THE NEW COVENANT: Part 1 – Out With The Old

At big transitions in our lives (birthdays, anniversaries, New Years, graduations, retirement, etc), we put the past behind us and look forward to an exciting future.   Out with the old; in with the new.  This has made me think about the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.  Much of the New Testament is dedicated to understanding our relationship to the Old Covenant (the Law of Moses).

These days, most of us don’t talk about covenants very often, but they are significant concepts in the Scriptures.  They are promises, treaties, or agreements between two parties.  I’m not sure we get how important they are.  After all, the type of covenant we are most familiar with today is marriage in which a person promises oneself to their spouse for the rest of their life.  But look at how we treat marriages.  They are temporary and practically disposable.  Some marriages don’t even last a week.  Vows have become cute and clever rather than binding promises.  That’s not the way it works with God.  A promise with Him is binding and assured.

There are several covenants that God makes in the Old Testament.  God made a covenant with Noah about never again destroying the world with water (Gen. 9:9-11).  That covenant has existed for thousands of years and God has kept His promise.  Aren’t you thankful?  Fortunately, that is not the covenant being replaced.

God made another covenant with Israel when the people came out of Egypt and headed towards the Promised Land (which they would receive because God had made a promise and He keeps His promises).  At Mount Sinai, God made a covenant which included the Law of Moses along with blessings and curses.  The people promised that they would follow the Law (Ex. 19:8; 24:3,7) and God promised to richly bless them if they did (Lev. 26:1-13; Deut. 28:1-14) and to punish the nation if they did not (Lev. 26:14-39; Deut. 28:15-68).  Israel did not keep their promise.  God did.  As a result, the Old Covenant was a burden to the people of Israel.  It brought strife between them and God.

True to His word, God severely punished His people.  The northern kingdom was wiped out by the Assyrians.  Then, the Babylonians attacked the southern kingdom, defeated them, and took them into captivity.  During this time, when it seemed like the covenant might completely and permanently obliterate God’s people, Jeremiah received a promise about a new covenant.  “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah’” (Jer. 31:31).

Without this prophesy, the people of Israel would have had no reason to look for a new covenant or a new law or anything like that.  But because of this prophecy, we learn some important truths about the covenant being replaced.  First, we learn that the covenant was not sufficient.  “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second” (Heb. 8:7).  Second, by calling that first covenant “old” we learn that it would become obsolete and disappear (Heb. 8:13).

And so, just as the past is gone and we cannot go back to it, we understand that the Law of Moses had an expiration date and we can’t go back to it either.  It is still a covenant that came from God.  It is still God’s word.  It is still very valuable for us to learn from, but we can’t go back.

The Old Covenant was in place for nearly 1,500 years.  You can understand why the Jewish people would struggle to accept that it was being replaced.  The prophecy from Jeremiah was not enough for some of them.  Fortunately, God gives us additional statements regarding our changed relationship with the Old Law.  “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (Rom. 7:4).  We are also told that this Law of commandments was “abolished” (Eph. 2:15) and was “nailed to the cross” (Col. 2:14).

As for the New Covenant which would replace the Old, Jesus references it when He instituted the Lord’s Supper.  He offered the disciples some fruit of the vine and said, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28).  This is the New Covenant that would be better than the Old.  This is the one which God has made with us and continues to this day.  What makes this New Covenant so special and so much better than the Old?  That is the question the next articles aim to answer.