There are several references in the prophets to a "new covenant" to be made with the Jews, and most distinct in Jeremiah. "Behold, the days come, that 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 bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake." (xxxi. 31. See also xxxii. 40; Ezek. xxxvii. 26; Isa. lv. 3, lix. 21.) What is the nature of this covenant, and when is it to be established? As this point is one of some difficulty, it must be briefly considered.
First, let us trace the relation of both covenants, new and old, to the promises made to Abraham. These promises were both universal and special; some embrace all nations, some are for his own posterity only. "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." "Unto thy seed will I give this land." "I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore, and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies." (Gen. xii. 3, xxii. 17, etc.) A relation is here established between Abraham and his seed on the one side, and all nations on the other, of such a nature that through God's blessing upon the former, the latter would be blessed. When the special promises to Abraham's children are fulfilled, then will follow the fulfillment of the universal promises.
We may now ask, by whom these promises were to be fulfilled, and when? Not by Abraham, or in his day. ." The Seed," as we are taught by the apostle, is not his posterity in general, but the Christ. (Gal. iii. 16.) He is the one Son of Abraham, who is the chosen of God to bless first His own people, and then the Gentiles. And when? In the Messianic Kingdom, when He sits on "the throne of David and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice ;" and when "all kings shall fall down before Him, all nations shall serve Him." Therefore, till He take His Kingdom, neither the special promises to Abraham and to his posterity, nor the universal to the nations, can be realized; and to this realization Abraham looked forward, when "he saw the day of Christ, and was glad."
As the special promises must be accomplished in the Messiah and His own before the accomplishment of the universal, God's first step was to set apart the descendants of Abraham by giving them possession of their land. He entered into a covenant with them at Sinai, when Moses "took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you." (Exod. xxiv. 7.) But this covenant, and the possession of the land which followed, was not a full realization of His promises to Abraham respecting his posterity, for this could not be till "the Seed had come to whom the promises were made; " but it was a preliminary step to that realization. This covenant at Sinai cannot be separated from the law then given, "added because of transgressions," and not as a condition of the original promise. (Gal. iii. 17.) This covenant at Sinai they did not keep: "They continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not." Therefore, as the elect people failed to fulfill their calling, God could not fulfill to them the special promises He had made to Abraham; and could not therefore fulfill through them the promises respecting the blessing of all nations. Were, then, His special promises to them to be revoked? Was His gift of the land to be recalled, and they cease forever to be a nation? No, for the end which He had set before Him in their election, had not been reached. For the breaches of their covenant He would judge them; but His promises to Abraham, made long before the covenant at Sinai, were not revoked; these must continue in force till the special work which that people was to do for Him as a witness to His truth before all nations, was accomplished.
For their violations of the covenant, their punishment came in due time. The elect people were driven from His land into temporary exile, and continued to be a subject people ever after. When, at last, the promised Seed came, through whom they might have received the fulfillment of all God's promises made them, they rejected Him, and put Him to death; and thus they brought on themselves the judgment of a dispersion which continues to this day.
We may thus see that what was done at Sinai, — the covenant then made, and the law then given, — was a means to the fulfillment, but not the fulfillment, of the promises to Abraham, either special or universal. Nor when He came who was to fulfill all the promises, both to His own people and to the nations, were they fulfilled; for having offered His sacrifice, He ascended to God. This fulfillment cannot be through Him abiding in heaven as High Priest, but sitting as a King on David's throne. Therefore, He must return to rule first His own people, Abraham's children, in truth and righteousness, fulfilling to them the promises; and through them to rule over the nations, fulfilling all promises to them. At His ascension into heaven, was all power and authority given Him, and He was prepared to be the "Mediator of the New Covenant." The Sinaitic covenant had grown old, and was ready to vanish away; but its vanishing away does not affect the special promises to Abraham, on which it rests: these abide, and must be fulfilled; and when they are fulfilled, the universal promises can be fulfilled. And He who fulfills them is not only the Son of David, but the Son of Man. Moses could be the mediator of a single people only, but Christ the Mediator both of His own people and of all nations.
For clearness, we may thus classify the covenants now in question: first, that made with Abraham, " the Father of us all," which was both universal and special in its scope. (Gen. xvii. 4-8.) Second, that at Sinai with the nation, which was special, embracing the natural seed of Abraham. (Exod. xix. 5-8.) Third, that to be established with the Jews in the Messianic Kingdom, and which is not a mere repetition of the Sinaitic, but a fulfillment of that made with Abraham. This new covenant is in fact the old carried into effect by Him, the Seed of Abraham, who alone was able to fulfill it.
