Theology Tuesday- Covenant Theology #9
Last time, we looked at the covenant with David. Today, we look at the new covenant, the final stage and consummation of the covenant of grace.
About 350 years after David ruled Israel, the prophet Jeremiah prophesied, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
The Lord, through Jeremiah, was saying that He will make a new covenant that is different from the covenant that they had broken. Part of that new covenant will entail God writing the law on the hearts of His people and Him fully claiming them as His people.
Six hundred years later, a Jewish rabbi would claim to put this new covenant into effect. In the Gospel of Matthew we see Jesus and his disciples celebrating the feast of Passover together: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26-28).
Passover was the celebration of the events of the Exodus- when God, through Moses, brought His people out of slavery in Egypt. As part of their rescue, God sent a series of plagues on Pharaoh and Egypt, culminating in the death of all the firstborn sons in Egypt. In order for the Israelites not to also lose their firstborn sons, they had to put blood from a lamb over their doorsteps so that the angel of death would ‘pass over’ them and spare their children. By making a covenant in the middle of this feast, Jesus is endowing the feast with new meaning; He is saying that the Exodus is a foreshadowing of His work. He will be the lamb whose blood is slain to rescue God’s people from slavery to sin and from death.
Now, notice something interesting here. Remember that covenants are ‘sovereignly administered,’ that they are initiated and dictated by the more powerful party in the relationship. And, in the Old Testament, every covenant is initiated by God, who either spoke directly to the covenant recipient or spoke through one of His prophets. But, here in Matthew 26, it is a man who is initiating the covenant. Jesus is telling us, one more time if we have ears to hear, that He is God in the flesh, with the power and authority to build relationships between heaven and earth.
The bigger picture we need to see here is that Jesus is the goal of the covenant of grace that we’ve been tracing throughout the Bible. He perfectly kept the stipulations of the covenant and fulfilled all the blessings and curses of the covenant. He is the ‘Seed of the Woman’ who will crush the head of evil that the covenant with Adam prophesied. He is the One who took the wrath of God for sin that the flood and the rainbow in the sky foreshadowed in the covenant with Noah. He is the means by which Abraham would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and by which those descendants would have land (the new heavens and the new earth) on which they can find rest and eternal flourishing. He is One who perfectly kept the law given in the covenant with Moses, and He is the Son of David who will reign on the throne of heaven forever.
Jesus fulfills all the hopes of Israel throughout the Old Testament. He kept the terms of the covenant of grace on behalf of humanity by being perfectly obedient. And so, for all those who put their faith in Christ, we are considered by God to be covenant keepers. And, He took the full force of the curses of the covenant when He died on the cross. Now, instead of getting the curses of the covenant, we who are in Christ get the blessings.
Now, a big question that we must answer quickly is: how is the new covenant both different and the same as the old covenant (a term summarizing all of the covenants that came before Christ)? Because the book of Hebrews says that the new covenant is better than the old covenant: “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second” (Hebrews 8:6-7).
First, let’s look at how the two covenants are similar. Both are built on the same promises made to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Both are administered by the same sovereign God who is both holy and loving. Both are only fulfilled by Jesus Christ.
Now, let’s look at how they are different. The old covenant was based on shadows and types (like imperfect prophets, priests, and kings), while the new covenant is based on the reality (Jesus, the perfect prophet, priest, and king). The old covenant required continual offerings for sin that accomplished temporary ceremonial purity, but the new covenant has one perfect sin offering (Christ on the cross) that accomplished true, perfect holiness. The old covenant was temporary, the new covenant is its fulfillment and is eternal (Heb. 8:13).
Michael Williams writes, “The new covenant is not, after all, categorically new. The difference is redemptive-historical. That is to say, it is not a difference between two categorically different religions, or two different sorts of covenant relationship between God and humankind. It is rather a single unfolding covenant story that moves toward greater levels of fulfillment of divine promise.”
In other words, this was God’s plan all along. Throughout the Old Testament, in all the covenants He made, He was progressively revealing Himself and the work that only Jesus Christ could accomplish. And now, the covenant is complete, and we who trust in Christ are given full access to our Sovereign God, to live in perfect relationship for all eternity.
Next week, we’ll finish our series on covenant theology by looking at the implications of holding to this view of covenant theology and how it is different from another view of the Bible: dispensationalism.