Tag Archives: New Covenant

The Jesus Covenant, Part 6: Tracking the Elusive Covenant

Then he began with Mosheh and all of the Prophets and explained to them all of the Scriptures that spoke about him. They came near the village to which they were going, and he set his face as if he were continuing on his way. They urged him, saying, “Stay with us, for the time of evening has arrived, and the day has stretched on.”

So he entered the house to stay with them. When he reclined with them, he took the bread, made a barchah, broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he turned aside and passed from their eyes! They said to one another, “Were our hearts not burning within us as he spoke to us on the road and interpreted the Scriptures?”

Luke 24:27-32 (DHE Gospels)

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends
Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends
Yes I get by with a little help from my friends
With a little help from my friends

-Lennon and McCartney
from the song, With a Little Help from My Friends (1967)

I wish that the Master would speak to me and cause my heart to burn by starting “with Mosheh and all of the Prophets and explaining…all of the Scriptures that speak about him.”

As you know, particularly from Part 4 and Part 5 of this series, I’m having trouble matching up the New Covenant as described in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 with the words of the Master we find in Mark 14:22-24 and Luke 22:19-20. If, as I learned from Derek Leman, the New Covenant is directed specifically at the Jewish people but possesses blessings for non-Jews, where can I find the blessings for the nations? Where can I find the connection?

As it turns out, the connection not only eludes me but, perhaps generations of people who are far more learned than I am:

I would not claim to be in any of the categories you mention, but we have history of nearly two thousand years of scholars who have traveled the same terrain – some of the most profound issues of our faith – and other who are doing the same right now. You really would benefit from some familiarity with their work. –Carl Kinbar

I feel better knowing that I’m not alone. I’m encouraged that I’m pursuing something that is as mysterious to others as it is to me. But then, what hope do I have in discovering answers to questions that scholars and saints have been wrestling with for the better part of 2,000 years? On the other hand, if I don’t attempt to also wrestle with these questions, how can I ever come to terms with my faith or have confidence that I, as a Christian, am also in covenant relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

So many Christians take their faith for granted; they simply assume that the covenants and promises they’ve heard about from the pulpit are all explained and settled. Almost magically, the church leaps from “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” which we see in Jeremiah 31:31 (ESV) to this interpretation, taken from the The World Alliance of Reformed Churches website (added emphasis mine):

First, it is a community of God’s Torah: “I will put my torah in their midst” (31.33). The word torah means “law” and the teaching of the law and points to a way of ordering all of life under the covenant God. Specifically, torah provides a way of seeing reality through the lens of God’s passion and grief. Thus, the new covenant community (church) with torah in its midst will be transformed from self, indifference, and trivial moralisms to neighbour, witness, and costly love.

…Second, the new community (church) will be in covenantal solidarity about the knowledge of God: “They shall all know me, from the least of these to the greatest” (Jer 31.34).

Third, the new covenant community (the church) will know, experience and practice forgiveness: “I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31.34).

broken-crossNot to be too harsh toward my brothers and sisters in the church or the many Christian scholars who support these conclusions, but I can find no method of transferring the New Covenant which God has and will make with “the house of Israel and the house of Judah” to the Christian church of non-Jewish believers in Jesus Christ. It’s just not there in Jeremiah 31, nor in Ezekiel 36. So then, where do I look? As I alluded to above, “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.” Here’s what one of them had to say.

I also don’t see how the Jeremiah and Ezekiel passages relate to Gentiles (at least not directly) and no exegetical commentary will claim that they do. That’s the stuff of homiletical commentaries. The only passages I know that implicitly make the connection are 1 Cor 11 and 2 Cor 3, both of which clearly have Gentile settings. While we see plenty of prophetic mention of light to the Gentiles and New Testament expansion of the gospel to Gentiles, the connection with the New Covenant seems to be a Pauline revelation/midrash. Exegetical commentaries should be helpful there, too, although many of them are supersessionist.

That’s a start, but before pursuing those scriptures in earnest, I want to outline the rest of the search.

