Handel's Messiah: The Person and Work of Christ

9. What Is the New Covenant?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Scripture declares that the New Covenant is in full effect now. Is this, as some claim, "replacement theology"?

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 9 of a series. Read part 8.

Scripture declares that the New Covenant, of which Jesus the Messiah is the Messenger, is now in full effect. Is this, as some claim, "replacement theology"?

The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the Covenant, whom you delight in; behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)

At this point in our study of the Scripture texts of Handel's Messiah, we are examining the prophetic statement of Malachi 3:1 that Jesus is "the Messenger of the Covenant." He is, as we have seen, the Messenger of both the Old and New Covenants. This study has led us to the question, "What is the New Covenant?" There is much confusion among Christians today regarding the answer to that question.

 

 

The Announcement of the New Covenant

 

Of course, our answer must be found in Scripture alone. We have the prophetic announcement of the New Covenant in the book of Jeremiah:

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah - not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

We find the promise reiterated in the book of Ezekiel:

For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:24-28)

Two Unsupportable Positions

Dispensationalists regard the New Covenant as something strictly in the future, and strictly applying to the Jews and not to the Church. On the other hand, some non-Dispensationalists have adopted a position called "New Covenant Theology" which claims that, while a form of the New Covenant is presently in operation, it effectively excludes the moral law of God embodied in the Ten Commandments.
Scripture supports neither position.

We have seen, from Jesus' own words in the Sermon on the Mount, that the "New Covenant Theology" position is a grievous error. God's moral Law stands unchanged, because the holiness of God stands unchanged. Messiah's first coming did not destroy the Law. He brought it into its fullest force among mankind.

However, the Dispensationalist position, because it has become so widespread and entrenched in much of the church over the last 180 years, and because it rests upon the placement of a complex man-made theological matrix over the Word of God, requires more detailed refutation.

The fundamental principle for interpreting the Word of God is "Scripture alone." Because the Bible is the only supernatural book, and the only infallible book, it is therefore its own and only infallible interpreter. On the question of the definition of the New Covenant, its Messenger, and its members, God the Holy Spirit has not left us in any doubt.

The Infallible Commentary on Old Testament Prophecy

In the New Testament book of Hebrews we have the Holy Spirit's own infallible commentary on the Old Testament prophetic passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The book of Hebrews is clearly written not merely to ethnic Jews, but to all Christians. Yes, the Holy Spirit through the human writer is directly addressing people who had come out of Judaism when they believed on the Lord Jesus as the Messiah. But we must keep in mind that not all of those who came out of Judaism to embrace the truth of Christ were necessarily ethnic Jews.

Scripture and history make it plain that there were Greeks, Romans, Persians, and others of various ethnicities who came out of Judaism to become early Christians. But even if it could be demonstrated that the book of Hebrews was written exclusively to ethnic Jews (and it cannot), the Holy Spirit's main point in writing the book is to demonstrate that Christ is now the Mediator of the New Covenant, and that the Old Covenant is no longer in effect. The divinely inspired author of the book of Hebrews speaks of any return to the Old Covenant of Judaism as apostasy.

The Messenger of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ, has come. He has, by his death on the cross, resurrection from the dead, and ascension to the Holy of Holies in the true tabernacle in Heaven, become the Mediator of a better covenant which has been brought into final and eternal effect based upon better promises than the Old Covenant.

In declaring this, the Holy Spirit through the writer to the Hebrews quotes the New Covenant prophecy of Jeremiah chapter 31:

But now He [Jesus the Messiah] has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.

Because finding fault with them, He says: "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah - not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more."

In that He says, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:6-13)

The New Covenant Is "Much More"

In the following chapter, the Holy Spirit contrasts the ineffectual blood of the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant with the fully and finally effective propitiation of the blood of Jesus the Messiah, and reiterates that He is the mediator of the New Covenant:

But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

And for this reason He is the Mediator of the New Covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:11-15)

The Holy Spirit continues in the tenth chapter of Hebrews to declare in even more specific terms the fact that Jesus the Messiah fulfilled all that was signified by the types and shadows of the Old Covenant sacrificial system. In Hebrews 10:16, the Holy Spirit once again quotes the prophecy of Jeremiah chapter 31 to emphasize this vital truth.

Two kinds of people heard the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. They are the only two kinds of people in all of history, in the eyes of God. The vast majority of those in Israel and Judah who heard God's words through these prophets were unbelievers and remained unbelievers. But there was always a remnant within Israel and Judah who were truly believers on the Messiah who was to come.

We find the doctrine of the remnant from the very beginning of Scripture, from the very moment of the fall of man. Genesis 3:15 tells us that sinful mankind has always been composed of two kinds of people, the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. The progeny of fallen Adam continually give birth to fallen sinners, the seed of the serpent. But through the Last Adam, Jesus the Messiah, the promised Seed of the woman, God in grace redeems a people for Himself. These people are, as God calls them through the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6:16, "the Israel of God."

We have this further explanation in the second chapter of Ephesians. Addressing the Gentile Ephesian believers - some of whom, Acts chapter 19 tells us, had come out of Judaism - the Apostle Paul declares this:

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh - who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands - that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-22)

Not "Replacement" Theology

When Christians partake of the Lord's Supper at Christ's command, they partake of "the New Covenant in My blood, which is shed for you" (Luke 22:20). Nothing could be plainer. The perfect life, propitiatory death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus the Messiah form the foundation of the New Covenant. All who believe on Him - whether Old Testament saints who looked forward to Him, or New Testament saints who look back upon His finished work - are members of the New Covenant.

Some people reject this by calling it "Replacement Theology." They mistakenly see this as a teaching that the Church "replaces" Israel. But what does this idea of "replacement" assume? It assumes, as the Dispensationalists do, that there are not one but two peoples of God, national Israel and the so-called "Gentile" church. But as we have seen, Scripture makes it abundantly clear that there is but one people of God. The church of the present time does not replace national Israel, but is in fact the present day manifestation of the true people of God - the remnant both within national Israel and the larger Gentile world of all ages.

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:19-23)

Next: "Behold, He shall come"

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