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Hebrews 8 and the New Covenant

November 10, 2011 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Hebrews series, a look at Hebrews 8 and the New Covenant.  Here, the text has four questions we must answer.

1.  What is this “better covenant?”
It is the New Covenant, which is an expansion of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.  The Bible has many covenants, including individual covenants (such as the one between David and Jonathan), as well as the great unconditional, unilateral covenants, that God initiated:  the Abrahamic covenant, and the Davidic covenant which expands on that.  The New Covenant is given in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31, also in Ezekiel), the last of Israel’s covenants, the one that provides the redemptive basis for the previous Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.

2.  “What are the better promises?” Hebrews 8:8-12.
The text answers it, in verses 8 through 12, including the words “‘I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.’”  The New Covenant provides the forgiveness of sins and Divine Enablement.  It could also be described as, “A new inner control center in the individuals who are the inheritors of this covenant.”

3.  “With whom was the New Covenant made?”
The Old Testament says that covenant was made with Israel and with Judah.  Again in verse 10, “with the house of Israel.”  The New Covenant was made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

We do not err to the side of amillennialists who blur distinctions and say that Israel and the Church are one.  Paul does say in Romans 9 that “not all Israel” is Israel — thus narrowing the field to only those Israelites who believe.  But Paul is not talking about Gentiles at all in that text, and he is not widening the scope to include Genties among that group of “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.”

On the other hand, we do not say, as some earlier dispensationalists, that the Church is completely separate from Jeremiah’s New Covenant, so that we Gentiles have our own New Covenant.  Scripture speaks of only one New Covenant, that one in Jeremiah 31, made with Israel and Judah.  Thus comes the fourth question.

4.  How then is the Church of Jesus Christ, or believing Gentiles, related to the New Covenant?
Gentiles are related to it, through the provision in the Abrahamic covenant, that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him.  Romans 11 also describes it in the figure of the olive tree which we are grafted into.

A great summary from S. Lewis Johnson:  if you will look at the fundamental Abrahamic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant and the New Covenant together, as a covenantal program, you will know, you will surely know that in the Abrahamic Covenant provision was made for Gentile believers.  

Hebrews 1, the Second Coming, and the Davidic Covenant

September 19, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve recently started a good Hebrews study, going through S. Lewis Johnson’s series (one he did starting in late 1992).  Hebrews is a book I had previously neglected, other than through general reading (and now I read it as part of the New Testament readings every two months in my Horner-based Bible reading plan).  Seeing that the NCT (New Covenant Theology) proponents rely heavily on their interpretation and overemphasis of Hebrews (and the local amillennial preterist preacher is now doing a Hebrews series for the third time in 15 years; basically a repeat of the same superficial thoughts), I had focused my thoughts more on Romans.  But I also see the importance of understanding Hebrews from a correct biblical perspective, and S. Lewis Johnson’s series is as always a good in-depth look.

The first several verses are full of many Old Testament quotations, and so Dr. Johnson looked at each of these specific references.  Last year I briefly looked at one of these, Hebrews 1:6, and at the transcript part related to that issue; the verse in the Greek is properly translated, “when He again brings His firstborn into the world,” as a reference to the Second Coming.  Johnson’s full teachings on these verses can be found in the transcripts for the Hebrews series, messages 2 and 3.

The citations in these verses include:

  • Psalm 2:7 (Hebrews 1:4) — “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”
  • Psalm 89:26-26 and 2 Samuel 7:14 (Hebrews 1:5) — “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”
  • Psalm 97:7 (also in Deuteronomy 32:43) (Hebrews 1:6) — “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
  • Psalm 104:4 (Hebrews 1:7) — “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.”
  • Psalm 45:6-7 (Hebrews 1:8-9)

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.   ​​​​​​​​You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.

