The New Covenant with Israel | Jeremiah 31

God chose one nation, Israel, to make known his ways and reveal his character to all mankind. God called Israel into a covenant relationship with himself and entrusted his law to them to reveal his plan of salvation for all the nations. The Bible is the record of God’s dealings with Israel through the covenants.

What is a covenant?

When God made a covenant with Israel, the practice of entering into covenants was commonplace and well understood. Not many people today understand the full meaning and implication of a covenant relationship. By simple definition, a covenant is a very solemn and binding agreement between two parties which was ratified by the shedding of blood. Covenants were usually entered into to combine the strengths of two parties for their mutual benefit. The obligations of the covenant bond were announced accompanied by the calling down of blessings and curses – blessings for honouring the covenant obligations and curses on either party should they forsake their covenantal obligations.

The handshake is a residue of the ancient custom among the pagans of ratifying a covenant by cutting themselves on the palms of their hands and allowing their blood to mingle, thereby declaring themselves to be “blood brothers.” Such was the solemn nature of a covenant. Among God’s people a blood-covenant was ratified by the slaying of an innocent animal, called the “covenant victim,” signifying that the covenant was binding unto death. Marriage, too, is an example of a covenant relationship. In ancient times, when the marriage was consummated, proof of virginity was established by blood on the sheets on the wedding night and if there was any doubt about the fidelity of the bride the marriage could be annulled. Using marriage as an analogy for the spiritual union that exists between the Lord and his people, the Lord often refers to himself as a husband to Israel. (E.g.. Is. 54:5)

God’s Covenants with Israel

God called Abraham out from the nations and made an everlasting covenant with him and his descendants, the ultimate goal of which was the blessing of the whole world. Circumcision was the mark of inclusion in this covenant for all Jewish males. Four hundred years later God made a covenant with the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai in which the Torah was given.

Then he [Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:7-8)

When God made the covenant at Mt. Sinai the people were terrified by the fearsome presence of God and they asked Moses to be their mediator. Moses told the people everything that God instructed him to say. The people were afraid to come near to God and stood afar off. Only Moses knew God face to face and he represented the people before the Lord. Later Moses reminded the people of this when he prophesied about the Messiah who would come.

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.” The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19)

After Moses’ death, God raised up prophets to speak to His people. The Law that was given at Sinai was written upon tablets of stone, but the Lord said, through the prophets, that a time would come when he would make a New Covenant with Israel.

“The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fore-fathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “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. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31: 31-34).

The Biblical covenants are the progressive outworking of God’s plan of redemption for all mankind. The Abrahamic covenant established the goal. The Mosaic covenant established the ideal of a covenant community governed by God’s laws. It provided the structure and order to transform a motley multitude of slaves into a holy nation, fit for the purposes fro which God had called it. The new covenant is the realisation of the highest ideal – the government no longer external but within the heart of man. The local and provisional nature of the old covenant theocracy is superseded by a universal covenant in which true worshippers worship God in spirit and in truth.

Why was a new covenant needed?

Despite having the revelation of God through the law and the prophets the religion of Israel soon degenerated into external rituals. The law was unable to change the condition of their hearts. The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” Isaiah 29:13

According to the promise of the new covenant God desires all men to know him through his Spirit in a direct and personal relationship and not to simply learn about him through the instruction of others. He wants us to love him with all of our heart and soul and not merely to pay him lip service. We may know a great deal about someone without ever coming to know them intimately. Religious instruction teaches us about God and about how we should worship him, but it does not bring us into a personal relationship with him. God is not pleased with worship which is made up only of rituals and traditions of men. God never intended us to worship him simply by learning to recite prayers and to observe rules and rituals. He wants us to worship him from our hearts. Religion is often a substitute for relationship with God. Many people go through the motions of serving God without ever experiencing the reality of his presence.

By the time that Isaiah recorded his prophecies the people were already overburdened with countless traditions and rules. That had been added as a hedge around the Torah. Isaiah described their vain religious practices as follows:

For it is: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there. Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, to whom he said, “This is the resting place, let the weary rest” and, “This is the place of repose”– but they would not listen. So then, the word of the Lord to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there; so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured. (Isaiah 28:9-13)

We are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our strength, but all too often God seems to be far removed from the pressures of daily life. In the face of suffering and cruelty in this world many question the very existence of God and for those who do believe in Him there is often a sense of insignificance in the midst of this vast universe. God does not want to be far removed from us. He longs to restore us to the relationship that he had with man before mankind rebelled and was separated from fellowship with God.

