Jeremiah 31:31… “The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” (Part 1).
In the Old Testament (OT) there are a number of covenants that God made with people. The four most important ones that He made with Israel were the Abrahamic (Gen. 17), Mosaic (Ex. 19; Deut. 28), Davidic (2 Sam. 7:8-17), and New (Jer. 31:31-34) covenants. All but one of these covenants were unilateral. The Mosaic covenant was the one covenant that was bilateral in that God promised to bless Israel if they promised to obey Him. The others were unilateral in that God promised to do what He was going to do in spite of any disobedience on Israel’s part.
Israel was a covenant nation – a nation under contract with God – who had been given God’s promises. Those promises began with Abraham, then they were specified through Moses with the giving of God’s Law – a covenant which will later be called “old” (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8) to be replaced by a New Covenant (NC). This Mosaic covenant, or old covenant, was inadequate in that it made no one righteous. The Epistle of Hebrews preached to Jews and used the Jewish Scriptures to show them that Jesus Christ is superior to the old order they once adhered to, for he was the one who inaugurated the NC when he died and shed his blood. The night before he died he told the disciples during their Passover celebration, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:20; cf. 1 Cor. 11:25).
The old covenant as mediated by Moses was basically the Ten Commandments. These stone tablets were carried around in the ark of the covenant. Israel carried these stone tablets with them into battles, and they placed the ark in the Holy of holies in their tabernacle and later in the Temple. The ark was like a wedding ring. It signified God’s covenant relationship with Israel. The Israelites promised to keep the Law which they carried in the ark, and if they did so God promised to bless them abundantly (Deut. 28). When Israel disobeyed the Law God gave them a sacrificial system of animals whereby they could atone for their sins with blood and worship God. Eventually, however, Israel took God for granted, sinned incessantly, and offered worthless sacrifices believing that God’s grace was a license to sin. Like the stone tablets in the ark, the Israelites had hearts of stone. God’s Law was never on their hearts but was only an outward ritual by which they felt they were made holy. No wonder God promised a new covenant.
Now God’s covenant with Abraham was a promise of land (Canaan), a special Seed from his loins, and His blessings through Abraham to the entire world. After establishing this covenant as an unconditional promise to Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 17), God proceeded to fulfill it through the other three covenants. First, He gave the land of Canaan, from Egypt to the Euphrates, to Abraham’s many descendants (through Isaac). He did this through Moses who brought Israel out of Egyptian slavery. Joshua then brought Israel into Canaan on the condition that they would obey God or be exiled. Sadly, Israel was expelled from the land 800 years later in 586 BC and exiled into Babylonian captivity. God re-established them 70 years later in 516 BC only to expel them again in AD 70 and again in AD 135 by the Romans. Each time, however, God restored them. Today Israel dwells in a small portion of that land via a UN decree in 1948.
Food for Thought
God has miraculously kept Israel together as a people since Abraham. Why? Because He promised to! He promised to bless the world through them, and He’s done that. But there are many specifics that remain unfulfilled – specifically the land Israel is to possess from Egypt to the Euphrates. God’s plan is in motion and awaits future fulfillment through Israel. Just wait!
Jeremiah 31:31… “The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” (Part 2)
The first provision of God’s promise to Abraham was the land of Canaan. The second part of God’s promise to Abraham was the special “seed” that would come from him and form a great nation. Abraham had children, but only one, Isaac, was the “child of promise.” Isaac then begat Jacob who had 12 sons which became the 12 tribes of Israel – a nation as numerous as the sand on the seashore. Abraham had other children too by other wives, but they were all natural children by natural means. Abraham bore Isaac when he was 99 years old and when his wife Sarah was 90! God did this to show how special Isaac was, and it is his line that begat Christ.
So even Isaac was merely the precursor to the promised Seed that would come 2,000 years later named Jesus Christ. For the Apostle Paul clearly states that the Seed promised to Abraham is in fact Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16, 29) who descended from Isaac (not Ishmael), and the great nation which came forth from Abraham was not only the Jewish nation through Isaac but the Christian nation as well who descend from Christ, the Seed. Now Christians take part in God’s promise to Abraham through faith in Christ, the very virtue which was credited to him as righteousness when he simply believed God when God promised him a son (Gen. 15:1-6).
