Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
The New Covenant
by Doyle D. Dewberry
by William A. Webster
Text: Jeremiah 31:31-34
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 brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the Covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
This writer is convinced of this: If all we had was the Old Testament we would all be dispensationlists. Since they are caught up in the earthly significance of the nation Israel, they place a restoration of that nation in a future millennium, and the entire body of such is stamped primarily with the word "earthly". When we have the New Testament explanation of the Old Testament, we have the word "spiritually" emphasized. Paul said, For the natural man (that is, "soulish" which is all earthly man has) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them because they are SPIRITUALLY DISCERNED (1 Cor 2:14). And again, For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace (Rom 8:6). Paul informs us that God hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places (Eph 1:3) not earthly. It was Paul's desire the we be filled with all spiritual understanding (Col 1:9).
First, it is our aim to show that the Old Testament is viewed as earthly, and the New as spiritual.
A.W. Pink writing on the "Covenant Allegory" in Gal 4.24 where Sarah is represented as the Abrahamic Covenant which is of immense value in the New Covenant, or in the overall Everlasting Covenant. Hagar represents the Mosiac Covenant, and Mr. Pink shows the difference between the two. He is commenting on the passage where Sarah is called the mother of us all, and said this:
The reference is not to the church either visible or invisible, for she cannot be the parent of herself; rather is it the everlasting covenant of grace which is in view, in which were included all true believers. Thus the differences between the systems represented by Hagar and Sarah are: the one was EARTHLY, carnal, slavish, temporary; the other, heavenly, SPIRITUAL, free, eternal. (Caps mine)
Consider for a moment the contrast between the Old and New Testament. They had an earthly kingdom, we have a spiritual one. Paul again said, For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; (that is earthly) but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (and so spiritual). (Rom 14:17). David's kingdom was earthly, but Christ's heavenly. David's was patterned after the heavenly since it was a co-reign with Jehovah; so Christ is seated on that thone at the right hand of Father reigning. (Acts 2:25-36). John said of Him He is (presently) King of kings and Lord of lords.
Israel's temple was earthly while our's is heavenly. It was there that Christ entered to present the blood. When the Jews made mention of the temple to our Savior, He responded, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." They told Him it took forty-six years to build the temple, and you can rebuild it three days? While they were never told, we are by the writer, He spake of the temple of His body (John 2:19-21). This presents another truth: While many say they look to the "literal" interpretation of scripture, let it be seen that "spiritual is literal." While Jesus spoke in what many would call "spiritual", yet His body was a "literal" temple as there are more than one kind of temple.
We can now mention other contrasts. In the Old there were animal sacrifices, ours a spiritual (1 Pet 2:5) They had carnal ordinances (Heb 9:10) by earthly priests, while we have spiritual ones and our High Priest is in heaven. They are called a house which is earthly while Peter said we are a "spiritual house" (1 Pet 2:5). They had an earthly priesthood while we are called a "Royal (kingly) priesthood" (1 Pet 2:9). They were an earthly nation and we are called an "Holy Nation" (1 Pet 2:9). They had fleshly circumcision while we have "circumcision of the heart" (Rom 2:28-29). This is where the regenerated child of God is given a new heart, and it is with this heart he believes. (Rom 10,9-10).
Our text brings out two differences between the Testaments, one being the law. Under the Old it was written on tables of stone, and in the New in the inward parts, written on the heart; one earthly and the other spiritually understood. They were under the law of commandments in the Old, in the new it is the law of liberty. (James 2:10-12). Paul said, For we know the law is spiritual (Rom 7:14). And again, The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life (2 Cor 3:6). The book of Hebrews speaks to us of the law and calls it a carnal commandment (9:10).
The mode of teaching differs between them as well. Where human teachers are needed in the one, the other is accomplished by the divine. No doubt this is referring to the indwelling Spirit called the Spirit of truth, who is said will show us all things. (John 16:13). Jesus also spoke of the word given by the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me (John 6:45). For this same reason, John said, But the anointing which ye have received of abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you (1 John 2:27). The divine Teacher teaches effectually where Old Testament teachers did not as was demonstrated by Nicodemus who was ask concerning the new birth, Art thou a master (teacher) of Israel and knoweth not these things? (John 3:10).
