What is the New Covenant?Question: "What is the New Covenant?"
Answer: The New Covenant (or New Testament) is the promise that God makes with humanity that He will forgive sin and restore fellowship with those whose hearts are turned toward Him. Jesus Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, and His death on the cross is the basis of the promise (Luke 22:20). The New Covenant was predicted while the Old Covenant was still in effect—the prophets Moses, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all allude to the New Covenant.
The Old Covenant that God had established with His people required strict obedience to the Mosaic Law. Because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), the Law required that Israel perform daily sacrifices in order to atone for sin. But Moses, through whom God established the Old Covenant, also anticipated the New Covenant. In one of his final addresses to the nation of Israel, Moses looks forward to a time when Israel would be given “a heart to understand” (Deuteronomy 29:4, ESV). Moses predicts that Israel would fail in keeping the Old Covenant (verses 22–28), but he then sees a time of restoration (30:1–5). At that time, Moses says, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (verse 6). The New Covenant involves a total change of heart so that God’s people are naturally pleasing to Him.
The prophet Jeremiah also predicted the New Covenant. “‘The day will come,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. . . . But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,’ says the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people’” (Jeremiah 31:31, 33). Jesus Christ came to fulfill the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17) and to establish the New Covenant between God and His people. The Old Covenant was written in stone, but the New Covenant is written on our hearts. Entering the New Covenant is made possible only by faith in Christ, who shed His blood to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Luke 22:20 relates how Jesus, at the Last Supper, takes the cup and says, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (ESV).
The New Covenant is also mentioned in Ezekiel 36:26–27, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel lists several aspects of the New Covenant here: a new heart, a new spirit, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and true holiness. The Mosaic Law could provide none of these things (see Romans 3:20).
The New Covenant was originally given to Israel and includes a promise of fruitfulness, blessing, and a peaceful existence in the Promised Land. In Ezekiel 36:28–30 God says, “Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. . . . I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine.” Deuteronomy 30:1–5 contains similar promises related to Israel under the New Covenant. After the resurrection of Christ, Gentiles were brought into the blessing of the New Covenant, too (Acts 10; Ephesians 2:13–14). The fulfillment of the New Covenant will be seen in two places: on earth, during the Millennial Kingdom; and in heaven, for all eternity.
We are no longer under the Law but under grace (Romans 6:14–15). The Old Covenant has served its purpose, and it has been replaced by “a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22). “In fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6).
Under the New Covenant, we are given the opportunity to receive salvation as a free gift (Ephesians 2:8–9). Our responsibility is to exercise faith in Christ, the One who fulfilled the Law on our behalf and brought an end to the Law’s sacrifices through His own sacrificial death. Through the life-giving Holy Spirit who lives in all believers (Romans 8:9–11), we share in the inheritance of Christ and enjoy a permanent, unbroken relationship with God (Hebrews 9:15).
Recommended Resource: The Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns
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