The New Covenant
But the God of peace, who brought again from among the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, in the power of the blood of the eternal covenant, perfect you in every good work to the doing of his will, doing in you what is pleasing before him through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for the ages of ages. Amen (Heb.13:20-21).
The theme of the covenants of Scripture comprises a vast range of truth—practical, devotional, doctrinal and prophetic. Yet sadly, it is a topic about which there exists not only great diversity of opinion but also a shameful degree of animosity between proponents of various theories.
Concerning the verses quoted at the head of this article, there is a branch of theological interpretation which maintains that the eternal covenant was an agreement between the Father and the Son in eternity past—an agreement regarding the salvation of the elect. This theory (i) violates the consistent way in which Scripture presents covenants, (ii) misrepresents the nature of the relationship between the Father and the Son, and (iii) ignores the context of the book in which the eternal covenant is mentioned—Hebrews.
The eternal covenant in Hebrews 13 is clearly synonymous with the New Covenant — not only from the context in Hebrews, but also from other instances where the new covenant is described as eternal. We shall consider examples of this later.
The idea of a covenant being made between the Father and the Son in past eternity is a figment of theological imagination. Such a mode of agreement expresses neither the intimacy of that relationship when the Son was here in manhood (“The Son can do nothing of himself save whatever he sees the Father doing: for whatever things he does, these things also the Son does in like manner” John 5:19), nor the supremacy of its character in a past eternity—“then I was by him his nursling, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him” Prov.8:30.
Every covenant in the Bible is distinctly established in plain language—not left to human conclusions to determine where, when or with whom it was made. Consequently, when looked back upon, these clear evidences of the existence of the covenant are mentioned. Those made with Noah, Abraham, Israel and David are clear examples of these principles.
This article takes up these three points and then considers the new covenant in more detail.
1. Features Common to Covenants in Scripture
1. A formal establishment of the covenant relationship
In a specific way a definite declaration is made to the party with whom it is formed that such a covenant agreement is being made. For example:
The covenant between Abraham and Jehovah.
On the same day Jehovah made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates (Genesis 15:18).
And Abram was ninety-nine years old, when Jehovah appeared to Abram, and said to him, I am the Almighty God: walk before my face, and be perfect. And (1) I will set my covenant between me and thee, and will very greatly multiply thee. And Abram fell on his face; and God talked with him, saying, It is I: behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of a multitude of nations. And thy name shall no more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of a multitude of nations have I made thee. And (2) I will make thee exceedingly fruitful, and (3) I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And (4) I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I give to thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and (5) I will be a God to them. And God said to Abraham, And as for thee, thou shalt keep my covenant, thou and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee—that every male among you be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and that shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. And at eight days old shall every male in your generations be circumcised among you—he who is born in the house, and he who is bought with money, any stranger who is not of thy seed. He who is born in thy house, and he who is bought with thy money, must be circumcised; and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male who hath not been circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his peoples: he hath broken my covenant (Genesis 17:1-14).
To these distinct and definite promises made by Jehovah, it is helpful also to recall what He had previously said to Abraham.
And Jehovah had said to Abram, Go out of thy land, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, to the land that I will shew thee. And (6) I will make of thee a great nation, and bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. And (7) I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3).
Abraham could have had no doubt that Jehovah had made a covenant with him. He was not left to surmise that a covenant had been made, not left to draw conclusions based on assumptions. All was plainly stated. This feature of plainness and directness is as common to the biblical covenants as is the “I will” or “I do” spoken by a couple on the occasion of their marriage.
2. Clear declaration that the conditions and blessings apply to future generations
Jehovah's covenant with Abraham encompassed Abraham's seed—his offspring, a future generation. Again, this is a regular feature of biblical covenants. Consider these examples.
The Covenant with Moses.
And these are the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances, which Jehovah your God commanded to teach you, that ye may do them in the land whereunto ye pass over to possess it, that thou mayest fear Jehovah thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son's son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged (Deut.6:1-2).
The Covenant with David
When thy days are fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. It is he who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the stripes of the sons of men; but my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before thee. And thy house and thy kingdom shall be made firm for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever. According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak to David (2 Samuel 7:12 17).
3. Easily recognized covenant language
Covenants were established not only with plainness and directness of speech, but easily recognised “covenant language” was used in establishing and in defining their promises and conditions. Look again at examples in Scripture:
The Abrahamic Covenant
Note the seven “I wills” emphasised previously in Genesis 12:1-3 and Genesis 17:1-8.
The Palestinian Covenant
Deuteronomy 30:1-10. Seven I wills again.
