The Major Issues Related to The New Covenant

The Statement Of The Issue

In the previous article it was noted that, although the Old Testament promised the New Covenant specifically to the literal nation of Israel, the Church also has a relationship to the New Covenant, partaking of its blessings, what is the relationship of the nation of Israel to the fulfillment of that covenant?

Theologians disagree with each other in their answers to this question.  Many Covenant theologians claim that the New Covenant is being fulfilled totally in the Church today. According to this view, the literal nation of Israel forfeited any relationship to the New Covenant because of its unbelief and rebellion against God. The Church in the present age has replaced literal Israel in that relationship. Thus, the promises of the New Covenant which were presented in the Old Testament are to be fulfilled in a spiritualized Israel (the Church) now. They are not to be fulfilled in the literal nation of lsrael in the future. Thus, according to this view, there never will be a fulfillment of the New Covenant for national Israel.

By contrast, Dispensational theologians claim that, since God promised to establish the New Covenant with the literal people of Israel (Jer. 31:31), since God intended the New Covenant to be unconditional in nature (totally dependent for the fulfillment of its promises upon God’s faithful­ness to His Word, Ezek. 36:36), and since God declared that He would fulfill the promises of the New Covenant with Israel, not because the nation would deserve it, but because of its disobedi­ence (Ezek. 36:21-36), then the literal nation of Israel has not forfeited its relationship to the New Covenant because of its un­ belief and rebellion against God. According to this view the Church has not replaced literal Israel in its relationship to the New Covenant, and the New Covenant is not being fulfilled totally in the Church today. In spite of the fact that the Church has a relation­ship to the New Covenant, that fact does not rule out the fulfill­ment of all the promises of the New Covenant with national Israel in the future. Thus, accord­ing to the Dispensational view, there will be a fulfillment of the New Covenant for literal Israel in the future.

In light of this disagreement between Covenant and Dispen­sational theologians, a conclusion can be drawn. The major issue which is related to the New Cov­enant is as follows: will there be a complete fulfillment of the New Covenant with literal, national Israel in the future?

Evidences For The Future Fulfillment Of The New Covenant With National Israel

The Scriptures present several evidences to the effect that God will fulfill the New Covenant with literal, national Israel in the fu­ture. First, in one of the major Old Testament passages in which God presented promises of the New Covenant (Ezek. 36:21-38), He clearly indicated that He would fulfill those promises with the same national people who profaned His holy name among the Gentiles. The context  (Ezek. 36:16-20) and language (“house of Israel,” vv. 22, 32, 37) of this passage make it clear that those people were the literal people of Israel. It is a fact that, because of its unbelief, national Israel has not yet received the fulfillment of the New Covenant promises of Ezekiel 36 since the time that Jesus established that covenant when He shed His blood on the cross. Since God indicated that He would fulfill the New Covenant promises with literal Israel, and since that nation has not yet received the fulfillment of those promises, one is forced to conclude that they will be fulfilled with national Israel in the future. Second, God’s  declaration to the effect that He would fulfill the promises of the New Covenant because of Israel’s profaning of His holy name among the Gentiles (Ezek. 36:20-23) indicates that literal,  national Israel does not forfeit its relationship to the New Covenant. Instead of the nation’s disobedience preventing its re­ceiving the fulfillment of the New Covenant promises, it actually causes it.

Third, it was noted earlier that some of the New Covenant prom­ises were purely spiritual in na­ture, but others were material and national in nature. In addi­tion, it was noted that the Church today partakes of the spiritual blessings which God promised as part .of the New Covenant. For example, Church believers do experience regeneration and forgiveness of sin, are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and do possess the new nature (the law of God in the heart). The Apostle Paul declared that Church believers have been blessed “with all spiritual bless­ings” (Eph.  1:3).

It should be noted, however, that, although the Church is par­taking of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant, the material and national promises of that covenant are not being fulfilled with the Church. For example, one of the national promises was to the effect that, once Israel would enter into the New Covenant relationship with God, that nation would receive no more threats and insults from other nations (Ezek. 34:28-29). By contrast, in spite of the fact that the Church has had a relationship with the New Covenant throughout its history, it has been threatened, insulted and persecuted many times by different nations.

Since the material and national promises of the New Covenant  are not being fulfilled with the Church, that means that those promises have not yet been fulfilled.  Since God has declared His determination to perform all His promises (including the material and national ones) of the New Covenant (Ezek. 36:36), one is forced to conclude that those promises must be fulfilled in the future with the nation of Israel.

