One of the greatest hopes of the Old Testament, especially in the Prophets, was the promise of the new covenant. The most prominent text dealing with the new covenant is Jeremiah 31:31-40. But there are references to the same covenant with the terms everlasting covenant as in Jeremiah 32:27-44, 50:4-5; Ezekiel 37:15-28 (see also Isaiah 55:1-6, 61:1-9; Ezekiel 16:60-63; and Jeremiah 3:11-18, 33:1-26), or the covenant of peace as in Ezekiel 34:1-31 and Isaiah 54:10. This covenant is one that is marked by several things: God applying his law internally, God being their God, God’s people being his people, God’s people not needing to urge learning, and everyone-great and small-will know the Lord.
There has been a lot of disagreement as to how the covenant is “new,” with some people believing it is a wholly new thing. Without dissecting all of the arguments, which has been satisfactorily done by many in our opinion, newness need not mean “brand new.” For example, when Jesus says he gives his disciples a new commandment (John 13:34), he doesn’t intend a new command in content or extent. Jesus’ ethic was the same as that of the Old Testament and that which was summarized in all the law and prophets-love to God and love to neighbor. The newness is in found in the mode of revelation. As the Father loved the Son, and as the Son loved his disciples, so his disciples are to love one another. This illustrates the distinction we make between substance and form, and is useful in understanding the new covenant. As to the substance of the covenant it’s not new, but as it pertains to the form it is.
But this isn’t some abstract theological point. The immediate importance, at least for us, is to recognize that we are now under the new covenant. The very thing that provided Israel hope while in exile, is now fully realized in these New Testament days by and through the work of Jesus Christ. Like Herman Witsius wrote, “As the darkness of the night is only dispelled by the beams of the rising morn, so the Old Testament was abrogated only by the introduction of the New” (EoC, 2:405). In a series of posts we’re going to look at the benefits of being New Testament believers, benefits we rarely meditate upon.