Which promise in the Bible do you find most precious? Is it Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”? Or Jeremiah 29:11, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future’”?

Though God originally gave both these promises to Israel, He ultimately confirmed and fulfilled them in His Son. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Cor. 1:20a). One of, if not the greatest promise God has given and fulfilled in Christ is the promise of a new covenant. Let’s learn more about this.

We’ve adapted the following article from the NIV Storyline Bible.

The New Covenant

Hebrews 8:1-13 | Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.

Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:

“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.
It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
    and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
    after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
    and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
11 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.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Synopsis

The new covenant was promised in the Old Testament by the great lawgiver Moses and prophets such as Jeremiah. Jesus heralded its imminent arrival during the Last Supper on the night before His death. The new covenant brings with it forgiveness of sins and transformed hearts.

Statement of the Doctrine

By the death and resurrection of Jesus, God the Father established the new covenant with His people, the Church. Through this covenant, He forgave their sins and gave them new hearts to trust in and obey Him.

Biblical Support

The children of Israel broke the Mosaic covenant (Jeremiah 11:9–13), and so the Lord promised that He would make a new covenant with them. Hints of this new covenant were present from early in Israel’s history. As the children of Israel stood on the border of the promised land, Moses recounted their stubborn sinfulness, but promised that a day would come when the Lord would “circumcise [the] hearts” of the people (Deuteronomy 30:6). Later, Jeremiah, the first to announce the new covenant explicitly, stated that it would be radically different from the Mosaic covenant. For in the new covenant, the Lord would not simply write His law on tablets of stone. Rather, He would write it on the hearts of His people (Jeremiah 31:31–34).

At the Last Supper Jesus taught about the new covenant. When He took the cup of wine and blessed it, He said “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:25). In referring to the new covenant, Jesus was announcing that through His death and resurrection forgiveness of sins would be made available to all and that humanity could once again live in communion with God. The “writing of the law on the heart” would occur through the new birth and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who empowers believers to obey God. Through the establishment of this new covenant, the old Mosaic covenant was made obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).

Historical Interpretation

Belief in the new covenant was one of the key distinctions between early Christians and Jews. For example, the Christian apologist Justin Martyr argued that the new covenant was the perfection of the old, while Trypho, as a Jew, held that the Mosaic Law was perfect by itself. In fact, the new covenant was so important to Christian identity that the writings of the apostles came to be called the New Testament, another term for new covenant, while the Hebrew Scriptures were known as the Old Testament.

The “Greater Thans” in Hebrews

One of the author’s main points in Hebrews is that Jesus is greater than all those things associated with the Jewish religion and way of life. Sometimes he actually uses the words “greater than”; sometimes he does not. But in all cases the theme is clear.

Theme                                                                                                                               Passage in Hebrews

Jesus is greater than the prophets.                                                                                                     1:1–3

Jesus is greater than the angels.                                                                                               1:4–14; 2:5

Jesus is greater than Moses.                                                                                                                3:1–6

Jesus is greater than Joshua.                                                                                                             4:6–11

Jesus is greater than the Aaronic high priests.                                                         5:1–10; 7:26–8:2

Jesus is greater than the Levitical priests.                                                                              6:20–7:25

Jesus as the high priest in the order of Melchizedek is greater than Abraham.                7:1–10

Jesus’ ministry is greater than the tabernacle ministry.                                             8:3–6; 9:1–28

Jesus’ new covenant is greater than the old covenant.                                                              8:7–13

Jesus’ sacrifice is greater than the OT sacrifices.                                                                      10:1–14

Experiencing Jesus is greater than the experience on Mount Sinai.                                12:18–24

Adapted from The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Abridged Edition: The New Testament, by Kenneth L. Barker; John R. Kohlenberger III. Copyright © 1994 by the Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission of Zondervan.

Storyline

Because of the new covenant, Christians know forgiveness of sins and intimacy with God in a much more profound way than the saints of the Old Testament. The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel had a vision that communicates this truth, though he may not have understood its fuller implication. He saw a valley full of dry and lifeless human bones. At the command of the Lord the bones came together and were covered with flesh and skin, and the breath of the Lord came upon them so that they lived. Ezekiel said that this prophecy would be fulfilled when the Lord sent His Spirit to dwell within His people (Ezekiel 37:14).

Though in context this prophecy applies more proximately to Israel’s return to Palestine and the renewal of the nation’s fortunes, it points ultimately to fulfillment in Christ. For only through Jesus’ ministry did the Holy Spirit bring those who were spiritually dead to life, so that they could worship God in spirit and in truth. And only through Christ are the dead raised to eternal life.

Follow the Storyline of God’s Promises!

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Which promise in the Bible do you find most precious? Leave your answer in the comments below!

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