I’ve already mentioned Mark 14:22-24 and Luke 22:19-20, where Jesus connects the shedding of his blood with the inauguration (but not completion) of the New Covenant. We see the same scene displayed before us in Matthew 26:26-29 (ESV):

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the (Some manuscripts insert “new”) covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Also, as I previously mentioned, Hebrews 8:6-7 addresses the New Covenant, however, a significant mention of the New Covenant is present in the following chapter of Hebrews, especially 9:15-22. We do see Paul talking about a covenant in Galatians 3:15-18, but it is specifically the Abrahamic covenant, so I’ll bypass Galatians until another day. Hebrews 6 also discusses God’s promise to Abraham.

Before going on, we need an anchor in the language of the New Covenant as recorded in the Tanakh (Old Testament). All of the “connectedness” we see in the New Testament that ties back to the original New Covenant language is through Christ who the church recognizes as the Jewish Messiah. He must be our anchor, or there is no connection at all.

“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)

With our anchor, the Messiah, the “righteous Branch”, now firmly in place, our next stop in following the trail of the elusive New Covenant connection is in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for (or “broken for”) you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. –1 Corinthians 11:27-32 (ESV)

One thing the plain meaning of the text does for me is to more solidly connect the term “New Covenant” with that we call “the Lord’s Supper.” However, Paul seems to be employing the imagery we find in that event (Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, Matthew 26:26-29 ESV) as a commentary or perhaps as midrash, using the people and activities associated with the Last Supper to describe the implications of the New Covenant upon the non-Jewish Corinthian church as those implications link back to the covenant’s core values and ideas.

Thus, if Paul believed it was through the blessings in the New Covenant (which primarily solidified and expanded the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants with the Jewish nation) that the Gentile Christians were also allowed to have a covenant relationship with God, he is saying that, by his audience behaving in a reprehensible and disrespectful manner when gathering together to break bread, they were also desecrating their New Covenant relationship, and thus bringing shame, rather than honor, to the Messiah. The result was that the Gentile Christians brought judgment upon themselves so that, through that discipline, they would not be condemned as will be those who are not in covenant relationship with God.

While Paul is using the Lord’s Supper/New Covenant language as metaphor and midrash to drive his point home to the Corinthians, from our point of view, we see a stronger link between the New Covenant, the “New Covenant” language used by Jesus during his last meal with his closest disciples, and how it can be applied, both positively and negatively, depending on the behavior of those people who are subject to specific covenant blessings; to the non-Jewish disciples who are called by the Messiah’s name.

To me, this is very encouraging. Although the route isn’t exactly straightforward, I can follow my “trail of breadcrumbs” from Jeremiah, to the Last Supper, and then to Paul’s “Corinthian midrash” on the New Covenant. It’s as if I’m trying to watch a television set from my youth, persistently adjusting the fine tuning knob to slowly produce a sharper image. But can we find even more clarification by progressing further along the path? What about 2 Corinthians 3? We’ll get to that particular milestone in Part 7 of this series.

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The Jesus Covenant, Part 5: Blessings and Consequences

I had a strange dream last night (actually, several nights ago as I write this). Actually, I had a number of strange dreams (but then again, all of my dreams are strange). What was really unusual about this particular dream though, is that I was composing this “meditation” in the dream. You know when something has captured your attention when you start having dreams about it.

More specifically, I was pondering the covenant relationships involved in the “Jesus Covenant,” or what binds we Christians to God, and what attaches the Jewish people to the Creator. As you know, by the end of Part 4 in this series, I still hadn’t figured out how or if the New Covenant we see prominently mentioned in Jeremiah 31 or Ezekiel 36 has any sort of blessings for the non-Jewish people of the world. Since then, I’ve gotten some feedback saying, in part, that it is exceptionally difficult for “virtually all individuals to adequately grasp a topic so profound (and yet so intricate) that it has engaged believers, including scholars, on the deepest levels for two thousand years.” That was a different wake up call than I expected. However, I wrote the bulk of this blog post before Part 4 was ever published so, as you read this, please keep that in mind.

