The Church Age


42 The New Testament Covenant

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

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. Hebrews 9:15

Most of the discussions of the covenant are in the Old Testament. People of that period usually thought of there being just one covenant. The new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah implied that there was also an old covenant, “which my covenant they brake” (Jer. 31:32), but this concept was little discussed at the time.

In the New Testament, we have the story of Jesus Christ. He is the focus, the fulfillment, and the Mediator of the everlasting covenant, also called the new covenant.

How do we know that there is a New Testament covenant? God gave Abraham the everlasting covenant, which was to extend to his seed after him (Gen. 17:7-10, 19). This included Israel through their entire history and the Christian church. Paul summarized this in one verse: “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).

Paul discusses and compares these concepts in Hebrews, Romans 2, 2 Corinthians 3, Galatians, and Ephesians.


All Families Blessed Through Abraham

God gave a foretaste of the new covenant to Adam and Eve, to Noah, and to Abraham and his descendants. The covenant extended to Jews and Gentiles (Gal. 3:29; 1 Peter 2:9). Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant.

Several events in Abraham’s life illustrate events that would occur in Jesus’ life. God called Abram out of Haran and promised, “Thou shalt be a blessing: “and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:2, 3). The descendants of Abraham received this promise in the years to come.

Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3; 26:4).

So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

”...That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith... Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. (Gal. 3:7-9, 14, 16-18, emphasis supplied)

The blessing to “all families” was the gospel given to Jews and Gentiles through faith. God included a significant phrase when He gave Abraham the covenant in detail. In addition to promising Abraham that he would become “a father of many nations,” God promised that His covenant with Abraham would extend to all his descendants. God repeats the phrase “thy seed after thee” five times for emphasis. God certainly did not want the object of His purpose to be missed!

And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. (Gen. 17:7-10, emphasis supplied)


Acted Parables in the Life of Abraham

Shortly after Abram had rescued Lot from the kings of the east, God again presented His promises to Abram. God would be his shield, and Abram did not need to become a man of war. God would give him a son and heir, and his descendants would become as the stars in the sky for number. “And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).

God followed these promises with the promise of land, which was more than Abram could believe. He asked God, “Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” (Gen. 15:8).

God answered Abram with a covenant ceremony according to the customs of the people at that time. In the course of this covenant, “a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him” (Gen. 15:12). To experience “great darkness” is to look into an eternity without life or God. That was Jesus’ experience on the cross of Calvary.

When Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah was ninety, Isaac was born as promised (Gen. 17:19; 21:5). Later, when Isaac was seventeen to twenty years old, God came to Abraham again.1

“And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of “ (Gen. 22:2).

One can only imagine the terror and sorrow this command brought to Abraham. Without explanation, Abraham took Isaac and two servants and set out on their journey. In response to Isaac’s question, Abraham said, “God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8). When the purpose of the journey became clear, Isaac willingly complied. He already knew and obeyed the voice of God. Providentially, a voice from heaven interrupted the sacrifice at the last minute, and Isaac was freed. A ram, caught in a thicket, took his place as the sacrifice. (Some have said that the ram had a "crown of thorns.")

Through that event, another Son learned that the sacrifice would be an “only begotten Son.”


Momentum of the Abrahamic Covenant of Grace

God presented the covenant to Abraham seven times during his life. Yet, it was a single covenant, presented seven times. God also gave the covenant to Isaac, to Jacob, to Moses at the burning bush, and to the elders of Israel when Moses and Aaron returned to Egypt to confront Pharaoh (Exod. 4:28-31; 6:3-9). At Sinai God gave the people the covenant He called “My covenant,” an indication that it was a covenant previously given.

Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. (Exod. 19:4-6).

This was the covenant of grace, promised through the strength of God, which He exhibited in His deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage. The people ignored the promise of grace, made their own promises to obey, and conducted their own ratification ceremony-a ceremony that was fundamentally different from the ratification of Christ, which took place at Calvary! Their covenant of human promises was the historical old covenant, and it lasted just forty-six days.


The Covenant Renewed

After the people had broken their covenant, Moses interceded with God four times until God accepted Israel into the covenant again.