“And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt take them to heart among all the nations whither Jehovah thy God hath driven thee, and shalt return to Jehovah thy God, and shalt hearken to his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy sons, with all thy heart and with all thy soul; that then Jehovah thy God (1) will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and (2) will gather thee again from all the peoples whither Jehovah thy God hath scattered thee. Though there were of you driven out unto the end of the heavens, from thence will Jehovah thy God gather thee, and from thence (3) will he fetch thee; and Jehovah thy God will bring thee into the land that thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. And Jehovah thy God (4) will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love Jehovah thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. And Jehovah thy God (5) will put all these curses on thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, who have persecuted thee. But thou shalt return and hearken to the voice of Jehovah, and do all his commandments which I command thee this day. And Jehovah thy God (6) will make thee abound in every work of thy hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, for good; for Jehovah (7) will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers; if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of Jehovah thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law; if thou turn to Jehovah thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul.”
The Davidic Covenant
2 Samuel 7:10-16. Again seven I wills are spoken concerning the promised blessings. 
“And (1) I will appoint a place for my people, for Israel, and (2) will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and be disturbed no more; neither shall the sons of wickedness afflict them any more, as formerly, and since the time that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel. And I have given thee rest from all thine enemies; and Jehovah telleth thee that Jehovah (3) will make thee a house. When thy days are fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, (4) I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and (5) I will establish his kingdom. It is he who shall build a house for my name, and (6) I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. (7) I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the stripes of the sons of men; but my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before thee. And thy house and thy kingdom shall be made firm for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.”
The New Covenant
Jeremiah 31:31-34. Another seven I wills for blessing.
“Behold, days come, saith Jehovah, that (1) 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 of my taking them by the hand, to lead them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband unto them, saith Jehovah. For this is the covenant that (2) I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith Jehovah: (3) I will put my law in their inward parts, and (4) will write it in their heart; and (5) I 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 Jehovah; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith Jehovah: for (6) I will pardon their iniquity, and their sin (7) will I remember no more.”
4. Subsequent References
When in subsequent generations mention is made of a covenant, it is always possible to go back to the place where the covenant was originally established. Consider an example:
Be ye ever mindful of his covenant, The word which he commanded to a thousand generations,—Which he made with Abraham, And of his oath unto Isaac; And he confirmed it unto Jacob for a statute, Unto Israel for an everlasting covenant, Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance (1 Chron.16:15-18).
Conversely, it cannot rightly be assumed that any state of affairs constitutes a covenant relationship unless at some previous time the positive declaration of Scripture has made it plain.
Not one of these four regular features of biblical covenants appears in connection with the assumed covenant between the Father and the Son. It is evident that there is no scriptural basis for this theory. Hebrews 13 does not refer to this mythical covenant, but to the new covenant expounded in earlier chapters of the book.
2. The Relationship between the Father and the Son
A covenant is an agreement, pact or contract made between two parties in order to formally bind them to a commitment made at a particular time. In the affairs of men, some persons—familiar as they are with human nature—are predisposed to putting every possible transaction on a formal contractual basis in order to ensure subsequent legal recourse should a breach of the agreement occur. Others have a preference to undertake matters on the basis of a “gentlemen's agreement”—relying rather on the good will of the parties involved, often with disastrous consequences.
Neither of these human models either remotely describes the relationship between the Father and the Son, or the counsels of the Godhead, in eternity past. A thorough and faithful account of the “covenant theology” view follows:
To effect man's salvation God the Father and God the Son in that past expanse of eternity before the world was made, entered into an agreement or covenant together. We speak of that covenant as the Covenant of Redemption. As made known to man we call it the COVENANT OF GRACE to distinguish it from the Covenant of Works made with Adam. Redemption means deliverance by the payment of a price. God the Father said what the price must be to pardon sinners and to let them go free. God the Son covenanted with the Father to pay the price. 
The idea of an agreement or contract being made in this way conflicts with the true nature and relationship of the Father and the Son.
- I and the Father are one. (John 10:30)
- The Son can do nothing of himself save whatever he sees the Father doing: for whatever things he does, these things also the Son does in like manner. (John 5:19)
- Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words which I speak to you I do not speak from myself; but the Father who abides in me, he does the works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; but if not, believe me for the works' sake themselves. (John 14:10-11)
- then I was by him his nursling, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth, and my delights were with the sons of men. (Prov.8:30-31)
- No one has seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:18)
- who, subsisting in the form of God, did not esteem it an object of rapine to be on an equality with God (Phil.2:6)
The following quotation appropriately outlines the relationship described by these verses:
The Lord Jesus was Son of the Father from eternity past, implying His place of dignity and unity and fellowship with the Father, and His being the Son is the background for sonship in human relationships, not the reverse. “All men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father” (John 5:23). We honour the Father as One who is infinite, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, eternal. Therefore the Son is to be honoured precisely in those things. 
The Father and the Son are united in purpose. What the Father does, the Son does in like manner—because of Who He is, not because He has made a formal agreement to do so. It is His nature. The Son is in the Father. The Father is in the Son. Whilst we reverently avoid attempting to define these things, we nevertheless perceive the error of expressions and ideas that are inconsistent with them. The idea of the Father and the Son in eternal co-equality of deity covenanting is just such an error. Even in Manhood, the Son delighted to do the Father's will, He considered it His food, by nature He could only do what He saw the Father doing. The idea of the need for a covenant between Them does not honour the Son even as we honour the Father; it insults His true glory and dignity.
