The New Covenant

I Will Make A New Covenant
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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.—Jeremiah 31:31

David Christiansen

This New Covenant is clearly stated to be between God and the whole nation of Israel. Since at the time when Jeremiah wrote this text the twelve tribes had divided into two nations, God makes it clear through his prophet Jeremiah that both will be included in this New Covenant with the words “the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.”

But some New Testament Scriptures seem to indicate that the New Covenant is between God and Christians. Is the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31 to be made with the house of Israel and the house Judah, the same covenant that Jesus described to his disciples when he said: “For this is my blood of the new testament [covenant], which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28)? Some today believe the nation of Israel has no part in God’s plan because they were cast off forever when Jesus said unto them, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38).

The apostle Paul said Israel was not cast off forever: “I ask then, Has God cast off his people? No, indeed. Why, I myself am an Israelite, of the posterity of Abraham and of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast off his people whom he knew beforehand. … In the same way also at the present time there has come to be a remnant whom God in his grace has selected” (Romans 11:1,2,5, Weymouth). Paul argues that if Israel had been totally and forever cast off, then Paul himself would not have been allowed to be in God’s grace by being selected to run for the high calling in Christ. But Paul goes further and includes all Israel: “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25,26, NAS).

The “fullness of the Gentiles” means the completing of the church by those who were grafted into the olive tree, a metaphor for Israel. The Gentiles were from the “wild olive tree” and the broken off branches were the Israelites who did not accept Jesus as their Messiah (Romans 11:17-20). Israelites could no longer become part of the “selection by grace” (Romans 11:5, Weymouth) through the Law Covenant but had to be grafted back in as the Gentiles: “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (Romans 11:23, NASB). When the church is complete, God will make a New Covenant with the whole remaining nation of Israel.
 

The Need for a New Covenant

“The ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another” (Hebrews 8:6,7, NIV).

Were there some faults in the old Law Covenant? Paul explained: “The law … was weak through the flesh” (Romans 8:3). The problem with the first Law Covenant was that, of the three parties involved —God, Israel, and Moses the mediator—only God was perfect. Moses and Israel were imperfect and it was those two imperfect parts that made the law “weak.” We know the law itself was “holy, just, and good” (Romans 7:12). Because of human imperfection, a law that was supposed to be unto life Paul found to be unto death (Romans 7:10). Therefore, a New Covenant with “better promises” was needed to overcome human imperfection.

Better promises

In Deuteronomy 28 God promised many things to Israel if they would obey the Law Covenant. These included God setting Israel high above all nations of the earth, blessing them in the city and in the field, in cattle and sheep, and in basket and store. “The LORD shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways” (Deuteronomy 28:7). Knowing that the Israelites were imperfect, God gave them a mediator: Moses (Deuteronomy 5:2-5). These are incredible promises. How could they be any “better”?

The word “better” in Hebrews 8:6 is Strong’s #2909 and means, “more useful, more serviceable, more advantageous.” The mediator of the New Covenant is Christ: “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9:14, 15, NAS). Moses told Israel that there will be another mediator in the future: “The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken” (Deuteronomy 18:15,18, 19). Peter assures us that God’s son is that mediator (Acts 3:22-26). God has given Israel the “better promise” of a better mediator.

When the Law was given to Israel, the earth was under the “curse” because of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:17-19). The New Covenant will be made with Israel after the church is complete and coincides with removal of the curse: “There shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him” (Revelation 22:3). When that time comes, the ground will no longer be cursed. The whole world will enjoy bumper crops as in the Garden of Eden.

The prophet Amos gave some details about the “better promises” that await Israel when they are under the New Covenant: “On that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David which is fallen; and I will close up its breaches; and its ruins will I raise up, and I will rebuild it as in days of old: In order that they may take possession of the remnant of Edom, and of all the nations, which are called by my name, saith the Lord that doeth this. Behold the days are coming, saith the Lord, when the ploughman shall come close up to the harvester, and the treader of the grapes to the one that scattereth the seed: and the mountains shall drop with sweet new wine, and all the hills shall melt away. And I will bring back the captivity [Strong’s #7622: former state of prosperity] of my people Israel, and they shall build the wasted cities, and dwell therein; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink their wine; and they shall lay out gardens, and eat their fruit. And I will plant them upon their own soil, and they shall not be pulled up anymore out of their land which I have given unto them, saith the Lord thy God” (Amos 9:11-15, Leeser).

Amos identified two more “better promises.” First, God will give them back their land and they will never be forced to leave it. This prophecy has been partially fulfilled since 1878, but Israel has yet to possess all the land promised to it (see Numbers 34). The promise that they will receive all the land of Canaan has never been fulfilled, not even under David or Solomon; but it will be fulfilled when the New Covenant is in effect. The second “better promise” identified is that Israel will “take possession of the remnant of Edom, and of all the nations.” This means the whole world will eventually come under the New Covenant.
 

The New Covenant and the Gentiles

When James quoted Amos 9:11,12, he gives us a time frame for the New Covenant: “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things” (Acts 15:14-17). James used the phrase, “After this I will return.” The context shows “after this” can only mean after God took out of the Gentiles “a people for his name” (Acts 15:14). The New Covenant will start after the church is complete. But James also said “that the residue of men might seek after the Lord.” The New Covenant will be made with Israel and because of it “the residue of men” [everyone else] will seek after the Lord. Zechariah agreed: “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you” (Zechariah 8:23). The nations of the earth will want to be in the same covenant relationship with God as Israel. What a change that will be compared to present conditions.


