The New Covenant and Our Relationship To It
If we read
the passages relating to the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31and other passages
that refer to it, we see that it was made specifically to
is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant
with the house of
If the New
Covenant was made to the house of
We know that the Covenant was established when Christ paid the penalty for our sins on the cross, and how we remember the establishment of the Covenant through Him when we partake of the Lord’s Supper; in which we look backwards in remembrance of the sacrifice that He made for us, and also look forwards to that yet future time, when first He will return in the clouds for His Bride, the church, and then sometime later, will return to the Earth with His Church to fulfil the Covenant; when He will establish the Millennial Kingdom and write the Law on the hearts, and minds of His people Israel, and from then on, none of them will have to be taught about the Lord, because they will all know Him (verse 33).
One of the reasons we are looking forward to that time, even though we the church are not Israel and the Covenant was not made to us, is because we are told in Revelation 5 that we too will have a part in that yet future Kingdom.
Reading from Revelation 5:8:
“Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying; You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; For you were slain; and you have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation and have made us kings and priests to our God, and we shall reign on the earth.”
There has been much debate over the identity of the twenty-four elders, but comparing scripture with other scriptures, there can be little doubt that they are believers from the church age. They are in Heaven prior to the establishment of the Kingdom because they are saying “and we shall reign on the Earth,” future tense.
The Apostle Paul also teaches the same thing for those believers who endure in their faith to the end of life, in 2 Tim 2:11 and 12:
“This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.”
Although the New Covenant wasn’t made to the Church, we nevertheless partake now of many of the spiritual blessings that will be benefits of the New Covenant.
One of the main spiritual benefits that we have as believers is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
1 Cor. 3:16 “Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?”
And again in 1 Cor. 6:19: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own, you were bought with a price.”
we haven’t got God’s Law and His Word written in our minds and in our hearts
as has been promised to
To see what other spiritual blessings we already have, and they are many, is a separate study in itself, but you can get an insight if you study the first half of the book of Ephesians.
Covenant or Law was established when
However Jesus in His life fully lived up to, and obeyed every principle found in the Old Covenant, thus fulfilling it completely; and not only that, but through His death and resurrection, He paid the penalty for all sin and thus was able to establish the New Covenant, having done away with and replaced the Old.
So in all of those years, Israel was living between the establishment of the Old Covenant and its fulfilment by Jesus Christ, just as we are living now in the age between the establishment of the New Covenant and its fulfilment one day, again by Jesus Christ when He comes to bring in the Millennial Kingdom.
Just as the Israelites were unable to live up to the Law, so are we. In fact more so, because when Jesus lived amongst us, He raised the bar with respect to sin.
He said that if you so much as had an attitude of hatred towards your brother, you had as good as committed murder, and that if you so much as looked at a woman lustfully, then you had already committed adultery with her in your heart. He explained that even in thinking sinful thoughts we become guilty in the eyes of God of committing it. So you see in this age, none of us live up to the life that we are called to, except when we are willingly led by the Spirit of God.
Gal. 5:16 states, “Walk by means of the Spirit and you won’t fulfil the desires of the flesh”, but as you all know, we all fail many times in the war against our flesh, even as the apostle Paul did, as he admitted in his epistle to the Romans.
So if the
New Covenant wasn’t made to the Church but to
As has already
been explained, we have already received many of the New Covenant blessings,
even though they have been promised to
God already looks at us positionally as in Christ. He loves us just as much as He does His only Son, because we as church age believers are said to be in Him. When he sees us, He doesn’t see our sin, but the righteousness of His Son which has already been imputed to our account from the moment that we were saved. So when we think of that, we are looking back to the day of our salvation.
And we should also be eagerly anticipating the day when, according to 1 Thessalonians 4, “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
Philippians 3 puts it like this: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”
We have been sealed by the Spirit until the day of redemption, when we will be changed to become like our Saviour, no longer having to contend with sin, death or illness, and this day is what we are all waiting for, or should be; and it can happen at any moment. The Apostle Paul was eagerly awaiting that day; he fully expected it to be in his lifetime. However just because it didn’t happen then or at any time since, doesn’t take away from the imminency of His return, and it will occur before the New Covenant is fulfilled in order that we, as the Bride of Christ, will be ready to return with Him to reign with Him when He returns to fulfil the Covenant with Israel, and establish His Kingdom.
In exactly the same way that Jesus ascended into heaven before the sending of the Holy Spirit, signalling the start of the Church age, so we too who are alive at that time, who are trusting in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, will meet Him in the air as our mortal bodies are transformed into His likeness.
as there was an interim period between the ascension of Jesus into heaven
and the start of the Church age on the day of Pentecost, so there also will
be between our ascension to heaven to be with Him and the start of the
During this interim period, in Heaven there will be the judgement seat of Christ, where the works of believers while they were on earth, now in their glorified bodies will be assessed and appropriate rewards given, whilst on this earth there will be the great Tribulation.
