A New Covenant - Part II
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
The writer contrasts the old covenant with the new covenant in verse 7. He says, 'For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.' The writer is not talking about the first covenant (the Abrahamic covenant) that God made with Israel. He is referring to the Mosaic Covenant.
When one brings up the subject of changing the Law in a conversation with a Jew, it really causes a problem. It causes a problem with many Christians as well. When you tell them that we are no longer operating under the Law, they act as if you are throwing away part of the Bible. They do not understand the point of Hebrews 8, the old covenant has been replaced by a new covenant (Jesus Christ). In fact, the old covenant itself said that there would be a new covenant.
This is what the writer is stressing in verse 7. We examined in Chapter 7 that 'the Law made nothing perfect' (vs 19). But if we are not careful, we will take 8:7 to mean that the Law had faults. That is not true. The Law was righteous, the Law was perfect, and the Law was just.
If that were true, why did God establish a new covenant? Verse 8 says, 'For finding fault with them....' The fault was found with the people with whom the covenant was made, not with the covenant itself. Paul communicated this truth in Romans 8:3 'For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh....' The Law required us to be perfect, but we could not, through ourselves (the flesh), live in obedience to the Law.
The writer will contrast the two covenants. One will understand that the Mosaic covenant is what is called a 'conditional covenant,' whereas the New covenant is an 'unconditional covenant.' The difference is that the 'conditional' covenant depended on the faithfulness of the people, while the 'unconditional' covenant does not.
The Mosaic covenant was in effect from Exodus 19 up to Acts 2. Exodus 19:5,6 declares, 'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My possession among all the 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 sons of Israel.' The people responded, in verse 8, '...All that the Lord has spoken we will do...!' One can clearly see that the Mosaic covenant was instituted on the condition that the people agreed to be obedient.
This truth is also illustrated in Exodus 24:7-8 'Then he (Moses) took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, 'All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient! So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, 'Behold, the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.'' One will note that a conditional covenant is a 'If you will...then I will,' agreement. God promises the people of Israel that He will uphold the covenant if they obey His word. But, as the Bible clearly points out, the Jews were not obedient. If they had been, Jesus would be ruling as Messiah at this very moment. Our existence as we know it can be attributed to the disobedience of Israel.
An 'unconditional covenant,' on the other hand depends on no one but God upholding His agreement. In effect, God says, 'Our agreement is this, and I will do this.' This truth is underscored in Hebrews 8:8; '...'Behold, days are coming', says the Lord, 'when I will effect a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.'' One can see the emphasis on 'I will,' by God the Father (vs 10, vs 12). He is promising to do something regardless of the actions of the people.
The writer is demonstrating that the Jews ought to be open to a new covenant because the old covenant said that there would be a new covenant. If they believe the Mosaic covenant, then they must believe that a new covenant will be instituted. All that remains is for them to examine the facts to be sure that the New covenant has been put in place (Jeremiah 31). When this New covenant has been put in place, the old covenant becomes obsolete (vs 13).
Note who the New covenant is made with; '...with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.' When these two tribes are placed together, it is referring to the entire nation of Israel -the northern kingdom (consisting of the 10 tribes of Israel), and the southern kingdom (consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin). It is important that we understand that every covenant in Scripture is made with the Jews-the Abrahamic covenant, the Palestinian covenant, the Davidic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, and the New covenant. Gentiles were considered strangers and aliens to the covenants. When we understand this truth, it makes our study of Scripture much clearer.
This New covenant is not going to be like any of the previous covenants. Verse 9 declares, ''Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in My covenant, and I did not care for them, says the Lord.'' In entering into the Mosaic covenant, the people of Israel had agreed to something that they did not do. They were disobedient. But God promises that the New covenant is not like that covenant.
Verse 10 outlines the positive provisions of this New covenant; ''For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days', says the Lord. 'I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.'' This is a tremendous change. Instead of the Law being engraved in stone, as in the Mosaic covenant, God promises Israel that He will engrave His Law upon their hearts and minds. They will belong to God. This is the same experience that you and I share when we are regenerated by the salvation provided in Jesus Christ. They are made new creatures. This is the difference between the Law and Grace. The Law demands that we follow a set of rules to be saved, and conform ourselves to the character of God. Grace says that God Himself will inscribe His character on our hearts and minds, and the Spirit will conform us to His character. The promise to the Jews is that they will experience this regeneration as an entire nation.
The writer illustrates the next provision in verse 11; 'And they shall not teach every one his fellow citizen, and every one his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.' There will be universal knowledge of God and Jesus Christ. Everyone shall know Him, and teaching will not be required. Now obviously, this part of the covenant has not been fulfilled as of today. It is my understanding that verse 10 is literal (has been fulfilled), while verse 11 is spiritual (yet to be fulfilled).
Verse 12 is also a part of the covenant that has yet to be fulfilled for the Jewish people, and verse 13 reinforces the truth that the old covenant is no longer in effect; 'For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more. When He said, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.' This is God's promise to the Jews. At a time in the future, God will inscribe His character on the hearts and minds of every Jew, and the entire nation of Israel will come to the salvation offered through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The argument in Hebrews 8 is that the New covenant has already come. And this is where some confusion can develop. It is a covenant made with Israel, but obviously Israel is not operating under this covenant today. This does not mean that there are no Jews being saved today, because there are. But it is clear that the entire nation of Israel has not yet been saved.
In order to understand this subject better, we must first look at what the New Testament says about the New covenant. Luke 22:19,20 says, 'And having taken some bread, when He had given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.' And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.'' With the institution of the New covenant, what must there be? Jesus said that the New covenant was in 'My blood.' It was Christ's death that instituted the New covenant. When Christ said this to the disciples, what would they think about? Jeremiah 31, and the promise of the New covenant by God.
