The conditional covenant that God established with Israel at Sinai was inadequate. It could not make anyone righteous. It could not be maintained by sinful man. This was not a surprise to God because He had informed Moses after the whole nation signed the covenant with an oath saying “we will keep the laws of the Lord” at the end of Deuteronomy, that they would not keep their promises. The law was the basis upon which God’s people could enjoy life to the fullest extent possible in the land but it had a more permanent purpose; to reveal to all mankind their sinful nature. God wanted the law to break them with failure. The High Priest’s ministry was to intercede with God on behalf of sinful people. He did that through the sacrificial system. The conditional covenant failed, as God foretold. The ministry of the blood of animals accomplished nothing. This necessitated a better ministry and a better covenant. Jesus brought both. Hebrews 8:6-7 says, “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.”

Jesus’ ministry involved a far superior sacrifice. His perfect body. The sign the shepherds looked for in Bethlehem was that the baby would be swaddled. To us that seems to be a strange sign. But it wasn’t to those shepherds. The Bethlehem shepherds kept the flocks raised by the priests for sacrifices. When a lamb was born it was inspected for flaws. If there were any, the lamb was left to its mother and could easily injure itself as it stumbled around learning to walk. If it qualified as a sacrificial lamb it was swaddled to protect it from harming itself as it grew. The shepherds knew this baby had a perfect body acceptable by God as a sacrifice for sin.

Jesus’ ministry involved a far better Covenant. The old one was dependent on the actions of the people. This one, as the covenant with Abraham, was a promise by God that He would bring about a specific result regardless of the behavior of others. It was totally dependent on the unshakable promise of God from Genesis 3 through the rest of the Old Testament.  The blood of the Levitical sacrifices sealed the old covenant. Jesus’ blood seals a far superior unconditional covenant! Stedman observes, “On the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus took a cup of wine, passed it to his disciples and said: ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mt 26:27–28). With those words and that symbolic action, he borrowed the phrase used by Moses when he took the blood of an animal, sprinkled it on the people and said, This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (Ex 24:8).[1] Fruchtenbaum concludes his study on this passage by saying, “the earthly Tabernacle must give way to the Heavenly Tabernacle. The temporary Tabernacle must give way to the eternal one. The system that rested on a temporary, conditional covenant had to give way to a system that rested on an unconditional, eternal covenant.”[2]

[1] Ray C. Stedman, Hebrews, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 1992), Heb 8:1.

[2] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 110.