With the covenant which the Lord inaugurated at His ascension with the Church, His body, to be gathered from all nations without distinction of Jew or Gentile, sanctifying its members with His blood, and sending upon them His Spirit, we are not here concerned. A new relation was then established with men, involving a new election, and of necessity a new covenant. The standing of the new election is not that of the old, though both rest upon the promises made to Abraham.
The new covenant — the old renewed with the children of Abraham—became necessary through the breach of the old, "which my covenant," said Jehovah, "they brake." But in foresight that His people would not keep His covenant at Sinai, and that it might cease to have effect, God made provision for its renewal. This provision is found in the rites of the Day of Atonement; "for on that day shall the priests make an atonement for you:" and but for this provision of mercy by which their sins were put away, and their covenant relation preserved, they must early have perished in their apostasy. (Lev. xvi.)
We have seen elsewhere that after the return from Babylon, no such full expiation for the sins of a broken covenant as He had appointed in the rites of that day, could be made because of the absence of the ark of the covenant, and of the mercy seat, from the Most Holy Place. But God continued to accept their worship in the second temple, imperfect as it was, till the last crowning act of disobedience in the rejection of His Son, first in His own person, and then in the ministry of apostles, moved Him to cast them wholly out of their land; and through the destruction of their temple, He made their worship to cease.
But the purpose of God in His covenant with the Jewish people had not been reached; therefore He did not utterly cast them off. The branches were broken off, but it was His will to graft them in again; and the prophets looking to the future declare that " the days will come when He will make with them a new covenant." The covenanting parties are not changed: they are the same as at Sinai, — Jehovah and Israel. It is not a new relation, but a re-establishing of the old, "a grafting in again." But the Mediator of this covenant is a new Mediator, one greater than Moses who led them from Egypt, one who "has redeemed them from the curse of the law, being made a curse for them." He bore their sins in His own body on the tree, and the new covenant is "the new covenant in His blood." By His sacrifice on the cross — the great Sin-offering — He obtained the remission of their sins. But as it belonged to the priest to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the ark and the veil and the altar (Lev. xvi. 15), so is it with Christ exalted to be High Priest. He entered "into the Holy Place by His own blood," and can sprinkle and cleanse the defiled people. (Heb. ix. 14.) The rites of the Day of Atonement can now be fulfilled once for all, and the sins of the covenant people be put away forever. (Heb. xiii. 11, 12.) He is "exalted that He may give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." "Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." Thus in Him, first in His death, and then in His exaltation and ascension to be made High Priest, were the foundations of the new covenant laid.
Christ, as "the Seed" to whom the promises were made, becomes the fulfiller of them all, both of the special and the general. The children of Abraham through disobedience — the failure to keep their covenant — had forfeited all. He by His obedience became entitled to all. The land is His, and He will give it again to them. He will bestow upon them all that the Father had promised them. Thus they shall hold all from Him as the Goel, the Redeemer. But this involves the acceptance of Him whom they once rejected; they must humble themselves before Him, for He cannot cleanse the unrepentant. "The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob." The prophets speak of a great day of atonement to come, in which "they shall afflict their souls," a day of national repentance and mourning. Then will be fulfilled the prophetic words: "I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications. ... In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, . . . and the land shall mourn, every family apart." (Zech. xii. 10.) "They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them." (Jer. xxxi. 9.) "In those days, and in that time, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the Lord their God," saying, "Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten." (Jer. 1. 4.) And the Mediator between them and their God will be their Messiah, the Royal Priest, who has gone into the Holy of Holies. "Their Governor shall proceed from the midst of them; and I will cause Him to draw near, and He shall approach unto me," to offer sacrifice; . . . "and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God." (Jer. xxx. 21.)
What are the new elements that meet us in this renewal of the covenant? They are these three: —
First, The forgiveness of sins, especially the sins of a broken covenant: "I will forgive their iniquities, and their sins will I remember no more." Forgiveness of sins was not unknown under the law. It was the end of the sacrificial institutions: "The priest shall make an atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them." (Lev. iv. 20.) And this was done year by year. But now, through the merits of Christ's sacrifice, and through His priestly work of expiation, there is such cleansing of the conscience as was not possible before. At the time of their restoration He will fulfill the rites of the Day of Atonement, once for all, by the sprinkling of the people, all who through repentance and the confession of their sins, are prepared to receive final absolution and forgiveness.
