The Old and New Covenants
There is no small amount of misunderstanding concerning what people commonly term the "Old and New Testaments." The two extremes range between teaching that the Old Covenant (Exodus through Malachi) along with the New Covenant (Matthew through Revelation) is binding on all men today for justification to saying that the Hebrew scriptures (containing the Old Covenant) have absolutely no purpose and utility today. In this material, we shall explore what the Bible itself declares regarding the two covenants. The simplest way to treat this subject is to present the material in contrast form.
One nation/all nations. The truth of the matter is that the Old Covenant was never given to Gentiles or people today. Notice how emphatic the language is relative to the recipients of the Law of Moses (the Old Covenant):
"1: And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them. 2: The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3: The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day" (Deut. 5).
Consider the obviously intended specificity, even to the point of saying that the covenant was not made with their predecessors but with them (vs. 3). Gentiles, as a rule, were excluded from this covenant that contained the Ten Commandment Law as its foundation (Deut. 5: 6 ff.).
In sharp contrast, the New Covenant potentially and designedly includes all nations. Jesus commissioned the apostles to "teach all nations" (Matt. 28: 19, 20). "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved," Jesus said (Mk. 16: 16). There is no national restriction: "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creation" (Mk. 16: 15). Such instructions are in keeping with the fulfillment of the prophecy given by Isaiah that "all nations" would flow into God's kingdom (Isa. 2: 2 ff., Acts 2, 10, cp. Acts 10: 34, 35).
The blood of animals/the blood of Jesus. One cannot help but observe that the blood of animals was an essential part of the Old Covenant (Heb. 9: 19, 20). However, when we approach the New Covenant, we find not the blood of animals but the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Consider the language of the writer of the Book of Hebrews:
"23: It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24: For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: 25: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; 26: For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb. 9).
Human priests/a Divine Priest. The Levitical priesthood was the focal point of the order of the Old Covenant (Heb. 7: 11-23, 28). From this passage, we learn that those who officiated as priests were mere men who themselves sinned. They were numerous and had to be replaced, due to death. To the converse, when we explore the New Covenant we find not human priests but one Divine Priest, Jesus the Son of God (Heb. 7: 28, 10: 12, 21). Consider the comparison presented in Hebrews 7:
"26: For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; 27: Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. 28: For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore."
Frequent sin offerings/one offering for all time. Characteristic of the particulars involved in God's covenant with Israel was the matter of frequent and regular sin offerings (Heb. 10: 1, 11). The odor of burning animals upon the altars was a common experience under the Old Covenant. Under the New Covenant, however, such odor is absent. Jesus was "once offered to bear the sins of many" (Heb. 9: 28).
Fleshly circumcision/circumcision in the heart. A physical token or sign under the Old Covenant was the practice of the circumcision of the male child (Eph. 2: 11, Deut. 10: 16). Regarding the New Covenant, we encounter totally different language:
"28: For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God" (Rom. 2).
Sin remembered annually/sin remembered no more. We have seen the frequent sin offerings characteristic of the Old Covenant. Such frequency was because the blood of animals could not permanently remit sin (Heb. 10: 3). However, Jesus' blood totally and permanently removes sin, when the terms for the removal are met (Heb. 8: 12, 10: 17, notice the original prophecy from which the writer quotes in Jeremiah 31: 31-34). Concerning this matter of total forgiveness, please consider the language of the inspired apostle Peter and the following comments on the Greek word used by Peter, the word "blotted out."
"19: Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3).
"Exaleipho from ek, 'out,' used intensively, and aleipho, 'to wipe,' signifies 'to wash, or to smear completely.' Hence, metaphorically, in the sense of removal, 'to wipe away, wipe off, obliterate;' Acts 3:19, of sins; Col. 2:14, of writing; Rev. 3:5, of a name in a book; Rev. 7:17; 21:4, of tears" (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
No inheritance/provides inheritance. The Old Covenant was never designed to be sufficient of itself to provide ultimate salvation and inheritance (Gal. 3: 18, 4: 30). Please consider the language of Paul in Galatians 4: 30 and also the thought that Old and New Covenants, represented by the bond and free woman, are not in force at the same time:
"30: Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman" (see verses 21 following of Galatians 4).
To the converse, Jesus' Covenant provides the needed inheritance that involves the beautiful city of heaven (Acts 20: 32, I Pet. 1: 4, Rev. 21, 22).
Written on stone/written on our hearts. As we have seen, the Old Covenant had as its foundation the Ten Commandment Law that was written on stone (2 Cor. 3: 3-6). The writer of Hebrews makes a special point of contrast relative to the Old Covenant being written on stone and the New Covenant being written on human hearts (Heb. 8: 10).
The ministration of death/the law of the Spirit of life. The writer presents one of the clear biblical contrasts of the Old and New Covenants in the third chapter of 2 Corinthians (see verses six through eighteen). He refers to the Old Covenant as "the ministration of death" (vs. 7). However, life is associated with the New Covenant that involves the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8: 2).
The consequent message of the contrast between the Old and New Covenants is as follows: The Old Covenant was given to the Jewish nation and was only anticipatory in its essential design of the New Covenant that is for all people. Since both systems cannot simultaneously be in place, the Old Covenant was abrogated and superceded by the New (Gal. 4: 30; Col. 2: 14, Heb. 8: 13). Such a necessary conclusion, though, does not mean the Hebrew scriptures are of no value today. They serve as a foundation for the New (cp. Rom. 15: 4). The moral enunciation contained in the Old Covenant is found in the New Covenant, only in a greater climate, stronger motivation, and more serious attendant consequence if neglected (Jn. 13: 34; Rom. 13: 9, Jas. 2: 11; Heb. 10: 25 ff.). However, to attempt justification by the law means one is "fallen from grace," as the two systems are incompatible when concurrently in force (Gal. 5: 3, 4; Rom. 11: 6). (To read related material, click on "The Hebrew Scriptures" "The Lord's Day," and "The Ten Commandments.")