The New Covenant … A Much Better Way
The Golden Age of Israel and its kings was nearing an end. Soon after Solomon’s reign ended in 930 BC, the Jewish nation had split into two kingdoms, with the northern kingdom falling first to the mighty Assyrian Empire in 722 BC. Despite ominous warnings of destruction from the mouth of the weeping prophet, Jeremiah, the southern kingdom would also succumb to an even greater empire, Babylon.
Jeremiah’s prophecies foretold the disaster that would befall Judah if she continued on her evil path of disobedience; of decadence that often exceeded the wickedness of the Gentile nations for whom Israel was to bear the torch of God’s light and share the eternal word of the Sovereign God of the Universe. Time and time again, Jeremiah (and other prophets) uttered words of warning such as: “Your wickedness will bring its own punishment. Your turning from me will shame you. You will see what an evil, bitter thing it is to abandon the Lord your God and not to fear him. I, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!” (Jeremiah 2:19).
Yet like Isaiah, whose prophecies often spoke of the coming Messiah who would redeem, rescue, and then reestablish Israel as a beacon light to the nations; so, too, did Jeremiah offer hope and encouragement to God’s special possession, the Jews. But it came in the form of a most remarkable and unexpected prophecy; a promise that would forever change and ultimately replace the very foundation of their faith, of their individual and national relationship to Almighty God. This astounding prediction came just a few years before the 10-year series of Babylonian crusades against Judah, culminating in the ruthless defeat of Israel including the devastating destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple in 586 BC.
It was a promise that would be fulfilled in and accomplished by Messiah, himself. A promise that would divide time itself. One that would separate the Old from the New. One that would do what no one else could do but God himself: change stone into flesh … write God’s instructions of life, love, hope, and peace not just on stone tablets, but on the human heart. A promise that would produce so great a salvation unlike anything ever contemplated or even imagined. An unconditional gift that required nothing from those to whom the gift was given, except merely to believe it was true and receive the Gift-bearer, himself … none other than Messiah Jesus.
It would usher in a whole new epoch of mankind’s relationship to the Creator; an era that would see Divine righteousness imputed to Jew and Gentile alike, through God’s unconditional, unmerited, and unearned favor and mercy to the human race. It would be a new exciting incomparable: AGE OF GRACE.
Jeremiah vividly described how and through whom this New Covenant would be accomplished: “In those days and at that time I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. In that day Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this will be its name: ‘The Lord is Our Righteousness’” (Jeremiah 33:15-16).
Such a phenomenal plan! Such an astonishing agreement! How could such a thing be done—to eliminate the Old Covenant which required every person’s obedience to every one of God’s laws in order to achieve a right standing before God? Something which no one has ever been able to attain (on their own) or ever will achieve through self-effort. Jeremiah tells us that such a thing will be possible through, “a righteous descendant from King David.” Another prophet also explained how this would happen: “…my righteous servant (Messiah) will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins … because he exposed himself to death … He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels” (Isaiah 53:11-12).
A New Way … A New Covenant!
Less than a generation before Israel suffered (at that time) the greatest calamity ever experienced by a nation—indescribable personal torment and national distress, massive loss of life, and deportation of the survivors—here is what the prophet Jeremiah said God would do for Israel sometime after their return from Babylonian captivity:
“The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife, says the Lord. But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord. I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people … And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Undoubtedly, many who heard or read these words from Jeremiah recalled the written words of Moses who reminded his people just a short time before Joshua led the Hebrews into the Promised Land: “The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Mount Sinai” (Deuteronomy 5:2). Then in verses six through twenty-one of that same chapter, Moses repeated the Ten Commandments to the congregation of Israel.
Equally certain is that some Jews at that time, particularly those who still followed the Lord to some extent or another, must have been stunned at this prophecy. It was amazing enough for Jeremiah to predict complete Babylonian conquest of Israel, demolition of the Temple, then exiled captivity in Babylon for exactly seventy years (all of which came to pass). That alone was beyond belief, even though Judah’s kings, priests, and common people knew all too well what had befallen the northern kingdom of Israel over one hundred years earlier. In near or complete denial, they simply couldn’t or wouldn’t accept the reality of God allowing a foreign pagan nation to destroy the Temple in which God’s very presence dwelled. However, by this time, they were too far gone in their own worship of pagan gods to realize that God had left the Temple (see the Book of Ezekiel).
