top of page

The Biblical Covenants, Part 6c: New Covenant Establishment

Now that it has been established that the MC not only has been fulfilled but that it was also fulfilled in the atoning, substitutionary, vicarious, penal death of Jesus on the cross in/around 33 AD, we can now begin to examine the establishment of the NC. That there is a difference between a covenant being established and a covenant being fulfilled should be obvious. The AC, for example, was promised in Genesis chapter 12, established in chapter 15, confirmed in chapter 17, but has not yet been fulfilled. Likewise, we might look to the DC and its establishment in 2 Samuel 7 but is even now left unfulfilled. Therefore, we must understand that there is a vast difference between the establishment and the fulfillment of a covenant. The natural assumption therefore is not that the NC was fulfilled at the time of its establishment but that there is a time where the NC is established and in effect before it is fulfilled. This simple observation not only assumes the question “when was the NC established?” but also “how do NC saints live in a time of NC establishment before it is fulfilled?”

 

When was the New Covenant Established?


This first question is not difficult to answer. If the NC could not be established or inaugurated until the MC was fulfilled (Deut. 30:1-10), and if the MC was fulfilled in Christ’s death upon the cross (Matt. 27:50-54; Jn. 19:28-30; Gal. 3:10-14), and if the apostolic message was a NC message (2 Cor. 3:6), then the NC must have been established, inaugurated, or cut before the apostles began proclaiming that message.

 

The Establishment of the NC Anticipated (Acts 1)


Luke’s second volume begins after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection yet before His ascension. Having risen from the grave immediately after Passover, Jesus spent the next forty days teaching His disciples concerning the kingdom (v. 3), a concept that is tightly connected with the AC (Gen. 17:6-8), DC (2 Sam. 7:8-17), and NC (Ezek. 37:15-28). The fact that Jesus deemed it necessary to teach the disciples these things strongly indicates that the kingdom was not a present reality (Jer. 31:31-34). This fact is confirmed by the disciples’ own questions about the kingdom. Was Jesus going to usher in the kingdom now, and thus fulfill all the covenant promises (v. 6)? By refusing to answer the timing of this certain event (v. 7), Jesus says “no”. This is not the time of the kingdom and thus not the time of NC fulfillment. Rather, this is a time of apostolic testimony. While the commission given in v. 8 is certainly a global commission, it is not a kingdom commission. To be Jesus’ witnesses or to testify of Jesus is not even sort of the same as taking dominion of the earth, ruling, and subduing it (Gen. 1:28). Their mission is to proclaim that the seed of the woman has been bruised on the heel and will return to crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). The curses of the MC have been fulfilled and now the NC will be established. It is a mistake to conflate the establishment of the NC with the establishment of the kingdom. Yet, this commission does anticipate something new.


Before commanding His disciples to testify of Him in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, even to the remotest part of the earth (v. 8b), Jesus informs them that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon them (v. 8a). The bestowment of the Holy Spirit is a rather large feature of the NC heart (Ezek. 36:26-28). This is promised by Jesus to His disciples as a precursor to their new mission. So, while Jesus’ final words to His disciples deny the near fulfillment of the NC, at the same time Jesus affirmed the nearness of a crucial NC facet.

 

The Establishment of the NC Executed (Acts 2)


Returning to Jerusalem, the disciples waited as they were instructed (1:4). Ten days later, on the Day of Pentecost, the feast of first fruits, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in power (vv. 1-4). The event itself is reminiscent of Yhwh’s Spirit of empowerment given to the elders of Israel (Num. 11) and the effect of speaking in different languages recalls God’s judgment at Babel whereby He dispersed the peoples of the earth into different nations (Gen. 11). Beginning with these devoted Israelites, the first fruit of God’s NC have ripened. Beginning with these faithful sons of Abraham, the Holy Spirit is starting to regather the nations once dispersed for their rebellion. All of this Peter explains to the now gathering crowd which contains a mixture of those marveling and those doubting.


