The New Covenant

There is a beautiful progression in all the covenants God has made with mankind, and paradoxically, the last covenant is also the New Covenant.

The promise of a new covenant was made when Israel and Judah had sinned against God until there was nothing further that He could do to restore their fellowship with Him. Centuries before the people of Israel had told Moses, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do" (Exodus 19:8), and God had responded with promises of blessings that would be heaped upon them because of their obedience.

They would be blessed in every walk of life–in the cities, in the fields, in their homes, their barns, cattle–and indeed in everything they would put their hand to. There would be no sickness; they would prosper and be wealthy.

"The LORD will open to you his good treasure, the heavens to give the rain in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand . . . and the LORD will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not beneath, if you heed the commandments of the LORD your God" (Deuteronomy 28:12-13).

At the time Moses warned Israel that "it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God . . . that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you." And follows a list outlining the spine-chilling curses that comprise the most solemn of warnings.

Over the centuries Israel lapsed into a life of self-will and disobedience until the northern kingdom was uprooted and taken into captivity by Assyria, and about one hundred and fifty years later the tribe of Judah followed into Babylon. The covenant God had made with His people on Mt. Sinai was in tatters.

The LORD God of their fathers had "sent warnings to them by his messengers, rising up early and sending them, because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling-place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his words, and scoffed at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, till there was no remedy" (2 Chronicles 36:15-16).

The Law made at Mt. Sinai was utterly abandoned; the covenant was shattered; there was nothing more God could do; every plea had been rejected, "until there was no remedy." It was in this situation that God had a plan that could not fail in bringing about the ultimate restoration of His covenant people.

This plan was in no way associated with the previous covenant at Mt. Sinai. The Sinaitic covenant was conditional upon Israel's obedience to "obey all that the LORD has spoken" but the New Covenant was to be unconditional, because it was to depend totally upon God's faithfulness to bring it about.

"'Behold, the days are coming,' says the LORD, 'when 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, my covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them,' says the LORD.

'But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

'No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, "Know the LORD," for they all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,' says the LORD. 'For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.'" (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

We note that God did not abandon Israel and Judah even although "there was no remedy" under the terms of the Old Covenant. The New Covenant was still to be made "with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah."

And the New Covenant is "not according to the covenant" made at Sinai. Man could not keep the Law by being obedient to God, so God promised to change man's character by giving him a new heart and spirit. "I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts."

The New Covenant would be introduced at some future date and would be in two parts. Firstly the covenant was promised for a certain time: "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant . . . "

The second part would take effect "after those days" when God would put His law "in their minds and write it on their hearts." We note how all-embracing is the final effect of the covenant: "No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them."

The prophet Habakkuk prophesied: "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea" (2:14).The knowledge of the glory of the Lord will reach saturation point when the terms of the New Covenant take effect.

The terms of the New Covenant conclude with an assertion about the sun and the moon and the stars. "Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night . . . 'If those ordinances depart from before me,' says the LORD, 'then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before me for ever'" (Jeremiah 31:35-36).

The Lord also goes on to promise that "If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done."

The New Covenant Ratified

Some five hundred years after the New Covenant was first promised a small group of twelve met in Jerusalem on the 14th of Nisan, and according to the commandment of Moses they partook of the Passover together. They were a group from diverse backgrounds–some fishermen from Galilee, one a hated tax-collector for Rome, another a zealot.

In the Scriptures numbers have great significance. Just as seven speaks of completeness, so eight speaks of a new beginning. There are eight Passover observances recorded in the Scriptures–seven in Tenach, the Old Testament, and the eighth and last recorded observance is this one now under consideration.

Similarly, the eighth and last covenant is called the New Covenant, and both blend into one on that particular occasion when the Passover was observed more than nineteen centuries ago in Jerusalem. The Messiah was celebrating the Passover with His disciples before His crucifixion.

"Then he said to them, 'With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.'

"Then he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, 'Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.'

"Then he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.' Likewise he also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you'" (Luke 22:15-20).

As the 14th of Nisan drew to a close and the Passover lambs were being offered in the Temple, the Lamb of God shed His blood outside Jerusalem's city walls. He hung on a Roman cross bearing the curse of sin for the whole of mankind, as it is written, " . . . for he who is hanged on a tree is accursed of God" (Deuteronomy 21:23), and "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up . . . " (John 3:14).

The eighth and last recorded Passover in Scripture was the climax of all Passover observances. On that day the last covenant of all God's covenants with mankind coincided. The day spoken of by Jeremiah had come to pass, and the New Covenant was ratified.

Israel nationally has rejected that covenant for over nineteen centuries, but there is yet to be the fulfilment of Jeremiah's prophecy: "After those days, says the LORD, I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."