The Truth about the New Covenant
Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NIV)
(v. 31) “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a New Covenant with the people
of Israel and with the people of Judah.
(v. 32) It will not be like the [Old] Covenant I made with
their ancestors when I took them by the hand to
lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my [Old]
Covenant, though I was a husband to them, ”
declares the Lord.
As I see it, since the the Old Covenant was breakable (by us) because of our free will to sin, God's solution was to make the New Covenant to be unbreakable (by us) by literally removing our free will to ever sin again. Of course, since we still commit sin here on earth, then the New Covenant must refer to some process that can only happen in heaven, a place where we will never sin again. But if that is true, then the New Covenant can only become operative in heaven, and not here on earth.
So, are there any other clues in this same passage that might tell us that the New Covenant can only become operative in heaven, and not here on earth? Of course.
(v. 33) “This is the [New] Covenant I will make with the
people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their
hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
(v. 34) No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say
to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’because they will all
know me, from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord. "For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NIV)
Notice that verse 34 says, "No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’because they will all know me." As I see it, this verse can only be fulfilled during a time and at a place where everyone is already saved—heaven itself. Therefore, the New Covenant can only become operational in heaven when the Great Commission is over. And since the New Covenant can only BEGIN in heaven, then none of us can be under the New Covenant while we are still alive here on earth. So by default, we are all still under the Old Covenant, despite the traditional teaching of the Church.
That being said, listen to the following story.
A young Christian girl named Mary was wondering how the Church could be under the Great Commission and also under the New Covenant at the same time. After all, when speaking of the New Covenant, Jeremiah 31:34 says,
"NO LONGER will they [EVER] teach their neighbor,
or say to one another,
‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all
So Mary reasoned as follows:
"Since Jeremiah 31:34 tells us that during the period of the New Covenant, everyone would already be saved and so there would be no unsaved people left to share the gospel with, then it is only logical to conclude that the Great Commission was already OVER during this time. But if that is true, then the Great Commission must END before the New Covenant can BEGIN and become operational, and such an event (where everyone is already saved and there is no one left to share the gospel with) could only happen in heaven."
So she asked her pastor, “As I understand it, the Great Commission more or less says we are to advise each other to ‘know the Lord’ and teach our neighbors (near and far) how to ‘know the Lord’. Is that correct?”
“Yes, more or less,” responded the pastor.
“And the Church teaches that we are simultaneously under the Great Commission and under the New Covenant?” Mary asked.
“Again, yes,” answered the pastor.
“And the Great Commission ENDS when we are in heaven, right? Because, in heaven, we will all be saved and so ‘no longer will we teach our neighbor or say to one another, 'know the Lord' because we will all know the Lord’, right?” the young girl continued.
“Right,” answered the pastor.
“Since the Great Commission ENDS in heaven, and since the passage in Jeremiah 31:31-34 about the New Covenant finishes with the sentence, “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” and since you always teach that we must interpret a verse in its context, then the Great Commission must END before the New Covenant can BEGIN and become operational in heaven," said Mary.
"Therefore, pastor, as I see it," continued Mary, "since Jeremiah 31:34 says that the New Covenant cannot BEGIN until the Great Commission ENDS, then since the Great Commission has not yet ENDED, then the New Covenant could not possibly have BEGUN. So the New Covenant cannot possibly be operational here on earth when there are still people around to witness to and we are still under the Great Commission."
"But if it is indeed true that the Great Commission must END before the New Covenant BEGINS in heaven," Mary continued, "then it is likewise true that God has NOT yet written his law on our hearts and minds while we are still alive here on earth. And if God will only write his law on our hearts when we are in heaven after the Great Commission ENDS and the New Covenant BEGINS, then God's purpose for writing his law on our hearts and minds in heaven can only serve to replace the BREAKABLE Old Covenant with an UNBREAKEABLE New Covenant by removing our free will to ever sin in heaven so heaven will remain without sin forever. After all, Pastor, God would surely take steps to make certain that no one would ever sin in heaven, even by accident, right?”