At the end of the Great Tribulation, and just prior to the start of the Millennium, there will be the sheep and the goats judgement of Matthew 25 on the Earth, where surviving tribulation believers will be separated from unbelievers, the believers being left behind on the earth to populate it at the start off the millennial kingdom, whilst the unbelievers will be taken away to eternal punishment.
We will be with our Saviour, now in our glorified and sinless bodies, and for some of us, those who have endured in the faith, who have spent our lives serving the Lord, living a life of trust in Him, our reward for works in this life will be to rule and reign on this earth with Him during the millennial kingdom.
now, we are living in the age between the establishment of the New Covenant
and its fulfilment sometime in the future, just as
And the reason that we receive many New Covenant blessings now is because of our believer priesthood, and our relationship to the King, who will be the Ruler over the Earth in the New Covenant administration: our great High Priest Jesus Christ.
We are all believer priests under His headship and the whole basis of our spiritual lives today is through our Saviour. Our blessings are received because of Him and through Him. We the church have been adopted into the royal family of God through Jesus Christ as adult sons and daughters in the same way that a bride joins the family of her husband when they get married.
The best illustration that I can come up with that I’m sure that you will all recognise is that of Princess Diana. She was a commoner, and not a member of the royal family. She had more privileges in this life than you or I as Lady Diana Spencer, but the point is, she wasn’t royalty.
Yet through her marriage to Prince Charles, she came to share in all of the privileges of being a member of that royal family. And just as having those privileges was a good thing for her, nevertheless, they brought with them responsibilities, and from then on for the rest of her life, she was an ambassador for that family, and for this country.
In the same way, we as believer priests, under our great high priest, Jesus Christ, already have many of the spiritual blessings that relate to the new Covenant and the coming kingdom of which He will be the ruler. Then as His bride we will rule with Him.
But with those privileges and blessings also come responsibilities, to represent Him and His kingdom to this world. You are not your own; you have been bought with a price. We should consider it an honour to serve Him who has paid for our salvation with His own life. We share in the blessings that relate to being members of His royal family and we share in the responsibilities too. We need to always remember that with privilege comes responsibility.
to the question, “If the New Covenant promises have been made to
In order to answer that one, we need to have a look at the other covenants that are taught in the Bible, and also at some that definitely are not taught; because much of the church today holds to them, out of which has arisen much confusion and false teaching.
First let’s have a look at two non-biblical covenants that are held by much of the established church today.
You may have heard of them, they are The Covenant of Works, and The Covenant of Grace.
It’s ironic to say the least, that the system of theology that has sprung up around these two covenants is called Covenant Theology, because the system is based around two covenants that are not, I repeat not, in the Bible.
First let’s define it.
Covenant theology is a system of theology teaching that God entered into a covenant of works with Adam prior to the fall.
In this covenant, He promised eternal life for obedience during a probationary period, and death if Adam disobeyed.
In this test, Adam stood as the federal head of the human race, and had he obeyed he would have been confirmed in righteousness with the benefits passing to all humanity.
When Adam ate the forbidden fruit in the garden he failed and fell, and his act of disobedience was transmitted to all humanity in that all are born in sin and under sin’s authority.
God then entered into a Covenant of Grace, promising eternal life to those who believe in Jesus Christ.
The Covenant of Grace is based upon the covenant of redemption, made in eternity past by the triune God in which the Father delegated the Son, who agreed to provide salvation for the World through His atoning death.
The Covenant of Grace is understood as the application of the covenant of redemption and is thereby restricted to the elect.
Sounds good doesn’t it?
There are some things in there that we can agree with, aren’t there? While much of the above may be true, and is all implied, neither covenant is recorded for us in the Word.
we come to the final point, and that is, Covenant Theology affirms that there
is one people of God called true
And that’s where we start to have problems.
throughout this present age have failed to distinguish properly between the
In a conversation
on religious questions, Fredric II,
The General’s statement reflected his understanding of not only the miraculous preservation of the Jewish people, but his belief that their preservation was for the purpose of bringing God’s unfulfilled promises to pass. To von Zeiten, the present existence of the Jewish people was proof that God’s Word was true, because Scripture had promised that they would remain until all that had been prophesied concerning them had been fulfilled.
this expression of faith was made in a day when the
A century before von Zieten, Martin Luther also struggled with the significance of Jewish existence, but came to a very different conclusion based on his observation of the miserable condition of the Jews in his day.
Deciding that such Jews could not be those to whom the Bible referred in its promises of future restoration, he said: “If the Jews are Abraham’s descendants, then we would expect to see them back in their own land. We would expect them to have a state of their own. But what do we see? We see them living scattered and despised.”
As a result, he continued to accept the spiritual interpretation of his Augustinian Order that the Church is the only heir of the promises to Abraham.
