Session Four: Better Promises
But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises.
–Hebrews 8:6 (NRSV)
I have a feeling I’m going to encounter this material again when I listen to and review the relevant presentations in D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series. However, the Hebrews material has been folded into a different context, one contrasting and comparing the Old and New Covenants in First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) latest teaching lectures What’s New About the New Covenant.
On disc four, Lancaster starts with a brief summary of the previous lectures. We learned that Old Covenant doesn’t mean Old Testament, and it doesn’t even mean the Torah. It is an agreement God made with Israel (and only Israel) at Sinai stating that He would be Israel’s God and they would be His people as long as they obeyed His commandments (the conditions recorded in the Torah), and should Israel disobey, God would punish them and exile them (but not forever reject them).
We also learned that the New Covenant doesn’t mean the New Testament and it doesn’t mean the Church. It also doesn’t mean “renewed” Covenant because it indeed is something new. The New Covenant is also an agreement made between God and the Houses of Judah and Israel (and only the Houses of Judah and Israel) and that, according to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the New Covenant is made of “better promises” and Jesus is the mediator of that New Covenant.
But what are the better promises and how can they be better if between the Old and New Covenants, God does not change even a single condition or requirement for Israel (the Torah mitzvot) but does change the hearts of all Jewish people, making it possible for them to correctly perform all of the mitzvot?
To answer that question, Lancaster takes us through a study of a few of the chapters in the book of Jeremiah. This is why I like reading large portions of the Bible in one setting. I can get the full message of God to Israel in its complete context rather than parsing bits and pieces and verses together artificially to form a picture that might not be correct.
Better Promises in the Messianic Future
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
“The days are surely coming” indicates the end of days, the final redemption, the future Messianic Era. For those Christians who believe that the New Covenant has already replaced the Old Covenant, this statement makes that particular doctrine impossible because the New Covenant hasn’t been enacted or completed yet. The death and resurrection of Jesus only got the ball rolling, so to speak. We’re still in the Old Covenant age. The Torah is still in effect as it always has been since Sinai.
Good News for Israel and Judah
Notice (and I’ve mentioned this before) that the addressees of the New Covenant are “the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” This is only with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Period. It’s an exclusive relationship between God and the Jewish people, just as the Old Covenant defined an exclusive relationship between God and the Jewish people. The New Covenant (pay attention please, this is important) has nothing to do with the nations, with Gentiles, or with anything called “Christianity” or “the Church.” The New Covenant does not create a stand-alone covenant relationship between the Church and God. The only covenant that all the people of the earth can claim for their (our) very own is the Noahide Covenant (Genesis 9:1-17).
The Transformation of the Jewish Heart
It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says 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.
The next “better promise” is that God will make it possible for the Jewish people to obey His righteous standards and not sin by writing those standards on the Jewish heart.
Husband and Wife
Lancaster says an oath the groom would recite at the wedding ceremony in the ancient near east was to declare, “I will be your husband and you will be my wife.” God declared “I will be a God to you and you will be a people to me,” but that was contingent upon Israel not disobeying God and worshiping idols. Idol worship was considered as adultery by God, a wife going astray with other lovers (gods). Under the Old Covenant, Israel went astray, but under the better promises of the New Covenant, since the Torah will be written on their hearts and not just on tablets and scrolls, Israel will never again “cheat” on God, so to speak, and will always remain faithful.
Intimate Knowledge of God
No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Under the Old Covenant, many times the people of Israel, including the Priests and Prophets knew about God, but they didn’t know Him in the sense of an intimate knowledge that led to obedience. This is often true of Jews and Christians today. It’s easy to study the Bible and learn about God but not so easy to live a life that is consistently, day-by-day, hour-by-hour pleasing to God. Under the New Covenant, there will be a universal revelation of God to the whole world. It will be natural for everyone to obey God.
I know I said the New Covenant is an agreement just between God and the Jewish people, and I, or rather Lancaster, will get to the issue of Gentiles by the by.
Forgiving All of Israel’s Sins Forever
So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,
“Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”
Lancaster didn’t cite Paul or Romans 11 but I felt it an appropriate addition. Lately, I’ve been hearing some bad opinions about Paul and his so-called anti-Torah, anti-Judaism, and anti-Jewish people letters, and I thought this would be a good time to clear some of that up, since Paul is preaching to the Romans New Covenant doctrine that is highly favorable to the Jewish people and to Israel.
