Renewals of The Covenant


21 New Testament Insights

by Hubert F. Sturges, wwww.everlastingcovenant.com, December 2013

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her hearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. Isaiah 53:7

Animal sacrifice in the Old Testament foreshadowed Christ’s giving Himself on the cross to pay the penalty for the broken law that human beings might be saved. This doctrine was but dimly understood or was even totally forgotten during Old Testament times. The fact that the Messiah would be the divine Son of God was virtually unknown, for the Israelites were monotheists and did not believe in a triune God.1 Their expectation was that the Messiah would take the throne of David and restore the glory of the Temple. To many, the concept of the Messiah’s sacrificial death on the cross was unthinkable, and to the Jews it is unthinkable even today. His death was a mystery that became clear, even to the “remnant,” only whenHe came to earth.


The Old Testament Covenant Misunderstood

Old Testament discussions of the covenant always revolve around just one covenant--the Abrahamic covenant, which is the major application of the new covenant. Looking back from a New Testament perspective, we see two covenants: the old covenant ratified and broken at Sinai (Exod. 24:3-11; 32) and the new covenant described by Jeremiah and applied throughout human history (Jer. 31:31-34). The difference in perspective between the two is seen in this verse: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

Grace was taught in the Old Testament through the mighty acts of God in delivering His people, by His constant presence in the sanctuary, and through the sacrifices. These were but an indirect illustration of the glory of the grace of God. In Jesus Christ, the veil was taken away, and faith and grace became clear (2 Cor. 3:7-18).

In the new covenant, we see the initiative of God in writing His law in the hearts of His people. We can find grace and God’s law written in the heart in the covenant that was given to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, and to Israel at Sinai. God’s intended covenant was ratified by Jesus on the cross, and it is the covenant under which true Christians live today (Gal. 3:29).

God specifically asked for a response from Israel at Sinai. The people responded with presumptuous promises of obedience that were lacking in faith. They bypassed the grace that God offered (Exod. 19:4) and, in effect, made a different covenant--the historical old covenant, which was broken in forty-six days, but recurred as the “experiential old covenant” whenever people tried to save themselves rather than to accept God’s grace.

Over time, the people lapsed into idolatry and developed corrupted views of the covenant and the ceremonial law. These corrupted views were dominant at the time Jesus Christ lived on earth.


Two Parts to a Covenant with God:

• There is the everlasting covenant of God, to which the divine-human covenant points. In His covenant, God gave the Son, the Son came to die for our sins, and the Holy Spirit makes effective the work of grace in the life of every believer. This is what God calls “My covenant,” and the new covenant.

• God expected a response from humans. Humans cannot add anything to the covenant of God, yet they cannot be entirely passive either. They must make a commitment to God and to the covenant; they must make a decision to turn to God for help and give consent to the work of grace in their life. In the case of Abraham, God recognized that Abraham already possessed these qualities. Abraham responded in faith, and God accepted his response. In the cases of Israel at Sinai and the repetitions of the covenant by the good kings of Judah, God required a response.

• Depending on the circumstances, God added various supporting promises in presenting His covenant.


Why the Jews Rejected Jesus’ Divinity

Jesus claimed to be the divine Son of God. He spoke of His pre-existing life in heaven and His following the pre-arranged will of the Father-the covenant of Redemption made before the creation of this world.2 The Jews consistently denied that Jesus could be divine, in spite of the evidence of His miraculous birth, His teachings, His healing of the sick, and His casting out of devils. They refused to believe even after He raised Lazarus from the dead. We can point to several things that influenced their understanding of the Messiah:

• an increased understanding of the covenant, not well understood at first
• the rigid monotheism of the Jews, which could not accept a Messiah who was divine
• close contact with idolatry in Canaan, Egypt, and Babylon
• the mixed multitude who accompanied Israel to Canaan
• corruption of the ceremonial law attributing merit for salvation to sacrifices and ritual
• misreading the prophecies to expect a human Messiah to restore the throne of David and their former glory
• the influence of Greek philosophy and lifestyle

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ fully revealed the mystery of the covenant. The believing remnant accepted this understanding and became the early Christian church. The writings of Paul and the other apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, presented the final revelation of the covenant of God.

From the New Testament, we see the gospel focus of the everlasting covenant given to Adam and Eve, effective through history, and ratified by Jesus on the cross. The covenant given to Abraham was effectual for Abraham, for his direct descendants, and for all Israel to the end of time, including the church (Gen. 17:7; Gal. 3:29; 1 Peter 2:9).