The counsels of the Godhead
- Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ; according as he has chosen us in him before the world's foundation, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love; (Eph.1:3-4)
- Because whom he has foreknown, he has also predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he should be the firstborn among many brethren. (Rom.8:29)
- who has saved us, and has called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages of time, but has been made manifest now by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has annulled death, and brought to light life and incorruptibility by the glad tidings; (2 Timothy 1:9)
God's eternal counsels concern not merely the salvation of fallen sinners to rescue them from hell but glorification of a company of men  for heavenly blessing in association with and conformity to Christ. These eternal counsels are quite distinct from His ways in time on and for earth, in which He has wrought for the blessing of men “from the [time of] the world's foundation”. His eternal purposes relate to the heavenly sphere and are plainly said to have been from before the world's foundation.
Covenant theology neglects the distinction between God's ways for earth and his purposes for heaven, blurs and homogenises the discrete blessings of the earthly and heavenly companies, refuses to acknowledge that God has two spheres in which to display His glory (Eph.1:10; 3:15), and rejects the truth that God has a place in the future for His ancient people Israel.
Covenant theology makes “the covenant” to be the unifying theme of Scripture. But Christ is the unifying theme of Scripture. God's purposes involve His glory not only in the heavenly sphere—for which men were chosen before the world's foundation (Eph.1:4) in past eternity, but also in the earthly sphere—prepared subsequent to the world's foundation (Matt.25:34) in time.
3. The Everlasting Covenant in Hebrews
But the God of peace, who brought again from among the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, in the power of the blood of the eternal covenant, perfect you in every good work to the doing of his will, doing in you what is pleasing before him through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for the ages of ages. Amen (Heb.13:20-21).
There is not a distinct and separate covenant named the everlasting covenant; but rather, several covenants have this character (namely, not bounded by time nor by any event). Here are examples from Scripture:
- Gen.9:16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living soul of all flesh that is upon the earth.
- Gen.17:7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to thee, and to thy seed after thee.
- Gen.17:13 He who is born in thy house, and he who is bought with thy money, must be circumcised; and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
- Gen.17:19 And God said, Sarah thy wife shall indeed bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name Isaac; and I will establish my covenant with him, for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him.
- 1 Chron.16:17 And he confirmed it unto Jacob for a statute, Unto Israel for an everlasting covenant,
- Ps.105:10 And he confirmed it unto Jacob for a statute, unto Israel for an everlasting covenant,
- Ex.31:16 And the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations—it is an everlasting covenant.
- Lev.24:8 Every sabbath day he shall arrange it before Jehovah continually, on the part of the children of Israel: it is an everlasting covenant.
- Num.18:19 All the heave-offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer to Jehovah, have I given thee, and to thy sons and to thy daughters with thee, by an everlasting statute: it shall be an everlasting covenant of salt before Jehovah unto thee and thy seed with thee.
- Isa.24:5 And the land is polluted under the inhabitants thereof; for they have violated the laws, changed the statute, broken the everlasting covenant.
- 2 Sam.23:5 Although my house be not so before God, Yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, Ordered in every way and sure; For this is all my salvation, and every desire, Although he make it not to grow.
- Isa.55:3 Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the sure mercies of David.
- Isa.61:8 For I, Jehovah, love judgment, I hate robbery with wrong; and I will give their recompence in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
- Jer.32:40 And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not draw back from them, to do them good; and I will put my fear in their heart, that they may not turn aside from me.
- Jer.50:5 They shall inquire concerning Zion, with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to Jehovah, in an everlasting covenant that shall not be forgotten.
- Ezek.16:60 Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant.
- Ezek.37:26 And I will make a covenant of peace with them: it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for ever.
When, in Hebrews 13, the eternal covenant is mentioned, it clearly is synonymous with the New Covenant — both from the context in Hebrews, and from other instances where the new covenant is described as eternal.
As stated in the introduction, every covenant in the Bible is distinctly established in plain language—not left to human conclusions to determine where, when or with whom it was made. Consequently, when looked back upon, these clear evidences of the existence of the covenant are mentioned. Those made with Noah, Abraham, Israel and David—quoted above—are clear examples of these principles.
It is the new covenant which is called eternal in Hebrews 13. See especially Ezekiel 37:24-28.
The new covenant embraces many more blessings than the few that are normally listed by quoting Hebrews 8:10-12 (which is itself quoted from Jeremiah 31:31-34). The source in Jeremiah is the summary and formal statement of the new covenant—which is described in far more detail in the whole of Jeremiah 29-32.
