Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31
CONTRAST THE OLD AND NEW COVENANTS
In Jeremiah 31:31-34 we stand on one of the greatest mountain peaks in the Old Testament. It is the only reference to a “new covenant” in the Old Testament, and is no doubt the most significant of Jeremiah’s sayings. The LORD God will write His law on the heart of the individual. It has been observed by many scholars that this is one of the most important passages in Jeremiah and contains “one of the deepest insights in the whole Old Testament.” This passage finds its fulfillment only in the true believer in Jesus Christ and His covenant with sinful man.A RADICAL CHANGE IS NEEDED
The nation of Israel failed to live up to the terms of the old covenant. It was impossible because of the radical depravity of man. Of course, it was never meant to bring salvation. The only person who ever lived up to the requirements of the law was Jesus Christ. Israel’s problem was spiritual. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). The new covenant was required because of the sin problem. The context of chapter 31 is the children of Israel playing the blame game. Let’s blame our parents for the mess we are in. They sinned and we are suffering. The LORD God declared, “Every one will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge” (v. 30).
Sinful, depraved man could not fulfill the divine commandment. However, in the fullness of time God Himself made the ideal life possible through His own provision of the Savior under a new covenant. There was no other solution to the depravity of man. The new covenant does not promise sinlessness, but forgiveness. We are saved sinners. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Jesus had this passage in mind when He instituted the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:28). The “new testament” literally means new covenant and is fulfilled only in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6ff; Hebrews 8:8-9:28; 10:16ff; Romans 11:25-26). Jesus was saying to His disciples that the new covenant predicted by Jeremiah was now being instituted. It describes His work of salvation.What is needed is a change in the inner nature so that men are able to obey. God changes the “want to” in the inner man. “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (v. 33). He will write His “law” within them and in their hearts. It will be on their minds and will control their will. Moses’ old covenant was written on a slab of stone (Exodus 31:18; 34:28-29; Deuteronomy 4:13; 5:22). What was needed was a change from the inside out in depraved sinful man. Man’s sinful rebellious nature demands a radical change that only God can accomplish.The background of this passage is the Mosaic covenant between Yahweh and Israel at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:1-24:11). The LORD is sovereign God of the Covenant with Israel. The condition of the covenant was Israel’s obedience to its laws. Obedience would bring blessings. Disobedience would bring chastisement.
- Yahweh guarantees the success of the new covenant. He took the initiative to establish the covenant. In contrast to “thou shalt not,” and “thou shalt” are the words, “I will put,” “I will write,” “I will forgive.” Israel couldn’t keep the law of the old covenant. The law proved man was helplessly depraved and led him to the Christ. The old covenant proved man was a depraved sinner, guilty in the eyes of a holy God and unable to live up to the demands of the perfect law. The new covenant is a demonstration of God pursuing the guilty sinner until He has found him and ransomed him.
- The new covenant is a covenant of sovereign grace. It accomplished what the law and the old covenant could never do. All will know Him, from the least to the greatest. This is not universalism because those who reject His offer of grace will be judged and spend eternity in hell.
- The stimulus to keep the new covenant comes from within the person. God places His Spirit within the person through regeneration and the indwelling of His Spirit to enable him to want to keep the covenant. The Holy Spirit writes it upon the heart. Under this covenant people obey because they want to. God has changed the heart. Man is incapable of influencing a positive relationship with a holy God. He can not because he is spiritually dead. It is not the doing of sinful man. God changed the heart of man. “For the love of Christ controls us . . . ” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
- The new covenant is an intimate personal relationship with God. Every individual must have an experience with God to be included in this covenant (John 3:1-16).
- The new covenant will last throughout eternity. This new covenant can not be broken. It is based upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a covenant in His blood which covers all our sins. “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”