Part 5 - Resting by Faith
The Blood of the Covenant: Fully and Uniquely Efficacious
The foundation for a rest in Jesus Christ is His completed work of redemption. There are two key aspects to this work which complement one another: it is fully efficacious in atoning for sin and it is uniquely efficacious in atoning for sin. These are two truths that together complete a picture of the atoning work in redemption by the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." Jesus is fully able to save, and He is uniquely able to save. One's rest in Christ is predicated upon His work as being able to fully restore one from sin and death. In addition, one's rest in Christ is compelled by the realization that there is no other way to be restored from sin and death, not by anyone nor by anything. There is no other savior and there are no good works that one can accomplish that can remove sin and bring redemption.
Rest would not be possible if Christ's work was not fully efficacious. If this were the case, Jesus might be the way but something would have to be added to His work. One might recognize the need for Christ, but then one would seek to add to His work in order to be accepted by God. The formula for this would be Jesus' work plus my own good works equals salvation. There could be no rest for one could not be sure of having done enough to warrant everlasting life, or one could not be sure that he would not fall to the extent of losing everlasting life. But rest in Christ, through faith, is possible because He has fully and effectively dealt with sin.
On the other hand, if Christ's work was not uniquely efficacious, one might recognize that His work was fully efficacious but also hold that other paths to God were possible. Sure, Jesus Christ can fully save, one might reason, but salvation can be obtained through other means. Rather than rest in Christ one might seek redemption through another person or through a religious system. But rest in Christ is not just an option, it is the only option. There is no other path to God because only Jesus Christ can take away sin and bring life.
Atonement for sin
The issue of sin is that which excludes any way other than Jesus Christ to reach God and gain eternal life. In establishing His laws with the nation of Israel God required an animal sacrifice in order to cover sin, for sin required the penalty of death. Regarding this the book of Leviticus states, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul" (Lev. 17:11). Good works cannot take away or cover sin. They cannot atone for sin. The writer to the Hebrews refers to this: "And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission" (Heb. 9:22). Without a blood sacrifice sin cannot be remitted.
The writer to the Hebrews makes an additional point about the sacrifices: "For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins" (Heb. 10:1-4).
The animal sacrifices offered through the Levitical priesthood had to be ongoing. Past sacrifices did not suffice for latter sins. In reality, these sacrifices did not take away sin but only covered it. God accepted these as pointing to that which could truly deal with sin. When John the Baptist first saw Jesus he said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). Jesus came as the true sacrifice that indeed does take away sin, and this according to a new covenant.
The old and new covenants
The ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic law are shadows of things to come that point to realities in the new covenant God promised to establish. Paul wrote, "So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Col. 2:16-17). Various parts of the Mosaic law, including the feast days, point to Christ. Through Him a new covenant was to be established, one not just between God and Israel, but between God and anyone in the world who would have the faith of Abraham.
Regarding the first covenant, Hebrews states, "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: 'Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord' " (Heb. 8:7-9). The covenant God made with Israel was one where blessing or cursing resulted from their obedience or disobedience. This was a covenant specifically between God and the nation of Israel.
The blessing and curse of the law
The covenant God made with Israel established the standard of God's righteousness through the Mosaic law. It established the blessing that would come through the keeping of that standard. The book of Deuteronomy gives a list of the blessings of obedience, but it also gives a list of the cursing that would result from disobedience. The history of the nation shows how "they did not continue in My covenant." It tragically shows the curse of the law that came upon them.
But the covenant included more than this. It included provision for failure, this being the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system. This system was a shadow of things to come, "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins" (Heb. 10:4). That which was to come was this: a new covenant based on the blood of Jesus Christ, a "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." Although conditional promises were contained in the first covenant, it also contained unconditional promises. These are those that pertain to a blessing that would come through another means, the Messiah of Israel.
Paul, in writing to the Romans, says concerning the Israelites: "to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen" (Rom. 9:4-5). Although Israel failed in obtaining the blessing of the covenant through obedience, they serve a very important role in God's plan of redemption for the world. They model the failure of living according to God's righteousness because of the fallen sinful nature of mankind, but they will also model the path of blessing that God ultimately intends.
