The Church Established by the New Covenant
Now, let’s read some further revelations in Hebrews 8 and 9. I encourage you to read these chapters completely, but for the sake of time, I am going to start with Hebrews 8:7: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.” What is the “first covenant”?
Hebrews 9, verses 1-4, say:
Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which were both the lampstand and the table and the showbread, which is called the holy place; and after the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, having a golden altar, and the ark of the covenant having been overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were a golden jar having the manna, and the rod of Aaron which budded, and the tablets of the covenant.
What is the first covenant? Obviously, it is the covenant that included the tablets of the covenant, otherwise known as the Ten Commandments written on the tablets of stone, and which we just saw, Moses equated with the covenant given at Mount Sinai.
Going back to Hebrews 8, beginning with verse 8, we read:
For finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day when I took their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. Because they did not persevere in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.”
In this case, “fathers” refers to the Israelites whom God led out of Egypt. Notice that the New Covenant is not according to the covenant made on Mount Sinai. This is a quote from Jeremiah 31, and it uses Old Testament language. It says that God would establish the New Covenant with the “house of Israel” and the “house of Judah.” The “house of Israel” and the “house of Judah” were the two kingdoms of the nation of Israel. But, remember that Israel was a shadow, or picture, or type of the church. By referring to the “house of Israel” and “house of Judah,” God was saying that He would establish the New Covenant with the church.
Continuing now with Hebrews 8 in verse 10:
“For this is the covenant which I shall covenant with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind, and I shall inscribe them upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And by no means will they teach each one his fellow citizen, and each one 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 shall by no means remember anymore.” By the saying “new,” He has made the first obsolete. And the one becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish.
Again, God was contrasting the old that was passing away with the new. And, with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70 —that is, at the end of 40 years of testing Israel after Jesus’ ministry—the Old Covenant completely ended. The church is established under the New Covenant.
We just read in Hebrews 8:10 that, under the New Covenant, God would put His laws in our minds and hearts. There is only one way that God’s laws can be in our minds and hearts. That is through being born again. There is only one group of people who truly know of God from the least of them to the greatest. It is no physical nation on earth. This can only be referring to God’s spiritual nation, the church.
So, going back to the parables once again, what was Jesus getting at when He said not to take a piece from a new article of clothing and use it to patch an old one? What was His point when He said not to put new wine into an old wineskin? When we looked at the context of these parables, we saw how they are surrounded by Scriptures in which Jesus tells the Pharisees they are wrong about something and then corrects them. And we see that it leads to His giving the Sermon on the Mount.
Okay, so what is the principle Jesus was giving by these parables? What is this information that Jesus is giving us that will help us rightly divide the Word of God? Jesus was giving us the principle that the old and the new do not mix. Specifically, although they are related as type and antitype, shadow and reality, the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of God are not the same. They must not be mixed or confused. Likewise, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant do not mix. We cannot just take something from the New Covenant and try to patch it into the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is not merely a patch, or just a new administration as some say, that can be patched onto the Old Covenant. That directly contradicts Jesus’ teachings. We can’t take Jesus’ new teachings, the new laws to govern Christian living that He gave in the Sermon on the Mount and put them into the Old Covenant like putting new wine into an old wineskin. The Old Covenant cannot contain Jesus’ new teachings and laws. It would burst.
Why am I telling you this? As a warning that there are those who will try to tell you just the opposite. They say that the New Covenant and the Old Covenant are just different administrations of the same covenant. They take laws from the Old Covenant and try to put them onto the church. They take the grace of the New Covenant and try to say that it also applies to the Old, even saying that the Old Covenant is a covenant of grace. Nonsense! Jesus said they are so radically different that they cannot mix.
Most of the Jews of Jesus’ day could not accept Jesus’ New Covenant teachings. They were firmly entrenched in the thinking of the Old Covenant, and they liked it. Jesus had this in mind in the third parable I read earlier: “And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’”
But, in the case of covenants, the Old is not better. The Old Covenant was a covenant of law. Anyone trying to keep it was cursed, because it demanded perfect obedience, and no one could perfectly obey it. Paul said in Galatians 3:10, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all the things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’” The Old Covenant was not a covenant of grace. It was a covenant of works.
But the New Covenant is a covenant of grace. John 1:17 clearly contrasts the two: “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came to be through Jesus Christ.” Those who say that the Mosaic Covenant at Sinai, the Old Covenant, is part of one eternal covenant of grace that includes both the Old and New Covenants are ignoring the plain teaching of the Bible. Paul states in Romans 6:14, “you are not under law but under grace.”
The Old Covenant law only kills. The Bible says that sin is the transgression of the law. It also says that the wages of sin is death. But then it goes on to say, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul, in Ephesians 2, verse 8, says, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” And in Romans 3:28, we read, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”
In Galatians 5:4 Paul says, “You have become estranged from Christ, you who are justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” Do not so fall from grace, for it will stunt your spiritual growth. To illustrate this, I’ll tell you a little parable of my own. This parable is based on what is apparently historical fact. It has been reported that in ancient China there was practiced what has been called the art of molding men. A two or three year old child would be put into a porcelain vase. The vase did not have a top or bottom. The child’s head and feet could stick out, but the rest of the child’s body stayed in his little porcelain prison. As the child grew, his flesh and bones would grow to fill the contours of the vase. After a few years, the vase would be broken, leaving a malformed child the shape of the vase. This was done for the amusement of the nobility. Thankfully, this cruel and sick practice is no longer done. But think of the child as you. And think of the vase as the Old Covenant, with its works and laws. You are meant to grow under the New Covenant. But the Old Covenant vase will stunt and warp the growth of any Christian put into it. Do not let anyone put that Old Covenant vase on you.
Both Jesus and Paul also likened the rules and regulations of the Old Covenant to a yoke. In Galatians 5:1 Paul says, “Stand fast therefore in the freedom in which Christ has made us free, and do not be loaded down again with a yoke of bondage.” And how are we not loaded down again with this yoke of bondage? By not going to the law. Instead, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Do not run to the law, my friends, run to the Cross of Christ. When Jesus died on that Cross, He paid the penalty for your sins. But notice in Colossians 2:14-17 what else was nailed to the Cross. These verses are saying that by Jesus’ death, God was blotting “out the handwriting of ordinances”—in other words, the law of the Old Covenant—“that was against us, which was contrary to us, and He has taken it out of the midst, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed principalities and powers, He mocked them in public, triumphing over them in it. Therefore do not let anyone judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or of a new moon or of sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the body”—that is, the substance or reality—“is of Christ.”
Jesus established the new kingdom, the kingdom of God, with new laws and new people. And He established it with the New Covenant, which is not a patch on the Old Covenant. It is entirely new. And so, my friends, are you. If we are to properly understand the Bible, we must understand this difference between the old and the new. We can learn from the historical examples and types and shadows of the Old Testament. But God has not called Christians to live under the laws, ordinances, and statutes of the Old Covenant. We are new creatures, and we are to live according to the New Covenant. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
Copyright © 2005-2011 Peter Ditzel