As Dr. Johnson noted, these passages cited in Hebrews 1 have reference to the events of the Second Coming, as well as to the Davidic covenant.  Psalm 89 is one of the three key passages for the Davidic covenant (along with 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17); see “Biblical Covenants: The Davidic Covenant” for Johnson’s teaching on this during his “Lessons from the Life of David” series.  2 Samuel 7 occurred before the writing of Psalm 2.  In the words of S. Lewis Johnson:

In other words, this is the passage that gave rise in the poetic section to the statement, “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee.”  The Covenant came first and then the mediation by the psalmist on the Covenant.  And so we are looking at the place at which the Davidic Covenant finds its origin, so to speak, in the word of God.

2 Samuel 7:14 parallels the words cited in Hebrews 1 — I will be his Father, and he shall be My son — immediately after v. 13, He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

Deuteronomy 32:43, the setting of the words quoted by the writer of Hebrews “when He again brings His firstborn into the world” have reference to the events at the Second Coming. Psalm 97:7 likewise is part of a set of Messianic Kingdom psalms; see this blog post about this set of Psalms.

Psalm 45 emphasizes God’s eternal throne.  We can look back to scripture;  who who was promised an eternal throne?  Again we go back to the Davidic covenant, and since this paragraph has so many references to other texts concerning the Davidic covenant, we can say that here also the writer of Hebrews has interpreted it correctly, in reference to the Davidic throne.

Just this short section in Hebrews 1 is rich with many great Old Testament references to the Davidic Covenant and Christ’s return.  I look forward to the rest of the series, to learn far more than what is taught by misguided NCT teachers who would reinterpret Hebrews to refer to the First Coming and the Church Age.

Recent Bible Readings: Horner Bible Reading Update

August 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Another update from Bible readings, in my daily walk through the different Bible genres in a modified Horner Bible Reading Plan.  As always, this genre plan of reading Bible chapters in parallel, with selections from each of several (eight) sections of the Bible, provides some interesting cases of readings that go together.  Consider the following recent readings, two selections both read on the same day:

Some other good observations, scripture thoughts from Bible reading:

For encouragement, Phillipians 3:15 , Job 33:16-26, 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4 and 13, 2 Thessalonians 3:5, and 2 Timothy 3:12

Observations from reading through history and the prophets:
In 1 Kings 1:7 I noticed again the mention of Abiathar the priest, who now must be at least 42 years older than when he was first introduced in 1 Samuel 22, as the young son of Abimelech the priest, the one that managed to escape from Saul and Doeg.  After all, David has now reigned for 40 years, and 1 Samuel 22 was at least two years before that, before David spent time in Philistine territory.  By now Abiathar’s son Jonathan, also mentioned in 1 Kings 1, is also a priest.  Yet what a different person, now hardened and turned against David to support Adonijah.  By the end of 1 Kings 1 he is deposed from the priesthood, as yet another fulfillment of the words spoken to Eli by the prophet Samuel so many years before.

1 Kings 4:31 mentions Ethan the Ezrahite, indicating that he must have been a contemporary of Solomon.  This time I remember the name as the author of Psalm 89, a passage that S. Lewis Johnson spent some time discussing in reference to the Davidic covenant.

This time through Ezekiel, I have especially noticed the many references to the word “prince” as descriptive of the human ruler, usually the ruler in Jerusalem but sometimes other uses such as Ezekiel 30:13 in reference to the ruler of Egypt.  As pointed out in SLJ’s Davidic covenant series, the Lord God is the king, and the human ruler, David (and his descendants) is the prince.  This designation of prince throughout the earlier chapters of Ezekiel, makes the references in Ezekiel 44-48 more understandable–as referring to the human ruler over the people.  Knowing the use of that word, prince, throughout the many earlier chapters, makes it obvious that of course in Ezekiel 44-48 it’s not talking about Christ — as even some of the passages in Ezekiel 44-48 indicate, that the prince is a separate person than the Lord God (reference Ezekiel 44:3, The prince himself is the only one who may sit inside the gateway to eat in the presence of the LORD).

Biblical Covenants, Typology, and S. Lewis Johnson

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Through my study of the biblical covenants — the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New — I now increasingly notice biblical references to these covenants, with greater appreciation for our covenant-keeping God, the One who will deliver us in keeping with His word.  Understanding the great, divine purpose of God, and His faithfulness to these covenants, helps me to bear up under personal struggles, realizing again God’s wonderful sovereign grace, trusting that He will yet deliver on these wonderful promises — though for now (for a short time, this life) we have our light and momentary afflictions.

