Has the new covenant replaced the old? A long answer on the nature of covenant and Israel will suffice!!
First, we have to decide what we mean by “Old Covenant” and “New Covenant”.
The Old Covenant is mentioned as such only once in the Bible, in 2 Cor 3 14. The next verse makes it plain that Paul is talking about the Mosaic Covenant, i.e. the “Law of Moses”.
[Previous covenants were with Adam, Noah, and Abraham. After Moses, God established a Covenant with David, in that one of his line would sit on his throne for ever.]
Although the term “Old” is used in this one instance, it doesn’t mean “finished”, it is more like “previous”, with a distinct sense of continuation.
Apart from this reference, the New Testament doesn’t talk about the “Old Covenant”. Rather, the term “Law” is used, mainly to refer to the Mosaic Covenant.
There is, however ANOTHER Covenant – a “New” Covenant. The first of many mentions in the New Testament is at the Last Supper account in Luke 22 20, where Jesus says “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”.
Though this was the first New Testament mention, the New Covenant was itself promised beforehand – implied and encased in the promises of the previous covenants. So for example, Jeremiah promised a New Covenant, one of the heart. One which could not be broken. (Jer 31 31-34)
The New Covenant was not between God and all of humanity, or even God and all of Israel. It was between God and the “Seed”, or “Offspring”, who “stood in” instead of physical Israel.
Paul teaches about the Seed/Offspring in Romans 4 13. He uses these words from God’s promise to Abraham, and teaches us that they mean Jesus.
He says when God promised Abraham that a Saviour would come from his descendants, it happened BEFORE the Law was given to Moses, and before even circumcision was given as a sign. He says that even before the Law was given, Abraham had received this promise by faith.
He goes on in Rom 4 16 to say that therefore this promise (of a Saviour from our sin and its consequences) can be passed on to us who have faith, even if we do not fulfill all the requirements of the Law because we are not physical descendants of Abraham.
Moreover, because the “Seed” was perfect, the Covenant cannot be broken, as Israel broke the previous covenants.
And because God did not make the New Covenant with us, but with Jesus, it is ONLY by alliance with him that the whole human race is able to benefit from the new covenant.
The “Seed” therefore, didn’t come to cancel previous covenants, indeed the previous covenants were his authentication.
So, for example, Moses authenticated Jesus by promising a saviour (Deut 18 15, 18, 19), who is identified as Jesus in the NT (Acts 3 22-25). For good measure, the Acts passage also says Jesus fulfills Abraham’s covenant as well.
So the promises about the Saviour have not been cancelled, but fulfilled by his appearance.
OK then, why was another Covenant, a New Covenant, necessary?
Because the previous Covenants had not gone far enough. They could only convince you of your sin. This New one can FREE you from it! Paul says in Acts 13 38, 39 that forgiveness of sins through Jesus justifies us “from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses”. The Old Covenants weren’t wrong, they were just unfinished – unfulfilled.
So, what hold has the Law on us now? In Romans 2 and 3, Paul says that because the Law has not been cancelled, it still stands to convince people of their sin. (Rom 3 20)
In a clever argument in Romans 6, though, Paul reminds us that there comes a time for everyone when the Law has no further hold on them – after they are dead!
He says when we believed in the one who had died, and took his death for ourselves, we lost our obligation to the Law, and now belonged “to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God” (Rom 6 4).
But this brings another problem. Now we are dead as far as the all the rules of the Law are concerned, how do we live Godly lives?
Paul says we have now been released form the Law, and now “serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code”.
It’s as if we used to be empty balloons, constantly obedient to the Law of Gravity. If you drop us we fall to the ground. But removing us from our old life in the packaging, and filling us with Helium now frees us from the Law of Gravity. The Law hasn’t gone away, rather we are living so far above it that we are not experiencing its effects any more.
Similarly, the promises to physical Israel in Covenants with Israel still await complete fulfillment; God’s promises are irrevocable – eg Rom 11 26-29
This means that Israel’s return to the Land is not an accident of History, but one of the greatest signs of God’s reality – promises in ancient prophecies being fulfilled in great detail thousands of years later!
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