I wonder what Luther would say if He lived in our day when almost six million Jews have returned to the biblical homeland to regain their independence in a developed Jewish state whose technology and military achievements are the envy of the world.
return of the Jewish People to the
When the early church became the established church of the Roman Empire, they became arrogant with respect to Israel, having been under much persecution at the hands of first the Jews, and then Romans; and now that Israel had rejected their Messiah, they argued that God had permanently rejected them as a nation, and therefore the promises that God made to them became automatically transferred to the Church.
That was the understanding of Martin Luther along with most of the other reformers at the start of the Reformation. Covenant Theology had its roots in that teaching.
I’m not saying that covenant theologians are anti-Semitic, but I am saying that one of the roots of this tradition of the church was anti-Semitism, and certainly much of the persecution of Jewish people throughout the church age came about partly because of this idea that the church has permanently replaced national Israel as God’s chosen people.
One of the few things that was reformed originally in the reformation was the message of the gospel. When Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the church at Wittenburg denouncing many of the practices and theology of the Catholic Church, having seen in a plain reading of the scriptures that salvation from the penalty of sin was by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, we can all readily agree with Him. He also wanted to do away with some of the more extreme practices of the Roman Catholic Church, such as the giving of indulgencies for the supposed salvation of those who had already died.
But this belief, that the eternal promises and covenants that God had made relating to Israel had now been transferred to the church, had not changed.
However, now that a plain reading of the text was becoming the order of the day, these covenants to Israel presented a problem. There was no way to reconcile them with the church’s teaching that it had replaced Israel completely in God’s plan.
Those who came out of the Catholic Church during the reformation, however, were already skilled at spiritualising and allegorising the text, reading between the lines, to come up with doctrines that fitted their own presuppositions. And so they did.
Covenant theology is a method for organizing and relating the Bible based on certain presuppositions, and this teaching that the promises of God to Israel are now transferred to the Church is one of the presuppositions of those who created these two covenants.
Most scholars agree that Covenant Theology was mostly a product of the 16th-17th century Reformation. Early leaders such as Johann Bullinger, (1504-1575), Kasper Olevianus (1536-1587), Johannes Wollebius (1586-1629), William Ames (1576-1633), Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669), and Hermann Witsius (1636-1708) were instrumental in developing the Covenant view and incorporating it into various credal confessions. These include the First and Second Helvetic Confessions of 1536 and 1566, the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563, the Thirty-nine Articles of 1571, and perhaps more famously the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647.
Some of the promises that God made to Israel are eternal. So when you are claiming that God has permanently rejected Israel (despite what we read in Romans 9-11, the book of Revelation and numerous as yet unfulfilled prophecies that on a plain reading of the text can only relate to Israel) then you have to come up with something that can explain those things away.
Generalising the way in which God deals with people throughout the ages as covenant theologians have done is one of them.
So, back to our question: are we to be looking for a Covenant other than the New Covenant?
No - because we as Church age believers have already received many of the future blessings that God will give to believing Israel. And yes, because there is another Covenant that IS recorded in the Bible that we have a part in. But we need to understand our relationship to it, because all of the covenants recorded in Scripture are with and to Israel, including the New Covenant as we have already seen.
Turn to Romans 11. “I say then, has God cast away His people?”
Paul is talking about national Israel here, having rejected their Messiah as a nation and God’s plan of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. He asks in such a way as to demand a negative answer.
“Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.”
Paul is using himself as an example that God has not cast off his people Israel.
Why? Because Paul knew that God had chosen Israel as a covenanted people from eternity past and entered into a relationship with them that will never be destroyed.
Jeremiah 31:37 says: “Thus says the LORD: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says the LORD.”
Back to verse 2 again, and here is the second proof that Paul uses to show that God has not rejected Israel, the proof of the remnant. In all of Israel’s history as the people of God, no matter how far they have fallen, how far they have gone into idol worship, God has always preserved a remnant of believers in Israel, or scattered Israel.
While they were in exile in Egypt, Assyria and Babylon, there was always a remnant of believers who understood that their relationship to Him was based on faith alone and His unmerited favour, or grace.
He looks back to the time of Elijah who thought that he was the only one left in Israel who had faith.
“Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 3 ‘LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.’ But what does the divine response say to him? ‘I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal’.”
7000 was a very small remnant out of all of the hundreds of thousands in Israel, but even so, Elijah thought He was the only one left. So now after two illustrations, Paul draws a conclusion.
“Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”
He’s still talking about the remnant of Israel that believe, even though the majority had rejected their Messiah, something that’s happened in every generation of Israel, even during the church age: a few Jews, the remnant that have believed in Jesus Christ, and who are members of the Church, the Body of Christ.
“6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace, But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.”
This verse seems a bit confusing at first sight, but Paul is making it clear that the remnant has been preserved because of the Grace of God towards His people, and that their faith is based on their understanding of God’s grace and mercy through Jesus Christ and not upon their works. “7 What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded.”