Returning to the biblical references, I note something S. Lewis Johnson has pointed out, that the term covenant appears over 300 times in the Old Testament, yet only 33 times in the New Testament — and over half of these are quotations from the Old Testament.  Yet recently I noticed one of the “covenant” references, in Ephesians 2:12 — we (Gentiles) were once excluded, foreigners to “the covenants of the promise” — an excellent New Testament reminder of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.

2 Samuel 7, the main passage dealing with the Davidic covenant, includes David’s wonderful praise (verses 18 – 29), in which David prays “O Lord God” — Adonai Yahweh in the Hebrew, and the same words used in Genesis, in reference to the original covenant with Abraham.

Exodus includes a few references to covenants, including an interesting one in 29:9, a promise to give the priesthood to Aaron’s descendants forever.  This one I can see as having ultimate fulfillment at the Second Coming, with the millennial temple and priestly service described in Ezekiel 40-48 and mentioned by other prophets such as Zechariah.

Exodus 31:17 is another strong covenant statement that mentions the covenant with Israel — and a statement of fact that God created  heaven and earth in six days:  “It (the sabbath) is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”  Something so simple and straightforward, yet how many profess the name of Christ yet want to reject the very beginning of God’s word and argue that Genesis 1 is poetry.  In reading Exodus 31, it also strikes me as interesting that often the same people who scoff at the Genesis creation are the very ones who write off Israel and declare that God is finished with them.  Yet here the two ideas are inextricably linked:  the fact of God’s creation in six ordinary days, as a sign “forever” between God and “the people of Israel.”  Again, how obvious can something be and so many professed believers just don’t get it?  Israel still exists as a distinct, separate ethnic race, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies such as Baalam’s prophecy (Numbers 23:9: behold, a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations!), and (from my recent reading) Ezekiel 20:32 (“What is in your mind shall never happen-the thought, ‘Let us be like the nations…’).  For as Psalm 89 assures us, the promise to David is sure — Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.

Another interesting Old Testament covenant is the one between David and Jonathan, begun in 1 Samuel and fulfilled in 2 Samuel 9 with Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth.  S. Lewis Johnson again teaches good typology, pointing out the requirements of such types — historical, and with correspondences between the historical object and the New Testament equivalent.   Here, the parallels include:

  • David’s covenant purpose –> God’s eternal purposes — David as a type for God the Father
  • Jonathan (which means, “the Lord has given”) as God the Son
  • Mephibosheth — a name which means shame; one in shame, and crippled, representing us.
  • Delayed fulfillment of the covenant:  many years had gone by since David and Jonathan made the original covenant, yet just as surely as this covenant was later fulfilled, so will God’s covenant reach its fulfillment in the future
  • David’s search for those who are the object of the promises –> the Divine Initiative, that God is the one seeking us out.

The Davidic Covenant in the New Testament

July 16, 2010 2 comments

I’ve now completed the mini-series (within Lessons from the Life of David) on the Davidic covenant, so here are some more study notes and observations concerning this great covenant, itself an expansion of the Abrahamic covenant:

The New Testament has many references to the Davidic covenant, including:

  • Luke 1:31-33
  • Matt. 4:17, 21:43, 22:41-46, 26:29
  • Acts 13:29-37, and 15:15-16
  • Romans 1:3-4 and 15:7-13
  • Revelation 3:7, 5:5, and 22:16

Revelation 3:7 makes a reference to Isaiah 22:22, the “key of David.”  Revelation 22:16, the end of the New Testament, sums up the truth of the Davidic promises with Jesus’ sure words, “I am the root and the offspring of David.”

To those who would re-interpret references to David as meaning the church (as with the Acts 15 text:  David is mentioned 54 times in the New Testament, and always the word refers to David, not the church.  Furthermore, the Amos text cited in Acts 15 talks about “rebuilding” the tabernacle of David.  When is the Church ever referred to as something to be RE-built?  (No, Christ told Peter He would “build” His church.)  Or as something to be rebuilt from ruins, “as in the days of old”?  What does one do with the beginning phrase “after this”?  As always, we look at the context, which is talking about Gentiles being saved, and understand that the prophecy is talking about the future restoration, what will happen “after this,” the Gentile church age.