Why does God seem to be so distant from us and how do we enter into a personal relationship with him where we may know him as our Father and love him with all of our hearts? First we need to examine what separates us from God.

What separates us from God?

God is Spirit and he is invisible. He is the creator who sustains all life, yet to most people he seems far removed from day to day life. Are we separated from God merely because he is invisible and exists beyond the material realm which we perceive with our natural senses? The prophet Isaiah wrote: “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.” (Isaiah 64:7).

We have all sinned against Almighty God. If all our sins were to be completely exposed, our natural inclination would be to cringe and hide ourselves from God’s presence. God’s word is a light which exposes our sin even in the secret thoughts and attitudes of our heart. Many people prefer the darkness and refuse to come to the light for fear that their sins will be exposed. We do not need to be reminded of our sins so that we wallow in guilt, shame and despair but neither should we try to build up our egos to the extent that the following words of the psalmist become true of us: “There is no fear of God before his eyes. For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.” (Psalms 36:2) The word of God counsels us to, “not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:3)

It is popularly believed that man is inherently good, but this is a naive and humanistic view of ourselves. The truth is that people are generally greedy, self-seeking and proud. We may conceal our selfishness and appease our conscience by an outward veneer of respectability and social concern, but the word of God tells us plainly that no one is righteous – all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Ps. 53:3, Rom. 3:23). We are all quick to detect the sin in others but we often fail to recognise our own sin. The Lord called the prophets to speak boldly to the people concerning their religious pretense:

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.” Isaiah 58:1-2

Religion is often our own feeble effort to make amends for our sins, but only God can forgive and provide atonement (a covering) for our sins. Many people believe that if we perform enough good deeds, they will outweigh the bad so that we can keep the scales tipped in our favour and God will accept us for our good deeds. The word of God says: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

People often imagine that repentance involves stricter observance of religious rules and rituals, but as we have already seen, God is not interested in lip service and ritual but wants us to worship Him with a pure and sincere heart. Even the very religious and pious among us have to admit that external regulations may keep us in check, but they cannot change the attitude and inclinations of our hearts. Ultimately we are not governed by the rules we observe, but by the condition of our heart.

Some will say that as long as we try our best to live up to God’s standards it will be acceptable. God’s law indeed exposes our sin, but if we decide for ourselves what is important and how much we will obey we are sitting in judgement on God’s law and disregarding the gravity of sin! The truth is that we are law breakers if we break even one law. A person is convicted as a criminal when they commit one crime – they do not have to commit multiple offences. Even our best efforts will fall short of God’s perfect law. Many sinners prefer to remain in blissful ignorance of God’s requirements, but as in the case of civil society, ignorance of the law is no defense. Some will argue that God would not have given a law that he did not expect his people to be able to obey, but in fact the law is the mirror which reflects our sin and leads us to Messiah. It is an essential part of God’s plan of salvation – man first needs to recognise and admit his failings before he can appeal to God’s mercy.

The law was given based upon a sacrificial system in which an innocent animal was sacrificed for the sins of the people. This provided temporary atonement for sin but also served as a constant reminder that the consequence of sin is death. However, this was always only intended as a temporary measure, pointing to and anticipating the final and complete atonement for sin that the Messiah would make in the new covenant.

Although God has shown us the way (Torah) by which we must live, the people were never able to live up to His perfect law. The reason given for making a new covenant is not that the law is flawed but that the people are flawed. Despite every good intention to live in obedience to Torah, they were continually overcome by the sinful inclination of their hearts and were incapable of perfect obedience. Long before the Lord promised through Jeremiah that he would make a new covenant with Israel, he had already told Moses that he anticipated their rebellion and breaking of the covenant he had made at Mount Sinai.

And the Lord said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed (Deuteronomy 31:16).

When God made the covenant at Mount Sinai, he did not promise that by observing the Law, our hearts would be renewed, nor that we would be inclined to obey him. Instead God said somewhat despairingly, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29)

Our sinful condition which separates us from God is extremely serious and cannot be cured with superficial remedies. It cannot be expunged by religious rituals. It cannot be blotted out by charitable works. The answer is not in greater regulation, nor in more freedom. What we need is a supernatural change of heart. We need to echo King David’s cry from the heart after his sin with Bathsheba was exposed; “Create in us a new heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within us.” (Psalms 51:10). Sin separates us from the holiness of God and our hearts and thoughts are continually inclined towards sin. All men are sinners and the law exposes us as such. We all need God’s mercy and salvation. God never promised to lessen the requirements of the Law. God did promise that he would make a new covenant through which he would forgive our sins and change the inclination of our hearts.

When and how was the New Covenant made?

