New Covenant

Guiding Question: Why is there a new covenant and what is the difference between old and new? What significance does it have for how we treat old and new in the Bible.

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I. Unveiling the New Covenant

Besides the term “new covenant”, there are references to the same covenant with the term “everlasting covenant”: Jer 32:27-44; 50:4-5; Ezek 37:15-28; cf. Isa. 55:1-5; 61:1-9; Ezek. 16:60-63; Jer 3:11-18; 33:1-26, or “covenant of peace”: Ezek 34:1-31; Isa. 54:10. Moreover, it ought to be understand as further exhibited in other oracles of restoration, such as in Isaiah 31:23-40.

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II. The Formulation of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34)

God promises to make a new covenant with all of Israel in latter days (Jer. 31:31).
The Need for this new covenant:
This new covenant will not be like the Sinaitic version from the days of the Exodus.  The people broke that covenant, despite the fact that I from my side I kept it (32).
The Features of the New Covenant
This covenant will be one marked by:

  1. God applying his law internally;
  2. God being their God;
  3. God’s people being his people (Jer. 31:33);
  4. God’s people not needing to urge learning;
  5. Everyone, both great and small, will know the Lord.

Witsius:

  1. Christ Unveiled in His Coming
  2. The Gospel Preached as Completed
  3. The Gentiles Called by the Gospel
  4. The Spirit Poured Forth in Abundance
  5. The Christian’s Liberty from the Ceremonies
  6. The Gentiles Brought in and Israel Restored  (source)

The Basis of the New Covenant
Forgiveness
The Coherence with Former Covenants
It involves the same people – The people chosen by God
It involves the same law – I will put my law
It involves the same relation – I will be their God – they shall be my people
Robertson: Jeremiah does not condemn the old covenant. He condemns those who broke the covenant (Jer 31:32 cf, Jer 2:5, 13, 20, 32).
 

III. The Distinctiveness of the New Covenant

1. It is eschatological: “latter days”: Robertson: “The everlasting character of the new covenant seems to imply an eschatological dimension.”
2. It is effective: Robertson: “This covenant shall bring to fruition the redemptive intentions of God displayed throughout the ages. Notice the emphasis on the “I” – the sovereignty of God; however, this is always theme in covenant.
3. It is immediate (as opposed to through representatives): Oehler: this passage is intended “to proclaim the independence of human authority enjoyed by each member of the church with respect to his assurance of salvation …divine truth shall be directly testified to by the Holy Spirit in each member of his church.” Cf. Isa. 54:13; John 6:45; 1 John 2:20, 27; 2 Cor. 3:3
4. It is internal: Robertson: “Unique to the administration of the new covenant according to Jeremiah will be the internalized inscription of the law of God.”
5. It is definitive (as opposed to typical): based on full forgiveness of sins in Christ
 

IV. Witsius on the Defects of the OT

  1. Cause of salvation not present, much less completed
  2. Obscurity of the old economy
  3. Great rigor and unrelenting severity of the economy, on account of the threatening of the law (darkness, tempest)
  4. Bondage under the elements of the world
  5. Middle wall of partition (division between Israel and nations)
  6. Enmity between Jews and the Gentiles fostered by the ceremonies
  7. A Spirit of bondage (fearful, ignorant, shadowy legal ceremonialism)
  8. Scanty measure of the gifts of grace
  9. Hunger and thirst for a better condition   (source)

 

V. The New Testament

What does the New Testament Say?

  1. Christ ratifies the new covenant in blood for the full remission of sins (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). He shows how what is anticipated in the new covenant is fulfilled in his death.  Edersheim on the last supper.
  2. Corinthians shows the comparatively greater glory of the new covenant reality of forgiveness, obedience, and true Christians being a New Testament epistle, that is a living witness of Christ, people through whom Christ works and shows His glory (2 Cor. 3).  Fairbairn on 2Cor. 3.
  3. Hebrews unpacks the new covenant as follows:

a. Christ is the comparatively greater Mediator (Heb 8:6)
b. The new makes the other old (Heb 8:13)
c. Christ’s passive obedience is our cleansing: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb 9:14)
d. Christ’s active obedience is our righteousness: Ps 40 (Heb 10:9)

 

VI. Conclusion

The history of the covenant is a history of fracture – from man’s side. There is a fault in the first covenant. This fault is the fault of the people (Heb 8:7-8). Yet, the glory of God’s work is that we do not have to end with the alternation of divine grace and human sin. At the lowest juncture of the Old Testament, we are told to anticipate a new covenant, whose configuration is such, that sin is only raised in order to send it to divine oblivion and to propose a lasting remedy – for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer. 31:34).
In the new covenant, the covenant of grace, announced in Gen 3:15, is now firmly welded to the obedience of the new Adam, who fulfills the covenant of works and mediates the covenant of grace. Thus there will be a forgiveness of sins and an inward writing of the law – Thy law is within my heart. Now, finally, the presupposition of biblical theology reappears and its fulfillment is prophetically anticipated – the seed of the woman is the new Adam, or as Paul would later say — much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ (Rom 5:21).
The end of the canon tells us of the success of the covenant of grace:

Rev 21:3-7: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”