S. Lewis Johnson describes the difference between the Jews of Jesus’ day and the present-day Church in an interesting way:  The Jews received the promises, but rejected the seed (Jesus Christ, the seed of David).  We (the visible Church) receive the seed (Jesus), but reject the promises.

As for the common question, “what about the land promises? They’re not mentioned in the New Testament,” the obvious and clear answer is that both the Old and New Testaments are equal in importance.  We must follow the example given by the apostles, for who the Scriptures were the scriptures of the Old Testament, as pointed out in 2 Peter 3:2, “That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour.”  Peter’s statement is a strong answer to those who give the New Testament priority and would discard anything from the Old Testament unless it is explicitly mentioned in the New Testament.  Rather, we interpret the Old Testament on its own terms, and only discard something from the Old Testament if the New Testament specifically says to do so.

To think otherwise is to disparage the scriptures, and to lose a lot of the joy of understanding the purpose of God.

Biblical Covenants: The Davidic Covenant

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Through an interesting providence, both of my current MP3 sermon studies — one going through the life of David in 1st and 2nd Samuel, the other a doctrinal series “The Divine Purpose” — came to the same subject last week: the Davidic covenant. The “Lessons from the Life of David,” upon reaching 2 Samuel 7, begins a mini-series of four messages on the topic. The “Divine Purpose” series is in a section looking at the biblical covenants and commits two sessions specifically to the Davidic covenant, as an expansion of the Abrahamic covenant.

Some of the important points:
The Davidic covenant expands on the Abrahamic covenant, and the primary feature here is the kingdom — a king and a realm (subjects). The New Covenant, another outworking of the Abrahamic covenant, treats the matter of the seed. The Davidic covenant also promises the everlasting reign of David’s seed, and here the term seed is meant in the collective sense: David’s descendants on the throne, but ultimately the line ends as it comes into the Messiah.

In 2 Samuel 7:8, God promises that David “should be prince over my people Israel.” God reserves the title of King to Himself alone. Here I add an interesting note from recent reading through 1 Samuel 25 (list 6), that Abigail does indeed appear to know something about the future Davidic promises, with her words “a sure house” and, verse 30, that the Lord would appoint David prince over Israel: ” And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel”. Also from recent readings I noticed Psalm 145, and in verses 10-13 David also recognizes that it is God’s kingdom:

All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The word “covenant” does not actually appear in 2 Samuel 7, but in 2 Samuel 23:5, David makes reference to the covenant: “For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure.”

The three key passages for the Davidic covenant are 2 Samuel 7, 1 Chronicles 17, and Psalm 89.  Johnson describes these passages as different types of lights that show different emphases:

  • 2 Samuel 7 — a floodlight, an overview
  • 1 Chronicles 17 — a spotlight
  • Psalm 89 — a searchlight

Psalm 89 has two key words: mercy (or “loving kindness”) and faithfulness. Psalm 89 was written by Ethan, whose name means perpetuity. SLJ made a passing reference without further explanation, that this psalm was written at the time when Rehoboam had been unfaithful. I don’t see this detail in the text, so this is one for further study, to look up in commentaries.

These two Davidic covenant series contain a great deal of overlap, though the David series spends more time (four sessions instead of two). Yet in both of these series SLJ uses the illustrations of different types of light — the floodlight, spotlight, and searchlight — and cites the same passages in reference to the Davidic covenant in prophecy, including Isaiah 7, 9 and 11. Both series also discuss the New Testament references to the Davidic covenant.

In closing, here are the references to the Davidic covenant in Isaiah. Both of these series are available, in transcript and audio files, at www.sljinstitute.net

Isaiah 7:13-14 — “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 9:7 – Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.

Isaiah 11:1- 10, in which verses 1 and 10 mention “the stump of Jesse” and “the root of Jesse,” with descriptions of the kingdom age in between:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

and

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples-of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.