When God gave the law to Israel at Mt. Sinai it did not set aside the covenant with Abraham through which all nations would be blessed. The law was put in place as a temporary measure and as an essential component in the outworking of God’s plan of redemption for humanity. Redemption was always promised only through the Messiah. The Lord said to Moses that he would put his word into the mouth of the Messiah (Deut. 18:18). The Word of God was never intended to be an abstract philosophy, or an impersonal set of rules and regulations enforced by religious leaders. The word of God is embodied in the person of the Messiah.

God spoke through the prophets of the Messiah who would redeem us to God and restore our relationship with Him. This redeemer was to be born from the tribe of Judah, but Isaiah, prophesying about the coming Messiah said:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Elsewhere he prophesied that this child will be called Immanuel which literally means “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). God himself would dwell among His people. Not only did God come and dwell among his people, he fully identified himself with humanity by taking upon himself the nature and likeness of a man in the person of the Messiah.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. ….The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-4,14

Jesus is the crowning revelation of God to man. He is the very embodiment of truth and righteousness. In him the character of God is made manifest. He represents the highest ideal of moral perfection, wisdom and self-sacrificing love. He is the personification of the Torah – the way, the truth, and the life!

The word of God also tells us that the Messiah himself was to become a covenant for the people of Israel and a light for the Gentiles:

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:6-7)

Jesus spent three years ministering to the people all over Israel, showing them the love of God by feeding them with his word, healing the sick and blind and releasing the spiritually oppressed. Having done that he resolutely set forth to Jerusalem to accomplish the purpose for which God had sent him. At the time of the Passover, on the night that Jesus was betrayed, he took the cup of wine and said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew. 26:27).

Jesus himself became the “covenant victim” ratifying the new covenant with his own blood to secure for us the forgiveness of sin, thus fulfilling the word of the Lord spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5).

The new covenant book (commonly called the New Testament) is the record of God’s love for man revealed in the person of Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus not only revealed the nature of God to man, he demonstrated the full measure of God’s love for us by laying down his life as a sacrifice for sin in order to redeem us to God.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

We could never draw near to the Almighty Holy God who is clothed in majesty and splendour and who dwells in unapproachable light, but he drew near to us by sending his only Son as our Saviour and Messiah. The Lord declares in psalm 2: “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” Our Saviour’s name in Hebrew is “Yeshua” which means “the salvation of God.” God knew that Israel would forsake him and break the covenant and that he would hide his face from them, but he promised to save them and redeem them from their sin by sending his Messiah. The prophet Isaiah wrote:

In that day you will say:” I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation (Yeshua); I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation (Yeshua). With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation (Yeshua). In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.” Isaiah 12:1-6

After he was crucified for our sins, he was raised from the dead and appeared to many witnesses. God himself testified that Jesus is the Messiah by raising him from the dead, for the Scripture says,

“For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. (Psalms 16:10)

Isaiah likewise prophesied that the Messiah would give his life for the sins of the world and be raised from the dead.

“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” Isaiah 53:10-11

Before Jesus ascended into heaven he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit which he had promised the Father would send. Thus all the terms of the new covenant – the forgiveness of sin and the promise that he would put His Spirit in us and write his law upon our heart – were fulfilled.

“But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36:26-27.

This is how we come to know God, because he has not left us alone but has sent his Holy Spirit to dwell within the heart of everyone who believes (See also Joel 2:28). Religion teaches us about God, but Jesus reconciles us to God so that we may know him.

God has spoken very plainly and clearly through the prophets of Israel of how we can recognise the Messiah and come to know him through the Messiah. It is only our own pride and refusal to acknowledge our sin that keeps us from coming near to God to receive his mercy and forgiveness in the new covenant.

How does the New Covenant differ from the Old?

The Lord said: “It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt” (Jeremiah 31:32).

The new covenant promised to do what the law was unable to accomplish – to change the heart of man. The law was written on tablets of stone – the law of the new covenant of Messiah is written upon the heart. The essence of the new covenant is that we come to know God because He dwells within us by His Spirit who leads us into all truth. He brings us into a personal and intimate relationship with God as our Father through his Spirit that dwells within us. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (Romans 8:15).

Under the old covenant only certain individuals received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, but in the new covenant the anointing of the Holy Spirit is for every believer, from the least to the greatest.

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 John 2:27).

Previously men had to be instructed in all the external rituals and laws of the old covenant, much of which pertained to the national, religious and civil government of the people. The new covenant pertains to the government of God in the heart of every man. If the law of Moses was effective to a degree in ordering the life of the old covenant community how much more powerful and effective is the law of Messiah, empowered by His Spirit, in transforming those who come to him through the new covenant.