Now the third part of the Abrahamic covenant was “blessing” – land, seed, and blessing (Gen. 12:1-3, 7). This portion of the Abrahamic promise would have its fulfillment through the New Covenant (NC) that God foretold through the prophets Jeremiah (31:31-34) and Ezekiel (36:22-32). Jeremiah looked into the future and assured the Jews of their future restoration with God in Canaan. This was a timely prophecy because Jeremiah gave it during a time when God had already promised to remove Israel from their land in lieu of their continued rebellion against Him. It assured Israel that God would be true to His promise to Abraham in that though He was judging them, He was also promising restoration for them in a future generation.
Why a new covenant? Simply put, the old one was “weak and useless” (Heb. 7:19). The nation of Israel at Sinai had promised God: “All the words which the Lord has said we will do” (Ex. 24:3). But they didn’t! They couldn’t! The Law merely pointed out their sins; it could not save them. So God instituted the NC which would not depend on man’s faithfulness to Him but on God’s faithful promise to Israel. The old covenant was mediated by Moses and was inferior, but the NC was superior being mediated by the Great High Priest Jesus Christ. The NC does not depend on man’s faithfulness but on God’s. On six occasions in Jeremiah’s prophecy God says, “I will!” And in Ezekiel 36:22-32 he says “I will” 11 times! In other words, the NC is all about God and what He will do. The inferiority of the old covenant was that it depended on man’s obedience. The superiority of the NC is that it only depends on God who is fully dependable.
Food for Thought
The time has indeed come in that the New Covenant is being fulfilled today. It is not yet fulfilled, but it is being fulfilled. Jesus inaugurated the NC on the night before he died through the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Taking the cup of wine, he said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:20). The Apostle Paul quoted these words and applied them to the church in 1 Corinthians 11:23-27, and the author of Hebrews states in no uncertain terms that Jesus Christ is now “the Mediator of the New Covenant” (Heb. 9:15; 12:24). Today mostly Gentiles believe this. But when the Jews trust in Jesus as their Christ in the future Millennial reign of Christ on earth, the NC will be complete.
Hebrews 8:8-9… For finding fault with them, He says, Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; 9 Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers On the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care for them, says the Lord.
In Hebrews 8:6-7 the author said, “But now [Jesus] has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much has He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which as been enacted on better promises.” So since Jesus mediates a better covenant it’s no wonder that the first thing said about Israel is that God found “fault” with them in v. 8. God did not find fault with the old covenant but with His people who failed to keep the covenant. For “the Law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12). So the Law isn’t the problem but the sinful nature of the people. However, the Law “made nothing perfect” (Heb. 7:19) because it was unable to change sinful human hearts. And since only God can do that He instituted the NC.
A second observation about the NC is that, when it was first prophesied it was yet future: “the days are coming…” And based upon the argument of the author of Hebrews that prophecy began when Christ ascended unto the Father to assume His priestly functions in heaven while sitting at his right hand. For Christ is presently the Mediator of the NC (Heb. 7:25; 9:15; 12:24).
The third thing to note about the NC is that it is God’s will. A person who makes a will is the one responsible for its provisions. The NC is God’s will, and Israel can only benefit from it or reject it – the same way this might occur in one’s last will and testament following their death. Either people accept what is given to them by the deceased, or they reject it outright.
A fourth point is that the NC is made with Israel, not the church. Some believe that because Israel rejected the Messiah that God transferred His promises to the church. Now the church does in fact benefit from the NC, but the covenant is primarily for Israel – the “house of Israel and Judah” which was divided at the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy. God’s plan was for them to unite as one nation and be given a new, final, and eternal covenant of peace.
Of course it is true that Israel is currently under God’s judgment, and they have been for over 2,000 years following their rejection of Jesus Christ. Prior to that they endured other times of God’s chastisement for their stiff-necked disobedience. But since God has made His promises unconditional to Israel, and because God does not lie, His ultimate plan for Israel as a nation will in fact be carried to completion. This is what the NC is – the fulfillment of God’s plan for Israel.
