The Covenantal Landscape of the Old Testament (2)

The Old Testament gives us a picture of a coming great Deliverer who will one day defeat the serpent and break his power (Gen. 3:15). We have seen that this prophetic picture is quite extensive, providing one puts the pieces of the “Scepter,” the “Star,” the son of David, the despised substitute Sufferer, the Branch, the donkey Rider, the Messiah, etc. together in one person. This portrait of the coming King of the Earth, who reigns in Jerusalem, is there so that He can be identified when He appears. And when He is identified through these prophecies it will eventually be seen that the Old Testament was spot on. The only question in light of for example, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, and Zechariah 12 would seem to be, when would His own people recognize Him? This problem deepens because of the perceived mismatch between the victorious Ruler and the suffering Servant referred to above.

In similar fashion, what the Prophets have to say about the divine covenants paints a vivid picture of the Kingdom that is to come. The Prophets develop the unilateral covenants; the Noahic, Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic, and weave them together. The instrument they use to do this is the New covenant, which does not alter a word of the oaths which Yahweh took in the other covenants, but instead revitalizes these great covenants as they pass through the redemptive grace within it. This revitalization guarantees the literal fulfillment of the oaths of Yahweh, there being no sin standing in the way of their full realization.

But the New covenant is not just a means, it is a Man. It is none other than the promised One, the coming King Himself. This amounts to saying that the entire Creation Project, propelled by the covenants of God, is dependent upon this Man! Our comprehension of the Creation Project depends a lot upon our reading of God’s covenants, not to mention the nature of those covenants.

What, therefore, is the picture drawn by the Prophets? I think it best if I break the prophetic picture down into basic categories.[1]

a. A Future Time of Intense Trouble for Israel

Amos in the 8th century B.C. says that Yahweh will sift Israel (Am. 9:9), but after that He will “raise up the tabernacle of David,” that is to say, the reinstitution of the Davidic monarchy that would fizzle out at the Babylonian Captivity with Zedekiah of Judah will be seen. This sifting is tied to the Mosaic covenant, especially its elucidation in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 30:1-6 is pertinent here, as is Leviticus 26.

Having said this, nothing is solid enough in Amos’s time for a reader to determine whether there will be an end-time tribulation upon the Jews. Hosea 2:9-13 indicates a punishment upon Israel followed by an era of kingdom blessing (Hos. 2:14ff.). If I am correct in placing the two acts of God together, this necessarily puts us in the last times. Hosea 5:15 and 6:1-3 could well be referring to this same situation.

The theme of a future intense affliction upon Israel is not to be found stated plainly until Jeremiah 30:5-7 where something called “the time of Jacob’s trouble” is mentioned. The difficulty in the “time” is that it is not dated, other than in relation to the raising up of David and Israel being told that she will have no cause to fear anymore (Jer. 30:9-10). Is this the Holocaust? That might reasonably qualify as the time of Jacob’s trouble (cf. Hos. 2:6-13; 5:15; Isa. 1:25). But no restoration of the Davidic monarchy followed World War II. The only way that David, whether personally or through his heir, could rule over Israel is in the resurrection era (Isa. 26:19? Ezek. 37:12?). Terrible as was the Holocaust, something worse yet awaits the people of Israel.

The book of Daniel furnishes more information on a future time of tribulation. As brought out in Daniel 7 and 11, a mighty foe will persecute Israel for three and a half years (“a time, times, and half a time” – Dan. 7:24-27), during which time Israel will have to endure it’s greatest travail (Dan. 12:1). Ezekiel 38 refers to distress brought upon God’s people by a person named Gog. And Zechariah 11:15-17 is an oracle about a careless shepherd who is to be recognized by certain marks upon his body. Whether all of these passages apply to the end time of trouble is uncertain, but a fair case can be made in the affirmative.

b. The Regathering of Israel to their Promised Land

Many times, the Old Testament predicts the restoration of the Jews to their land. The ten northern tribes were carried off by the Assyrians, and no leader ever issued a decree for their return. But many from the north would have been dwelling in Judah long before Tiglath-Pileser defeated Hoshea of Israel in 723 B.C.[2] Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesy about the reunification of all the tribes in their books. Daniel’s reading of Jeremiah 25:11-12 persuaded him to expect the southern nation to return from Babylon, which led to him beseeching Yahweh on behalf of his people (Dan. 9).

Another Exile

But closer study of the Prophets reveals that another exile and a greater regathering is to come, and it is to be looked for at the close of history. For example, if the “little horn” of Daniel 7 persecutes the Jewish saints (Dan. 7:21) when they are in their land (cf. Dan. 11:39), and the limit of the persecution in Daniel 7:25 corresponds to Daniel 11:36 (cf. Dan. 9:26-27), this would entail that they are driven out of the land again before being regathered at the time of Messiah’s arrival to set up His Kingdom (Dan. 7:22). They will return in repentance (Jer. 50:4-5). Ezekiel 37:11-14 has God bringing Israel into the land and granting them the Spirit. Earlier, in the context of God’s blessing on their productivity, Amos 9:14-15 refers to the same thing. Zechariah 8:8 has a great promise of return and blessing. In Isaiah 11:11-16; Jeremiah 16:14-15, and Jeremiah 23:7-8 there is a second exodus promise that is non-figurative. Continue reading “The Covenantal Landscape of the Old Testament (2)”

The Covenantal Landscape of the Old Testament (1)

From the forthcoming book ‘The Words of the Covenant: Old Testament Expectation’

If one surveys the contents of the Old Testament with both eyes upon the divine covenants, what one comes away with is a massive sense of expectation. The simply-worded Creation chapter (Gen. 1) displays a purpose and goal for the world which God is moving forward. The simplicity of the wording conveys an important hermeneutical truth; that what God does is directly in line with what He says (i.e. God’s words equal God’s actions). This can be tested in numerous points throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Gen. 1:3, 6-7, 11-12, 26-31; 6:7-13; 11:7-9; 2 Ki. 1:3-4, 16-17; 5:10, 14; Dan. 4:16, 25, 32-33).

This movement towards a goal is seemingly interrupted by the calamitous fall of our first parents and the autonomous thinking that it brought about. While seeming innocuous, this default of naive independence from the authority of God and His words has led mankind to every false notion and violent act in our bloody history. It has also caused God’s people to recalibrate what God has said by passing it through the apparatus of independent interpretation. In the long term this is what is chiefly responsible for the varied schools of thought in Christian theology. But in the Hebrew Bible it was a major cause, through reevaluation of God’s word, for Israel’s defection.