But even those who yielded to the reality of it all—beginning with King Nebuchadnezzar’s first campaign against Israel in 605 BC (at which time the prophet Daniel was taken prisoner and deported to Babylon)—couldn’t remotely fathom a completely NEW COVENANT initiated by God to replace the Covenant of the Law given to them through Moses. Using today’s vernacular, it must have blown them away.
Most Jews to this very day still haven’t conceptualized the mind-boggling reality that God, himself, would replace the Mosaic Law with another Covenant that would fundamentally dissolve the twofold requirements of the old way: (1) self-merited keeping of God’s regulations, commands, and decrees; (2) the ongoing sacrificial offerings of animals to cover their ongoing sins.
Those who have half-way acknowledged the truth of Jeremiah’s astounding prophecy, believe that this New Covenant is still a future event—one that will take place only when Messiah comes. With this misunderstanding a direct result of not knowing or accepting both the clearly stated and implied Old Testament predictions that Messiah would first arrive as a servant (God’s once and for all sacrificial Lamb of Salvation); then return as the Lion from the Tribe of Judah to set up the eternal Kingdom of God on the earth.
Out with the Old, In with the New
In previous and subsequent chapters, Jeremiah frequently and explicitly explains exactly why God’s patience had finally run out. For example, in Jeremiah’s prayer to God he states: “Our ancestors came and conquered it (the Promised Land) and lived in it, but they refused to obey you or follow your word. They have not done anything you commanded. That is why you have sent this terrible disaster upon them” (Jeremiah 32:23).
A New Covenant would be made with Israel, one that would last forever. Why would God do something so drastic as to replace the Mosaic Covenant of Law which was the very foundation of Judaism? The answer is both sad and simple: Because the Jews deliberately chose not to obey and follow God. Although the Lord patiently waited for Israel to return to him over a period of several hundred years, they wouldn’t listen to the Lord their God.
Not only wouldn’t they obey, by this time in Israel’s history it was all too evident that they couldn’t keep the Law of Moses, not the way that really mattered to God. Literally, their heart was not in it.
Even those who somewhat consistently kept the Sabbath and observed the High Holy Days and Festivals and performed the necessary sacrificial offerings did so more out of ritual obligation that a deep heartfelt desire to please and honor the God of Israel. Consequently, their hearts became hard as stone. The prophet Isaiah appropriately accused the Israelites of paying lip service to God but refusing to honor him in/with their hearts. The Jews never came to terms with the real spirit of trusting and obeying God from a heart of gratitude instead of their superficial selfish (what’s in it for me) attitude.
Later, after the New Covenant was established, the Apostle Paul would reinforce what was already crystal clear through some 1500 hundred years of trying to keep the law. It simply couldn’t be done. The reason: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23). The standard referred to by Paul was none other than the Mosaic Law in its’ entirety.
However, immediately following this profound universal exposure of man’s inherent sin nature and propensity to sin, Paul presents an incredible contrast, a wonderful God-initiated solution to what would otherwise be an unsolvable predicament: “Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins” (Verse 24).
The Law of Moses was a perfect representation of God’s expectations of the human race, but it could not save those who tried to keep the laws because of man’s gross imperfections. Because human beings possess an innate desire to merit (God’s) favor by good works and ritual, almost robot-like observance of God’s or man-made requirements, God gave them plenty of time to prove whether they would or wouldn’t, could or couldn’t do just that. Finally, God would step in and intervene with a New Covenant, a New Way that would solve the problem of sin and the separation from God caused by sin.
And so, a New Covenant between God and man would be introduced by Messiah. A relationship between God and man which would enable each and every person who personally believes in and accepts the Messiah of this New Covenant to become his/her own priest with direct access at any time, any place to God’s very presence. A new changed heart of flesh to replace a heart of stone.
As the prophet Ezekiel wrote during the Babylonian captivity of his people to amplify Jeremiah’s words that God would write his instructions on the hearts of his people: “And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20, italics for emphasis).
For you see, God desires love and respect from a grateful, willing heart; not unlike parents who want their child to respond and relate to them because the child longs to, not because the child has to. Only with this kind of response would the Jews (and now Gentiles, too) truly be God’s people.
Exactly What Is Grace?
Several passages in Scripture offer a specified or implied definition of Grace, which is: God’s unmerited favor. Even a secular source such as Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary recognizes the Biblical standard when it defines grace as: “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.”