Israel as a whole were seeking to be justified by keeping the Law, by establishing their own righteousness, and in doing so, they had missed the point of God’s grace, that we can’t be saved by our works, only by faith. The whole had failed to understand but the remnant had not.
Gal. 3:24 says, “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” 8 Just as it is written: “God has given them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see and ears that they should not hear, to this very day.”
Each of the gospel writers used this quotation from Deuteronomy 9 and Isaiah 29 to indicate the Jews’ failure to recognise Jesus as their Messiah. Paul reinforces his argument with another Old Testament quotation: “ 9 And David says: ‘ Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a recompense to them. 10 Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, and bow down their back always.’”
Those who seek their own righteousness must bend their own backs to the bondage of sin. But those who seek the righteousness of Christ and receive it by grace become a part of the believing remnant of God.
“ 11 I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.”
Paul is happy to preach the gospel to the gentiles, and one of his motives is to provoke His own people to jealousy. He wants his people the Jews to be jealous of the salvation that has now come to the gentiles through their Messiah, whom they have rejected. The more gentiles believe, the more his own people will be provoked to jealousy, especially when millions disappear from the earth when the Lord comes back for His Saints.
“ 12 Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!”
How much blessing will be brought to the world when Israel as a nation finally believes! We shall see that in the millennial Kingdom.
Up to now, Paul has been speaking about Israel, but He now addresses the Gentiles directly in response to an anticipated question.
“Paul, as an apostle to the gentiles, why are you so concerned about the salvation of Israel?”
That’s the question that he anticipates.
His answer reflects both his own conviction concerning His divine calling, and the compassion he has for his own people.
“ 13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them.”
“ 15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”
Paul now furthers his argument that God’s rejection of His own people is not permanent by bringing in an illustration, that of the Olive tree, the place of spiritual blessings. “ 16 For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy.”
Paul starts by using an illustration from the feast of firstfruits, whereby the firstfruits of the harvest were set aside to God, so that the whole of the harvest would be sanctified.
Israel is not only the firstfruits of God’s program of salvation, but also the nation in which that salvation is rooted.
Back to the olive tree: in order to understand the illustration we have to know why branches from a wild olive tree would be grafted into a cultivated olive tree in the first place.
It was understood in Paul’s time that if an olive tree wasn’t producing much fruit, then unfruitful branches were cut off, and branches from a wild olive tree could be grafted in place of them, in an attempt to get it to produce more or better fruit.
“…and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.”
What is the root?
It’s the answer to our question, “Are we to be looking for another covenant?”
“ 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith.”
We as gentile believers have been grafted in alongside the remnant of Israel who are already trusting in Jesus Christ for their salvation, in the place of Jewish unbelievers. They are people who can produce no spiritual fruit because they are not a part of the family of God by faith.
But grafted into what? The Mosaic Covenant? No, that was a temporary covenant which was done away with or fulfilled at the cross. This covenant came before the Mosaic Covenant, one that was not a temporary one, one whose working out depended on God alone.
With whom did God make a covenant, in the Old Testament, a covenant that was totally unconditional, one that didn’t depend upon the faithfulness of the recipient, but on the faithfulness of God?
Galatians 3 26-29 says, “ 26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Now this verse has been used by many, especially covenant theologians to diminish the role of Israel in God’s plan. Yes, we believers (Jew and Gentile alike) in this church age are all one in Christ Jesus, but that isn’t to say that God has forgotten His promises to National Israel. But when the church is raptured before the tribulation, the evangelistic baton will return again to Israel, and I suspect that more people will be saved during that time than at any time in the past. But that’s a side issue for now; we are all Abraham’s seed by faith, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ in the Millennial Kingdom.
Let’s go back to the original covenant that God made with Abraham.
“Now the LORD said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. 2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great and you shall be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
Can we gentile believers be classed as all the families of the earth? The church has certainly spread at this moment in time, certainly to many of the families of the Earth. We’ve been grafted into the Abrahamic Covenant. Abraham walked by faith in God, as should we! Abraham was a blessing to those around Him, just as are we, when we walk by faith.
Abraham as a child of faith received divine protection, the same protection that a child would expect from His FATHER, as do we. The Abrahamic Covenant is the root that we Gentiles have been grafted into, and the basis for the salvation of all Israel, and all the families of the earth, which includes us.
But then comes a warning! And in these verses, for “you”, read “gentiles”, and for “they” read “unbelieving Israelites”.
“Do not be haughty (or arrogant), but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness, otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?”
Being cut off is not a reference to loss of salvation, but being cut off from the place of spiritual blessing, and we have here two reasons that God has for cutting us off from the place of spiritual blessing: being haughty, or arrogant (verse 20), and a lack of faith (verse 22).
In Old Testament times many Jews had this kind of arrogance towards Gentiles; they assumed that they were the only true people of God and looked down their noses at Gentiles.
Now Gentile believers are warned by Paul not to fall into the same trap.
