In the previous chapter, the Law of Moses was described as ‘weak and useless, making nothing perfect’. (7:18-19). Today, the Old Covenant is ditched as being ‘obsolete, outdated, and soon to disappear’! (8:13). First the rituals and ceremonies are described as mere ‘copies’ and ‘shadows’ of the reality that is found in heaven. (Clearly at the time Hebrews was written, the Jerusalem temple was still intact and operational, because Apollos – or whoever wrote this letter – was speaking in the present tense.) The plans for the tabernacle shown to Moses at Sinai were also representational diagrams of the heavenly version.
Apollos reiterates that Jesus is now our high priest who had ‘sat down’ (i.e., completed his work) at the right hand of God’s throne in heaven. Jesus currently ‘serves in this sanctuary’ – interceding for us. His ministry is vastly superior to the earthly priests, because the New Covenant is established on such superior promises and benefits than the Old one. The Old was found to be ‘faulty’ and therefore needed replacement!
We then have a lengthy quote from Jeremiah 31:31-34, the longest continuous passage of Old Testament scripture quoted in the New Testament. It is the only Old Testament mention of ‘New Covenant’ and it looks forward to the time – our time – when an ineffective external covenant will be superseded by an internal one that works.
It consists of four distinctives:
- It will reside inside a believer – obedience within his heart and mind (v10b)
- It will be relational – “I will be their God and they will be my people” (v10c)
- It must include knowing God, in an experiential sense – not just knowing about him (v11)
- It will also include the eternal forgiveness of all the believer’s sins (v12)
It is better in every way. Happy is the person who is included in that covenant!
EZEKIEL 13, 14 and 15
Have you ever had someone give you a false prophecy? Did you know it was false at the time – or did you find out later? How did you find out? What did you feel like when you realized it wasn’t from the Lord?
Ezekiel confronts a group of false prophets in Jerusalem who were prophesying “out of their own imagination” but claiming it as the Word of God. God says “Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! Your prophets, Israel, are like jackals among ruins. You have not gone up to breaches in the wall to repair it for the people of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the Lord” (13:3-5). A genuine Old Testament prophet was an elite representative of the Lord himself, and it was accepted that the words he spoke were directly from the mouth of God. In that way, the prophecies of God’s prophets were known to be absolutely reliable and infallible; consequently, any counterfeit messenger of Satan was to be punished severely, since he could easily lead the people astray. The false prophets mentioned in this chapter were possibly well-meaning and did not mean any harm, but they were still prophesying out of their imagination and wishful thinking, rather than because of a real prophetic gift.
New Testament prophecy is rather different, and one difference is that every believer is encouraged by the Spirit to get ‘stuck in’ and to ‘have a go’! As a result, this gift is not authoritative in quite the same sense that the office of the Old Testament prophet was, and prophetic mistakes are not punished. 1 Corinthians 14 gives the most concentrated advice in the New Testament on how the church should handle the prophetic gifting. If we accept that the whole church can prophesy, then a prophecy is to be tested by the experienced prophets ‘weighing’ it up.
In the Old Testament, it was a more straightforward process: if the prophecy came true, then it was good; if not, then the prophet was stoned as an imposter. Not a ministry for the half-hearted, then! In chapter 13, God complained that these false prophets were all mouth and no action; they prophesied peace and protection for Judah but made no effort to help repair the city walls. In fact, their words were like whitewashing a rickety wall to mask its shortcomings; one puff of wind and it is over!
The Lord also railed against the magic charms and superstitions that the women used to ‘protect’ themselves. These were, of course, explicitly banned by the Law of Moses. They have a disheartening effect on true faith – as 13:22 says – and lead the foolish even further astray. Superstition is the thin end of the occult ‘wedge’ and it is incredibly addictive and hard to shake off. Even mindless actions like ‘touching wood’ are an opportunity for the entrance of the spiritual dark world into the lives of the careless. Repent of these things and cut them out of your lives for good!
In the next chapter, God promises the ‘big four’ punishments on the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Famine, wild beasts, the sword, and a plague. So certain is this promise that even men of known righteousness like Daniel, Job and Noah could not save the community of Jerusalem, but only just themselves. There will be few survivors and they will be worthy of rescue, declares the Lord.
Judah, in Ezekiel 15, is compared to a branch of a vine – utterly useless for anything other than producing grapes or burning. Since they refuse to produce any kind of ‘fruit’ for their owner, then burning is the only other option. The heavenly ‘gardener’ will see to it! John 15 is a kind of New Testament update on this concept, as applied to New Testament communities.