The New Covenant
We have seen that the Kingdom of God is primarily referring to the reign of Messiah on earth in the Age to Come, and that there is an interim period of anticipation and preparation beforehand. During this time we can enter into a covenant with God. Jesus is called the mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 12:24) and of the New Testament (Hebrews 9:15). Both English words, "covenant" and "testament," mean the same thing and are translated from the same Greek word, diatheke. A covenant is an agreement made between two parties.
There are a number of covenants mentioned in the Bible, including the one God made with Abraham (which was discussed in detail in a previous article). This covenant included land, progeny, and abundant blessings. Yet there was still the issue of man's sin to be dealt with. The Old Covenant mentioned in Hebrews refers to the Law of Moses and is contrasted with the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ. The Mosaic Law included a sacrificial system that was a temporary "stand-in" which foreshadowed and pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
That word "eternal" is the word we saw before, aionios, which means "belonging to the Age to Come." In order to receive the inheritance of the coming age, man's sin had to be dealt with. Because God is perfectly righteous and holy, no one who is unrighteous can inherit His Kingdom (Psalm 15:1-5; I Corinthians 6:9-10; 15:50; Galatians 5:21). The temporary solution for the children of Israel was a system of sacrifices and offerings which pointed toward the ultimate sacrifice which the coming redeemer would fulfill, and which would establish a new covenant.
This is explained in Hebrews 10. The sacrifices were repeated over and over again, because they were not able to provide perfect cleansing of sin. If they could have, there would have been no need to continue them. But God's ultimate desire is for us to be made holy. The blood of bulls and goats could not do that, but the blood of our High Priest did. And now that he has done so, he is waiting for the time when all will be completed.
He is now waiting until the time when "his enemies be made his footstool," a quote from Psalm 110:1. On that future day, God will fulfill a promise, as Hebrews goes on to say.
The problem with the Old Testament law was that it could not change people's hearts. Even with the great miracles and wonders that God did for His people, they still did not keep the covenant, because the human heart is "desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). This is discussed in Hebrews 8.
The references to the new covenant in Hebrews 10:16 and 8:10 are quoting from Jeremiah. Isaiah also mentions this new covenant that God would make, in which He would put His Word into their hearts and His Spirit and words would not depart from them.
Jeremiah had said that in those days God would make a new covenant and put His Law in their inward parts and write it on their hearts. Similarly, Isaiah had said that the covenant would involve putting His spirit upon them and His words in their mouth. (Pouring out God's spirit in a future time is also mentioned in Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; and Ezekiel 39:29, although the word "covenant" is not specifically used.) In addition, Ezekiel refers to the promise of God's Spirit.
The promise to pour out God's spirit is connected in Jeremiah 32 and Ezekiel 39 with the future time when Israel would be restored to their land. Likewise Joel associates it with the signs in the heavens and the Day of the Lord.
The Old Testament Prophets spoke of a New Covenant God would make with His people, in which He would write His law in their hearts, and pour out His Spirit upon them, so they would walk in His ways. It is identified as being at the time when God plants his people in their land again, which is also identified with the signs in the heavens announcing the Day of the Lord. There is coming a day when God will bring these things to pass, and then His will shall be done "on earth as it is in heaven."
Yet we are told that the New Covenant was ratified by the blood of Jesus. At the Last Supper, when he instituted Communion for a remembrance of what he would accomplish, he said it was the blood of the New Testament, or New Covenant. He stated the purpose of the New Covenant a few verses later, in Luke 22:29, when he said, "I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." The word for "appoint" is diatithemai, which is a verb form of diatheke, the word for "Covenant." He was literally saying, "I make a covenant with you to give you a kingdom, as my Father has made a covenant with me." The whole purpose of the New Covenant was to offer his followers a place in the Kingdom. That is why Jesus shed his blood.
The New Covenant which Jesus ratified with his blood was for the purpose of redeeming the sins of mankind, so that "they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:15, above). The payment for sins was more than just a way for us not to feel guilty in this life. It was the "price of admission" into that future Kingdom, which we could not pay on our own.
A major characteristic of the Kingdom in the Age to Come, according to the Prophets, is that God would put His Words in His people's hearts, and pour out His Spirit upon them, and all would know God, from the least to the greatest. This is necessary because only those who are righteous can dwell in God's tabernacle (Psalm 15:1-2). Obviously that has not happened yet. "All" do not know God the way Jeremiah said they would. Neither has Israel been restored to their land, nor has Jesus established his Kingdom or begun to reign and subdue the kingdoms of the world. These are all things that will happen in the future.
