Genesis: The Book of God’s Kingdom – 20 (“Christ: The Covenant of Consummation”)
The Scripture passage that we are going to look at this morning has been acclaimed as one of the most important passages in the entire Old Testament. This passage also had a tremendous impact on New Testament doctrine.
In the years 589-587 BC, the city of Jerusalem was under siege for a second time by Nebuchadnezzar’s army and the city and its temple were destroyed during this siege. The prophet Jeremiah was also imprisoned in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace and it was during this time that he wrote his prophecy.
We have already seen that the Old Covenant that God had established with His people required strict obedience to the Mosaic Law. Because, according to Rom.6:23, the wages of sin, is death, the Law required that Israel perform daily sacrifices in order to atone for sin. The problem with all of the bilateral covenants in the Old Testament was that the people of Israel could not adhere to it – they were just too sinful and it was just too difficult to do that. That is why Moses, through whom God established the Old Covenant, also anticipated the New Covenant. In one of his final addresses to the nation of Israel, Moses looks forward to a time when Israel would be given “a heart to understand” (Deut.29:4). Moses predicts that Israel would fail in keeping the Old Covenant (Deut.29:22-28), but he then sees a time of restoration (Deut.30:1–5). At that time, Moses says ~ “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deut.30:6). These words were a prophecy regarding a new covenant that will come, a New Covenant that will involve a total change of heart so that God’s people are naturally pleasing to Him.
The prophet Jeremiah also predicted the New Covenant in Jer.31. The New Covenant is also mentioned in Ezek.36:26-27 ~ “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel lists several aspects of the New Covenant here: a new heart, a new spirit, the indwelling Holy Spirit and true holiness. The Mosaic Law could provide none of these things – Paul confirms this in Rom.3:20 when he says ~ “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
2. SCRIPTURE READING:
Jer.31:31-34- (ESV) ~ “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, 32 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. 33 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. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour 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.”
Matt.26:28 ~ “…for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
1 Cor.11:25 ~ “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.”
3. THE COVENANT OF CONSUMMATION:
What then is the Covenant of Consummation or the New Covenant? In short, the New Covenant (or New Testament) is the promise that God makes with humanity that He will forgive sin and restore fellowship with those whose hearts are turned toward Him. Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the New Covenant, and His death on the Cross is the basis of the promise ~ “And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’” (Luke 22:20). The New Covenant would be the final covenant – The Covenant of Consummation (Afrikaans: “volvoer” of “volbring”).
When we look at our text (and other similar passages from the Old Testament), we are confronted with an enormous problem. The problem is that the promises of the New Covenant direct themselves to Israel, and that leaves non-Israelites (all other nations and people – Gentiles) outside the New Covenant, e.g. Jer.31:31b ~ “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” In parallel passages, the parties involved are always the Lord and the nation of Israel. Some blessings relate to the Gentile nations, but even these are “spill-over” blessings from Israel.
Why the concern that this covenant is to be made with Israel? Because, the covenant is amazing in what it offers. It presents the solutions to all of life’s deep problems, including cleansing from sin and an intimate relationship with the God of the universe. Any reasonable person would want to become a part of this covenant. Specifically, then, what is this covenant like?
- First of all, the New Covenant really is a new covenant, not a renewed old covenant. Jeremiah states that it will be “not like” the Mosaic Covenant (Jer.31:31). What is important and towers right above any previous prediction, lies in the prophecy of a new covenant which Yahweh intends to make with Israel. This is clearly something quite different from Yahweh’s saying that days were coming when he would again remember his covenant which he made with Israel. No, the Old Covenant is broken, and in Jeremiah’s view Israel is altogether without one. What is all important is that there is no attempt here – as there was, for example, in Deuteronomy, to “re-establish Israel on the old basis.” The New Covenant is entirely new, and in one essential feature it is to surpass the old, that is, that Yahweh is to give His people a heart to know Him (Jer.24:7).
- The New Covenant is also desirable because it is everlasting and irrevocable (Afrikaans: “onherroeplik”). The Mosaic Covenant depended on the ability of the people to keep their part of the contract. They had sworn ~ “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” (Ex.24:7). Thus, the nation would possess the promises of the covenants forever (Jer.31:35-37).