The covenants that Yahweh made were intended to counter man’s sinful default of independence by drawing attention to the grand motifs within the Creation Project that He is sustaining. These covenants may be seen as amplifications of God’s plain speech about central planks in His program of history. Because they express the outline of the Creation Project, which in turn is embedded in God’s decrees, the covenants that God made with Noah, Abraham, Phinehas, and David are unalterable, their oaths being unilaterally entered into by God alone. Although conditions were appended to the covenants, it is crucial to understand that these conditions were not included within the oaths. Therefore, although they could and did hinder the fulfillment of the covenants, they could never force their cancellation or their reallocation. The bilateral Mosaic covenant, being a covenant of law given to law-breakers, could only stem the tide of Israel’s sin and provide a sense of community and belonging which would sustain the Jewish race, although not forever.

Aside from Yahweh, there are two main protagonists in the Hebrew Bible; the nation of Israel and the coming King who would arise out of Israel. Israel was given the Mosaic covenant, but had to be rescued from its condemnation. The person of the King would do that by fulfilling its demands of righteousness, and suffering vicariously (Isa. 53:4-6; 10-12), and by ushering in a New covenant to replace the one made at Sinai (Jer. 31:31-34; Isa. 49:6-8).

The need to replace the Mosaic covenant with another “New” covenant can be found as far back as Deuteronomy 30:6, and is found repeated at several junctures, including Psalm 98:3; 130; Isaiah 25:8-9; 46:13; Ezekiel 36:24-28, and Zechariah 13:1. The outstanding promise is in Jeremiah 31:31-34. There it becomes clear that this New covenant will supersede the Mosaic covenant. The New covenant brings with it the essential ingredient of salvation which it alone possesses.

But there is a fascinating twist regarding the New covenant, for whereas the other covenants contain a divine pledge to a person or persons, and may have included animal sacrifice (certainly in regard to the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Mosaic covenants), the New covenant goes further by designating God’s Servant as the covenant itself (Isa. 42:6; 49:8)! As already said, this Servant is a person, not Israel, and this person must face death on behalf of others (Isa. 53). So, the extraordinary connection of the New covenant with the Servant becomes something to watch as revelation unfolds.

The Servant is the Branch is the Promised Seed

Since the temptation of Eve in the garden of Eden and the fall of Adam, God has promised to send a Conqueror who would destroy the Serpent (Gen. 3:16). This Conqueror is referred to as the Seed of the Woman in Genesis 3, but He appears in the prophecies of Jacob as a King from Judah (Gen. 49:10), as a “Star” out of Egypt who routs His enemies in Numbers 24:8-9, 17, and as the “Branch” who will subdue, judge and beautify the earth and exalt Jerusalem (Isa. 4:2-3; 11:1-10; Jer. 23:5-6; Zech. 3:8), seeing to it that the lines of David and Levi are maintained, although not in an unbroken succession[1] (Jer. 33:14-26). It is also He who will build the last temple (Zech. 6:12-13).

This man is also called Yahweh’s “Servant” in, for example, Isaiah 42:1-7 and 49:5-7, who will save the Gentile nations and redeem Israel,[2] restoring the entire earth. Amazingly, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 portray Him as reigning in justice, yet suffering the indignation of men and God. He suffers and dies innocently, yet as part of the plan of Yahweh (Isa. 53:10). And He will be rewarded and highly exalted. Daniel also speaks of His demise on behalf of others in Daniel 9:26, where He refers to Him as Messiah (anointed).

It is this coming King who as the Servant is said to be given “as a covenant to the people” (Isa. 42:6; 49:8). Once these passages are linked with the substitutionary nature of His suffering and its relation to securing pardon and justification “for many” (Isa. 53:11), it starts to appear that this great One is the pivot around which the whole Creation Project and its associated covenants turn. This King Messiah pulls every covenant hope into His orbit.

The coming of the Messiah is normally presented as Him vanquishing Israel’s enemies and bringing in justice and peace. Isaiah has Him coming in avenging might (Isa. 63). Daniel has Him smashing the kingdoms of man (Dan. 2). After crushing His enemies, He comes to rule from Jerusalem (Jer. 33:14-15; Zech. 1:17).

A “problem” arises between this unimpeded picture of His arrival and the occasional references to His suffering and death (Psa. 22; Isa. 53; Dan. 9:25; Zech. 13:6). How can He come in such irresistible power and yet be overpowered? The Old Testament does not tell us directly, though it provides us with clues which subsequent revelation will fit together. The closest thing to an outright explanation is perhaps Zechariah 12:10 where, in the common setting of God’s future judgment, we are suddenly told “they will look on Me who they pierced.” This implies that the people “pierced” Him previous to His coming in judgment and salvation. To step into a New Testament vantage-point for a moment, what we find is that the first and second comings of Christ are merged in the Old Testament, with the emphasis usually placed upon things that occur at the second coming.

One more vital consideration; we must never forget that according to Psalm 110:1, Micah 5:2 and Isaiah 9:6-7 the promised King is divine. Therefore, to the standard messianic passages we must add those texts which speak of Yahweh Himself as dwelling with men in the Kingdom of God. We must also not avoid the inclusion of passages like Ezekiel 43:1-7; 48:35; Joel 3:17, and Zechariah 1:16; 8:1-3; 14:9, 16-21 as pointing to Messiah. As one author has stated, “The Old Testament has its own messianic light.”[3] And it is a good deal brighter than many people realize.

——————————————————————————-

[1] The curse upon Jehoiachin (Coniah) in Jeremiah 22:28-30 essentially illustrates this. Although Jehoiachin lived on in captivity and had seven sons (1 Chron. 3:17-18), he was written as childless. This appeared to defeat the Davidic covenant, but God would find a way around the problem. Compare John Bright, Covenant and Promise, 180-181.

[2] Redeeming Israel, He cannot be Israel.

[3] John H. Sailhamer, The Meaning of the Pentateuch, 238.