This New Covenant of Grace took effect when Messiah Jesus was crucified on the cross and arose from the dead. Jesus announced that he was the mediator of the New Covenant when shortly before his crucifixion he told his disciples: “…This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:20). Then the Apostle Paul further attested to the advent of this tremendous New Covenant with these words to Timothy, “For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time” (I Timothy 2:5-6).
That “right time” was the first appearance of Messiah to his people and the whole world. “And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
As indicated, the majority of today’s Jews, indeed, for most Jews down through the past sixteen or seventeen centuries, do not yet believe this New Covenant is in place. Because they refuse to accept Jesus Christ as Messiah. But not all! Both amazing and ironic is the fact that for many years after Messiah Jesus’s mission was accomplished and he returned to heaven in preparation for his glorious return, nearly all Christians were Jews. Thousands upon thousands recognized that Jeremiah’s prophecy of this New Covenant was fulfilled in Christ Jesus … that he, in fact, was the long-awaited Messiah. They staked their very lives on him, because of the indisputable evidence that he has arisen from the grave.
Slowly, but inevitably, those who placed their trust in Christ were mostly Gentiles, as many Jewish believers were exiled from Israel and/or gradually reverted back to Orthodox Judaism, mixing the Law of Moses with the Grace of God; thereby, leading new generations of Jews back to the old system of keeping the law as a basis for salvation. Yet this was done without the Levitical sacrificial system, which was abolished when the Roman Legions destroyed the Temple in 70 AD. They ended up in complete denial that the Levitical sacrificial system had been replaced once and for all by the prophesied redemptive death of the Son of God, the Son of David, and the Son of Man—all titles and positions held by Jesus Christ.
Even more disastrous was the formation of the Roman Catholic Church and Roman Catholicism, the Holy Roman Empire that replaced the secular Roman Empire of the first four centuries. This was not, I repeat not, the true church. (Please see Eye of Prophecy articles on the Woman and the Beast, Part I through VI under the category of Antichrist). Beginning in the 4th century and carried out periodically to and beyond the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Pogroms, the Holocaust, and other lesser known episodes during these Dark years, the Catholic Church persecuted and killed many Jews directly and by complicity. It’s no wonder that most Jews today want nothing to do with Jesus Christ, as they equate him with the horrors perpetrated on them by this organization that, itself, denies salvation exclusively through faith in God’s unmerited favor. Substituting Grace with a system of Church membership, baptism, and sacramental good works to achieve right standing with God.
God’s unique love for Israel (for salvation comes through the Jews) and his love for all peoples was unconditional. But this love turned out to be unrequited. The Jewish people broke the very covenant (time and again) that God gave them as the reasonable means of maintaining a right relationship with a holy God. God was willing to forgive their sins and trespasses if they followed the equally significant and mandatory need to offer animal sacrifices for those sins. All that was necessary was a genuine repentance (I’m sorry, Lord, for the wrong I’ve done) when those sacrifices were offered. But the people couldn’t and wouldn’t even do that. Their individual and collective heart was rock-hard, not a soft heart full of gratitude … willing to obey out of love and respect.
So, the Lord would replace the Mosaic Covenant of Law with a brand new Covenant of Grace which made it so much easier to gain and maintain a permanent pardon from and right standing with God. Keeping the Law of Moses could never be the means to salvation, for that was impossible to do in the first place. God would do for them (for us) what they could not do for themselves. He (not his unfaithful people) would provide and execute the ultimate, final sacrifice—God himself, through his Son, Messiah Jesus. This is the magnificent New Covenant of Grace … God’s free gift to the human race.
Modern-Day Rebirth of Israel and Resurgence of Grace
Listen to one of the most unlikely of Jews ever to yield to the New Covenant Gospel of Grace, the once diehard Jewish Pharisee, steeped in the Law of Moses, with a heart as hard as granite miraculously transformed into a heart of love and compassion for all unbelievers, especially for his own people.
“Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God” (Romans 10:1-4).
*Note: If someone else was able to, without sin, keep every commandment of God, able to fulfill every requirement necessary to achieve a right standing with God; furthermore, to die in the place of those sentenced to death because of terrible sins against God and people (all of us), wouldn’t you accept God’s pardon and receive Jesus as your substitute Savior if that’s all God wanted from you!?
Paul continues: “For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands. But faith’s way of getting right with God says …’The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.’ And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved” (Romans 10:5-10).