Why do you think Paul puts this warning here in his letter to the Romans? It was already going on. The church was at most thirty years old and already Christians were boasting about their status in Christ, as contrasted to Israel.
This is what the olive tree illustration is all about. If we as believers cease to walk in faith towards God, or if we exhibit spiritual pride over the branches that have been cut off, Jewish unbelievers, then we can expect our Father in Heaven to discipline us.
So, Gentile believers are warned not to boast over the Jewish unbelievers who have been broken off because of unbelief. It’s been going on since the start of the church age, and many believers in the Lord Jesus Christ have been removed from the place of spiritual blessing because of it.
And Covenant Theology of any kind, whether those who hold to it know it or not, has at its root that kind of boasting. It’s a denial of the significance and impact of the unconditional biblical covenants that God has made and will continue to uphold with His people Israel.
It springs from the root of unbiblical teaching that is contrary to this passage of Scripture and many others - that the church has permanently replaced Israel, that God no longer has any use for them, arrogance of the kind that is warned against in this passage.
“ 25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved.”
The fullness of the Gentiles obviously hasn’t come in yet, because we are still here; we are still, or should be, eagerly anticipating the rapture of the church. One reason that we are still waiting is that God is still saving millions of people from among us gentiles, and then the Lord will come for His church. It’s only after the rapture of the church and towards the end of the tribulation that all Israel will be saved.
Just as in the New World after the flood, the Millennial Kingdom will begin with believers only. All surviving unbelievers, Jews and Gentiles alike, will die and be taken from the earth.
The sheep and the goats judgement will take place at this time, and the Millennial Kingdom will be ushered in. The New Covenant which was instituted after the Cross, along with all of its blessings, will then be fulfilled.
So to recapitulate: are we to be looking for another Covenant because the New Covenant blessings are promised to Israel?
No, because we as Church age believers have already received some of the blessings in advance of the New Covenant, not because God has made a covenant with the church, but by virtue of our priesthood as believer priests. As we are related to our great High Priest, The Lord Jesus Christ, the one who will one day bring the New Covenant to fulfilment with believing Israel, we will have a part in it, when we come back to earth with Him. We will have previously been taken to heaven prior to the Tribulation and received whatever rewards that we have earned here on Earth, rewards that depend upon our service to Him whilst walking by faith.
Remember, the New Covenant was established at the cross, and we are looking forward expectantly to its fulfilment in the Millennial Kingdom after the Tribulation.
And also yes, there is another covenant that is relevant to us, because we’ve been grafted in, by faith in Jesus Christ, into the Abrahamic covenant.
We share in its blessings, just as Abraham did, just as Gentiles who became believers in Old Testament times also did.
By virtue of being grafted into the Covenant we are also a blessing to others when we walk by faith, when we share the gospel with them, when we pray for them, when they are blessed by God because of their association with us. “Those who bless you I will bless and you will be a blessing.”
And just as God protected Israel, and those in Israel who walked by faith, He also protects us who are a part of His family through faith as an extension of the covenant that He made with Abraham, as we continue to walk by faith and don’t fall foul of the kind of boasting over Israel that this passage in Romans talks about.
And remember the illustration of Princess Diana, how she a commoner became grafted into the royal family by marriage, and as she shared in the privilege and also the responsibility as an ambassador for that family, so we, as members of the royal family of God, grafted in through our relationship to Jesus Christ as His bride, also share in the privileges and responsibilities to be an ambassador for God.
A covenant is an agreement between two parties. There are two types of covenants: conditional and unconditional. A conditional or bilateral covenant is an agreement that is binding on both parties for its fulfilment. Both parties agree to fulfil certain conditions. If either party fails to meet their responsibilities, the covenant is broken and neither party has to fulfil the expectations of the covenant. An unconditional or unilateral covenant is an agreement between two parties, but only one of the two parties has to do something. Nothing is required of the other party.
The Abrahamic Covenant is an unconditional covenant, as are all of the covenants except the Mosaic Covenant; God made promises to Abraham that required nothing of Abraham. Genesis 15:18-21 describes a part of the Abrahamic Covenant, specifically dealing with the dimensions of the land God promised to Abraham and his descendants. The actual Abrahamic Covenant is found in Genesis 12:1-3. The ceremony recorded in Genesis 15 indicates the unconditional nature of the covenant. The only time that both parties of a covenant would pass between the pieces of animals was when the fulfilment of the covenant was dependent upon both parties keeping commitments. Concerning the significance of God alone moving between the halves of the animals, it is to be noted that it is a smoking furnace and a flaming torch, representing God, not Abraham, which passed between the pieces. Such an act, it would seem, should be shared by both parties, but in this case it is explained by the fact that the covenant is principally a promise by God. He is the one who binds Himself. God caused a sleep to fall upon Abraham so that he would not be able to pass between the two halves of the animals. Fulfilment of the covenant fell to God alone. God determined to call out a special people for Himself through whom He would bring blessing to all the nations. The Abrahamic Covenant is paramount to a proper understanding of the kingdom concept and is the foundation of Old Testament theology. (1) The Abrahamic Covenant is described in Genesis 12:1–3 and is an unconditional covenant. There are no conditions attached to it (no “if” clauses, suggesting its fulfilment is dependent on man). (2) It is also a literal covenant in which the promises should be understood literally. The land that is promised should be understood in its literal or normal interpretation—it is not a figure of heaven. (3) It is also an everlasting covenant. The promises that God made to Israel are eternal. There are three main features to the Abrahamic Covenant:
1. The promise of land: Genesis 12:1
God called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees to a land that He would give him. This promise is reiterated in Genesis 13:14–18, where it is confirmed by a shoe covenant; its dimensions are given in Genesis 15:18–21 (precluding any notion of this being fulfilled in heaven). The land aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant is also expanded in Deuteronomy 30:1–10, also known as the Palestinian or Land Covenant.
