This message addresses the Old Covenant and New Covenant. It does not address everything concerning either, however. The Old Covenant generally is described in the Old Testament. The New Covenant generally is described in the New Testament.
Note that in the KJV New Testament the words testament and covenant are synonymous as they are a translation of the same Greek word diatheke (Strong’s 1242).
Jeremiah the prophet prophesized about the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31). Many scriptures in the New Testament (e.g., John 3:16; Romans 1:16) clearly establish that Jesus. the authority and implementor of the New Covenant, came to seek and save both Jew/Israelite and Gentile (non-Jew/non-Israelite). Therefore, the New Covenant must include both Jew and Gentile.
New Testament scriptures that speak to us about the role of the Holy Spirit under the New Covenant include John 16:13 and 1 John 2:20, 27.
Hebrews tell us that the New Covenant began at Jesus death on the cross (Hebrews 9:14-17). Jesus speaks of this in Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24, and Luke 22:20. Paul refers to Jesus words in 1 Cor 11:25. For example consider Matthew where he says:
(Mat 26:28) For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Yet, one should be mindful that some of the New Testament Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) describes the life of people who lived during the Old Covenant before the New Covenant begin. This includes Jesus who lived during the time of the Old Covenant. Jesus is unique in that he practiced aspects of both and Old and New Covenant. His purpose was to bring in the New Covenant so he showed and taught the people what it meant to live under the New Covenant that was to come. Indeed, Jesus explained and demonstrated the Old Covenant laws as they were to be applied under the New Covenant that was to come.
For example, under the Old Covenant, the letter of the Mosaic law (Leviticus 20:10) required the woman of John 8:1-11 caught in the act of adultery to be put to death. But Jesus showed that he came to usher in grace for all to do better. For he rebuked her accusers for also being sinners under the condemnation of the law. But he also told her that he did not condemn her; but, she was to go and sin no more. Indeed, as John 3:16-18 and Luke 19:10 tells us Jesus came not to condemn but to seek and save the lost.
In general Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant laws on our behalf. In fulfilling the law Christ sacrifice covers all the law for the true believer; this is the definition of grace under the New Covenant (John 1:16-17). Now, there are some laws which Christ yet expects the believer to obey for God’s glory and for what is best for the believer as an individual and for humanity in general. That includes those brought forth and in some cases redefined and/or clarified from the Old Testament and those established in the New Testament. So God does deal with the believer with respect to obedience. Indeed, Jesus speaks of true discipleship in terms of obedience in John 8:31-32 as well as elsewhere as does the apostles, etc. Some characterize Paul as the apostle of grace meaning he detailed the gospel of grace under the New Testament more than the other biblical writers. Even Paul reminds all that God/Jesus shall judge all as to what he/she has done while in this flesh whether it be good or bad (2 Cor 5:10). Even Paul says God forbids us to continue in sin just because God grants grace (Romans 6:1-2) through Jesus sacrificial death on the cross. So clearly the New Testament does not say sin does not matter to God. So clearly the New Testament does not say Christians whether Jew or Gentile are loosed from obeying those parts of the law (Torah; Strong’s H8451; Gen 26:5) that are brought forth into the New Covenant. Yet that obedience is not necessarily in letter but is rather in spirit in some cases (2 Cor 3:2-6). For example, circumcision of the heart is more important than circumcision of the flesh rendering circumcision of the flesh no longer a requirement to be a member of God’s chosen as it was under the Old Covenant (Acts 15; Romans 2:25-29). In fact in the New Testament the law of Christ is the Torah of Christ/Messiah per application of principles present in Gen 26:5.
Relationship Between Old and New Covenants.
God communicates righteous behavior through the setting of various kinds and levels of doctrines in the form of commandments and laws. God’s desire and expectation is that we obey those doctrines. He does chastise us sometimes for our disobedience, sometimes rather mildly. Yet, sometimes he does so rather harshly; for example, God took David’s child for his sin involving Bathsheba.
To understand the relationship between grace and the law one must understand the difference between the Old Covenant and New Covenant. Moreover, to understand the relationship between grace and possibility of judgment unto condemnation under/by Jesus one must accept that the Old Covenant is passed away and the New Covenant came into full effect at Jesus death on the cross. Hebrews 7, 8, and 9 speaks of this especially Hebrews 7:12, 18, 22; 8:6-7, 13; 9:14-17. Note that Hebrews 8:8-12 is a quote from Jeremiah 31:31-34. Hebrews 10:16 is a partial repeat of Hebrews 8:8-12. One must also accept the biblical doctrine that Jesus fulfilled all of the Mosaic law on behalf of those who become his disciples indeed (Matthew 5:17-18; John 3:16-18; 8:31-32).