To the doubters, Peter dismisses the charge of drunkenness (v. 15), explains the radical display from the scriptures (vv. 16-21), before testifying of Jesus to all of Jerusalem (vv. 22-36). The prophet Joel spoke to some detail concerning the coming Day of Yhwh as a time of judgment upon rebellious Jerusalem (2:1-11), the world (Joel 3:1-17), and yet a time of restoration for Israel (Joel 2:18-27).[1] By quoting from Joel 2:28-32a, Peter explains that the scene unfolding before the crowd is a precursor to the coming Day of Yhwh. Of all the signs and wonders that announce the coming Day of Yhwh, the first is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which is exactly what the residence of Jerusalem are seeing. Peter does not quote exactly from Joel 2:28, which begins “and it will be after these things” (וְהָיָה אַחֲרֵי־כֵן). Rather, He says “in the last days” (καὶ ἔσται ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις), a technical phrase initiated by Jacob when giving his blessing to his sons (Gen. 49). The point is this: Peter is not saying that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was the initiation of the Day of Yhwh, but that this outpouring both precedes the Day of Yhwh and initiates the “last days”. He calls Jerusalem to bear witness that something has changed. In short, the NC has now been established.


If this is true, then where is Messiah, the seed of the woman, seed of Abraham, son of David, and servant of Yhwh? The lion’s share of Peter’s sermon is dedicated to proving that Messiah has come, is identified as Jesus from Nazareth, and was killed by the very people in the crowd. If this is true, then what on earth were the guilty Israelites of Jerusalem to do (v. 37)? Peter’s response sets the tone for the next 60 years of apostolic ministry: “Repent and be baptized! Each of you in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). The only course of action open to those desiring to escape God’s coming wrath associated with the yet future Day of Yhwh is to call on Yhwh’s name (Joel 2:32a). Or, as Peter put it, to repent and be baptized into Jesus’ name. If Jesus was Yhwh’s suffering servant who fulfilled the MC, then He is also Yhwh’s righteous king who now sits at the Father’s right hand (Ps. 110) and will come again to rule the nations with a rod of iron (Ps. 2). The only option for salvation is to repent of rebellion against the king and cling to Him, the One who will fulfill all the covenants, and to follow Him alone. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the NC has been established. With the second coming of Jesus, the NC will be fulfilled.

 

How are NC Saints to Live?


Many seem to struggle with the idea in living under a NC that is not yet fulfilled. Yet this is precisely the precedent that has guided the lives of God’s people from the very beginning. Adam and Eve lived under the promise of a coming seed yet never saw the fulfillment. Noah was promised rest and stability yet never saw that rest completed. Abraham never lived to see the promises made to him come to fulfillment. Neither David nor Phinehas saw their descendants fulfill the covenants that were made concerning them. The generation of Israel at Sinai was dead and buried for nearly a millennium and a half before the MC was fulfilled at Calvary. If one simply compares the NC to all the rest, the burden of proof squarely lies upon those who expect NC authority and NC fulfillment to be one and the same. The whole point of Hebrews 11 is to demonstrate how God’s people have always lived in expectation of greater things to come. There is an obvious biblical precedent that expects NC saints to live under NC authority while awaiting NC fulfillment.


When looking for the specifics of how NC saints are to live, one need look no further than the New Testament. The New Testament epistles contain over 550 imperatives that dictate, guide, and command the lives and worship of NC saints. These imperatives maintain the tension that present NC saints are neither under the MC nor are they living in a fulfilled NC. Just as Abraham before us, NC saints are aliens in their own land.

 

New Covenant Living (1 Thessalonians)


Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians reads like a manual for faithful NC living summarized in three simple words: faith, love, and hope (1:3). These terms not only serve as an outline for the epistle but also crystalize the totality of the believer’s life.