2. The promise of descendants: Genesis 12:2
God promised Abraham that He would make a great nation out of him. Abraham was 75 years old and childless. Genesis 12:4 promised many descendants. This promise is amplified in Genesis 17:6 where God promised that nations and kings would descend from him. This promise (which is expanded in the Davidic Covenant of 2 Samuel 7:12–16) would eventually become the Davidic throne with their Messiah’s kingdom rule over the Hebrew people.
3. The promise of blessing and redemption: Genesis 12:3
God promised to bless Abraham and the families of the earth through him. This promise is amplified in the New Covenant, which we have looked at, and has to do with Israel’s spiritual blessing and redemption.
Jeremiah 31:34 anticipates the forgiveness of sin. The unconditional and eternal nature of the covenant is seen in that the covenant is reaffirmed to Isaac (Genesis 21:12; 26:3–4).
The “I will” promises show the unconditional aspect of the covenant. The covenant is further confirmed to Jacob (Genesis 28:14–15). It is worth noting that God reaffirmed these promises amid the sins of the patriarchs, which further emphasizes the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. God’s method of fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant is literal, inasmuch as God partially fulfilled the covenant in history. God blessed Abraham by giving him the land (Genesis 13:14–17).
God blessed him spiritually and gave him numerous descendants. The important element of the Abrahamic Covenant, however, demands a future fulfilment with Israel’s Messiah’s kingdom rule:
(1) Israel as a nation will possess the land in the future. Numerous Old Testament passages anticipate the future blessing of Israel and its possession of the land as promised to Abraham. Ezekiel saw a future day when Israel is restored to the land (Ezekiel 20:33–37, 40–42; 36:1–37:28).
(2) Israel as a nation will be converted, forgiven, and restored (Romans 11:25–27). (3) Israel as a nation will repent and receive the forgiveness of God in the future (Zechariah 12:10–14).
The Abrahamic Covenant finds its ultimate fulfilment in connection with the return of Messiah to rescue and bless His people Israel. It is through the nation Israel that God promised in Genesis 12:1–3 to bless the nations of the world. That ultimate blessing finds its fulfilment in the Lord’s glorious kingdom reign on earth, and we’ll be with Him.
We’ve been studying Ezekiel in our small groups, and if there’s anything that shows the literal nature of God’s covenant with Israel as a nation, it’s what I am about to show you.
It demonstrates God’s faithfulness to His word, and it connects this ancient collection of books we know as the Bible right down to today.
We know that God made a covenant with Abraham for the Promised Land. However God also prophesied that Abraham's descendants would be in affliction and bondage for precisely 430 years.
"And he said unto Abraham, ‘Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them, and they shall afflict them four hundred years.’" (Genesis15:13) This "affliction" began 30 years later with the hatred expressed to Isaac by Ishmael's mocking attitude (Genesis 21:8-10).
The affliction of Abraham's seed in Canaan eventually ended in the bondage in Egypt.
"Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt." (Exodus 12:40-41)
On Passover, 430 years later, the captivity ended. The Apostle Paul confirmed that the captivity lasted precisely 430 years in Galatians 3:17.
Israel's Second Captivity was when the kings of Judah began to rebel against God and many of their people turned to idol worship and pagan gods despite God's warnings through His prophets. The ten northern tribes of Israel were conquered by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. (2 Kings 17:6).
Then Jeremiah prophesied that the Kingdom of Judah would also be removed for 70 years from the Promised Land beginning in 606 B.C. because of their idolatry.
"And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years." (Jeremiah 25:11)
Zerubbabel led the first group of exiles back to Israel in 538 BC, and work started on the restoration of the temple in 536 BC precisely 70 years later on the first day of Nisan 536 just as Jeremiah had prophesied. Yet despite the royal permission, only a small remnant of the Jews left Babylon and returned to Israel. The vast majority never returned, choosing rather to live in the nation of their captivity.