Under the Old Covenant God primarily spoke to people through prophets and prophetesses of which Hebrews 1:1-2 and Hebrews 8:9 speak. Yet, under the New Covenant, God now through Jesus speaks through his ministers (e.g., Ephesians 4:11-14) as well as directly to the individual by way of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 16:13; Luke 11:13). Yet, the Lord God says come let us reason together (Isaiah 1:18). So it is reasonable to me to conclude that the Holy Spirit would not say anything that contradicts what he has already said through his messengers. Moreover, it is reasonable to me to conclude that whatever the Holy Spirit says today he would not say one thing to one believer and a contradictory thing to another believer regarding matters that apply to the body of Christ. Yet, we have people saying the Holy Spirit said A to me and another saying the Holy Spirit said B to me and A and B contradict. Even under the New Covenant God is not divided against himself. So regarding such contradictory matters, I am confident someone is a liar. How do we know the truth. Well Jesus says the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us into all truth. Jesus says the Word of God is truth. Paul says the sword of the Holy Spirit is the Word of God. So now if one accepts the Holy Bible from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 as the Word of God, then it follows that the test of truth is what does the Bible say about the matter. Let us look to the Holy Bible to resolve contradictions in life and we all like Jesus face contradictions of sinners against us and sometimes the contradictions are within us.
Indeed, under the Old Covenant the Holy Spirit did not infill very many persons, if any at all, and did not come upon very many persons. Yet, under the New Covenant the infilling of the Holy Spirit is available to teach the least and the greatest. This availability of the Holy Spirit to all people (Israelite and non-Israelite; black and white) who accepts Christ as the Messiah/Saviour (John 3:16; Matthew 28:18-20) rather than only a selected few is what Hebrews 8:10-11 is about.
In Matthew 5:17-18 Christ says:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. (18) For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Yet, we know that part of the Mosaic law is no longer in effect under the New Covenant, e.g., the animal sacrifice laws. But there is no contradiction between what Christ said and part of the law passing away. The reason is that Christ fulfilled (satisfied and kept perfectly; completed, ended, finished, accomplished, brought to pass) the sacrifice laws (e.g., Romans 10:4; 2 Cor 1:20; Hebrews 9:12) once and for all so though they are passed away for the believer Christ sacrifice covers them. But Christ covers more than the animal sacrifice laws.
Hebrews 10:24-31 reminds us to provoke one another unto love and good works as faith without works is no faith at all (James 2:26). So we are reminded to regularly assemble so as to exhort one another to especially avoid willful (voluntarily, deliberately, willingly) sin for the Lord shall judge his people. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of an angry God even under the New Covenant.
To Whom were/are the Covenants Given
Generally speaking, the Old Covenant was primarily given to the Israelites in detail. However, other than Israelites received the Old Covenant as we shall set forth below. The New Covenant is given to all nations, nationalities, races, Israelite and non-Israelites, in a non-limited manner. Indeed, whosoever will let him/her come says the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Moses and the other Old Testament prophets primarily spoke to the Israelites. Therefore they naturally used reference words such as Israel. It is no different when Rev. MLK Jr. often used reference words such as America since he was primarily speaking to America.
God chose Israel to be the prototype nation through whom he revealed his plan to bring his creation back in good standing that was lost in Genesis 3. So the Bible often uses terminology centered around Israel. So it is with the twelve gates and walls having the names of the twelve tribes and twelve apostles, respectively (Rev 21:12). The naming is to honor them for their special role in God’s plan.
It is true that God gave the first (Old) Covenant to Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and then Jacob (Israel). It is true that first Covenant was revealed in detail through Moses and the Israelite Nation. However it is false that the Old Covenant was restricted to the biological Israelites. The biological Israelites are Jacob (Israel) and his descendants sons and daughter though the twelve tribes are named after his sons and grandsons.
Abraham and Isaac are technically and definitionally not Israelites as they are Jacob’s ancestors not descendants. So here we have two non-Israelites to whom God gave the Old Covenant, well at least certain aspects of the Old Covenant. Genesis 14:13 establishes Abraham to be Hebrew. It seems to follow that his biological descendants Isaac, Ishmael, etc. would also be Hebrew. It would seem to further follow that Isaac’s descendants Jacob and Esau would be biologically Hebrew. Yet, as I understand the term Israelite it derives from Israel (Jacob) and applies biologically to Israel and his descendants but does not apply to ancestors of Israel (Jacob). So though Isaac and Ishmael were/are Hebrew they were/are not an Israelite as is the case for Abraham.
