16 For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.
Now we see the relation of the blood of Christ to His sacrifice. His death inaugurated the New Covenant (vv. 16–22; He 9:15). It is necessary to see the need for the superior single sacrifice of Christ on the cross (He 9:16, 23). The New Covenant was ratified by the death of Christ and provided the ultimate salvation that Israel had longed for.
Note the change in the usage of the Greek word for “covenant” to “testament.” In verse 15 the idea is “covenant,” in verses 16 and 17 the concept is “testament,” but then at verse 18 the concept changes back to “covenant.” The reason he changes to “testament” (only time in the New Testament) is under a covenant the death of the person who makes the covenant is not necessary. A covenant does not depend on the death of the one who makes it. For a testament to be effective, the one who made it must die.
It is necessary for Christ the Messiah to die because:
—the testator must die to placate a holy God
—for God to forgive there needs to be death by blood
—true judgment needs a substitute
At this point the argument makes a shift in the way the word “covenant” is used. Now it is used in the sense of a will.
where there is a testament,
The Greek here indicates an indefinite testament, making it not refer to the New Covenant. “Testament” here is used in the sense of testamentary disposition. Arrangements of the will are secured by the testator in a human will. The beneficiaries can only accept the terms of the will.
there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.
The testator must die before his heirs can receive their inheritance. This is not the case with a covenant. A covenant is unilateral in nature. The death of the testator validates the will document.
The “for” here gives the grounds for verse 16. The New Covenant took place with the effect of Christ’s death to pay for sins (vv. 17–18). Since the Testator died, the New Covenant took effect.
a testament is in force after men are dead,
The “force” of a will depends on the death of the person who made the will. The word “force” is a term for objective certainty that guarantees the effect. The execution of the covenant meant that the contract cannot be annulled.
since it has no power at all while the testator lives.
A will takes effect when the person who makes the will dies; it is not in force while the testator lives.
Christ had to die for the New Testament to be enacted.
God’s people have an inheritance promised and reserved for us by God. These blessings are not only for eternity, but they are for time as well.
In a will of today, a promise is enforced by the law. The testator must die first. Until then it is no more than a promise of a future event. The death of Jesus the testator changed the promised inheritance to a legal possession for believers.
As our surety Christ took on all our debts and discharged them for us. The Day of Atonement did not retire the debt of believers; it only forestalled it until a future point. When Jesus came, His payment for sin was in full and complete (Ro 3:25). Our Lord enacted a permanent covenant by His death on the cross; He took all the responsibility for saving our souls.