This post is an excerpt from our book 'Covenant People'.
IN the Old Testament we read how the people of Israel, in their disobedience, broke their side of the covenant agreement again and again. Some of the prophets had foretold the day when God would make a new covenant with His people. Isaiah had spoken of the coming servant of God who would not just be the mediator of a covenant as Moses was; rather he would “be a covenant for the people” (Isaiah 42:6). Jeremiah too, had told of a time when God would “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the House of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). Here, one of His covenant promises was that “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).
At the Feast of the Passover, life held many dangers for Jesus as He went up to Jerusalem with His disciples to celebrate the feast. Many were jealous of His power and popularity and wanted to destroy Him. During the celebratory meal, He took a cup and passed it to His disciples saying “Drink from it, all of you. This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27, 28).
Shortly after uttering these words, Jesus was betrayed, handed over to the Roman authorities and strung up helpless on a cross. When He finally cried the words “It is finished” (John 19:30) and bowed His head and died, the sacred veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was ripped in two, from top to bottom, and the New Covenant was born.
The blood of animals secured the Old Covenant (Exodus 24: 6-8). The blood of Christ secured the New Covenant. Jesus is the Mediator of – and the Sacrifice needed for – God’s New Covenant with mankind (Hebrews 9:15-26). Indeed, He is the Covenant Himself. Through Him God offers His free gift of pardon; through Him the power of sin that has a stranglehold on mankind is torn away; through Him, once again, is given the gift of eternal life that was lost at the fall. Jesus, through His death, secured for mankind a restored relationship with God – so long disjointed and spoiled by sin. The New Covenant is God’s new agreement or settlement with mankind. Our part in the agreement is a willingness to yield ourselves fully to Him in obedience and to receive God’s undeserved forgiveness, gained by Jesus on the cross.
Through the New Covenant, the great divide between God and individual people is healed and relations are restored. But it does not end there. Like the Old Covenant, the New Covenant has a huge ‘corporate’ aspect. The Old Covenant was with a people, a nation. The New Covenant likewise, although appropriated by individuals, is all to do with God’s relationship with a people, the Church. Covenant is with a people – a people so closely associated because they share together in the saving work of Christ that they are actually called one body – Christ’s body. The dividing wall is broken down, writes Paul, and we are “one new man” (Ephesians 2:13, 14, 15).
When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment of the Old Testament was, He replied “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12: 29,30,31). It is these commandments that lie at the heart of the New Covenant.
During the last Passover meal that Jesus shared with His disciples, He gave them some important instructions to prepare them for His departure. After washing their feet He said: “A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34,35).
What could be clearer than the words of the ageing John the Apostle who wrote, towards the end of the first century, in one of his letters: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20, 21).
The central thrust of the New Covenant, like the Old, is – relationship and relationships. Man’s relationship with God is restored – at the Cross – and this restoration extends to relationships between God’s people, the Church. Within the heart of the New Covenant’s lies what Peter the apostle calls “the brotherhood” (1 Peter 2:17 NIV) or “spiritual family” (Amplified Bible).
Peter also wrote, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2; 9, 10). These words echo the familiar covenant words coming down through the centuries “I will their God and they shall be My people.”