The New Covenant is a concept originally derived from the Hebrew Bible. The term “New Covenant” is used in the Bible (both in the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament) to refer to an epochal relationship of restoration and peace following a period of trial and judgment. It is often thought of as an eschatological messianic age or world to come, and is related to the biblical concept of the kingdom of God. Generally, Christians believe that the epoch of the New Covenant began at the first coming of Jesus, who began his ministry saying “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”. (Mark 1:15) They believe the New Covenant (along with the concept of the kingdom of God) defines and describes the ongoing relationship between Christian believers and God, and that it will be in full fruition after the second coming of Jesus; that is, it will not only be in full fruition in believing hearts, but in the external world as well. Christians believe that Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant, and that his blood shed at the crucifixion is the required blood of the covenant. As with all covenants between God and man described in the Bible, the New Covenant is considered “a bond in blood sovereignly administered by God.” (from O. Palmer Robertson’s book “The Christ of the Covenants”) The connection between the blood of Jesus and the New Covenant is seen at the Last Supper where Jesus institutes the rite of Communion saying “this cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood”. (Luke 22:20)
-from New Covenant
In Part 2 of this series, I addressed the blessings for the nations that we find in the Abrahamic Covenant. Now we progress to the New Covenant that we find in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36. Remember, I’m learning all this as I go, so I’m not acting as a teacher, but as a student.
Talking about the New Covenant is tricky because of all the covenants in the Bible, this one has been so intensely seized upon by Christianity and reworked as a substantial part of the church’s “replacement theology.” As you can see from the description above, the New Covenant as viewed by the church, has precious little to do with the Children of Israel and everything to do with Christianity. And yet, that’s not what the New Covenant actually says:
The days are coming,” declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. –Jeremiah 31:31 (ESV)
Therefore 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. And 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. –Ezekiel 36:22-23 (ESV)
The House of Israel and the House of Judah are the focus of the New Covenant. The people of this covenant, like the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, are the Jewish people, not the non-Jewish people of the world (i.e. Gentile Christians). As you may recall from Part 1 of this series, based on Derek Leman’s material, we know that, like the Abrahamic Covenant, the people of the New Covenant are the Jewish people, but this covenant also has blessings for the people of the nations.
However, because of the long history of supersessionism in the church, it’s more difficult to identify the New Covenant blessings for the nations while preserving the essential and primary promises for the Jewish people. When examining this covenant, it’s important for us to remember that once the Jewish people, or for that matter the Christian church, are called by God, His calling cannot be reversed: .
“The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable ” (Romans 11:29). It is on this basis that we can declare today that unbelieving Jews are still God’s people, even though they have rejected the Messiah. In the same way, mainstream Christians are still God’s people, even if they have generally rejected the Jewish people as God’s continuing covenant people and the Torah as God’s blueprint of faith for the Jewish people .
But to try to “balance” the scales somewhat between the Christian and Jewish viewpoint on this covenant, I have chosen what I consider to be a very Jewish perspective on the New Covenant, Jews for Judaism:
The term “new covenant” would be meaningless unless what Jeremiah meant by it was the renewing of the old covenant, which will thereby regain its full original vigor. The covenant of old is of eternal duration, never to be rescinded or to be superseded by a new covenant (Leviticus 26:44-45). The covenant between God and Israel is frequently referred to as everlasting (e.g., Genesis 17:7, 13, 19; Psalms 105:8, 10; 1 Chronicles 16:13-18).
The Christian position concerning Jeremiah’s covenant is the complete opposite of what the Jewish Scriptures teach. Hebrews 8:13 states: “In that he says, a new covenant, he has made the first obsolete. Now that which is being made obsolete and growing old is near to vanishing away.” In stark contrast to this statement, the Scriptures state: “The works of His hands are truth and justice; and His precepts are sure. They are established forever and ever, they are done in truth and uprightness” (Psalms 111:7-8); “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God shall stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
Since Jews for Judaism is an “anti-missionary” organization and thus, not exactly “friendly” towards Christianity, I can’t expect them to define how the nations are blessed by this covenant with the Jewish people, but they are very clear (and in my opinion, very correct) that the people of this New Covenant are the Jewish people. Further, they are correct that the New Covenant is actually a renewal of the covenants God previously made with the Jewish people and that nothing from the prior covenants was invalidated or eliminated.
A more benignly worded description of the Jewish view of the New Covenant is from Wikipedia:
The Jewish view of the mere wording “new covenant” is no more than a renewed national commitment to abide by God’s laws. In this view, the word new does not refer to commitment that replaces a previous one, but rather to an additional and greater level of commitment. (Jewish Encyclopedia: New Testament) Because Jews view the Mosaic covenant as applying only to Jews and any New Covenant merely a strengthening of the already existing one, Jews do not see this phrase as relevant in any way to non-Jews.
But having established that the New Covenant is directed at the Jewish people and renews and expands Israel’s national commitment to the Torah, where do we find that it has any blessings at all for the nations?
Perhaps part of the answer is here:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” –Jeremiah 33:14-16 (ESV)
Here we have the Messianic promise, which is certainly a hope of the Christian church, but again, the complete focus of this promise is upon the Jewish people. This recalls the Davidic Covenant we see in 2 Samuel 7 but does nothing to illuminate the blessings to the Gentiles. About the only references I can find that even mention the non-Jewish peoples are those saying we will know that God is the Lord when we see a restored Israel (Ezekiel 36:37-38, 37:28).
Is the secret elsewhere or is traditional Judaism right in saying that the New Covenant is only for the Jews with no blessings for the Gentiles?
It seems that the next part of my journey takes me to other Prophets:
Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and that shall not be cut off.
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” –Isaiah 56:1-8 (ESV)
“Holds fast my covenant?” Which covenant and what part of it? And are these foreigners “converts” or people of the nations outside of Judaism?
We know that Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah in Matthew 21:13 when he said, “My house will be called a house of prayer,” but he was addressing and rebuking the money changers in the Temple courts at the time. Regarding the prophet’s statement, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered,” Jesus seems to have uttered something parallel.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. –John 10:14-16 (ESV)
We also have other Prophets who seem to describe blessings for the nations:
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever. –Micah 4:1-5 (ESV)
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” –Zechariah 8:20-23 (ESV)
The problem with all this is that prophesies are not covenants, though I suppose they could be used to describe some of the blessings of covenants. When we examined the Abrahamic covenant, there seemed to be a very clear picture of the blessings it contained for the nations as well as those reserved for Israel, but in trying to examine the New Covenant, there seems to be no direct connection between the covenant with Israel and the blessings for the nations. It has to be inferred by reading from the other prophets.
Another problem is that what these prophets are saying all seems to be “future tense” even from our point of view in the 21st century. Virtually none of the events being described has happened yet, unless you want to count the existence of the modern state of Israel as the prophesied “in-gathering” of the Jewish people from exile. I suppose we could consider that the Torah has gone forth from Zion by way of the Christian church since even the Rambam once mentioned that Christianity and Islam has spread the knowledge of ethical monotheism to the four corners of the earth.
But can the prophesies we read in Isaiah, Micah, and Zechariah be reasonably connected to the New Covenant from Jeremiah and Ezekiel and more importantly, can all this then be attached to what we read in the Gospels and Epistles. Can we attach these prophesies to the blessings of the New Covenant, and can they then be logically joined with the coming of the Jewish Messiah and his command to make disciples of all nations? (see Matthew 28:18-20)
We’ll take a look at all that in Part 4 of The Jesus Covenant.