20 The New Covenant
by Hubert F. Sturges, www.everlastingcovenant.com, December 2013
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that
I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house
of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers
in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of
Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto
them, saith the Lord. Jeremiah 31:31, 32
Preachers, teachers, and
theologians often use the term “new covenant.” It represents all that is
positive and desirable about the covenant of God. The new covenant
represents all that God will do for us and in us to change our lives and
make us like Him again. It is the covenant of redemption and grace.
The new covenant is a stark contrast to the old covenant whereby
people attempt the impossibility of making themselves righteous by their
own efforts. One must study this carefully to know what it means for our
God gave the new covenant to Adam and Eve when He
put enmity against evil in the human heart. He gave the
to Abraham when He chose Abraham to be the father of many nations and of
the chosen people through whom the Messiah would come. The covenant to
Abraham was to go to all his seed and to the New Testament church (Gal.
3:29). Jesus confirmed the new covenant on the cross.
The covenant has not always been well
understood. When Judah went into captivity, the people could only
conclude that God cast them aside from the covenant. God was watching,
and He promised them a new covenant that would be different from their
current corrupted view of the covenant. Jeremiah was first to describe
the new covenant:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I
will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of
Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in
the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of
Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto
them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make
with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put
my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be
their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more
every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the
Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the
greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and
I will remember their sin no more. (Jer. 31:31-34; cf. Ezek 36:24-31).
How is the new covenant new? “New” is an attractive term because
humans like new things.
The new covenant is new in its function.
In the new covenant, God takes the initiative, writes the law in our
hearts, and emphasizes grace for power to obey the law. We still need
obedience, though superficial obedience is not enough. The motives of
the heart must be changed. Obedience must originate from love to God and
our fellow humans.
God’s everlasting covenant cannot be broken or
modified by any human. The covenant between God and the human family, in
which we dedicate ourselves to the covenant of God, is by nature
temporary. It must be renewed on a continual basis. God renewed the
covenant in Exod. 34:9-27 (Deut..5:2-22 and Josh. 5:2-15 are a
reiteration of Exod. 34) and in Josh. 24:14-27; the six righteous kings
of Judah renewed the covenant when they repented from their idolatry.1
Jesus ratified the new covenant after the people’s ratification of
the old. When God promised Abram land, He went through a covenant
ceremony with Abram according to the customs of the people (Gen.
15:8-21). At Sinai, the people performed a ratification ceremony for
their covenant of human promises. Their promises were presumptuous and
lacked faith, and their covenant lasted just forty-six days. We call it
the historical old covenant, which is the covenant the fathers broke at
Sinai (Jer. 31:32). The covenant Jesus ratified or confirmed on Calvary
was the New Covenant, or the covenant of redemption.
gave the new covenant for the new nation of Israel. He offered “My
covenant” on Sinai, a covenant of grace and of what God would do for
Israel. It was the new covenant. This was a continuation of the
Abrahamic covenant, with important differences:
(a) God asked the people
for a response;
(b) the promises of God applied to Israel as a
nation”-then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people;
“| and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation”
(Exod. 19:5, 6);
(c) God offered grace as part of the covenant;
spoke the ten-commandment law from Sinai and wrote it in stone by His
finger. People knew what was right and wrong, and these commands were
not new. However, Israel, as a nation, simply needed an official record.
After Calvary, Christ became our new High Priest in heaven. The
human priesthood ended, and the priesthood of Jesus in the heavenly
sanctuary began. Old Testament believers looked forward; Christians now
look back to the work that Jesus accomplished on the cross. In their
presumptuous promises, the people bypassed grace and made the historical
covenant. The people broke their covenant in forty-six days by a
rebellious, heathen festival at the base of Mount Sinai. After a series
of intense intercessions by Moses, God took the people back into the
Abrahamic or new covenant (Exod. 34:9-27) and took the initiative to do
“marvels” for the people.The New Covenant, Step by Step
“I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts”
(Jer. 31:33). This law is the ten-commandment moral code, which is also
called “the covenant.” Moses put the tables of the covenant inside the
It showed the principles of holiness that God desires in His
people (Exod. 19:4-6). Before the captivity, Israel had failed
repeatedly by taking part in the idolatry of the surrounding nations.