Although the Torah acted as a restraint against actual transgressions it was powerless to change the sinful inclination of our heart. The law that is written upon our heart judges not only the external transgressions of God’s law but the very thoughts and attitudes of our heart. The Torah says, “Do not commit adultery,” but Jesus pointed out that sin originates in our heart when we begin to entertain adulterous thoughts. His Spirit convicts us of sin and unrighteousness within our hearts and we willingly submit ourselves to the leading of his Spirit as he teaches and guides us into all truth. This does not mean that we no longer need to study His word, but that he gives us spiritual insight and understanding of his word through his Spirit who dwells within us. Jesus said: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).

All are invited to enter the blessings of this new covenant. Under the Old covenant there were barriers separating Jews and Gentiles, men and women, Israelites and Levites, and priests from the high priest. In the new covenant these barriers have been abolished – everyone, from the least to the greatest, irrespective of race, language, economic status or gender can enter into this intimate and personal relationship with God through the atonement that Jesus made upon the cross. Jesus said to the woman at the well, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks” (John 4:22).

God veiled his glory in human flesh and came and lived among us in the person of the Messiah. The people were terrified to come near to God at Mt. Sinai, but in Jesus God revealed his love to his people by coming in the humility of a servant. He came as the perfect mediator, representing both God and man, and made a new covenant by shedding his own blood to obtain forgiveness of sin and to reconcile us to God.

Today many people scoff at the idea of Jesus being the only mediator between God and man and boast that they come to God directly. It is impossible for sinful man to approach God without an atonement for sin and there is no acceptable atonement other than what God has provided. Jesus said that no-one comes to the Father except through Him. He is the way the truth and the life and anyone who rejects the way that God has made for men to be reconciled to Himself does not know God because God was in Messiah reconciling the world to himself. If we reject his ultimate sacrifice for sin we treat his love and mercy with contempt. Jesus said;

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:27-29

Why don’t all men know the Lord?

According to the terms of the new covenant, a man will no longer teach his neighbour or his brother saying, “Know the Lord,” because they will all know him from the least to the greatest (Jer. 31:34). Some have suggested that since it is obvious that not all men know the Lord, the covenant has either not yet been made or is only partially fulfilled and that the terms of the new covenant are not yet fully in effect.

A covenant is a contractual agreement and if one aspect of the covenant is not yet in place, then the whole agreement is invalid. As Paul reminds us, “…no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established…” (Gal. 3:15)

What does “all” mean in the context of the new covenant and does this suggest that all men will be brought to a complete and sudden revelation, and willing obedience to God, apart from any human agency? Obviously not. The word of God declares: How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)

The preaching of the good news of salvation in Jesus the Messiah through the messengers that God calls is essential to call men to repentance and to receive the blessings of the new covenant. The good news, announcing the forgiveness of sin through the atoning blood of Jesus has gone out to the world but many reject the good news. The way in has been opened to all but not all come in. Men make a willing and conscious decision to repent and submit to God – unrepentant sinners cannot be reconciled to a Holy and righteous God. It is clear from many passages of Scripture that there will always be wicked and rebellious men who resist the purposes of God in reconciling men to Himself. Such men will never enjoy intimate fellowship with a Holy God. Only those with a humble and contrite heart will be led into a knowledge of the truth. Those who seek God in sincerity will find him. If we desire to draw near to God He will draw near to us, but He resists the proud. God is calling all men everywhere to repentance but only those who respond in faith are reconciled to Him through the new covenant. Jesus said: “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.” John 6:45

Sadly, many people simply do not want to know the truth: “They say to the seers, ‘See no more visions!’ And to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions’” (Isaiah 30:10).

God has made the new covenant, but men exclude themselves from the benefits of the covenant while they persist in unbelief and refuse to accept the forgiveness that God extends under the new covenant. Israel forfeited the blessings and incurred the curses by not remaining faithful to the covenant established at Mt. Sinai, but this did not nullify the covenant. The terms of the new covenant are already fully in effect for all those who have been included among the covenant people of God through repentance and faithfulness. All can come boldly before the throne of grace through the blood of Jesus, regardless of race, gender, social standing etc. Those who remain outside the covenant refuse the grace of God and resist his purposes to reconcile men to himself. The apostle Paul, quoting from psalm 19 vs. 4 wrote: “Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’’”

The prophet Isaiah predicted that many in Israel would not believe the message that the Messiah would come in the humility of a servant to atone for their sins by shedding his own blood:

“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1)