My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 10): In Summary

Part Nine

In this final part I want to gather things together and summarize what has gone before.  In the latter half of the full piece I interact with some other views.  I shall not concern myself with running over that ground here.  I shall only outline the major pillars of my position on the New Covenant:

  1. Jeremiah 31 is not to be thought about as definitive of the New Covenant.  There are many other passages which, although they don’t name the covenant as the NC, are rightly considered as important OT New Covenant passages (e.g. Deut. 30:1-6; Isa. 32:9-20; 42:1-7; 49:1-13; 52:10-53:12; 55:3; 59:15b-21; 61:8; Jer. 32:36:44; Ezek. 16:53-63; 36:22-38; 37:21-28; Hos. 2:18-20; Joel 2:28–3:8; Mic. 7:18-20; Zech. 9:10; 12:6-14).
  2. None of the great theistic covenants of the Bible (i.e. the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly, Davidic covenants) have a provision of redemption set within them.  That means they can never be fulfilled!  Sin bars the way.
  3. However, the problem of unfulfillment is overcome by Jesus Christ in the New Covenant.
  4. Since it deals with sin and salvation, the NC deals with the promise of the Holy Spirit.
  5. Two key NC passages, Isaiah 42:1-6 and Isaiah 49:1-8, speak both to Israel and to the nations.  Isaiah 42:1-3 is quoted by Matthew 12:17-21, and is applied especially to “the Gentiles.”  He might have quoted Isa. 11:10; 42:15; 60:3; Jer. 16:19, and Mal. 1:11.
  6.  Further, Isaiah 42 and 49 identify a person as a covenant who will bring salvation to both Israel and the Gentile nations. The NC is the “salvation covenant.”
  7. The Apostle Paul uses NC terminology and applies it to Christian redemption in Colossians 2:11-14 and Philippians 3:3.
  8. Not only that, but Paul explicitly says that Christians taking the Lord’s Supper are celebrating “the blood of the New Covenant” (1 Cor. 11:25).  Paul also declares that his ministry is a ministry of the New Covenant in 2 Cor. 3.
  9. Jesus said that His blood was NC blood (e.g. Lk. 22).  His disciples partook of the symbolism of it, and they formed the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20).
  10. Hebrews 7 – 10 names Jesus as our High Priest, which He can only be on the basis of the New Covenant, since that is the covenant He mediates as High Priest.
  11. Jesus Christ and the New Covenant are One.  He is the covenant mentioned by Isaiah 42:6 and 49:8; as the Lamb of God (Jn. 1:29), He is the covenant “animal” that makes the NC with His own body and blood (Heb. 9:16-17).  There is (and never was) any salvation outside of Him.  Therefore, the NC is not to be viewed as an agreement external to Him Who made it.
  12. We must beware of impeding our own understanding of God’s Word by wandering away from Scripture to fragmentary pagan notions of treaty and covenant.  We will be in poor shape to “hear” the Scripture if we fail listen with both ears and read with both eyes.  This is all the more important when the matter under consideration is the oaths of God!

My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 9)

Part Eight

Having come to a conclusion about the foremost question in the debate about the range of the New Covenant and its connection to Jesus Christ, I want to spread out before the reader my reasons for identifying Him with the NC.  These reasons are roughly, exegetical, theological, and devotional.  I see no need to go back over the arguments for Luke 22, 1 Corinthians 11, 2 Corinthians 3, and the the Book of Hebrews (although I shall look into Heb. 9:16-17).  However, I will provide a summary of the teaching of these passages as I interpret them, and add several further thoughts.

Some Exegetical Arguments

In Luke 22:19-20 our Lord first refers to His body:

This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me – Lk. 22:19

The body of Christ was broken for the disciples, but who believes that it was broken for them only?  As Paul says, it was broken also for all Christians.  It is not called “the body of the New Covenant,” so there is no division of His body between supposed NC saints and non-NC saints.  Then we come to the cup:

Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” – Lk. 22:20

As regards the “cup,” Christ is not recorded as saying, “do this in remembrance of me.”  Interestingly, the Apostle Paul adds these words in 1 Corinthians 11:25.  In so doing he reinforces the connection between the body and the blood as a single sacrifice.  If the blood is directed partly to the NC and partly non-NC, then so is His body.  Also, if, as we are sometimes told, Paul wished to teach a separation of Christ’s blood into NC and non-NC blood, why did he add the note of remembrance which the Gospels leave out?  That at least would give the theory of divided blood a sporting chance.  By adding the remembrance clause Paul is tying the blood and body of Christ together as one sacrifice for all.

In addition, it should not go unnoticed that although there is plenty of opportunity for the inspired authors to teach a separation of Christ’s blood into NC and non-NC, all we find is NC blood in the Gospels (Lk. 22; Mk. 14; Matt. 26), and 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. 11) and Hebrews 12.

The author of Hebrews also combines the sacrifice of Christ’s body with the blood, making them one sacrifice; neither His body nor His blood is divided.

By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. – Hebrews 10:10

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:19-22 

In 2 Corinthians 3:6 Paul speaks of his ministry to the Corinthians as that “of the New Covenant,” which he then continues to contrast with the “first covenant.”  Some argue that Paul did not do this; that he was merely comparing his ministry to the Gentile Christians in Corinth, with the future ministry to Israel at the eschaton.  If a person wishes to believe such a thing I cannot stop them, but it has all the marks of skirting around an obvious conclusion, which one would prefer not to draw

The straightforward “normal” meaning is not difficult to see: Christ instituted the New Covenant with His disciples before His Passion, the disciples formed the foundation of the Church, with Christ (Eph. 2:20), and Paul’s NC ministry (2 Cor. 3) included the remembrance of the “blood of the New Covenant”  being part of the Lord’s Table for Christians (1 Cor. 11).  Christ is our High Priest (Heb. 4:14-15), because He has offered His blood at the altar in Heaven (Heb. 9:12-15).

This brings me to Hebrews 9:16-17.  As it reads in most of our Bibles this passage is an island of “testaments” sticking out of a sea of “covenants.”  The proposed temporary change from covenant to testament is due to the mention of “inheritance” in verse 15.  Here is the context:

And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.  For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.  For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.  Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. – Hebrews 9:15-18

The switch back to “covenant” is necessitated by the reasoning in verses 19 and 20, which are concerned with Moses’ involving the people in the covenant in Exodus 24.  In every instance the same word (diatheke) is being translated.  My intention here is not to prove that “testament/testator” is an unnecessary translation (I think it is!).  I shall just give a few reasons for my rejection of it.

Firstly, the uniform translation of diatheke as “covenant” in Hebrews, save for these two verses, makes them look suspicious.  George Guthrie writes:

Interpreters often have read 9:16-17 in terms of “will” or “testament,” but these verses should be read, in their context, as speaking of the establishment of a covenant… “The one arranging [diatithemi] it,” occurring in participial form, in 9:16-17, refers to the sacrificial animal that must die for a covenant to be established… This fits perfectly with the argument of 9:18-22, which deals with Moses’ inauguration of the Sinai covenant with the sprinkling of blood (Exod. 24:3-8). – in G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, editors, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old, 973.