They had broken the Sabbath, oppressed the poor by violence and
extortion, and made military alliances with heathen nations against the
explicit command of God (Jer. 2-30).
Grace cannot act in a
vacuum. Once the law provides knowledge of sin, sinners must identify
and confess their sin, consent to do God’s will, and receive the grace
of God by faith that changes the heart and makes it possible to keep His
law (Rom. 3:31). In Christ, human beings become partakers of the divine
nature (2 Peter 1:3-8).
In their recurring apostasy and rejection
of the covenant and the Ten Commandments, Israel rejected the means by
which God could make of them “a peculiar treasure unto [Him] above all
people: and a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exod. 19:5,
6). The law was not just a document graven on stone, nor written in a
book. It needed to be written on the heart to change the person’s life.
God has always desired changed lives in His people and worship from the
Outward forms and ceremonies by themselves are of little value.
“I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33).
This is the covenant promise. The promise of God is that He will be with
His people and will lift them to again reflect the divine image. He
created humans to offer intelligent love and praise to Him. After Adam
and Eve’s sin, God offered a plan whereby everything that they lost in
Eden would be restored.
Finally, there was to be a time when
everyone would “know the Lord” and not need to “teach every man his
brother” (Jer. 31:33). After the captivity, and after restoration to
their land, God gave Israel 490 years to fulfill their purpose as the
chosen people (Dan. 9:24). It was God’s purpose that the whole earth be
prepared for the first advent of Christ, even as, today, the church
prepares the way for His second coming.4
God had glorious plans for
Israel, if only they would seek Him.5
“I will make a new
covenant” (Jer. 31:31). The Bible translates the Hebrew hadash as “new,”
“fresh,” or “renewed.” Was this a renewed covenant, or a completely new
covenant? There is reason to believe that it was both. To the righteous
believing remnant of Israel, it was a renewal of the Abrahamic covenant
that they so much loved and relied on for their faith.
so many who remained ignorant of the meaning of the sacrifices, but who
depended for salvation on their descent from Abraham and their
meticulous observance of the law with its sacrifices and rituals.
had become a burdensome religion of works with no power to save.
To such people the new covenant was new. It replaced the oppressive
religion of works with a covenant of grace, in which the power of God
through grace would change their lives and give them assurance of
eternal life.6The New Covenant in History
When God told
the serpent, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman” (Gen. 3:15),
He was revealing new covenant principles. God took the initiative by
giving humans a conscience and the desire to act rightly. With Noah
after the flood, God promised that there would not be another worldwide
flood and that the world would have regular seasons so that human beings
could plant and harvest food so they might live. God gave Abraham the
covenant in detail. He would make of Abraham a strong nation; He would
give him land on which to live; He would make him a blessing to all
people through his “seed,” which is Christ (Gal. 3:16, 29).
repeated the Abrahamic covenant to Isaac and Jacob, to Moses at the
to the elders of Israel when Moses returned to Egypt and
after Moses first confronted Pharaoh. This covenant, renewed at Sinai,
included promises to Israel through grace (Exod. 19:4-6). Because of
grace, the ten commands (Exod. 20:2-17) became ten promises of what God
would do in their lives.When Would God Give the New Covenant?
Jeremiah gave the prophecy regarding the new covenant (Jer.
31:31-34) about ten years into the captivity. The phrases, “Behold the
days come” (verse 31) and “after those days” (verse 33), predict that
the historical new covenant, the covenant of grace, was to be confirmed
in the future. There were three dates to consider.
The first date
was at the end of the seventy years captivity. They would be restored to
their land and to Jerusalem, and the Temple was to be rebuilt. The
covenant would be renewed and a process of true heart religion would be
instituted. Every truehearted Jew looked forward to this time.
The second date came 490 years after the restoration from the seventy
years captivity. This prophecy gave Judah time to fulfill God’s purpose
for them (Dan. 9:24). It was God’s design that the whole earth should be
prepared for the first advent of Christ. At that time, the Messiah would
come, confirm the covenant, make one efficacious sacrifice for sin, and
fulfill the ceremonial law. Jesus Himself would become the glory of the
second temple. He would take the throne of David, inaugurate His
glorious reign, and sanctify His people. The book of Isaiah contains a
number of passages that picture a reign of righteousness on this earth,
with many other passages that can only be fulfilled in the new earth.
