by Jerry Shugart
III. The Lord Jesus' Last Will and Testament
When we look at the following verse we can know that the word "testament" is in regard to the Lord Jesus' Last Will and Testament:
"For where a testament (diatheke) is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament (diatheke) is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth" (Heb.9:16-17).
Dean Alford wrote that "It is quite vain to deny the testamentary sense of 'diatheke' in this verse....I believe it will be found that we must at all hazards accept the meaning of 'testament,' as being the only one which will in any way meet the plain requirement of the verse" [emphasis added] (Alford, The Greek Testament, IV:173, 174; cf. the renderings of ASV, RSV).
Zane C. Hodges writes that the author of Hebrews "treated the Greek word for 'covenant' (diatheke) in the sense of a will. While 'covenants' and 'wills' are not in all respects identical, the author meant that in the last analysis the New Covenant is really a testamentary disposition. Like human wills, all the arrangements are secured by the testator and its beneficiaries need only accept its terms" [emphasis added] (The Bible Knowledge Commentary; New Testament, ed. Walvoord & Zuck [Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing 1983], p.802).
Scott Murray wrote that "the sense of 'last will and testament' was the primary and most prevalent meaning of the word 'diatheke' in Hellenistic Greek" (Murray, "The Concept of Diatheke in the Letter to the Hebrews," Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 66:1, Jan., 2002, p.54-55).
The Last Will and Testament is the Gospel
In his commentary on Hebrews 9:15-22 Matthew Henry wrote that "In these verses the apostle considers the gospel under the notion of a will or testament, the new or last will and testament of Christ..." (Matthew Henry, Commentary on Hebrews 9:15-22)
William Beck wrote the following about Martin Luther's idea that the Greek word diatheke carried the meaning of the "gospel":
"For Luther the 'berith' of the Old Testament was, in essence, the Gospel-promise of Jesus Christ, while the 'diatheke' was the Gospel-promise completed in the Christ who was already born, sacrificed, risen, and who was coming again to give His people the ultimate inheritance: forgiveness of sins in heaven. This is why he writes: 'And so that little word 'testament' is a short summary of all God's wonders and grace, fulfilled in Christ' (LW:XXXV:84)" [emphasis added] (Beck, The New Testament: God's Word to the Nations, [Cleveland: Biblion Publishing, 1988], p.533-534).
John Frahm wrote that "the use of the word 'testament' confesses more fully the Gospel promises and cross-focused content of Christ's person and work that is distributed Sunday after Sunday in the Divine Service" [emphasis added] (Frahm, The Lord's Supper as Christ's Last Will and Testament).
The Imputed Righteousness of God
In the following passage we can see the gospel as a "Last Will and Testament" where the beneficiaries are those who believe and the inheritance is the imputed righteousness of God and it is all made possible through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus--redeemed by His precious blood:
"But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Ro.3:21-24; NIV).
The following verse also speaks of the Lord Jesus' Last Will and Testament and in this case it speaks of something associated with wills--an inheritance:
"And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament (diatheke), 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" (Heb.9:15).
A person becomes a "heir" when he receives an inheritance which flows from a Last Will and Testament. Therefore, in the following verse Paul is using the term "gospel" as a synonym for the Lord Jesus' Last Will and Testament.
"That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph.3:6).
Sir Robert Anderson writes that "Our spiritual and eternal blessings do not depend on a covenant made with us, but upon a testament under which we are beneficiaries" (Anderson, Types in Hebrews [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1978], p.56).