H J Vine  gives this section of Jeremiah the title, “The Yoke and the Covenant”. After placing the nation under Nebuchadnezzar's yoke, Jehovah promises to Israel the blessings in Jeremiah 29:10-14. These verses express Jehovah's will concerning the restoration from Babylonian captivity. But it also hints at something far beyond this (v.11 “your latter end”) which is unfolded in the following chapters. It is expressed in these words, “I will”.
We will now review the details of the blessings under the new covenant in Jeremiah.
The New Covenant in Jeremiah
God's I Wills in Jeremiah 30-32
The manifold blessings of the new covenant, each affirmed by God's I will, are listed in point form below.
I will turn the captivity of my people Israel and Judah
I will cause them to return to the land
Verses 4 to 6 then describe what must first occur before reunited Israel is brought into blessing: the time of Jacob's trouble, the great tribulation, also spoken of by Daniel (Dan.12:1), by the Lord Jesus (Matt.24), by Paul (2 Thess.2) and by John (Rev.3:10).
I will break his yoke from off thy neck
and will burst thy bonds
David their king, whom I will raise up
I will save thee from afar
I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have scattered thee
of thee will I not make a full end
I will correct thee with judgment
and will not hold thee altogether guiltless
The words “in that day” (v.8) introduce the promises of the new covenant before it is formally named. Notice the eight “I wills”, and the subsequent nine in the penultimate paragraph of the chapter.
all they that prey upon thee will I give to be a prey
I will apply a bandage unto thee
I will heal thee of thy wounds
I will turn the captivity of Jacob's tents
and I will multiply them, and they shall not be diminished
I will honour them, and they shall not be small
I will punish all that oppress them
I will cause [their ruler] to approach, and he shall draw near unto me
And ye shall be my people, and I will be your God
At that time, saith Jehovah, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.
The verse at the head of this chapter continues to express the details of what God wills concerning that time. The whole of the chapter is filled with these expressions of His will. The new covenant is not formally named until verses 31 to 34, where its name is the seal and stamp upon all the details about which He had said, “I will”.
I will build thee again, and thou shalt be built
with supplications will I lead them
I will cause them to walk by water-brooks
I will be a father to Israel
He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him
I will turn their mourning into gladness
and will comfort them, and make them rejoice after their sorrow
I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness
I will certainly have mercy upon him
I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah…
so will I watch over them to build, and to plant
I will make a new covenant with…
this is the covenant that I will make
I will put my law in their inward parts
and will write it in their heart
I will be their God, and they shall be my people
I will pardon their iniquity
and their sin will I remember no more
I will gather them out of all the countries whither I have driven them
I will bring them again unto this place
I will cause them to dwell safely
they shall be my people, and I will be their God
I will give them one heart, and one way
I will make an everlasting covenant with them
that I will not draw back from them, to do them good
I will put my fear in their heart, that they may not turn aside from me
I will rejoice over them to do them good
I will assuredly plant them in this land with my whole heart
so will I bring upon them all the good that I have spoken
These verses are a conclusion and a recap of what has preceded. Many of the blessings are a reiteration of what had already been listed. Here the adjective everlasting is first used by Jeremiah to describe this new covenant.
I will turn their captivity, saith Jehovah.
In magnificent literary skill this verse concludes the theme which commenced in 29:8 as an encouragement to the Jewish people who had been taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar. It closes the vast circle of prophetic promise (a circle which had extended to the uttermost reaches of God's future plans for His people), bringing the character of each of those promises to bear again on the then circumstances of the people. The Bible is not merely a book of literature, but what brilliant literature it is!
In a similar way that the prophetic truth of the new covenant was then made to bear on the state of the people, the theme of the new covenant arises in connection with several important Christian themes. It is necessary to state plainly that the new covenant is not made with Christians. It is not made with the church.
The New Covenant and Christians?
Christians are not party to a covenant of any form—new or old. The very concept of covenants is exclusively associated with God's dealings with His earthly people Israel.
The apostle Paul says of his fellow countrymen, “my kinsmen, according to flesh; who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the law-giving, and the service, and the promises; whose are the fathers; and of whom, as according to flesh, is the Christ, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen” (Rom.9:3-5). Covenants are for Israel. Christ according to the flesh was for Israel. We Christians “if even we have known Christ according to flesh, yet now we know him thus no longer” (2 Cor.5:16). Covenants are no more for Christians than Christ according to the flesh! To the contrary, any who have come from Gentile origins were and are “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise” (Eph.2:12). Gentiles were not brought into the commonwealth of Israel or made party to the covenants of promise. Instead they, with believing Jews, were brought near to God by the blood of Christ. This is not merely a national nearness of formal outward position formerly known by Israel; but a personal, real intimacy. Gentiles were not brought onto old Jewish ground, but both Jew and Gentile having been set aside and removed from the eye of God in judgment at the cross, have been “in Himself” (in Christ) formed into one new man. This is the plain teaching of Ephesians 2. It lifts us to heights never contemplated in the new covenant—but, this not being our present theme, we must return.