Furthermore, there is good evidence that a testament in the ancient world did not require the death of the testator.  Think of the Parable of the Prodigal Son!  Hence, William Lane claims,

There is no evidence in classical papyriological sources to substantiate that a will or testament was legally valid only when the testator died. A will became operative as soon as it was properly drafted, witnessed, and notarized. Moreover, inheritance did not occur only after the death of the testator, since it was common legal practice for an inheritance, as parental distribution inter vivos (“among the survivors”), to take place before death. – Hebrews 9 – 13 WBC, 231

The assertion I am making then is that Jesus is Himself the “covenant animal” that ratifies the New Covenant.  Moreover, there is precedent for saying this.  Just recall John the Baptist’s reference to Christ as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn. 1:29).  Do notice this concerns the sin of the world and not only of the remnant of Israel!

I should add here that the OT (as far as I know) does not speak of “New Covenant blood.”  Only the NT does that.  This strongly implies that one cannot get a full understanding of the New Covenant from the OT alone!

Returning to Isaiah

We must revisit Isaiah 42, 49 and 52-53.  In both Isaiah 42:6 and 49:8 the Servant of Yahweh is called “a covenant to the people.”  So Christ (for He is in view) is a covenant.  This fact cannot be stressed too much.  Regardless of where one comes out on all this (and one does not have to agree with me), it is vital to address this question:

‘If Christ is to be given as a covenant, which covenant is He?’

I have answered the question by claiming that what is to believed (the central oath) concerns the person and work of Jesus Christ.  The covenant is about Him, it is wrought by Him, it is mediated by Him, His blood is the blood of the NC, and He is Himself referred to as a covenant of salvation, and the only covenant of salvation is the New Covenant.  Q.E.D.  For me at least.  Continue reading “My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 9)”

My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 8)

Part Seven

So we turn to the last two options in Vlach’s list:

  1. The New Covenant will be fulfilled with Israel but the church is an added referent to the New Covenant promises so there is a sense in which the New Covenant is being fulfilled with the churchThe New Covenant has two referents—Israel and the church (some revised dispensationalists; Paul Feinberg)
  1. Since the New Covenant was given to Israel for the purpose of also blessing Gentiles there is literal fulfillment of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant to all believing Jews and Gentiles in this present age, while the physical/national promises await fulfillment with Jesus’ second coming when national Israel is incorporated into the New Covenant (some revised and most progressive dispensationalists)

I have already stated that in my opinion it is a mistake to view the New Covenant as entailing physical promises.  Those are contained in the other covenants, but they require “releasing” upon their stated party (the nation of Israel), which release is secured by the New Covenant, especially at the mass conversion of Israel at the second advent (e.g. Isa. 66:8).  The New Covenant therefore is the salvific conduit or stream through which the other covenants mix as they pass through it to their literal fulfillment.  Hence, I agree with Option 6 apart from the inclusion of the word “physical.”  Having taken out the physical element, I think one can argue that the difference between Option 5 and Option 6 is a semantic one.  Asked to phrase Option 6 in another way it is easy to imagine someone coming up with something that sounds very like Option 5.  In fine, the New Covenant is given to Israel (although they will not enter into its provisions as a nation until Christ returns), but since “salvation is of the Jews” (Jn. 4:22) the Church becomes an added referent to the New Covenant in Christ’s blood.

The Apostle Paul as a Minister of Confusion or Clarity

I have already said that to understand Paul’s mention of “the New Covenant in My blood” in 1 Corinthians 11:25 as anything less than a clear indication that the Gentile Christians were seen by him as parties to the NC when they took “the cup,” makes him a pretty shabby communicator.  The same can be said of 2 Corinthians 3:6

who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  

The word rendered “ministers” (diakonos) is used in verse 3 (and throughout the chapter).  Just look at the verse:

clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.

Who cannot see the continuity and semblance of thought here?  If the apostle did not believe the New Covenant was for the Gentiles, then why on earth did he tell them he was ministering it?  And why did he draw so close a connection between his ministry to them and his supposed “other” ministry (i.e. of the New Covenant?), or even of some eschatological ministry of which he would not be a part?  One would only minister the New Covenant to the party involved.  With all due respect to those who demur this beggars belief!  What has happened to the “plain sense”?  Pray, what is the difference in the context between what Paul calls “the ministry of the Spirit” (see 2 Cor. 3:9) in verse 3 and “the ministry of the Spirit” in verse 6?  If Paul wished to create befuddlement in the minds of his Corinthian readers, he certainly went about it the right way.

But it could be argued (and has been) that all Paul is doing in 2 Corinthians 3:6 is drawing a kind of parallel.  The argument goes that “ministers of the new covenant” (diakonous kainēs diathēkēs) does not in fact mean that Paul and his companions are actually ministering the New Covenant, only that their ministry resembles the future New Covenant dispensation.  I struggle a bit here.  For the NC work of the Spirit at the second advent is a complete work resulting in complete obedience (e.g. Deut. 30:6; Ezek. 36:25-27; Zeph. 3:13), which is quite unlike what we experience today.  Still, if that is what Paul is doing one has to ask in interrogative tones, “Why even say such a thing?”  How is the argument helped by dropping a “by the way, our ministry is sort of like what the NC ministry will be like” in at verse 6?  Why make a comparison of covenants here at all?  It surely looks like Paul views “the ministry of the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:8) as synonymous with his present work “as [a] minister of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit” two verses earlier.  And even if the definite article is missing so that it actually reads “a new covenant” in verse 6, how far does that take us?  The contrast is between the Mosaic covenant and some covenant – a covenant involving the Spirit’s gift of new life.  Which covenant could that be?  The Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic covenants do not include the Spirit’s saving action in their terms.  The answer is staring us in the face: the New Covenant!

And what is all this about?

[T]hat at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:12-13

Brought near to what?  It would take a long article to fully expound the passage, but for my purposes the key is in the phrase “without God in the world.”  The blood of Jesus Christ brings us near to God.  It also includes us in the strand of the Abrahamic Covenant reserved for Gentiles (“in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” – Gen. 12:3; cf. Gal. 3:13-16).  But wait, Paul here speaks of “covenants” plural.  Does he mean we are included in the Priestly Covenant with Phinehas (Num 25)?  Assuredly not.  What about the covenant with David?  Again no.  The Abrahamic then?  Yes, but we need another covenant.  and we have one:  “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” – (1 Cor. 11:25).