Jeremiah, according to Lancaster, is saying one of the “better promises” of the New Covenant mediated by Messiah, is that God will forget all of Israel’s sins which is what makes it possible for Paul to literally mean that “all Israel will be saved” rather than some tiny remnant who, according to the Church, must leave Judaism and convert and assimilate into (Gentile) Christianity. God doesn’t change the Torah. The Torah is unchangeable at its core. God does change the Jewish people so that they naturally will be faithful to God and God, for His part, will forgive all of Israel’s sins, from the Golden Calf forward throughout all of history and into the Messianic Age.
That’s very good news, a wonderful gospel for the Jews.
Israel Will Always Be a Nation Before God
Thus says the Lord,
who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord of hosts is his name:
If this fixed order were ever to cease
from my presence, says the Lord,
then also the offspring of Israel would cease
to be a nation before me forever.
Thus says the Lord:
If the heavens above can be measured,
and the foundations of the earth below can be explored,
then I will reject all the offspring of Israel
because of all they have done,
says the Lord.
I suppose this could be two “better promises.” Israel will be a distinct nation and the Jewish people will be a distinct and identifiable people as long as there is a sun, a moon, stars, and a sea, which is to say, as long as the earth, our solar system, and the universe exists. It is also a promise that God will never reject Israel and the Jewish people and they will remain a people and a nation until the heavens can be measured and the foundations of the earth can be explored. These conditions, by the way, are rhetorical language meaning “always.” Israel will always be a nation before God and God will never reject the Jewish people. Ever.
This flies in the face of the various churches who still adhere to some form of Replacement Theology because for them, the New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant, and they interpret that to mean that God rejected Israel permanently because Israel rejected Jesus as Messiah. God then replaced Israel with the (Gentile) Church which accepted Jesus. Now, the only way God will accept a Jew is for the Jew to reject Judaism and convert to (Gentile) Christianity. However, examining the New Covenant language reveals that Replacement Theology is hopelessly unBiblical.
Jerusalem the Eternal City
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord from the tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the Wadi Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the Lord. It shall never again be uprooted or overthrown.
Who can count the number of times Jerusalem has been conquered and destroyed? OK, probably someone has, but the point is that historically, whenever Israel sins, the Temple is destroyed and Jerusalem is left in ruins. This “better promise” for the Jewish people states that Jerusalem will be rebuilt and expanded and it will never again be destroyed because the Jewish people will never again sin against God or other people.
Some of the really exciting “better promises.”
Jeremiah 32:1-15 tells of God commanding Jeremiah to buy a field in Judah during Nebuchadrezzar’s siege against Jerusalem, a command Jeremiah couldn’t understand. It would have been crazy to do so, but God had something in mind: more “better promises.”
I don’t really want to reveal all of the better promises since if I do, you might not be as inclined to listen to the full lecture. In brief, the other promises include the regathering of the Jewish people to their Land, giving the Jewish people all one heart, and one way (in my opinion, “the Way”) so that there will be no division among Jews, that the New Covenant will be everlasting, that God will rejoice over doing good for Israel, that a “righteous branch” meaning the Messiah, will rise from the line of David. In addition to a return of the Davidic dynasty on the throne of Israel, the line of Aaron and the Levitical priests will return, which means there must be a Temple for them to offer sacrifices in.
God even says that He will only break His covenant with David and with Aaron if someone can break God’s covenant with day and night. More rhetorical language meaning “never.”
But there is something more about Lancaster’s sermon I do want to reveal since it contains a dire warning.
Those Who Say God Rejected Israel
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Have you not observed how these people say, “The two families that the Lord chose have been rejected by him,” and how they hold my people in such contempt that they no longer regard them as a nation? Thus says the Lord: Only if I had not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, would I reject the offspring of Jacob and of my servant David and not choose any of his descendants as rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them.