Now to continue with the original missive:

As I’m writing this, I still haven’t received any illumination from God or any response but the knowledgable people I’m associated with, so I guess I’ll wait a bit longer before calling it a wash.

But I dreamed something last night.

I dreamed about this.

Moses and the elders of Israel charged the people, saying: Observe all the Instruction that I enjoin upon you this day. As soon as you have crossed the Jordan into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones. Coat them with plaster and inscribe upon them all the words of this Teaching. When you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you — upon crossing the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about which I charge you this day, on Mount Ebal, and coat them with plaster. There, too, you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not wield an iron tool over them; you must build the altar of the Lord your God of unhewn stones. You shall offer on it burnt offerings to the Lord your God, and you shall sacrifice there offerings of well-being and eat them, rejoicing before the Lord your God. And on those stones you shall inscribe every word of this Teaching most distinctly.

Moses and the levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying: Silence! Hear, O Israel! Today you have become the people of the Lord your God: Heed the Lord your God and observe His commandments and His laws, which I enjoin upon you this day.

Thereupon Moses charged the people, saying: After you have crossed the Jordan, the following shall stand on Mount Gerizim when the blessing for the people is spoken: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. And for the curse, the following shall stand on Mount Ebal: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphthali. –Deuteronomy 27:1-13 (JPS Tanakh)

No, I didn’t dream about the actual scene being described above, but I could see blocks of paragraphs on my blog that I knew where talking about the blessings and the curses. The rest of Chapter 27 and part of Chapter 28 describes the specifics of what was cried out between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, in case you want to read about the details.

But that’s not all I dreamed.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” –Matthew 25:31-46 (ESV)

TranscendentPart of what I believe about The Jesus Covenant is that it doesn’t exist as a discrete and stand-alone element (which I discovered only recently, much to my surprise). It is derived from blessings included in the Abrahamic and arguably the New Covenant, but the actual people of both covenants are the Jewish people. I further believe that the Sinai or Mosaic covenant, the conditions of which are included in the Torah, possesses no blessings for the nations and thus, does not contribute anything to what binds we Christians to the God of Israel (although even traditional Judaism does believe that certain, limited aspects of Torah coincide with a non-Jew’s responsibilities to God).

The Torah is very specific and detailed in describing the terms of the “agreement” between God and the Jews. But what about us? What about Christianity? What have we agreed to do and what are the consequences of failing our Savior and failing God?

That’s what I dreamed about. I dreamed about the specifics of the consequences, the blessings and the curses, that the Jewish people agreed upon as a condition of the Sinai covenant. I also dreamed about the passage from Matthew 25, and while it isn’t constructed as an agreement as such, we see that Jesus has posed conditions upon us and consequences for accomplishing or failing to accomplish those conditions in our lives.

I guess even when I’m asleep, I’m looking for clues. I’m looking for connections. I’m looking for attachments. Theologically, what I’ve just suggested may be total baloney, but the dream was still with me when I woke up this morning, (again, as I write this) even though I was having a completely different dream when my alarm went off.

So I had to write it; I had to share it by way of an interlude within this series, standing between the mystery of the New Covenant and what I hope will become the solution. My quest now is to get further along in my understanding of the New Covenant, both with the help of God and a few scholarly human beings. As Lennon and McCartney famously wrote, “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.”

That “little help” has made Part 6 of this series (and more) possible. See you there.

The Jesus Covenant, Part 4: Is There a New Covenant Connection?

My point is not to try and change the nomenclature of Jews, Christians, and everyone regarding the names of parts of the Bible. My point is to argue against a shallow equation of a collection of books with something the prophets of Israel promised. In the new covenant, human hearts will be circumcised (Deut 30:6), replaced from their stony nature with a softer one (Ezek 36:26), the spirit of people will be filled with the divine Spirit (Ezek 36:27), all people will know God (Jer 31:34), the commandments will be followed (Ezek 36:27), the commandments will be written on human hearts (Jer 31:33), Israel will be restored in the land (Jer 31:33; Ezek 36:28), and there will be forgiveness of sins (Ezek 36:25, 29; Jer 31:34).