“Yes, Mary,” the pastor replied, “I’m sure God will indeed take steps to make sure that no one ever sins in heaven, and it may even involve specifically eliminating our free will to sin, as you suggest, but as far as the New Covenant goes…”
Mary interrupted her pastor, growing more enthusiastic by the second.
“But if it’s true that the unbreakable New Covenant was specifically designed by God to prevent us from ever sinning in heaven by writing his laws on our hearts and minds (which I presume means that God is literally taking away our free will to ever sin in heaven), then under the unbreakable New Covenant, God himself becomes responsible for our obedience in heaven, in contrast to being under the breakable Old Covenant, where we ourselves will always be responsible for our own obedience here on earth, because even after receiving the Holy Spirit, we are still responsible for our own obedience, right, Pastor? So, if the New Covenant is “I (as Almighty GOD) will write my laws on your hearts and minds”, then the Old Covenant must be “[You yourself (as my children) must] fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds”, as it says Deuteronomy 11: 18. But if this is also true, then the reason the Old Covent was weak was because we ourselves always retained the free will to sin and break the Old Covenant. And the reason the New Covenant is superior is that, in heaven, God will make it impossible for us to ever sin, and so in heaven it will be impossible for us to ever break the New Covenant. For when God “writes his laws on our hearts and minds” in heaven, it means that God (like a divine computer programmer) will literally DELETE the free-will-program that allows us to sin. So in heaven, it would become literally impossible for us to ever become upset, angry, envious, jealous, hostile, or violent towards one another or become upset at God in any way either. We would still have complete free will in all other ways (such as what to do, what to say, what to sing, what to learn, who to be with, how to be creative, what musical instruments to play, what sports to play, what job to have, etc.) but we would totally lose our free will to ever sin again.” Mary finally finished her discourse and was out of breath with excitement.
"You realize, Mary," said the pastor, "that your interpretation of the New Covenant is entirely the opposite from what the Church traditionally teaches about this issue, because the Church teaches that we are already under the New Covenant and that we are under both the Great Commission and the New Covenant at the same time. What made you come up with this, Mary?" the pastor asked.
“You did, pastor, because you always taught us to interpret everything in context, and Jeremiah 31:34 tells us that the context of the New Covenant is the AFTERLIFE, because only in the afterlife will there be no one left to witness to, but here on earth there are lots of people to witness to, right Pastor? Therefore, doesn’t the context of Jeremiah 31:34 prove that the Great Commission must END before the New Covenant can BEGIN and become operational?" Mary finished.
“I certainly do want you to consider the context in every Bible passage you study, Mary. But honestly, whenever we pastors preach on the New Covenant, none of us ever addresses the particular context-issue you brought up, because it only confuses people and because…”
Just then a deacon interrupted the pastor to shake his hand, complement him on his sermon and ask another question. Unfortunately, the pastor got distracted and forgot that Mary was still waiting for an answer and unintentionally left Mary and walked away with the deacon without answering her question. Of course, by the following Sunday, the pastor had totally forgotten that this conversation ever happened.
But Mary never forgot. Mary never forgot that her pastor had adopted a double standard for interpreting a passage in its context. In other words, when the context of a verse helps to prove that the traditional interpretation of a verse is correct, then the passage is always interpreted in its context. But whenever the context of a verse proves that the traditional interpretation is incorrect, the Church will traditionally interpret that passage out of context. She also remembered that the pastor had no good answer for her question, and that neither the pastor nor the Church itself seemed to be willing to interpret the New Covenant in the actual context of Jeremiah 31:34, when the Great Commission had clearly ENDED.
As I understand it, Jeremiah 31:34 absolutely proves that the Great Commission must END when the New Covenant BEGINS, yet I've never heard any pastor preach about this point, or read any essay dealing with this point. (Of course, that is just one of the many reasons why my website is called Unique Bible Answers.)
(1) Now many people might respond to what I have just said by declaring,
“But in 2 Corinthians 3:6-18, Paul claims to be a
minister of the New Covenant and that the New
Covenant began with Christ's death and resurrection."