The NC is not like the old. In the old order, after God led Israel out of Egypt the way a father would take a child by the hand and lead him, God gave them His Law for their benefit and made them holy and separate from the nations around them. But Israel failed to keep that Law, and “they did not continue in My covenant” (v. 9). So God sent them into captivity. In doing so God never annulled His covenant with Israel. Sure, the blessings of the covenant were contingent on obedience, so when she failed to keep God’s Law He withdrew the blessings, not the promise.
Food for Thought
God’s eternal plan is a promise, and He doesn’t lie. A man’s disobedience to God doesn’t annul His promises, but that man forfeits what God is providing. God will fulfill what He has promised, and it’s going to benefit and bless those who love Him – those who place their faith in His Son Jesus Christ – the Seed promised to Abraham. So since God promised Abraham and his offspring an eternity of blessing, all of His true children from Israel will one day come to Christ.
Hebrews 8:10-13… “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, And I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be My people. 11 “And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ For all will know Me, From the least to the greatest of them. 12 “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.” 13 When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
Having shown in Heb. 8:8-9 that the old covenant blessings had been abrogated through Israel’s disobedience, the author of Hebrews goes on to show how God’s new covenant (NC) is superior to the old. The inferiority of the old covenant was that it was written on stone tablets and given to Moses who placed them in the ark of the covenant. The Jews memorized the words, and many of them tied little boxes with verses inside of them to their hands and foreheads. They also posted the Law on the doorposts of their homes and on their gates (Deut. 6:8-9). But none of this worked, for the Law never made it to their hearts. Their religion was purely outward.
The superiority of the NC is that, contrary to the outward religion of the old covenant, it is an internal relationship with God. The old covenant was entirely external, motivated by fear of God’s discipline and losing His blessing. But the NC, for Israel, will be characterized by hearts that overflow with worship toward Him just like the Gentile church today enjoys it today. True Christians have had heart transplants, as it were, receiving regenerated (born again) lives that worship Christ for his grace and mercy. They recognize what Israel rejected, and today Gentiles benefit from the NC given to Israel. But the NC is primarily for Israel who will one day know Jesus as their Messiah (in the Millennium during Jesus’ earthly reign). And when they receive Christ, like the church, the Abrahamic covenant will be fulfilled: the land, seed, and blessing.
In v. 10 God promises to put His Law on their hearts and minds of his people. This is irresistible grace! God forces his Law onto the hearts of those whom He chooses. Israel was a chosen nation, but they weren’t all chosen to have God impress His Law on their hearts. Only the elect are chosen for this. Then God promises to be their God. There is no invitation to “accept” God here; He comes into the lives of His chosen ones and IS their God, and they become His people. Because of this, at that time, no one will need to tell their neighbor about God, for they will all know Him according to v. 11. The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) will be no more! This in itself proves that though the NC has been inaugurated, it has yet to be fulfilled entirely.
Verse 12 is the high point of the NC. All of God’s promises through time are ultimately fulfilled in the NC. Under the old order sins were not forgiven, only covered and atoned for through the blood of animals. But in Christ all sins are eternally forgiven. And since God is the one who does everything, then it is all by His grace. Jesus mediates the NC, and no sinner can become a part of it without faith in Jesus Christ. The Law says, “The man that obeys the Law shall live in them” (Gal. 3:12). But grace says, “The work is done; believe and live!”
Food for Thought
Gentiles are born again when they place their faith in the promised Seed of Abraham, thus becoming his spiritual offspring (Gal. 3:7-8, 29). And once the fullness of the Gentiles comes to Christ, God will fulfill the NC promise, and all true Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26). Only then will Israel be grafted back into His eternal covenant of salvation (Rom. 11:17-24).
· God attached no conditions to the Abrahamic covenant. It merely reflected His intentions. But in the Mosaic covenant God promised to bless if Israel promised to obey. She did promise, but she failed, so God took away her blessings. He did not, however, annul His covenant with Israel. God never lies, so His promises await a future fulfillment (cf. Rom. 11).
