By Larry Ray Hafley
A reader asks: How does Hebrews 13:20 relate to the discussion about “One Covenant” or “The Eternal Covenant”? Does this passage give credence to the idea that God has only had one covenant?
First, the book of Hebrews abounds in points of contrast. Indeed, contrasts are the fiber and fabric of the letter. If one doubts it, let him take them away and see what he has left!
Second, the thirteenth chapter, true to the nature of the book, is soaked and saturated with sure and certain contrasts. (1) There are two sources of strength (v. 9). (2) There are two altars, and, by implication, two tabernacles (v. 10; cf. 8:2; 9:2). (3) There are two bodies of sacrifice, the “bodies of those beasts (animals),” and the body of Christ (v. 11; cf. Col. 1:22). (4) There are two “end-results” of those sacrificed bodies. The “bodies of those beasts . . . are burned without the camp,” while the body of Jesus was “brought again from the dead” (vv. 11, 20). (5) There are two “bloods,” the blood of animals and “his own blood,” the blood of Christ (vv. 11, 12; cf. Matt. 26:28; Heb. 9:18- 23). (6) There are two high priests, the Old Testament high priest and, by implication, Jesus, our high priest — some- one had to bring the offering into the sanctuary; in the Old Testament, it was the high priest; in the New Testament, it is Christ (vv. 11, 12; cf. 3:1; 5:1-6; 9:25, 10:10-14). (7) There are two cities. One is earthly Jerusalem; the other is “the heavenly Jerusalem” (v. 14; cf. 11:16; 12:22). (8) There are two covenants. One is “everlasting” (in contrast to that which is temporary) having been established “through the blood” of Christ (v. 20; cf. Matt. 26:28; Heb. 9:18-10:14).
Third, the contrast between that which is temporary and that which is “everlasting” threads and weaves itself throughout the book of Hebrews. (Does this need to be proven to Christians?!) (1) There is the “changeable” versus the “unchangeable priesthood” (5:6; 7:24). (2) There is the provisional, temporary tabernacle and there is the eternal, “true tabernacle” (8:2; 9:2, 11, 12). In short, there is the shadow and there is the substance. (3) There is a kingdom which could be, and was, moved, and there is a “kingdom which cannot be moved” (12:28; cf. Dan. 2:44; Luke 1:32, 33 — What is the difference between a kingdom which “shall never be destroyed,” and of one of which “there shall be no end,” and one “which cannot be moved”?). The “everlasting covenant of 13:20 is the same as the “new covenant.” The blood of the new covenant is the blood of Christ (Matt. 26:28). The blood of the “everlasting covenant” is also the blood of Christ; hence, the “everlasting covenant” is the “new covenant.” (4) There is a law which could be, and was, changed, and there is a new and living way, or law, which cannot be altered, shaken, or abolished (2:3; 7:11-14; 8:10; 10:20, 26- 29; 12:25). (5) There was a temporary covenant and there is
“the everlasting covenant” (13:20; cf. Gal. 3:6-4:7).
Fourth, study the contrasts made by use of the word, “better,” in Hebrews (7:19, 22; 8:6; 11:4; 12:24). (1) There is “a better hope” (7:19). Better than what? The contrast is with the “law.” The “better hope” of 7:19 is the “better testament” of 7:22. The “law,” the “first covenant” made nothing perfect, but the “better hope,” the “second” covenant did. This “better hope” is the means whereby “we draw nigh unto God.” By the law, we cannot draw nigh unto God. This is what the Holy Spirit signified (9:8). However, through the “new covenant,” the “better hope,” we draw nigh unto God.
(2) The “better covenant” of 8:6 is the same as the “better testament” of 7:22. Note this: Under the law, Christ could not serve, could not minister (8:4). But under the “new covenant” he has “obtained a more excellent ministry.” The law is the “first covenant.” Under it Christ could not minister. Under the “new covenant,” he ministers, serves. How, then, are they “one covenant”?
(3) Were Cain and Abel’s sacrifices “one sacrifice”? No, Abel’s was “better,” and it was another sacrifice, one other than Cain’s (Gen. 4:3-7). Likewise, when we read of a “better covenant,” we are reading of another (not the same) covenant.
(4) In 8:6, “he (Christ) is the mediator of a better covenant.” In 9:15, “he is the mediator of the new testament.” In 12:24, Jesus is “the mediator of the new covenant.” Christ is not the mediator of two covenants. He is “the mediator of the new, and not the mediator of two.”
