John Owen on the Meaning of Hebrews 13:20
It is commonplace, in many Reformed churches, for ministers to use Hebrews 13:20-21 as a benediction at the end of a worship service. It is perhaps my favorite of all the benedictions we use. But as is true with all Scripture, we sometimes have a tendency to read over--and even memorize--portions of Scripture thoughtlessly. Such was the case, in my experience, with the phrase in Hebrews 13:20: "Now, may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant, our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, make you complete..." What does it mean when the author of Hebrews says that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead through the blood of the covenant? John Owen, in his Exposition of Hebrews, gives one of the most satisfactory explanations of this all important phrase. He explains that the blood of the cross made the resurrection possible. Owen noted:
2. The blood of this covenant is the blood of Christ himself, so called in answer to the blood of the beasts, which was offered and sprinkled in the confirmation of the old covenant; whence it is by Moses called the blood of the covenant, Exod. xxiv. 8; Heb. ix. 20. See that place and the exposition. And it is called the blood of this covenant, because, as it was a sacrifice to God, it confirmed the covenant, and as it was to be sprinkled, it procured and communicated all the grace and mercy of the covenant, to them who are taken into the bond of it.
3. But the principal inquiry is, how God is said to bring Christ from the dead through the blood of the covenant, the shedding whereof was the means of, and the way of his entrance to death. Now the mind of the Holy Ghost herein will appear in the ensuing considerations.
1st. By the blood of Christ, as it was the blood of the covenant, the whole will of God, as to what he intended in all the institutions and sacrifices of the law, was accomplished and fulfilled. See ch. x. 5â€”9. And hereby an end was put to the old covenant, with all its services and promises.
2dly. Hereby was atonement made for sin, the church was sanctified or dedicated to God, the law was fulfilled, the threatenings of death executed, eternal redemption obtained, the promises of the new covenant confirmed, and by one offering they who were sanctified, are perfected for ever.
3dly. Hereon, not only way was made for the dispensation of grace, but all grace, mercy, peace, and glory was purchased for the church, and in the purpose of God was necessarily to ensue. Now the head and well-spring of the whole dispensation of grace, lies in the bringing Christ again from the dead. That is the beginning of all grace to the church ; the greatest and first instance of it, and the cause of all that doth ensue. The whole dispensation of grace, I say, began in, anil depends on the resurrection of Christ from the dead, which could not have been, had not the things before mentioned been effected and accomplished, by the blood of the covenant. Without them he must have continued in the state, and under the power of death. Had not the will of God been satisfied, atonement made for sin, the church sanctified, the law accomplished, and the threatenings satisfied, Christ could not have been brought again from the dead. It was therefore hereby that he was so, in that way was made for it to the glory of God. The death of Christ, if he had not risen, would not have completed our redemption ; we should have been yet in our sins. For evidence would have been given that atonement was not made. The bare resurrection of Christ, or the bringing him from the dead, would not have saved us; for so any other man may be raised by the power of God. But the bringing again of Christ from the dead, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, is that which gives assurance of the complete redemption and salvation of the church. Many expositors have filled this place with conjectures to no purpose, none of them so much as looking towards the mind of the Holy Ghost in the words. That which we learn from them is,
Obs. VII. That the bringing back of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Shepherd of the sheep, from the state of the dead, through the blood of the covenant, is the great pledge and assurance of peace with God, or the effecting of that peace, which the God of peace had designed for the church.
Obs. VIII. The reduction of Christ from the dead, by the God of peace, is the spring and foundation of all dispensations, and communications of grace to the church, or of all the effects of the atonement, and purchase made by his blood.â€”For he was so brought again as the Shepherd of the sheep, to the exercise of his entire office towards the church. For hereon followed his exaltation, and the glorious exercise of his kingly power in its behalf, with all the benefits which ensue thereon, Acts v, 30, 31; Rom. xiv. 9; Phil. ii. 8â€”11; Rev. i. 17, 18, and the completing of his prophetical office by sending of his Holy Spirit to abide always with the church for its instruction, Acts ii. 33, and the discharge of what remains of his priestly office in his intercession, Heb. vii. 25, 26, and his ministering in the sanctuary to make the services of the church acceptable to God, Heb. viii. 2; Rev. viii. 4. These are the springs of the administration of all mercy and grace to the church, and they all follow on his reduction from the dead, as the Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the covenant.
Obs. IX. All legal sacrifices issued in blood and death, there was no recovery of any of them from that state. There was no solemn pledge of their success. But their weakness was supplied by their frequent repetition.