No. While it is indeed true that Paul claimed to be a minister of the New Covenant in that passage, Paul never claims that the New Covenant actually began with Christ's death and resurrection. And there are four reasons why it is incorrect to believe otherwise.
First, just because Paul is a minister of the New Covenant and preaches about the New Covenant does not mean that the New Covenant has already begun to happen or is already operational at that moment, any more than a prophet issuing a prophecy means that the prophecy has already begun to happen and is already unfolding at that moment.
Second, when Jesus said, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood”, this was a blood promise that at some future day the New Covenant would become operational. But Jesus was certainly NOT saying that the New Covenant would begin and become operational at his death and resurrection because Christ hadn't even given the Greatest Commission yet. And according to Jeremiah 31:34, the New Covenant could only BEGIN when the Great Commission would END and there was no one left to witness to. Therefore, the New Covenant could not possibly BEGIN at the very same time that the Great Commission BEGAN after Christ's resurrection, and so Paul would never have suggested such a thing.
Second, Jesus would never say that the Old Covenant will END (i.e. “pass away”) at his resurrection, when in Matthew 5:18, Jesus said that none of the Old Testament laws (which would include the Old Covenant) would “pass away” until heaven and earth are destroyed, which would be AFTER his second coming and AFTER his thousand year reign on earth. Since neither Jesus’ teaching nor Paul’s teaching about the New Covenant could ever violate Matthew 5:18 or violate Jeremiah 31:34, then it is impossible to correctly conclude that the Old Covenant would END (i.e. "pass away") at the resurrection, when (in Matthew 5:18) Jesus said that none on the Old Testament Laws would pass away at that time. Likewise, it is impossible to correctly conclude that New Covenant BEGINS at Jesus’ resurrection, because the Great Commission itself BEGINS shortly after the resurrection, yet Jeremiah 31:34 says that the New Covenant can only START when the Great Commission ENDS!
So, the correct interpretation concerning when the Old Covenant ENDS can not possibly contradict Matthew 5:18, and and the correct interpretation of when the New Covenant BEGINS cannot possible contradict Jeremiah 31:34. Therefore, it is impossible for Paul to mean “The New Covenant BEGAN with Jesus' resurrection.”
(2) Now some Christians claim that the Old Covenant disappeared when the temple was destroyed. But if the Old Covenant depended upon the existence of the temple, then the Old Covenant could never have STARTED when God gave the Old Covenant to Moses, but could only have STARTED when Solomon built the first temple (about 500 years after Moses), and then of course, the Old Covenant would have immediately ENDED when the Babylonians destroyed Solomon's temple (about 500 years before Christ). Then, when Ezra rebuilt the temple, the Old Covenant would have immediately RE-STARTED, only to END a second time when the Romans destroyed the Herod's temple in 70 AD. But if that were true, then by logical extension, the Old Covenant will be back a third time when Israel rebuilds the temple in the future according to God's architectural for Christ's millennial temple as written in Ezekiel 40-43. But according to that mistaken logic, the Israelites who are saved and who are living in Israel during the millennial reign of Christ will be under both the Old Covenant and under the New Covenant at the same time. That makes no sense. Clearly, since the Old Covenant started 500 years before the existence of Solomon's temple, then the existence of the temple is totally independent of the Old Covenant and therefore the destruction of the temple cannot make the Old Covenant "pass away" either.
(3) These same Christians also mistakenly believe that circumcision was a "badge of the Old Covenant" and that Paul's warning to the Galatians against circumcision meant that Paul was teaching that the Old Covenant was over. But since Paul’s teaching about the Old Covenant could never violate Matthew 5:18 (where Jesus said that none on the Old Testament Laws—including the Old Covenant—would pass away until heaven and earth passed away on Judgment Day, then it is incorrect to conclude that the Old Covenant would END (i.e. "pass away") at the resurrection, and therefore also incorrect to conclude that Paul's teaching about circumcision meant the Old Covenant had already passed away. So Paul’s warning about circumcision can only be a reminder that a person cannot earn his way into heaven, and that salvation does not depend upon your relationship to the Law itself but upon your relationship to the Lawgiver.
