New Covenant - Just What is It Anyway?
Some churches use the title "New Covenant Church" in their name. It's clear that this new covenant is important to Christians.
New Covenant is Better than the Old Covenant
There are many scriptures that indicate that the New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant. For example, here is a reference in the book of Hebrews to an Old Testament prophesy about the New Covenant:
But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.
For finding fault with them, he saith, "Behold, the days come, saith 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 when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not", saith the Lord. "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; 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: And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more."
In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.
So, the New Covenant is better because it has better promises. The writer of Hebrews identifies some of these promises (as stated in the Old Testament):
- I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts
- I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people
- They shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest
- I will be merciful to their unrighteousness
- Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more
Here is another Old Testament prophesy about the New Covenant. It gives more details about how the New Covenant will be implemented:
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
This prophesy makes it clear that
- God will sprinkle clean water on people to cleanse them from their uncleanness
- God will give a new heart and a new spirit, removing the symbolically stoney heart
- God will place his own spirit in people to cause them to carefully obey his rules
So, the New Covenant has many advantages over the Old Covenant. So, what are these covenants? And, what makes the New Covenant so much better than the Old Covenant?
Old Covenant Described
The Old Covenant was an agreement made between God and the people of Israel. God had brought the people of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt. He led them through the reed sea and into the wilderness of the Sinai peninsula. Near Mount Sinai God spoke to Moses as a representative of the people and made the following offer.
They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying,
"Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel."
Moses, acting as God's agent in this offer, then went down to the people and stated the offer to them. They agreed to the offer and Moses returned to God and indicated that the offer had been accepted.
So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.
The Old Covenant was then fully in force.
Here is a more clear statement of the Old Covenant:
|The Old Covenant Stated|
|Preamble||You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I took you, as on eagles’ wings, guiding you to myself.|
|Conditions||If now you will truly give ear to my voice and keep my agreement|
|Promises||You will be my special property out of all the peoples: for all the earth is mine:
And you will be a kingdom of priests to me, and a holy nation.
God then prepared to start announcing his rules that the people should obey. The first portion of his Old Covenant rules we call the 10 commandments. But, those 10 were just the beginning. The Jews count 613 commandments, plus statutes and judgments.
The Old Covenant offered the following promises for Israel:
- You shall be my treasured possession among all peoples
- You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation
This made a clear distinction between Israel and all the other nations. God promised to work closely only with the nation Israel and bless them as a nation if they obeyed his voice.
An agreement or contract is valid as long as both parties to the agreement live. When either of the parties dies, the agreement becomes null and void.
The Apostle Paul indicates that the personality of God that actually made that agreement and nurtured and guided them was the personality that became Jesus Christ. Since Jesus died on the cross, the Old Covenant became null and void.
I Corinthians 10:1-4
For it is my desire, my brothers, that you may keep in mind how all our fathers were under the cloud, and they all went through the sea; And they all had baptism from Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And they all took the same holy food; And the same holy drink: for they all took of the water from the holy rock which came after them: and the rock was Christ.
The writer of the book of Hebrews indicates that Jesus is now the mediator of a new and better covenant, and further that the Old Covenant is decaying and ready to vanish.
When he says, A new agreement, he has made the first agreement old. But anything which is getting old and past use will not be seen much longer.
So, if the Old Covenant is now gone, what is the new agreement God has made with men?
New Covenant Described
The new covenant is an agreement, not with an entire nation, but with individuals throughout the world, like you and me. It is for anyone who is committed to Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the best statements of the New Covenant are made by Jesus as he talked with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, John the Baptist as he preached in the wilderness, and Peter as he preached to Jews who had kept the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem.
In his description to Nicodemus, Jesus indicated he would die, being lifted up on the cross to people of faith would live forever.
Jesus recalled the lifting up of the brazen serpent to save Israel from the stinging bugs or serpents that afflicted them. He indicates that, in a similar manner, he will also be lifted up to allow people from all nations to partake of a special relationship with God in the new agreement.
As the snake was lifted up by Moses in the waste land, even so it is necessary for the Son of man to be lifted up: So that whoever has faith may have in him eternal life.
For God had such love for the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever has faith in him may not come to destruction but have eternal life.
So, Jesus describes a relationship based on faith in him. The result of this relationship gives you eternal life as opposed to destruction.
Next, both John the Baptist and Peter described the new relationship with God in the same manner.
John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness near the Jordan River. He preached a baptism of repentance that allowed sins (misdeeds) to be forgiven:
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
On the day of Pentecost, the birth of the New Testament church, Peter told a crowd of Jew what they needed to repent and be baptized to take advantage of the new relationship to God, have their sins forgiven and receive God's Holy Spirit:
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Both John the Baptist and Peter described repenting, baptism and the forgiveness of sins.
Combining the statements of Jesus, John the Baptist and Peter gives to following description of the New Covenant:
|The New Covenant Stated|
|Preamble||As the snake was lifted up by Moses in the waste land, even so it is necessary for the Son of man to be lifted up;
For God had such love for the world that he gave his only Son
|Conditions||Have faith in Jesus|
|Promises||May have in him eternal life;
May not come to destruction
Receive forgiveness of sins
Receive the Holy Spirit
The word "faith" in Greek has a meaning that is richer than merely "believe". It includes the ideas of believing, being committed to, being loyal to, and following through on your promises. The Greek word is derived from a word that means "faithful in business transactions."
Being faithful to Jesus requires that you follow Jesus' teaching and turn from living your own selfish way to live with love and respect toward others. It means that you become faithful to the teachings of Jesus. This is simply repentance.
One symbol of baptism is the death and burial of the "old" selfish man and the rising to life of the "new" respectful and faithful man. When the "old" man dies all the sins he committed are buried with him and you rise spotless and forgiven.
The New Covenant, then, offers the following benefits to those who are loyal to Jesus:
- You will not come to destruction
- You will have eternal life
- You will be forgiven of your past misdeeds
- You will receive the Holy Spirit to help guide and comfort you
These benefits are more enduring than simply being a prosperous nation. The New Covenant offers eternal life to individuals of all nations who are faithful to Jesus.
I welcome your comments:
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