Discussion on Hebrews 8 and Jeremiah 31 regarding the New Covenant and its meaning from a Messianic Jewish perspective. Discover why the New Covenant is not the New Testament, the “Renewed Covenant,” nor the “Brit Chadashah.” Find out what the New Covenant really is and how the Torah is part of the New Covenant. A foundational teaching for everyone interested in Messianic Judaism and the role of Torah in the lives of disciples of Yeshua.
I suppose I could just point you to part 1 of my review of Lancaster’s lecture series What About The New Covenant and call it good since it seems he intends to repurpose that material in the next four “Hebrews” lectures, but that probably wouldn’t be fair. Also, I don’t think he presents the information in exactly the same way, so I should review today’s sermon on its own merits.
I’ll skip over Lancaster’s introductory section since I don’t think it adds very much, and cut to the chase. The Old Testament does not equal the Old (Sinai) Covenant and the New Testament does not equal the New Covenant. Christianity has very poorly named these two major sections of the Bible, or at least named them with the intent of misrepresenting what the Old and New Covenants really mean.
Christians really take this naming convention seriously, though. I remember having a conversation about this with the head Pastor at the church I currently attend, and when he said that the books of the New Testament really were the New Covenant, I could scarcely believe my ears. How could someone so intelligent, well read, and well-educated as Pastor Randy actually believe this?
And yet it is a common, though wholly illogical doctrine of the Church. Lancaster told a story of how years back, he had worked for some place called Master’s Institute, a Lutheran seminary, and on his first day, he taught that the New Testament wasn’t the New Covenant. He promptly lost his job without so much as a “by your leave.”
That’s how seriously Christianity takes the doctrine of New Testament = New Covenant. But as Lancaster establishes in his sermon, that doctrine is dead wrong.
Lancaster knocks down all of the standard Christian arguments and if you want to know what they are, you can listen to the audio recording. The link is at the top of the page. What we call the New Testament is really the writings of the Apostles or what I call the Apostolic Scriptures. They contain information about the New Covenant, but the actual covenant is found in the Old Testament writings or the Tanakh.
The writer of the book of Hebrews, just as he made a comparison between the Levitical and Melkizedekian priesthoods and between the earthly and heavenly Temples, is now introducing a new comparison. He compares the Old and New Covenants (see last week’s review: Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Shadow and a Copy for more information).
But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.
–Hebrews 8:6-7 (NASB)
Here’s one of the places Christians point to in the Bible and say, “See? The Old Covenant is bad and the New Covenant is better,” implying not only that grace is better than the Law (and that the two are mutually exclusive) but that it replaces the Law.
Except as we have heard in previous sermons, what was at fault with the Old Covenant priesthood wasn’t that the Law was bad or that the Temple or sacrifices were bad, but rather, all of that couldn’t grant resurrection and immortality. The Levitical priests were human, they were mortal, they died. They also had their own sins to deal with. But then again, as Lancaster has said already, that system was never designed to remove sins permanently and to make us sinless human beings.
But what is a Covenant? I mentioned that the New Testament is not actually the New Covenant and thus the Old Testament isn’t the Old Covenant.
Guess what? The Old Covenant isn’t the Torah, it’s not the Law. Some of you, unless you already know or have read my commentaries on the New Covenant, are probably shocked that I had the nerve to say that. But it’s true.
Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”
–Exodus 24:3-7 (NASB)
That’s the Old Covenant, also called the Sinai or the Mosaic Covenant, in a nutshell. God makes a proposal.
Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”
–Exodus 19:5-6 (NASB)
If the Israelites agree to obey God and keep the conditions of His Covenant, then He will be their God and make them into “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
That’s the Sinai or Old Covenant. The Law or Torah are the conditions of the covenant but the not the covenant itself. The covenant is an agreement between two parties, in this case between God and the Children of Israel. The Torah contains the conditions that must be obeyed, what the Israelites agreed to do as their part of the bargain.
Here’s a news flash:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord drives you. There you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice. For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.
–Deuteronomy 4:26-31 (NASB)
When Israel failed to hold up their end, that is, when they disobeyed God by not observing the conditions of the covenant, God had no intention of abandoning them (see verse 31). He swore never to fail the Israelites and never to destroy them. He swore that even if Israel was faithless, He would never “forget the covenant with [their] fathers which He swore to them.”
Here’s another news flash. We are still living in Old Covenant times. The New Covenant hasn’t arrived yet and it won’t until Jesus (Yeshua) returns. That means the covenant and all its conditions established at Sinai are still in effect. Jewish people, including Jews in Messiah (Messianic Jews), are still under a covenant obligation to observe the Torah mitzvot. Please Christians, don’t try to talk them out of it. That would be a mistake.
OK, if that’s the Old Covenant, what’s the New Covenant?
