The Promise of the New Covenant

Posted on October 15, 2015


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The unified message of Scripture is demonstrated in the doctrine of the New Covenant. Throughout the Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures, the promise of the New Covenant is established and built upon, providing greater revelation as to its fulfillment and comprehensiveness to include not only Jews, but also Gentiles. So many doctrines cherished by Christians are tied to the New Covenant promise, including election, regeneration, sanctification, obedience of faith, redemption, penal substitutionary atonement, adoption, justification, reconciliation, the law of Christ, ecclesiology, and eschatology. The reality of the New Covenant is so overwhelming that it causes the apostle Paul to erupt in praise on multiple occasions, including Ephesians 1:3-14 and Romans 11:33-36. We even see the doctrine of the Trinity powerfully and beautifully displayed as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are revealed in Scripture working together to bring about the salvation of God’s elect through the New Covenant. While impossible to discuss each of these facets of the New Covenant so briefly, this article will provide a few examples attempting to demonstrate how the authors throughout the Old and New Testament knew the Scriptures and the theology within.

Among the first passages to include language tied to the New Covenant is found in Deuteronomy 30:1-10. After warning Israel to not forsake the covenant God established with the nation, lest they kindle “the anger and fury and great wrath of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 29:18-29), Moses prophesied a time would come when, after they would indeed kindle the Lord’s wrath in their disobedience, God would gather them from the nations to which He scattered them (Deut. 30:1-5). God’s promise to regather the nation is tied to His original promise to the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 15), which was given approximately 600 years prior in 2081 BC(1). Then in Deuteronomy 30:6, we see Moses use initial language describing God’s work of regeneration that results in the believer’s obedience to the Lord:

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

With this promise of God’s future work in the hearts of His people, they will be enabled to faithfully obey the greatest commandment, which Jesus identified over 1,400 years later in Matthew 22:34-38.

Around 800 years after Moses spoke to the people in Moab (Deut. 29-30), God called Jeremiah to be His prophet (Jeremiah 1:4-5). Later, in Jeremiah 31:31-34, the prophet declared:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

In this New Covenant that is unlike the Old Covenant given through Moses (v. 32), the Lord would write His law not on tablets of stone, but directly on the hearts of His people (v. 33). As with the circumcision of the heart found in Deut. 30:6-8, God putting His law within His people (v. 33) results in their obedience toward Him (Jer. 32:38-40).

A couple decades after Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant, the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1-3) would expound upon Moses and Jeremiah, further developing the theology of the New Covenant in Ezekiel 36:22-31:

regeneration1Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations.

Both Jeremiah 31:32 and Ezekiel 36:22-23 provide a historical record affirming the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy that Israel would break the covenant God renewed in Deut. 29. Yet, it is through Israel’s disobedience that the Lord will demonstrate His covenant faithfulness. As did Moses and Jeremiah, Ezekiel prophesied the Lord’s future work of regeneration to unite His people with Himself and cause them to obey His commands. Here, Ezekiel does not speak of a spiritual circumcision of the heart or of God writing His law on the heart, but of a spiritual cleansing. This cleansing resembles the purification laws under the Mosaic Law (Numbers 19:17-19), but it is not a cleansing with water, but a washing by the Holy Spirit who will sprinkle clean water on the soul (v. 25). Through this washing, the Holy Spirit will give a new heart to the believer (v. 26). The Lord will even put His Spirit into the believer, causing them to be obedient to Him (v. 27). Not only will the Lord do this work of regeneration in the heart of the individual believer, but the Lord will do so in concert with bringing His elect Jews back into the land (Ez. 36:24, 28) He promised to Abraham (Gen. 15), just as He promised through Jeremiah (32:37-41) and Moses (Deut. 30:1-5).

Moving forward to the New Testament, the apostle John introduces the monergistic work of God in regeneration in John 1:12-13. Here, the apostle testifies that everyone who believes in Jesus “were born…of God.” John would later repeat this truth multiple times in his epistle, testifying that being “born of God” results in righteous living, just as the Lord previously declared in the New Covenant promises through Moses, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel:

1 John 2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been  born of him.

1 John 3:9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been  born of God.

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been  born of God and knows God.

1 John 5:18 We know that everyone who has been born  of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born  of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.

Not only does being born of God produce  practical righteousness, but it produces  the very faith that justifies us and gives us victory through Jesus Christ:

1 John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been  born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been  born of him.

1 John 5:4 For everyone who has been  born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

Returning back to the Gospel of John, we find Jesus using specific language referring to the New Covenant promise. In explaining to Nicodemus that one must be born from above in order to see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3), Jesus tells him:

spirit…Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit (John 3:5-8).

Here, Jesus affirms what God previously spoke through Ezekiel, that the day would come when the Lord would sprinkle clean water on the sinner to purify them and put His own Spirit within them (Ez. 36:25-27). This is what it means to be born again, or born of God, or born from above. It is a sovereign act of God whereby He takes sinners who are dead in their trespasses and sins, and makes them alive in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5). Using language of the New Covenant, the apostle Paul describes God working alone according to the riches of His mercy:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit… (Titus 3:4-5).