Paul says the same thing in 1 Corinthians 11, repeating the events of the last supper to the church at Corinth. We are to remember the death of Christ because it was that event that ushered in the New covenant.
Another direct reference to the New covenant is in 2 Corinthians 3:56; 'Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.' The letter (the Law) brought death because it condemned man by demonstrating his unfaithfulness. But the Spirit, operating in connection with the New covenant, brings life. Paul says that he is a servant of the New covenant, proving that this covenant is already in operation.
The rest of the references to the New covenant are in the book of Hebrews (9:15, 12:24) proving that everyone who is saved (past, present, and future), is saved because of the fulfillment of the New covenant. Even the Old Testament saints, who died before the birth of Christ, are saved because of the promise of the New covenant. This truth is evidenced in Hebrews 12:24; '...And to Jesus , the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.' The New covenant is connected with the sprinkling of Christ's blood, which is superior to the blood that was sprinkled in association with the Old covenant.
It is clear that the New covenant is in operation, but some have decided that the church now takes the place of Israel. The problem with that theory is that we have not seen the complete fulfillment of the New covenant. We have only received one of the blessings of the New covenant found in Hebrews 8:10, the changing of the heart and mind, and the inscription of God's character on our hearts. The rest of the New covenant will not be fulfilled until the arrival of the Millennium. The point is, there are not two New covenants-one for the Jews and one for the church-as some would have us believe. There is only one New covenant which is instituted by the death of Jesus Christ, which will not be completely fulfilled until the Millennial kingdom has been established.
One need only look at the prophecy of Ezekiel to understand that the New covenant has not yet been fulfilled. In Ezekiel 37, God shows the uniting of Israel as one nation through the illustration of a valley of dry, dead bones (Israel) coming back to life. In verses 21-25 God says, 'And say to them 'Thus says the Lord God, 'Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations, and they will no longer be divided into two kingdoms. And they will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God. And My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances, and keep My statutes, and observe them. And they shall live on the land that I gave to Jacob, My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons, and their sons' sons, forever; and David My servant shall be their prince forever... .' It is obvious that this is not the state of Israel today. It is my understanding that David, in his resurrected body, will reign over Israel in the Millennium. Jesus Christ will be the Messiah King, but David will rule Israel as the prince of the New Kingdom.
We see the same thing in Ezekiel 34. One will note verse 25; 'And I will make a covenant of peace with them and eliminate harmful beasts from the land, so that they may live securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods....' Is this going on today? No. Again, this is proof that the New covenant will not be fully established until a future time. Some have argued that these verses refer to a spiritual fulfillment instead of a literal fulfillment. But that would be inconsistent with the Scripture. Was the death of Jesus Christ literal or spiritual? It was literal. One cannot take part of the New covenant and say it was literal (Christ's death), and turn around and say 'the rest of the New covenant is spiritual.' That theory lacks any consistency. I expect that if God says He will remove all the harmful beasts from the land, He will physically remove the beasts. People act as if this would be a difficult task for God, but do you know what the two most difficult tasks for God to accomplish in the New covenant are? First, He had to make provision for the covenant, which He did through the death of His Son. Secondly, He promises to make all those who trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ into new creatures, and He does that. As one can understand, it is ridiculous to assume that 'it must be too difficult for God to remove all the wild beasts from the land, therefore this part of the New covenant can only be spiritually fulfilled.'
Isaiah 11 shows us what the physical environment on earth will be like when Christ rules. Verses 6 through 9 say, 'And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze; their young will lie down together; and the lion will eat straw like the ox. And the nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the vipers den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.' This is the same thing that God said in Jeremiah; '...the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord....' Again, this is not going on today, but it will occur in the future when Jesus Christ reigns as King. Everyone will know about Him, and even the animal world will be relieved of the curse. They will no longer eat each other, or harm human beings. Remember, the complete fulfillment of the New covenant will be with the nation Israel. Only one aspect of the New covenant is visible to us today: the salvation provided through the death of Jesus Christ. But there is coming a time when Israel will enjoy the full provision of this eternal covenant.
Jeremiah 31:35-37 give testimony to the fact that God's covenant with Israel is eternal. He says, '...If the fixed order departs from Me', declares the Lord, 'then the offspring of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever.' Thus says the Lord, 'if the heavens can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,' declares the Lord' (Jeremiah 31:36,37). Even with the technology that we have today, the heavens cannot be measured, and the foundations of the earth cannot be searched out. God is using these illustrations to explain that the New covenant with Israel will last forever.
Romans 11 also proves the point that the fulfillment of the New covenant will not occur until a future time. The chapter opens, '...God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.' Paul continues in verses 25-27; 'For I do not want you, brethren, to be uniformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,'The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.'' As one can see, the Gentiles, and the church today cannot be Israel. It is clear that the fulfillment of the New covenant with Israel will occur (literally) in the future. When will the New covenant take place? When the 'Deliverer' comes. The Second Coming of Christ will initiate the salvation of Israel and the Millennial Kingdom. Right now we are experiencing the fullness of the Gentiles. We are offered the part of the New covenant (salvation) that brings us into an eternal relationship with the living God. He promises that He will forgive the sin, and inscribe His character on the heart of those who believe in the person and work of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
Have you experienced the salvation given only through Christ? If you have, you can be confident that your sins have been forgiven, and you will spend eternity with Him. If you have not, you can be confident that your sins have not been forgiven, and you will spend eternity separated from Him in hell. Which path are you following? Have you come to see yourself as God sees you? As a depraved, Godless sinner, deserving judgment? If you have come to that point, and believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, simply ask Him to forgive you of your sin and become Lord of your life, and you will be born into the family of God for all eternity.
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