And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”
–Matthew 26:27-28 (NASB)
No, that’s not the New Covenant, that’s Jesus in the process of inaugurating the New Covenant with those present at the Seder. By eating and drinking, they are entering the very leading edge of the New Covenant which is near but will not arrive until the return of the Master when he drinks the fullness of it:
“But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
–Matthew 26:29 (NASB)
The New Covenant will not reach fruition until the Master drinks the cup of the Covenant in the Messianic Kingdom to come.
But what is the New Covenant then? The writer of Hebrews quotes from it starting in Hebrews 8:8 but Lancaster directs his audience to the source of that quote, which is in Jeremiah 31:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
–Jeremiah 31:31-33 (NASB)
There’s a lot more to it of course, but this is as far as Lancaster intends to go in his first sermon on the topic.
Remember, that a covenant is an agreement and the agreement contains certain terms and conditions that each party is supposed to uphold. In the Old Covenant, God’s part was He would be a God to Israel and make her a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. But that’s only as long as Israel did their part, which was obey the terms and conditions listed in the Torah. When Israel failed their end of things, God withdrew but not completely, sent the nation into exile, and applied any number of disciplinary measures. When Israel repented, God returned to them and returned them to their Land, the nation of Israel.
So what changes in the New Covenant?
“I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Isolating just that sentence, it seems that God intends to write His Law, that is, the Torah, on the hearts of the Israelites and He will continue to be their God and they will continue to be His people.
Here’s how Lancaster laid it out.
The Old Covenant
- God spoke the Torah
- Moses wrote it down and read it to the people
- The people said they would do everything in the Torah
The New Covenant
God puts the Torah inside of people rather than them accessing an external source and attempting to obey the covenant’s terms and conditions. The terms and conditions under the New Covenant are made internal for all the Jewish people so it’s natural for them to obey said-terms and conditions of the covenant.
But they are the same terms and conditions listed for the Old Covenant!
The only difference between the Old and New Covenants is where the terms and conditions are written.
The Torah isn’t bad or too hard to obey or a bait and switch to teach people that God’s standards are beyond our reach. In fact, the Torah is beautiful:
The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
–Psalm 19:7-10 (NASB)
There’s nothing wrong with the Old Covenant conditions except that human beings are faulty.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says…
–Hebrews 8:7-8 (NASB)
The first covenant was not faultless, not because the covenant was at fault but they were at fault, that is the Israelites were at fault. They agreed to obey God but they repeatedly disobeyed. God’s solution to the problem of repeated disobedience wasn’t to annul the Old Covenant and its conditions but to make its possible for people to obey the covenant conditions by creating a New Covenant.
God didn’t change the Law, He changed, or rather, He will change the people.
The Church teaches that God did away with the Old Covenant and all of its terms and conditions completely and “dumbed down” the standards for human obedience. Instead of obeying God all we have to do is believe in Jesus Christ. Except that’s not what the Bible says the New Covenant is. But as I mentioned above, the Christian doctrine of the New Covenant is a dearly held assumption, even if it’s completely in error.
In Lancaster’s understanding of the New Covenant, it’s not here yet but it’s near. Jesus said repeatedly, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). That’s our job. To repent and to repent now! As much as we are able, we should try to live as if the New Covenant Era has already arrived, we should try to have as high a fidelity to the standards of God as we can in preparation for what is to come.
No, it’s not easy, but before it gets easier, it’s going to get a whole lot harder.
What Did I Learn?
As I’ve already said, I’ve gone over this material before so it’s not exactly a revelation, but as I was listening to the recording, I came up with an obvious problem.
We people of the nations are included in the New Covenant blessings. That is, by faith in Messiah, we too will be resurrected in the next age into immortal bodies and live in an era of total peace and tranquility.
But what will we have written on our hearts? The Torah? Will we be like the Jews? Will we be “grandfathered in” to Judaism? Will we be Jews?
Lancaster may cover all this in subsequent sermons, but it’s a compelling set of queries to consider now.
Remember though that the prophet Jeremiah was writing to the houses of Judah and Israel who were about to be sent into the Babylonian exile. Most of his writing was really bad news and he inserted the information about the future New Covenant times to give them hope. But Jeremiah wasn’t writing to Gentiles at all.
The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews was Jewish and he was writing to other Jews. He wasn’t writing to Gentile disciples, so he didn’t have to take them into account when he crafted the language of his letter.
We Gentile Christians read Hebrews and the rest of the Apostolic Scriptures (and the rest of the Bible) as if it were written exclusively for us in the present age. But while the Bible certainly does have applications for us in our world today, that doesn’t mean every single page is addressing us and our issues. Maybe this epistle doesn’t present an explanation of the New Covenant that takes Gentile disciples into account.
I guess we’ll find out in the next few weeks or so.