Faith 

Faith (πίστις) and its various cognates (πιστός, πείθω, πιστεύω) all revolve around the concept of belief and trust. Faith (πίστις) describes what is believed or trusted. Faithful (πιστός) describes someone or something as trustworthy, believable, reliable, or true. To believe (πείθω, πιστεύω) describes the action of believing, trusting, or having faith in someone or something. Simply put, one cannot have a general attitude of faith (this is called gullibility) but actually believes in someone or some concept. Faith requires an object, a concrete person or idea that is trusted, accepted, and believed. The object of the Thessalonians’ faith is stated generally as (1) the Lord Jesus Christ (1:3), (2) the word of the Lord (1:8), and (3) the word of God (2:13).


In stating that the object of the Thessalonians’ faith is the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul does not mean that they simply believe that Jesus existed, nor is this limited to Jesus’ divinity, death, burial, and resurrection. These simplistic answers are common enough among ecumenists but are foreign among the apostles. This simple title assumes all that Jesus is. “Our Lord” (τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν) not only indicates that Jesus is the sovereign and king of the believer but is also the God of the believer.[2] This is AC covenant language (I will be their God and they will be My people).


Identifying Jesus as the Christ (Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) is more than a mere title, but is a claim that Jesus is the long-anticipated Christ, Messiah, Anointed One.[3] Everything that the Old Testament states about the Messiah (1 Sam. 2:10; 16:6; 2 Sam. 22:51; 23:1; Ps. 2:2; 18:50; 20:6; 28:8; 84:9; 89:38, 51; 132:10, 17; Hab. 3:13; Lam. 4:20; Dan. 9:26) is imported into each of these references. To put it simply yet accurately, the Thessalonians’ faith is that Jesus of Nazareth is the One to whom all the covenants point, anticipate, and expect for their fulfillment. Jesus, as covenant fulfiller, was the object of their faith.

 

Love

Love in both noun (ἀγάπη) and verb form (ἀγαπάω) express the idea of acting for the benefit of another regardless of the cost to self.[4] More than sentiment or affection, love seeks the absolute best that one can provide for the object of love. 


To love the unbelieving world is to seek what is best for them. Namely, to proclaim the good news of God’s secured and final victory through His Son, Jesus Christ. This love has been a trademark of the Thessalonians (1:6-10) and is a reason for Paul’s joy when remembering them.


To love the brethren is to encourage, admonish, correct, instruct, and give to their needs. Namely, to be a functioning member of Christ’s body. This love was demonstrated by Paul and his team to the Thessalonians and for the Thessalonians’ benefit (2:1-12). This same love has been a hallmark of the Thessalonians and Paul has every expectation that they will continue to demonstrate it as they lead quiet lives, care for the brethren, and behave rightly toward all men (4:9-12).


To love God is to repent from rebellion and submit to His rule and reign. Namely, to obey Him. Exhortations for holiness (4:1-8) are part and parcel of what it means to obey God. Personal sanctification is not a means of earning one’s salvation but a tangible expression of love to God. Believers obey God because they love God.

 

Hope

Hope (ἐλπίς) expresses much more than a simple desire or longing for something to happen. Rather, it expresses one’s confidence that something will happen. Like faith and love, hope requires an object. The hope of the Thessalonians according to Paul is the expectation of (1) future salvation from coming wrath (1:10), (2) entering God’s kingdom and glory (2:12), (3) the coming of Jesus (2:19; 3:13), (4) future resurrection of believers (4:13-16), (5) the rapture of the church who remain (4:17), and (6) the future Day of Yhwh (5:1-11). In other words, hope is more than certainty about something. Paul is very precise about what the Thessalonians are to hope for: the fulfillment of the NC and all the details which that entails.

 

New Covenant Worship (1 Corinthians)


Clearly there is a distinction between the MC and the NC not only in their effectiveness but also in the commands given to those under the covenants. The way people lived, and the way people worshipped under the MC is quite different than those who live and worship under the NC. If 1 Thessalonians is a manual for NC living, then 1 Corinthians is a manual for NC worship. In an effort to join brevity and thoroughness, NC living, and NC worship are one and the same in their expressions of faith, love, and hope.