Lastly we should consider the Old Covenant, the law, which is a covenant of works, and how it differs from the New Covenant which is a covenant of grace, which is said to be a better covenant. The former covenant required that which man must do to live, the latter depended on what the Lord did for man.
Man began with the requirements of works in Adam, but in the second Adam, that is in the spiritual it is not of works. (Eph 2:8,9). Consider Paul's contrast between Adam and Christ,
And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthly: the second man is the Lord from heaven (1 Cor 15:45-47).
The first Adam brought death; the second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, brought the resurrection from the dead: For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor 15:21-22).
Why do I remind you of all this? To show the contrast between the Old and the New Testament. The former displays the earthly nature and the latter the spiritual nature of the covenant. It is necessary to see this before one can understand for whom the new covenant applies which was spoken of by the prophets, especially Jeremiah 31:31-34. This covenant is only spiritual, yea not earthly or natural as some declare to day. It is not a covenant for a people returning to the land, the earthly Jerusalem, but one which is for a spiritual people in salvation bound for the New, yea the heavenly Jerusalem as the internal evidence in the text displays.
With regard to any future consideration for the nation Israel, one needs to consider Paul's allegory in Galatians 4. There he constrasts the two covenants using Sarah the freewoman as the new covenant, and Hagar the servant as the old covenant. What did he remind us of concerning Hagar, Cast out the bondwoman and saying further we are not the children of the bondwoman, but of the free (Gal 4:30,31). As Hagar's existence with Abraham was temporal, so the nation for whom she represents.
Secondly, the purpose of this message is to show how the New Covenant is not limited to Jews only, but also to Gentiles, where both make up the elect of God, the spiritual people, yea, the New Covenant people of God.
1. The Context accompanying the prophecy displays that which is applicable to both Jew and Gentile:
A beloved portion of the chapter by all the people of God is found in verse three. There Jeremiah says, I have loved thee with an everlasting love (31:3). When our Lord Jesus declared, as recorded in John 3:16, For God so loved the world, he includes Gentiles as well as Jews. Much to the dismay of many in the world, God does not love all, as we are told in Romans 9 He loved Jacob and hated Esau. This is the godly world, the spiritual people, those who were given to the Mediator of the Covenant to save before the foundation of the world (John 17). Peter spoke of God bringing in the flood on the "ungodly world" in the days of Noah (2 Pet 2:5), and it does not appear that God loved that world. Noah was of the godly world, even while a sinner himself, yet not in God's sight, as we are told Noah found grace. While God hates all workers of iniquity He loves all those for whom Christ died, whose iniquities have been removed. This is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world (Rev 13). It is in this context that Jeremiah told of the New Covenant.
Consider also 31:10 where we are told that our Lord would gather scattered Israel as a shepherd doth his sheep. You that love the Shepherd as revealed in John 10 know that Gentiles are included in those for whom the Shepherd gave His life. Of them we are told, And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: THEM ALSO I MUST BRING, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be ONE FOLD, and ONE SHEPHERD (John 10:16). Let the words "one" fold and shepherd weigh heavyly as to the work wrought on the cross. This speaks of the covenant, and it embraces all the people of God.
This is a good place to reveal what modern dispensationalist say concerning the New Covenant. Lewis Sperry Chafer, a leading premillennialist, and teacher in Dallas Seminary says this,
The eighth covenant is with Israel and conditions their life in the kingdom (cf Jer 31:31-34). It replaces and yet includes the Mosaic commandments (cf Deut 30:8), though in heightened form.
There remains to be recognized a heavenly covenant for the heavenly people, (in another volume mentioned as the nineth covenant) which is also styled like the preceding one for Israel a "new covenant." It is made in the blood of Christ (cf Mark 14:24) and continues in effect throughout this age, whereas the new covenant made with Israel happens to be future in its application. To suppose that these two covenants-one for Israel and one for the Church-are the same is to assume that there is a latitude of common interest between God's purpose for Israel and His purpose for the Church. Israel's covenant, however, is new only because it replaces the Mosaic, but the Church's covenant is new because it introduces that which is God's mysterious and unrelated purpose. Israel's new covenant rests specifically on the sovereign "I will" of Jehovah, while the new covenant for the Church is made in Christ's blood. Everything that Israel will yet have, to supply another contrast, is the present possession of the Church-and infinitely more.
