Hebrews 8:13, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

The original audience of the epistle to the Hebrews was tempted to avoid persecution by returning to the old covenant. As we have seen, however, since the new covenant was designed to replace the old, a return to the old covenant would only bring disaster.

Yesterday, we looked at how the prophecy quoted in Hebrews 8:8–12 refers to the period of restoration after exile. Many thought that this restoration would manifest itself immediately, but something else has happened. Instead of coming all at once, the period of restoration has been stretched out over time.

It is Jesus who tells us that the restoration will be drawn out over a period of time. In the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven (Matt. 13:31–33), we learn that the kingdom of God does not come immediately but starts out small and grows larger over time. Even though the restoration will take longer than expected, we can be sure it has started. When Jesus applies the words of Isaiah to Himself (Luke 4:16–21), He teaches that restoration has begun.

The inauguration of the new covenant under Christ guarantees that some of its promises are a present reality. Acts 2 tells us that the Holy Spirit has already been poured out in equal measure upon all of God’s people. We know that the sacrifices of the old covenant have ended because Christ’s sacrifice renders them obsolete (Heb. 9–10).

The fact that the new covenant is not yet here in all its fullness also shows that some aspects of the old covenant have not passed away. The presence of teachers in the new covenant (Eph. 4:11) and the admonishments for us to learn from Old Testament examples (1 Cor. 10:1–6) demonstrate that the law of God has not yet been fully written on the heart. And until the Law is put on the heart completely, there will be both true and false believers who are members of the new covenant.

Because the Law has not yet been fully placed upon our hearts, we must still look to the moral standards of the old covenant. They have not yet been fully abrogated, unlike the ritual laws that were fulfilled by the sacrifice of Christ. One day we will obey these moral standards perfectly as they will be part of our nature. Today, however, we must seek to learn them; for while the old covenant is “becoming obsolete” (Heb. 8:13), it has not yet reached the state of full obsolescence.

Coram Deo

We live in a period of overlapping ages. The old covenant has passed away and the new covenant era is becoming more and more a reality. One day we will not need the written Law because it will be completely engraved on our hearts. Rejoice in the truth that God will bring you to complete perfection at the end of this age.

Becoming Obsolete, Copyright (2020), Ligonier Ministries.

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