Fourth, after the Church had come into existence and had begun to partake of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant, the Apostle Paul declared that the nation of Israel would experi­ence the fulfillment of the New Covenant when Messiah would come in His second coming (Rom. 11:25-29). Paul was not original in this declaration, for the Old Testament had taught that God would fulfill the New Covenant with Israel when Messiah would come in conjunction with Israel’s final regathering from its dispersion and permanent restoration to the land of Israel (Isa. 59:20- 21; Jer. 32:37-44;  50:4-5; Ezek. 36:22-28; 37:21-28).

Paul stated that God would not repent (change His mind) concerning this future calling for Israel which He announced in the Old Testament (Rom. 11:29). In other words, God’s calling for Israel to enter into New Covenant relationship with Him in the future is irrevocable. It must happen. Paul indicated that, when Israel will enter into that relationship with God, the Isaiah 59:20-21 New Covenant prophecy will be fulfilled.

The fact that Paul had literal, national Israel in mind when he made these statements in Romans 11 is evident from at least three things. First, in verse one he clear­ly indicated that he was talking about the people of God who were as much literal Israelites, physical descendants of Abraham and members of Israelite tribes, as he was. Second, in verse fourteen Paul declared that the Israel to which he referred was his flesh (that is, his own country­men). Third, Paul contrasted the Israel of this chapter with the Gentiles (vv. 11-14, 25). It is evident, then, that in Romans 11 Paul was teaching that it is literal, national Israel which will enter into New Covenant relationship with God in conjunction with the second coming of Messiah.

The fact that Paul taught this after the Church had come into existence and had begun to par­take of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant indicates two things. First, it indicates that the literal nation of Israel has not forfeited its promised relation­ship to the New Covenant because of its unbelief and rebellion against God. Second, it indicates that, although the Church is partaking of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant, it has not replaced literal Israel in its promised relationship to the New Covenant. Inline with this Paul clearly stated that God has not cast away His people of Israel (Rom. 11:1-2).

Concluding Considerations

It is apparent that Jesus estab­lished the New Covenant when He shed His blood on the cross (Lk.  22:20;  1 Cor.  11:25;  Heb. 8:6-13; 9:15; 12:24). The Church, which began shortly after Christ’s death  (Acts  2:1-4;  11:15),  has partaken of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant. Ac­cording to the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 11, during the time of the Church, a remnant of literal, national Israel is being saved by the grace of God through faith in  Christ. Those Israelites who make up that remnant be­come members of the Church through salvation. They thereby partake of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant, just as the rest of the Church does not.

By contrast with the remnant, during the time of the Church, the majority of literal, national Israel  does not become saved because of its hardened unbelief. As a result, that majority does not obtain any of the promised blessings of the New Covenant, even though it seeks many of those blessings during the present Church age. Because of their unbelief, the Israelites who make up  this  majority of the nation have been removed by God from the place of covenant blessing which the nation of Israel enjoyed with God in the past. This means, then, that national Israel failed to enter the New Covenant relationship with God in conjunction with Messiah’s first coming.

While the majority of national Israel remains in unbelief outside the place of covenant blessing, many Gentiles, who originally were not in that place of blessing, are being grafted into it by the grace of God through faith in Christ. These saved Gentiles are members of the Church. They are grafted into the place of covenant blessing in the sense that they partake of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant, just as the remnant Israelite members of the Church do.

In spite of the fact that believing Gentiles are grafted into the place of covenant blessing in the unbelieving majority of national Israel, that does not mean that the fulfillment of the New Covenant with literal, national Israel has been nullified. Paul made it very clear that  the majority of national Israel will not be removed from the place of covenant bless­ing forever. That removal is only temporary. When the great harvest of Gentile souls has been gathered and Messiah returns, national Israel will be saved and placed back into the place of covenant blessing  (Rom. 11:23- 27). As a result, at that time literal, national Israel will enter fully into the New Covenant relationship with God, and all the promises (spiritual, material and national) of that covenant will be fulfilled completely with that nation. Thus, although national Israel failed to enter the New Covenant relationship with God in conjunction with Messiah’s first coming, it will enter that relationship in conjunction with His second coming.

In Romans 11, therefore, Paul explained how the Church now partakes of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant. The complete fulfillment of that covenant with national Israel, however, has not been and never will be nulli­fied.

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