Yet Jesus told the Apostles that they were to “wait for the promise of the Father,” which he specifically identified as receiving the holy spirit (Acts 1:4-5). In addition, the prophecy in Joel is specifically cited in Acts 2:16ff, when the outpouring of the holy spirit on Pentecost took place. But that couldn't be the complete fulfillment of the prophecy, since it also referred to signs in the heavens, the sun being darkened and the moon turned to blood, etc., and we haven't seen those things come to pass. Some have suggested that when Peter said "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel" it actually means "This is like that..." But there is nothing in the Greek to indicate such a meaning. The prophecy from Joel is specifically identified with the outpouring of the holy spirit on Pentecost after Jesus had ratified the New Covenant with his blood.
We saw in Mysteries of the Kingdom that the New Testament references to Psalm 110:1 ("Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool") imply an interim phase before the Kingdom is inaugurated. Similarly, the quote of Psalm 110:1 in Hebrews 10 which we examined above shows there is a period of time between the ratifying of the New Covenant with Jesus' blood, and the fulfillment of it at his return.
The terms of the New Covenant are offered to the world now, and anyone can enter into it. When they do they receive certain benefits, but the complete fulfillment of the Covenant will not be realized until Jesus returns. It can be compared with being added to someone's will, but not yet receiving the inheritance. James refers to being "heirs" of the Kingdom which God has promised (James 2:5) which means we stand to inherit it in the future. But while we have a "calling" and an "election" we do not inherit it until an entrance into the Kingdom is ministered to us (II Peter 1:10-11). However, there is a foretaste, or a "down payment" in the meantime.
Joel said that the outpouring would be in "the last days," according to Acts 2:17. This phrase does not only refer to the time immediately before the return of Christ. Hebrews 1:2 refers to "these last days" and I John 2:18 tells us that it is "the last time." Following thousands of years of promising the Messiah, the last days began when he finally came. We are now in a time when many (though not all) of the prophecies have been fulfilled, and the King has been identified. The Kingdom is being announced as the good news is proclaimed, and the people of the Kingdom are being prepared for their coming co-reign with Christ. The New Covenant has been ratified, and the holy spirit is said to be an "earnest," or a foretaste, of the inheritance to come (See The Last Days).
The holy spirit is called the "earnest" of our inheritance. It literally means a "token" or a "pledge" - that is, a "down payment" of that which will be poured out when Christ returns. We have been purchased with Christ's blood, but the "redemption of the purchased possession" is yet to come, although we have a token of it now. Hebrews 6:4-5 says that those who are enlightened "have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world [aion, age] to come." The holy spirit we have now is a token, a foretaste (limited because we are still mortal and imperfect), of God's promise to pour out His Spirit and to put His Word into His people's hearts in the Age to Come.
This explains why, when Jesus told his disciples to wait for the promise of the Father, and that they would receive the holy spirit "not many days hence" in Acts 1, they replied in the next verse, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" It was a logical question considering the prophecies of the outpouring of God's holy spirit that would characterize the coming age of Messiah's reign. Jesus had been talking about things pertaining to the Kingdom of God for forty days by then (verse 3). Notice he did not correct the notion that the Kingdom was coming, just the timing of it. He stated that it was not for them to know the times or the seasons, and yet they would receive power that would enable them to be ministers of the Gospel, "unto the uttermost parts of the earth."
With the New Covenant, a number of things changed regarding what is expected of us. Physical circumcision has been replaced by a circumcision of the heart, the rest of the Sabbath is replaced by the rest we can enter every day, we now offer "spiritual sacrifices" instead of animals, and the Church is said to be the Temple of God, in place of the physical temple (see the Closer Look Article, New Covenant Commandments). Yet nowhere in Paul's explanation of these things does he ever say that the nature of the Kingdom of God has changed from a literal, physical kingdom to a spiritual one. The promise to Abraham included land; and the Law, which was 430 years afterward (Galatians 3:17) did not change that. The Old and New Covenants are both within the larger overall scope of God’s covenant with Abraham, and His plan to bring about His Kingdom on earth.
Because of the holy spirit, we are said to be "new creatures" (II Corinthians 5:17) and are encouraged to walk in "newness of life" (Romans 6:4). Paul describes in Romans 7 the problem of trying to do God's will while having sinful flesh. The answer, according to Romans 8, is to walk by the spirit. We can walk according to that token of the holy spirit we have been given, in a limited way. But it goes on to speak about the glory that we have to look forward to.
Hebrews 2:8 says that God has put all things in subjection under Jesus' feet, but adds that "...now we see not yet all things put under him." Because we don't yet see it, some have doubted that he is truly God's Messiah. A day is coming, though, when every eye shall see him and everyone shall recognize his authority. While we don't yet see the world transformed by the pouring out of God's spirit, each of us as individuals can experience such a transformation in a personal way, as a foretaste of what is to come, and will be completely transformed when we are raised from the dead at the return of Christ. In the meantime, it is this individual regeneration and transformation by the power of God's Holy Spirit that characterizes the current period of preparation for the coming Kingdom of God.
This page last updated September 28, 2017