Christians are not party to the new covenant. The new covenant is not made with the church. But we dare not say the new covenant has nothing to do with us. The blessings promised to Israel under the new covenant have been secured by the blood of Christ. There are blessings material and blessings spiritual. But those blessings which are spiritual in character are also the property of believers in Christ today. We have been blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ”. There is not one spiritual blessing we miss out on!
In connection with spiritual blessings, that which the blood of Christ has secured for Israel (His earthly people) under the new covenant has likewise been secured for us, His heavenly people. And further, whilst we have not come to earthly things, and whilst we have not come to the new covenant, amongst the heavenly things we have come to, listed in Hebrews 12, we have come to “Jesus, mediator of a new covenant”. We haven't come to the new covenant—but we have come to the One who is its Mediator! Infinitely greater and more precious to have a personal relationship to Him!
We will next consider the various New Testament passages that mention the new covenant, and seek to understand what bearing the new covenant has on Christians.
The New Covenant and Christianity
From the Scriptures already considered it is clear that the new covenant is to be made in a future day with the reunited house of Israel and house of Judah. It is to this people that the concept of “covenant” has relevance—see Romans 9:3-5, “my kinsmen, according to flesh; who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the law-giving, and the service, and the promises; whose are the fathers; and of whom, as according to flesh, is the Christ, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.”
Gentiles, who in the ways of God were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise” (Eph.2:12), were not introduced onto the Jewish ground of covenants when they became Christians. Rather, all that characterised both Jew and Gentile was removed from before the eye of God on the cross, and instead of the re-establishment of either, He has formed “the two in himself into one new man” (Eph.2:15).
If then Christians are not under the new covenant—if the new covenant is not made with Christians—why, in the New Testament are there several significant references to the new covenant? Evidently we must not think that the new covenant has nothing to do with Christians.
We have not come to the new covenant; but we have come to Christ, and He is the Mediator of the new covenant (Heb.12:24). In this function He has blessings in store for Israel which have been secured by the shedding of His blood. And some of these blessings are the common property of all who are redeemed by that same precious blood. Israel waits for a future day to experience all these blessings—but in some, those of a spiritual character, we Christians participate here and now.
We will now consider each group of verses in the New Testament references to seek to understand why the new covenant is mentioned in connection with Christians.
The Lord's Supper
- Mt.26:28 For this is my blood, that of the new covenant, that shed for many for remission of sins.
- Mk.14:24 And he said to them, This is my blood, that of the new covenant, that shed for many.
- Lk.22:20 In like manner also the cup, after having supped, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
- 1 Cor.11:25 In like manner also the cup, after having supped, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me.
It is instructive to notice the progressive unfolding of teaching concerning the Lord's supper in the sequence of the New Testament writings.
In Matthew and Mark, there is no instruction that the feast then held was to be repeated, and there is no mention that it was to be kept as a remembrance. As to the cup the Lord Jesus said, “this is my blood”, a statement which could not have at the time been mistaken by the disciples to be anything but symbolic. The living Man before them, saying “this is my blood”, clearly meant that the cup was an emblem of His blood. But more, that the blood He would shed would form the basis of the forgiveness of sins (in Matthew at least) for Israel under the new covenant.
In Luke the thought is introduced that the feast is a remembrance of Christ. (In connection with the cup, this may be deduced from the words, “in like manner”, which follow from the Lord's instructions as to the loaf. Then finally in Paul is the lesson that the supper was to be continued—confirmed by the words “as often”.) Here the Lord speaks of His blood in an intensely personal way—“poured out for you”. It is not only Israel now—but each disciple (and because continued, from then onwards it is at all times each believer) personally. And note, it is no longer that the cup symbolically “is my blood”, but that it is symbolically “the new covenant” in His blood.
In Matthew and Mark the cup is an emblem of Christ's blood. In Luke and Paul it is an emblem of the new covenant (in His blood). It would be as wrong to say that the cup is literally the new covenant as to say the cup is literally Christ's blood. In both cases it is an emblem. But in what way is the cup an emblem of the new covenant?
If we have learnt anything from all that has preceded, one thing worth remembering is that the new covenant is set in contrast with the old. It is set in contrast with the law. The law—the old covenant—was based on two words: “Thou shalt”. The new covenant is also based on two words: “I will”. Under the old covenant it was demand. Under the new it is supply. The cup given to the disciple by the Lord Jesus was a provision from His own hand (speaking of His blood shed fro them). Provided freely, provided in love. A wonderful picture indeed!
- Rom.11:27 And this is the covenant from me to them, when I shall have taken away their sins.
Have you ever stopped to consider why, in his thorough treatise on the truth of the gospel, Paul was inspired to include three chapters which treat of God's past, present and future dealings with Israel? Why does God introduce the nation of Israel, and the new covenant into this epistle?