· Do you know Him? This is what it means to be a Christian. It is not just knowing about Him, but entering into a real, personal relationship with Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. John 17:3 It is this that separates true Christianity from all religions. It is not what we believe or do that saves us, but the person we believe in.
· Knowing Jesus was Paul’s great ambition: that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death Philippians 3:10. If we want to know Him in power then we must also be ready to suffer with Him. The first step to knowing Him is to have our sins dealt with:
· The law was intended to show us our need of Christ by reminding us that we cannot live up to its standard. In contrast, when we are saved Christ gives us His life through the indwelling Holy Spirit; this life enables us to live in a way which pleases Him. He wants to change our desires so they come into line with His. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son Rom 8:29. This is a difficult process and we tend to resist it tooth and nail.
· How do Gentiles benefit from the NC? By faith Gentiles may share in the benefits of the gospel on an equal basis with the Jews. They could share in the Mosaic covenant and even shared in the Abrahamic covenant simply because all the nations of the world were to be blessed through Abraham.
· Covenant… The word covenant has a heavy, theological sound, but it contains depths of meaning and interest for us all. Although the term is still used by lawyers we normally use the term contract nowadays. We make a contact when we buy and sell a house or car and we sign the papers to make them binding. If we change our minds after signing we can be sued by the person that we had the contract with.
· They rarely enjoyed the blessings that He promised because they did not live up to the contract that they had entered into. God’s full blessings for Israel encompassed their obedience to Him and His placing them in their land with all the eternal benefits the land gives. So, when Israel is in the land of Canaan obeying God with His law on their hearts then God’s promises will be fulfilled. At that time, specifically in the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ on the earth, all of true Israel will be saved. After that time, both Jews and Gentiles will live eternally in the new heaven and on the new earth which will be the resting place for the heavenly city of Jerusalem which descends from heaven (Rev. 21:2).
· First, the Law gave them no power to do what they promised; and, Second, the Law didn’t really deal with their sins and made nothing perfect (Heb 7:19).
· Why can’t the law make us perfect? Think about the speed limit for a minute. There is a 30MPH speed limit throughout Fairfield, and the law says that we must not exceed it. Do we obey it? Of course not! Even those who try to keep the law lose track of their speed at times and go faster. That makes us all lawbreakers.
· It is the same with God’s law. It tells us that it is wrong to covet our neighbor’s wife, golf clubs, house, or BMW. But it doesn’t give us the power to do what it says and condemns us when we fail to keep it. Clearly, the Law is weak and unprofitable.
· Does this mean that God made a mistake by instituting the law? No, not at all! He is laying it on thickly to make a point. Paul made similar points in Romans 3:20, “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” Romans 8:3, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.”
· How was the New Covenant established? We haven’t entered any agreement with God as the Jewish people did in Moses time. In contrast Jesus Christ mediated “negotiated and agreed” the covenant on our behalf, but more than that He fulfilled for us all its conditions. He bore the penalty of human weakness and sin. He met all its demands for perfect obedience. He then gives us the Holy Spirit to produce a holiness in us which we could never have achieved on our own. In other words it is a better covenant because it has a better mediator, Jesus, than Moses with the Old Covenant (8:6).
· The NC is superior than the old because it pledges God to even better promises. Throughout the NC God says, “I will!”
· I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts… The Law was written on tablets of stone, but now God writes it in our minds and hearts. Once again we see God doing everything! He makes the dead alive by His irresistible grace (cf. Ezek 36:26).
· I will be their God, and they shall be My people… like the president of the US, God will be “our God,” and we shall be “His people.”
· All shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them… this fact will annul the Great Commission, for all will know God intimately. And it proves that the NC, though having been inaugurated, is not yet complete. The Great Commission is still our command.
· I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more… The law could only point out our sinfulness. “And by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses Acts 13:38.”
· Is it surprising that v 13 tells us that the new covenant has made the old one obsolete. Why then do so many people seek to hang on to the OT law and live as though Christian’s are bound by it? We can certainly learn from it for as Paul said in Galatians 3 – the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
· Matthew 21:43… “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.”