The foundation passage for our consideration is Jeremiah 31:31-34. Clearly, the new covenant is a promise of future blessing for a united Israel; it will be made “with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (v31 KJV). Just as surely as the covenant of the Law had been established with “their fathers,” so this new covenant will apply to their descendants. The first covenant was a bilateral arrangement that necessitated their obedience, an obedience that was not forthcoming, for, says the Lord, “which my covenant they brake” (v32). This new covenant is a unilateral commitment by God to bless.
An important fact emerges from the passage – surface truth, but in need of stressing. There will be a literal united kingdom of Israel and Judah. The nation that was fractured in Rehoboam’s reign will be unified and administered by Christ. He promised His apostles that they would “sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mat 19:28). There is as much likelihood of stars withholding their light, or tidal patterns being disrupted, as there is of Israel “ceas(ing) from being a nation.” There is as much possibility of measuring the universe as there is of “the seed of Israel” being “cast off” (Jer 31:35-37). It will never happen, and with that united kingdom God will establish this new covenant.
The Timing of the Covenant
Israel is presently sidelined as God takes out of the nations “a people for his name” (Act 15:14), but their present blindness is neither total nor permanent. It is “in part,” “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom 11:25). National salvation will be experienced when “the Deliverer” “out of Sion” intervenes (v26), and the new covenant will come into play, as He “turns away ungodliness from Jacob,” and “takes away their sins,” “my covenant unto them” (v27). The covenant will be implemented at the Lord’s second advent.
The Provisions of the Covenant
In the immediate context of Jeremiah 31, new covenant blessings are as follows. First, God’s law will be placed in their inward parts and written in their hearts. The inference is that during the millennium the demands of the Decalogue will still be in force, but God will gratuitously provide the power to perform. That is where the old covenant fell short; it was “weak through the flesh” (Rom 8:3). In itself, the Law was “good” (1Ti 1:8), but its deficiency lay in the fact that sinful flesh would not and could not meet its demands (Rom 8:7). The new covenant will remedy that for Israel; when regenerated, the people at last will be energized to implement the pledge they made when given the old covenant: “All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient” (Exo 24:7 KJV).
Second, they will experience the dignity of being acknowledged universally as God’s special people; I “will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33). The label of their idolatrous days, “Lo-ammi,” “not my people,” will be removed (Hos 1:9).
Third, they will relish the sweetness of intimate relationship with Him. No one will have to teach them how to maximize the enjoyment of their links with Him, “for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them” (Jer 31:34 KJV). Perpetual fellowship with God will be normal.
Fourth, not least in their bundle of blessings will be forgiveness. Their long history of rebellion will be expunged from the divine memory, never to be dredged up to condemn them; “I will remember their sin no more” (v34).
The Blood of the Covenant
When the old covenant was established, it was attended by the blood of sacrifice (Exo 24:4-8), “dedicated” with blood (Heb 9:18). Similarly, the new covenant will be ratified on the basis of shed blood. That blood endorses the agreement and provides a sound foundation whereby its blessings will be imparted righteously, without violating divine justice.
In instituting the Lord’s Supper, the Savior linked the shedding of His blood with the new covenant. The cup symbolized “my blood of the new testament (covenant), which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Mat 26:28 KJV). He thus indicated that by shedding His blood He was providing the blood of sacrifice that would authorize the covenant, while at the same time legitimizing its provisions such as the forgiveness of sins.
He is said to be “the mediator of the new testament,” the One through whom its beneficiaries “receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15), “a death having taken place” (RV) making this possible.
The covenant of which He is the mediator is “a better covenant” (Heb 8:6). The old covenant was not “faultless” (v7); as noted, it gave no power to perform. The new covenant is “better,” for it “was established upon better promises” (v6), so its promised blessings are unconditional and more extensive.
The first covenant would “vanish away” (Heb 8:13). It would become obsolete, for the Law’s function as a “schoolmaster” was only “up to Christ” (Gal 3:24 JND), “until Christ came” (ESV); when He came, it became redundant. By contrast, the new covenant is an “everlasting covenant” (Heb 13:20), an echo from Ezekiel when highlighting the permanent blessing vouchsafed to repentant Israel (Eze 37:26).
The Beneficiaries of the Covenant
We have emphasized that Jeremiah indicated that the covenant will be made with Israel and Judah, so its beneficiaries will be a future repentant Israel. However, it seems that the spiritual blessings that are promised are the present experience of believers of the Church age. Paul described himself as a “minister(s) of the new testament” (2Co 3:6), a statement that became a launching pad for his developing the subject of his responsibility to communicate the gospel, a theme which extends through multiple chapters.
The four major provisions of the covenant are in evidence in these chapters. Those who believe the gospel have power for living; they have “liberty” (3:17), for God is working in their lives and has given them His Spirit (5:5). Second, they are now God’s people: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (6:16 KJV). Then, they know the Lord, for they have been given “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:6 KJV). Finally, they have experienced forgiveness, for having been reconciled, God does not impute their trespasses (5:19).
The foregoing does not infer that all the promises to Israel have been transferred to the Church, but the fact is that on the basis of the blood of the covenant, the blessings to be enjoyed by the repentant nation in the future are made good to us now.