The New Covenant

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Question
How is the New Covenant similar to and different from the covenants of the Old Testament?
Answer
In Jeremiah 31, as we read about God's incredible promise to bring his people back into the land and to make a new covenant with the household of Judah and of Israel, we recognize echoes of language that we've heard before. In chapters 30–33, there's also this promise that David's son will once again sit on the throne. And so, the Davidic covenant is very clearly echoed there. And then, of course, the idea that God will put his law in the hearts of his people, that he will cleanse them, as we hear in the language of Ezekiel 36, which is also referring to this new covenant. And so, the Mosaic covenant is clearly echoed there. And then, of course, in the language of Isaiah and in the language of Ezekiel's reckoning of God's name, vindication of God's name to the nations — this idea that his people will once again be a light to the nations, be a blessing to the nations — well, that's very clearly referring to Abrahamic language. And then, of course, Isaiah and others also talk about even the whole earth being renewed and springing forth with new life. And so, the covenant with Adam in creation and with Noah is also very clearly echoed in Jeremiah 30–33 and other passages in the Prophets that refer to the new covenant or this "eternal covenant of peace," as Isaiah puts it. But, also, we have very clearly new things that are happening. There are things that are really new "new" about the new covenant. We hear that this new covenant will be constituted, not by law-giving as it was on Mount Sinai, but by the giving of God's Spirit. And so, Spirit-giving, instead of law-giving, will constitute this new covenant. We also read that God will remember the sins of his people no more, that there will be a definitive dealing with sin, that God will make it so that this new covenant cannot be broken as it was in the past because sin will be definitively dealt with. We also read in passages like Ezekiel 34, and this word comes up in Jeremiah as well, that God will shepherd his own people himself, that the breaking of the old covenant was such that even the leaders of God's people have been corrupt. And so, the Lord himself will shepherd his people. That's going to be new. And then, lastly, we see that there's going to be such a knowledge of the Lord all throughout the people of God and all throughout creation, this extensive knowledge of God, that people won't even have to teach one another about the Lord. And so, we see that this new covenant is also going to constitute a new creation, a thoroughgoing knowledge of the Lord throughout all the world. So, there are things that are very similar about the Old Testament covenants; we hear the languages echoed. But there are these things that are also very new about the new covenant.

Answer by Dr. Gregory R. Perry

Dr. Gregory R. Perry is Vice President for Strategic Projects at Third Millennium Ministries and former Associate Professor of New Testament and the Director of City Ministry Initiative at Covenant Theological Seminary.