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Understanding the New Covenant

The coming of the Messiah Yahushua brought some major changes into the life of the community of Israel. The two we will look at here are the giving of the spirit and the institution of the New Covenant, both of which are tied together with the restoration of Israel and the inauguration of the Kingdom of G-d on earth, what some may refer to as the “Millennial Kingdom”. Several passages of Scripture describe these promises;

The New Covenant;

Jeremiah 31:31 Behold, the days come, saith YHVH, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 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 a husband unto them, saith YHVH. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith YHVH: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: 34 and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know YHVH; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith Jehovah: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more. (see also Jer 32:40-44, Ez 16:62, 63)

Isaiah ties the New Covenant and the spirit together;

Isaiah 59:20 And a Redeemer will come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith YHVH. 21 And as for me, this is my covenant with them, saith YHVH: my Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith YHVH, from henceforth and for ever.

The Spirit is promised here;

Joel 2:28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: 29 and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit. 30 And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of Jehovah comes. 32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of YHVH shall be delivered; for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those that escape, as YHVH hath said, and among the remnant those whom YHVH calls.

Ezekiel 36:24 For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. 25 And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. 26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them. 28 And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. (see also Ez 11:17-20, 37:14)

The blessings of this age of the redeemer from these passages are as follows;

1. It is a new covenant made with Israel

2. Having a heart of stone replaced with a heart of flesh.

3. Being filled with the spirit of G-d, the purpose of which is to enable the individual to obey Torah.

4. Having Torah written on the heart.

5. Israel will be gathered and dwell in the Land

6. Every man of Israel will know YHVH

7. Sin will be forgiven

8. Idolatry will no longer be practiced in Israel

9. Prophesy and dreams will be widespread in Israel

It is certainly a time to look forward to. These prophesies describe a time immediately before and after the “Day of the Lord”. In the first century, expectations of such prophetic fulfillment ran high. Yahushua came on the scene claiming to be the redeemer, the Messiah, the One who would fulfill the hopes of Israel. He claimed to inaugurate the the New Covenant and He promised the spirit of YHVH, a promise His followers claimed to have received.

Luke 22:20 And the cup in like manner after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you.

1 Corinthians 11:25 In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

2 Corinthians 3:6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

Hebrews 12:24 and to Yahushua the mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than that of Abel.

Hebrews 9:15 And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

John 14:26 But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you.

John 20:22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit:

Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 15:8 And God, who knoweth the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us;

Ephesians 1:13 in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation, -- in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,

Hebrews 2:4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will.

These verses indicate that Yahushua inaugurated the New Covenant with His blood and that the Holy Spirit had a new role in the lives of the Nazarenes, the same role prophesied the previous Scriptures. This, however, creates a practical difficulty. Yahushua and the Nazarenes claimed these scriptures had been fulfilled, that they were participants in the New Covenant and partakers of the Spirit of G-d. Yet the prophesies in the Tenach tie the New Covenant, and the giving of the Spirit with the restoration of Israel, the “Day of the Lord” and the final redemption. We have the words of the Nazarenes and historical reality, then and now. How can both things be true?

First, if Yahushua claimed to establish the New Covenant by His sacrifice, what does that mean? Heb 9:18 says that all covenants are initiated with the shedding of blood. When Moshe presented the covenant to the people of Israel, they agreed to it and then blood was shed to make it binding. When Avraham received the promises, he believed them and accepted his duty and then the covenant was sealed with the sacrifices. With the blood of Messiah sealing the covenant, it was now binding on all who entered it. If Yahushua claimed to be instituting the New Covenant by His blood, His death would not be the beginning of a process which would be strung out over centuries, but it was a covenant that had been finalized at that time.

What about all the promises, such as the land, every man knowing the Lord etc. Since it was made with the “house of Israel and the House of Judah” and the majority of those people do not participate in it, they will not realize the benefits of the covenant. The promises are there for the participants of the covenant. If the vast majority of Israel is not participating in the covenant, then we cannot expect that they will receive the promises. It is no different that the Mosaic covenant. If the majority of the Jewish people did not adhere to that covenant, they were eventually exiled from the land, not just the wicked but the righteous as well. So if a minority does accept the new covenant, they will still be suffering the punishments which the majority has brought on the corporate community.

It is also reasonable, by other examples of Nazarene uses of Scripture (and other Tenach examples as well), to appropriate a section of the Scriptures even the the rest of the context includes prophetic statements that have not been fulfilled. Kefa’s sermon in Acts 2 is a great example. The ‘text’ of his sermon is Joel 2:17-21. It is clear that he was not pointing to the sky and looking at the moon, but he had taken the part of the verse that referred to the giving of the spirit and applied it to that moment. (In fact, the context of Joel 2 is the restoration of Israel in the land, which, these things happen.) While it is obvious to most commentators that they expected the ‘day of the Lord’ to follow rather quickly, this was not to happen. But that does not invalidate the giving of the spirit. Thus, it is not unreasonable to assume that the writing of the Torah on the heart and the giving of the spirit are both aspects of the prophetic fulfillment of the new covenant in which we can participate, while we wait for the day when the rest of it is fulfilled. The Mosaic covenant was given to the Israelites with the promise of the land. Just because that first generation rejected it and did not go in, and thus realize the promise, does not invalidate the covenant even for the generation under divine punishment. G-d cut a covenant with Avraham which included promises that would take hundreds, even thousands of years to find fulfillment. Yet we do not question the validity of claiming the land of Israel just because other parts of the covenant have not been fulfilled. Therefore, even if the new covenant is tied to the ‘kingdom offer’ and it’s rejection, does not invalidate the covenant with it’s privileges and responsibilities for those who have accepted it.