Salvation Prior to the New Covenant

I have been asked the following question, which deserves an answer:

Both Noah and Abraham received the imputed righteousness of God BEFORE the promise of the New Covenant was made so their being redeemed was not dependent on the New Covenant. And I see no reason to believe that the redemption of the believers in the Body of Christ is dependent on the New Covenant since their redemption is also based on the imputed righteousness of God.  

I begin by simply pointing out that if anyone is going to be made right with God it is not going to be on the basis of their righteousness.  To assert such is to tacitly deny the doctrine of original sin, as well as its operations in a person’s life and thought.  No one merits salvation.  Righteousness must be imputed.  The only way for a sinner to be saved is by the merits of Christ.  Yes, Noah built a boat; Abraham believed what God said about his seed, but God reckoned their faith as righteousness in view of the coming sacrifice of His Son for mankind.  Nobody’s salvation is independent of “the imputed righteousness of God.”  This is how Job’s testimony in Job 19:25, for example, is to be understood. Continue reading “My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 8)”

My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 7)

Part Six

Is Christ’s Blood Divided?

I want to begin with two more quotes from Beacham.  I should say first that I think his article is an excellent presentation of Option 1.  On page 22 of his paper he states:

The soteriological benefits that Israel experiences at the ratification of the New Covenant are not exclusive either to Israel or to the New Covenant. Many people,
throughout human history, have experienced spiritual blessings like those promised to Israel under the New Covenant. Their spiritual experience, however, neither originates in the New Covenant, nor places them under the New Covenant. Salvation is trans-historical and offered to all who believe. The New Covenant is eschatological and offered to Israel alone. – “The Church Has No Legal Relationship to or Participation in the New Covenant, 22

Every system has to account for the salvation of sinners before Christ, and who would disagree with the sentiment that “Salvation is trans-historical and offered to all who believe“?  The issue is concentrated on the form in which that salvation takes.  Beacham holds that “The New Covenant is eschatological and offered to Israel alone.”  He states:

God‘s promise that all Israel will be saved at the ratification of the New Covenant does not make the New Covenant God‘s eternal covenant of salvation with the church or with all of mankind, the elect, or anyone else. Salvation is judicially grounded in the person and work of Christ, not the New Covenant. – Ibid, FN. 66

Salvation certainly is judicially grounded in Christ, but on what basis?  The usual answer is, “the blood of Christ.”  But according to Christ Himself His blood is “My blood of the New Covenant.” (Matt. 26:28).  Salvation is “judicial” in the sense that it depends upon the judgment of God.  God’s judgment is grounded in His character, and its revelation to Israel is found in the Law of Moses.  Moses’ Law is one piece: moral, ceremonial and civil.  The discussion is quite involved, but covenantally-speaking, Gentiles are not under the Law.  However, the Law does give “the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20), and it does so by revealing the ethical requirements of God.  In that sense Gentiles are “under the law.”  Hence,

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. – Rom. 3:19

Although it can be argued that in this context “law” is a reference to the Old Testament, not to the Mosaic Law per se (F. F. Bruce, Romans, 99), Paul’s use of the term here obviously shows that he is focusing on the moral aspects of law-keeping in relation to God (Alva J. McClain, Romans: The Gospel of God’s Grace, 99-100), i.e. as a means to justification.  As the Apostle writes above, this can only bring guilt.  This is where Jesus Christ comes in.  He is the One,

whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Rom. 3:25-26

We must recall also that there is a universal “moral law,” which although it is embedded within nine of the Ten Commandments, yet transcends them.  As such the law was “our tutor to bring us to Christ” (Gal 3:24).  This is not the same as “legal” code formalized in law.  Our salvation is not “law-based” because as I showed last time the New Covenant is not a legal document.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  Beacham avers that “Salvation is judicially grounded in the person and work of Christ, not the New Covenant.”  We see here that he distinguishes Christ from the New Covenant, in his case because he believes that covenants, (including the NC) are legal agreements. 

Before moving on to Options 4, 5 and 6, which are developed along a continuum, I want to notice how Beacham deals with the “New Covenant” passages in 1 Corinthians 11 and 2 Corinthians 3.  In short, he claims that Paul thinks that when Jesus spoke the words about the NC in His blood He made a distinction between Israel and the Gentiles/Church (42) by saying His covenant blood was “shed for many.”  This takes the word polys (“many”) and restricts it to future Israel.  But in Luke 22:20 He is recorded as saying to the disciples that it was shed for “you.”  This definitely doesn’t look like a proleptic “you”!  As I have said, the disciples became the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20).  So the normal way to understand this would be to view it as new revelation about the NC, not to split the blood of Christ into New Covenant blood and non-New Covenant blood!    

Beacham believes (rightly on his very well presented view) that the NC has not been ratified (43-44), and that it is purely eschatological.  Therefore, he believes that in 1 Corinthians 11:25 the Apostle, while referring to the New Covenant, is not actually concerned with it, but rather with the Lord’s Supper as a memorial.  At best this makes Paul look sloppy.  If the NC was only for future Israel why would he refer to it when teaching Gentiles?  And why would he not qualify his meaning? 

I could have missed it, but I could not find an interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3 on this view.  But when one takes these NT texts together it begins to look like someone putting a square peg in a round hole.  Continue reading “My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 7)”

My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 6)

Part Five

Gentiles and Their Connection to the New Covenant

What has proven to be a thorny issue for Dispensationalists is the relation of the Church/Gentiles to the New Covenant.  Since the only explicit NC text in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (repeated in Hebrews 8) identifies Israel and Judah as parties to the NC with God, the contention is that the Church is associated with the NC in a less direct way, or perhaps not connected at all!  This brings us back to Mike Vlach’s list which we reproduced in Part One.

