bible.cod: The New Covenant
(Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:8-12)
“Indeed a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with my people.”
The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promised Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)
Studying the Prophets of Israel presents unique interpretative challenges. We must keep in mind the number one principle of interpretation—the Bible can never mean what it never meant. When we place the prophets in their proper literary and historical context a pattern emerges. We begin to see the prophets as Covenant Enforcer Mediators. (Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 167)
The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline. (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11)
An exciting aspect of God’s covenant relationship and promises to Israel for New Testament believers is our relationship to the New Covenant God made with Israel. During the days of Jeremiah, when it was obvious that Israel would never keep the Old Covenant, God promised to make a new covenant with Israel and Judah. This New Covenant had to do with the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant:
Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord,“when I will make a new covenantwith the people of Israel and Judah.It will not be like the oldcovenant that I made with their ancestorswhen I delivered themfrom Egypt. For they violated that covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them,”says the Lord.“But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israelafter I plant them back in the land,”says the Lord.“I willput my law within themand write it on their hearts and minds.I will be their God and they will be my people.
“People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me.For all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,”says the Lord. “ForI will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
This was the passage to move Origen to name the last twenty-seven books of the Bible the New Testament. It’s also the largest piece of text quoted literally in the New Testament in Hebrews 8:8-12. It’s a key passage in helping us understand how we, as New Testament believers, fit into God’s great plan. God made the covenant with Israel and its ultimate fulfillment will involve the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jews. Yet the New Testament writers make it clear that church-age believers have mysteriously and wonderfully entered into the blessings of the New Covenant:
Before we begin our journey through the Prophets of Israel, it’s important to understand the implications of this critical text for us today.
I. What is the New Covenant? It is a series of promises that God made to Israel and Judah during the darkest days in Old Testament history. These promises are unconditional, unchangeable, and irreversible since they are sealed by God’s oath. The New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant of the Mosaic Law because that covenant had been broken. It is vastly superior to the Old and makes it obsolete. It defines the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant in glorious and unexpected ways.
A. The term “New Covenant” occurs only here in the Old Testament, though there are numerous references in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea.
B. The New Covenant was future to Jeremiah’s writing. The Lord would make this New Covenant with all the Israelites—those who had inhabited the Northern and the Southern Kingdom:
C. The blessings of the New Covenant are:
1. An inner inclination to obey God, an internalization of His Law. “I willput my law within themand write it on their hearts and minds.” God’s New Covenant will give Israel the inner capacity to obey His righteous commands and enjoy deep intimacy with Him. Ezekiel (36:24-32) and Joel (2:28-32) clarify that this inner power will be the indwelling Holy Spirit.
2. A firm relationship with God that is secure and eternal.
3. The knowledge of God: Intimacy never achieved under the Old Covenant.
4. The forgiveness of sin: Israel’s sins would not only be forgiven, but forgotten. Isaiah clarified this by saying that God’s Substitute would make payment for sin (53:4-6). Jesus announced that His substitionary death on the Cross would ratify the New Covenant (Matthew 26:27-28; Luke 22:20).
II. What do the New Testament authors say about the New Covenant? God ratified the New Covenant with Israel when Jesus Christ died on the Cross, and the church now operates under this covenant.
A. Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant when He died on the Cross as a substitute for sin (Luke 22:20, Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; 1 Corinthians 11:25).
B. New Testament Christians are ministers/servants of a new covenant based upon the Spirit that gives life and therefore our stories of relationship with God are about what the Spirit is doing in our heart (on the inside, 2 Corinthians 3:1-6).
C. New Testament Christians are recipients of the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant through the promise of the New Covenant. Because of Israel’s unbelief and unfaithfulness to the Old Covenant, the church has been grafted into all the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant (Galatians 3:14; Romans 9:8, 11:17). The four benefits of the New Covenant—inner inclination to obey God, firm relationship, knowledge of God, and forgiveness of sins—belong to all the regenerate of every age since the substitionary death of the Son of God on the Cross. (Hebrews 8:8-12)
D. Since the New Covenant offers final forgiveness based solely upon the death of Christ, there is no further need of a sacrifice for sin. (Hebrews 10:15-18)
III. Does this mean that God is through with Israel? No! The promise was specifically made to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The full spiritual, physical, and national portions of the New Covenant do not belong to the church. Those will be fulfilled in the future. We believe that this will occur during the Millennium, the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth following His Second Coming.
IV. What does this mean to me? God made the New Covenant with Israel at the Cross. But grace upon grace! Though the church does not replace Israel, mysteriously and gloriously we enter into her New Covenant blessings! We have the Holy Spirit who inclines us to obey God (Romans 8:9; Philippians 2:13). We have a firm relationship with God through Christ which is secure and eternal (1 John 5:11-13). We have intimacy with God that no one under the Old Covenant could experience (Romans 8:16-17; 1 John 1:3). And we have forgiveness of sins through the death of Christ (Ephesians 1:7).