15 This complex sentence (simplified in the NIV by being divided into two parts with a dash) sets out a basic understanding of what it means for Jesus to be the “mediator of a new covenant” (see on 8:6 for the phrase and cf. also “guarantor” in 7:22); it states both the purpose and the means of that mediation. The purpose is “that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” In 6:12, 17 we have heard of the promises that Abraham “inherited” and that are a model for all those who after him will also become “heirs,” and in 1:14 God’s people have been described as “those who will inherit salvation.” The theme of receiving God’s promises by faith will be developed more fully in ch. 11. The phrase thus speaks of all the good things God has in store for his people (cf. also the “heavenly rest” of 4:1–11). It was the purpose of the covenant that they should receive these blessings, and under the new covenant they have been more fully spelled out as the knowledge of God and the forgiveness of sins (8:10–12). Hebrews has spoken of our “heavenly calling” in 3:1 and so here can describe Christians as “those who are called” (cf. Ro 1:6–7; 8:30; 1 Pe 5:10; etc.; and also “chosen,” Ro 8:33; etc.).
We have considered the theme of “mediator” in 8:6 and noted that Jesus not only “stands between” God and his people but is also by his sacrifice the one who has made the relationship possible. Moses offered a blood sacrifice to effect the old covenant (see vv. 18–21), but Jesus’ mediation has gone still further—he is the sacrifice. His death is a “ransom to set them free” (apolytrōsis, see on v. 12), thus making possible the forgiveness of sins that is at the heart of Jeremiah’s vision of the new covenant (8:12). “Sins” here is not the usual word but parabasis, “transgression” (GK 4126), which is particularly appropriate to the breaking of laws, and the added phrase “under the first covenant” suggests our author is thinking again of Jeremiah’s complaint that Israel failed to keep the provisions of the old covenant (8:9). It was these “transgressions” that the old sacrificial system failed to deal with adequately (7:11, 18–19; 9:9); only the perfect sacrifice of Christ can achieve this (v. 14). But while the words used focus especially on the breaking of the Mosaic laws, as the argument proceeds it will be clear that it is not only from sins “under the first covenant” that we can be set free by Jesus.
15 That Jesus is “mediator of a better covenant”—the new covenant foretold by Jeremiah—has already been stated in 8:6. But now the basis of his mediatorship is made plain; that basis is his sacrificial death. By virtue of his death redemption has been provided for those who had broken the law of God; the life of Christ was the costly price paid to liberate them from their sins. The first covenant provided a measure of atonement and remission for sins committed under it, but it was incapable of providing “eternal redemption”; this was a blessing which had to await the inauguration of the new covenant, which embodies God’s promise to his people: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34). The basing of the new covenant on the death of Christ is a New Testament doctrine not peculiar to our author; it finds clearest expression in the words of institution spoken by our Lord over the cup: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24) or, in their earliest recorded form, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor. 11:25). And now that this redemptive death has taken place, the “promise of their eternal inheritance” has been made good to those “who have been called”; the new covenant, and everything that the grace of God provides under it, is forever theirs. Christians have already been described in Heb. 6:17 as “the heirs of the promise”; the fulfilment of the promise is the “eternal inheritance” into which they have entered. “Eternal” is an adjective which our author associates especially with the new covenant; that covenant itself is eternal (13:20), and so the redemption which it provides and the inheritance into which it brings the people of God are likewise eternal (vv. 12, 15); the Mediator of this covenant, having offered himself up to God as “a spiritual and eternal sacrifice” (v. 14, NEB), has become to all who obey him the “source of eternal salvation” (5:9). The eternal inheritance of grace and glory both here and hereafter is for those who “have been called”—for those who have already been designated “partakers of a heavenly calling” (3:1). The close connection between God’s effectual calling of his people and the heritage which is theirs as his sons and heirs, joint-heirs with Christ, is set out more fully by Paul in Rom. 8:14–30.
15 “On account of” the effective sacrifice offered by Christ described in v. 14, “he is” now “the Mediator of [the] New Covenant.” This sacrifice is the death that “has occurred for redemption of the transgressions based on the First Covenant.” By cleansing the inner being of the worshiper, Christ’s sacrifice brought an end to the sacrifices that could cleanse nothing but the “flesh” (9:10). Thus, by establishing an effective way of approaching God, he terminated the Old Covenant as a way of salvation and inaugurated the New that it typified. His self-offering became a sacrifice of covenant inauguration. He is no mere go-between, but a Mediator who, on the basis of his all-sufficient self-offering, guarantees (7:22) the benefits provided to all “those who draw near to God through him” (7:25). He functions now as Mediator for beleaguered believers, enabling them to obtain their promised “eternal inheritance.”