  1. The New Covenant will be fulfilled in the future with national Israel; the church has no relationship to the New Covenant (some classical dispensationalists)
  2. There are two New Covenants—one with Israel and another for the church (some traditional dispensationalists including John Walvoord)
  1. The New Covenant is completely fulfilled with the church; there is no future fulfillment with national Israel (Covenant Theology and some non-dispensational systems)
  1. The New Covenant will be fulfilled with Israel but the spiritual blessings of the covenant are applied to the church today (some traditional and revised dispensationalists)
  1. The New Covenant will be fulfilled with Israel but the church is an added referent to the New Covenant promises so there is a sense in which the New Covenant is being fulfilled with the churchThe New Covenant has two referents—Israel and the church (some revised dispensationalists; Paul Feinberg)
  1. Since the New Covenant was given to Israel for the purpose of also blessing Gentiles there is literal fulfillment of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant to all believing Jews and Gentiles in this present age, while the physical/national promises await fulfillment with Jesus’ second coming when national Israel is incorporated into the New Covenant (some revised and most progressive dispensationalists)

I am not going to comment on Option 2 (Two New Covenants) other than to say it is not held by anyone today and always was a stretch.  Neither am I going to say much about Option 3 (the New Covenant is fulfilled in the Church) because being held by non-dispensationalists, it is irrelevant to my objective in these posts.

Looking now at Option 4 (the Church gets the “spiritual blessings” of the NC) I have to ask, “what on earth are these spiritual blessings?”  Is the answer salvation?!  And does stating this mean the NC is mainly about physical blessings upon Israel?  But those “physical” matters are taken up in the other covenants with Israel.  Let us remind ourselves of what Jeremiah 31 promises:

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel 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.

No more shall every man teach his neighbor, 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. – Jer. 31:33-34

This is not a promise of land or throne or great productivity.  It is the promise of redemption.  The New Covenant is about redemption!  When redemption is mixed with the other covenants what you get is the coming Kingdom of God on earth – literally fulfilled in line with those covenants.  I will come back to Option 4.  Let us focus on Option 1 (The Church has no part in the NC).

Roy Beacham wrote a paper entitled “The Church Has No Legal Relationship
to or Participation in the New Covenant” which he presented under a different title at the Council for Dispensational Hermeneutics conference in 2009.  I think there are several problems with his thesis as well as its central concern.

Biblical Covenants Were Not “Legal Contracts”

It is simply incongruous to parallel ANE covenants with those in the Bible, particularly those which God made.  And it is wrong to claim that biblical covenants were contracts, and that therefore they were primarily legal in nature – they were not.  As for the first, several scholars have warned about equating the covenants of Scripture with those of the ANE (e.g.  Charles H.H. Scobie, The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology, 475).  To be fair, Beacham does note that John Walton is (surprisingly) against his view that covenants in the Bible are to be understood against the background of the legal practices of the ANE (see FN 6).  But he does spend much time “setting the scene” for his position by citing studies of non-biblical covenants.

As for the second assertion, the trouble is that even the Land or Royal Grant and Suzerain-Vassal Treaties of certain parts of the ANE (e.g. Egypt didn’t go in for them) were not like our contracts.  Referring to the New Covenant Jakob Jocz observed,

It is easy to misunderstand the situation if we take the concept of covenant in the legal sense to mean a juridical contract whereby God binds Himself constitutionally… The covenant is not a legal document by which God finds Himself committed… The covenant is the highest expression of His determination to be our God. – The Covenant, 240-241  

Covenants were not legally binding in the sense that there was some high court that could be appealed to.  Rather, they were sworn oaths, sometimes to a deity and sometimes to each other.  Furthermore, they were often (not always) imposed by the more powerful party.  In more garden variety situations, they were solemn oaths made between friends, or even enemies, with no judicial aspect at all. Continue reading “My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 6)”

My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 5)

Part Four

Putting Some More Passages Together

Deuteronomy 30 describes a time when God Himself will convert His people:

“If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you.

Then the LORD your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers.

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” – Deut. 30:4-5

In this text we get the earliest example of a promise of inner transformation of a sinful people resulting in divine acceptance and blessing.  This involves a change of heart and an obedient walk; indeed a “circumcision of the heart.”  This reminds one of Paul’s words in Colossians 2:11-14, especially verse 11 (“In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.”)

Perhaps this is what Paul is referring to in Philippians 3:3 when he declares, “we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit”?

Isn’t this precisely what we see in Jeremiah 31:33, Isaiah 59:21 and Ezekiel 36:26-27?  Deuteronomy 30 is a New Covenant passage, and is accepted as such by all authorities.

There are many scriptures that portray the Gentiles as seeking the Lord and being saved.  Isaiah 11:10 declares, “the Gentiles shall seek Him.”  Isaiah 60:3 says, “The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (cf. Jer. 16:19).  Malachi 1:11 speaks of the same thing:

For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down,
My name shall be great among the Gentiles;
In every place incense shall be offered to My name,
And a pure offering;
For My name shall be great among the nations,”
Says the LORD of host

When we recall the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 22:18 we should not be surprised at this.  But wouldn’t it be odd for these blessings to be part of one covenant (the Abrahamic) but not be brought about by means of another covenant – the covenant that is Jesus?  If “the iniquity of us all” was laid on Him (Isa. 53:6), what kind of theological alchemy is it that claims that some of the blood was New Covenant blood applied to Israel, while the rest of it was just blood that wrought salvation for the rest of us?

I realize that the reasoning is open to proper interrogation, but it is sound; if God is Yahweh (that is, the covenant God), and He is a God who makes covenants and steers history according to their course, and if He has designated His Son “a covenant to the people…a light to the Gentiles” (Isa. 42:6), why is it surprising to discover that Christ’s blood is covenant blood; New covenant blood?

With What Does Christ Sprinkle Many Nations?

Isaiah 52:15 declares “So shall He sprinkle many nations.”  The verb translated “sprinkle” here is nazah, which bears an expiatory meaning.  Christ will “sprinkle”the nations with what?  With His blood (Col. 1:14, 20).  His blood is “the blood of the New covenant” according to Jesus Himself (Mk. 14:24).  There is no other blood that saves! It’s the blood of the New covenant or it’s damnation.  This is why Paul can legitimately transfer the whole phrase over to his address to the Gentiles in Corinth without blinking an eye (1 Cor. 11:25). 

We must not think that the Apostle is being clumsy in 1 Corinthians 11, and simply citing Jesus without removing the New covenant reference, since (we are told) it cannot refer to the Gentile believers.  He shows in several other contexts that he is careful to quote only the part of a covenant that applies to his audience (e.g. in Rom. 4:1-5; Gal. 3:5-9).

Biblical Covenantalism, which is what I have dubbed my approach to biblical theology, takes pains to point out the central role of Jesus Christ in everything God does in his interaction with humans, especially the elect.  As I have put it in another place:

This world is His and we are His; and all these things exist, in the first place, for Him.  He is the judge of all of His creation and He shall rule over all of the creation.  This world is of Him, for Him, by Him, to Him.  If we’re going to have a scriptural doctrine of the Creation it will bear some correlation to Jesus Christ.  I don’t say we must “find Him in it,” only that we must relate it to Him.