Now to the Third and Worldwide Return from captivity. The Bible contains numerous prophecies of a final return of the exiles to the Promised Land in the "last days." In light of the precision of the prophecies about the duration of the earlier captivities, is it possible that the prophets have revealed when the Jews would return from their final captivity to establish their nation? The prophet Ezekiel was given a vision concerning the final return of his people.
“Lie also on your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it. According to the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their iniquity. 5 For I have laid on you the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days; so you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. 6 And when you have completed them, lie again on your right side; then you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days. I have laid on you a day for each year.” (Ezekiel 4:3-6) Ezekiel declared that each day represents one biblical year. Israel would be exiled for 430 years (390 years plus 40 years), exactly the same length of time of their first captivity in Egypt. At the end of the 70 years of prophesied captivity in Babylon in 536 B.C, only a small remnant of the house of Judah returned to Jerusalem to fulfil Jeremiah’s prophecy. The vast majority of the Jews remained in the Persian Empire as colonists. So when we deduct the 70 years in Babylon that ended in 536 B.C. from Ezekiel's 430 years of punishment, Israel still had 360 years of further captivity due to them following the end of the Babylonian Captivity.
They had their chance to return with the remnant. God had already declared in Ezekiel 18 that the children of the exiles wouldn’t have to pay for the sins of their fathers if they turned in obedience to Him. Despite the precision of Ezekiel's prophecy, there was no general return to the land, either 430 years or 360 years later. Why not?
The solution to this mystery is found in Leviticus 26. The Lord established promises and punishments for Israel based on her obedience and her disobedience. God told Israel four times in this passage that if, after being punished for her sins, they still would not repent, the punishments previously specified would be multiplied by seven (the number of completion).
“ 17 I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when no one pursues you. 18 And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.” (Leviticus 26:18; also 26:21, 23-24, 27-28).
In other words, if the Israelites did not repent after God had punished them, then the punishment previously promised, the balance of their sentence of 360 years, would be multiplied seven times (360 years x 7 = 2,520 biblical years) to reach a total of 2,520 years. Therefore, as of 536 BC the final restoration of Israel to the Holy Land would occur only after 2,520 biblical years.
The majority who stayed behind in Babylon obviously weren’t obedient: they didn’t go back, choosing to live instead in the land of their former enemies, and even those who did return eventually failed to be obedient, ultimately culminating in the national rejection of Jesus Christ.
When we refer to biblical/prophetic years, we refer to the ancient Jewish year of 360 days. While our modern calendar year contains 365.25 days and the modern Hebrew calendar has 354 days, the biblical year of ancient Israel was lunar-based and contained only 360 days. The solar calendar year of 365.25 days was not used by Israel. Abraham used a year of 360 days consisting of 12 months of 30 days each. Instead of leap years that we use in our calendar, they would have a leap month. The Babylonian captivity ended in the spring of 536 BC. They had served 70 years of the sentence in Babylon, and only a remnant went back to the land; the rest of the sentence of 360 years, at least for the remnant who obeyed and went back, was graciously suspended. This date is the starting point for our calculations. The period of worldwide captivity now would last, because of their disobedience, 2,520 biblical years x 360 days = 907,200 days.
Converting this figure into our modern calendar year, we divide the 907,200 days by 365.25 to reach a total of 2,483.8 of our calendar years. (We also need to remember that there is only one year between 1 BC and 1 AD; there was no Year Zero). So the end of Israel's worldwide captivity would occur after a total of 2,483.8 of our years had elapsed from the end of the Babylonian Captivity in the spring of 536 B.C, when Israel first started to rebuild their Temple.
In our calendar, that equates to late spring in 1948.
Which nation came into existence as a sovereign state in May 1948? On May 14, 1948, the Jewish people proclaimed the independence of Israel and the end of their worldwide captivity at the precise time prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel. What was also significant about May 14th 1948? It was the Day of Pentecost.
Ezekiel 36:24-26: “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 ...............I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you.”
(As in many other prophetic passages, the whole doesn’t have to be fulfilled all at the same time. For instance “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; ................And the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isa 9:6)
This prophecy has the same degree of accuracy as the prophecy made by Daniel, who predicted that the Messiah would be cut off after seven plus sixty two weeks of years from the decree of Cyrus to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
In Daniel’s day they used the term week as we use the term decade. A week of years is seven years. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday exactly sixty-nine weeks of years later. We haven’t got time to go into that one right now, but from fulfilled prophecy, we can see that God is working His purposes out, and He has a timetable that He is sticking rigidly to. The only thing not in place in Israel that must be there by the midpoint of the tribulation is the temple, but it will be built. Maybe the construction will start at the beginning of the Tribulation as a part of the peace treaty that the Antichrist makes with Israel, or maybe it will start before.
If it starts before, we may see it, but if not, then we won’t be here, because as it says in 1 Thessalonians 4, “ 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
Jesus Christ is coming back for His church before the start of the Tribulation.
I wonder if we are ready, or have we too, like those captives long ago become comfortable in the land of God’s enemies?