“Transgressions based on the First Covenant” does not limit the effectiveness of Christ’s sacrifice to offenses committed before his coming or before the hearers became believers. The Old Covenant may not have been able to cleanse the heart, but it did expose the true nature of sin as unbelief and disobedience springing from an evil heart.75 Apart from Christ the condemnation of the broken covenant described in 8:7–13 continues to threaten the people of God. God’s people who come after Christ are endangered by the same unbelief and disobedience that characterized the wilderness generation (3:7–4:11; 8:8–9). Christ’s coming has only intensified the condemnation of the Old Covenant on those who reject God’s grace (2:1–4). The pastor uses “transgressions” to underscore the deliberate character and thus the seriousness of these disobedient acts. Christ’s death provides “redemption” from “the consequences and … power” of these transgressions.77 His self-offering cleanses God’s people from sin so that they can escape the condemnation of the broken Old Covenant and receive the promised inheritance that it anticipated.
Christ exercises his present ministry both as High Priest at God’s right hand and as Mediator of the New Covenant. His high priesthood and his mediatorship are two sides of the same coin. We might say that as High Priest he does what the Old Covenant could not do by cleansing the heart from sin. As Mediator he undoes what the Old did, by removing the condemnation pronounced on the sinner. Yet the two cannot be separated because the New Covenant he mediates results in God’s law written on the cleansed hearts of his people (10:15–18). Priesthood and covenant are inseparable (7:11).
“Those who have been called” describes God’s people in this world. The divine promise to Abraham (11:8) was a “heavenly calling” (3:1) that invited the people of God to join him in his heavenly abode. The life of the “called” is to be a life of faith and obedience appropriate for those offered such a destiny. All who persevere through the mediation of Christ will attain this “eternal inheritance.” However, those who imitate the unbelief of the wilderness generation will fail to reach that final destination. God’s people once experienced “redemption” from Egypt so that they could “receive” their “inheritance” in the Promised Land. Christ has now provided a “redemption” that opens the “eternal inheritance” in the heavenly homeland (11:10, 13–16) for all the faithful (11:1–40). No one needs to go the way of unbelief (3:7–4:11), for Christ is the Mediator and High Priest who removes condemnation and provides cleansing so that his people can persevere until entrance into that final, “eternal,” heavenly “inheritance” promised them.
- Freed from the Condemnation of a Broken Covenant (9:16–22)
16 For where there is a covenant, of necessity the death of the one making the covenant must be borne. 17 For a covenant becomes valid on the basis of death, since it never is in force when the one making the covenant is alive. 18 Therefore, the First Covenant was not inaugurated without blood. 19 For when all the ordinances according to the law had been spoken by Moses to the whole people, he took the blood of goats and bulls, with water and with scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying: “This is the blood of the covenant that God has completed for you.” 21 And the tent and all the utensils of worship he likewise sprinkled with blood. 22 And almost everything is purified with blood according to the law, and without the shedding of blood there is no release.
In the covenant section (8:7–13) of the opening movement of this symphony the pastor quoted the New Covenant prophecy from Jer 31:31–34. According to that passage, God condemned those who broke the Old Covenant and promised that he would institute a New and effective Covenant. In 9:16–22 the pastor shows how Christ removes the condemnation engendered by the Old. In 10:15–18, the final covenant section, he will enumerate the blessings of the promised and now fulfilled New.
The pastor has shown that Christ’s death brings genuine inner cleansing from sin. By providing this cleansing it does away with the Old Covenant as a means of approaching God because that Covenant was unable to purify its adherents from sin. Thus by providing for genuine cleansing, Christ’s death inaugurated the New Covenant as an effective way of coming into God’s presence (9:11–14) and established him as its “Mediator.” Thus his death provided “for redemption from transgressions committed under the First Covenant” (9:15). As noted above, that First Covenant’s condemnation of sin has only been intensified for those who reject Christ. Verses 16–17 explain how Christ’s sacrifice procured this liberation according to the terms of that First or Old but broken Covenant. Verses 18–22 verify this liberation through a description of the First and Old Covenant’s inauguration.