- More than anything else, the Lord promises to prosper Israel with an abundance of physical blessings, including the gathering of the people to the land (Jer.31:8-11, 15-17), productivity (Jer.31:12), expressions of joy (Jer.31:13-14), increase in herds and flocks (Jer.31:23-24), and rebuilding of cities (Jer.31:38-40). The spiritual provisions include a transformed heart of flesh, forgiveness of sins, and a consummated relationship with the Lord. Ezekiel adds that a permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit will accompany the law within the heart ~ “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezek.36:27).
- The Lord expresses His pleasure in the future consummation of His relationship with Israel in one of the most delightful passages in the OT. After telling Israel that He would pour out His Spirit on their descendants, the Lord expresses the pride they will have in having Yahweh as their God ~ “This one will say, ‘I am the LORD’s; And that one will call on the name of Jacob; And another will write on his hand, ‘Belonging to the LORD,’ and will name Israel’s name with honour” (Isa.44:5). With similar pride, the Lord says about Israel ~ “I will be their God, and they will be My people.”
The question that stands out is, does this all mean that we as Gentile believers today have no part in this New Covenant? The answer on that is, surely not, for the same death of Christ that implemented the New Covenant for Israel does so for all sinners for all time. Remember: We must always read the Word of God in context, and the testimony of the entire New Testament is too clear on this point to be misunderstood. Because Israel rejected the covenant in the first advent (Afrikaans: “die eerste koms van Jesus”), Gentiles availed (Afrikaans: “gebruik maak van”) themselves of its provisions (Rom.9:30-33). Thus it is correct to say that al believers in Christ are by virtue of this covenant grafted into the stock of Abraham (Rom.11:16-24).
This also does not mean that another or different covenant needs to be made for either Israel or Gentiles, since both share redemption by faith in the blood of the New Covenant. Writing to the Hebrews, the author of the letter makes clear how the New Covenant now avails for both (Hebr.8; Eph.3:1-7).
The New Covenant is the promise that God makes with humanity that He will forgive sin and restore fellowship with those whose hearts are turned toward Him. After the resurrection of Christ, Gentiles were brought into the blessing of the New Covenant, too ~ “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph.2:13-14 – also see Acts 10).
In contrast to the Old Covenant model in which entrance into the community was through physical birth, the New Covenant community, however, will be formed by spiritual birth. To state it differently, in contrast to Old Testament Israel where the remnant is sometimes represented by only ten percent of the nation (e.g. Isa.6:13), the New Covenant community will include only believers because that will be the criterion for entrance.
4. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
The New Testament makes a clear distinction between the covenants of the Mosaic Law and the covenant of Promise. The apostle Paul spoke of these… “two covenants,” one originating… “from Mount Sinai,” the other from… “the Jerusalem above” (Gal.4:24-26). Paul also argued that the covenant established at Mount Sinai was a “ministry of death” and “condemnation” (2 Cor.3:7, 9).
The death of Christ ushered in the New Covenant under which we are justified by God’s grace and mercy – it is now possible to have the true forgiveness of sins. Jesus Himself is the Mediator of this better covenant between God and man (Hebr.9:15). Jesus’ sacrificial death served as the oath, or pledge, which God made to us to seal this New Covenant. This wonderful promise was fulfilled by Jesus Christ whose… “blood of covenant” was… “shed for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt.26:28, 1 Cor.11:25).
Jesus was the only qualified Mediator of the New Covenant because, as the true Son of God and the sinless Son of Man, his was the only blood that could be shed for the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus was the highest, ranking authority whom God the Father could send. None from among the ranks of His creatures – men or angels – could compare with Jesus, His Son. Though subjected to profound humiliation, he was raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven where he sits at His Father’s right hand in the place of Supreme Authority (Phil.2:5-11). When this mediator initiates a covenant, that is, a peace treaty from God, it is in our best interest to pay attention!
Jesus made a rather cryptic announcement to his disciples when he said, “I have other sheep who are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they shall hear my voice, and they shall become one flock with one Shepherd” (John 10:16). These mysterious… “other sheep” are explained by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatian believers ~ “There is neither Jew nor Greek… you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29).