It was our study of Ezekiel which prompted me to write some of this paper. In Ezekiel we have in more or less chronological order God’s dealings with Israel, which on a plain and normal reading of the text, taking into account the figurative language of the prophets, some of which is past and some of which is yet future. If we apply the same interpretive rules to the book of Revelation written by the Apostle John about 20 years after the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70AD, then there is no way that its prophecies have been fulfilled historically.
The re-establishment of Israel as an independent nation, something that they have never been since the exile of Ezekiel’s time, has not only thrown a whole bucket of spanners into amillennial thinking, but also has confused many premillenialists. The issue that has bothered them is that not only has the return to their land been in unbelief (in fact the majority are not only atheists and agnostics much like the rest of the world) but even orthodox Jews are in a minority. Israel as it is today doesn’t fit with many of the prophecies that predict a return in faith in preparation for blessing.
But as I have shown, the 1948 return fits exactly with the time period prophesied by Ezekiel when Leviticus 26 is taken into account, and not only that but the Bible speaks of two future returns from amongst the nations. The first return is in unbelief in preparation for judgement – The Great Tribulation, and the second return is in faith in preparation for blessing.
The return prophesied in Ezekiel 20:33-38 is clearly in unbelief. Ezekiel is drawing a simile between the return from Egypt, where God’s plan was first to give them the Law and they were to build the Tabernacle, and they were then to go into the Land; but because of unbelief, that generation were destined to die in the desert, and the next one went into the Land.
“‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you. 34 I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out. 35 And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face. 36 Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,’ says the Lord GOD. 37 ‘I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; 38 I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”
That this return is in unbelief is seen by the fact that they are gathered “with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm and with fury poured out,” repeated twice for emphasis.
Ezekiel 22:17-22 makes the same point. “The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 18 ‘Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to Me; they are all bronze, tin, iron, and lead, in the midst of a furnace; they have become dross from silver.’ 19 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Because you have all become dross, therefore behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. 20 As men gather silver, bronze, iron, lead, and tin into the midst of a furnace, to blow fire on it, to melt it; so I will gather you in My anger and in My fury, and I will leave you there and melt you. 21 Yes, I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of My wrath, and you shall be melted in its midst. 22 As silver is melted in the midst of a furnace, so shall you be melted in its midst; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have poured out My fury on you.’”
This passage speaks of a gathering “into” Jerusalem, again for judgement.
Ezekiel 36:22-24 again deals with a gathering in unbelief where they have profaned God’s name amongst the nations. “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. 23 And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD,” says the Lord GOD, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. 24 For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.”’”
Then the next verse speaks of their regeneration, or spiritual rebirth.
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. 28 Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. 29 I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses.”
Isaiah speaks of the same time in chapter 11:11-12, only he points out that this is the second return from amongst all the nations, yet to be fulfilled: “It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea. 12 He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”
They are in their own land in the flesh; the dry bones have come together.
“So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.”
It’s going to take the events of the Great Tribulation to bring them to spiritual life.
“Also He said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, “Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’” 10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army. 11 Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13 Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. 14 I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it,” says the LORD.’”
So the first regathering from amongst the nations is in unbelief, in preparation for judgement, and is still taking place now.
The next regathering, this time in faith will be for blessing, after the Tribulation and at the start of the Millennial Kingdom.
In the words of the Apostle Paul, again from Romans 11, “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved.”
Lastly I was going to give some evidence that the early church was premillennial in its theology, and that it strayed away from this view from the third century when the church became the established religion of the Roman Empire. After all, the emperor would not have been pleased with the concept of Christ returning and taking away his authority.
But I can do no better, given that this has gone on longer than I intended, than to point to the following web pages.
The disciples asked Jesus in Acts 1 saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.”
It’s very instructive to see what He didn’t say in reply. He didn’t deny that the kingdom would be restored to Israel, He just told them they didn’t need to know because of what was about to take place. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
He didn’t deny that the Kingdom would one day be restored, but they at least came to an understanding that one day they would have a place in it.
2 Tim 2:11 “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with Him.”
As to the timing of the final regathering of Israel, this time in faith; only the Lord knows when that will be. But He has set a precedent - Twice.
The generation that left Egpyt, but didn’t enter the Promised Land through unbelief, who were over twenty years old, died in the desert. Numbers 14:28-30. The next generation went into the Land.
Of the generation over twenty years old that was exiled from the Land, they all died in exile; however the next generation went back.
Those of the mostly unbelieving generation who were twenty and over, who entered the Land in 1948, are now at least eighty two years old. I wonder if we are living in the generation who will receive the New Covenant promised rest.
We need to be ready to meet the Lord. We need to keep the faith. His return for the Church is imminent. We need to have a proper understanding of current events, and where they fit into what has been prophecied in the Word, that God has put there for our information.
1 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labour pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. 5 You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night, nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 8 But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. 11 Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.