Series: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism
Jesus Christ and the New Covenant
In my Introduction I showed that Scripture places the Person of Christ in the middle of everything. Not only did God create through the Son (as the Word or Logos, of which more to come), but everything was made for Christ. We may, therefore, view creation as a gift of the Father to the Son. Seeing it this way drives home to us the fact that this world is not just a convenient stage for our fallen history; a stage to be abandoned and destroyed when Christ returns. Though blighted by evil, this world will be restored to bring God glory.
How is this to be achieved? My contention is it will be achieved by Christ through the New Covenant. In saying this I want it to be clear what I am teaching. I shall be trying to prove that God “reconciles all things to Himself” by Jesus Christ by means of the New Covenant.
In saying this I am aware that some readers will want to jump in and subsume the details of the other biblical covenants into the New Covenant and declare them all “fulfilled” in and by the Person of Christ. This is the conclusion often assumed by those who employ what is today called a “redemptive-historical hermeneutic,” which is nothing but a circular method of reading ones own theology into every verse of Scripture. This is not what I am doing.
What is required for all God’s restorative purposes to be consummated is salvation unto righteousness. The reconciliation of all things to its Owner. And this reconciling is accomplished by the Owner, who is Christ Himself. I submit that at the heart of this great work are the covenants of the Bible.
The promises appended to the biblical covenants are not supplemented with a means of fulfillment within those same covenants. The fulfillment lies outside of those covenants, within the New Covenant as it supplies the Noahic, Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic Covenants with the means of their realization. And the New Covenant must be “enabled” by Christ, the “Man from Heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47). Hence, the Plan of God outlined in the biblical covenants converges on the crucified Jesus and emerges from the resurrected Jesus!
The Locus Classicus of the New Covenant
The best place to start studying the New Covenant is the Book of Jeremiah. Chapter 31:31-34 reads:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 “And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
This passage is repeated by the writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 8:8-12. We shall have cause to visit that context another time. Right now I just want us to notice the main details in the passage.
First the prophet announces “the days are coming.” Naturally, the first question to be asked is, “which days does the prophet have in mind?” The refrain is often utilized by Jeremiah, usually in covenantal contexts: e.g. 23:5, 7 – Davidic; and five times between the great covenantal predictions of 30:3 to 33:14. These contexts are significant because they are so filled with hope for the eventual culmination of Israel’s long-held expectations. And who can miss their Messianic content? For example,
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. 6 In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell safely; Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Jer 23:5-6)
The unmistakable prominence of the Davidic Covenant with its promise of a this-worldly kingdom and King cannot be escaped. But notice also the presence of salvation to righteousness (esp. 23:6 with 31:33-34). In 30:17 there is a veiled promise of salvation for elect Israel when the Davidic King reigns (comp. 30:12). Notwithstanding, salvation to righteousness is not promised in the Davidic Covenant. Also, perpetuity in the land is contingent upon a righteousness among the people. Hence, the need for a salvific covenant to supply the lack within the Davidic and Land (read Abrahamic) Covenants. And it is just such a covenant that shows up in chapter 31.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 presents a contrast between the Mosaic Covenant and the coming New Covenant. The former is to be replaced by the latter. With the New Covenant everlasting salvation enters in (v.34). It enters in with the One (the Branch cf. 23:6 with 33:15) who brings it with Him.
Broadening the Picture
Let us compare the New Covenant passage in Jeremiah 31 with the famous prophecy in Isaiah 11:1-10. First Jeremiah:
But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 “And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer 31:33-34)
The heart transformation described in the above passage is that of the new birth which comes with the New Covenant. The passage below includes a similar heart transformation in verse 9, but in the context of the presence of Messiah (Isa. 11:1, the Branch, as we saw in Jer. 23:6 & 33:15), who also transforms the natural order (Isa. 11: 6-8. This will also be the time when believers receive their glorification – cf. Rom. 8:18-23).
Here is the Isaiah text:
There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. 3 His delight is in the fear of the LORD, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; 4 But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, And faithfulness the belt of His waist. 6 “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze; Their young ones shall lie down together; And the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. 9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea. 10 “And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; For the Gentiles shall seek Him, And His resting place shall be glorious.” (Isa 11:1-10)
So what we see predicted is that the timing of the New Covenant coincides with the establishment of Christ’s righteous rule (of which we shall have to say more). The rule corresponds to the Davidic Covenant, thus we begin to see how final fulfillment of the terms of the Davidic Covenant is predicated on the One who fulfills the Davidic Covenant by bringing in the New Covenant. To put it simply, the Davidic Covenant depends upon the New Covenant.
But we do not only have the Davidic Covenant in these texts. There is nothing in the terms of the Davidic Covenant which pertains to the regeneration and pacification of the natural world order as described in Isaiah 11:5-8 and many other places. If we want to find a covenant which does include the natural world we shall have to go to the covenant with Noah. We shall see that the New Covenant takes up elements of the Noahic Covenant into itself. This will not surprise us if we keep in mind that Christ owns and cares for this post-flood world. It is important to note that the Noahic Covenant concerns this world, not the New Heavens and New Earth, although, as we have said, the New Covenant concerns itself with aspects of the Noahic.
Returning to our New Covenant passage in Jeremiah 31 we read about other truths. For one thing, twice in the chapter God refers to Israel as “O Virgin of Israel” (31:4, 21), appearing to signify a cleansing from their idolatrous past (cf. 30:15. This cleansing will occur in “the latter days” – 30:24).
In verse 14 there is an enigmatic eschatological (?) reference to the priesthood:
And I will fill the soul of the priests with abundance, And My people shall be satisfied with My goodness,” declares the LORD. (Jer 31:14 – this may pertain to the Priestly Covenant of Num. 25).
We read that God will “plant them” in their land (31:28, 36-40)
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Once again they will speak this word in the land of Judah and in its cities, when I restore their fortunes, ‘The LORD bless you, O abode of righteousness, O holy hill!’ (Jer 31:23 – pertaining to the Abrahamic Covenant).
Verses 1 and 7 imply that one day “all the families of Israel” will indeed be saved.
At that time,” declares the LORD, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people (Jer 31:1)
All Israel equates to the Remnant of verse 7:
For thus says the LORD, “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, And shout among the chiefs of the nations; Proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘O LORD, save Thy people, The remnant of Israel.’ (Jer 31:7)
These are New Covenant realities.
A New Covenant Picture
Jeremiah 31 is famous for its treatment of the New Covenant. But it contains references to the other covenants (Abrahamic, Davidic, Priestly, perhaps the Noahic, plus the contrast with Mosaic). There is good reason for this. These biblical covenants need to be supplemented by the New Covenant. Why? Because nothing in the world comes to its consummation outside of the work of the Owner of the world. The Owner of the world is Jesus Christ – the Mediator of the New Covenant.
More to come…