Covenants: Differences

There are striking differences in the covenants God has used with man throughout history. God has always chosen just the right way to deal with man depending upon man’s needs and God’s own purposes. The writer of Hebrews open this great book with the words:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our Father’s by the prophets. But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…”(Hebrews 1:1)

Biblical covenants easily divide into three. The Patriarchal age, the Mosaic age and the present Christian age. The Christian age is very different from the other two. Here are some differences.


Neither the Patriarchal nor the Mosaic covenants could save. People were making offerings to God as far back as Genesis 4:3-4 when Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to God. Sacrifices were also important to people in the Mosaic (Jewish) period too. Leviticus chapters 1-4 specify some of those sacrifices which were constantly offered. But of all of these, the Bible says they could not take away sin (Hebrews 10:4; Hebrews 10:11). Only through Jesus Christ could redemption of sin, and therefore salvation, come (Hebrews 10:10; John 14:6)

Any attempt to gain salvation by relying on works of the Law of Moses, or the Patriarchal age, is doomed to failure. Those who lived in accordance with God’s laws at the time were saved not because of their covenant but because of Jesus Christ. All men, Jew and Gentile were, and are, under a common curse of sin (Romans 3:9-20). Although God had passed over sins previously, he now is both just Himself and the justifier of the unrighteous (Romans 3:25-26) through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. No further sacrifice is needed (Hebrews 10:14)

Salvation comes only in Christ in the Christian era. Everything else depends upon it.


There were always priests in the Patriarchal and Mosaic periods. Melchizedek, living long before the Mosaic age began is described as a priest of “God most high” (Genesis 14:18). Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law is also described as a priest (Exodus 3:1). In the Mosaic period, the tribe of Levi was dedicated to the priesthood (Numbers 18:23; Hebrews 7:5).

Priests stand between the people and God. They appear before God on behalf of the people and before the people on behalf of God. But such an intermediary is not necessary any longer. Jesus alone is our mediator with God. 1 Timothy 2:5:

“There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

In the ancient times, priests were certain people elevated by the command of God to carry out certain tasks. But today it is different. There is no need for a go-between any longer. And in fact the Bible makes clear that all Christians are now priests (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9). Why would any faith elevate a common man to a position already occupied by every believer? Isn’t the Bible crystal clear (Matthew 23:8-10) that we are all equal? Are we not all brothers? Who devised the idea of separating people into a “clergy/laity” system? Priests were part of the old Patriarchal and Mosaic Laws but are not found among the original Christians.


Soon after Israel encamped at Sinai, God introduced the tabernacle as the locus of worship. In the days of Solomon (1 Kings 6:1, 14) that tabernacle would give way to the more permanent Temple. The Temple was not a church building. It was a very holy place where God’s glory would come and shine among his people (2 Chronicles 5:11-14; 2 Chronicles 6:2).

Only designated priests could enter the Temple. And the High Priest alone could only enter the Most Holy Place and then only on one day a year. The average man never saw the inside of the Temple. Great crowds would gather around the Temple and in the porches surrounding it but they never entered.

Church buildings today are not holy in the sense of the Temple. In fact the building of specific buildings in which to worship is not found in the New Testament. Meeting places are not specified but generally they are found in homes (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:5; Philemon 2), public places (Acts 3:11 ; Acts 17:22 ) or even in schools (Acts 19:9) (1)not always a complete worship service but teaching and preaching. Isn’t it curious that some reach back to a covenant to name their assembly places?

There are a number of other differences between the  Mosaic covenant and the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25) under which Christians live. We will continue to look at some of them in our next article.


1 not always a complete worship service but teaching and preaching

3 comments On Covenants: Differences

  • We are saved by grace through faith, but I am a firm believer that God wants his commandments to be kept because of the writing found in the book of 1 John. Jesus even told us that if we do the commandments of God, we shall live. If we keep God’s commandmnents, we will be saved.

  • Yes, we are saved by grace through faith but not alone. I think many try to make these great Bible doctrines the only piece of the salvation puzzle. Clearly they are not. I cannot work my way into heaven – that is impossible – but I cannot be saved without some movement or effort on my part. You are correct, “if we keep God’s commandments we will be saved.”

  • Pingback: Is The Old Testament Useful for Us Today? — Preacher's Study ()

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