Before moving forward, first a quick recap of some ideas and themes we've seen so far in Hebrews:
A significant theme of Hebrews so far has been "holding on to hope and confidence in Yahweh so that we can be engaged in his plans and experience his blessing and rest".
(Chapter 1) Jesus is superior to all messengers of God that came before him and the "heir" of all things in creation. (Believers are also referred to in verse 14 as those who "inherit salvation".)
(Chapter 2) Jesus is the source of our rescue from the power and penalty of sin. We are warned not to neglect the ongoing rescue Jesus offers.
(Chapters 3-5) There is a rest still available for God's people that the Israelites neglected. A rest found in our pursuit of God and participation in his plans. A rest found by fully relying on Jesus to be our "Great High Priest", trusting him, not our own efforts, to secure and maintain our good standing with God.
(Chapter 6) Believers who fail to increasingly pursue and place their trust in Jesus burn out or drift from faith as a result, and may even reject Jesus in contempt. Those who go down this road don't lose the gift of eternal life (John 5:24, Romans 6:23, Romans 11:29, 2 Timothy 2:13), but they do miss out on rest and inheriting the full promises of God given to Abraham (6:12, 17-20). (This idea of retaining eternal life but missing out on reward is taught more explicitly in 1 Corinthians 3:14-15. "If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.")
The author doesn't want his readers to end up in that situation, and so continues to build the case for trusting in Jesus as the ultimate priest/go-between for our relationship with God.
(Chapter 7) Jesus' credentials as both our king and advocate are established by comparing him to the King-Priest of the Old Testament, Melchizedek. Jesus is a category of "priest" that is all his own, superior to and unlike any priest before him, without beginning or end.
(Chapter 8) The Old Covenant of temple sacrifices to repair and maintain relationship between God and humanity was lacking and was never meant to last forever.
(Chapter 9:1-14) The Old Covenant sacrificial system only dealt with sin superficially, and was powerless to really change who we are on the inside. The old system also had no sacrifice of great enough value to make eternal payment for our injustices toward God and each other. However Jesus' sacrifice of himself was enough to purify our consciences, fully paying for our sins. Because of this, we as believers are now able to fully and truly enter into being a part of God's plans for the world, no longer hindered by powerless efforts to justify ourselves before God.
The author returns to the recurring idea of inheritance by using a play on words. As we found last time, the Greek word "diatheke" is translated as both "covenant" and "will"(as in "last will and testament") in verses 15-22. Context tells us which meaning he is emphasizing in a given case, although given the idea of "inheritance" that is so frequently attached to the idea of "covenant" in the Old Testament, and the use of "diatheke" to translate "covenant" in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it seems possible he intends both meanings to be applied with each use of the word in this passage. (See Part 1 for more on this thought.)
Because of the immense value of Jesus' self-sacrifice (see v.13-14), Jesus has become the mediator of a new and better agreement(and "last will and testament") between God and humanity. As a result of this new "covenant/will", believers in Jesus Christ ("those who are called") are now eligible ("may receive") to receive an inheritance that is both all encompassing and that lasts forever. (As opposed to an inheritance that lasts forever but is less complete as described in Hebrews 6:4-12 and 1 Corinthians 3:14-15.)
In other words, the sacrifice of Jesus means that believers no longer have to worry about trying to earn or pay for forgiveness through efforts or sacrifices on their own part. That pathway to redemption only works in theory, never in practice. The Israelites attempt at obeying this kind of covenant proves that sad reality. But under this new, superior "covenant/will", believers can instead rely on Jesus for forgiveness, and commit their own efforts toward involving themselves in God's "household affairs"(see Hebrews 3:1-6) and enjoying the inheritance rewards of that present involvement both now and in eternity.
As is usually the case with last wills and inheritances, the person who made the will has to die for the will to come into effect. Even under the Old Mosaic Covenant, blood was required to inaugurate the covenant and sacrifices dealing with forgiveness of sins required blood.
This makes me wonder if the concept of "inheritance" being so attached to God's promises in the Old Testament made any ancient Hebrews scholars curious as to who might need to die in order for God's promise of "inheritance" to come into effect.
Although by Jesus' time the religious leaders and teachers didn't seem to be expecting their Messiah to die as part of his work, I wonder if the leaders and teachers before them pieced together the subtle reference to death in the "inheritance" language of the Old Testament and the more direct reference to it in the description of Messiah as a "suffering servant" in Isaiah 53.
The author of Hebrews seems to have made this connection, and draws it out here. We can't receive the "inheritance" God promises Abraham and all believers today unless God dies first. And in Jesus, he did, making it possible for us to share in everything that Christ inherits (Romans 8:16-17).
Have you ever been frustrated when something you were really excited about turned out to be not so great? Or maybe you've really enjoyed an amazing geek experience and feel empty and sad when its over. I recently finished the Bioshock trilogy and I enjoyed it so much. When the experience was finally over I immediately wanted to find something else that might provide the same gratification. I've tried a half-dozen games and none of them have given me the same caliber of experience. It's gotten to the point where I've even felt angry at having wasted hours of my limited "playtime" in a search that end up fruitless.
When I step outside of that for a second I'm struck by how spoiled and unrealistic I'm being. It is the very nature of this life to be disappointing and fleeting. Awesome geek experiences are a generous gift from God, but they are only a shadow and foretaste of the future for believers. Instead of expecting and feeling entitled to experiencing fun, excitement and pleasure in my life, I hope to reshape my expectations with scripture, and remember that this life is short and hard. My reward and inheritance isn't found here. Christ has secured a life for me beyond imagining that I'll never lose interest or be disappointed in. A life far better than the best geek experiences I have here.