In these two new covenants, the writer ignores the "one fold". Jeremiah does not even intimate there to be two new covenants. One can see the earthly emphasis of Israel's covenant, as it is not based on the blood, just sovereignty. It is not a spiritual covenant dealing with salvation, just a presence on the earth. The law is restored there though in a "heightened form". The church is called God's "mysterious and unrelated purpose." In this system, Israel has not progressed greatly from what they have always had, an earthly existence without the transforming and cleansing blood of Christ, and yet Israel has, not only what the church presently has, but "infinitely more" than the church. We shall attempt to show further how both entities are of one new covenant of grace.
We cannot continue unless we see another portion of the chapter relating to our proposition, and that is Rachel weeping for her children (31:15). This explains how this chapter, while using an event that was then presently occurring, but yet coming to past in New Testatment times. Chapter 30 appears to apply to the return of the people from captivity. (ver 18). We read this, however, in verse 24, In the latter days ye shall consider it. This is the area where some mistakenly see a return to the land. Yes the context does show such, but that is returning to the land from captivity, not to some future age. Verses 15-16 of our chapter tells us of Rachel weeping for her children, missing due to the great purge in the captivity. But verse 16 tells her to stop weeping, the children will return also.
So what appears, however, is that that return is not the fulfilling of this prophecy. This passage is used to explain the slaughter of innocents under Herod's hand at the birth of our Savior. (Matt 2). And notice what are we told there concerning this prophecy? Then WAS FULFILLED that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet (ver 17). This places the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah 31 in New Testament times, not in some later kingdom age, nor to another time during the present time when they will return to the land. While the Jew looked to it occurring then, the ultimate fullfilling was when Herod had children killed seeking to destroy the young Jesus, where many, no doubt, were in great mourning for the loss of their children.
The New Covenant takes place when it cannot be said, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge (31:29), but when every one shall die for his own iniquity; every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge (31:30). This places the action in New Covenant times where the children do not suffer from the sins of the fathers as in the Old, but for their own sins. This takes place in the time when it is said, There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek (that is Gentile) (Rom 10:12).
2. The New Testament (or Covenant) reveals that it is applied to one people consisting of former Jew and Gentile:
As Jeremiah 31:31-34 emphasizes this new covenant to be a covenant of salvation, not one of the restoration of the nation in a future kingdom age. This is true also in Hebrews chapter 8 where this covenant promise is given, and that not once, but again in chapter 10. Again, it is not a promise of a restoration of Israel in the land, but a covenant of salvation, and that to the church. The law put in the mind and written on the heart is not one where law is established again in a new age in a carnal sense; it is in a spiritual sense. The covenant of grace needs blood, not of the blood of bulls and goats (Heb 9:12-13), but requires the blood of Jesus Christ our Substitute. (ver 14). Consider Paul's words in the second chapter of Ephesians:
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past GENTILES in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and STRANGERS FROM THE COVENANTS OF PROMISE, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who some times were FAR OFF (See also Acts 2:39) are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made BOTH ONE, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself OF TWAIN ONE NEW MAN, so making peace; And that he might reconcile BOTH unto God IN ONE BODY by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were AFAR OFF, (that is Gentiles) and to them that were NIGH (that is Jews). For through him WE BOTH have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but FELLOWCITIZENS with the saints, and of the HOUSEHOLD OF GOD; and are built upon the foundation of the APOSTLES AND PROPHETS, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom ALL THE BUILDING fitly framed TOGETHER groweth unto AN HOLY TEMPLE in the Lord: In whom ye also are BUILDED TOGETHER for an HABITATION of God through the Spirit (Eph 2:11-22).
Notice the treasures which were Israel's possession which now the Gentiles also possess through this New Covenant of promise (ver 12). They were afar off but are brought nigh; they were two men and are now one; they were two bodies and are now one; they were a people without a country but are now fellowcitizens; they had no access to God but now access through one Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit; they had no household but are now builded together for an habitation of God; they had no foundation, which we can see in reading the Old Testament, but now are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets (Jeremiah included).