Utilizing the argument of the Hebrew writer in 7:11-14 (since the priesthood has been changed, “there is made of necessity a change also of the law”), we draw some parallel and corollary conclusions. Since the tabernacle system has been changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law (9:1-17). Since the sacrificial system has been changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the covenant (8:1-4; 9:12-14; 10:1-14; cf. Gal. 2:16-21).
It is by and through “the blood of the everlasting covenant,” not through that covenant which was temporary and provisional, that we have “obtained eternal redemption” (cf. “eternal redemption” with “everlasting covenant”; 9:12-14; 10:10-14). How could a covenant be “everlasting” when its systems and sacrifices, its provisions and pronouncements, are to be altered, set aside, annulled, superseded, and “pass away”?
The “everlasting covenant” is no more the same covenant as that of the Old than is the priesthood of Aaron the same as that of Christ (8:4). The “everlasting covenant” is no more the same covenant as that of the Old than is the sacrifice of animals the same as that of “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” (10:10). The “everlasting covenant” is no more the same covenant as that of the Old than is David’s civil kingship the same as Christ’s spiritual reign and rule (1:5-9).
Finally, the “first,” or “old” testament was dedicated with the blood of animals (9:18, 19). It was identified as “the blood of the testament” (9:20). Get that; hear it. The blood of animals was “the blood of the (first, or old) testament.” In contrast, Jesus’ blood is the “blood of the new testament” (Matt. 26:28; Luke 22:20). This blood, his blood, dedicated the new testament — “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (9:15). The new testament did not become of force before the death of Christ (9:16, 17).
Again, the word “better” plays a prominent part. It was “necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with better sacrifices than these” (9:23). Does any Christian not know what that “better sacrifice,” that better blood is?! His blood, his sacrifice, cleansed and purified that which the old typified (9:24-27). Hence, the blood of Christ dedicated the new covenant (10:9, 10, 19, 20). This is why, therefore, that the Hebrew writer said that we are come “to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than that of Abel” (12:22, 24). His blood is the blood of the new covenant, “the blood of the everlasting covenant” (13:20). That covenant is as distinct from the first covenant as the blood of animals is separate and distinct from the blood of Christ.
This know and believe. Whenever men pervert and pol- lute obvious truth, they have a hidden agenda, a doctrine, a practice, a form of worship, and a way of life they are seeking to justify. Since they cannot otherwise have their views and philosophies accepted by them that believe and know the truth, they must wrest the Scriptures in order to fit their system into the mold and pattern of truth. Do not be deceived. Despite their protestations to the contrary, this is the path of all those who are ensnared in this “one covenant” controversy. False teachings have their consequences, and this “one, eternal covenant” idea is no exception.
Some will sympathize with and apologize for the advocates of the “One Covenant” doctrine. Others will say that they cannot see where it makes a difference. “After all,” they will say, “those who believe the ‘one covenant’ theory are just like us in every other form of doctrine, work and worship; so, what’s the big deal?” The “big deal” is that those of the “one covenant” view, or any other false idea, are not “just like” those whose deeds and doctrine are after the New Testament order. One might not be able to identify all the consequences of their false position, and he may not immediately see the ungodly lifestyle that their view promotes, but he can know such things are there and that, sooner or later, they will surface. It is not a harmless diversion. It has moral and doctrinal tentacles that will drown men in destruction and perdition. At least, that is what Peter said (2 Pet. 2:1-3). While “they feast with you” and “promise (you) liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption” (2 Pet. 2:13, 19).
Of course, these things were not seen at first glance. These “false teachers” were not seen as wolves. They appeared in sheep’s clothing; that is, they came in privately and secretly introduced their poison. They spoke alluring, enticing words and were received as great and good men (2 Pet. 2:18; cf. Acts 8:9-11). So it is with this “One Covenant” idea. “Be not deceived.” You can make certain that something is “rotten up the creek.” “And what I say unto you, I say unto all, watch” (Mark 13:37). (See material below for more complete information.)
Perhaps the most thorough, comprehensive answer to the question under discussion was given by Ashley S. Johnson. The article which follows is from a sermon he preached on February 20, 1899. It is found in his book, The Two Covenants 123-139. It is reproduced for your study and reflection.