New Covenant Theology–When Did the Old Covenant End and the New Covenant Begin?

Error 5. The Old Covenant ended and the New began in AD 70 with the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple. The tabernacle, and later the temple in Jerusalem, was the center of an elaborate worship system that was actually the dynamic pattern or shadow that pictured God’s plan for Christ and His people under the New Covenant. This worship could not be implemented without either the tabernacle or the temple. Thus, soon after the ratification of the Old Covenant, God gave instructions for the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 25).

The destruction of the temple in AD 70 is not what ended the Old Covenant. It had by then already ended. But because the majority of the Jews did not recognize the ending, they continued performing the Old Covenant rituals in the temple for forty years after Christ fulfilled the Old Covenant. During this forty years, God tried Israel as He tried their forebears for forty years in the wilderness centuries before. He used His servants to preach the Gospel to them. Some heard but most did not believe because of their hardened hearts. Before AD 70, the writer of Hebrews wrote this to the Jews:

Therefore, even as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you will hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts, as in the provocation, like as in the day of the trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested me by proving me, and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was displeased with that generation, and said, ‘They always err in their heart, but they didn’t know my ways;’ as I swore in my wrath, ‘They will not enter into my rest.'”… To whom did he swear that they wouldn’t enter into his rest, but to those who were disobedient? We see that they were not able to enter in because of unbelief.
Hebrews 3:7-11, 18-19

And as we saw earlier, the writer of Hebrews also wrote to the Jews that the Old Covenant had grown old and was near to vanishing away. These were some of the many warnings and pleadings God gave to Israel. Yet, except for relatively few people, Israel continued with the temple service acting out the patterns that had outlived their usefulness and been replaced by the reality. And they died like their ancient fathers in the wilderness in unbelief.

But, if the Old Covenant was already fulfilled by Christ and the New Covenant started, why does Hebrews 8 (see above) not outright say so? In fact, it does. Let’s look closely at verse 13: “In that he says, ‘A new covenant,’ he has made the first old. But that which is becoming old and grows aged is near to vanishing away.” The Greek word translated “new” is kainos. It means new in the sense of fresh. It can be translated “fresh.” “Old” is from the Greek word palaioō. It means worn out or obsolete. “Grows aged” comes from the Greek word gēraskō. From this we get such English words as geriatric and gerontology that deal with aging. It means senescent, decrepit, senile. “Vanishing away” is from aphanismos, which means “disappearing.”

So, the writer of Hebrews was saying, “In that he says, ‘A fresh covenant,’ he has made the first obsolete.” That is a clear statement that the New Covenant made the Old Covenant obsolete. He then goes on to state a general principal about obsolescence: “But that which is becoming obsolete and grows decrepit is near to disappearing.” He states this as an aphorism in the present tense, called a gnomic. Common examples are “violets are blue,” “sugar is sweet,” and “boys will be boys.” We find a couple of examples from Jesus in Matthew 7:17: “Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit.” We see an example from Paul’s writing in 2 Corinthians 9:7: “for God loves a cheerful giver.” The writer of Hebrews uses the gnomic present in Hebrews 3:4: “For every house is built by someone.”

The last half of Hebrews 8:13 is also an aphorism in gnomic present: “But that which is becoming obsolete and grows decrepit is near to disappearing.” The writer of Hebrews is perhaps being tactful so as not to offend his Jewish readers. He first states that the Old Covenant is obsolete. He then states a timeless truth that tells them that, despite their continuing to go through the motions of the Old Covenant, even their ability to do this is about to disappear entirely. And it did when the Romans destroyed the temple. Through the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70, God showed outwardly what He had already done: He had already ended the Old Covenant, and He had already ended His special relationship with Israel as a nation.

Error 6. The Old Covenant hasn’t ended—it is just being newly administered as the New Covenant. This is the position of Reformed or Covenant theology. I have already presented Scriptures in this article that the Old Covenant has become obsolete and disappeared, exposing the Reformed position as the imaginings of men.

By the way, Covenant Theologians often cite Hebrews 13:20 to defend their position. In the King James Version, it says, “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” They say that the “everlasting covenant” spoken of here is what they claim to be the one covenant of grace that includes both Old and New Covenants. But the verse makes perfect sense without this assumption. The Greek contains no definite article before “everlasting covenant.” Therefore, it could be translated “an everlasting covenant.” The Bible plainly speaks of the Old Covenant as disappearing, so it is obviously not everlasting. Further, Ezekiel 37:26, which was written at the time of the Old Covenant, speaks prophetically of the everlasting covenant as something then future: “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them forevermore.” It is obviously Jesus’ blood and the New Covenant that are designated “an everlasting covenant” in Hebrews 13:20.

Error 7. The New Covenant hasn’t yet begun. This is a position of many Dispensationalists. Those who hold this opinion do so because they believe the New Covenant is only for national Israel and that national Israel has not yet accepted the terms of the New Covenant. But if the New Covenant has not yet begun, why did Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:6 call himself a servant of the New Covenant? If the New Covenant is only for national Israel and not yet in force, why did Paul tell the Gentile Corinthians that the cup of wine in the Lord’s Supper is the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood? In fact, why do any Gentiles drink that cup if that covenant is not for them? Why did Peter, addressing the house of Israel (Acts 2:36) say that “the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are far off, even as many as the Lord our God will call to himself” (Acts 2:39)? Why did Paul, writing of God’s calling “not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles” (Romans 9:24), go on in Romans 9:25-26 to support this by quoting Hosea 2:23 and 1:10? If you read those verses in Hosea, you will see that in their original context, they were clearly referring to the northern ten tribes of Israel. Yet, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul knew that this was only a shadowy type, and that the words ultimately referred to the Gentiles coming into the New Covenant relationship with God: “As he says also in Hosea, ‘I will call them “my people,” which were not my people; and her “beloved,” who was not beloved.’ ‘It will be that in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” There they will be called “children of the living God”‘.”