Organizational Features

The first part of providing the New Covenant was the promise or, more accurately, the “better promises” made to Israel. The next step was the guarantee. The method used to guarantee the New Covenant of “better promises” was Jesus’ death on the cross: “For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth” (Hebrews 9:17). The words “of force” are from the Greek word bebaios which according to Young’s Concordance means “steadfast or firm.” The death of Jesus made “firm” that the New Covenant will be made with the house of Israel. The word bebaios is also by Peter: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19). This does not mean that all prophecy has been fulfilled already just because it is sure or firm, but it is a guarantee that all prophecy will be fulfilled as the LORD has promised.

When the New Covenant begins, there needs to be a way for Israel and the rest of the world to benefit from it: “There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15). Everyone who has ever lived will come forth from the grave and have the opportunity to enter into covenant relationship with the God of Israel and live.

 “And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many people” (Micah 4:2, 3). “Many nations will come,” not just Israel. And these nations will be taught the law that comes from Zion. Zion represents the glorified church: “I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand” (Revelation 14:1; see also Hebrews 12:22). The “law” will be the law of the New Covenant.

God’s word will go from the completed Christ to the nations from Jerusalem, the capital of natural Israel. The laws will be put into “words” and dispersed among the people through a group who “obtained a good report through faith” (Hebrews11:1,2,39). This group is often called the Ancient Worthies because they lived in ancient times and were definitely worthy: “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39, 40). These faithful men and women of old did not receive the promise that the church receives, but, through the glorified church, they will be made perfect. These perfect men and women will inform the people about the laws and blessings of the New Covenant.

 Micah continued: “He shall judge among many people” (Micah 4:3). The people will be judged according to what they are taught of the law. This is a blessed feature of the New Covenant arrangement: “When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9 ). Learning righteousness will have a wonderful impact on mankind: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid” (Micah 4:3,4). When all mankind is under the New Covenant, there will be no wars, no fear of others, food for all, and peace on earth. What an excellent learning environment this will be.

God also promises, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). The apostle said this is part of the New Covenant: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel … I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Hebrews 8:10). A stony heart is cold and hard. Israel became hardened to God’s laws almost as soon as they said “we will do” everything (Exodus 19:8). They built and worshipped idols, they did not keep the Sabbath years, they wanted a king like other nations, and more (2 Kings 18:4; 2 Chronicles 36:21; 1Samuel 8:19).

God tells us how he will help Israel have a new heart of flesh. God will put his spirit in them, cause them to walk in his statutes, and keep his judgments. They will live in the land of their fathers. God will save them from their uncleannesses and there will be no more famine. They will remember their evil ways and abominations and because of that they will loathe themselves and be ashamed: “The heathen that are left round about you shall know that I the LORD build the ruined places, and plant that that was desolate” (Ezekiel 36:36). God “will increase them with men like a flock” (Ezekiel 36:37).

Ezekiel 36:31,32 says Israel will remember her evil ways and abominations and will loathe herself and be ashamed. A stony heart implies pride. Loathing self and being ashamed implies humility. When the Israelites realize how they had opposed God in the past, they will be humbled. Then God will be able to work with them through the New Covenant to bring about blessings to the whole world. In fact, humility will be one of the main requirements to remain and grow under God’s New Covenant: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8).

At that time the Israelites will recognize their long sought Messiah and they will be so ashamed, they will mourn for him: “I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him” (Zechariah 12:10). God’s grace will turn their stony hearts into hearts of flesh as they begin to realize who they killed two thousand years ago. However, mankind does have free will. The features of the New Covenant will only help Israel and the world make right decisions about whether they want to be a part of the New Covenant arrangement. God will not force it upon anyone (see Revelation 22:17).

The New Covenant’s features and blessings are the catalyst for Israel and all other nations to grow into human perfection. Once that has been reached, there will be no more reason to have a mediator: “Then cometh the end, when he [Christ, as mediator] shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death … that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:24-26,28). Although a mediator will no longer be needed, it does not mean that the New Covenant will cease: “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). The whole world, having been taught and judged through the New Covenant, will continue to receive everlasting life through it.
 

Keturah: A Type of the New Covenant?

One line of thought is that Keturah was a type of the New Covenant because Sarah and Hagar were types of two other covenants. Another point of view is that since Keturah is not mentioned in the New Testament, either by name or description, she should not be considered a type of anything.

Concerning Galatians 4:22-29, Pastor Russell wrote this: “The apostle does not carry the figure on and declare that Keturah typified the New (Law) Covenant. We believe that this omission was of divine intention, because the time for this particular feature of the divine program to be clearly understood was not yet due.” (Reprints, p. 4440).

But whether one views Keturah as a type of the New Covenant or not, her relationship to Abraham is a good picture of the New Covenant. She married Abraham after Sarah (Covenant of Grace) was dead. This is the sequence of events in Romans 11:25-27. Israel was in partial blindness until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in (the church is complete). Then the New Covenant (Keturah) is made with Israel which turns ungodliness away from Jacob and God takes away Israel’s sins. Abraham took Keturah for his wife after his son Isaac married Rebekah. Isaac was a type of Christ and Rebekah was a type of the church, the bride of Christ. This reaffirms that the New Covenant will come after the completed church becomes Christ’s bride.

Keturah was not cast off like Hagar (Law Covenant). Instead, she bore him many children. The New Covenant (Keturah) is the last covenant God will make with Israel. There will never be another since it will last for eternity (Jeremiah 31:35-37).

“The scripture record is clear to the effect that Abraham’s companion, fully recognized as his wife and joint-heir, was Sarah, and that her son was specially recognized as Abraham’s heir. As for Hagar and Keturah, the record is similarly explicit—that they bore children to Abraham—the former with Sarah’s consent and as her special representative, the latter after Sarah’s death.” (Reprints, p. 4439).

How we long for that time of blessing when the New Covenant will be made with Israel and will eventually include the rest of mankind!