Colossians 1:15-17 is a bold statement about the greatness of Jesus.  He really is at the center of God’s purposes for the world.

Then a few verses further he writes this:

[B]y Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross – Col. 1:20

It is through the blood of Jesus that everything is reconciled to God; and it is New covenant blood!  That is why I have taught that the New covenant provides the means for the other Divine covenants to be fulfilled to the letter; and those covenants dictate the program of God for this world.

Psalm 2:8 tells us that the nations will be given to Christ as an “inheritance.”  We can hardly think that they will remain in defiance and unbelief.  In fact, Psalm 22:27 distinctly says that,

All the ends of the world
Shall remember and turn to the LORD,
And all the families of the nations
Shall worship before You.

Jeremiah foretells a time when 

And you shall swear, ‘The LORD lives,’
In truth, in judgment, and in righteousness;
The nations shall bless themselves in Him,
And in Him they shall glory. – Jer. 4:2

The nations will turn to “Yahweh is Salvation” – to Jesus.  They will glory in King Jesus.  They will be bought by His blood.

Citing Isaiah 19, Michael Vlach demonstrates how,

[T]he people of God concept expands to include Gentiles alongside Israel who also exists as the people of God. – He Will Reign Forever, 164.

Vlach takes care to distinguish the national identities of Israel and the other nations, but he has no hesitation in calling Christians “New Covenant Christians” later in his book (Ibid, 461).  And no wonder, since we are also numbered as God’s people (cf. Acts 15:14).

Christ is a covenant; His blood is the blood of the New covenant; the New covenant is the only covenant that addresses salvation; Paul uses salvation terminology derived from OT New covenant passages and applies them to the Church; and He claims to be doing NC ministry while reminding the Church that the Lord’s Supper celebrates Christ’s “blood of the New covenant.”

So the arguments, some quite explicit, some circumstantial, are stacking up to show that Christians are indeed made parties to the New covenant.  This could never have been revealed in the OT if what most Dispensationalists (rightly in my view) affirm to be the case that the Church is not mentioned there.  But there is provision for the salvific element to enter into the Abrahamic promise to the nations.  That provision allows for a progressive revelation of the New covenant to be made through the Gospel by the Apostolic proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29).

My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 4)

Part Three

Last time we looked at Isaiah 42 and saw that Jesus is being referred to prophetically as a “covenant.”  I insert here that when Isaiah 42:6 says “I will give You as a covenant to the people” it is not saying that Christ will be like a covenant; it is not a simile.  It is better to read it as as an identification.  It is like saying, “This knife can be used as a can-opener” or “I will give my van as a moving truck.”  The knife is the can-opener and the van is the moving vehicle.

The NET Bible renders the place in question “I protect you and make you a covenant mediator for the people.”  The word for “mediator” does not appear in the text.  The reason the NET Bible gives for this is that “A person cannot literally be a covenant.” (N. 15).  We know of course that Jesus is “the Mediator of the New Covenant” (Heb. 9:15).  So shouldn’t that suffice?  I don’t think we can leave it there.  There are a few problems with it.

The first problem with claiming that Isaiah 42:6 refers to Christ as the Mediator of a covenant for the people is that the text simply does not say that.  Neither does it say it in Isaiah 49:

‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,
That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” – Isa. 49:6

It may be correct to supply the noun in these passages, but we should not be too hasty here.  We might ask, “Why can’t a person be a covenant?”  The answer one is likely to receive is that a covenant is an agreement external to the parties making it.  That is certainly true is the cases of the covenants with Noah, Abraham, and David.  But is it true of the New Covenant?

Sticking with Israel for the present, we may ask just what future Israel will believe so that they become a New Covenant people?  The writer of Hebrews puts Jesus at the center of the picture.  In Hebrews 2:9-13 this is so, with verse 13 declaring “I will put my trust in Him.”

The Argument of Hebrews 9

Then in Hebrews 9 the argument is carefully constructed to point attention to this very thing.  The first 10 verses of the chapter set up the reasoning with their depiction of the limitations of the Levitical High Priest in entering yearly (yet recurringly)  into the most holy place at the Day of Atonement.  The next 5 verses (Heb. 9:11-15) describe how Jesus as the Melchizedekian High Priest entered the true tabernacle in Heaven with His own blood once for all.  He is rightly called “the Mediator of the New Covenant” in verse 15 because He is the High Priest.

The next 2 verses (viz. Heb. 9:16-17) will have to be dealt with later, but the passage continues down to verse 22 with teaching about the importance of the blood in the “first [Mosaic] covenant.”

As the argument continues we read of the necessity of blood to be sprinkled in Heaven (Heb. 9:23-24).  And then the point is made that Christ did not have to offer Himself often as with the animal sacrifices in the OT.  In fact we are assured that the reverse was true:  “not that He should offer Himself often” (Heb. 9:25a).  Rather,

but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. – Heb. 9:26b

Please take note here: In the Mosaic Covenant (as with the other covenants) the covenant sacrifice was external to the parties, as was the content of the solemn oath which was to be believed.  But that is not the case with the New Covenant!  With the New Covenant the sacrifice is not external to the One making the covenant.  It is God Himself (cf. Heb. 1:1-3, 6, 8, 10; Acts 20:28).  Whatismore, neither are the terms to be believed external.  Hebrews 9:28 states,

so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.   

Those who eagerly wait for Him are those who believe that “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.”  They are those who exercise faith in Him:

For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. – Heb. 4:2  

The Terms of the New Covenant Are About Christ

I am saying that the content of what is to believed in order to be included in the New Covenant is Jesus Christ Himself!  His Person and work form the faith-content of the oath.  Can a person be a covenant?  Why not, so long as faith in that person is the essential ingredient of it?  We are to believe in Jesus, not in a set of propositions separate from Him.

This is why Paul can refer to his ministry as being one of “ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit” in 2 Corinthians 3:6.

If we examine 2 Corinthians 3 we come across language remarkably close to the New Covenant language of Deuteronomy 30:4-5; Jeremiah 31:33, Isaiah 59:21 and Ezekiel 36:26-27.  Paul writes to the believers at Corinth without missing a beat:

clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. – 2 Cor. 3:3

Then the Apostle anticipates the argument of the author of Hebrews when he contrasts the difference in access to God between the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit which he is commissioned to preach! (2 Cor. 3:7-18).