Some may suggest that Israel is simply a symbolic term for Christians and that the new covenant is made with Christians. But such an idea does not bear scrutiny. In verse 25 Israel is Israel; and the nations are the nations. In verses 27-28 Israel is them, their, they; and in verses 25 and 28 Christians are you and your. One is not a symbol of the other. The two are distinct.
So why mention this new covenant if it is not made with Christians? Because it touches on the character and nature of God. Romans gives us the gospel of God. And God is the God who does not change. He does not change His mind, “the gifts and the calling of God are not subject to repentance” (v.29). If God has dealt in such faithfulness with a nation so unfaithful, if his promises are sure and steadfast even to a nation guilty of the murder of His beloved Son, how great the assurance we have—who know Him as “for us”, having “not spared His own Son”, and Who will “with Him grant us all things” (8:30).
His dealings with Israel display His character and thus afford us assurance and confidence in Him.
- 2 Cor.3:6 who has also made us competent, as ministers of the new covenant; not of letter, but of spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit quickens.
Several of the surrounding verses refer to a ministry. There is a “ministry of death” (v.7), a “ministry of the Spirit” (v.8), a “ministry of condemnation” (v.9), a “ministry of righteousness” (v.9), and then finally in chapter 4:1 Paul sums it up with, “this ministry”. His purpose was to describe the manner and spirit of his service, not the subject matter of his preaching.
The reference to the new covenant in v.6 may be effectively translated, “competent [as] new covenant ministers”. The expression describes not the content of the apostles' ministry, but the character of their ministry. The ministry of the apostles—and indeed all true Christian ministry—has this character, the same character as the new covenant. It is a ministry of supply, not a ministry of demand.
Whether it be the gospel, the message is not, ‘you have to do this and that, and straighten up your life and then God will accept you', not, ‘this do and thou shalt live'! No, no! It is, ‘God has spared not His own Son, He has given Him up for us all; Christ has been delivered for our offences and raised for our justification; His is a finished work—it has been accepted by God, and He Himself is accepted by God—He has given Himself for our sins, He has offered Himself without spot to God an offering and sacrifice of a sweet smelling savour.' The gospel is a ministry of supply.
Or whether it be ministry to believers, it is still of new covenant character—a ministry of supply, not demand. Christ has sanctified Himself for us (set Himself apart in heaven, as an Object there for our faith) that we might be sanctified by truth (by means of occupation with Him there). The chapter concludes with this thought. Christ is in glory with unveiled face. There is no need for Him, as Moses once did, to veil His face. Israel could not bear the limited glory in Moses' face, but God has given us the capacity to not only bear, but delight in, the unlimited glory in the face of the Lord Jesus! And as attracted to Him, looking on His glory, we are transformed from glory to glory. He does not tell us we should be transformed. He does not tell us to try to transform ourselves. He gives us an Object morally superior to ourselves and attracts us to Him and by this means the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit effects a change in our lives.
This is new covenant ministry—a ministry of supply and not demand.
- Gal.4:24 Which things have an allegorical sense; for these are two covenants: one from mount Sinai, gendering to bondage, which is Hagar.
This reference is included to address a potential misunderstanding. The two covenants here are not the old covenant (the law) and the new covenant. Rather, it refers back to what Paul had already said in chapter 3:17, “Now I say this, A covenant confirmed beforehand by God, the law, which took place four hundred and thirty years after, does not annul, so as to make the promise of no effect.” The two covenants contrasted are (i) the law made with Israel and (ii) the covenant of promise made with Abraham.
The Heavenly System—Hebrews
- Heb.7:22 by so much Jesus became surety of a better covenant.
- Heb.8:6 But now he has got a more excellent ministry, by so much as he is mediator of a better covenant, which is established on the footing of better promises.
Hebrews 8:1 summarises the things mentioned up to that point by this: “We have such a one high priest… minister of the holy places…”. Verse 3 describes the function of the high priests of former times—offering gifts (having in view God's pleasure) and sacrifices (having in view man's need). Verse 5 shows that they served a system which was “a representation and shadow of heavenly things”. Hebrews not only gives us the theme “ better ”—contrasting the tabernacle system with Christ, but it also shows us that that system was a representation of the heavenly system of things available to us by the finished work of Christ and His presence in heaven itself. Chapter 9:8-9 further shows that the first tabernacle “is an image for the present time, according to which… both gifts and sacrifices are offered.”
Considering this aspect of the message of Hebrews (i.e., that the tabernacle system is a representation of the things we have in Christ) we gather some impression of Christ's more excellent ministry. The one sacrifice for sins He has already offered once for all. It is never to be repeated. But He has a ministry, a service to fulfil, an unfinished work, as Minister of the holy places. He offers gifts, He sings praises in the midst of the assembly, He has entered in once for all, He has brought about conditions whereby we might worship the living God (see ch.9:9-14).
