The New Covenant
“Behold the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt” (vv. 31–32a).- Jeremiah 31:31–40
Given the history of ancient Israel’s transgression—after all, the people violated the old covenant while it was being established (Ex. 32)—the people naturally wondered how the glorious restoration promised in Jeremiah 31:1–30 and elsewhere could be accomplished. Jeremiah’s answer is found in today’s passage. God would make a “new covenant” that would bring the restoration—a new covenant inaugurated by Jesus our Lord (Luke 22:20).
Identifying the newness of this covenant is not always easy. Clearly, however, there is an essential continuity between the old covenant made with Israel through Moses and the new covenant made with Israel through Christ. The Hebrew term translated “new” in Jeremiah 31:31 can mean “brand new” or “new edition.” When translating this term, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint used the Greek word kainos—“new edition”—and not neos—“brand new.” The New Testament uses kainos as well, so we see that the new covenant is a new edition or renewed version of the old covenant. Thus, the new covenant has much in common with the old. For instance, both covenants are instituted by the same God (John 5:30–47), have the same moral law (Rom. 13:8–10), and are for the Jew first, then the Gentile (Gen. 12:1–3; Rom. 1:16).
Still, the new covenant also has differences from the old. The new covenant is unlike the old covenant which was broken by the vast majority of ancient Israelites (Jer. 31:32). This is a hint that the new covenant community as a whole will exhibit a faithfulness to the new covenant that the old covenant community lacked. God makes this happen by writing His law on our hearts, forgiving our iniquity, and remembering our sin no more (vv. 33–34). David knew the blessing of forgiveness and delighted in the law, so it is not that old covenant believers never enjoyed such things (Ps. 32:1–2; 40:8). Jeremiah is rather saying that the new covenant provides a greater and fuller experience of these blessings, the presence of God’s power, and an assurance of divine pardon unavailable to old covenant Israel. Hebrews 9–10 develops this theme, explaining that the old covenant sacrifices could not deal with sin and that only Christ’s atonement solves the problem of evil and assures us of God’s favor. Under the new covenant administration, the Father also gives a fuller measure of the Spirit’s power to all who ask of Him (Luke 11:13; John 3:34). The Lord’s grace was seen provisionally under the old covenant. Today we see it far more clearly.
John Calvin writes, “God speaks to us now openly, as it were face to face, and not under a veil, as Paul teaches us, when speaking of Moses, who put on a veil when he went forth to address the people in God’s name… . Under the Gospel … the veil is removed, and God in the face of Christ presents himself to be seen by us.” Both covenants teach the same thing—the Lord saves us by grace alone. But the new covenant shows God’s love in a way not seen under the old covenant.
Passages for Further Study
2 Corinthians 3