9:15 / For this reason—that is, because of his death—Christ (lit., “he”) is the mediator of a new covenant. It is clear that the author has in mind the new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah (cf. the quotation in 8:8–12 and 10:16–17). The result of the inauguration of the new covenant is that those who are called receive the promised eternal inheritance. The author has already spoken of a special calling received by Christians through the preaching of the gospel in 3:1. It is significant that he uses particularly Jewish concepts of “promise” and “inheritance” here (cf. 6:17). This strengthens the motif of the fulfillment of the ot promises in the church (cf. 13:20). The basis of this new covenant and its reception by the called is now set forth. (In the original text, the basis is explicated before the result, whereas niv places the basis last, introducing it with the words now that.) The basis of the new situation is that he has died, which has as its result that it sets people free (cf. the reference to “an eternal redemption” in v. 12). It redeems them from the sins (lit., “transgressions”) committed under the first covenant. The real answer to sins against the commandments of the Mosaic law is found not in the sacrifice of animals, but in the sacrifice of Christ. The new covenant thus contains within it the answer to the failure to abide by the requirements of the old covenant (cf. 8:12; 10:17–18). And, forgiveness experienced during the ot period depended finally—although this was hardly understood at the time—upon an event that was to take place in the future. The sacrifice of Christ is the answer to sin in every era, past and present, since it alone is the means of forgiveness.
Christ’s Death and the First Covenant
Weaving his artistic verbal cloth, the author of Hebrews is ready to bring in the concepts of mediator and covenant. In chapter 8, especially verse 6, he introduced the role of mediator that Jesus has been given. Having explained Christ’s death and its effect in chapter 9, he now develops the significance of this mediatorial role in relation to the covenant that God has made with his people.
- For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
When the author writes “for this reason,” he wants us to look at verses 13 and 14 specifically and the preceding context generally. In these two verses, the writer contrasts the sacrifices of the first covenant with the sacrifice of Christ that introduces a new relationship. In verse 15, the author summarizes and says, “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant.”
Before we proceed any further, we ought to take note of the institution of the first covenant, recorded in Exodus 24. Moses read the Law of God to the Israelites, who responded, “Everything the Lord has said we will do” (v. 3). Then burnt offerings and fellowship offerings were presented to God, and blood was sprinkled on the altar. Moses then read the Book of the Covenant to the people, who said, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey” (v. 7). Thereupon Moses, sprinkling blood on the people, said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (v. 8).
Here are the characteristics of this covenant:
- The covenant God made with his people had two parties: God and the Israelites entered into a solemn commitment on the basis of the content of the Book of the Covenant.
- The covenant was sealed by the death of animals that were offered to God. The blood of those animals was sprinkled on altar and people.
- The covenant was ratified by the people who promised obedience to God.
Why did this covenant become obsolete? The author quotes a lengthy passage from Jeremiah 31 in chapter 8, and in the first part of the next chapter he explains that the regulations of the first covenant were external (9:1, 10). “The gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper” (9:9). Sins committed against God, as a violation of the covenant promise, could not be erased from man’s conscience by presenting gifts and offerings to God. The blood of animals sacrificed to atone for man’s transgressions sanctified him outwardly, but inwardly man struggled with a guilty conscience. The first covenant, then, needed to be replaced.
By his sacrifice on the cross, Christ validated the new covenant that he instituted at the time he celebrated the Passover with his disciples. He said: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20; also see the parallel passages in Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; and 1 Cor. 11:25).
Christ has become the mediator of this new covenant (12:24). He stands between God and man. By his death he removes sin and guilt, and thus all “those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” Through the mediatorial work of Christ, they who are effectively called inherit salvation. And that inheritance is eternal.
What is the meaning of “new” in the expression new covenant? First, the new comes forth out of the old. That is, the new covenant has the same basis and characteristics as the old covenant. Next, in both covenants, sacrifices were presented to God; but whereas the sacrifices offered to atone for the transgressions of the people in the time of the first covenant could not set the sinner free, the supreme sacrifice of Christ’s death redeemed God’s people and paid for their sins. Moreover, in the structure of the first covenant, the mediator (i.e., the high priest) was imperfect. In the new covenant Christ is the mediator who guarantees the promise of salvation. God puts his laws in the minds and writes them on the hearts of his redeemed people, so that as a result they know God, experience remission of sin, and enjoy covenantal fellowship with him.
 France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 119–120). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.