This text from Jeremiah 31:31-34 introduces our topic, the New Covenant. There is a move in Messianic circles to affirm that what has commonly been known as the New Covenant is in reality the 'Renewed Sinai Covenant'. Theologically and Biblically, this view is nothing less than heretical and can only lead to renewed spiritual bondage; it stems from the failure to distinguish between the two aspects of 'Law' (in the Biblical sense).
1. Law as Teaching, never changes or is replaced.
2. Law as Covenant, has been replaced.
We seek the reader's patience as we deal with this issue in the following propositions (all quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
1. 'Law' as Teaching has Abiding Relevance and Authority
In Malachi 4:4, God says:
'Remember the Law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel'.
In Matthew 5:17-18, Messiah Yeshua says:
'Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished'.
In these two statements, 'Law' means 'Teaching' and is synonymous with the entire Word of God. The prophet Malachi is not referring to the Sinai Covenant, although the teaching of the Law was at that time renewed and reaffirmed; the reference is rather to the teaching that accompanied the giving of the Law and the inauguration of the Sinai Covenant. Likewise, Messiah Yeshua is not referring to the Sinai Covenant, but to the entire Word of God, which includes all that He taught through Moses. The vast major ity of Biblical texts refers to the Law in this sense; there is however a smaller number of texts that refer to the Law as Covenant, and to these we now direct our attention.
2. 'Law' as Covenant has been replaced.
Our text, Jeremiah 31:31-34, is the foundational statement of the New Covenant, yet God does not speak of a renewed covenant (Mechudesheth' = 'Renewed' in Hebrew); rather, he speaks of a New (chadash' = 'New in' Hebrew) covenant. Further, this New is to be altogether unlike the Sinai Covenant. This passage depicts the two senses in which 'Law' is used, and for confirmation we find that Hebrews 8:8-12 uses the word 'Kainos' (Greek for 'New'), and not 'Neos' (also Greek for 'New'). The word 'Kainos' means 'of a different nature'; whereas 'Neos' means 'recent' or 'reproduced', like new wine, which is wine still. Nor are the terms and conditions the same as in the Sinai Covenant , which was a Covenant of Works.
In Galatians 3:10-12 God's Word says;
'For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, Cursed is every one who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, to perform them. Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, The righteous man shall live by faith. However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, he who practises them shall live by them'.
Evidently, it is not Law as Teaching, but as a Covenant of Works, that is being spoken of. Law as Covenant condemns, Faith apart from Law justifies.
E.g. Romans 3:21 –
'But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets'.
Hebrews 10:1 –
'For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near'.
In all these passages, Law is referred to in the sense of Covenant, and not Teaching. As Covenant, 'Law' was temporary; but as Teaching, 'Law' is eternal.
The Nature of the New Covenant
In the New Covenant, some things have changed and others have not; hence the confusion caused by the term 'Renewed Covenant' would be dispelled by the term 'Replaced Covenant'.
What has changed in the New Covenant?
I. The Lawgiver has changed!
Isaiah 33:22 –
'For the LORD is our Judge, the LORD is our Lawgiver, the LORD is our King; He will save us'.
'The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples'.
1. Corinthians 9:21 –
'To those who are without Law, as without law, though not being without the law of God, but under the law of Messiah, that I might win those who are without law'.
II. The Priesthood has changed!
Psalm 110:4 –
'The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek'.
Hebrews 7:28 –
'For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints the Son, made perfect forever'.
III. The Sacrifice has changed!
Isaiah 53:6 –
'All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him'.
Hebrews 10:11-12 –
'And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sin; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God'.
IV. The Administration has changed!
Jeremiah 3:16 –
'And it shall be in those days, when you are multiplied and increased in the land, declares the LORD, they shall say no more, 'The ark of the covenant of the LORD'. And it shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they miss it, nor shall it be made again'.
Hebrews 10:9 –
'Then he said, Behold, I have come to do Thy will. He takes away the first in order to establish the second'.
The Old Covenant has prepared the way for the New, as a blossom gives way to the fruit; the blossom falls off, in order to make room for the fruit following. The Precept has been transformed into a promise – God gives in the New what He required in the Old (Sinai) Covenant.
Deuteronomy 10:16 –
'Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen no more'. Deuteronomy 30:6 'Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants....' That is to say, the ground of acceptance has changed, as outlined in Jeremiah 31:31-34
What has not changed in the New Covenant?
I. The Law has not changed.
Psalm 119:89 –
'Forever, O LORD, Thy word is settled in heaven'.
2 Timothy 3:16 –
'All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness'.
II. God's provisions have not changed – the earthly has been exchanged for the heavenly, the temporal for the eternal. This applies to the Sanctuary, Altar, Sacrifice, High Priest etc.
Hebrews 9:11-12 –
'But when Messiah appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption'.
III. The penalty for disobedience has not changed.
Hebrews 10:28-29 –
'Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?'.
IV. The promises have not changed
The New Covenant, which as inaugurated with Abraham, is unilateral: God takes it upon Himself to meet all the conditions, thereby making it unconditional to every believer.
Genesis 15:17-18 –
'And it came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram...'.
Galatians 3:20 –
'Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one'. The gist of both passages is that the New Covenant is the unilateral Covenant of Grace made with Abraham, in which God takes upon Himself to give all which he requires of the believers, and to make compensation for their shortcomings. The New Covenant is therefore unconditional as far as they are concerned, though not unconditional to Him, for He must provide the atonement that is promised. Deuteronomy 32:43 –
'Rejoice, O nations, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and will render vengeance on his adversaries, and will atone for His land and His people. God purposed and acted to provide this atonement once for all, through the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah, ushering in by His sacrifice the New Covenant based on better promises and provisions to all who believe.