The third date would have to be in the perfection and beauty of the
new earth (Jer. 31:34). With the failure of the Jewish nation to accept
their Messiah, we must now look forward to His second coming for the
final fulfillment of this prophecy.Endnotes
Kings of Judah who made a Covenant with God
David 2 Sam. 7:8-16;
23:3-5; 1 Chron. 17:11-14; 2 Chron. 6:16.
Solomon 1 Kings 9:4-7
Asa 2 Chron. 15:12, 13
Jehoshaphat 2 Chron. 20:18, 20, 21
Jehoida & Joash 2 Kings 11:17; 2 Chron. 23:16, 17
Chron. 29:8, 10
Josiah 2 Kings 23:2; 2 Chron. 34:30-32
That the Ten Commandments were the covenant can be seen in the following
verses: “And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten
commandments” (Exod. 34:28). "the tables of stone, even the tables of
the covenant which the Lord made with you” (Deut. 9:9). "the Lord gave
me the two tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant” (Deut.
9:11). "and the two tables of the covenant were in my two hands”
The two tables of “the testimony” (Exod. 31:18)
were kept inside the ark, as we learn in Deuteronomy and Hebrews. “I
will write on the tables ... and thou shalt put them in the ark” (Deut.
10:2). “ ... put the tables in the ark which I had made: and there they
be” (Deut. 10:5). "the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with
gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that
budded, and the tables of the covenant” (Heb. 9:4).3.
desired heart religion in the Old Testament (Gen. 3:15; Deut. 5:29;
30:6; Ps. 37:31; 40:8; 51:10; Isa. 1:17; 51:7; Ezek. 11:19; 36:26).
“It was God’s design that the whole earth be prepared for the
first advent of Christ, even as today the way is preparing for His
second coming.” The seasons of prosperity that followed [the
restoration] gave ample evidence of God’s willingness to accept and
forgive, and yet with fatal shortsightedness they turned again and again
from their glorious destiny and selfishly appropriated to themselves
that which would have brought healing and spiritual life to countless
multitudes.” In their self-righteousness they trusted to their own
works, to the sacrifices and ordinances themselves, instead of relying
upon the merits of Him to whom all these things pointed. Thus, “˜going
about to establish their own righteousness’ (Romans 10:3), they built
themselves up in a self-sufficient formalism” (Ellen G. White, Prophets
and Kings [Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association,
1917], pp. 703-705, 708-709). See Jer. 32:37-40 and Ezek. 36:24-28 which
are passages in which God promised to give people a new heart at the
What was God’s plan for Judah? Some 490 years
after the restoration, Jesus would come, bring glory to the Temple, and
begin His reign of righteousness on this earth (Isa. 2:1-4; 25:8, 9;
33:14-24; 35:1-10; 55:11-13; 60:18-20; 65:17-25; 66:22-24).
The context of the new covenant is the restoration of Israel; the
prophets’ promises of restoration anticipated Israel and Judah’s return
from captivity (Isa. 10:24-34; 14:1-7; 27:12, 13; 40:2-5; 61:4-10; Jer.
16:14-16; 23:3-8; 25:11; 29:10-14; 30:3-11; 32:7-27, 44; Ezek. 34:11-16;
37:1-28; Amos 9:10-15; Micah 2:12, 13).
It was about ten years
into the captivity of Judah in Babylon. They had forgotten the Messiah
to whom the sacrifices pointed. They had an almost idolatrous
understanding of the sacrifices and ceremonies as somehow pleasing God
and assuring their salvation. In this setting, the covenant was new
again and it was renewed.
The captivity in Babylon was to last
for seventy years. Afterward, the people were to have their own land
restored (Jer. 31:1-28). Jeremiah also prophesied about a renewed
covenant of grace (Jer. 31:31-34). Between the return from Babylon and
the coming of the Messiah, Israel was to have its second and final
opportunity as a nation to cooperate with the divine plan (see Jer.
12:14-17; Dan. 9:24).
For more on Israel’s failure to carry out
God’s plan, see Francis D. Nichol, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible
Commentary (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association,
1953), vol. 4, pp. 30-32.