Even by rejecting the Messiah the rabbis unwittingly fulfil prophecy, for God predicted the rejection of the very cornerstone of the true faith of Israel by the builders of Judaism:

“The stone the builders rejected has become the Capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes.” Psalm 118:22

Jesus passed the following verdict on men who persist in hiding from the truth as if it were not clearly revealed to them:

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19)

After God had made the new covenant he allowed the temple to be destroyed and the sacrificial system to be abolished, thus making the old covenant obsolete. There is no forgiveness of sins any longer apart from the new covenant for, “God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” (Romans 11:32)

Two paths emerged thereafter. Rabbinical Judaism, the heir of Pharisaism, sought to maintain parts of the old covenant without the essential elements of the temple and the priesthood upon which the covenant was based. The Messianic movement embraced the new covenant, the foundation of which is the forgiveness of sin through the perfect atonement made by Jesus on the cross. He is our High Priest and we are the new temple made up of “living stones” – the community of believers in whom the Glory of God dwells by His Spirit. Conditions applying to the old covenant – a designated place of worship, barriers between Jews and Gentiles, animal sacrifices, the Levitical priesthood and a veil separating men from God’s presence – will never be re-instated by God for that would be retrogressive. These were merely external regulations applying until the time of the new order. The veil in the temple was merely the symbol of separation between man and God. When Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross he abolished all divisions, making way for the new order in which all men, from the least to the greatest, can freely approach the throne of grace. The veil that was torn was his body – he is the only way into the presence of God.

The Messianic movement which developed into the Church was not a Gentile religion opposed to the Torah. On the contrary, it was the fulfilment of God’s promise to make a new covenant with the house of Israel. Salvation is from the Jews. The faithful remnant of national Israel, numbering tens of thousands of believers, formed the nucleus of the new covenant assembly. Since then, in every generation, there have been Jewish disciples of Jesus. Their descendants are usually counted as lost to Jewry, but in reality they are not lost at all. Abraham actually has millions of natural descendants within the Christian Church! However, in Messiah racial distinctions are lost and the Lord sees only “one new man” which is neither Jew nor Gentile. Both Jews and Gentiles are assimilated into this “new man” and all those who are of the same faith of Abraham are counted as the seed of Abraham. The new covenant church, comprising both Jew and Gentile, is the continuation of the faithful assembly of Israel.

It is important to remember that Jesus announced that he was making the new covenant almost 2000 years ago and that this was the covenant “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” No further covenant can be anticipated with Israel, only an ever widening inclusion of people into the existing covenant from both the physical descendants of Abraham and from among the Gentiles. Even if we anticipate a large-scale, future repentance of unbelieving Israel it can only be on the basis of personal faith and repentance. Such a decision cannot be made by the elders or rulers of the nation on behalf of the people. Even under the old covenant, although Israel was delivered corporately from Egypt, each family had to demonstrate personal faith by applying the blood on the doorposts. Those who failed to do so were not delivered. Whereas inclusion into the covenant people was formerly by physical birth and circumcision of the flesh, inclusion into the new covenant can only be by Spiritual birth and circumcision of the heart. Jesus confirmed the terms of the new covenant in response to a question from a rabbi:

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” John 3:6

The message of the Messiah was taken to the nations through the Jewish apostles. God is now using Gentiles, with foreign lips and strange tongues, to carry the message of the new covenant back to the natural descendants of Israel. Centuries have passed but the message remains identical to that preached by the apostle Peter in Jerusalem two thousand years ago:

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

No other messianic claimant from among the people of Israel has come anywhere close to fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy on the mission of the Messiah:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

As an historical figure Jesus is probably the most well known person in history. Whether he is revered or reviled, his name is known throughout the world. For an itinerant preacher who lived in Israel 2000 years ago and who never travelled beyond the borders of his own land apart from a brief sojourn in Egypt shortly after his birth, his influence, which has extended to the ends of the earth and endured for two millennia, can hardly be explained without acknowledging the Divine nature of his person and mission.

The knowledge of the God of Israel has reached the ends of the earth – nations have walked in his light through the proclamation of the gospel. The influence of the Scriptures, which have been translated into hundreds of tongues, underlie many of the laws that govern modern society. Nations have been transformed from barbarism into civilised societies. There are not many people who have never heard of Jesus. But although the Name of Jesus is known throughout the entire world, not all are obedient to him as yet.

The New Testament reveals that a time will come when, “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:10)

Today is the day of salvation. The Apostle Paul, quoting from the prophet Isaiah wrote; “In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation. . . (2 Cor. 6:2)

Today if you hear his voice do not harden your heart!