The Godhead in the New Testament

Only in the New Testament do we learn about the council of the Godhead, in which, before the creation of this world, the heavenly Three formed the covenant of redemption. Jesus, the Son of the living God, is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16), and “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8; cf. John 10:17, 18). The nature of the divine Son of God was a mystery in Old Testament times. When Christ came, these things were more fully made known. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).

There is good reason that people in Old Testament times did not understand the triunity of God: the Hebrews were then strongly monotheistic. Believing in the coequality of the Son and Holy Spirit with the Father would have caused them to think they were worshipping three Gods.3 It was only after Jesus came that the triunity of God could be explained and understood.4


Faith and False Belief

After Adam and Eve’s sin in Eden, they were deeply contrite. Their desire was still to do the will of God. Their relationship with God now became their hope. God gave Noah, a righteous man, the covenant and instructions to build the ark. When Abraham received the covenant, he fell on his face in reverence and awe in what God would do. “He believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). As we look at these patriarchs, God did not ask them for a response. Their lives were an indication of their deep, living relationship with Him.

In Israel, there were two classes of people: the righteous, believing remnant (Rom. 11:2-5, 7) and the unbelieving, careless multitude.5 It was the righteous remnant who kept the covenant, looked for a Redeemer through the sacrifices, and expected Jesus when He came. These were the people who began the early Christian church.

Between the Old and New Testaments is a significant change in language. The Old Testament contains much discussion and emphasis on the covenant. The New Testament does not discuss the covenant nearly so much. Instead, the “gospel” largely replaces covenant language, describes the meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary, and calls for men and women to have faith in God and to accept His grace.

All statements about salvation and eternal life arise out of the covenant. Statements about faith and  grace emphasize the purpose of the covenant, which became necessary as the purpose of the church was to prepare a people to meet Christ when He came again.6

The unbelieving careless crowd went through the forms of religion, expecting that the performance of sacrifices and temple rituals assured them of salvation. They forgot the Redeemer to whom they pointed, rejected Him when He came, and crucified Him in the end. The leaders in Judah fell into this group, making the rejection of Jesus a national tragedy. The leaders of Israel finally and totally rejected Christ in the stoning of Stephen and the persecution of the church (Acts 7, 8).


Grace, Jesus’ Mission

Jesus came to establish the kingdom of grace. It was only after people are saved by grace that they are ready for the benefits of salvation and eternity in the new earth. In Jesus’ life, He illustrated the divine attributes of character. He was “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exod. 34:6, 7).

The corruption of the ceremonial law had become so ingrained in the thinking of the people that the disciples themselves did not fully understand Jesus’ mission until after His resurrection. As Gentile converts came into the church, there were some Jewish converts to Christianity who believed that Gentile Christians must become Jews in order to be saved!

The church held a council in Jerusalem, where they determined that Gentile Christians needed to “abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20) and that no other “ordinances” should be required of them (Acts 16:4).7 A delegation returned to Antioch with this message (Acts 15:22-31). The Gentiles received it gladly in both places, but history shows that certain Jewish Christians continued to cause trouble. Paul wrote several epistles dealing with this problem.

All needed to have faith in Jesus, the One who gave Himself as the one effective sacrifice on the cross and who continues to minister His sacrifice as High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 9:14, 15, 24-28). However, promotion of the ordinances continued to be a problem. Evidences of this controversy are seen in several ways:

• a return to sacrifice and ritual as a denial of Jesus Christ and the efficacy of the cross of Calvary
• the introduction of false doctrines into the young churches in opposition to the meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross
• an old covenant mindset of legalism, denying the meaning and mission of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross
• Paul’s focus on Jesus Christ and Him crucified in responding to the issue in Romans, Galatians, 2 Corinthians 3, Ephesians, and Hebrews


Jesus, Mediator of the New Covenant

The center and focus of the everlasting covenant is the willing sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of human beings. This was the new (or “renewed”) covenant given to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15), Noah, Abraham and his descendants, Israel, David, and Solomon.

Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant, a covenant which flows from the everlasting covenant of God and which Jesus confirmed and made effective on the cross. Jeremiah first wrote of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) with God’s promise to put the law within their hearts and minds. It is by this covenant that we humans can now live the life of Christ by grace (Gal. 2:20).

Jesus Christ revealed the covenant in all its glory. New Testament writings centered on Jesus Christ Himself rather than on the covenant. While the covenant of grace and salvation pardoned and cleansed from sin, it will not be until Jesus’ second coming that the sinful nature is cleansed and the image of God is fully restored in every human being. Meanwhile, Christ covers the human sinful nature by the robe of His righteousness until He returns to earth.