(By the way, speaking of circumcision, Ezekiel 44:9 confirms that during the future thousand-year reign of Christ here on earth, that no born-again Christian man living during that time will ever be able to personally visit Christ in his temple home unless he is also circumcised in the flesh. For it is written:
“No foreigner (i.e. Gentile) uncircumcised in heart
and FLESH is to enter my sanctuary.”
Now isn’t that surprising. The Church traditionally teaches that God no longer cares about circumcision (especially for Gentiles), yet Gentile Christians who are living during the future thousand-year reign of Christ who want to visit Christ in his temple will be denied entry to the temple sanctuary to personally visit Christ unless they are literally circumcised in the flesh. So Paul's teaching about circumcision in Galatians 5:1-4 couldn't possibly mean that God had done away with either circumcision or the Old Covenant.)
(4) Further, some Christians believe that the New Covenant only applied to Israel and Judah during the thousand-year reign of Christ. But this interpretation cannot possibly be true for two additional reasons. First, according to Jeremiah 31:34, during the New Covenant, God will "remember our sins no more". But in Ezekiel 40-46, during the millennial reign of Christ, the sacrifices for sin will be re-started at the temple, so obviously God is still remembering our sins. Second, during the period of the New Covenant there will be no one left to share the gospel with, but during the millennial reign of Christ here on earth, there would still be people from all over the world with whom to share the gospel.
(5) Finally, some Christians claim that since Hebrews 8 says that Jesus is presently mediating a superior covenant, that this means the New Covenant is already in operation and that the Old Covenant has passed away. But again, this interpretation violates both Matthew 5:18 (where it says the Old Covenant will not pass away until judgment day) and Jeremiah 31:34 (where it says the New Covenant cannot start until the Old Covenant has ended). Plus, nowhere in Hebrews 8 does it say that the New Covenant is PRESENTLY in operation.
As I understand it, the two Covenants (the Old and the NEW) have nothing DIRECTLY to do with the Temple, the sacrifices or circumcision, but instead have to do with WHO is in control of our sinfulness: MAN or GOD. Under the Old Covenant, MAN continues to be in control of his own sinfulness and continues to be responsible for his own behavior and so in the Old Covenant, God commands MAN to “FIX these words of mine in your hearts” (Deuteronomy 11:18). Thus by definition, the Old Covenant is inferior because MAN will always have the ability to break the Old Covenant by sinning. But under the New Covenant, GOD HIMSELF is in control of our sins and is responsible for our behavior so God will prevent us from ever sinning again when God himself “writes his laws on our hearts and minds.” Thus, the New Covenant is superior because it can never be broken by us, because in heaven, Christian mankind can never sin again because when we enter heaven, God re-programs our brains by “writing his laws on our hearts and minds.” And in heaven will be the only time that the Great Commission is finally over (Jeremiah 31:34) and there will be no one left to witness to.
Under the Old Covenant, because man’s self-control will always be insufficient to keep us from sinning, God gave Israel commands to keep Israel focused on the COMMANDER and laws to keep Israel focused on the LAWGIVER.
In conclusion, Christians will continue to be under the Old Covenant (and responsible to keep ourselves from sinning) until we get to heaven (when God himself becomes responsible to keep us from sinning).
One more thing.
More than 3 decades after Christ’s resurrection, the writer of Hebrews affirms that the New Covenant has still not begun, by saying,
“By calling this covenant “new,”
he has made the first one obsolete;
and what is obsolete and outdated
will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13)
If the writer of Hebrews meant that from the moment Christ rose from the dead we Christians would immediately be under the New Covenant, then he would have written, “what is obsolete and outdated has now disappeared with Christ’s resurrection” or “has already disappeared with Christ’s resurrection.”
But instead, the writer of Hebrews wrote that the Old Covenant “will soon disappear”, which means at the time of the writing of the book of Hebrews (thought to have been written between 65 and 70 AD) that Christians were still under the Old Covenant—a covenant that had not yet disappeared.
So if the writer of Hebrews believed that Christians were still under the Old Covenant more than 3 decades after Christ’s resurrection, then you can be sure that we Christians are still under the Old Covenant even today!