In verse 5, Paul clearly indicates that salvation comes by the work of regeneration  of the Holy Spirit, which produces, as John points out in his epistle, the faith to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The apostle Peter also picks up on this theme in 1 Peter 1:3:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again  to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…

Peter gives witness to the same truth that God, according to His mercy, causes sinners  to be born again – the same spiritual rebirth of which Jesus and the Old Testament prophets spoke.

But when was this New Covenant spoken of by the prophets to begin? When would the Jews begin seeing this work of God become a reality? God declared in Jeremiah 31:31 that He would make a New Covenant with Israel, so it must have been surreal for the disciples to hear Jesus speak of ratifying the New Covenant with His own blood in Matthew 26:28:

for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

The Lord had ratified the Mosaic Covenant with the blood of animals (Exodus 24:8), but He would ratify the New Covenant by the blood of the spotless Lamb of God. The author of Hebrews recognizes this New Covenant being inaugurated in the blood of Christ on the cross (Hebrews 9:11-28).

Hebrews 8:8-12 directly quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34, and again refers to Jeremiah 31 in chapter 10:16-17. This New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant (Heb. 8:13), as it provides “eternal redemption” through the blood of Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:12) that was shed once for all time for all of His people (Heb. 10:10-14). What’s more, the people under the Mosaic Covenant had to worship God from a distance, for the Lord only allowed Moses and the leaders of Israel to meet Him, and only Moses could approach the Lord to enter His presence (Ex. 24). crownnailsBut through the blood of Jesus Christ, our great High Priest who has atoned for our sins once for all (9:26; 10:12-14) and has sat down at the right hand of the Father (Heb. 8:1; 10:12), God’s worshipers not only can approach His throne, but can approach it boldly (Heb. 4:16; 10:19-22).

So God inaugurated the New Covenant by the blood of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago. While most of Israel to whom the promise was given have rejected their Messiah, God has and has always had a remnant according to the election of grace, as Paul writes in Romans 11:5. The Lord saved His disciples, who were Jews, and the initial members of the church were Jews (Acts 2). God continues to save His people to this day. But, as the mystery of the Gospel demonstrates, God’s people does not include the Jews only.

Jesus taught in John 10:16 that He would include “sheep not of this fold” (Gentiles), whereby His Jewish sheep and Gentile sheep would make up “one flock” with “one shepherd.” Paul goes to great lengths in Ephesians to expound upon the mystery of the Gospel, declaring the revelation of God’s eternal purpose to save a people for Himself to create one new man in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:11-3:12). Paul would later write how God, who cut off Israel for their hardness of heart, has grafted Gentiles into the eternal covenant promises He gave to Israel (Romans 11:7-20). But it is not as though God has completely cut off His people, Israel. The Lord will indeed be faithful and will keep His promises to Israel, for His name’s sake (Ez. 36:22-23). He will yet circumcise the hearts of elect Israel, He will yet write His law to their hearts, He will yet cleanse them from their idols and put His Spirit within them, and He will yet gather them back into their land, “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). “All Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26), just as God promised throughout the Old Testament. This revelation from God – that God has redeemed elect Gentiles and will yet save His redeemed elect people in Israel – is the very thing that causes Paul’s eruption of praise in Romans 11:33-36:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34’For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ 35’Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ 36For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Resembling a brilliant diamond cut with many facets causing light to reflect in many different directions, the New Covenant has many facets reflecting the glory of God in the salvation of men throughout redemptive history. This article attempted to provide only a portion of examples testifying to the complexity and intricate design of the New Covenant. Much more could be written to demonstrate the many theological realities linked to the New Covenant.

In this brief treatment, it was shown how the authors of both testaments consistently wrote about and developed the theology of the New Covenant. The message of the New Covenant is a unifying truth throughout the Scriptures, as revealed through God’s prophets and apostles, including but not limited to Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, John, Paul, Peter, the writer of Hebrews, and our great High Priest, Prophet, and Apostle Jesus Christ. While God originally gave the promise of the New Covenant to Israel, its foundation in the Abrahamic Covenant guarantees the salvation for both Jews and Gentiles. With the New Covenant being inaugurated by the blood of Jesus Christ, we witness the present reality of the New Covenant as God adds both Jew and Gentile to His Church through the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration. And, in the future, the Lord will once again prove faithful to His people Israel, when He saves and restores the entire nation, gathering them back into their promised land, washing and renewing them by the Holy Spirit, and causing them to obey all that He has commanded, to the praise of His glorious grace.

References:

(1) Valkanet, Rich; Discovery Bible; Biblos.com. 2010. “Bible Timeline.” Bible Hub. http://biblehub.com/timeline/.

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