We profit from that more excellent ministry now. Literally speaking Christ's Priesthood now is after the order of Melchizedec (that is, an endless, unchangeable priesthood, uninterrupted by death—after the power of indissoluble life) and after the character of Aaron (that is, sympathetically interceding on behalf of a weak and failing people in wilderness conditions). When He reigns over the earth in the Millennium He will be a priest upon His throne—and His priesthood will be then after the character of Melchizedec. Melchizedec's priesthood was characterised by blessing—blessing downward (“blessed be Abraham” Gen.14:19) and blessing upward (“blessed be the Most High God”). According to the letter, the literal fulfilment, this will be seen in a future day. But in the spirit of it, we enjoy His service after the character now.
Thou dost make us taste the blessing,
Soon to fill a world of bliss;
And we bless Thy name confessing
Thine own love our portion is. 
Likewise the new covenant. According to the letter, the literal fulfilment, this will be seen in a future day. But in the spirit of it, we enjoy its blessings now. The blessings enumerated in the quotation from the formal statement of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 may be seen in this light.
Heb.8:8-13 For finding fault, he says to them, Behold, days come, saith the Lord, and I will consummate a new covenant as regards the house of Israel, and as regards the house of Juda; not according to the covenant which I made to their fathers in the day of my taking their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in my covenant, and I did not regard them, saith the Lord. Because this is the covenant that I will covenant to the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: Giving my laws into their mind, I will write them also upon their hearts; and I will be to them for God, and they shall be to me for people. And they shall not teach each his fellow-citizen, and each his brother, saying, Know the Lord; because all shall know me in themselves, from [the] little one [among them] unto [the] great among them. Because I will be merciful to their unrighteousnesses, and their sins and their lawlessnesses I will never remember any more. In that he says New, he has made the first old; but that which grows old and aged [is] near disappearing.
- Heb.9:15 And for this reason he is mediator of a new covenant, so that, death having taken place for redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, the called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
- Heb.10:16-17 This is the covenant which I will establish towards them after those days, saith the Lord: Giving my laws into their hearts, I will write them also in their understandings; and their sins and their lawlessnesses I will never remember any more.
- Heb.10:29 of how much worse punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and esteemed the blood of the covenant, whereby he has been sanctified, common, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
- Heb.12:24 and to Jesus, mediator of a new covenant; and to the blood of sprinkling, speaking better than Abel.
In 7:22 the Lord Jesus is the Surety—the guarantee—of a better covenant, a covenant yet to come. In 8:6; 9:15; and 12:24, He is the Mediator of this better, new covenant. In 8:6-13 the beneficiaries of this new covenant are clearly seen to be the two houses of Judah and Israel. And in those same verses, the terms of this new covenant are quoted from Jeremiah 31.
Referring to the verses following Hebrews 8:6, Hamilton Smith wrote these helpful remarks:
From this quotation we learn that the new covenant has in view the day to come, and strictly is made with Israel and applies to an earthly people. Nevertheless, if the letter of the new covenant is confined to Israel, the spirit of it can be applied to Christians. Therefore, in another epistle the apostle speaks of himself as being an able minister of the new covenant, “not of the letter, but of the spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
For this reason we should hardly expect to find in the new covenant any of the truths that exclusively set forth Christian privileges, but rather blessings that are essential for all the people of God and common to all the redeemed. These blessings that restored and redeemed Israel will enter into in a day to come are anticipatively enjoyed by believers in the present day of grace.
Although the new covenant is not made with Christians, we nevertheless partake of its blessings—because we are already in relationship with the One Who is the Mediator of the new covenant. In consideration of the details of the new covenant blessings enumerated in the verses just quoted, Hamilton Smith has given this helpful summary:
Jeremiah tells us that the blessings of the new covenant are, firstly, a work of God in the hearts of His people, whereby their minds will be renewed and their affections engaged, so that the law of God will be written in the heart, in contrast with being written on tables of stone. Secondly, those thus wrought upon will be a people in relationship with God. Into the spirit of this believers in this day enter, as we read in the Gospel of John, “As many as received Him, to them gave He the right to be children of God, to those that believe on His Name; who have been born, not of blood, nor of flesh's will, nor of man's will, but of God.” (John 1:12-13). Thirdly, there will be the conscious knowledge of the Lord, so that there will be no question of teaching a neighbour or a brother to know the Lord. How truly this is so amongst the true people of God today, who personally know the Lord, however much they may have to learn about the Lord, and in this sense need teaching! Fourthly, there will be the mercy of the Lord by which their sins will be so righteously dealt with that God will be able to say, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” Into this great blessing every believer is brought today.
One more reference in Hebrews remains to be considered: that with which this article commenced.
- Heb.13:20-21 But the God of peace, who brought again from among the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, in the power of the blood of the eternal covenant, perfect you in every good work to the doing of his will, doing in you what is pleasing before him through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for the ages of ages. Amen.
Remember, the eternal covenant is the new covenant. The detailed attributes of the new covenant are given in Jeremiah. Blessings received by Israel under the new covenant are both material and spiritual. Because we have already come to Jesus, the One Who is Mediator of the new covenant, we too—anticipating what Israel will one day enjoy—receive the spiritual blessings of the new covenant.