Romans the eleventh chapter explains much concerning the Jew and Gentile in the New Covenant. Pertaining to the Jew, God has not cast away His people WHICH HE FOREKNEW (11:2). Those He foreknew, according to Romans 8 are those who are the called according to his purpose (8:28-29). The castaways are those who reject in unbelief. Those who are not the castaways are identified as the remnant according to the election of grace (11:5).
Elijah faced the same frustration in identifying the true Israel. He was despondent at Israel's rejection in the face of so great a demonstration of God wrought with the prophets of Baal, but he was told of the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal(11:2-4). They were the true Jew to which are joined all those saved in the New Testament age, who represent "the house of Israel" of our text. If one considers the small amount in Elijah's day, we can well understand few being saved in time of the New Covenant. And above all, we should have no trouble seeing the limitation of the terms as their were many who had been of that house to which the future covenant could not apply. This covenant includes only those who have faith.
In light of New Testament revelation, one must see the difference between the spiritual Israel and the Israel according to the flesh (Rom 9:3; 1 Cor 10:18); for they are not all Israel which are of Israel (Rom 9:6), for the true Jew is not one outwardly as Paul proclaims, but inwardly who has had "circumcision of the heart, not of the flesh" (Rom 2:28-29). These are the ones called the Israel of God who are neither "circumcision" nor "uncircumcision" but new creations. (Gal 6:15-16)
Thus the true Israel is identified as branches on an "olive tree", and the believing Gentile as branches taken from a "wild olive tree" which branches have been graffed into the olive tree (Rom 11:17). What does this leave us? An olive tree bearing the true branches along with the branches from the wild one, and thus ONE TREE. If the believing Jew is included in the covenant, so the believing Gentile.
So what is Paul's conclusion? And so all Israel shall be saved, as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob (Rom 11:26). Within this verse we have an annoying word used with which many have a difficult time. It is the word "all". Now quite obviously it does not mean every Israelite out of the nation as many are not within the confines of salvation, nor will be. "All" very seldom means "all without exception" and this is one of those cases. The "all", if we let the context of the olive tree decide, means just the branches on that tree. And yea, it does mean all of them. No one else! We are here reading of the "true Israel"; the true which consists of both Jew and Gentile as both branches are abiding in the olive tree.
Admittedly this is a great mystery to man, but if it is what the word of God is saying we dare not doubt it, and if considered spiritually, it is literally to be understood. But now to see it fulfilling the covenant promised in Jeremiah which our text sets forth, consider the next verse. For this is MY COVENANT with them when I SHALL TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS (Rom 11:27).
Three things about this verse is important: (1) God said it is "my covenant with them"; and (2) He tells us He "will take away their sins".s (3) All the factors of the covenant are fulfilled here such as "taking away of the sins." Obviously what God wills comes to pass. Salvation is of the Lord, not of man. It is all the work of God Himself, thus it is a covenant of "grace".
Consider this passage from the book of Isaiah which emphasizes both Jew and Gentile receiving blessings from the covenant. It is taken in the context of the coming Messiah, who comes with respect to the covenant:
I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. Isa 42:6-7
So the import of this covenant is, the believing Jew is included; and so the believing Gentile. They both have the law put in their minds and written on their hearts; they both are taught of God - not man. It is not man's place to assure you of your salvation - it is God's. You can walk an aisle and repeat a prayer after some man who can then infer you are saved, but unless your are taught of God it is wood, hay and stubble. When one is given the gift of faith he understands (Heb 11). If we are genuinely trusting our Lord Jesus Christ, believing in our hearts God has raised Him from the dead; receiving Him as Lord, and He has become the Lord of our lives - then we are in the covenant of grace set forth by the prophet Jeremiah.
May God do it for each reader.
Used by permission of our gracious brother Pastor Doyle D. Dewberry. Setting Forth The Doctrines of Grace In Salvation, Doyle D. Dewberry was born in 1927 and is an outstanding student of the Bible and a retired Baptist Pastor and author of The Sovereign Grace Baptist Proclaimer. He is formerly of Alameda, California and he can be reached by email at sovereigngrace at 5star-living.com.