In the last 50 years or so, we have witnessed a phenomenal renaissance of the true Gospel of Christ reaching Jews all over the world; thousands of Jews responding to their Scriptures and recognizing that Jesus is truly their (the) Messiah. Though the greater numbers are still spiritually blind to the truth of God’s New Covenant of Grace, one day (very soon) all of Israel will believe in Christ. But only when they are on the brink of annihilation at the hands of a deadly coalition led by the Antichrist. Then, their partial blindness will give way to eyes fully opened to see, ears spiritually unplugged to hear, and hearts divinely softened to absorb the mighty love and power of Messiah Jesus.
It’s no mere coincidence that the miraculous rebirth of the nation of Israel, preceded by and followed even more substantially by return of millions of Jews to the Promised Land has given rise to an increasing number of spiritually reborn Jews throughout the world. Though the spiritual revival has not kept pace with the physical restitution, it will one day very soon catch up to the incredible rebirth of Israel. The spiritual restoration will match and exceed the physical rejuvenation of the land.
At that time the Age of Grace which is currently manifested as the Kingdom of Heaven in the hearts and minds of Jews and Gentiles alike will become the magnificent Kingdom of God on this earth. (See last week’s Eye of Prophecy article, Kingdom of God).
The following passage summarizes the now and then of it all: “Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. Once, you Gentiles were rebels against God, but when the people of Israel rebelled against him, God was merciful to you instead. Now they are the rebels, and God’s mercy has come to you so that they, too, will share in God’s mercy. For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone” (Romans 11:28-31).
What Paul means by God imprisoning everyone in disobedience is that God will allow anyone to remain in their prison of disobedience if that’s want they want. He will not forcefully overturn a person’s deliberate decision to remain under sin’s lock and key by refusing to accept God’s provision and pardon to escape this imprisonment. Moreover, the only means of escaping the death sentence that sin imposes is recognition of God’s Mercy and acceptance of God’s Grace by believing in their heart and confessing with their mouth that Jesus is both Savior and Lord.
On that great and glorious Day of the Lord, the day when Christ Jesus will rescue Israel from certain extinction at the hands of insurmountable forces (the end of the Great Tribulation), all of Israel will see and believe and shout as their ancestors shouted when they hailed Messiah riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. “Baruch haba, beshem Adonai.” Blessed is he (Jesus) who comes in the name of the Lord (Father God).
No observant Jew in today’s world, nor even many secular Jews will dispute their Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament (Covenant). This includes prophecies of the Messiah and the advent of a New Covenant as predicted by Jeremiah. In fact, even many non-observant Jews passionately anticipate and embrace the coming of Messiah, to bring them hope for a prosperous future and protection from their enemies.
But the New Covenant is here! It arrived over two thousand years ago! How could anyone with an open mind, with any objectivity at all deny the historical fact that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. That he backed up this claim with incredible miracles, unmatched wisdom and teaching, unrivaled love and compassion by giving his very life for Israel and for the entire human race. Most of all … his astonishing resurrection from the dead.
All of these and more are a matter of historical record, based on eye-witness accounts. It’s as historically accurate and valid as any record of anyone who has ever lived or anything that has ever occurred. If one doesn’t believe the historicity of the Bible which has thousands more original manuscripts than any secular work in history, then no historical record is true—none whatsoever. Everything we’ve been told is a fable or a lie. Why should anyone believe that George Washington was our first United States President? Or any other documented historical event?
Furthermore, Jesus fulfilled all of the dozens of prophecies attributed to the Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures. I repeat for emphasis: ALL OF THEM.
Yes, my friend: Jesus (the New Covenant) is alive and well! And Jesus is the cornerstone of that Covenant. Listen to the words of the Apostle Peter who was asked by whose authority he made a crippled man walk. Said Peter to the religious leaders: “Let me clearly state to all of you and to all people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures where it says, ‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10-12).
Jesus gave us a New Way, a New Covenant, a New Hope. In fact, he IS the Way, the Covenant, and the Hope (of salvation and everlasting life). He is the express image of God. Through him God’s matchless Grace is freely given.
Things to Ponder
“You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors. But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles….” (Written by the Jewish Apostle Paul, formerly called Saul … Galatians 1:13-16).
Hopefully you’ll have the time to read the Book of Galatians in preparation for next week’s Eye of Prophecy article. But if not, read the article anyway!