Second, Perfect obedience to the law of God. The will of God, that had been presented to the people by Moses in an external written law, becomes an inward principle: "After those days I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts." The will of God is supreme under the new covenant as under the old, but under the new only is it perfectly obeyed with the obedience of the heart. This obedience was, indeed, demanded from the first: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength; and these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart." This obedience of the heart they had not rendered; but in the time to come, they would walk in His statutes, and keep His ordinances in the power of the Spirit: "I will put a new Spirit within you." (Ezek. xi. 19,20.)
Third, All are taught to know the Lord, so that there will not be need that one teach another: "All shall know me, from the least to the greatest." The knowledge of Him will not be confined to a part; He will make such a revelation of Himself that none will remain ignorant: "Thy children shall all be taught of the Lord." (Isa. lvi. 13.) "They shall see eye to eye when the Lord will bring again Zion."
Thus, forgiven and cleansed, filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and delighting in His law and keeping it, the people are prepared to take their true place as His people, and He in the full sense will be their God. And it is a change wrought through the Spirit sent upon them by the Son, the ascended Messiah, who is, also, the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost: "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean. ... A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments to do them." (Ezek. xxxvi. 25-27.) And these spiritual blessings are to abide: "I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring." (Isa. xliv. 3.) "This is my covenant with them, saith the Lord: my Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever." (Isa. lix. 21.)
It would be an error to imagine that these new elements in the covenant are in any way inconsistent with the original calling of the people to dwell in their own land, and to be a nation among the nations. On the contrary, now for the first time are they able to fulfill that calling, and prepared to answer the end of their election. By Jeremiah Jehovah declares that He would "make an everlasting covenant with them," and adds, "yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly, with my whole heart and my whole soul." "If the ordinances of the sun and moon and stars depart from before me, then the seed of Israel, also, shall cease from being a nation before me for ever." "As I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee nor rebuke thee." "I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them as at the first, and I will cleanse them from all iniquity, . . . and I will pardon all their iniquities." "I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, . . . and ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers. ... In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities, I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded." (Ezek. xxxvi.)
It is as thus forgiven and cleansed and enlightened through the work upon them of their High Priest, that the Jews are prepared as a nation to fulfill the purpose of their calling under Him as their King; and be Jehovah's instrument for the revelation of Himself unto all the nations. This realization of the larger promises to Abraham respecting the nations does not set aside the special covenant made with his own posterity at Siuai, but is made dependent upon its renewal. Men may stand in various relations to God through Christ. He is, indeed, the Saviour of all from sin by His death, and all must come unto God by Him; but He may stand in one relation to the Church, in another to the Jews, in a third to the nations. He may be the Head of the Church; the King of the Jews, sitting on David's throne; and the universal Lord. This is a matter of Divine order, not of human arrangement.
As thus brought under their King, and enjoying the blessings of the new covenant, all nations will have knowledge of God's purpose in them, and of its fulfillment through the children of Abraham of whom He said: "This people, whom I have formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise." "All flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour, and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob." Then the blessing of Abraham will come upon the nations. "Nations that knew not thee, shall run unto thee, because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for He hath glorified thee." "The knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea." "The Lord hath made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God." "The sons of the stranger, that joined themselves to the Lord, . . . even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; ... for mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people."
The reference to the new covenant in the Epistle to the Hebrews (viii. 8, etc.) presents nothing inconsistent with what has been said, but a special examination of the writer's scope and argument is not necessary here.
It is by keeping clearly in mind the co-existence of the glorified Church and the restored people under their respective covenants, during the Kingdom period, that we can see the full meaning of the words of the Scriptures in regard to their relations to one another, and to the nations. To the Jews belongs the earthly Jerusalem, to the Church the heavenly, — the holy city that comes down from God out of heaven, having the glory of God. (Rev. xxi. 2, 10.) That this is a symbol of the Church, the bride, the Lamb's wife, we are expressly told. Though it stands in close relations to the earth, for the nations walk in the light of it, and the kings of the earth bring their honor and glory into it; yet it is to the earthly Jerusalem that they come up to worship. Their special relations to the Messiah are through the children of Abraham.