In fact, as we have pointed out earlier with our quote of II Cor 3:6, Rabbi Sha’ul understood that he and the Corinthians (Gentiles) were participating in the new covenant, in fact they were ‘servants’ of that covenant. It would be hard to serve within the framework of something that did not exist. The writer of Hebrews states that Yahushua is the mediator of the New Covenant (9:15, 12:24) speaking of things as they already exist, not as they will exist sometime in the distant future.

Since we have described this covenant as “New”, what is it ‘s purpose, and what does it replace? The word we have in Jer 31:31 is vd'x' which means new or fresh. It is used in Tenach many times to designate something as new, a new cart for example (I Sam 6:7). What is the “Old” then? Jeremiah tells us it was the one G-d made with them when he brought them up out of Egypt (31:32) which would be the one ‘mediated’ by Moshe on Mt. Sinai. We are immediately confronted with a problem, however. Many times within the context of the ‘old’ covenant, G-d makes the statement that these statues or commands would exist forever. So the ‘new’ covenant cannot be changing unchangeable stipulations and commandments of the ‘old’. In fact, it has always been understood, both by the witness of Scripture (Ps 119:89, 160) and by rabbinical tradition that the Torah, that which was written by the hand of Moshe, is eternal. So if the stipulations or requirements of the ‘old’ have not been changed by the ‘new’, what is the difference? What fault was found with the ‘old’ that necessitated the ‘new’?

The writer of Hebrews, commenting on our passage in Jeremiah, details it for us in 8:8. The problem was not with the covenant but with the people. Jeremiah states that it was the people that broke the covenant (31:32). Much of Hebrews 8-10 is devoted to showing how the sacrifice of Yahushua and the priesthood He serves in is superior to that under the old covenant, for the bulls and goats offered by the Kohen haGadol year after year did not penetrate the heart, they did make perfect those who were seeking to draw close to G-d. The difference between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ is not so much in the requirements, these are eternal, but in the implementation of those requirements. In the Torah, Israel is commanded to “lay these word of Mine upon your heart” (Deut 11:18). It was the responsibility of the individual Israelite to place the words on the heart, to make them an essential part of his being so he could become one with the commandments and would fulfill them. As the history of Israel showed, very few to this responsibility seriously.

The writer of Hebrews states that the ‘new’ covenant is founded on better promises. What are the better promises? First of all, final atonement has been accomplished (Heb 10:17, 18). But what else? It is in the implementation of the covenant. G-d will write the commandments of Torah on the heart. The redeemed person now has and intimacy with G-d and the commandments through the giving of the spirit that was not available to the average Israelite standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Now Torah was going to be a natural expression of the redeemed individual. It was the responsibility of G-d, not the redeemed person, to place the commandments on the inside (this does not negate the importance of study, however, but the results of that study will be a joyful willingness to apply the Torah one has learned). They need only have faith in Yahushua and His final atonement, and the Torah would be upheld in their lives (Rom 3:31). It is a very important point to emphasize here, in case there is any question up to this point. Under the new covenant, the commandments of Torah are still obeyed. Shabbat, Kashrut, the festivals, justice, morality and religion are all just as mandatory under the new covenant in the Messiah as they were under the ‘old’. Externally, a pious man under the old covenant and a pious man under the new will do basically the same things. It is an internal change that has been wrought through the ‘new’.

So what does it mean that the ‘old’ is passing away? The method by which Torah is implemented in the lives of the redeemed will eventually change completely from the way of Sinai to the way of Yahushua. When that happens, all of Israel will be redeemed (Rom 11:26, 27), they will all be participants in the New Covenant, they will all have it written on their inmost being by G-d Himself and they will all know the YHVH. It is a day we eagerly anticipate. Just as Avraham looked forward to the day His descendants would be multiplied exceedingly and possessed all the land on which he resided while in his lifetime he only owned the burial place of Sarah, so the few whom G-d has called from Israel and the nations participate in the first promises of the New Covenant while we wait for it’s final fulfillment on The day of the Lord. But for now, those whom G-d has called to be part of the remnant (Rom 11:5), those who know the Messiah of Israel, those who believe in the effectiveness of his sacrifice, those who confess His name and have been born from above will have Torah written on their hearts and receive all the promises of the power of the spirit of YHVH in their lives. We are a preview of what is to come. When people see us they see a little of the kingdom of G-d which in which people like us will be the rule rather than the exception.