The New Testament speaks of a new covenant, from God to man, of which Christ is the mediator. A knowledge of this new covenant is revealed to the twelve apostles and to the Apostle Paul; and through them to believers among the Israelites, and to believers among the Gentiles. This paper presents some New Testament references to this new covenant in search of a better understanding of it.
In Luke 22:19-20, we read:
"And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.'"
Here, Christ speaks to the twelve (v. 14) about the new covenant, and of its connection with his shed blood. He further states that this covenant is for them. But it is not for them only. Let us consider Paul's words in I Cor. 11:23-26:
"For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes."
In the 11th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul instructs the Corinthian brethren in the meaning and proper observance of the Lord's supper, which is a remembrance of that last Passover meal, and of Christ's sacrifice. The Corinthian brethren, by way of Paul's teaching and their observance of the Last Supper, are well aware that the new covenant reaches out to them, and so to all Gentile believers. Paul also refers to himself as a minister of the new covenant:
2 Cor. 3:5-6: "Not that we [Paul and Timothy] are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."
Paul, in the remainder of this chapter (2 Cor. 3:7-18) speaks of the greater glory of the new covenant in relation to the glory of the Mosaic covenant. He refers to this new covenant as the ministry of the Spirit and the ministry of righteousness:
2 Cor. 3:7-9: "But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, ... how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory."
In Hebrews 9:12,15-17, we learn again of the significance of the shed blood of Christ in establishing the new covenant:
"Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood he entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. ... And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives."
The writer to the Hebrews here explains that Christ is the Mediator of the new covenant, "by means of death". Christ is the testator who died, and by his death established the new covenant; and this death involved the shedding of "His own blood". It is also important to note here that Christ's entry into the Most Holy Place was done once for all.
Paul speaks of two covenants in Galatians 4:23-26,31:
"But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through the promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar -- for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children -- but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. ... So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free."
In verse 26, Paul speaks of the Jerusalem above. He refers to the Jerusalem above as the mother of us all -- that is, the mother of all believers. This Jerusalem above is associated with one of the two covenants -- in particular with the new covenant of promise and freedom, as opposed to the old covenant of the flesh and bondage.
R.F. Weymouth (New Testament in Modern Speech) quotes Lightfoot, in a footnote, regarding the above passage of scripture, which he says refers "not [to] Gentile Christendom as opposed to Jewish, but the new dispensation as opposed to the old".
Paul writes a word of encouragement to the Ephesians regarding the covenants of promise and the blood of Christ:
Eph. 2:11-14: "Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh -- who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands -- that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, ..."
In Christ, and by his blood, both Israelite and Gentile believers share in the covenants of promise.
I have underscored a few words in the above passage. Paul is here referring to Isa. 57:19: "Peace, peace, to him who is far off and to him who is near, says the LORD; and I will heal him." The Gentile believers were far off before they came to know Christ. Now, in Christ, the Gentiles are near to the covenants of promise. So also the believing Israelites are near in Christ, as were the prophets and patriarchs of old (Hebrews 11; 1 Peter 1:10-12). The healing mentioned in Isaiah is a healing of the Spirit.
These references to the covenants of promise in Galatians 4 and Ephesians 2 are closely related to the new covenant spoken of in Luke 22; Hebrews 1, 9st and 2nd Corinthians. Both the new covenant and the covenants of promise find their significance and fulfilment in the death, shed blood, and resurrection of Christ. Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 1:20 that "all the promises of God in Him are Yes ..."
For a few examples of how the New Testament writers understand the covenants of promise, see Paul's explanation of a promise to Abraham (Rom. 4:3-13; from Genesis 15:5-6). Also see Peter's explanation of a promise to David (Acts 2:29-33; from Psalm 132:11); and James's explanation of a promise to David (Acts 15:12-18; from Amos 9:11-12).
Peter, in his first letter, also speaks of the significance of the blood of Christ:
1 Peter 1:1-2: "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. Grace to you and peace be multiplied."
This sprinkling of blood pictures a cleansing from sin, and hence redemption from sin and death. I also note the words Peter uses here, which I have underscored. These believers are elect (chosen), by the foreknowledge of God; they are sanctified (made holy) by the Spirit (indwelling Holy Spirit). Lastly Peter speaks of grace and peace.
The apostle John, in his first letter, speaks of the witness of the blood of Christ:
I John 5:6-8 (RSV): "This is He who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth. There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree."
J.B. Phillips, in his New Testament in Modern English offers an interpretation of I John 5:6-8 by way of an alternate rendering:
"Jesus Christ himself is the one who came by water and by blood -- not by the water only, but by the water and the blood. The Spirit bears witness to this, for the Spirit is the truth. The witness therefore is a triple one -- the Spirit, the water of baptism and the blood of atonement -- and they all say the same thing."
Every believer's hope of glory is associated with the sufferings of Christ. These sufferings, of course, refer to the things Christ suffered in connection with the cross, which involves the shedding of his blood:
Hebrews 2:10: "For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason he is not ashamed to call them brethren."
Romans 8:29-30: "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified."
In conclusion, the new covenant is all-inclusive -- that is to say that since it has been ratified by the death and shed blood of Christ, it reaches out to all believers -- beginning with those of the early church (both Israelites and Gentiles), continuing through the centuries, and even to us today!
[All scriptural quotations are taken from the New King James
Version unless marked otherwise.]
Copyright © 1996 by Deborah Cox
All Rights Reserved.