-Derek Leman
“The New Testament is not the New Covenant”
Messianic Jewish Musings

As I mentioned in Part 3 of this series, I seem to be stuck. More specifically, I said:

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)

Since writing Part 3, I’ve been searching for clues in an effort to solve this mystery (no mean feat for someone who isn’t a theologian). I didn’t intend to immediately return to Derek Leman as my source, but he did come up in a Google search. Since he first suggested to me that the New Covenant has blessings for the nations (something that is not apparent in the text of Jeremiah 31 or Ezekiel 36), then perhaps something he wrote could show me what I’m missing.

Let’s start with what I already quoted from Leman:

In the new covenant, human hearts will be circumcised (Deut 30:6), replaced from their stony nature with a softer one (Ezek 36:26), the spirit of people will be filled with the divine Spirit (Ezek 36:27), all people will know God (Jer 31:34), the commandments will be followed (Ezek 36:27), the commandments will be written on human hearts (Jer 31:33)

Leman specifically states “human hearts” and “all people”, rather than referring specifically to the Jewish people. He does say that ” Israel will be restored in the land (Jer 31:33; Ezek 36:28),” but for the most part, he seems to be discussing humanity in general and not the Jewish people specifically as the only people bound by the New Covenant.

A quick reading of Deut. 30:6 and its surrounding text reveals that God, through Moses, is addressing the Children of Israel and not people in general. Since we know from Part 1 of this series that there are no blessings in the Mosaic covenant (as defined in the Torah) that can be applied to the nations, and that the only people of this covenant are the Jewish people, we cannot reasonably apply this promise to any other people, including Christianity.

Ezekiel 36:23 (ESV) does say, “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,” implying that the nations (the rest of us) will be impacted in some manner by the New Covenant, but only because we will see how God “vindicates the holiness of His Great Name” by taking the Jewish people “from the nations and gather(ing) them from all the countries and bring them into their own land.” That seems to put the context of his references to vv 26-27 squarely among the Jewish people with no involvement of anyone non-Jewish except as witnesses.

So, where’s the connection between the New Covenant and Christianity or even just the non-Jewish people?

We find the new covenant in two primary places. Jeremiah 31 and the Last Supper.

Really? That means we have to find someway of connecting Jeremiah 31 and “the Last Supper.” Is that possible?

As Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24) and “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

OK, let’s take a look at those verses.

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the (some manuscripts insert “new”) covenant, which is poured out for many. –Mark 14:22-24 (ESV)

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.(Some manuscripts omit, in whole or in part, verses 19b-20 [which is given… in my blood]) –Luke 22:19-20 (ESV)

This could present a problem since only some manuscripts of Mark 14 insert “new” as in “new covenant,” and some manuscripts of Luke 22 completely omit the text where Jesus refers to his blood as being poured out as the “new covenant.” So in Mark, the best we could say with some assurance is that his blood being poured out is a sign of some sort of covenant, but are we sure it ties back to older covenants and specifically the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 as Leman suggests? Heck, Luke 22 may not refer to any covenant, new or otherwise, as relating to his blood or anything else.

Not only do we have the problem of finding a way to directly connect any sort of blessings of the New Covenant as recorded in Jer. 31 and Ezek. 36 to Christ’s statements in Mark 14 and Luke 22 about his blood and the New Covenant, we aren’t really sure if Jesus meant that his blood was specifically a sign of the New Covenant or any covenant at all because of variances in the manuscripts.

Setting all that aside for the moment, let’s look at the final relevant quote from Leman’s article:

As Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24) and “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). He meant that his death (the cup poured out) would inaugurate (but not complete) the new covenant. He meant that the beginning of the new covenant promises would arrive in his death. He meant that the new covenant was now and not yet. He meant the kingdom was now but that we would wait for it. He meant that light had dawned but day was not fully arrived. He did not mean, “from now on all that is old is obsolete.” He meant what was promised long ago is moving forward.

Leman states with some confidence that the death of Jesus began but did not complete the New Covenant. It started the ball rolling, so to speak, but that “ball” would not get to where it’s going until his return (“Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”Mark 14:25 (ESV)).

