameless as Abel was; Jesus is more righteous still. This is a common theme in Hebrews. While Abel was considered as a righteous man he was still sinful— tainted by the Fall. However, Hebrews makes it abundantly clear that Jesus was sinless:
Hebrews 4:15 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 7:26–27 26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
Not only was Jesus a superior person than Abel was; He was superior in every way. There is also the superiority of principle. While Abel’s blood speaks of the principle of God’s justice and judgment, Jesus’ blood goes beyond this. The blood of Jesus “speaks better than the blood of Abel” (κρεῖττον λαλοῦντι παρὰ τὸν Ἅβελ) because Jesus’ blood is redemptive in nature, Abel’s was not. Jesus’ blood procures redemption for us, forgiveness of sins, spiritual cleansing, the power to cleanse us of an evil unbelieving conscience; Abel’s blood only called for wrath and vengeance.
This is a reminder to us that the New Covenant is about salvation. While the Old Covenant demanded obedience the New Covenant produces obedience (8.9-10; cf. Rom. 6.17; 2 Cor. 5.14-15). While the Old Covenant had the power to put one to death (cf. 2 Cor. 3.6), the New Covenant has the power of eternal life (5.9; 9.12-15). The Old is death, the New is life! While the blood of Abel called for the death and judgment of the sinner, the blood of Jesus calls for the sinner’s pardon. The blood of Abel calls for condemnation, the blood of Jesus calls for justification. The blood of Abel speaks of enmity and alienation but the blood of Jesus draws us near as friends of God. The blood of Abel makes a person God’s enemy, the blood of Jesus reconciles us to God and forges the friendship of an eternal unbreakable communion bond with God. This is one point where we can easily see how the New Covenant corresponds with the gracious covenant God made with Abraham:
2 Chronicles 20:7 7 “Did You not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and give it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever?
Isaiah 41:8 8 “But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, Descendant of Abraham My friend,
Finally, the blood of Jesus is superior than Abel’s because although Abel’s blood cried out from the ground soliciting the vengeance of God’s wrath (cf. Gen. 4.10), the blood Jesus ‘cries out’ from the cross soliciting God’s forgiveness and love as He was “pierced through for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities” (cf. Is. 53.5). Because Jesus’ blood is so vastly superior than that of any man, generally innocent though they may be, only Jesus’ priceless blood results in God’s approval. As innocent as Abel was, his blood would have still left him hopeless and in the grave. Jesus’ blood, because He was righteous, constrains the glory and power of the Father to raise Him up again and become the source of salvation and life for all who believe and trust in His perfect sacrifice (9.12 cf. Rom. 4.25).
As O’Brien has pointed out, the author of Hebrews is drawing suspense by keeping Jesus name until the end of this section for climactic reasons; after all, Jesus is the climax of it all! The New Covenant is all about Jesus. Sitting on the throne of Mount Zion is the Lamb of God who was slain in order to purify us from our sins (1.3-4). He who died is He would was risen again, and He who was risen again is He who has been exalted and is coming back for those who eagerly wait for Him (9.28).