Then the Lord said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you.” (Exod. 34:10, NIV).

Was this a renewal of the historical old covenant, which the people broke? No, it was not! It was the renewal of the “Abrahamic covenant” (Exod. 19:4-6). In the new covenant, which is identified as the covenant of God, God takes the initiative to do for humans what they cannot do for themselves. To Adam and Eve after they sinned, God “put enmity between” Satan “and the woman” (Gen. 3:15). God would restore all that was lost, destroy sin and Satan, and save mankind, and He would do this through His own suffering. God also gave the new covenant to Abraham (Gal. 3:7-9, 14, 16-18).

How could God “make” a covenant, when the covenant ceremony would not take place until Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary? The everlasting covenant of God, which He calls “My Covenant” and which Jeremiah called the new covenant, refers to the covenant made by God in eternity before the creation of this earth. We humans had no part in making this covenant, and we cannot break it or modify it. All we can do is humbly bow before Him, trusting in what God will do. This covenant was “announced” to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15.

Based on the everlasting covenant, God then madeG a covenant with humans, which required their response. Abraham believed God (Gen. 15:6) and “fell on his face” (Gen. 17:3), knowing that God would do what He had promised. The Abrahamic covenant was comprised of God’s everlasting covenant and Abraham’s faith response.


The New Covenant

Ten years into the captivity, God gave the promise of a new covenant. He did this to reassure His people that He would restore them after the completion of the seventy years. It was a prophecy of what God would do, when “the days come.” He would put His “law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and “be their God.” (Jer. 31:31-34).2

“My covenant,” the everlasting covenant of God, or the Abrahamic covenant was confirmed by Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary. The parts of the ceremonial law that pointed forward to Jesus’ sacrifice were fulfilled. People no longer looked for a Redeemer through the sacrifices but could now look back by faith to the completed sacrifice of Christ. The Levitical priesthood ended but the priesthood continued in the heavenly Melchizedek priesthood of Jesus Christ.3

Jesus now mediates the New Testament--the new covenant-through the blood He shed on the cross (Matt. 26:28; Heb. 9:15; 12:24). Through His blood, symbolically presented in the heavenly sanctuary, He pardons our sins.4 Using the same words He used at Sinai, God extends the covenant to the New Testament church (Exod. 19:4-6; 1 Peter 2:9):

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9, NIV)

The wording and meaning are the same. Christians are included in what God gave Israel at Sinai. As Paul said, “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed” (Gal. 3:29). There is one parent stock-Israel.

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. They were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. (Rom. 11:17, 18, 20, NIV)

The Christian church is “Abraham’s seed” and is grafted into the root of God’s chosen people. The church, Jews and Gentiles alike, now must bear the privileges and responsibilities of the covenant. There are other passages in the New Testament on the covenant in the writings of Paul.5


Endnotes

1. At the time of the test, Isaac was described as being a “lad” (Heb. na’ar) able to carry wood (Gen. 22:5, 6, 12). Joseph was described as being a na’ar at age 17 and was still a na’ar at age 30 (Gen. 37:2; 41:12, 46).

2. Both the Septuagint of Jeremiah 31:33 and the Greek of Hebrews 8:10; 10:16 use the plural “laws” (Greek nomous). This eliminates the generic sense of “law” that some expositors attempt to superimpose upon the promise.

3. Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant (Dan. 9:27; Mark 14:22-24; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; Heb. 9:15).

4. In the symbolism of the Old Testament, the blood of the sacrificial animal was brought into the sanctuary (Lev 4). It was the blood, which was sprinkled before the presence of God in the sanctuary, that brought reconciliation between God and man. The blood still reconciles, and it still cleanses us from sin. As the apostle John said: “... the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). He says this in the context of God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9, 10) and Jesus’ acting as our Advocate (1 John 2:1).

5. More New Testament discussions of the covenant are in Romans 2:21-29 (consistency); 2 Corinthians 3:1-18 (the new covenant being “of the spirit”); Galatians 3 and 4 (contrast between “the works of the law” and “the hearing of faith”); Ephesians 2:19-22; 3:6 (a single household of faith in the church); and Hebrews 8-10 (Jesus’ “better covenant”).