Hebrews 9:15 explains that the death of Jesus as a sacrifice had the purpose of providing “redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant,” in order that the people of God might “receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (NASB).
In the ancient Near East, a covenant between two persons or nations was a serious matter. It involved an exchange of promises under oath. It implied the assumption that the gods would punish those who broke the oath. Often, these covenants were ratified through the sacrifice of an animal.
For example, when God made a covenant with Abraham, the ceremony involved cutting animals in half (Genesis 15:6-21). The parties would walk between the parts as an acknowledgment that those animals represented the fate of the party who broke the covenant. Significantly, only God walked between the animals, for the purpose of communicating to Abraham that He will not break His promise.
Compare Genesis 15:6-21 and Jeremiah 34:8-22. What do these texts teach about the covenant?
The covenant with God gave Israel access to the Promised Land as their inheritance. It involved, however, a set of commandments and the sprinkling of blood upon an altar. This sprinkling implied the destiny of the party who broke the covenant. This is why Hebrews says that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission [of sins]” (Hebrews 9:22, literal translation).
When Israel broke the covenant, God faced a painful dilemma. The covenant demanded the death of the transgressors, but God loved His people. If God should simply look the other way or refuse to punish the transgressors, His commandments would never be enforceable, and this world would descend into chaos.
The Son of God, however, offered Himself as a Substitute. He died in our place so that we “may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15, Hebrews 9:26, ESV; Romans 3:21-26). That is, He was going to uphold the sanctity of His law while at the same time saving those who broke that law. And He could do this only through the cross.
|How can we see here why the law is so central to the gospel message?|