Centrality of the Son in the Kingdom of God: Promise & Oath: First Covenant Incomplete (Part 6 of 7)

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Centrality of the Son in the Kingdom of God is a 7-part series. You can find others here:

  1.  Introduction, Summary, and Promulgation of the Kingdom (8/27/18)
  2.  Enthronement of Son (9/3/18)
  3.  Qualities of the Kingdom of God – Heb 2:1-4:13 (9/10/18)
  4. The Restoration Ministry of Jesus (9/17/18)
  5. Kingdom and Covenant Relationship & Hebrews as God’s People (9/24/18)
  6. Promise & Oath: First Covenant Incomplete (10/1/18)
  7. New Covenant Complete, Summary & Conclusion (10/8/18)

Promise and Oath (Heb. 6:13-20)

New Covenant

In discussing the covenantal implications of the Kingdom of God in Messiah, Hebrews does not refer to the giving of the Mosaic Law but rather to the establishment of the Abrahamic Covenant. The writer’s purpose is to show that the Melchizedek priesthood supersedes that of Levi because it is founded on better promises (Heb 8:6). This point is argued through four and one half chapters. When he is finished we understand that a new covenant has been constituted. The elements of this new covenant are those of the Kingdom of God as it touches humanity.

Abrahamic Covenant

The enthronement of Christ pictured in the first chapter of Hebrews reflects that of the creation story where God first exalts humankind (Gen 1:26-27) by creating them in his own image, after which he transfers dominion to them (Gen 1:28-30). In a similar manner, the Abrahamic covenant represents God’s exaltation of a man through a heavenly call. God promises that the nations of the earth will be blessed through Abraham’s seed. This is the point in Israel’s history and in salvation history where Hebrews begins to explain the position of promise in the covenant relationship.

Relation of Promise and Oath

In Genesis 22:16-17 we read about God’s reaffirmation of his covenant with Abraham.  At that time, God swore an oath to fully realize the promise he had made to Abraham. Hebrews 6:13-15 recounts how Abraham patiently waited for the fulfilling of this promise. The addition of the oath to the promise increased the guarantee of the latter.   God has no other way to intensify the thrust of his word because there is none greater than himself by which to magnify his affirmation. Promise and oath are both unchangeable (Heb 6:18) and indicate a strong hope for us who rely on them. In the new covenant, this hope resides in Jesus who has become a high priest of a new order.

First Covenant Incomplete (Heb. 7:1-14)

New Covenant Accomplished

In Hebrews 7:11 and 19 we are told plainly that the old covenant could not make perfect. This is in contrast with Son in verse 28 who has been made perfect forever. Here again the writer uses the Greek τελείωσις (part. perf. pass.) to indicate that a goal has been accomplished. Although the old Testament was not sufficient, Jesus has achieved his goal.

Melchizedek Greater Than Abraham

Chapter seven begins by expanding the discourse on Melchizedek begun in chapter five. As we saw earlier, the Melchizedek priesthood exemplifies the exaltation theme of Hebrews 1:5 because it is an eternal priesthood. Hebrews 7:1-10 describes the origin of this priesthood in relation to Abraham. Although Abraham is the recipient of God’s promise and oath, Melchizedek is considered greater. He received tithes from Abraham and blessed him. The writer argues that in a figurative way even Levi, who was Abraham’s descendant, paid tithes to Melchizedek.

Levitical Priesthood Imperfect

Levi, of course, was the progenitor of the tribe chosen to provide the priesthood for the first covenant. The law was given at the time of the Aaronic priesthood and everything connected with the sacrificial service was under the Levitical priesthood.  However, this priesthood was imperfect, for it could not accomplish God’s purpose of restoring his Kingdom. This is shown in the advent of the order of Melchizedek.

New Priesthood Brings Change in Law

In the enthronement of the Son, God also designated him a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb 5:10). That Jesus was from a tribe other than the tribe of Levi meant a change in the legal requirement of priesthood. Under the Abrahamic Covenant no one from the tribe of Judah could be a priest. Hebrews 7:13-14 notes that Jesus was descended from Judah. Therefore, in order for Jesus to become a priest, radical change in the legal system had to go into effect. And precisely at this point, we are told, a better covenant was introduced. The incomplete “former covenant” yields to the “better covenant.”

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About Author

Roger Dixon has been directly or vicariously in some way involved in cross-cultural church planting for nearly 50 years. He and his wife lived in Indonesia for over 30 years and raised 3 children while working among the Sundanese Muslim peoples. Roger has achieved a MDiv at Drew University, a Th.M at Fuller School of World Mission and a Ph.D at Biola School of Intercultural Studies. He was ordained in the Methodist Church in 1963.

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