In his last statement, Leman is apparently referring to Hebrews 8:13 (ESV):

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

In verses 8-12 of this chapter of Hebrews, the author was apparently quoting from Jeremiah 31:31-34, so this is the first indication of a direct connection between the New Covenant of Jeremiah and something to do with Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, this part of Hebrews is also used by many in Christianity to say that the New Covenant (Christ’s grace) has replaced the Law of Moses:

But as it is, Christ (Greek: “he”) has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. –Hebrews 8:6-7 (ESV)

Of course, if we apply what we know about the New Covenant affirming and expanding upon the older covenants, specifically the Abrahamic and Mosaic, then nothing has been replaced at all. Leman’s interpretation of what we just read in Hebrews is, “He did not mean, ‘from now on all that is old is obsolete.’ He meant what was promised long ago is moving forward,” changing the standard interpretation of this set of verses to mean that the conditions of the New Covenant, affirming and expanding upon the older covenants, is proceeding forward in history as we approach the point when the Messiah will return.

I have to remind myself that Leman’s intent in writing this blog post was not to draw a map between the New Covenant described in Jer. 31 and Ezek 36, to Jesus, the Last Supper, and Hebrews, as much as he was trying to explain that the New Testament (Gospels, Epistles, Apocrypha) writings were not directly equivalent to the New Covenant. That is, the NT writings are not the text that defines the New Covenant nor does this entire section of the (Christian) Bible directly connect back to the aforementioned sections of the Old Testament or Tanakh (Jewish Bible) used to define the New Covenant.

One of the interesting things about Leman’s blog post is that I responded more than once in the comments section, yet at the time (just a few months ago), I didn’t make the connection to the “covenant dilemma” that I am now undergoing. However, there are a couple of comments (not mine) that add just slightly to this investigation.

Samuel: Great post. I find it odd that Christians spend so much time talking about the “New Covenant” when the “New Covenant” in the Old Testament is inseparably bound to Israel coming into her fullness and possessing the land and not God throwing away a broken “Old Covenant” so He could create a new one. Somehow when people preach on the “New Covenant” they never include the Biblical context where the land of Israel and the Messianic kingdom in Jerusalem are the primary features of the New Covenant.

I wonder theologically how we ever created a “New Covenant” when the the (sic) Scripture is very straightforward about it being the fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham and Israel.

Derek: Thanks for commenting. I think the answer has to be the use of New Covenant language by Jesus at the Last Supper (see Luke’s version). And then it comes up in Hebrews. In my upcoming book, Yeshua Our Atonement, I explain in some depth the argument being made in Hebrews.

I wonder if this means that I’ll have to wait until Derek’s latest book is published and then buy a copy to get some answers to my questions?

So what do we have so far? Based on what I just wrote as well as Part 3, maybe not as much as I’d like. No matter where I look, at best, I can only find what amounts to hints that the New Covenant of Jer. 36 and Ezek 31 has any sort of blessings attached to them that could possibly be associated with Jesus, the Last Supper, and the coming of the next age (Mark 14, Luke 22, Hebrews 8). We know from various prophesies (Isaiah 56:1-8, Micah 4:1-5, Zechariah 8:20-23, among others) that the nations will also reap blessings and benefits from God in the Messianic age, but trying to draw an “A connects to B connects to C” map of how all this works with the New Covenant and Christ’s “Last Supper” statements remains maddeningly elusive. As far as the Old Testament is concerned, I’m convinced the New Covenant applies uniquely and exclusively to the Jewish people, but the prophesies of how the nations will benefit in the Messianic age could just as easily apply to Noahides as they could to Christians.

So far, either my investigation on the New Covenant has going completely bust, or I’ve discovered some tantalizing but inconclusive threads that are trying to pull things together, but in a wholly mysterious way.

