The New Covenant
The Parties Of The Covenant According To The Old Testament
Another significant biblical covenant which will determine important issues related to Israel and the future Kingdom of God is the New Covenant. According to the Old Testament the parties of this covenant would be God and the nation of Israel.
Three things in the Old Testament indicated that God would establish the New Covenant with the people of Israel. First, the Old Testament made clear statements to that effect. For example,
In Jeremiah 31:31 the following was stated: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.” Similar clear statements were made in Isaiah 59:20- 21; Jeremiah 50:4-5; Ezekiel 34:25-30 and 37:21-28.
Second, God declared that He would establish the New Covenant with the descendants of those people with whom He established the Mosaic Covenant (the Law). Having promised that He would establish a new covenant with the houses of Israel and Judah, God stated, “Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt” (Jer. 31:31- 32). Since God gave the Mosaic Law only to the people of Israel (Lev. 26:46; Dt. 4:8) and not to the Gentiles (Rom. 2:14), and since He promised to establish the New Covenant with the descendants of those to whom He gave the Mosaic Law Covenant, then the New Covenant must also be established with the people of Israel, the physical descendants of Jacob.
Third, the Old Testament associated the establishment of the New Covenant with the endless existence of the nation of Israel (the physical descendants of Jacob) and with the rebuilding and permanent standing of the city of Jerusalem (Jer. 31:31-40).
In light of these three Old Testament factors, it is evident that God intended to establish the New Covenant with the literal people of Israel.
The Promises Of The New Covenant
God promised many things to the people of Israel in the New Covenant. First, He promised regeneration. This would involve the giving of a new heart (a new inner control center where the issues and direction of life are determined) and the new nature (a new favorable spirit or disposition toward God consisting of the law of God written in the heart) [Jer. 31:33; 32:39-40; Ezek. 36:26].
Second, God promised forgiveness of sin (Jer. 31:34; Ezek. 36:25). Third, He pledged the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:27). Fourth, He guaranteed a universal knowledge of Jehovah among the people of Israel (Jer. 31:34). The context of this fourth promise indicated that God was referring to a personal experiential knowledge of Himself (the kind of knowledge which comes through a genuine salvation experience), not just a head knowledge of His existence. Fifth, God promised that Israel would obey Him and have a right attitude toward Him forever (Jer. 32:39- 40; Ezek. 36:27; 37:23-24).
Sixth, God promised many national blessings to the people of Israel. He pledged that His Spirit and words would never depart from them (Isa. 59:21), that the nation would have a great reputation because of God’s special blessing (Isa. 61:8-9), that Israel would have a unique relationship with Him as His special people (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:28), that God would do them good (Jer. 32:40- 42), that wild beasts would be eliminated from their land (Ezek. 34:25, 28), that Israel would enjoy complete security in its land (Ezek. 34:25-28), that the nation would receive no more threats and insults from other nations (Ezek. 34:28-29), that great abundance of food would eliminate famine (Ezek. 34:27, 29; 36:29-30), that Israel’s land would be so luxurious that it would have the reputation of being like the Garden of Eden (Ezek. 34:29; 36:34-35), that rainfall would be controlled perfectly (Ezek. 34:26), that Israel’s cities would be rebuilt and inhabited (Ezek. 36:33), that the nation would enjoy a population explosion (Ezek. 36:37-38; 37:26), that the nation would be completely unified (Ezek. 37:21-22), that the people of Israel would live in their own land forever (Ezek. 37: 25), that once again God would have His sanctuary in Israel and would dwell in the midst of the nation forever (Ezek. 37:26-28) and that God would never turn away from the people of Israel (Jer. 32:40).
It should be noted that some of the promises of the New Covenant were purely spiritual in nature, but others were material and national in nature.
The Nature Of The New Covenant
Two things can be said concerning the nature of the New Covenant. First, God intended it to be an unconditional covenant. God stated no conditions in the passages which deal with the covenant. This meant that the fulfillment of the promises of the New Covenant would not depend upon the obedience of Israel. In fact, God indicated that He would fulfill the New Covenant’s promises, not because Israel would deserve it, but because of Israel’s disobedience. In Ezekiel 36:21-22 God declared, But I had pity for mine holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations, to which they went. Therefore, say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God: I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the nations, to which ye went (cf. Ezek. 36:32).