Hebrews 13:20 closes the loop; it completes the subject. It brings in details from Jeremiah not customarily acknowledged as terms of the new covenant, and shows how they apply to us as Christians—just as much as the elements of its formal statement, quoted previously in chapter 8. And what richness and beauty this adds to the picture!
The God of Peace
In the “Yoke and the Covenant” section of Jeremiah, God introduces to Israel His intentions by these words, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith Jehovah, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you in your latter end a hope” (Jer.29:11). His will for them, His promises to them, His thoughts about them, as we have seen, are frequently reinforced by the expression, “I will”.
The God of peace whose thoughts of peace towards Israel, expressed in the new covenant, is likewise the God of peace to us. He may allow circumstances for us akin to Israel's captivity in Babylon. To outward appearance all may be in turmoil. But He is the God of peace, and has towards us thoughts of peace, and has planned for us a “latter end”.
I hesitate to do so, but here I introduce a personal example. Insurmountable difficulties chracterised the circumstances that ultimately resulted in the visit to Plumstead when the addresses were given from which these notes were made. Leading up to my departure from home everything seemed to be going to pieces: turmoil of soul, nocturnal telephone calls, sleeplessness, last-minute travel demands, unconfirmed arrangements, broken promises, unfulfilled obligations—stress! When at last I sat down in the aeroplane I thought, ‘What's the point of visiting the brethren in Plum Lane? Things are in such a mess for me, how could I possibly be any use or any encouragement to them?' Praying for help I asked, ‘It's not the circumstances that need changing. I need to be changed in these circumstances.' And the God of peace granted peace! His grace is sufficient! Grace and peace! Maybe none of the circumstances changed—but HE filled my heart with peace. THIS is what matters.
He has a purpose in all of our trials and difficulties. All that He is underlies all His promises to Israel, and all that He is underlies His ways with us. The God of peace is still in the business of granting peace, and can fill our hearts with joy and peace in believing.
The Great Shepherd
David the king started his career as David the shepherd. From his childhood he developed capabilities that qualified him to be the shepherd of Israel. But David is merely a faint picture of the true David, the true Shepherd, “great David's greater Son”, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is in resurrection the Lord Jesus has this relationship to us (as Psalm 23 follows Psalm 22) and it is in resurrection that He will fulfil this new and everlasting covenant relation with Israel.
- He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd his flock. (Jer.31:10)
- But they shall serve Jehovah their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them. (Jer.30:9)
- Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the sure mercies of David. (Isa.55:3)
- But that he raised him from among [the] dead, no more to return to corruption, he spoke thus: I will give to you the faithful mercies of David. (Acts 13:34)
God's work of perfecting us involves correction and chastening. Hebrews 12 teaches us that chastening is a part of His fatherly ways with us. Again we see these as elements of the new covenant detailed by Jeremiah.
- …of thee will I not make a full end, but I will correct thee with judgment, and will not hold thee altogether guiltless. (Jer.30:11)
- …I will be a father to Israel… (Jer.31:9)
Various cases of the verb “perfect” in Hebrews 13:21 are translated in other passages by “mending” (Matt.4:21), “restore” (Gal.6:1), “united” (1 Cor.1:10). The translation note for this latter says, “Where all the members have each its own place, or make a whole; or, if broken, are restored to one complete whole.”
To the doing of His will
Under the new covenant it will be God's own work in the hearts of Israel and Judah that will yield results in their lives for His pleasure. And surely this is the principle of His dealings with Christians also. His commands are not grievous because He has given us the capacity to do them. Christian works—good works—are not works of law, or dead works, or evil works. They are the result of His own work in our hearts.
Doing in you what is pleasing before Him
All that is for His pleasure emanates from His own “doing” in us. This is the principle of the new covenant, and is detailed in many more of the I wills in Jeremiah.
They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them; I will cause them to walk by water-brooks, in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble… (Jer.31:9)
And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me all [their] days, for the good of them, and of their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not draw back from them, to do them good; and I will put my fear in their heart, that they may not turn aside from me. And I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land with my whole heart and with my whole soul. (Jer.32:39-41)
This is the new covenant—the everlasting covenant—and these are its details. Every feature of spiritual blessing, in all that God in the future will do for Israel, is made good to us now. Wonderful blessings! Wonderful privileges! May our hearts be lifted in praise to the Father and the Son as we meditate upon these things.
The I wills are not limited to the blessings. For blessing, seven are used.
“Light Over Australia, A Manual of Christian Doctrine”, by E S Turnbull. First Edition 1990. ISBN: 0 646 01404 8.
i.e. humans, not male persons.
Spiritual Songs, Hymn 233. Verse 5.
The Epistle to the Hebrews. An Expository Outline. p.45.
Op. Cit. Underlining added for emphasis and clarification.
 Revised substance of two addresses given at Plum Lane in March 2006.