Historically, who has held Israel in contempt and said that God no longer regards the Jewish people as a nation? OK, just about everybody, but that “everybody” includes the Christian church. Even today, many churches continue to adhere to some form of Replacement or Fulfillment Theology, and any Christian who does espouse such a theology is who God, through Jeremiah, said “hold my people in such contempt” (emph. mine). Really, do you want to be on God’s “wrong side” by holding Israel in contempt, or even in the slightest degree, believe that God has rejected Israel and replaced her with the Church?
In addition to their being more “better promises” and “good news” for the Jewish people in these chapters of Jeremiah, Lancaster mentioned that there are still more better promises littered about the various books of the Prophets including Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Joel. That’s really a lot of better promises and good news for Jewish people.
But What About the Gentiles?
Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.”
–Acts 15:1, 5
Remember what I (citing Lancaster) said above about the New Covenant being made only with the House of Israel and the House of Judah? No mention of Gentiles at all. So do we even figure in? There’s a lot of language in the Apostolic Scriptures that says “yes” but we have to dig for it.
However, from the point of view of the various Jewish sects in the late second temple period, including believing Jews in “the Way,” recalling the New Covenant language, the only way they could see how Gentiles could be included in these “better promises” was to convert to Judaism.
In Acts 15:1-2 and 15:24, Now with what Satanically-inspired and dogmatic false teaching did these “certain men from Judaea” try to infect the church at Antioch, and why according to Galatians 2:4-5? (emph. mine)
That quote is from the study notes for the Sunday school class I attend when they were teaching on Acts 15 last September (here’s the link to the relevant blog post). What they couldn’t see was that the Jewish people asking these questions were not “Satanically-inspired” but rather, asking a legitimate question based on the Jeremiah 31 text.
Paul knew that the Gentiles didn’t have to convert to Judaism in order to be included in better promises (hence his letter to the Galatians), and Peter witnessed this first hand as recorded in Acts 10:44-48, but no formal decision had been rendered by the Council of Apostles and Elders defining Gentile legal identity within the Jewish community. Acts 15:6-29 records a summary of the legal hearing, including the testimony of various witnesses, and the conclusion and ruling of the Council that Gentiles could be granted honorary status within the commonwealth of Israel, grafted into the nation (see Romans 11:11-24), but only because of their association with Israel through faith in King Messiah.
That’s an incredibly vital point to get, because without the New Covenant “better promises” being applied exclusively to the House of Israel and the House of Judah, if God really did reject Israel and the Jewish people in perpetuity, then we Gentiles would have absolutely, positively no hope of salvation at all! Israel is central in God’s plan to redeem the people of all the nations of the earth.
When King Messiah returns, he will be King of Israel, King of the Jews, and he will conquer all of the other nations and be their King. He will annex all of the other countries and Israel will be at the head of the nations, and all of the other nations will be vassal servants to Israel. As citizens of these vassal nations, we too will be annexed subjects of Israel and her King. The good news for the Gentiles is if we swear allegiance to King Messiah now, even before his return, we become his subjects and the New Covenant blessings become ours.
No, we don’t become Jews because we are citizens of a nation annexed by Israel and not citizens of Israel itself. We are granted an honorary status in the commonwealth of Israel. We’re grafted in.
As I’ve mentioned about a million times elsewhere, we don’t come under “One Law” in terms of being commanded to wear tzitzit, lay tefillin, and such, but we do become people who are called by His Name, and partisans or freedom fighters, so to speak, who are defending our King and his people until he returns and ascends his throne in Jerusalem, much as Robin Hood and his Merry Men of legend fought against the tyranny of Prince John and protected the innocent until King Richard’s return.
And many peoples will 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 concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
If you are not a Jew and if you call yourself a Christian or any other name that indicates an allegiance to the King of the Jews, to Jesus Christ, then this is your hope in the New Covenant through national Israel, the Messianic Kingdom, and through the Messianic King. The Master said, Salvation comes from the Jews,” (John 4:22) and according to Lancaster, he was talking about the New Covenant and everything that was presented in this lecture ”Better Promises.”
If you want to be part of those “better promises” then please carefully consider everything you’ve read here today. It really wouldn’t hurt and might do a great deal of good if you got a hold of the five-disc set of What’s New About the New Covenant and listened to all of the content, since it really applies to who we are as Christians and what God expects of us and of how we treat His people Israel. Our salvation comes from Israel and her firstborn son Yeshua of Nazareth, the Messiah, the King…not the other way around.