I’ll say again that I am no expert in this field of study. I don’t even know what books to read to find what I’m looking for. I’m not a theologian, Bible scholar, or some other type of religious “big wig” who sees all and knows all regarding the arcane secrets of the Bible. I suppose someone with degrees and qualifications could some along and explain all this to me in spiritual and mystic terms, saying, “This means this and that means that, and if you take the numerical value of the Hebrew letters in Jeremiah 31, divide by zero, turn around three times and wave a Bible over your head, then the New Covenant means what Christianity or Derek Leman says it means.”

So far, my request for assistance from Part 3 has fallen on deaf ears, at least as far as I can tell from the lack of responses.

Either there is a yet undiscovered (by me) means of reasonably and rationally connecting the New Covenant we see in the Old Testament to the relevant sections of the New Testament, or the very, very best I can say is that only the blessings for the nations we find in the Abrahamic covenant attach the Christian to God.

But is the Abrahamic covenant enough?

I don’t know what comes next, but I hope for my sake and perhaps yours that I can find a way to write a Part 5 of The Jesus Covenant.

The Jesus Covenant, Part 3: The New Covenant

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
Wikipedia.org

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 .

-Boaz Michael

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)

Path of TorahThe 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.

The Jesus Covenant, Part 1: The Foundation

I said the New Covenant applies to non-Jews the same way the Abrahamic does: some specific provisions are Israel-specific (land, great nation, bless those who bless you) while the blessings of the covenant are for “all the families of the earth” and “all nations.” Even before the New Covenant was initiated in Messiah’s death (initiated but not fully enacted) non-Jews were invited to God’s blessings in countless Psalms and prophetic passages and in the general invitation to wisdom.

Non-Jews are to read in Israel’s Torah and prophets and writings and find wisdom and righteousness. There is not a separate covenant. It is the covenant with Israel to be read along with Israel.

-Derek Lemen describing the content
of his recent video on Covenants

I was wrong.

I bet that’s not something you read in the blogosphere everyday.

I was used to thinking that Christianity had a separate and wholly contained covenant that connected the non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah to God. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. No wonder I couldn’t find a “discrete container” for this covenant anywhere in the Bible.

But what then? Are we Christians all existing inside an illusion? Did God never really intend for us to have a relationship with Him? I have to answer “no,” otherwise what was the whole point of Paul’s mission to the nations or Christ’s last command to his Jewish disciples in Matthew 28:18-20?

So where is this mythical covenant. I might as well start from scratch and ask what is a covenant? I grabbed a definition more or less at random from Carm.org:

A covenant (Hebrew berith, Greek diatheke) is a legal agreement between two or more parties. The word “covenant(s)” occurs 284 times in the Old Testament (as found in the New American Standard Bible). “Covenant(s)” occurs 37 times in the New Testament, which gives a total of 321 occurances (sic).

That’s probably not the best definition in existence, but it works.

Once I realized that I didn’t have an answer to a very basic question about my faith, I sent out a general “distress message” via email to the various people I trust to answer my honest but dumb questions. Derek Leman, whose qualifications include M.T.S in Hebrew Bible, Emory University and Rabbinic Studies, Messianic Jewish Theological Institute, was gracious enough to respond. Our set of email transactions included this:

Me: However, one of my problems is being able to point at the Bible and say “such and thus” chapter and verse is where you’ll find the “covenant with the Gentiles.” From what you said (and this is probably where my problem comes in), there is no central location for the “Gentile Messianic covenant.” It’s really a ratification of the previous covenants that allows the nations to partake within certain constraints. Correct?

Derek: Exactly.

I was recently criticized when I suggested that, to define the covenant that attaches the non-Jewish people to God, I’d have to do an inventory of different parts of the Bible. As it turns out, I was on the right track, but not quite right enough. We Gentile Christians are not attached to the God of Israel through Jesus Christ by a covenant that is specifically made with the nations. Instead, we receive blessings from already existing covenants that God made with the Jewish people.

But that presents a problem. If we Christians have a covenant relationship with God through covenants that were made with the Jewish people (Abrahamic and Mosaic, specifically) does that mean all of the conditions, requirements, and blessings of those covenants apply in exactly the same manner to us as they do to the Jewish people? In other words, does coming to faith in Jesus Christ make a non-Jewish person “Jewish?”

