Renewals of The Covenant


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 daily lives.

God gave the new covenant to Adam and Eve when He put enmity against evil in the human heart. He gave the covenant again 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 New Covenant Promised

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.

God also 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;
 (d) God 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 old 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 ark.2  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 heart.3 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.

There were 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. Judaism 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.6


The 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).

God repeated the Abrahamic covenant to Isaac and Jacob, to Moses at the burning bush, 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

1. The Good 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
Hezekiah 2 Chron. 29:8, 10
Josiah 2 Kings 23:2; 2 Chron. 34:30-32

2. 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” (Deut. 9:15:).

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. God 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).

4. “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 restoration.

5. 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).

6. 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.