Faith

Early on in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he (1) puts a premium on the content of teaching over the celebrity of the teacher (1:10-17) and (2) warns that truth will always be opposed by unbelievers (1:18-25). In other words, there were divisions coming up in the Corinthian church based on (a) preferences over men and (b) attempts to make the truth more palatable for the unbelieving world. Divisions were appearing because the Corinthians were not maintaining a common faith, that is, a common content of what was believed. These divisions must be repented of.


Love

The vast majority of 1 Corinthians is an exhortation to and exposition of love. Love of God demands holiness and obedience. Therefore, immorality must be disciplined and repented of (Ch. 5), marriage must be kept holy (Ch. 7), and idolatry must be rooted out (Ch. 8). The love of the brethren demands selflessness on the part of the subject while achieving the best for the object. Therefore, lawsuits are not only senseless but are the antithesis of love (Ch. 6), the gathering of the saints is not a talent show but is for God’s glory and the saints’ edification (Ch. 11-14). In these chapters concerning the assembled church where Paul provides instruction of the Lord’s Table, the supper that contains the cup of the New Covenant linked with Jesus’ own blood (11:25). The MC was ratified by blood, sprinkled on the people as evidence that covenant breaking resulted in death (Ex. 24; Heb. 9:15). This NC is ratified and secured by Christ’s death, one time for all. Because Christ’s atonement was final, there is no need for a continuous flow of blood, but a simple cup of celebration anticipating the coming king and remembering the finality of the atonement. Each week, the gathered body drink in unity the completion of Christ’s atonement and the promise of Christ’s return to fulfill the NC. The church’s unity in love is a unity that embraces the presently inaugurated and future fulfillment of the NC.


Hope

The conclusion of this letter contains detailed teaching regarding the Christian’s hope. The Christian has assurance of future resurrection as evidenced by Christ’s resurrection (15:12-19). Paul continues to teach concerning the order of resurrection (vv. 20-28), the relevance of the resurrection (vv. 29-34), the nature of a bodily resurrection (vv. 35-49), and the fact that the resurrection is the de facto basis of Christian hope and motivation for service/love (vv. 50-58). If one truly hopes, then one ought to be ready to act upon that hope (16:1-9). If the NC Christian is supposed to live in faith, love, and hope, then the gathered assembly of believers is to follow the same principles.

 

Just as (1) Abraham lived under a promise anticipating its completion, (2) Israel under the MC lived under the law in anticipation of its fulfillment, (3) David went to his grave hoping in his future seed; so, the church lives under the NC law of Christ awaiting Christ to return and fulfill the NC.



[1] While outside the scope of this survey, the Day of Yhwh (the Day of the Lord) is linked with NC fulfillment as both necessitate the restoration and regathering of Israel (Obad. 15-21; Ezek. 36:22-32). In other words, one cannot insist that the NC has been fulfilled without pointing to a fulfilled Day of Yhwh.


[2] The LXX replaced all entries of “Yhwh” (יְהוָה) with “Lord” (κύριος). Many references in the New Testament of Jesus as Lord (example: Rom. 10:9) are naked statements declaring Jesus as Yhwh.


[3] Nearly every reference in the New Testament of Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ is a genitive of apposition meaning: Jesus who is Christ.


[4] Typically, this is generally understood as being stronger than φιλέω (affectionate or familial love) and the antithesis of ἡδονή (pleasure [hedonism]) or ἐρως (sexual desire [erotic]). Every time ἡδονή is used in the New Testament it is always spoken of in negative terms (Tit. 3:3; James 4:1, 3; 2 Pet. 2:13) while ἐρως is never used in the New Testament, and for good reason. Both ἡδονή and ἐρως focus on the desires of the subject (self) while ἀγάπη focuses exclusively on the benefit of the object.

Commentaires


bottom of page