No, but this is the part that requires some work to discover.

There are three covenants that seem to apply: The Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, and the New Covenant.

I’m borrowing heavily from Derek’s Covenants video here. Also, keep in mind, this information is really a summary. There’s a lot more detail that can be gleaned from a deeper look into each of these covenants.

Abrahamic

This is the covenant that God made with Abraham. You’ll find the announcement of the covenant in Genesis 12, the enactment of the covenant is in Genesis 15, and the sign of the covenant, which is circumcision, in Genesis 17. Derek explains that circumcision isn’t a requirement for the covenant to continue, but it is a requirement for Abraham’s descendants, through Isaac and Jacob specifically, to participate in the covenant. It is vitally important to recognize that the people of the Abrahamic covenant are Abraham’s descendants through Jacob, that is, the Jewish people.

Torah at SinaiSome parts of that covenant are only for the Jewish people, specifically the land, that Israel will be made into a great nation, that Abraham’s name will be made great, that those who curse you (Abraham and his descendants through Jacob) will be cursed, those who bless you will be blessed.

However, there are parts of the covenant that are not limited to the Jewish people. There are blessings in the Abrahamic covenant that are intended for the righteous of the nations; blessings for all the families of the earth through Israel. God’s blessing comes to Christians through Israel in that Israel gave Christians the Bible and the Messiah, and Israel will be the center of Jesus’ return and where he will establish his kingdom on earth.

Mosaic

This is the covenant that God made specifically with the Children of Jacob through Moses at Sinai, and the conditions of the Sinai covenant between God and Israel were given as the Torah. The sign of the covenant is the Sabbath.

“You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.'” –Exodus 31:13 (ESV)

Like the Abrahamic covenant, the people of the Mosaic covenant are the Jewish people. However, unlike the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant contains no blessings for the nations. The Mosaic covenant of Sinai is applied only to the Jewish people. This means the keeping of the Sabbaths, including the weekly Sabbath and all of the Festivals, are specifically covenant signs between God and the Jews.

New Covenant

The New Covenant can be found in both Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 however, according to Derek, this is not a New Covenant made with the Christian church. The people of the covenant, just like the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, are the Jewish people.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares 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. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” –Jeremiah 31:31-34 (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. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. –Ezekiel 36:22-24 (ESV)

Also, countering what many believers may think, the New Covenant doesn’t replace the older covenants but instead, expands upon them and continues to include the previous covenants with Israel. In fact, the exile the Jewish people had suffered from was a direct penalty cited in the Mosaic covenant (see Ezekiel 36:16-19). The end of this chapter in Ezekiel (vv 33-38) reads very much like a return of the blessings of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants upon God’s people Israel:

“Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.

“Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock. Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

Waiting for the dawnBut is that it? No, for like the Abrahamic covenant, although the people of the covenant are the Jewish people, there are blessings in the New Covenant that include all the nations of the world. These blessings are from God but they go through Israel to the nations. In fact, the blessings go from God, through Israel and specifically through Israel’s “first-born son,” the Messiah, Jesus, who we in the church call, “the Christ,” and then to us, everyone, anyone who comes to faith in God for the sake of Jesus, all the blessings through the Son of David.

“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)

This is only the foundation of my search for the “Jesus Covenant.” Obviously it doesn’t answer all the questions about how what is being said here connects further on down the road to the coming of the Messiah and the gathering of the people of the nations into the blessings I’ve (or rather, that Derek has) mentioned.

But it’s a start. I’m probably not the only Christian who hasn’t really explored the connections in the covenant blessings that bind us to God, so I hope a few others reading this will benefit. I don’t know if I can produce a second part of this series immediately. I’ll probably end up doing some reading and the High Holy Days are very near now. I trust that you’ll be patient. Of course, if those of you, like Derek, who are learned in such matters, choose to contribute to my “knowledge base,” either through email or by commenting here, I wouldn’t object.

“Jealousy comes from counting another’s blessings instead of your own.”

-Anonymous

To continue with this series, join me for Part 2 of The Jesus Covenant.