One of the main purposes for Israel's existence is that of an avenue through which the Messiah would come. They will remain a model that will show in a physical way the blessing, mercy, and grace that comes through the Messiah, this according to the unconditional promises made to Israel by God. This model will point to the spiritual blessing that will come upon any and all who will receive the Messiah Jesus. Paul said regarding both Jews and gentiles, "For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all" (Rom. 11:32).
Without blemish and without spot
Although the list of blessings under the Mosaic law was not obtained by Israel, this blessing was not promised in vain. There is one who did obey the law and receive the blessing, this being the man Jesus, a Jew who lived under that covenant. Hebrews states regarding Jesus, "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15).
Again Hebrews states, "though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him" (Heb. 5:8-9). The Apostle Peter says regarding the perfection of Jesus, "knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things ... but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Under the Levitical system, an animal sacrifice had to be unblemished. Only that which was perfect could be offered to atone for sin. Jesus became that perfect offering and so became "the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him."
Hebrews says, "For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Heb. 9:13-15). The promise of blessing under the first covenant can now be obtained by another means, this through Jesus Christ under a new covenant.
The Mediator of the new covenant
Paul writes to the Galatians, "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed' " (Gal. 3:8). This blessing to all the world, through Abraham, is narrowed down specifically to one: "Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as of many, but as of one, 'And to your Seed,' who is Christ" (Gal. 3:16). God established a covenant with Israel that only one has fulfilled and received the blessings thereof, Jesus Christ.
God now has established a new covenant through which the rest of the world may be blessed. This is through Jesus Christ and according to the promise made to Abraham: "In you all the nations shall be blessed." And thus, "He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance."
The Apostle Paul speaks of this blessing that comes not though the law, but through the Messiah: "But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ" (Rom. 515-17). The "one man's offense" is that of Adam. He sinned and brought death upon the whole human race. But as one brought sin and death upon all, through One comes the blessing of grace, righteousness, and life.
As the mediator of the new covenant, Jesus is outside of the Levitical priesthood. He is not only outside it, but is of a superior priesthood, one to which Abraham made obeisance. The writer to the Hebrews says of Jesus, "And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest 'according to the order of Melchizedek' " (Heb. 5:9-10). The priesthood of Jesus Christ is outside of the covenant to which the Levitical priesthood belongs.
The writer reasons, "Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law" (Heb. 7:11-12). This "change of the law" is that of the new covenant that God established.
A better hope
The writer continues, "For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God" (Heb. 7:18-19). The better hope is that of the new covenant for the first "made nothing perfect." The better hope is the way through which "we draw near to God."
The new covenant which God established is based on the shed blood of Jesus Christ. It is this shed blood that is fully and uniquely efficacious in atoning for and removing sin. It is the basis for the new covenant where God says, "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more" (Heb. 8:12) (quote from Jer. 31:34). Only Jesus Christ can be the High Priest and Mediator of the new covenant, for it is based only on His blood.
The blood of the covenant
The writer to the Hebrews says, "For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood" (Heb. 9:17-18). The first covenant came into force through the shed blood of animal sacrifices. Likewise, the new covenant is based on the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The covenant, or testament, is like that of a will that comes into effect through the death of the one who made the will. The new covenant came into effect in the death of Christ. It is based on His shed blood.
The writer continues, "For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another; He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. 9:24-26). The sacrifices under the old covenant were not able to "put away sin" and therefore were ongoing. But the sacrifice of Christ did put away sin and so He was offered "once at the end of the ages."
One sacrifice for sins forever
Hebrews concludes the matter with this: "And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified" (Heb. 10:11-14).
The death of Christ on the cross was "one sacrifice for sins forever." By one offering "He has perfected forever" those He is setting apart for God. In this the blood of Christ is fully efficacious in atoning for sin and obtaining salvation. It is fully efficacious in establishing the believer as righteous in the sight of God. It is also uniquely efficacious. The law made nothing perfect. The old covenant could not put away sin. It only covered it until the true sacrifice came under the new covenant.
The book of Hebrews shows how the shed blood of Christ under the new
covenant is fully and uniquely efficacious. These two aspects are
respectively dealt with in chapter six and chapter ten of Hebrews. The next
two pages study each of these.