Jesus did not establish a new covenant at His crucifixion. He confirmed a covenant established in heaven before the creation. It was the same covenant given to Adam and Eve, to Israel, and which will be in effect until He comes again. To confirm a covenant does not mean to finish one covenant and begin another. It means to strengthen and make effective an already established covenant. Daniel 9:27 says “he shall confirm the covenant with many “ Yet, who are the “many”? Hebrews explains:

And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15).8

Ever since Eden, men had offered sacrifices for sin. This included the 1500 years of the history of Israel. Through these sacrifices, the priest took their guilt into the Temple and pardoned their sins. Pardon could be obtained only in anticipation of the cross of Christ on Calvary. Now that Jesus has made the true sacrifice on the cross, He has confirmed pardon for humanity’s sins and our “eternal inheritance.”


Endnotes

1. However, the angel made His relation to the Almighty plain when he announced to Mary: “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32, 33; cf. Matt. 1:23, in which “Emmanuel” is translated “God with us”). In addition, the prophecies had indicated that this would be the case: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).

2. The will of the Father was established in the council of the Godhead before creation (Ps. 40:8; 53:10; Matt. 26:39, 42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42; John 4:34; 5:30; 6:29, 38; Phil. 2:7, 8; Heb. 5:8; 10:7-9). New Testament Insights 117

3. The Bible identifies the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Isa. 11:1, 2; 48:16; Matt. 3:16, 17; 28:19, 20; 1 Cor. 12:3, 4; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 2:18; 1 Tim. 3:16). Godhead is a term used in Acts 17:29; Romans 1:20; and Colossians 2:9. There are many passages of Scripture on the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:14; John 14:16, 17, 26, 16:7-13; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4, 38; 4:33; 10:38; 1 Thess. 1:5). Jesus’ divinity is also mentioned many times (Isa. 9:6, 7; 53; John 1:1-3; 8:58; 10:30; 14:9; 17:11, 21, 22; Titus 2:13; 1 John 5:20). The Bible uses the plural name for God (Gen. 1:1-12, 14, 16-18, 20-22, 24-29, 31). For a discussion of the Hebrew problems with the triune Godhead, see http://www.gotquestions.org/Godhead.html. For more on the Trinity, see Fernando Canale, “Doctrine of God: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2000) pp. 140-151.

4. Other verses on the mystery from the ages now revealed in Jesus Christ include Romans 16:25, 26; 1 Corinthians 2:6, 7; Ephesians 3:9-11, 17-19; and Colossians 1:26-28.

The Spirit of God in the Old Testament: (59 verses)
Gen. 1:2; 6:3; 41:38 Ps. 51:11; 104:30; 139:7; Pr. 1:23
Ex. 31:3 Isa. 11:2; 32:15; 40:13; 42:1; 44:3; 59:19, 21; 61:1; 63:10, 11
Num. 11:19, 25 26, 29 Ez. 2:2; 3:12, 14, 24; 8:3; 11:1, 24; 36:27; 37:1, 14; 39:29; 43:5
Deut. 34:9; Jdg. 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 14:6 Dan. 4:8, 9, 18; 5:11, 14
1 Sam. 10:6, 10; 11:6; 6:13; 19:20 Joel 2:29; Mic. 2:7; 3:8
2 Sam. 23:2; 2 Chron. 20:14; 24:29; Job 26:13 Zech, 4:6; 6:8; 7:12

5. Scripture provides many examples of the righteous remnant (Gen. 4:25, 26; “the sons of God,” 6:2, 8-10; 12:1-3; 1 Kings 19:18; 2 Kings 19:31; Ezra 3:8; 9:8; Isa. 1:9; 10:20-22; 11:11, 16; 37:32; Joel 2:32; Amos 5:15; Zeph. 2:7, 9; 3:13; Hag. 1:12, 14; Rom. 9:27; 11:4, 5; Rev. 12:17).

6. Faith and grace, the response to the covenant of God, are especially emphasized in the New Testament.
Word Old Testament New Testament
Faith 2X
Grace 37X
Obey  77X
Covenant  258X
229X
122X
  32X
  21X
231X
159X
109X
279X
   
7. The word “decrees” (Greek dogma) in Acts 16:4 is translated “ordinances” in Ephesians 2:15 and Colossians 2:14.

8. Notice that “testament” is translated from the Greek word for “covenant”: diathÄ“kÄ“.