So since Abraham and Isaac are not Israelites in a technical sense it follows that God’s covenant is not only for the Israelites. God first revealed it to Abraham. He revealed greater details of it using the Israelite nation with a sprinkling of its availability to non-Israelites with respect to the strangers conversion in Israel. With the coming of Christ God fully revealed the covenant availability to all humankind, Israelites and non-Israelites. It is by faith of Abraham not biological or geography. Indeed God desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
If I was to move to another city and make it my permanent residence I would become a citizen of that city and state. I would have the same rights as those born there and lived there all their life. Similarly, any non-biological-Israelite who possesses the faith of Abraham and Christ Jesus becomes a citizen of spiritual Israel, a citizen of the kingdom of God, a child of God, one saved and sanctified through Christ Jesus (Exodus 12:48-49; Rev 3:20). Such citizenship provides the non-biological Israelite believer the same rights as biological Israelites possessing the proper faith.
This is the biblical doctrine of spiritual Israel; the phrase spiritual Israel does not appear in the Bibel but the principle is clearly present in the Bible. Scriptures that support the doctrine of spiritual Israel include, but is not limited to, Exodus 12:48-49; 18:9-12; Deuteronomy 23:7-8; Ruth 1:4; 4:10; Esther 8:17; Isaiah 14:1-2; 56:6-8; Acts 2:10; Acts 10:34 and all of Acts chapter 10.
The fact that Abraham was not an Israelite is a simple yet powerful and foundational point on which all other doctrine must stand to be true/sound. Therefore, God has not restricted his covenant to the Israelites.
Also, consider the stranger, which means non-Israelite, someone from another nation.
In general, the scriptures establish that one law (Mosaic Law, Old Covenant) shall be for the Israelite and stranger even him that “sojourns among you” (Exodus 12:49; Leviticus 24:22); Deuteronomy 14:21 provides an exception with regards to dietary laws. Strangers may convert to become an Israelite (spiritual Israelite). In case of non-conversion partaking in the Passover would be meaningless as would the case of a non-believer partaking in the Lord’s Supper/Communion. However, scripturally, Non-Israelites (strangers) who convert may partake in Passover (Numbers 9:14). Indeed, one should note the presence of the phrase Jews and PROSELYTES in Acts 2:10, with emphasis on Proselytes.
Many other scriptures speak about proselytes. These include Esther 8:17; Isaiah 56:3; Matthew 23:15; Acts 6:5 (concerning Nicolas one of the Seven); and Acts 13:43. Also, let us consider four additional proselytes in the Bible, two from the Old Testament (Rahab and Ruth) and two from the New Testament (Cornelius and the Canaanite woman).
Rahab is recorded in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11:31 and spoken of for her faith with works in James 2:25. There is strong indication that Rahab was not an Israelite; but that she did convert to an Israelite (Joshua 2:9-14; Joshua 6:25).
Ruth was a Moabite (Ruth 1:4) who became a proselyte (Ruth 1:15-16) through conversion.
Acts 10 gives the account of the Roman centurion Cornelius who worshipped God but was recognized as being of another nation. The scripture is unclear as to whether he at first identified with the same God as the Israelites or recognized the realness of God. In any case Peter clearly did not consider him as being a part of the nation of Israel (Acts 10:28). Peter eventually learned that God offered people of every nation whether a biological Israelite or a Gentile (a person who is not a biological Israelite) to become part of God’s holy consecrated kingdom (Acts 10:28, 35, 43). For as Jesus says, his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36); thus indicating his kingdom is a spiritual kingdom not a kingdom of flesh.
Matthew 15:21-28 speaks of the Canaanite woman who engages in a conversation with Jesus. Jesus first tells her that he is only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24); in so doing he clearly indicates she is not an Israelite. Yet, in the end he grants her request; thus, he clearly indicates that he and the Father hears and answers the prayers/requests of those who are not Israelites, that is to say from other nations. Moreover, when we consider the entire ministry of Jesus including and especially his directives to the apostles (e.g., Matthew 28:18-20) and the sending of Paul to the Gentiles, we know that Jesus is saying in Matthew 15:24 that his personal ministry focus in the three years he ministered before crucifixion was to the Israelites but his eventual sacrifice on the cross was to be for Israelites and non-Israelites.
Also consider Noah an ancestor of Abraham who is also listed in Hebrews 11 hall of the faithful. Also consider Enoch, descendant of Seth and ancestor of Noah (Luke 3:36-38) and Able who are also listed in Hebrews 11. None of these (Noah, Enoch, Able) are Israelites so does that mean they are not part of the kingdom of God. Surely it does not mean that. And if one non-biological Israelite can enter the kingdom of God, surely all who accept Jesus in accordance with the gospel message can.