There is more to say, but in my opinion I don’t think these connections have been fully considered and appreciated by many Dispensationalists.

 

 

 

 

My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 3)

Part Two

We all know that sin stops us from inheriting the kind of world God the Creator envisaged for us; a world of peace, joy, righteousness, justice, and glory, not to mention communion with the Lord Himself.

God set the world in  motion, permitting the Fall and the devastation that it has brought in its wake.  He made covenants with man; signposts and promises to the better world that He still intends to bring about:

  1. The Noahic covenant establishes this post-flood world in perpetuity until the New Heavens and New Earth are made. 
  2. The Abrahamic covenant ensures that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will always be a people before God, and that they will inherit a land (I tend to include the “Land covenant” here).  It also makes provision for God’s blessing to be spread among the other nations of the world through Israel. 
  3. The Priestly covenant promises the descendants of Phinehas (who would be Zadokites) that they would be granted an everlasting priesthood. 
  4. The Davidic covenant promises that an heir of David will always sit upon his throne.
  5. The bi-lateral Mosaic covenant binds Israel to God in a theocratic relationship based on obedience.

We may grant that each of these covenants has elements which can be explored further, but for my purpose the descriptions above will do.  I want to call attention to a startling fact.  As they stand not one of these divine covenants can be entirely fulfilled!  Their full realization is impossible.  Granted, blessing has come to the nations in the Person of Christ, an Israelite, through the Abrahamic Covenant, but it has not come to them as nations.  Furthermore, Israel is not in right relationship to God.  The dynasty of David in Israel is absent a king, and nobody can claim that the pledge to Phinehas (however difficult it may be to comprehend) is being fulfilled.  Yes, there will be no more global floods upon the earth.  But when all is said and done, there can be no transition to the New Creation from this sin-cursed old one.

Within all these great covenants and their gracious promises there is nothing that can  bring them to pass.  They have no provision for salvation built into them.  They stand as impotent in themselves as any prognostication from any false prophet in history.

Why so?  What is the problem?  The problem is and always has been “sin!”  Sin gets in the way.  Sin prevents the realization of God’s program for Creation.  So how does God deal with sin?

We all know the answer.  The answer is through faith in Jesus Christ.  Good!  Redemption is only through Him.  Jesus Christ is the means of salvation for sinners.  I might add here that the salvation of those saints who died before Christ is also wrought by or through Him, even if the content of their faith was not in a crucified Nazarene.

The New Covenant Deals with Sin

But there is a slight snag here.  I have already shown, and will show again, that the New Covenant is particularly concerned with the question of sin and salvation.  God can’t write his instruction on any mind and heart that has not first been changed (cf. Jer. 31:33).  He will have to save men if He is to sanctify them (cf. Jer. 31:34).  Further, we must ask what connection Christ’s sacrifice has to the covenants above?  Since He has come and made the way of salvation plain, what is the hold-up?  Why aren’t the unilateral covenants of God playing out now just as God promised?

Consider these verses which are usually identified with the New Covenant:

“The Redeemer will come to Zion,

And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,”
Says the LORD.

“As for Me,” says the LORD, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the LORD, “from this time and forevermore.” – Isa. 59:20-21

They are aimed at Israel, just as Jeremiah 31 is.  And the covenant mentioned in verse 21 has close affinities with Jeremiah 31:31-34.  The wording is different but the sentiment is the same.  But in Isaiah the Spirit is promised, exactly as He is in those accepted New covenant passages in Isaiah 32:15, Ezekiel 36:26-28, Joel 2:28f., and Zechariah 12:10.

Notice again that the covenant has to do with God’s Spirit, which also coincides with the arrival of the Redeemer to turn away transgression in Jacob.  According to Paul, this passage awaits fulfillment (Rom. 11:26), so it cannot be connected with the first advent.  The great promises of the other covenants are being held up, as it were, until the second advent.  They depend upon it.  When Israel receives the New Covenant the other covenants will be triggered.

An Initial Compilation

If we gather together the various elements of this passage and the work of Christ I have been discussing this is what we get:

  1. Israel as a nation needs to be saved
  2. Without Israel’s salvation the other divine covenants cannot go into full effect
  3. Salvation is wrought by Jesus Christ alone
  4. In order to receive Christ’s salvation one must believe in Him
  5. Believers receive the Holy Spirit
  6. When Israel’s sins are redeemed they receive the Spirit and are changed
  7. Christ’s salvation is connected with a covenant (e.g. Isa. 59:20-21)
  8. The salvation of Israel is connected to the New covenant (Jer. 31:31-34).

Alright, whatever the connection between Jesus Christ and the New covenant is, there is a great deal of overlap.  I might even be so bold as to assert that Christ’s work is covenantal.  But it’s all good.  These passages are for Israel!

Isaiah 42 and Matthew 12

But we are not finished.  We need to remind ourselves of what Isaiah has said in chapters 42 and 49, both of which concern Christ as “the Servant” of Yahweh.  Matthew refers Isaiah 42:1-3 to Jesus.

that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 

“Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen,
My Beloved
 in whom My soul is well pleased!
I will put My Spirit upon Him,
And He will declare justice to the Gentiles,

A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench,
Till He sends forth justice to victory;

And in His name Gentiles will trust.” – Matt. 12:17-18, 20-21

Matthew then adds, “And in His name Gentiles will trust,” which is not in the passage, at least directly.  Yet it is what Isaiah is teaching.  If we continue with Isaiah for a few more verses this will be seen:

He will not fail nor be discouraged,
Till He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”

Thus says God the LORD,
Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it,
Who gives breath to the people on it,
And spirit to those who walk on it:

“I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness,
And will hold Your hand;
I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the Gentiles – Isa. 42:4-6

The “coastlands” (‘iy) of verse 4 are almost certainly not the coast of Israel.  The term refers to habitable land; to the islands and land masses.  The “earth” (‘eretz) can and does refer to Israel, but not here.  Its repetition in verse 5, where it is set in opposition to the heavens, together with the mention of the “peoples” (‘am), means that the context demands that the whole earth is being spoken of; and this provides the way for the explicit promise to the Gentiles in verse 6.  Matthew sees this and summarizes it with “And in His name Gentiles will trust.”

The verses are about Jesus Christ.  And they are about salvation being brought to the Gentiles.  And they are about Christ being trusted by the Gentiles.  And they are about Christ being called “a covenant.”

Which covenant could Christ be?