Using a computer assisted word search of the English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV), the term “new covenant” shows up in these eight verses (mouse over to read the passages): Jer 31:31; Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6; Heb 6:8, 8:13, 9:15, 12:24.
Since the truths of the Apostolic Writings (NT) are rooted in the theology of the TaNaKH (OT), I will comment on the Jer 31:31 passage first. God says this “new covenant” will not be “like” the “old covenant” (2 Cor 3:14) in this very important way: this new covenant with National Isra'el will not simply be articulated to the entire nation as external written letters (2 Cor 3:6), rather, God will put his covenant laws and promises into their hearts as a matter of national election (Jer 31:33). The effect is that “they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD” (Jer 31:34).
Also, New Covenant states that God will forgive their sins as a people, since their consciences will have been cleansed via their faith in Yeshua’s sacrifice (Heb 9:15, 10:14, 17, 18). In plain English, Jeremiah is prophesying about the day when the people of Isra'el will be characterized as “saved” on a national scale, and this salvation will result in permanent forgiveness of sin, and true covenant-keeping obedience on their part (Ez 11:19; 36:27).
In once sense, because this New Covenant is made exclusively with National Isra'el, it awaits future fulfillment. For indeed, everyone in National Isra'el obviously does not yet know the LORD in the truest covenantal sense described by the Bible (Rom 10:21). And yet, at this very moment, Gentiles are being brought into Isra'el’s New Covenant via faith in Yeshua (Rom 11:19, 20). The New Covenant has been appropriated by anyone who has placed their genuine faith in Yeshua (Jesus)—the mediator of the New Covenant (Lk 22:20; Heb 9:15).
In fact, since Yeshua is the sole mediator of the New Covenant for salvation, personal or corporate (Jn 14:6), this means every person, in every age, from Adam until we enter Eternity, must participate in the New Covenant via Yeshua’s mediation if they wish to be saved from the wrath of God. This implies that the New Covenant is not something that is “time bound.” All of salvation history revolves around the Cross Event of the 1st century (Gal 4:4-7).
What is the New Covenant? Borrowing terminology from Messianic Jewish author Tim Hegg, I will summarize my answer:
• Jeremiah’s “new covenant” is the fullness and internalization of the Mosaic Covenant on a national scale, for it is characterized by the phrase “I will write the Torah upon their hearts.” The very Torah that Israel failed to keep will, in the “new covenant,” be written on Israel’s heart by the Spirit (Jer 31:33; Ez 11:19; 36:27).
• What is “new” or “unique” about this covenant is that its future fulfillment will mark the only time in history when the nation as a whole walks by genuine forgiveness of sins (Heb 9:15) and genuine faith in the Messiah (Rom 11:26, 27).
• Paul makes it clear that a remnant of true believers has existed in every generation (Rom 11:1-6). They must have, therefore, participated in the faith that Jeremiah prophesies for the whole nation in the future.
• This remnant, including Gentiles who have been attached to Israel through their saving faith, thus participate in the “new covenant” as the first fruits of the final Harvest (Rom 8:23).
• Because Yeshua has always been the ONLY way to salvation (Acts 4:12), the “new covenant” reality cannot be something that awaited His coming (though surely His saving work is the means by which the “new covenant” is realized, read Lk 22:20). The “new covenant” is therefore not time-bound. Wherever there is genuine faith in Yeshua, whenever the Torah is written on the heart, there the “new covenant” is active.
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