Well, I could write another entire article exposing the foolishness of the notion that Gentile Christians are not under the New Covenant and that God is waiting for Israel to accept the terms of the New Covenant before beginning it. For now, I will simply go on to show what the Bible says about when the New Covenant began.

When the New Covenant Began and the Old Covenant Ended

I have already presented plenty of evidence that shows that the Old Covenant was fulfilled and ended and the New Covenant began at the Cross when Jesus died and His blood was shed. (For more information specifically about Jesus’ fulfilling of the Old Covenant, read “In what way did Jesus fulfill the law?“) But I will give a little more proof.

After speaking in Hebrews 8 of the coming of the New Covenant and the disappearing of the Old Covenant, the writer says this in Hebrews 9 of Jesus Christ:

For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, since a death has occurred for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, that those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a last will and testament is, there must of necessity be the death of him who made it. For a will is in force where there has been death, for it is never in force while he who made it lives. Therefore even the first covenant has not been dedicated without blood.
Hebrews 9:15-18

“Covenant” and “last will and testament” are translated from the same Greek word. The reason for the difference in translation is because the writer of Hebrews, beginning in verse 16, is explaining that Jesus set the New Covenant up as a last will and testament that would come into force with His death. Thus, it should be easy for all to understand that the New Covenant came into force when Jesus died on the Cross.

Notice that the writer also says, “Therefore even the first covenant has not been dedicated without blood.” He goes on to say,

According to the law, nearly everything is cleansed with blood, and apart from shedding of blood there is no remission…. For Christ hasn’t entered into holy places made with hands, which are representations of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us…. so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, without sin, to those who are eagerly waiting for him for salvation…. For the law, having a shadow of the good to come, not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near…. then he has said, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He takes away the first, that he may establish the second, by which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…. but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God; from that time waiting until his enemies are made the footstool of his feet. For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them: ‘After those days,’ says the Lord, ‘I will put my laws on their heart, I will also write them on their mind….
Hebrews 9:22, 24, 28; 10:1, 9-10, 12-16

This is the covenant—the New Covenant that was established by the death of Jesus, the shedding of His blood as the ultimate sacrifice once for all, taking away the first that He may establish the second, perfecting forever those who are being sanctified, and putting God’s laws into their hearts and minds. It is the covenant that made the Old Covenant obsolete, whose laws Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount and in His new command in John 13:34 that we love one another, that is pictured in the Lord’s Supper, whose provisions allowed for the creation of God’s assembly at Pentecost, whose rejection—synonymous with rejecting its Testator and High Priest—brought on God’s rejection of Israel and the consequent destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

Why This Is Important

Jesus Christ instituted the New Covenant at the cost of His life and has placed His people under that covenant as a fail-safe shelter from sin and condemnation. It is our contract of love with our Savior (John 15:13). How dare anyone say that, although Jesus died fulfilling the terms of His last will and testament, it is not yet in force? How dare anyone say that it is merely a new administration of the covenant of the law, of works, of condemnation, and of death? How dare people who say such things even raise their heads to teach such Christ-dishonoring doctrine?

Read these Scriptures. As can be seen from their context, they are Old Testament prophecies of Jesus Christ. “I the lord God called you in righteousness, and I shall hold your hand, and I will strengthen you; and I gave you for a covenant of a race, for a light of nations; to open the eyes of the blind, to lead out of bonds ones being tied; from out of the house of prison also ones sitting in darkness” (Isaiah 42:6-7, Apostolic Bible Polyglot); “Thus says the lord , In the accepted time I heeded you, and in the day of deliverance I helped you, and I shaped you, and I gave you for a covenant of nations, to establish the earth, and to inherit desolate inheritances. Saying to the ones in bonds, Come forth! and to the ones in the darkness to be uncovered. In all the ways they shall be grazing, even in all the roads of their pasture” (Isaiah 49:8-9, Apostolic Bible Polyglot).

These verses tell us that Jesus Christ Himself is the New Covenant! When we get the New Covenant wrong, we are getting Jesus wrong. As seen in these prophecies, one of the central purposes of the New Covenant, of Jesus, is to bring salvation to the nations. Those who say that the New Covenant is not now in effect are denying one of the primary works of Jesus Christ in this age.

And those who place the beginning of the New Covenant prior to the Cross are undervaluing the core of the New Covenant without which it could not begin—the death and shed blood of Jesus Christ, the atonement of our Savior for the sins of His people. Those who place the beginning of the New Covenant at Pentecost confuse the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit with the redemptive work of Christ. Those who place the beginning of the New Covenant at the fall of Jerusalem confuse the wrath of God on a hard-hearted people with the grace of God on those who trust in the work of their Savior on the Cross.

Those who say that the New Covenant is merely a new administration of the Old Covenant confuse “the service of death, written engraved on stones,” “the service of condemnation” with “the service of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 3:7-9); they profane the blood of the Savior by mixing it in the same covenant with the “blood of bulls and goats” that could not take away sins (Hebrews 10:4).

This subject is critically important because any teaching that misrepresents the New Covenant necessarily misrepresents the work Jesus Christ came to accomplish and thus misrepresents Him.

But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable multitudes of angels, to the general assembly and assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better than that of Abel. See that you don’t refuse him who speaks. For if they didn’t escape when they refused him who warned on the Earth, how much more will we not escape who turn away from him who warns from heaven, whose voice shook the earth then, but now he has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been made, that those things which are not shaken may remain. Therefore, receiving a Kingdom that can’t be shaken, let us have grace, through which we serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 12:22-29


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