Under Christ the New Covenant is to be revealed to both Israelite and non-Israelite that all who accepts Christ may be saved (John 3:16-18; Matthew 28:18-20, etc.). The covenant was/is made with whoever (Israelite or non-Israelite) chose/chooses God. Through Christ God reconciles or brings the believer into right relationship with God. It is like a husband and wife separated for some reason but then the problem is resolved and they are reconciled. Christ reconciles to God anyone, Israelite or non-Israelite, who accepts Christ as the Messiah/Saviour. Paul for example in Romans 11:15 emphasizes that though his apostolic mission focuses on the Gentile non-Israelites, that does not mean he ignores the Jews and indeed has hope for them as well. Thus, the gospel is for Israelite and Non-Israelite.
Reconciliation became necessary going back to Adam and Eve when human kind became tainted with sin in Genesis 3. This taint (sometimes called the sin nature) gave rise to the Mosaic law including animal blood shed sacrifice as a schoolmaster but insufficient for eternal salvation.
So Christ the perfect fulfillment of the law and the perfect sacrificial blood shed lamb of God was given to the world, Israelites and non-Israelites, because of God’s love for the world to put human world back together in right relationship with God as it was before the fall in Genesis 3. For example consider Revelation 3:20 where Christ says Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
In the final analysis: The biblical truth is that the Old Covenant is passed away in that Christ brought in the New Covenant and that the New Covenant (Hebrews chapters 8 and 9) is available to all people (Israelite and non-Israelite; black and white) who accepts Christ as the Messiah/Saviour (John 3:16; Matthew 28:18-20).
When Did the Old Covenant Cease and the New Covenant Begin
Hebrews chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10 describe in detail the characteristics of the Old Covenant and its cessation as well as the characteristics of the New Covenant and its commencement. Note that in these Hebrew chapters the same Greek word (Strong’s G1242) is interchangeably translated testament and covenant.
Hebrews 7 speaks of how the people received the law under the Levitical priesthood after the order of Aaron and that law was insufficient to bring perfection; therefore, Jesus was made high priest after the order of Melchisedec rather than after order of Aaron (Hebrews 7:11; 10:21) being of the tribe of Judah rather than of Levi (Hebrews 7:14). Hebrews says it is through this changed priesthood that it became necessary there be a change of the law (Hebrews 7:12).
For in Christ there is a disannulling or putting away of the previous commandment due to its weakness and unprofitability (Hebrews 7:18). In Christ there is a better hope than the law provided; it is in this better hope that we draw near to God (Hebrews 7:19; 10:21-23).
In Jesus there is a better testament/covenant for the Levitical priests died but did not rise yet Christ died for our sins but did rise and yet live (Hebrews 7:22-25, 26-27). For Christ is the mediator of a better covenant/testament established upon better promises (Hebrews 8:6).
The first (old) covenant was not faultless in that God found fault with the people (Hebrews 8:7-8). So the second became necessary, that new covenant which Christ brought in (Hebrews 8:7-12). The covenant is faultless for it is dependent on Christ and our repentant faith in Christ but it is not dependen ton people. We know that the second (new) covenant is in effect because with the coming of Christ our sins have forgiveness, and are remembered no more with regard to condemnation (John 3:16-18; Romans 8:1; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 8:12; 9:28; 10:18 for example).
The first covenant God has been made old and it decays and vanishes away. It vanishes away to all who receive Christ; but, yet some erroneously hold to the first though it be ready to vanish away (Hebrews 8:13). Indeed, the Lord himself has said I will make a new covenant and I have made a new covenant; he has said I have made a new covenant by making the first old (Hebrews 8:13) by sending his only begotten son Jesus Christ to be the new high priest doing away with the Levitical priesthood who administered the old covenant (Hebrews 7:11-12) in the sanctuary/tabernacle made by hands (Hebrews 9:1-10) to include shed blood of animals (Hebrew 9:12-13). For how can there me now an old if there is not yet a new. There is an old and therefore there is a new now.
But Christ now being the high priest of the tabernacle/sanctuary not made by hands shedding his own blood is (now) the mediator of the new testament/covenant having died for the transgression that were under the first (old) testament that they which are called may receive eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:14-15).
This Jesus did take away the first and establish the second (Hebrews 10:9). This Jesus did fulfill the prophecy of Jeremiah “said before” concerning the making of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:15-18). This new testament/covenant came into full effect at Christ death on the cross (Hebrews 9:15-17).
2 Cor 3 speaks of the New Covenant being more glorious than the Old. It speaks of the commandments not being written with ink now on tablets but by the Spirit on our hearts. It speaks of the veil being present under the Old but taken away by Christ under the New. It speaks of ministering by the spirit of the law or commandments or scriptures not by the letter.
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For a discussion of proselytes see the external reference in the Jewish Encyclopedia.