In addition, one of the promises of the New Covenant was to the effect that God would cause the people of Israel to have a right attitude toward Him and to obey Him (Jer. 32:39-40; Ezek. 36:27;37:23-24). Thus, instead of the New Covenant being dependent upon Israel’s obedience for its fulfillment, it would cause Israel’s obedience.
When God presented the promises of the New Covenant, instead of stating conditions for Israel, He continually said, “I will” (Jer. 31:31-34; 32:37-42; Ezek. 36:24-37). This meant that the fulfillment of the promises of the New Covenant would be dependent totally upon God’s faithfulness to His Word. God emphasized this fact when He said, “I, the Lord, have spoken it, and I will do it” (Ezek. 36:36).
The second thing which can be said concerning the nature of the New Covenant is this: God intended it to be an everlasting covenant. He specifically declared it to be everlasting in nature (Isa. 61:8-9; Jer. 32:40; Ezek. 16:60; 37:26). The fact that God intended the New Covenant to be everlasting together with the fact that it would be unconditional in nature, meant that the New Covenant could never be abolished or annulled with or by Israel. Once it would be established, its promises would have to be fulfilled. Once Israel would enter into that covenant relationship with God, it would continue in that relationship forever.
The Relationship Of The Church To The New Covenant
As noted earlier, the Old Testament clearly indicated that God would establish the New Covenant with the literal people of Israel, the physical descendants of Jacob. The Old Testament said nothing concerning a relationship of the Church to the New Covenant. This silence should no come as a surprise for at least two reasons. First, the Apostle Paul indicated that no revelation concerning the Church was given before the time of the apostles and New Testament prophets (Eph. 3:2-9). This means, then, that the Old Testament contained no information concerning the Church.
Second, the Old Testament prophets who presented God’s revelation concerning the New Covenant were Israelite prophets. It was their responsibility to declare God’s message specifically to the people of Israel. Thus, it was their task to relate how the nation of Israel would be related to the New Covenant, not how others possibly would be related to it. Since the Old Testament contains their declaration of God’s message to Israel, one would expect the Old Testament to present only that nation’s relationship to the New Covenant.
In spite of the Old Testament’s silence concerning the relationship of the Church to the New Covenant, the New Testament seems to indicate that the Church is related somehow to it. There are at least three lines of evidence for this conclusion. First, the Church partakes of the communion service which Jesus instituted on the night before He went to the cross (1 Cor. 11:23-30; 10:21). When Jesus instituted the communion service, He stated the following concerning the cup of that service: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor. 11:25; Lk. 22:20) [literal translation]. Two things should be noted concerning Jesus’ statement. First, since Jesus used the word “the” in the expression “the new covenant,” and since prior to Jesus’ statement God had promised only one New Covenant (the one promised to Israel in Jeremiah 31), it seems evident that Jesus was referring to that New Covenant. Thus, Jesus was saying that the cup of the communion service represented the New Covenant which God had promised to literal Israel in Jeremiah 31 and other Old Testament prophetic passages.
Second, Jesus made His statement to Jewish men. The only New Covenant of which they would have been aware was the one which God had promised to Israel in Jeremiah 31. Since Jesus did not tell them to think otherwise, they would have understood Him to be referring to that specific New Covenant.
It seems obvious, then, that Jesus intended His statement concerning the cup of the communion service to be understood in the following manner: The communion cup represents the New Covenant which God promised to Israel in the Old Testament. The very fact that the Church partakes of the communion cup which represents the New Covenant which God promised to Israel seems to indicate that the Church partakes of the New Covenant.
The second line of evidence for concluding that the Church is related to the New Covenant is as follows: Believers who make up the Church partake of the spiritual blessings which God promised as part of the New Covenant in the Old Testament. Church believers have been regenerated (Ti. 3:5), have received forgiveness of sin (Eph. 1:7; 4:32; Col. 1:14; 1 Jn. 2:12), have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and have received the new nature (a new favorable disposition toward God consisting of the law of God written in the heart) [Rom. 7:22; 2 Cor. 3:3; 2 Pet. 1:4].
The third line of evidence for the Church’s relationship to the New Covenant is this: The Apostle Paul indicated that the apostles of the Church functioned as ministers of a New Covenant (2 Cor. 3:6).
It seems apparent, then, that although the Old Testament promised the New Covenant specifically to the literal nation of Israel, the Church also has a relationship to that covenant. This apparent fact raises an important issue which will be examined in the next article.