Hebrews 9:16–17, “For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive.”
In order for all of the blessings of the new covenant to begin, the Son of God had to come to earth and carry out the will of His Father. Jesus came and was made perfect for His office as Mediator of the new covenant (Heb. 2:10; 5:9). This Jesus became an efficacious Mediator, not by offering sacrifices that could not perfect the conscience (9:9b–10), but rather by offering a perfect sacrifice that secures our eternal redemption (vv. 11–14).
Verse 15 tells us that Christ became Mediator so that those who are called may receive the inheritance promised to them. Where there is an inheritance, there is also usually a will, and this is an idea that the author of Hebrews picks up in verses 16–17 so that the necessity of the death of Christ may be shown.
An inheritance presupposes the existence of a will, and if there is a will, the inheritance only comes after the death of the one who made the will. Therefore, if the elect are to receive their inheritance, a death is required. There had to be death — the death of Christ — if we were ever going to receive that which was promised to the children of Abraham. We could never inherit the good land (the new earth) and be blessed by being a part of God’s family if Jesus never died.
The likening of the promises of the new covenant with a will is particularly apt. The Greek word used by the New Testament authors for covenant is diatheke. In addition to being a suitable reference to the concept of the covenant, this word is also the word that means “will,” as in “last will and testament.”
Like the divine covenants in the Bible, a will is initiated by a single person. Ideally, a will reflects only the wishes of the person who makes it. It is that single individual who ultimately decides which person gets what. As such, to liken the new covenant promises to a will emphasizes the sovereignty of the one who made it. The concept emphasizes the Lordship of Jesus, the God-man who could die and accomplish His sovereign will because His death would cause the will to take effect (v. 17). On this point, John Owen writes, “It is in the will … and power of the person making the will to assign what possessions should be bequeathed to whom. So, with the Lord Christ, he has determined how the elect should actually possess their legacies.”
Have you ever received an inheritance through the will of a departed loved one? This poignant analogy describes the deep love that Jesus has for the elect of God. He truly desires them to receive His blessings. Give thanks for such a gracious gift that comes through His established will and His death that brings our inheritance.