Saturday, December 5, 2015

Covenants Defined Part VII - The New Covenant

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This is it. This is what all the uncountable number of man hours has been building toward. My goal in assembling every mention of the word covenant has been for the purpose of understanding the new covenant so that I may have a better grasp of what the Bible teaches.
Here’s what we know coming into it:

A covenant is when one or both heads of families freely promise to do good to the other. Ongoing faithfulness to the promises is essential for continuing the new relationship.
Optionally there can be a historic preamble; a mediator; witnesses; a declaration of the blessings of continuing in, or consequences for breaking these promises; a sacrifice; or a sign given.

We also know that God has been using covenants as a way to reveal the person of Jesus, and that salvation by grace through faith. Covenants may be broken through infidelity, and being in a covenant with God does not necessarily save someone. When a sign is given to the head of the house when covenanting, the sign is automatically applied to everyone within the house.
Jeremiah 31 aside, this is what the Bible has to say about the new covenant.


It’s made with Israel

  • The remembrance of the behavior of the people under the old covenant will cause shame (Ezek 16:61) and the ark of the covenant will be lost and forgotten because of the splendor of the new covenant will overshadow it (Jer 3:16).
  • Israel will pass under the rod to get into the covenant (Ezek 20:37).

[That the old is going to pass away is similar to Heb 8:13.]


It’s Community Will be Bigger

  • The Gentiles will seek out this new covenant (Jer 50:5) and God’s name will be known among them because of it (Is 61:8).
  • In the new covenant eunuchs will be included in the assembly of God’s people as well as strangers, where as in the old covenant they were not included (Deut 23:1).

[That the gentiles will seek after it is similar to the story in Acts 10:19. That the assembly of God is getting bigger to include gentiles and eunuchs is like Acts 11:18 and Acts 8:27]


This Covenant Will Last Forever

  • It will be an everlasting covenant, according to the sure mercies of David (Is 55:3). This indicates the new covenant is also a result of the Davidic covenant in some way.
  • God will not turn away from doing good to the people in the New Covenant (Jer 32:40).
  • The sanctuary will be in the midst of the people forever (Ezek 37:26).
  • It will be a covenant of peace that won’t depart; a sure mercy (Isa 54:10). Under it even the animals will be at peace (Ezek 34:25, Hos 2:18 very much like the covenant with Noah).
  • God will put His fear into their hearts, and they will not depart from Him (Jer 32:40).
  • God’s words will never depart from the people’s mouth or their children’s children, but His spirit will be upon them forever (Is 59:20-21).

[That the new covenant is eternal sounds like Heb 13:20. That the sanctuary will be among the people forever is likely because we worship in Spirit and Truth, not on some hill, John 4:21. That we will have peace through Christ is evidenced by verses like Acts 10:36, or Gal 6:16. That even the animals will have peace is like Rom 8:19-23. That our children are included in the community seems similar to the language used in Acts 2:39.]


It is Messianic

  • The Messiah Himself will be given as a covenant for Israel (Is 42:6, 49:8).
  • The blood of this covenant will set the prisoners free from the waterless pit (Zech 9:11).

[That the messiah will be the new covenant and will shed blood fits with Luke 22:20, Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins.” The freedom portion seems to be proved in the dead being set free, Matt 28:53 or Eph 4:8]


Something is Missing

So in this new covenant God will never cease to do good to Israel and the Gentiles nor depart from them. The question that immediately jumps to mind is, how? Given our sinfulness how can we be right with a holy God? The answer up until this point has been to have faith in the messiah and offer your imperfect sacrifice in the temple, but given the fallenness of humanity this is known to be an invalid solution. Based on history we might hazard a guess and say that this time around God is going to help us keep the law perfectly. But fortunately we don’t need to speculate about that, all we need to do is turn to Jeremiah 31.


The New Covenant

Historic Preamble:Behold, the days come,” saith the LORD, “that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which My covenant they broke, although I was a husband to them,” saith the LORD. (Jer 31:31-32).
Messenger: John the Baptist (Mal 3:1)
Head of the First Family: God
Head of the Second Family: Jesus (Eph 1:22, 4:15, Col 1:18, 2:10, 19)
Mediator: Jesus (1 Tim 2:5, Heb 8:6, 9:15, 12:24)
God’s Promise:
  1. I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts (Jer 31:33, Heb 8:10).
  2. They shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD”: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest (Jer 31:34, Heb 8:11).
  3. I shall be their God, and they shall be My people (Jer 31:33, Heb 8:10).
  4. I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer 31:34, Rom 11:27, Heb 8:12).
Clauses of Blessings, Disobedience, Definitions: None listed here. Although if Heb 10:29 is referring to the New Covenant (which seems very likely), then those who have stepped on the Son of God and counted the blood of the covenant as an unholy thing will receive a fearful and terrible punishment.
Sacrifice: Jesus (The inaugural sacrifice is Christ Himself! Heb 9:16-18). This time, unlike how all the previous covenants had the sacrifices either before or after, the sacrifice happens at the same time the covenant is made.
Also, this time, unlike the other covenants, the feast happens before the sacrifice is made.
Sign: None explicitly mentioned.

There are three options here: there is no sign, or one or both sacraments are the sign, or something else is the sign, something like prayer. To the first, that there is no sign for the new covenant, the only argument I can see in favor of it is that nowhere in the old or new testament does the Bible say, “The sign of the New Covenant is X.” Because it’s not explicit therefore it doesn’t exist. This doesn’t seem terribly compelling, but the absence of any statement where there was no ambiguity before does give me pause.

As for one of the sacraments being the sign, let’s start with baptism since I see three arguments for it, as opposed to the two for the Lord supper.

First, there seems to be a pairing between baptism and circumcision in Col 2:11, which would indicate that it is for us what circumcision was for Abraham, namely as Romans 4:11 teaches, a sign and seal of the promised righteousness by faith. So if baptism and circumcision are related then Baptism is the sign of the covenant.
Secondly, the historical record in the New Testament has every adult conversion paired with baptism. We also know Jesus commanded baptism for all people who were discipled. This matches up with what Paul says in Rom 6:4 that we are buried with Christ through baptism so that we should walk in newness of life.
Thirdly, just as the previous signs were spoken of as being the covenant itself (in synecdotal fashion), baptism is shorthand for salvation. Take for example 1 Peter 3:21 which speaks of baptism saving us, or Acts 2:38-39 where Peter commands them to be baptized for the remission of sin.

On the other hand, if a sign is given for remembrance like it was during the covenant with Noah then the sign is clearly the Lords supper since Jesus commanded us to take it in remembrance of Him.
Secondly, at the last supper Jesus held up the bread and announced that it was His body (Luke 22:19), signifying that the bread represented Him, or was a sign for Him. The cup which was referred to as the New Covenant (Luke 22:20) was likewise symbolizing the offering He made. Further, the warning to take the Lords Supper seriously bears a strong resemblance to the covenant curses for disobedience.

For completeness sake the sign might be neither sacraments but something else. Perhaps the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance and the seal of the new covenant? Aside from the fact that that’s not visible this seems like a solid answer.

But which one’s right? I’m not sure. What feels intuitively correct is to see baptism as the sign of the entrance into the new covenant, and the Lords Supper as the ongoing participation in the feast that the New Covenant brought us. Just as the covenant was renewed with Abraham and his descendants, so we renew our blessing through the remembrance of the festal sacrament. But I’m not going to be dogmatic about it, particularly since this is a side track and I want to work through the interpretation of the New Covenant.

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