The New Covenant is the new agreement God has made with mankind, based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The concept of a new covenant originated with the promise of Jeremiah that God would accomplish for His people what the Old Covenant had failed to do (Jer.31:31-34; Hebr.11:7-13). Under this New Covenant, God would write His Law on human hearts.
When Jesus ate the Passover meal at the Last Supper with His disciples, He spoke of the cup and said ~ “…this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt.26:28). Luke’s account refers to this cup as symbolising ~ “…the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20).
When Paul recited the account he had received concerning the Last Supper, he quoted these words of Jesus about the cup as “the new covenant in My blood” (1 Cor.11:25).
The Epistle to the Hebrews gives the New Covenant more attention than any other book in the New Testament. It quotes the entire passage from Jer.31:31-34 (Hebr.8:8-12). Jesus is referred to by the writer of Hebrews as ~ “…the Mediator of the New Covenant” (Hebr.9:15; 12:24). The New Covenant, a… “better covenant … established on better promises” (Hebr.8:6), rests directly on the sacrificial work of Christ.
The New Covenant accomplished what the old could not, i.e., the removal of sin and cleansing of the conscience (Hebr.10:2, 22). The work of Jesus Christ on the Cross thus makes the Old Covenant “obsolete” (Hebr.8:13) (Afrikaans: “verouderd”) and fulfils the promise of the prophet Jeremiah.
So while the New Covenant promise of Jer.31 employs the language of… “the house of Israel and the House of Judah” we understand it to mean the “true Israel” of Galatians 6:16. The people of God are no longer a fleshly Israel or Judah, made up of Abraham and Jacob’s physical descendants. No, the children of Abraham are those who share the patriarch’s faith in God’s promises of a coming Redeemer (Rom.4:14-16). We know that Redeemer to be Jesus of Nazareth. The holy nation is now a spiritual and universal kingdom made up of all believers in Jesus Christ – whether Jew or Gentile.
In his remarks at the Last Supper, recorded in the synoptic gospels, it is extremely important to note that that Jesus connects the “new” covenant with His “blood.” We can’t help but be reminded of Ex.24:7, where after the people promise to obey God’s commands ~ “Moses took the blood (half of which had already been sprinkled on the altar), and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant which Yahweh hath made with you concerning all these words” (Ex.24:8).
The blood was from animals sacrificed as burnt offerings and peace offerings. Half of the blood was sprinkled on the altar – designating it as a sacrifice offered to God. The other half was sprinkled on the people, signifying its virtuous application in their behalf.
By referring to His blood in this manner, Jesus clearly and unmistakably pointed to his sacrificial death as the means to bring his people into a new covenant relationship with God. The ultimate sacrifice of the… “Lamb of God” (as John the Baptist referred to Jesus) is suitable and pleasing to God. Its power and virtue (Afrikaans: “deugsaam”) is vicariously applied to believers (Afrikaans: “middelik” of “plaasvervangend”), so that all the blessings of the New Covenant are secured for, and guaranteed to them.
We are no longer under the Law but under grace (Rom.6:14-15). The Old Covenant has served its purpose, and it has been replaced by “a better covenant” (Hebr.7:22). “In fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises” (Hebr.8:6).
Under the New Covenant, we are given the opportunity to receive salvation as a free gift (Eph.2:8-9). Our responsibility is to exercise faith in Christ, the One who fulfilled the Law on our behalf and brought an end to the Law’s sacrifices through His own sacrificial death. Through the life-giving Holy Spirit who lives in all believers (Rom.8:9-11), we share in the inheritance of Christ and enjoy a permanent, unbroken relationship with God (Hebr.9:15).
Unlike the Mosaic covenant, the New Covenant of Jesus Christ is intended for all mankind – regardless of race. In the Great Commission Jesus sent His apostles into the entire world so they could tell the story of the Cross (Luke 24:46-47; Matt.28:18-20). The Gospel call extends to every man and woman today!
In summary then, the full rights and privileges as sons of God are mercifully granted to the elect, including total remission of sin and the perfect righteousness of Christ, all are credited to them. In addition, the Holy Spirit of God seals and empowers his children, enabling them to die more and more to sin, and live more and more unto righteousness. He promises eternal life and the assurance of His presence forever.
Repentance of sin and the personal faith and reception of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord by faith alone is the condition upon which one is made a child of God (Joh.1:12).